Edward Leigh – 2019 Speech on Brexit Business Motion

Below is the text of the speech made by Edward Leigh, the Conservative MP for Gainsborough, in the House of Commons on 1 April 2019.

In some ways, this business motion might be seen as the most interesting and important part of the day, because procedure is now everything. The fact that, on this historic day, the Government have lost control of the Order Paper is vital to the debate and how we proceed. Although we will have an interesting debate in the coming hours, I doubt whether a single vote will be changed by what anybody says, what blogs are written or what tweets are posted. Most people have made up their minds, and they have a settled view on what they want—whether it is the customs union, no deal or whatever.

My few remarks are almost by way of questions to the Leader of the House and to my right hon. Friend the Member for West Dorset (Sir Oliver Letwin). Like many people, I want to know what will happen under the current procedure. It seems to me that tonight we will probably whittle matters down to one option that has the most support in the House, and we all know that that is likely to be permanent membership of the customs union. On Wednesday, the alternative Government—not the Labour party, but my right hon. Friend—will take control of the agenda. As I understand it, he will then produce a Bill to implement what is decided, which will probably be permanent membership of the customs union.

I put it to the Government that we Conservative MPs will then have a choice: we will have to have permanent membership of the customs union because the Order Paper will have been taken over by Parliament; or we have a general election; or we prorogue Parliament. I say to my right hon. Friend that I think it would be a dereliction of duty on the part of the House if we were to abdicate our responsibility and have a general election. The people asked us to make this choice and to do this job. If we cannot agree on what we do not want, we should agree on what we do want. Therefore, the Government have to move forward with their meaningful vote, if necessary in a run-off with this customs union, and if necessary in a vote tomorrow.

I do not believe that it is in the interests of the nation to have a general election, which would solve nothing: people do not vote on the issue—they vote on who the leader of the party is, who they like or who their local MP is. We all know that every single general election gets out of control. We ourselves have to decide this issue. We have to make the choice. We have to decide what we want, not what we do not want.

Helen Goodman (Bishop Auckland) (Lab)

Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Sir Edward Leigh

No, I am going to finish in a moment. The other thing that we surely cannot do—I say this to my friends who, like me, voted for Brexit—is duck the issue by proroguing Parliament. We cannot act like Charles I. We voted leave because we wanted to give control back to Parliament; it would be like someone throwing the football out of the stadium because they are losing the football match.

There is a simple choice for my colleagues now. The Government are on the cusp of losing control and we are on the cusp of facing permanent membership of the customs union, which runs contrary to our manifesto. We have to get real, dear friends: we have to make that choice. My personal choice is that I would rather vote for the Prime Minister’s deal, which at least delivers some sort of Brexit.