Vote on second reading of the European Union (Notification of Withdrawal) Bill

Link to the Hansard record of debate on the European Union (Notification of Withdrawal) Bill

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Last night, the House of Commons voted on second reading of the European Union (Notification of Withdrawal) Bill. The result was 498 in favour with 114 against, a majority of 384.

Only one Conservative MP voted against the principle of the Bill. A full list by party of how MPs voted may be found here.

There were some outstanding speeches in the course of the debate. Former minister and staunch supporter of the European Union Alistair Burt said, after explaining he would vote for the Bill because he had said the result would be honoured,

There is one fight that I want to see an end of, and on which I am calling time. I do not believe there is any realistic prospect of the UK remaining in or rejoining the EU, certainly not in my lifetime in the House. I think it is time for me to place my support for the EU and Europe on a different footing—one that recognises the reality of what we have done. I will work for the future prosperity of the EU, for our partnership relationship with it and for all the things we must continue to do together from that new position. I will defend the EU against those who still wish it further harm—from those misguided enough to believe that the further disintegration of the EU is of some benefit—whether that is those in some quarters in the UK with a viewpoint of malevolence, those with a viewpoint of ignorance in the United States.

I have decided that I will not, at present, fight for the UK somehow to find a quick way back to the EU. Let me be clear: I believe sincerely that the decision of those who voted out was wrong, as was the view of those who led them. I am reconciled to Brexit, but I am not yet persuaded of the wisdom of the decision. However, spending the next few years trying to reverse 48:52 and make it 52:48 does not seem to me to be in the UK’s interest. …

Many other MPs who had campaigned for Remain and in some cases represented areas which had clearly voted Remain also expressed the sentiment that the national result must be honoured.

BrexitCentral praises the 346 MPs who declared for Remain at the referendum but voted last night for the Article 50 Bill, particularly drawing attention to the contribution of Labour MP Wes Streeting, with whom I serve on the Treasury Committee:

We sometimes underestimate in this place the extent to which this Parliament operates in the context of a political crisis—a crisis of faith and trust in politics and politicians. Across western democracies, we are already witnessing the consequences of what happens when people abandon their faith in mainstream politics to deliver. At a time when liberal democracy feels so fragile and precious, it is hard to overstate the damage that this Parliament would inflict on our democracy were we to reject the outcome of a referendum in which 33.5 million people voted.

This was not an advisory referendum. None of us went to the door asking for advice. We warned of the consequences of leaving, and the majority of voters and the majority of constituencies voted leave with the clear expectation that that would actually happen. I say very simply to those lobbying Parliament to ignore the result, “My heart is absolutely with you, if only that were possible.” Let us be honest with ourselves and with each other: if the vote had gone the other way, we would have expected Parliament to abide by the result.

Not having heard this speech, I spoke similarly:

My second point is that we are here today, of course, to agree the principle of this Bill, and it is a simple principle—that we should confer on the Prime Minister the power to see through the referendum result. I consider myself blessed indeed that the Wycombe district voted remain. I say “blessed indeed” because, although my constituency covers only three fifths of the district, I am well aware that, given the position that I have held with my colleagues and the work that I am now doing, if I did not have that constant reminder that we must serve 100% of this country, it would be easy to be too “hard over” on the issues. We must listen to everyone and take account of their concerns, but we must also see through what is in the best interests of this country, and I believe that that is the complete fulfilment of the 12-point plan set out by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister.

In that context of fulfilling the wishes of the British public—the whole nation—I would say that all choices have consequences. The Lisbon treaty meant that the European Union constitution was booted through against the positive expressed wishes of populations. That drove me into politics, because I thought it important for power always to originate with the people. Similarly, I think that if the House were to refuse the passage of this Bill, we would suffer in this country a political implosion whose nature we can scarcely imagine.

I am not alone in having a seat within a counting area which voted Remain. James Berry and David Burrowes in particular gave excellent speeches setting out why they would be voting for the Bill to support the national result. James Berry said,

We are being urged to go back on those clear averments, by a minority of people—and I think by a minority of people who voted to remain—who want to find a way to block a result that they, like me, find disappointing. I want to explain why I disagree with the four main arguments they make. [Intervention]

The first objection is that MPs in constituencies said to have voted remain are obliged to respect the result in their constituency and block article 50. We are told that we should act not as representatives in the sense that Burke instructed but as delegates. There are several problems with that argument. The first is that the referendum was a straightforward exercise in direct democracy applicable to the UK as a whole. The rules were not for a two-stage electoral college process including a vote in this House. If those had been the rules, the votes would have had to be counted on a constituency basis, which they certainly were not in England—it is likely that my constituency voted to remain, but we will never know. In practice, had those been the rules, it is estimated that the leave campaign would have won by a country mile—by more than 2:1. To get around this inconvenience, a second main argument is advanced: that all those MPs in seats that voted to remain should vote to block article 50 anyway in the national interest. To those arguments, I simply say: you cannot have your cake and eat it.

In correspondence leading up to this vote and on social media today, constituents have asked me to justify my support for this Bill. I voted for the Bill because I accept the national result. George Osborne, Anna Soubry, Alistair Burt, Nicky Morgan, Nick Soames and other passionate advocates of our EU membership did likewise.

This morning, two pillars of our local community who disagreed with me passionately both chose to be reconciled and go forward in a spirit of goodwill. I know my solemn duty to them and every elector of Wycombe, both as MP and as Chair of the European Research Group, is to strive to deliver a successful future for our country as we leave the EU.

That is what I will now do. I would be glad to engage constructively with anyone in Wycombe constituency who wishes to do so: I can be contacted here.

Finally, I am thankful that today the Bank of England revised up their economic forecasts: Bank of England sharply raises 2017 growth outlook.

You can follow the progress of the Bill through all stages in both houses of Parliament here.

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Comments & Responses

One Response so far.

  1. darren welch says:

    steve,,there is a judicial review tomorrow on the assumption that withrawal from the eu is not sufficient to withdraw from the eaa,,that so the applicants state seperate legislation will be needed ,,going of memory i think its article 127,,if thats true it will need to be passed through the commons and lords,,and we both know it has a high chance of being rejected because eea means continued single mkt access and continued ejc jurisdiction over our laws and borders,,something labour and snp and libs would love to keep,,in other words a fake brexit,,,peter mendelson pro eu think tank [british influence] is behind the court case,,no surprises there