Chris Chope’s Speech

I will speak briefly to the amendments in my name and in the name of my right hon. and hon. Friends. Three years ago, the people of the United Kingdom instructed us, with the largest democratic mandate in our history, to obtain a divorce from the European Union and, in March 2017, Parliament accepted that instruction by giving notice under article 50 of the EU treaty.

Sir Christopher Chope (with scissors) opening Highcliffe Post Office in 2017

Article 50 makes provision for an amicable divorce or for a divorce without agreement. In a traditional divorce to dissolve a marriage, both parties accept the irretrievable breakdown and try to agree sensible future arrangements, but the EU has never accepted Brexit. The EU and its institutions do not want a divorce. If there was any doubt about that, it has been made clear to us on the Brexit Committee whenever we have visited the European institutions and their leaders that the EU is just hoping and praying that Brexit will go away and that we will remain in the European Union.

They do not want a divorce, so their motivation is to contest that divorce by putting forward unreasonable and unacceptable terms that offer us only a punishment deal. My right hon. Friend the Member for Maidenhead (Mrs May) anticipated that in her Lancaster House speech, in which she said she feared that that might be the approach of the European Union, that it would be intent on offering us a punishment deal.

That is exactly what the EU has done, and the only alternative to a punishment deal under article 50 is no deal. Unless amended, this Bill will remove even that option, which enables us to put pressure on the European Union to come to the negotiating table to talk about a better deal.

As my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House said yesterday, this is a dreadful deal that has already been rejected by the House on several occasions. With this Bill, are we really going to be left with the options of either no Brexit or Brexit in name only? That is essentially what we are talking about tonight.

The United Kingdom’s freedom to divorce under article 50 is constrained by this Bill by being made subject to an EU veto that enables the EU to block Brexit, effectively indefinitely, unless or until the UK reneges on the decision of a referendum. The Bill removes any incentive for the EU to negotiate, which is why the Prime Minister is right. If this Bill passes tonight, we will take away from him any opportunity to negotiate. All he could do is be a supplicant at the table of the European Union. In effect, this would be an example of modern international slavery, where we are imprisoned by the EU with no reasonable way out.

Sadly, the EU’s collaborators in this House have become more strident and less cautious as time has elapsed. My right hon. Friend the Member for West Dorset (Sir Oliver Letwin) has said, in public, in this House and in private, that his objection to no deal is only because of the lack of preparation—

I will not give way. My right hon. Friend has now dropped that pretence, telling us yesterday that this Bill will show whether or not the House of Commons accepts a policy of a no-deal exit. He is saying that if this Bill carries on into law, we will be telling the EU, “Not to worry, in no circumstances will we be leaving without a deal.” In other words, we will be throwing in the towel to the EU. Nothing in this Bill is related to the no-deal preparations or recognises that since the change of Government expenditure on no ​deal has increased dramatically and that we are now in a position where we will be prepared for no deal—we should have been better prepared for it in the first place.

If the remoaners had the guts, they would have brought forward a Bill to revoke article 50, which is what they want in their hearts and what the EU wants, but they know that that would be resoundingly defeated if it were presented to this House. What we have instead is the revocation of article 50 in all but name—a device to deceive the public. This is a squalid little Bill. It is an affront to Parliament, to democracy and to the people, because it enslaves the UK to the EU. It relegates us to the status of a colony. It treats the UK as though we had been vanquished in war, by giving the EU the power to dictate the terms of our surrender. I despair at the defeatism of so many of my colleagues, and I hope that we will fight back and win in a general election, for which I cannot wait.

Jeremy Lefroy (Stafford) (Con)