Bernard Jenkin – 2019 Speech on Brexit

Below is the text of the speech made by Sir Bernard Jenkin, the Conservative MP for Harwich and North Essex, in the House of Commons on 11 January 2019.

I cannot help but reflect on the fact that the speech of the hon. Member for Glenrothes (Peter Grant) followed that of my right hon. Friend the Member for Mid Sussex (Sir Nicholas Soames), who called for calm and moderation in this debate. I am afraid that some of the language the hon. Gentleman used rather failed to rise to that challenge. For him now to call for a people’s vote when he never for an instant accepted the result of the people’s vote we have already had underlines the point about double standards raised by the hon. Member for Edinburgh South (Ian Murray).

Peter Grant rose—

Sir Bernard Jenkin

No, I am not giving way; the hon. Gentleman spoke for a long time. But I will say this: like him, I believe in the sovereignty of the people, and in fact I believe in the sovereignty of the Scottish people, and the Scottish people spoke in 2014 and voted to be part of the United Kingdom. And then the Scottish people, as the British people, took part in the 2016 United Kingdom referendum and the British people spoke, and I believe in their sovereign right to be respected.

So I will rise to the hon. Gentleman’s challenge and say that the benefits the Scottish people are getting from leaving the EU are that they are taking control of their own laws and money, and—something dear to his heart, I imagine—that the Scottish Parliament is going to have more power as a result of us leaving the EU. He seems to be very quiet about that.

In the emergency debate on Tuesday 11 December I emphasised the democratic legitimacy of the referendum vote. The Commons voted to give the decision to remain or leave to the voters by 544 votes to 53, and then we accepted that decision and invoked article 50 by 494 votes to 122.

Nobody could possibly question the courteous determination and sincerity of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, who has striven so hard to secure an agreement acceptable to this House from our EU partners, but it now looks most unlikely that this draft agreement will be approved, because it would leave the UK in a less certain and more invidious position than we are prepared to accept.

Nevertheless, the EU withdrawal Act, which sets the exit date as 29 March 2019, did pass this House. It could have included an amendment that the Act should not come into force without an article 50 withdrawal agreement, but we approved that Act, which provides for leaving the EU without a withdrawal agreement—I think even my right hon. Friend the Member for Mid Sussex voted for that Act. Parliament has now spoken. The Act makes provision for the so-called “meaningful vote”, but not for any kind of vote in this House to prevent Brexit without a withdrawal agreement. Democracy has been served.

For some MPs now to complain that they did not intend to vote for what the Act provides for is rather lame. They may have held a different hope or expectation, but the Government gave no grounds for that. The Government always said, and still say, that no deal is better than a bad deal. Parliament has approved the law and set the date. There is no democratic case for changing it, nor could that be in the national interest.

The right hon. Member for Hackney North and Stoke Newington (Ms Abbott) reminded us of some of the less pleasant elements on the spectrum of British politics, but elsewhere in the EU, extremism is becoming far more entrenched than here, with AFD in Germany and the gilets jaunes on the streets of Paris, as well as Lega Nord, which has actually taken power in Italy. Popular revolt against the immovability of the established EU consensus in the rest of the EU cannot be blamed on Brexit. On the contrary, our broad and largely two-party democracy has proved to be the most durable and resistant to extremism because we absorb and reflect the effects of political and economic shocks. UKIP died at the 2017 general election because both the main parties pledged to implement the referendum decision without qualification.

But what are some in this House trying to achieve now? What would be the consequences for the stability and security of our democracy if the Government let the politicians turn on the majority of their own voters and say, “The politicians are taking back control, not for Parliament but to keep the EU in control”? The voters did not vote to accept whatever deal the EU was prepared to offer. They voted to leave, whether or not the EU gave us permission. Ruling out leaving without a withdrawal agreement is not a democratic option. They did not vote to remain as the only alternative to a bad deal, they did not vote for the EU to hold the UK hostage, nor did they vote for a second referendum.

Of course, a second referendum is what the EU really wants, which is why it will not give the UK a good deal. It is shameful that so many leading political figures from our country have been shipping themselves over to Brussels to tell the EU not to make concessions in the negotiations with their own Government, in order to try to get a second referendum. The EU is a profoundly undemocratic and unaccountable institution, whose biggest project, the euro, has inflicted far worse disaster on businesses, individuals and families in many countries than even the direst Treasury forecasts for the UK. The economic and political storm clouds are still just gathering over the EU. It is the EU that is on the cliff edge of disaster, not the UK. In the years to come, in the words of Mervyn King, the former Governor of the Bank of England:

“If you give people a chart of British GDP and ask them to point to where we left the EU, they won’t be able to see it.”

Our domestic policies, as well as our trade with the rest of the world, have already become far more important than our present trading relationship with the EU. We will have the freedom to develop them more quickly. Our EU membership does not just cost the net contribution of £10 billion per year and rising, which does no more than avoid some £5.3 billion of tariffs, but it has locked the UK into an EU trading advantage, leaving the UK with an EU trade deficit of £90 billion a year. Why are we trying to preserve such a disadvantageous trading relationship?

Even if we leave without a withdrawal agreement, there will be immediate benefits. WTO is a safer haven than the backstop. Far from crashing out, we would be cashing in. We would keep £39 billion, which would immediately improve our balance of payments and could be invested in public services, distributed in tax cuts or used to speed up economic adaptation. That would boost GDP by 2% over the next few years. We would end uncertainty; the draft agreement would perpetuate it.

Business needs clarity about trading conditions with the EU from day one. Jamie Dimon of J. P. Morgan campaigned for remain, side by side with George Osborne, the then Chancellor of the Exchequer. J. P. Morgan now says that extending article 50 is the “worst case scenario” because it does

“not see what it provides us in reaching a clear, final outcome that provides certainty for businesses”.

It adds that paralysis is

“not good for the economy”,

yet that is what the article 50 extenders are arguing for. We will not be caught in any backstop if we leave without a withdrawal agreement, nor will there be a hard border in Ireland. Even Leo Varadkar has said that

“under no circumstances will there be a border. Full stop.”

The EU and the UK Government have said the same.

All of the more ludicrous scare stories are being disproved. There will be no queues at Dover or Calais. The president of Port Boulogne Calais could not have been more emphatic—[Laughter.] Labour Members laugh, because they do not want to hear the truth. The president of Port Boulogne Calais said:

“We have been preparing for No Deal for a year….We will be ready….We will not check trucks more than we are doing today…We will not stop and ask more than we are doing today”.

He added that the new special area for sanitary and phytosanitary checks was somewhere else, and would

“not influence the traffic in Dover.”

The Government and the pharma companies say that they can guarantee supplies of medicines, and the EU Commission has proposed visa-free travel for UK citizens in the EU for up to six months of the year. The EU statement of 19 December already proposes its own transition period of up to nine months, including no disruption of central bank clearing, a new air services agreement, access to the EU for UK road haulage operators and special regulations on customs declarations.

Leaving on WTO terms is far preferable to the protracted uncertainty of either extending article 50 or this unacceptable withdrawal agreement. The leadership of this country—that includes the Government and the Opposition—should stop reinforcing weakness and start talking up our strengths and building up our confidence. History has proved that our country can always rise to the challenge, and our people will never forgive the politicians who allow the EU to inflict defeat. It saddens me greatly that even some in my own party are promoting such a defeat.