New Forest East



Catherine McKinnell: [ ... ] there is always the prospect that the Prime Minister will refuse to change her approach and that she will lurch ever closer to 12 April with the threat of our crashing out of the EU still with us. That brings me to the third e-petition that we are considering today, which calls for article 50 to be revoked and for the UK to remain in the EU. As hon. Members will be aware, this petition has been supported by an unprecedented number of people, although that is not surprising, because we live in unprecedented times. Indeed, this is most signed petition ever received on the petitions website of the House of Commons and the Government. As of 3.30 pm today, it had received a staggering 6,034,845 signatures, over 26,000 of which come from my city of Newcastle.

Dr Julian Lewis: That is indeed an extremely impressive total of petition signatories. Therefore, would the hon. Member like to suggest that instead of having held the referendum in the first place, ​it would have been sufficient to put an e-petition in and get that particular fraction of the population voting for it, in order to set aside a democratic vote by a much larger number of people?

Catherine McKinnell: Clearly not. [ ... ]

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Catherine McKinnell: [ ... ] I am sure that there are many members of the public who have signed the petition who will be watching the proceedings today with great interest.

Dr Lewis: May I just encroach one more time? ​

Catherine McKinnell indicated assent.

Dr Lewis: The hon. Lady is being terribly courteous and I really appreciate it. Let us just try this new form of democracy a bit more. Let us suppose that her party – the Labour Party – gets its wish and there is a general election. Guess what? The Labour party wins and the right hon. Member for Islington North (Jeremy Corbyn) becomes Prime Minister. Then, some of us who did not like the result set up a petition and get 6 million people to say, “No, we ought to revoke that result and do it again”. Would she be satisfied with that?

Catherine McKinnell: May I clarify matters for the right hon. Gentleman, because he does not seem to understand the nature of a petition, which is a very long-established process in Parliament and a way for our constituents to express their view on matters, and for many years – probably since it began – Parliament has processed petitions and tabled them on behalf of MPs’ constituents? The nature of our modern democracy is that the petitions process has gone online and it was indeed the former Prime Minister who created the Government’s online petitions system in 2010. Since then, it has grown in popularity and use.As a me mber of the Petitions Committee, I know that it processes a range of petitions on any subject that Members can imagine, but no petition has received the number of signatures that this petition has, and the right hon. Gentleman seems somewhat irked by that. However, a petition does not replace our normal democratic processes. It is simply a reflection of the level of interest in this issue and the strength of feeling among the public, for which, as representatives of our constituents, we ought to be very grateful, as they have the means to make their voices heard – and this petition is a roar.

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Catherine McKinnell: Those concerns are being expressed by many members of the public as they watch the reality of the 2016 referendum campaign and vote unravel. As we get closer and closer to 12 April, I have been making it clear to my constituents that I am prepared to support the revocation of article 50 if necessary, to prevent our country from leaving the EU without a deal. It is because I am as patriotic, and care as passionately about the future of my city, my region and my country, as anyone that I cannot stand back and watch us crash out of the EU in that way. Allowing such a scenario would be a dereliction of my duty as a Member of Parliament, which is clearly set out as that of acting in the interests of the nation as a whole, with a special duty to my constituents. It would be contrary to the responsibilities of Members of the House as set out by Edmund Burke as far back as 1774:

“Your representative owes you, not his industry only, but his judgement; and he betrays, instead of serving you, if he sacrifices it to your opinion.”

And, indeed, contrary to the guidance of Sir Winston Churchill:

“The first duty of a Member of Parliament is to do what he thinks in his faithful and disinterested judgement is right and necessary for the honour and safety of Great Britain.”

Those duties weigh heavily on us all, and they are responsibilities that I take very seriously.

Dr Lewis: There is one slight difference between the hon. Lady’s examples and what happened in 2016, when the MPs, the Government and the Opposition – everyone – agreed that they would take the view of the electorate directly and obey the verdict that they gave them. That did not apply in the scenario she describes relating to Edmund Burke, great constitutionalist though he was.

Catherine McKinnell: The right hon. Gentleman seems a bit stuck in the past. [ ... ] Rather than going over the history, I am interested to know what the right hon. Gentleman thinks. Is he genuinely happy for this economy just to be driven off a cliff, with all the ramifications that flow from that? [ ... ]

Dr Lewis rose

Catherine McKinnell: I was hoping the right hon. Gentleman would make a speech.

Dr Lewis: I am sorry; I thought the hon. Lady wanted an answer now. I think there are three possibilities: the Government’s deal, leaving on World Trade Organisation terms and revoking the result of the referendum. I, together with 158 of my colleagues, which is more than half the parliamentary Conservative party, voted in the multiple options we were given about a week ago that we should leave on WTO terms, and I think that would be the right solution.

Catherine McKinnell: We can agree to disagree on that.

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Wera Hobhouse: [ ... ] Many millions of people probably hope that we will get to a people’s vote where they can express their opinion.

Dr Lewis: Will the hon. Lady give way?

Wera Hobhouse: I will not, because many Members want to speak.

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Helen Hayes: [...] Three years on from the EU referendum, it is clear that the leave campaign lied, promising many things: additional money for the NHS and multiple trade deals with other large economic powers that have simply not materialised. We now know things that were simply not discussed in 2016, chief among them the risks presented by Brexit to security in Northern Ireland. The official leave campaign has now accepted that it broke the law to win by a very small majority. It simply cannot be claimed in this context that the 2016 referendum result can accurately be read as the will of the people for ever and a day.

Dr Lewis: I merely point out that the remain campaign heavily outspent the leave campaign and the Government sent a letter – a leaflet – to every household in the country at a cost of £9 million with an entirely one-sided pro-remain argument in it, so the hon. Lady cannot claim that leave got the better of the options in getting propaganda out to the masses.

Helen Hayes: I simply say to the right hon. Gentleman that only the leave campaign was found by the Electoral Commission to have broken the law. That is the point. [ ... ]

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Geraint Davies: [ ... ] People who voted to leave did not know that Trump would be elected. They did not know that Trump would undermine trade, whether it is steel or Bombardier, undermine the Paris agreement, or undermine our world security by withdrawing from nuclear deals with Iran and so on. We are in a completely different scenario. They did not know that the Chinese would abolish the limited amount of democracy that they had, and that in any trade deals –

Dr Lewis: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Geraint Davies: No, I will not give way – we have heard enough from you already, thank you. [Interruption.] We did not know that we would be crushed between China and the United States in terms of the EU’s ability to negotiate.

Dr Lewis: Just talk to each other then. [Interruption.]

Geraint Davies: I am sorry that Government Members have decided to leave, after multiple interventions to hear some logic. This is not the will of the people; this is a curse on the people by those such as the Members who have now left the Chamber, who do not really agree with democracy at all. We can see the empty Benches. They do not really care about the 6 million people who have seen that this is a complete shambles. Frankly, the people who vote for this will never be forgiven for what they are pushing on the country. [ ... ]