Heidi Allen MP today spoke in the Withdrawal Agreement debate ahead of the vote on the Prime Minister’s Deal. This is the text of Heidi’s speech.
“I want to begin by addressing the issue of our divided country; something repeatedly emphasised by the Government, the media, indeed often by our Prime Minister.
“I disagree – they are totally united –united by a pride in their country and in a determination that their nation must be the best it can. Regardless of which side of the argument they and we are on, it is because we all care passionately about the future of our country and citizens. Although there is clearly disagreement, like in any family, about the path to that objective, we are united in demanding nothing short of the best.
“I believe therefore, that this shared determination and sense of national dignity means we will find a way to navigate these challenging times and come out stronger on the other side.
“So Parliament must find a way of uniting this place and our people.
“When I decided to become an MP it was for one reason; I wanted to play an active role in assisting and serving our country. It wasn’t for the job title, it wasn’t because I had a sudden urge for my friends and family to think me “honourable” – indeed they are regularly quick to dispel me of that myth! It wasn’t because I wanted a job for life.
“It was because I wanted to play my part for as long or as short as my party and my electorate wanted me to. As a Member of Parliament, you are a custodian for a short time with a responsibility to do the singular best for your constituency and country – nothing else.
“After all, what can be more important than representing UK plc? Like our country, I too insist on the best – I am proud of my home and nothing mediocre will do.
“So I have approached my role by applying analysis, the consideration of facts; changing and constant, thorough research and by listening to and representing my constituents in South Cambridgeshire.
“It angers me greatly when I hear MPs say they will “reluctantly” or “with a heavy heart” accept this compromise of a deal with the EU. Not because I do not believe the Prime Minister has done her very best – I have no doubt that she has, but because what is on offer is not good enough!
“No MP should be voting for something that might make the economy weaker and risk jobs. How on earth can we purport to be representing this country at a national level if we are prepared to settle for second best!?
“Not good enough I say! Not good enough!
“If we are doing it to protect ourselves, our own jobs, our party or our reputation within our party – then we should be ashamed. And if this sense of pride and unwillingness to compromise our nation’s future were to result in me losing my position, then I am prepared for that. Because Mr Speaker, I will look back at my time as a Member of Parliament in this country’s hour of need and say I did my bit. Because lest we forget, we are elected to carefully consider all the options and the risks, to read those lengthy documents and to make the tough decisions when required. I, Mr Speaker, exercise those duties with the utmost seriousness.
“I recognise I cannot of course please all the people all the time, but from the thousands of emails, letters, tweets and conversations I have had with my constituents, it appears they are content with my approach. I hope therefore that I am not pre-empting my P45.
“Yes, I triggered Article 50 because it was right to honour the referendum result and I have backed the Prime Minster in her endeavours. But the uncomfortable truth is that in an attempt to walk the internal tight rope in my party, she has produced a deal unacceptable to too many members in this House – including me.
“For many on the right in my party, the purist Brexiteers, they will not risk staying indefinitely in the customs union which is the consequence of the back stop in the withdrawal agreement. I actually have no issue with this, as I recognise that only through the customs union can we ensure the frictionless trade vital to our economy and ensure no physical hard border in Ireland. The sensitivities and history of the Good Friday Agreement rightly demand no hard border and as such the backstop must always be a legal commitment in the withdrawal agreement.
“For me, it is the non-legally binding status of the political declaration – the negotiating principles for our future trade deal that do not meet the standards I expect.
“I understand that as a “third” country, the EU cannot begin negotiating a bespoke future trade agreement until that country has left. But had the Prime Minister sought Parliamentary consensus earlier than the eleventh hour, I think she would have found that retaining full membership of the single market and customs union, or a Norway plus customs deal type arrangement, would have been accepted. Such an off the shelf package with the EU could have been bolted down with surety. But with the passing of time, comes wisdom. Although potentially palatable to MPs and much of the population then, we understand clearly now that such a deal would be far inferior to that which we have now. We would be a rule taker, not rule maker.
“But the Prime Minster did not seek such a deal. She didn’t because she was earnestly trying to find a compromise solution with those MPs in my party who were never interested in compromise and always wanted and still want a WTO no deal Brexit. So those best endeavours were I am afraid in vain, and wasted far too much time.
“So here we are today, with just 73 days before 29th March, about to vote on a deal that offers no guarantee on our future. A non-binding political declaration that will inevitably and indeed already has, become a negotiating tool for other EU leaders – France for access to fish, Spain for game playing with Gibraltar.
“A divorce bill paid, further leverage gone.
“And the biggest risk for me, the possibility that our next Prime Minister may decide not to honour the negotiating principles in that declaration. Were this Prime Minister’s position assured, I would perhaps have more confidence, knowing her to be earnest and true to her word. But I am afraid we cannot guarantee the same of any future leader, so there is a very real danger that the Government may be led by someone who wants a hard, WTO, no deal Brexit. In that instance, the political declaration would not be worth the paper it is written on and could be ripped up tomorrow.
“So I ask myself if this deal will definitely improve opportunities for my constituents – no. Will it really safeguard the jobs that rely on frictionless trade? No. Will it guarantee scientific and medical collaboration? No. Will it support our services industry, which makes up 80% of the economy – no, they are not even part of the deal.
“So Mr Speaker, I have no regrets, I have no reluctance, for me the decision is as clear as day – this is not good enough for my country.
“So let us harness what unites us in Great Britain and Northern Ireland, that pride and determination to demand the best for future generations – let the people be part of this serious decision. Let them vote on this deal and ask them, is it good enough?”