Yesterday, Nigel spoke in the debate on the Second Reading of the European Union (Notification of Withdrawal) Bill, which which would authorise the Prime Minister to trigger Article 50, in accordance with the recent Supreme Court decision requiring legislation to that effect. The first day of debate saw approximately 100 members asking to speak, with another full day of debate at this stage of the Bill taking place today (Wednesday 1 February) following Prime Minister’s Questions. Nigel’s speech, in full, can be read either below or in Hansard:
It is a great pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Swansea West (Geraint Davies), although I hope that my tone will be a bit more positive than his. I am not entirely sure that I would buy a second-hand motor from him, let alone a mobile phone.
I strongly support the Bill. My support for leaving the European Union was clear, and the view of my constituency was also clear: approximately 60% were in favour of leaving, which is 7.5 percentage points more than the proportion of my constituents who voted for me at the general election. Like me, they voted to take back control of our laws, money and borders. I will vote in favour of the Bill because I believe in respecting the voters and respecting our democracy.
I understand Burke’s argument that as MPs we owe our constituents and the country our judgment, not simply our delegated authority. In 2015, we exercised that judgment overwhelmingly when the House voted that it was the right of the people to decide and that we should hold a referendum. On 23 June last year, each of us got the opportunity to vote with our conscience—on an equal basis with our constituents—at the ballot box. When we vote with our consciences tomorrow, we are voting not on whether we should leave the EU, but on whether we respect democracy and the decision of the people.
This is an admirably simple bill, and I commend Ministers for its clarity. Members on both sides of the House often extol the benefits of simplicity and clarity in legislation. They often say that we should simplify the tax code, close loopholes and simplify the rules around benefits so that they are more easily understood and more equitable, and that we should simplify our many regulations across sectors to cut red tape and reduce burdens on our businesses and individuals. Yet some now complain that this Bill is such a model of simplicity and clarity. Such objections are spurious and misunderstand what this Bill does. We are authorising the Government to take a single action: to carry out the will of the British people.
The debates on treaties such as Maastricht and Lisbon lasted so long because the treaties themselves were long and complex. Each of those treaties ran to some 260 pages. The devil was in the detail, so weeks and weeks were required properly to scrutinise them. As the Prime Minister has stated, not only will we have days and days of debate as negotiations proceed, but the entire body of European law currently applying to Britain will be converted to UK law on our exit from the EU, so each individual item can be scrutinised, amended, repealed or kept as this Parliament sees fit.
Whether we supported remain or leave is no longer relevant, as the UK voted to leave. I hope very much that we all remain passionate supporters of democracy, as we all were when we stood on a manifesto that committed to give the voters this decision. Indications for the negotiations are good. Many countries have expressed a desire for deeper bilateral relations and trade deals with the UK. I understand that, over the weekend, Spain indicated its desire not to be bound by any recalcitrant attitudes that may linger in Brussels. Our Prime Minister has already shown her mettle and great sense in rallying the US behind the NATO alliance.
We have heard some excellent and incredibly impassioned speeches today. I congratulate the hon. and learned Member for Holborn and St Pancras (Keir Starmer) on the way in which he delivered his speech. My right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Rushcliffe (Mr Clarke) is always eloquent and impassioned. Occasionally he is wrong, but it was great to hear from him. My hon. Friend the Member for Ribble Valley (Mr Evans) made an impassioned plea on behalf of EU citizens who already have citizenship here, and he was absolutely right to do so.
Leaving the EU is an outward-looking process and we should therefore direct our gazes globally, rather than at the innards of procedure. We had a referendum, we had a motion and now we have a Bill. Let us proceed outward and into the world. I look forward to voting for this Bill tomorrow, and I hope that my colleagues do, too.