At a recent visit to Ysgol Cymer I asked members of the school council how I should vote on Article 50 – every single one of them said, “With your conscience”.
I have stood at every election on a platform and a party manifesto that said we would stay in the European Union. That was my solemn vow to the voters of the Rhondda.
Not only was I a remainer, I still am a remainer and I’ll remain a remianer until my dying day. But I admit that I lost the vote, including in my constituency, but I have not lost my faith. It remains my deep conviction that leaving the European Union, especially on the terms that the Government, will do untold damage to my constituents, especially the poorest of them.
I believe in a form of democracy that never silences minorities. I know that many of my constituents will disagree with me, but in the end, there is no point in being a Member of Parliament if we do not have things that we believe in and that we are prepared to fight for. Below is a video of the speech I gave in the chamber of the House of Commons during the Brexit debate. My speech, in full, is below this video.
Speech during Brexit Debate
My Full Speech
The first question I was asked in the general election hustings in 2001 at Treorchy Comprehensive was ‘will you always vote with your conscience?’ I said ‘yes’ – and I meant it. When I recently visited Ysgol Cymmer and asked the School Council how I should vote today, every single one of them said ‘with your conscience’ – though that’s not how my constituency voted in the referendum.
I am a democrat because democracies don’t silence minorities. The 48% have a right to a voice – and for that matter the 45% or so in the Rhondda do too. So today I shall be speaking on behalf of a minority of my constituents.
All my life I’ve believed that the best form of patriotism is internationalism. My first political memories are of Franco’s guards. I was thrown out of Chile for attending a funeral of a lad who had been set on fire by Pinochet’s police. I distrust politicians who spuriously use the national security argument to launch campaigns against migrants, refugees and ethnic minorities. I fear the turn this world is taking towards narrow nationalism, protectionism and demagoguery. Distrust of those who are different from us can all too often turn to hatred of foreigners – and that way lies the trail to war.
I know that is not the tradition of the Rhondda. We were built by migrants, from England, from Ireland, from Italy – and this country was built on the sweat, the courage, the ingenuity and the get up and go of Huguenots, Normans, Protestants fleeing the Inquisition, Irish Catholics fleeing famine, Jews escaping persecution, Polish airmen, Spanish nurses, Indian doctors, Afro-Caribbeans wanting to help this country be great.
I have stood at every election on a platform and a manifesto that said we would stay in the European Union. That was my solemn vow to the voters of the Rhondda.
I lost the vote but I haven’t lost my faith. It remains my deep conviction that leaving the European Union, especially on the terms that the Government seems to expect, will do untold damage to my constituents, especially the poorest. Local high-tech businesses like International Markes tell me they may have to leave for Germany if we leave the single market. I agree with the Labour First Minister Carwyn Jones and with Leanne Wood, the Plaid Cymru Assembly Member for the Rhondda when they say ‘People voted to leave but they didn’t vote to undermine thousands of jobs, two thirds of Welsh exports or foreign direct investment into Wales.’ Of course the Government must deliver a deal that meets the needs of Wales because agriculture, education and the environment are all devolved responsibilities.
I fear this weekend has shown how leaving the EU will affect our standing in the world. Now that we have turned our back on Europe we are too desperate for a deal with America. So we keep schtum when Trump announces a policy that we all know will act as a recruiting sergeant for terrorists and we signal that we’ll sign up to any deal, even if it involves selling off the NHS, with a man who is abolishing Obamacare. With Trump it’s a case of ‘any deal is better than no deal’ but in Europe it’s ‘no deal is better than a bad deal.’ This is madness.
Last week I presumed that the Government would table a proper bill laying out a process whereby parliament would scrutinise a deal. I thought we in this parliament would have at least the same opportunities to go through it line by line as the European Parliament. I took the likes of Daniel Hannan, the Tory MEP who campaigned for Brexit and said we would stay in the single market, at his word. But then the prime minister announced without any reference to parliament that we would be leaving the single market. She said she didn’t want to retain any aspects of our membership of the European Union. I presume that includes the European Arrest Warrant. But she herself said that without it, the UK would become ‘a honeypot for all of Europe’s criminals on the run from justice’ because we sent 6,514 foreign criminals back to face justice elsewhere and 796 criminals were brought back here.
But then they published this. It’s not a bill. It’s a carte blanche, a blank cheque, a white flag. This isn’t taking back control. It’s handing control to the government, to ministers not to parliament, to the crown not the people.
It’s so dangerous because the government has stated that this moment is irreversible. This is it, folks. Now or never. And they refuse to guarantee that we will have a chance to alter the final deal.
Yes, I believe we will leave the European Union. My vote can’t and won’t change that. But I believe this Bill, this way of Brexiting, will leave us poorer, weaker, more vulnerable and at far, far greater danger.
So, Mr Speaker, I say ‘never, not in name’. Never, never, never.