Sir Mike Penning speaks in the Brexit debate

13th January 2019

Sir Mike Penning speaks in the debate on the Withdrawal Agreement and explains that he cannot support the deal because of the Northern Ireland backstop and he will not support for anything that does not protect the Union.

It is always difficult to follow someone whose oratory is so difficult to follow, especially as someone who was educated in Tottenham and Essex. Most of my friends probably would not have understood a single word the hon. Member for Ealing North (Stephen Pound) said. He is a good friend, however, and I take in good faith his feeling that we should continue to be friends with Europe. Actually, I think that they have learned an awful lot from us, especially about universal suffrage, which we were doing long before we joined the European Union.

You might hear me refer to you, Mr Speaker, as I tell the history of my involvement in this particular subject. I started Conservatives Against a Federal Europe, which damaged my career enormously—it prevented me from coming into this House for many years—because my party was not hugely supportive of people like Sir Teddy Taylor, whom my hon. Friend the Member for Rochford and Southend East (James Duddridge) referred to. I vividly remember having to hold a fringe meeting about Europe at the Odeon cinema in Blackpool because we were prevented, profoundly, from holding it in the conference area. I asked Michael Prescott, the then political editor of The Sunday Times, to chair the meeting, and you might remember, Mr Speaker, that some chap called Norman Tebbit appeared on that platform alongside a young upstart called John Bercow. Talking about oratory, John Bercow made Mr Tebbit look a bit left wing—I think I am absolutely right about that. Following that excellent fringe meeting, which was packed to the gunnels—mostly by Government Whips trying to find out what we were up to—I got a phone call from the then said John Bercow, saying, “Could you make sure that I am on your fringe next year?” I remember that very vividly. It is in my diaries—for future publication.

Mr Speaker, I know that you will not take it the wrong way when I say that I have not been on a journey since then and I am still as Eurosceptic. That is because of my mentor and my beliefs—my mentor was Sir Teddy Taylor and he is the reason why I am in this House today. I did get blocked at parliamentary boards, as Mr Speaker knows, because he was actually at a certain weekend parliamentary board—

Not by me.

No, Mr Speaker. I was blocked by others in my party who thought that, perhaps, I was not from the correct background. We are all on a journey.

What happens in the Holiday Inn should stay in the Holiday Inn.

Yes. It is very important for my constituents to understand that, perhaps, we are having a debate in the correct way in this House today. When we had the referendum in 1975, which I was not allowed to take part in because, believe it or not, I was too young, I did not, a year later, lobby my MP to say, “We want to do it again, because I was not allowed to vote as I was too young.” We accepted the decision. I was away in the Army at the time, but we accepted it. The reason why I was so proud of this country in the latest referendum is that the British public stuck two fingers up at the political elite and said, “No, this is what we want to do because you haven’t got the guts to make that decision in the House of Commons.” Many in this House, including my Prime Minister at the time, did not expect them to do that and, partly, neither did I—in the back of my heart I wanted them to, but my mind told me that they would not do it. But they did. The British public said by a large number—I know that it split my constituency—“No, we want to come out.”

I would really like to support the deal of this Prime Minister and this Government, but the issue for me is the backstop. I served in Northern Ireland and I lost good colleagues to protect the Union. I will not vote for anything that does not protect the Union. This will be a sovereign country; we cannot have part of this country outside the Union, so I say to the Prime Minister and to the Treasury Bench, “Go back, do a deal”—I have done deals with Europe before as a Minister in several different Departments—“sort out the backstop, give us our sovereignty, and you will get this Bill through the House and we will leave the European Union.”



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