Last week I had to return home early from my Council of Europe meetings in Strasbourg to attend the weekly Opposition Day Debate in the House of Commons. The debate was about whether we should have a future debate about leaving Europe. The irony was not lost on me in that I could have stayed in France and done that. This futile episode underlines my frustration with the gamesmanship that is going on in Parliament about our EU withdrawal.
In the referendum, I voted for the UK to remain in the EU. I enjoyed the public meetings I held across the constituency but, having not campaigned on one side or the other, I was always going to abide by the result. With 52% of the votes being cast to leave the EU, we will be leaving the EU. This referendum was not advisory. Parliament transferred its voting powers on this decision to the people. We cannot raise the threshold to 75% or change the rules after the event. The views of the 48% who voted the way that I did need to be addressed but the ultimate decision to leave has been determined by the majority who voted. I will not be doing anything to block, or delay, the wishes of the majority.
This week, I spoke in another debate called by members of the opposition to give the right to remain to the 3 million EU citizens in the UK. My party agrees with this position but does not want to grant it until our EU partners give the same rights to UK citizens living in mainland EU. The vote had no effect but the national media reported this as being a new threat to the rights of our EU citizens. It is frustrating when irresponsible political stunts are used to worry members of the public and waste time. As I said in my speech, rather than constantly demanding Ministers address these points from the despatch box in the House of Commons, MPs should be freeing up Ministers to visit Europe and beyond to negotiate good exit terms, new trade deals and deliver certainty.
I am conscious that some say that many of the 52% who voted to leave were duped or mislead by the campaigns. I also hear the opposite argument that this figure gives a mandate to curb immigration. We do not know any of that conclusively. All we know is that 52% of referendum voters voted for us to leave the EU. I hope that all constituents, regardless of their wishes in June, will be optimistic and see this as a new and exciting opportunity for the UK. Some constituents may be more sceptical and concerned. I accept that and I hope they will take their lead from me having voted the same way. Ultimately, MPs have to stop talking about it and let Ministers get on with it.