Margaret Beckett – 2019 Speech on Brexit

Below is the text of the speech made by Margaret Beckett, the Labour MP for Derby South, in the House of Commons on 27 March 2019.

Negotiations succeed when no one gets everything they want but everyone gets something they want, and I hope that is the spirit in which we can approach today’s proceedings. This consultative process is too little and too late, but it is a lot better than carrying on as we were. We all owe a debt of gratitude to hon. and right hon. Members on both sides of the House who have striven to find proposals that could command wider support so that, finally, some alternative ideas are before the House, and I very much hope some common ground can be identified.

There is one vital thing that all these varied proposals have in common: not one of them reflects what the British people were told were the prospects before them when they cast their votes in 2016, and nor does the Prime Minister’s package, although that is not on the Order Paper. These differences from what was said to be on offer are substantial. The one key element that figures in each and every one of the proposed alternatives is the matter of sovereignty. It is key because all these proposals, including the Prime Minister’s, would mean that we follow EU laws and regulations without having any real say in their content.

In 1975, during the first referendum on our links with Europe, I campaigned against continuing those links, mainly because of the diminution of sovereignty they implied, but at least then we were not forfeiting sovereignty but sharing it. Today’s proposals mean we stand to lose our voice, our vote and our veto. Successive British Governments have used voice, vote and, occasionally, veto to considerable effect. We already have special deals all over the place. We do not have to be in the euro and we do not have to be a member of the borderless Schengen area. And we have helped to shape agreements within the EU and, as an EU member, across the world.

School students across the world recently went on to the streets to campaign against the threat to life on this planet, including the threat to the continued existence of the human race. Within the EU, the UK has played a substantial role over the years, under successive Governments, in pursuing these issues, and it was experiencing the influence that we could and did wield internationally in this sphere that finally and wholeheartedly convinced me of the value of our EU membership.

The Prime Minister’s deal and the various alternatives, one and all, surrender that shared sovereignty. They would make us rule takers without being, as we have been, influential rule makers. It is clear that many who voted leave have accepted the possible economic damage, of which they have been warned, as a price they are prepared to pay for the return of sovereignty, and I honour them for that stance, but sovereignty is not returning. In fact, we are sacrificing sovereignty for the sake of saying we are no longer a member of the EU. I recognise that such a deal may be all that is on offer, but to me it is inconceivable that its acceptance should be solely a matter for Members of this House. I genuinely have no idea what view the British people might take of these various compromises, and certainly many, including in this House, vehemently oppose their even being asked.​

Ever since the day of the second referendum result in 2016, a deluge of not only warnings but threats has come from those who take that view, forecasting unrest, civil disorder, greater division and a dramatic further reduction in the public’s trust in politics. But I invite colleagues who determinedly resist a confirmatory vote to look starkly at the full implications of what they are saying. They are willing, some are determined, to vote to terminate our membership of the European Union even if it may now be against the wishes of the majority of the British people. Consider the possible consequences for trust in politics or for social peace if this House forces an outcome on the people of this country that they no longer desire—that really would be the undemocratic, establishment stitch-up of all time.

We have all heard people say that the deals now available are worse than the one we now have as EU members, and some still say that, nevertheless, they still wish to leave. My mother would have called that cutting off your nose to spite your face, but if that is still the view of the majority, so be it. But how, in all conscience, can we alone in this House force through such a decision on their behalf without allowing them any say as to whether that is still their view?

David Tredinnick (Bosworth) (Con)

Will the right hon. Lady give way?

Margaret Beckett

I am sorry, but I do not have time.

As with the Good Friday agreement, whatever emerges from these complex negotiations, the outcome should go back to the people for confirmation. The people started this process. They set a desired goal. It has proved far more difficult and tortuous than predicted, but we will now soon have a potential outcome. It is the people who should choose whether, on the terms now on offer, they still wish to proceed. Theirs should be the final decision on this, which is the first stage only of our withdrawal from the EU. With a clear conscience, I can look my constituents in the eye and tell them that that is the outcome that this House has secured. The European Union needs reform. Britain could play a key role in shaping it or we can just walk away and live with the consequences. But it is the British people who should now decide what comes next.