A lot of people have contacted me about Wednesday’s vote on the EU (Notification of Withdrawal) Bill, some asking me to back it and others asking me to block it. The Bill would give the Prime Minister the power to invoke Article 50 of the Treaty on European Union, notifying the EU of our intention to leave. If the Bill is passed, the Prime Minister has said she will do this no later than 31st March.
As regular readers of this blog will know, I campaigned for a Remain vote in the referendum. I held public meetings across the constituency, ran street stalls on local high streets and knocked on countless doors.
But along with nearly every other politician from David Cameron down I said that, whatever my personal views, I would abide by the result. The manifesto I stood on said the same: "We will hold that in-out referendum before the end of 2017 and respect the outcome". And that’s why I will be voting to trigger Article 50 on Wednesday night. The referendum result might not be legally binding but, having said I would abide by it, it is certainly morally binding. Imagine what it would do to confidence in our democracy if, having got a result most of us didn’t want, MPs now say, “The referendum was only advisory and we’ve decided to ignore your advice”. For what it’s worth, the constituency I represent in Parliament voted narrowly to Leave (whereas Croydon as a whole voted narrowly to Remain), but even if that was not the case I would still vote to invoke Article 50. This was a national decision and we all need to accept the result just as we would all accept the result of a General Election even if our own constituency didn’t vote for the winner.
Some of the people who have contacted me point out that the result was very close and argue that means there’s no mandate for us to leave the EU. It’s true that it was quite a narrow majority in percentage terms, but in absolute terms 1.3 million votes is a pretty big margin. Others point out that fewer than half of those eligible to vote supported Leave and argue that means there’s no mandate for us to leave the EU. It’s true that fewer than half of those eligible to vote supported Leave, but the turnout was higher than at any recent General Election and more people voted to leave than have voted for any government in history. And some people point out that the Leave campaign made misleading claims during the referendum campaign and argue that means there is no mandate for us to leave the EU. It’s true that some of the things Leave said have not happened (the same could be said of some of the things Remain said too), but that’s the nature of a referendum or indeed an election: both sides make their claims and dispute the other sides’s claims and we as the voters have to decide who we think is right.
The referendum and its aftermath have inevitably been divisive. The right thing to do now is to get on with implementing the decision the country has made but to do so in a way that brings us back together. The Prime Minister has said:
“When I sit around the negotiating table in Europe this year, it will be with…the knowledge that I am there to get the right deal - not just for those who voted to Leave, but for every single person in this country”.
• getting back control of how many people come to Britain from Europe, while continuing to attract the brightest and best to work or study here;
• getting back control of our laws by ending the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice in Britain;
• continuing to trade freely with our European neighbours. We can’t stay in the Single Market because that would mean having no control of how many people come to Britain from Europe and complying with European Court of Justice rulings and other EU rules and regulations without having a vote on what those rules and regulations are, but we should negotiate a free trade Agreement with the EU that allows for the freest possible trade in goods and services;
• negotiating free trade agreements with countries outside the EU. That means leaving the Customs Union (members of the Customs Union impose the same tariffs on external countries, so if we stayed in that we couldn’t negotiate our own free trade agreements), but we should negotiate a customs agreement with the EU;
• continuing to co-operate with our European friends in the fight against crime and terrorism;
• protecting workers’ rights as we translate EU law into our own domestic regulations;
• securing the rights of EU nationals in Britain and British nationals in the EU; and
• tackling the depressing upsurge in hate crime that we have seen in the wake of the referendum.
This is a great country. Whatever our views on whether or not we should have stayed in the EU, we should be confident that if we pull together we can make a success of the decision we have made. That’s what we now need to do.