Anna Soubry – 2017 Speech on Withdrawal from the EU

Below is the text of the speech made by Anna Soubry in the House of Commons on 31 January 2017.

It is with a heavy heart, and against my long-held belief that the interests of this country are better served by our being a member of the European Union, that I shall support the Bill. In 2015, I promised the good people of Broxtowe that, if I was elected to represent them for another term, and in accordance with my party’s manifesto, I would vote for an in/out referendum on our EU membership, agreeing, in the words of David Cameron, that the people would “settle the matter”. I promised to respect and honour the vote. On 9 June 2015, along with 544 Members of this place, I agreed to that referendum, and in so doing I agreed to be bound by the result.

My right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Rushcliffe (Mr Clarke) was not in favour of that referendum and did not vote for it, so he is, of course, free and able to vote against the Bill. I am sure it is no coincidence that he happens to enjoy a considerably large number of people in his constituency who voted remain, and that he has—quite wrongly, in my view—announced that he will not be standing again in 2020. I say to Opposition Members, though, that you cannot go back on your word because you do not agree with the result.

I believe that history will not be kind to this Parliament, nor, indeed, to the Government I was so proud to serve in. How on earth did we ever come to put to the people an alternative that we then said would make them worse off and less safe and would weaken our nation? I echo the wise words of some of the speech by my new friend, the right hon. Member for Sheffield, Hallam (Mr Clegg), when I say that I greatly fear that generations that either did not vote or are yet to come will not thank us for our great folly. Neither will they forgive those who since 23 June have chosen not to be true to their long-held views—those who have remained mute as our country has turned its back on the benefits of the free movement of people, a single market and the customs union, without a debate, far less any vote in this place. Why is that? It needs to be said and recorded that our Government have decided that the so-called control of immigration, which actually means the reduction in immigration—that is what so many people in our constituencies believe—is worth more than the considerable benefits of the single market and the customs union.

What has been even more upsetting is the fact that Members on the Labour Front Bench have connived with the Government. The Government were never going to give us the opportunity to debate these important matters, for reasons that I genuinely understand and, indeed, respect, but for the Labour party to go against everything it has ever believed in is really quite shameful. It is a combination of incompetence on its Front Bench and a deep division among so many, with a few honourable exceptions—among whom I of course include the right hon. Member for Leeds Central (Hilary Benn). They have turned their backs on their long-standing belief in the free movement of people and failed to make the positive case for immigration.

The referendum vote exposed a deeply divided Britain, and that has been exposed in no place better than in the Labour party. Labour Members have been petrified—literally frozen to the spot—looking over one shoulder and seeing that their constituency Labour parties have been taken over by the extreme left, and beyond that, in many instances, that up to 70% of their own voters voted leave.

What has happened to our country? Businesses have fallen silent, scared to speak up and to speak out. I think they believe it is all going to be fine—that we are not really going to leave the EU, we will not really leave the single market and we will not really leave the customs union. They are going to get a sharp shock.

Alberto Costa

Does my right hon. Friend agree that when she, I and other Members of this House voted, rightly, to give the British people the ultimate say in this matter, we did not vote to take away the rights of EU citizens like my parents who live in this country? It is disgraceful that, as it stands today, we are not honouring their rights.

Anna Soubry

I completely agree with my hon. Friend, whom I include among those many brave souls on the Government Benches who, in the face of abuse and even death threats, have stood up and been true to what they believe in.

Why has there been this outbreak of silence? I quote the wise words of Edmund Burke:

“Because half a dozen grasshoppers under a fern make the field ring with their importunate chink, whilst thousands of great cattle, reposed beneath the shadow of the British oak, chew the cud and are silent, pray do not imagine that those who make the noise are the only inhabitants of the field.”

That is what has happened, but now it must stop. We must now make sure that everybody is free and able to stand up and say what they believe, and that people no longer cower in fear of four newspapers and this never-ending chorus, which I do not believe represents my constituents.

Chris Bryant

We are very grateful on the Labour Benches for all the advice the right hon. Lady is giving us. I am sure her own Back Benchers are grateful as well, sometimes.

Was the right hon. Lady a member of the Government who tried to cut net migration to tens of thousands? Did she stand as a Conservative Member in the most recent general election and the one before on a manifesto that pledged to cut net migration to tens of thousands? I just ask.

Anna Soubry

I do not think anybody would say that I have not been forthright in putting forward my views about the positive benefits of immigration to our country. The best way that the Government can reduce those figures is, of course, to take out overseas students. If only they would do that; it would be the right thing to do.

Notwithstanding the considerable abilities and efforts of our Prime Minister and Government, as we embark on these negotiations I remain far from convinced that we will get any good deal. Like the right hon. Member for Derby South (Margaret Beckett), I do not believe that in two years we will secure a good bespoke deal on trade, the customs union and our nation’s security. I hope very much to be proved wrong, and I will, of course, support the Prime Minister and our Government as they embark on the most important and difficult set of negotiations in decades, with consequences for generations to come.

What happens if no deal is secured? It is difficult to see how any Government could put to this place a deal that they believe to be inadequate in some way. I want, please, assurances from the Government that, in the event of no good deal being reached, all options will be placed before this House, and that we, on behalf of all our constituents and our businesses, will decide what happens next. We may need more time. We certainly do not want to jump off the cliff into World Trade Organisation tariffs when we are out of the single market and the customs union as that would be dangerous for our businesses in all sectors and of all sizes.

Let us now begin to heal the wounds and the divides, so that we can come together to get the best deal for our country as we leave the European Union.