Every now and then a politician brings tears to my eyes and this time it was David Lammy, Labour MP for Tottenham who explained why he would not be voting to trigger Article 50 and so disobey his party’s 3 line whip.
You can watch his speech here, or read it below.
http://www.parliamentlive.tv/Event/Index/fe6bc3c9-5d0b-4808-ba0b-8ce9c08475c1 starting at 19:42.
On Tuesday evening (31st January) I spoke in the Second Reading of the European Union (Notification of Withdrawal) Bill.
Many members of this House have long believed that the United Kingdom’s interests would be best served outside of the European Union.
They campaigned passionately for what they believe in and in their view we must now leave the European Union – no ifs, no buts and no questions asked.
It would be unfair if I didn’t acknowledge that 52% of those who voted on June 23rd voted to Leave.
The Prime Minister says she wants to deliver a Brexit that works for all and a Brexit that unites our divided country.
I too want to bring this country back together.
Members right across this House will have experienced just how divided the country has become in the months leading up to last June and in the months since.
Young and old. Graduates and non-graduates. The haves and the have nots. City dwellers and those who live in smaller towns and rural communities.
Unprecedented, deep divisions of the kind I have not seen in my lifetime.
But we cannot bring the country back together if we pretend that the country has spoken with one united voice.
People who voted to Leave voted for all sorts of reasons, many of which had absolutely nothing to do with the European Union.
I knocked on doors all over the country, from Hornsey to Huddersfield, and a lot of the Brexit voters I spoke to were actually voting against David Cameron and the Conservative Government.
Some voted for Leave to send a message to Westminster and register a protest vote.
Some said they were fed up with public services stretched to breaking point.
Some said they felt trapped and helpless so they voted for Leave because – as one voter put it to me – “well things can’t get any worse, can they?”
So when the Prime Minister speaks of “the will of the people”, her interpretation is frankly no clearer or more precise that anyone else’s.
Let’s not pretend that the people have spoken, because not all of them have.
In fact only 27% of the people of this country voted to Leave. 13 million people didn’t vote. Another 7 million eligible voters weren’t registered. 1 million British expatriates weren’t allowed to vote.
16 year olds were denied a say, even though it was their futures that were on the ballot paper.
Only 2 of the 4 nations that make up the United Kingdom voted to Leave. There was no quadruple lock.
There was no two-thirds super-majority – which is common in other countries for a constitutional change of this magnitude.
Even so, we are told that the people have spoken.
Look at what we have allowed ourselves to become.
In a matter of months our public discourse has been consumed by vitriol and abuse. Hate crimes rose 40% in the aftermath of the referendum vote, and we do not yet know what forces our actual departure will unleash.
It is easy to dismiss views with which you disagree if you never actually listen to them at all. If you just dismiss the people who hold them as villains or enemies of the people.
But it is in those terms that we are being asked to rubber stamp a blank cheque for the Government to deliver the most extreme version of Brexit imaginable.
We are being asked to ignore the fact that leaving the European Union will saddle us with a £60 billion divorce bill.
The OBR has forecast that Brexit will cost us another £58 billion over the next 5 years. Where will these cuts fall? We’re not even supposed to ask.
We are not going to get tariff-free access to EU customers whilst rejecting free movement. That is not on the table.
We are not going to get a more favourable trading arrangement with Europe from outside the Single Market. That is a paradox.
We are not going to come to a full agreement with Europe within 2 years. Believing otherwise completely flies in the face of precedent and all evidence.
Exiting without a deal and falling back on World Trade Organisation rules is being talked about as if this is a good option. That is totally wrong. It would be an absolute disaster for this country.
Even on the optimistic assumption that we can sign trade agreements all over the world, this will not even come close to making up for the loss of the single market.
We are facing a return to a hard border in Northern Ireland and a breakdown of the union with Scotland.
We are not reclaiming sovereignty, another promise that falls apart under any scrutiny. We are just transferring it behind the closed doors of negotiating rooms, where other countries will hold a gun to our heads.
But we are being asked to forget about all that.
Our doctors are against Brexit because our health service will collapse without European staff.
Our scientists are against Brexit because they will lose research grants and talented researchers.
Our manufacturers are against it because they will lose tariff-free trade with our biggest market.
Our financial services are against Brexit because they will lose their pass-porting rights.
Our universities are against Brexit because they will lose funding, staff and students.
Our exporters are against Brexit because if we leave the customs union they won’t be able to trade without goods being detained and checked at borders.
But why would we listen to these people – they are only the experts after all.
What happens in the next two years will define the future of our nation for generations.
In everything we have heard so far – the soft Brexit, hard Brexit, clean Brexit, grey Brexit and the red, white and blue Brexit – the Government has shown very little understanding of the huge obstacles they must overcome in the next two years, and even less understanding of the devastating consequences of failure.
We have decided that we are leaving, but it is the EU nations that decide how we leave and what we end up with.
Article 50 is the start of a process, not the end, and this process will be out of our hands as soon as Article 50 is triggered.
Where could we end up in 2019? Out of the single market. Out of the customs union. No trade deal with Europe or anywhere else.
Our only friend a President with a flagrant disregard for human rights. Do we really want to let ourselves become the 51st state of Trump’s America?
We shouldn’t fool ourselves.
This is not, and it never has been a debate about the economy. This has always been a debate about immigration.
We are staring down the barrel of a hard Brexit because immigration has been prioritised above all else – even the economy, jobs and living standards.
During the campaign, we were sold the lie that we could cut immigration without hitting our economy.
We were sold the lie that immigrants come here and take more than they contribute.
Between 1995 and 2011 European immigrants made a net contribution of £4.4 billion to our public finances. In the same period our native population cost us £591 billion.
Economic migrants are educated at another country’s expense so they subsidise our public spending on the young, the sick and the elderly.
78% of working age EU migrants are in work, compared to 74% of UK natives. The employment rate of migrants from the 8 countries that joined the EU in 2004 is over 80%.
Our economy can’t exist without people coming here to do the jobs that people in this country either don’t want to do or don’t have the right skills to do.
So not only will our economy take a hit when we leave the Single Market to control immigration, reducing immigration itself will further hurt our economy and make us poorer.
And another truth that the Leave campaign persuaded us to ignore. Last year more people arrived from outside the EU than from within the EU.
When we go around signing new trade deals, countries will demand visas for their people in return.
People have been told that immigration is going to disappear, but we will just be swapping EU immigration for non-EU immigration.
This is a voracious race to the bottom that will never end. And so when things go wrong, the backlash against migrants and minorities will be even worse.
It is almost half a century since a Member of this House, in a very different era, made these same warnings of “wives unable to obtain hospital beds in childbirth”, “children unable to obtain school places” and “homes and neighbourhoods changed beyond recognition”.
How far we have fallen when a black British Member of Parliament, of African and Caribbean descent, has to stand up and start quoting Enoch Powell.
On both sides of the Atlantic we can see the resurgence of far-right nationalism and nativist, xenophobic bigotry. Appeasement and compromise won’t work. It never has and it never will. We must meet it head on, before it’s too late.
It is the easy option to blame migrants who come here with skills instead of successive Governments – both Conservative and Labour – who have failed.
Failed to educate our own to compete.
Failed to build affordable housing.
Failed to fund our public services.
Failed to ensure that growth is felt outside of London and the South East.
A hard Brexit won’t deal with any of the long-standing, structural problems highlighted by the Brexit vote. It will make them worse.
The real tragedy is that with Whitehall and Parliament so consumed with Brexit for the next 10 years, we will have no capacity to address these problems.
London and the South East are the only regions where GDP per person is higher today than it was in 2007. Everywhere else, people are worse off than they were before the credit crunch.
Our economy is an hour glass, with the middle section hollowed out.
The middle rungs of the ladder – the breadwinner jobs that paid enough to raise a family on have disappeared. We now only have an asset class and an under-class.
Poverty is no longer an issue that afflicts the workless. More than half of all people who are in poverty – 7 and a half million in our country – are in a working family.
Real wages have fallen by 5% since 2009. And at the same time, the average property owner in London makes more money per year from the increased value of their home than the average London salary.
I will not take lectures about listening to left behind communities.
I have seen two riots in a generation in Tottenham.
My constituents have borne the brunt of austerity since 2010, and it is they who will pay the price of a hard Brexit.
Child poverty is at 40%. The council spends £20 million a year on bed and breakfasts just to keep families off the street.
So I will not betray my constituents by standing by and staying silent as this recklessness drives our economy off a cliff.
Members opposite have been dreaming of a low-tax, low-wage, low-regulation offshore tax haven for decades, and now they have it in their grasp they salivate at the thought of us becoming the new Singapore.
I will not stand with them.
If we let the Prime Minister pursue this reckless course – this Brexit at any cost – we know that as always it will be the poor, the weak and the vulnerable who suffer.
The referendum was not simply the rebellion of working class Labour heartlands that has been portrayed.
52% of Leave votes lived in the South of England. 59% were middle class. 58% of those who voted Conservative in 2015 voted Leave in 2016.
Colleagues on these benches must remember who the Labour Party represents – the very people and communities who will pay the price. This is not the time to stay silent or fall into line.
How can you walk into the voting lobby shoulder to shoulder with the party of Nigel Farage and the very people whose vision of society we all went into politics to oppose?
And as for Members opposite, where are you? Where are your better instincts? Why have you rolled over and given in to the hard Brexiteers, who have always been on the fringes of your party but who have never, until now, been in the driving seat?
This is not a time to put self-interest or party interest ahead of the national interest. There is too much at stake.
Let me finish by asking just one simple question, once asked by one of our most celebrated Parliamentarians.
“Is it prudent, is it even possible, however much we might desire it, to turn our backs upon Europe?”
When Churchill spoke those words, he was talking about appeasement and he was going very much against the prevailing wind. The same is true today.
Patriotism requires more than blind faith. We must remember our history, our values, what we represent and what we stand for. Most of all, we should remember what we stand against.
For all of these reasons, and for the sake of the country that I love, I will be voting against the triggering of Article 50.”
What a speech. My thanks to him and all the MPs who voted against the triggering of Article 50 for similar reasons, who put their conscience and patriotism before their career.