Sir Gerald's Speech in the European Union (Notice of Withdrawal Bill):
This is an historic moment in our nation’s history. This is the moment we begin the process of taking back control of our laws, our borders and our money. Once again we will become a sovereign nation state in command of our own destiny.
For me, it is the culmination of a political lifetime’s ambition. I was brought up in post-war Germany, I campaigned to leave in the 1975 referendum and, along with 43 others, I voted against the Single European Act in 1986. Dennis Skinner, Jeremy Corbyn and I are the last remaining members of that band. Although Margaret Thatcher pushed for that bill I have absolutely no doubt that if she were with us today she would urge us to rejoice at this bill.
I pay tribute to all those who have campaigned over the years, not least Sir Bill Cash, Ian Duncan Smith, Bernard Jenkin, Owen Paterson and many MPs opposite, not least Gisela Stuart and Kate Hoey.
Like Steve Baker, another star in the Brexit firmament, I also salute David Cameron for honouring his commitment to the British people to give them the final say on UK membership of the EU. Many said he would renege; he didn’t.
- The referendum was not advisory, as Sir Keir Starmer acknowledged. It was an instruction to the Government and to Parliament to withdraw from the EU. This bill simply authorises the giving of a notice to leave without which negotiations cannot begin. It is touching to hear of the new-found respect for Parliamentary democracy from the opponents of this bill. They are the same people who for 4 decades have been complicit in the relentless transfer of power from this House to Brussels.
- There have been some fine and some passionate speeches during this debate, but too many have sought to re-run the arguments covered in the referendum. It is no good complaining that the people didn’t know what they were voting for. The Government spent £9 million of our money on a brochure riddled with inaccuracies and mounted an extraordinary and utterly counter-productive Project Fear campaign warning of dire consequences if we voted to leave, none of which have come to pass. The then Chancellor’s predicted “immediate and profound economic shock across the country” and DIY recession did not happen. Instead, the economy grew by 0.6 % in the third quarter of 2016 compared to 0.3 % in Q1, before the referendum. Major companies, such as Softbank, Google, Novo Nordisk and Nissan have also all announced significant investment in the UK; consumer spending increased by 2.6% in December. Furthermore, the Times reported on the 6th January that the UK had ‘the world’s top economy’, ending 2016 as the strongest of the world’s advanced economies.
- Many argue that the public was not told that a ‘Leave’ vote would require us to leave the single market. But, recovering control of our borders and restoring to this Parliament responsibility for the laws of these islands – i.e. a return of sovereignty – was at the heart of the debate. Membership of the single market is completely incompatible with those objectives. As MHF for Boston & Skegness said yesterday, the people knew what they were voting for and it is patronising to suggest otherwise.
- Some, notably from places like Hampstead, suggest that the validity of a referendum in which over 33 million people voted is in doubt, yet no such question troubled them in 1997 when Tony Blair secured a majority of 179 with just 13.5 million votes. By contrast, 17.4 million voted to Leave. We are leaving and there will be no second referendum. Maybe that’s what they do in other European countries when the people come up with the wrong answer, but we trust the British people.
We undoubtedly face challenges ahead, but don’t let’s kid ourselves: there would have been major challenges if the UK had voted to Remain.
There are 70 billion reasons why our EU partners will want to reach a mutually-beneficial trade deal with us – they have a £70 billion trade surplus with us. I hope that those countries who in large part owe their liberation from the Soviet yoke to a former UK government will respect our decision and help us forge a new, constructive relationship. Freed from the EU customs union we will be able to negotiate trade deals with our Commonwealth friends, encouraging Fairtrade deals, and the tiger economies of the world. However, it will be hard graft; the US may be our closest ally but commercially they will be no pushover.
Another note of caution: the EU’s determination to create an EU ‘defence identity’ shows no sign of relenting. Such a policy presents a direct threat to the ultimate guarantor of European security, NATO, and risks alienating NATO’s principal paymaster, the USA.
Finally, whilst I am firmly in tune with my Aldershot constituents who voted 58% - 42% to leave, I salute MPs on both sides, especially those from my own party, who voted remain but, despite a passion for remaining, respect the verdict of the British people, a sentiment which I find echoed across the business community. We now need to move with all haste to implement the programme so clearly set out last week by the Prime Minister in her splendid Lancaster House speech so that we waste no time in reaching those sunlit uplands which await our arrival.