Yesterday (Wednesday 7 December 2016) Mike intervened in a parliamentary debate on the Government's Plan for Brexit.
Oliver Letwin MP (Conservative, West Dorset): The hon. Lady is an old friend of mine, but she is totally misguided if she thinks that this is an analogous situation. This is the first time in history that a country has sought to remove itself from the EU. We are engaged in the most complicated game of multidimensional chess that any country has ever engaged in. To imagine that that can receive a legally binding negotiating mandate from Parliament, justiciable by the courts, is pure fantasy.
Mike Gapes MP (Labour/Co-operative, Ilford South): Why is it, then, that the European Parliament can be involved in this process, but this sovereign Parliament, because of the problems that the Government have created for themselves, cannot have any say? That is a democratic outrage.
Oliver Letwin MP (Conservative, West Dorset): The reason is that the European Parliament is one of the counterparties to the negotiation. The counterparty in our case is the Government of the United Kingdom. We have had a referendum. The Government have to be able to carry through the effect of that referendum, and the plain choice we face is whether or not to constrain the Government. My argument is that, if we constrain the Government, we will end up with a worse result from the point of view of people such as me who were part of the 48%.
In a separate intervention:
Thangam Debbonaire Opposition Whip (Commons): I have heard the result of the referendum, but I also know that there are 33,000 people from EU countries working in our NHS at the moment and that they face complete uncertainty, as does the NHS.
Labour has forced the Government to climb down today. Without the leadership shown by my hon. and learned Friend Keir Starmer, the Government would have continued to refuse to give this House any information about their overall aims for the UK’s relationship with the EU. Now they have had to commit to providing that information before they trigger article 50, and I thank my hon. and learned Friend for that. The Supreme Court may yet rule that the Government also have to give Parliament the right to vote on the matter, and I hope that it does so. The Government could end that uncertainty today and cut the expense of this court case by deciding to commit to giving this House full scrutiny and a vote.
My inbox is rammed with emails from constituents asking me to resist article 50, and I believe that that is, in large part, because of the absence of a good plan for Brexit. My constituents are not unreasonable. They know that 52% of those who voted in June voted to leave, but they want the views of the 48% to be represented in this process. I will do that unstintingly, because to do otherwise would be to allow a tyranny of the majority, which I do not believe is worthy of this House. My constituents deserve to know what the plan is; whether it will help or hinder our jobs, our industries, our environment and our standing in the world; and, above all, what will happen to our reciprocal movement of people, about which people are left with great uncertainty.
When I went out of my front door this morning, I may not have been certain exactly which bus I would get, but I knew the route it needed to take me on. I knew which bus stop to start at. I did not just get on any old bus without looking at the number and checking that it was going where I intended to go. I cannot ask my constituents in Bristol West to get on an unnumbered bus, and I do not think that hon. Members representing people who voted with the majority to leave want their constituents to get on an unnumbered bus either.
Whether people voted leave or remain in June, they did not vote to lose their jobs; they did not vote to lose trans-border co-operation over terrorism; and they did not vote to dirty our beaches and rivers by removing our protection from pollution and our protection for the air. For the sake of everyone, whether leave voters or remainers, we need to see the plan—not the full negotiating strategy, but the plan.
Mike Gapes MP (Labour/Co-operative, Ilford South): I agree entirely with what my hon. Friend is saying, but is there not also a problem in that, in their amendment, the Government are proposing we start the process of leaving the European Union on or by 31 March? We know that there will be elections in Germany, the Netherlands and France and that real negotiations cannot start then, so the period will be limited.
Thangam Debbonaire Opposition Whip (Commons): I understand the point my hon. Friend makes, but I believe my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Holborn and St Pancras has secured a good deal for us. It is not certain, and some of my constituents will want to know why I am voting the way I am voting tonight, but I will vote with the Labour shadow Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union because I support what he has done to get this Government to make their plan clear. If, to get that, I have to agree to vote for what seems like a very sulky Government amendment, then so be it. It is worth making such a compromise because my constituents in Bristol West deserve to know and want to know what the plan is. Local campaigning organisations in Bristol—they have campaigned strongly for and supported Europe—have created and adopted a petition with some key demands and are circulating it, and I support them in doing so.
I ask the Government to get on with answering these questions for the sake of the people of Bristol West and of the whole of the UK. This Government are trying to avoid scrutiny, but Labour are holding them to account. I will continue to stand up for the industries, the jobs and, above all, the people of Bristol West. The Opposition will hold the Government to the agreement to bring their plan to this House for scrutiny and a vote, and if that plan is non-existent or inadequate, I will vote against article 50. I owe that to my constituents and to the country.