Dr Fox's speech - European Union (Withdrawal) Emergency debate (Standing Order No. 24) - House of Commons 03/09/2019
Speaking in the European Union (Withdrawal) Emergency debate (Standing Order No. 24) in the House of Commons on Tuesday 3rd September 2019, Dr Fox said:
I commend you for ensuring that new Back Benchers are able to take part in the debate at such an early stage, Mr Speaker.
I echo the objections raised by the Leader of the House on constitutional grounds to this motion. I believe that denying the Executive the right to uniquely institute legislation is fraught with danger. Many of the debates and some of the changes that we have seen in Parliament in recent times show the fragility of a system that is based on convention. Whether we want them to or not, they are propelling us down the route towards a written constitution, which is something that none of us should want to do without taking due care and attention.
However, my main objection is political. The hon. Member for Warrington North (Helen Jones), who is no longer in her place, raised the tension that we have effectively between a public who voted to leave the European Union and a Parliament which—let us face it—if it had its way freely, would want to remain in the EU. I do not doubt for a moment the legal legitimacy of a sovereign Parliament to make laws as it sees fit. What I doubt is the moral legitimacy of a Parliament that called a referendum, promised to honour the result of it and then, three years later, still has not done so.
My right hon. Friend the Member for West Dorset (Sir Oliver Letwin) said that we have all made different judgments. Some have voted for a deal, unenthusiastically —I number myself among those who had strong reservations but felt that it was the best way to move forward. Some have voted against the deal because they want no deal to be the outcome. Some have voted against it because they want there to be no Brexit at all, and I want to address one or two questions to that latter group, because this is about the political reputation of Parliament.
Those who have had a premeditated campaign to try to thwart the Brexit result, hiding behind the arguments that it is just the deal that they are opposed to, do themselves, Parliament and politics no credit at all. That position is worsened if they stood at the general election on a manifesto that explicitly said that they would honour the result of the referendum, but they had absolutely no intention of doing so. That will result in the contempt of voters. I look forward to the moment when those Members who have taken that path meet their voters at the next general election, whenever that comes.
I am concerned about where this places us in EU negotiations. To be successful in a negotiation, both sides have to regard it as providing mutual self-interest. This does not do that. This process will cast us in the role of supplicants, not taking control back to this House, but giving it to the EU negotiators. That is not in our national interest. We in this political bubble often argue about process and the minutiae and fail to see the big picture, which is what our voters are looking at. We did not ask for an opinion from voters; we asked for an instruction. We said we would honour it, and we are honour bound to do so. I urge colleagues not to cast their vote tonight with the coalition of chaos—for that will be the result: delay will follow delay. It is time, one way or another, to deliver Brexit.
I make one further point. One of our senior French colleagues said to me, “Liam, you need to leave the EU following your referendum”. That was a senior pro-European politician. He said, “The problems of political fragmentation in France began when we did not honour the result of the referendum on the European constitution. It was the beginning of the end of the major parties and the beginning of the rise of the political fringe”. I fear that, if we go down the path suggested tonight, we will open up a chasm of distrust between Parliament and the British people, and that will play only into the hands of the political fringes, which is something we will all come to regret.