Speaking in the debate on the Withdrawal Agreement, Philip Dunne explains why he will support the deal.
It is a pleasure to follow my parliamentary neighbour, the hon. Member for Wolverhampton South West (Eleanor Smith). I would like to focus my remarks on the rationale for the decision I have taken, which I believe to be in the best interests of my constituents and this country, on the vote next Tuesday.
I have received plenty of advice from constituents, as I am sure all hon. Members have, much of it contradictory, reflecting the division in the country since the referendum. Many have asked me to represent their views, which, given the range of views and the physical impossibility of being in both Division Lobbies at the same time, it is not possible to achieve. I stood on a manifesto in 2015 that pledged to respect the result of the referendum. I voted to remain in 2016, but 57% of my constituents voted to leave. I have accepted the referendum result, and indeed I stood on a manifesto in 2017 that pledged to do so. That is why I voted with the vast majority of Members of this House—498 to 114, with a majority of each of the Conservative, Labour and Democratic Unionist parties—to invoke article 50.
The Government have had the most complex negotiations to undertake of any Government since the second world war, as evidenced by the sheer length of the EU withdrawal agreement and the number of pieces of secondary legislation that the European Statutory Instruments Committee, on which I sit, is currently scrutinising. There have undoubtedly been many challenges presented by the EU and its 27 other members throughout the negotiations. On some of these we have prevailed, and on some we have not.
Although I would not have started the negotiations by accepting the EU framework for the negotiations in the way we did, I have accepted that leaving the EU after 43 years of membership, during which our laws, regulations and standards have become increasingly intertwined, will require a negotiated deal, and negotiation requires compromise. I spent 20-odd years negotiating as an adviser to companies around the world, so I know that every negotiation comes down to the last moments, when the final compromises have to be made. We are now at that point. The word “compromise” has been used across the Chamber today, and it was particularly well encapsulated by my right hon. Friend the Member for Newbury (Richard Benyon), the right hon. Member for Don Valley (Caroline Flint) and the hon. Member for Bassetlaw (John Mann).
The reason why we are debating this issue so long after the invocation of article 50 is primarily its complexity, but coming a close second is the lack of consensus in the House, which is partly a result of the balance of arithmetic in the House following the 2017 election. We still do not have a consensus, which is why we have had to delay the debate. The only consensus in the House was on the decision to invoke article 50 in the first place.
We have heard from Conservative Members who have a strong tradition of seeking to leave the EU, and I respect their conviction and consistency of purpose. Some of them, including my right hon. Friend the Member for Maldon (Mr Whittingdale) earlier and my hon. Friend the Member for Southampton, Itchen (Royston Smith) just now, have made it clear that they are willing to compromise and support an orderly withdrawal if the Irish backstop issue can be removed or time-limited. I hope the Government will find a way to give them satisfaction before we vote next Tuesday, but if not, I believe that a willingness to compromise among Members from all parties is essential in order that we can do our duty as representatives of the people of this country and bring this matter to an orderly conclusion.
Opposition Members have told us that they will not support the deal because it does not reflect what they would like to see in a deal. Some have been straightforward in acknowledging that they wish to ignore the referendum and remain in the EU, but others have not, and they have not come up with any pragmatic suggestions as to what could be done to improve the deal. The official Opposition Front-Bench team has been consistent about one thing, and one thing only: it will not do anything at all to help, and will only try to bring about a general election, because that is its purpose. Opposition Front Benchers are not interested in compromise, whatever their warm words earlier. They have made no suggestions whatsoever on how to improve the deal.
The prospects are extremely alarming to those watching the debate from outside and for the countless businesses and constituents who are urging us to get on with it and provide some certainty to the nation about how we leave the EU in an orderly fashion. That is why, despite the deal’s imperfections and my concerns about aspects of it, I shall support it in next week’s vote. I will not support any proposal to have a second referendum, because that would be to deny completely the initial referendum, and it would perpetuate the division in this country that we can frankly no longer afford.