25th March 2019

Sir Nicholas Soames’s Speech in the Debate on the European Union (Withdrawal) Act.


Sir Nicholas Soames’s Speech in the Debate on the European Union (Withdrawal) Act

Monday, 25 March 2019

House of Commons

Sir Nicholas Soames (Mid Sussex) (Con)

Mr Speaker, I will not long delay the House. I congratulate the hon. Member for North East Fife (Stephen Gethins) on making some very interesting points, many of which I find myself in agreement with. I also congratulate my right hon. Friend the Member for West Dorset (Sir Oliver Letwin) on his absolutely formidable speech, which renders anything I can say in support pretty nugatory.

I will be voting for amendment (a) tonight, but I want to make some general points. It is of the greatest importance for our country that we should now move to a conclusion on what is merely the beginning of a tortuous road that will eventually lead to our departure from the European Union. Like my right hon. Friend, l voted to trigger article 50, despite serious reservations on the timing. I have voted with the Government in every single Division on the withdrawal Act and on every other piece of legislation to advance the delivery of Brexit. I have voted to leave and to honour the referendum many more times than my right hon. Friend the Member for Uxbridge and South Ruislip (Boris Johnson), my hon. Friend the Member for North East Somerset (Mr Rees-Mogg), my right hon. Friend the Member for Rayleigh and Wickford (Mr Francois), my hon. Friend the Member for Wycombe (Mr Baker) and many others. I find it ironic that those who apparently wish most fervently to leave are those who have most consistently voted against the withdrawal agreement and thus inhibited any real progress.

I should make it clear that there are no circumstances in which I will vote for a no deal, and nor will I back what would be a deeply divisive second referendum. Both are a recipe for further chaos and division, which should be unacceptable to those on all sides of this argument, for whom it is surely time for logic and common sense to prevail.

Like my hon. Friend the Member for Penrith and The Border (Rory Stewart), I still believe in sanity. This is a country with a profound tradition of moderation and common sense. Our democratic institutions are elastic enough to be capable of compromise and of moving from the rhetoric of rejection to the painful necessity of an actual deal. It grieves me very much to see our influence abroad being so degraded, as the hon. Member for North East Fife said, as allies and partners who are close friends watch from afar with dismay as we burn up our reservoirs of good will and our reputation for common sense, most especially in the European Union.

Although it does not feel like it at the moment, this ancient country, in which we are so very privileged to live, is in general marked apart from many others by the tolerance, good nature and generally civilised manner of its democracy and institutions. These qualities are envied the world over; they need careful nurturing, but are currently entirely absent from the field. What on earth has happened to our pragmatism, self-restraint and common sense? It grieves me that our reputation is now under such extreme pressure at home and abroad; indeed, our reputation has been gravely diminished.

I greatly regret having to speak in this way in our Parliament; indeed, I cannot believe that I should need to do so. However, like many others, I find myself truly distraught at the painful, difficult and intractable position in which our country finds itself. What I really want, as, I am sure, do most Members of this House, is that the Government should be able to get on with the work of creating a more confident and hope-filled country that really cares for the weakest among us and for those who find their lives complicated and difficult; that encourages opportunity, enterprise and life chances; and that most especially keeps its vision of global service and influence, as a long-standing force for humanity and the general good.

Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

I will not, if I may, because many others want to speak. I hope the hon. Gentleman will forgive me.

All of us know that many of our constituents are understandably extremely angry that Brexit has so distracted the Government from the serious issues we face—the NHS, education, crime, the reform of social care, housing, the environment and climate change, and all the other great issues that have inevitably had to be neglected as Brexit has gradually sucked the life blood out of the Government. As you very well know, Mr Speaker, the public believe that we have collectively let them down badly, and this is leading inevitably and very seriously to the fraying of the bonds between Parliament and the nation. The national interest clearly dictates that we have to get this done and that we must get on with the vital work of establishing our future relationships with our most important economic partners and allies.

At the beginning of the business of the House every day, the Speaker’s Chaplain reads the prayer that enjoins Members most especially to

“never lead the nation wrongly through love of power, desire to please, or unworthy ideals but laying aside all private interests and prejudices keep in mind their responsibility to seek to improve the condition of all mankind”.

All of us need to pay a little more attention to those wise, profound and humane words, which have guided and succoured this House through thick and thin down the years and in worse days than these. It is now time that Parliament did its duty by the country, for the national interest and for national unity, and regardless of party or inclination, to bring these matters to a belated conclusion.

Vol. 657
No. 276
Col. 91-93



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