On Wednesday 5 December 2018, Victoria Prentis MP spoke in the second allotted day of the European Union (Withdrawal) Act debate.
Please see below for a full transcript of Victoria’s speech, taken from Hansard.
Victoria Prentis (Banbury) (Con): It is an honour to follow the hon. Member for Carmarthen East and Dinefwr (Jonathan Edwards), though I do not agree with all his ideas, and my hon. Friend the Member for Berwickshire, Roxburgh and Selkirk (John Lamont), who made a characteristically thoughtful speech.
Many ideas have been put forward today, but, as lawyers are fond of saying, we are where we are. I urge hon. Members putting forward ideas—650 different ideas, possibly, if you can fit everyone into this enormous debate, Mr Speaker—to look down the corridor, where there is another debate going on that is possibly even more thoughtful and perhaps a little less political than the one in this Chamber. I was made to stop and think when I read the speech of the Archbishop of Canterbury earlier today. I encourage all Members to have a little look at what is going on down the corridor.
In the 2016 referendum, the result in the Banbury constituency was the closest in the country. By 500, we voted to leave. I have seen no evidence, talking to people or in my postbag, that significant numbers on either side have changed their minds, though there have been a few. It is really important, given that we are where we are, that we now be sensible and practical. This is a fair deal—in fact, it is growing on me more and more as I read it and listen to debates such as this. There are two main reasons why I think that.
We have in the deal the beginnings of certainty on the status of EU nationals and an inkling of where our immigration policy is going. We know a fair bit about immigration in north Oxfordshire. Poles make up 10% of the population of Banbury. We also have another significant minority in the Kashmiris, who have been with us, in some cases, for four generations. The Poles and Romanians living locally are well integrated, and we value their contribution to or workforce and all aspects of public life.
I am concerned that we put flesh on the bones of the withdrawal agreement, and I look forward to engaging in detail with the White Paper so that my constituents might get practical solutions to problems such as, “Will granny be able to join me when she needs care in her old age?” The deal is going in the right direction, which is one reason why I am inclined to vote for it, but I am also persuaded by the almost frictionless trade ideas set out in it. Of course, the future agreement needs more work, but we are going in the right direction.
In Banbury, we are lucky to have almost full employment. We have a wide selection of middle-sized family manufacturing firms—in the food and automotive industries, for example—that are a part of the critical just-in-time European-wide system. When I was hoping to speak in this debate, I thought I would ask my local business leaders what they would like me to say. I asked a wide selection, but I have chosen to read out the comments of two in particular. One is a great local entrepreneur. He was a Brexiteer, which is unusual among my local business leaders, and he now runs a company that is a leading distributor of health and beauty and household brands. He said:
“The deal on the table sorts several of the big Brexit issues—immigration being one. It also protects trade. Smooth trade through ports and ferry terminals is vital to the UK. So much of everything we eat and use comes from Europe. Likewise our exports are crucial to many UK businesses—especially automotive.
My view is we should sign it. I have not seen any credible alternative proposals from others...The Irish situation was always going to be difficult. It should not become a deal breaker. No deal would be a disaster.”
Let me also quote what was said by a representative of a company that manufactures high-end tools. This lady was a passionate remainer, and I am particularly fond of both her and her business—as, indeed, was my predecessor. The company is a great local employer. It is notable that those who visit its factory meet people who have worked there for 35 years, and successive generations of whose families have worked there. She said:
“The deal that is now on the table I believe is the best we could get. It isn’t as good as staying in for obvious reasons—you don’t get a better deal being out of the club than you get by being in it. But, it is a deal that an export company like ours can work with and while trade with the EU will cease to be frictionless we will have until 2021 to get things in place to deal with that. If I do my best to be positive about the situation, there may also be benefits for trade outside the EU post transition—although I sincerely hope not at the cost of lower standards for products, employee protection, the environment or animal welfare.”
I could not have put it better myself.
It could be said that Banbury was the most divided constituency on 23 June 2016, but I have seen plenty of evidence locally that we are prepared to come together, work together, and have a bright future with the deal that is on the table.
I am extremely grateful to all those who have taken the time to contact me about Brexit in recent weeks. Over 600 people have sent me emails, letters or campaign postcards as negotiations have progressed. Many have contacted me more than once or twice week to share their view on developments. It is right that everyone should have the opportunity to have their say on an issue that will shape the future of our country and which affects us all. I am only sorry that, on some occasions, because of the sheer volume of correspondence it has taken me a little longer to reply than usual.
I think it is important to remember that there are a very wide range of views on Brexit. To get an idea, I want to share just a few from constituents who have written to me:
“I would encourage you to support the Prime Minister in both her job and her proposed deal, and to be an advocate for the message that Brexit was always, by necessity, going to be a compromise for us all.”
“The whole Brexit campaign has been a shameful farce. A People's Vote is the only honourable way to deal with the present mess and I would very much doubt that the majority of the country would still want to vote Leave.”
“I voted Remain in 2016 but I fully respect the result of the referendum. I just wanted the Government to get on and deliver a sensible Brexit. I was hopeful that Theresa May’s (PM at time of writing) attempts to get a good deal for Britain would be successful. Now we know what the deal looks like I simply can’t believe that this deal is good for our country. We are giving up our role as a leader in Europe whilst many of the benefits promised by the Leave campaign are not going to happen.”
“I am appalled and despairing of this withdrawal deal. It is not what I voted for…I am sick and tired of remainders [sic] agitating for another referendum, this would be the wrong kind of democracy.”
“As one of your constituents I am emailing to ask you to not vote down the current Brexit deal. As someone who wishes we were remaining in the EU, this deal is far from what I have been hoping for, but it is better than a no deal brexit.”
“You all need to get a grip and deliver what you were told to do by the electorate by the biggest turnout in a century, a lot more support than any of you in Parliament got, or, are ever likely to get.”
“With the Withdrawal Agreement, we finally have an idea of what life outside the European Union would be like. No such document was presented to the public before the referendum. As such…we cannot use the result of the referendum as consent for this plan.”
“I would urge all your MPs not to pursue a change of leadership at this crucial time. I am not a natural Conservative voter, but do feel Mrs May has worked tirelessly for the best solution that follows as closely as is possible the wishes of the majority in the referendum. To change leadership at this time will only do harm both to the country as a whole, and especially to the continuity of the crucial Brexit negotiations.”
“In my opinion it was always going to be tough as all 17.2m who voted Leave had their own vision of perfect Brexit and it was never going to be possible to meet all expectations. The PM seems to be an exemplary extremely hard working and capable person with conscience that others in the Conservative party should admire and not criticise.”
“I never thought leaving the EU was a good idea, however I have studied the prime minister’s deal and believe it is something I could live with. I don’t think it is as good as our current arrangements, but it is sensible and protects business and peace in Northern Ireland. I would urge you to support if you believe we have to leave the EU. Personally I would rather see a referendum so that the public can decide between the deal or remaining.”
“The people voted and democracy delivered a result. Since article 50 was triggered we found our future in the hands of politicians both in Westminster and Brussels carrying out an impossible task of negotiating an exit which keeps all parties happy.”
“I know a lot of people in our area voted Leave in 2016 but we are now heading for a Brexit that only the deranged could have voted for. It has already and will continue to make us far poorer and damage the prospects of our industries and our young people, who will be denied the freedom to travel and work across 28 countries.”
“Given the current situation (which is a proposal which pleases no-one) and the fact that most of what the leave campaign promised prior to the initial referendum having since been proven to be incorrect. I feel the only democratic way out of the mess is a second referendum.”
“I can't believe that now we're on the precipice of "it" that our Government is still proceeding despite every single one of the possible benefits thrown about carelessly by leave having been well and truly exposed as outright lies.”
“PLEASE PLEASE SUPPORT A PEOPLES VOTE. The repeated references to the results of the previous referendum being a majority is a falsehood - a huge swaths of voters at that time were hoodwinked into voting for a fantasy”
“What a lady! The pressure she has had to take is being recognised in the Country and in true British fashion we are happy to compromise on withdrawal from the EU. I voted leave but why risk everything for the unknown?”
“I'm sure that if [the Prime Minister] ultimately loses the vote, there will be many that join the cry for a second referendum. As a barrister, I'm sure that you are well aware of the danger of asking a question in court to which you do not know the answer. There are many pitfalls in the vote: what happens if the turnout drops from 75% to 60% because the weather is bad, or people decide there's no point because the establishment won't listen to them anyway, and Remain wins by 2% but with a numerical vote less than either their previous vote or that of the original Brexit vote? If many voters struggled with a binary decision previously, how much more easily will it be if they'd given the choice between 2 or more options? And of course, what happens if voters are so 'stupid and bigoted' to vote again for Brexit against the advice of their 'betters'? Now what do our MPs do?”
It is clear that opinions differ. We can all unite in our real desire to get the best for our country. We had a democratic vote on our future relationship with the European Union in 2016 and the Government was always very clear that it would implement the result. Article 50 was also triggered in 2017 following a vote in the House which was supported by 494 to 122 votes.
Preparations for our departure have been ongoing since the referendum. Having been a civil servant before I was elected, I know my former colleagues have been working to ensure the smoothest possible exit. The Prime Minister has worked as hard as anyone to bring an agreement to the table. Her resilience and tenacity are extremely impressive. I have spent a lot of time since the draft deal was published exploring the document in detail, and discussing the content with colleagues. It has always been clear to me that a deal is critical to our departure – a view reiterated by many of the businesses in our area – and that an element of compromise would be necessary.
There has been some give and take, on both sides. In the lead up to the 2016 referendum, I spent a lot of time campaigning. Those who voted leave told me that regaining control of our borders and having the freedom to enact our own laws was extremely important to them, while those who voted remain – as I did – were motivated mainly by a desire to protect our economy and jobs. Reconciling a deeply divided electorate was never going to be easy, particularly when everyone has their own idea of what Brexit will look like. My own view is that the deal the Prime Minister has negotiated achieves a fair outcome.
I appreciate that some people do not feel it goes far enough, while others see this as the time to stop the process altogether. As I hope the excerpts I have quoted from my inbox demonstrate, I have no doubt about the strength of feeling on all sides of the debate. Some of the behaviour of my colleagues here at Westminster in recent days has been self-indulgent. With less than five months until we leave the EU, now is not the time for a leadership contest or another referendum – particularly when there is little agreement about what the question in a second referendum would be.
Just as I cannot predict what will happen after we leave, I am not sure how the next few weeks will also play out at Westminster. We know that we will have to vote on the deal sometime in December. A Political Declaration – which will set out the broad terms of our future relationship with the EU – must also be negotiated in the short term. Divorce is never easy, but I think we really must focus on leaving with a deal.
Victoria Prentis MP
22 November 2018