During the Second Reading of the European Union (Notification of Withdrawal) Bill on Tuesday 31 January, Sir William Cash made the following speech:
Sir William Cash (Stone) (Con): This has been for me, and for many of us, a very long journey. It is 30 years since I tabled an amendment to the Single European Act to retain the sovereignty of the United Kingdom Parliament. I have to say, Mr Speaker, that it was denied me; the amendment was not selected. However, I looked with interest at clause 1 of this Bill, which says:
“This section has effect despite any provision made by or under the European Communities Act 1972 or any other enactment.”
I believe that that satisfies the requirements of sovereignty in respect of this Bill.
I want to pay tribute to my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Rushcliffe (Mr Clarke). I respect him and the way in which we have battled over these matters over all these years. We have done so over a similar period of time—he from a little earlier than me, I must admit—but we have been on different roads, and now we have arrived at different destinations.
For me, the referendum was a massive peaceful revolution by consent, of historic proportions. This Bill at last endorses that revolution. From the 17th century right the way through our history—through the corn laws, the parliamentary reform Act that gave the vote to the working class, the suffragettes who got the vote in 1928, and then again in the period of appeasement—there have been great benchmarks of British history and they have all ultimately been determined by the decisions taken in this House, and, if I may be permitted to say so, by Back Benchers. That is where the decisions have so often been taken. The fact is that the fundamental question on which we have fought not only this referendum but all the battles back into the 1980s has been that of who governs this country. This Bill answers that question.
With respect to the Bill itself, I simply say—I do not want to spend time on this, but just to make the point; and the shadow Minister for Brexit, the hon. and learned Member for Holborn and St Pancras (Keir Starmer), made the same point—that if one looks at the Supreme Court decision, it is clear from the manner in which its ruling was given that this is not about timing, method, our relationship with the European Union or the terms of withdrawal. That is all set out in paragraphs 2 and 3 of the judgment itself. It goes on to say at paragraph 1.22 that the freedom to make these decisions lies exclusively with Parliament, and that is where we are now embarking on yet another journey.
With respect to the referendum, I came to the conclusion back in 1990, looking at the Labour and Conservative Front Benches in the House of Commons, that nothing was going to break the collusion between those two Front Benches on the European issue or on the question of sovereignty. A strategic decision had to be taken, so I set up the Maastricht referendum campaign. After many, many years, we have reached this point, largely on account of the efforts made by all my hon. Friends on this side of the House and by those I will describe as my hon. Friends on the other side. They have all fought the same battle in the same way. They include Peter Shore, Tony Benn, my hon. Friends the Members for Vauxhall (Kate Hoey) and for Luton North (Kelvin Hopkins)—
(…) Yes, Bob Cryer, and others. This has been a huge battle, and I do not disrespect the Governments of either party for the decisions that they have taken during this period, because they have been forming judgments, although they fell short of what we needed in this country. In this democratic cockpit, we had to fight our battles and to stand up for our own constituents. As my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Rushcliffe said, we had to stand up for what we believed in. Conscience, principles and convictions must drive our decision making. Remoaners who wish to vote against the Bill simply do not get the scale of what this revolution involves. They say that they respect and accept it, but they do not.
Geraint Davies (Swansea West) (Lab/Co-op): Does the hon. Gentleman accept that although there has been a vote to leave the EU, there has not been a vote on the terms of our withdrawal from it? Does he also accept that as soon as article 50 is triggered, those terms will be decided by the EU 27 and not by anyone here? What sort of democracy is that?
Sir William Cash: From the beginning, my main objection has been that decisions are often taken in that way. The hon. Gentleman sits on the European Scrutiny Committee, which I chair, and he knows perfectly well that I have complained vigorously, for ever, about the fact that decisions are taken behind closed doors within the EU. It was not about our sovereignty; it was about theirs. Their sovereignty has been imposed on us. That is why I objected to it, and that is why we are standing here today.
Mr Rees-Mogg: I wish to say that Eurosceptics in this House owe a great debt of gratitude to my hon. Friend the Member for Stone (Sir William Cash), who has been our leader on this issue for many decades.
Sir William Cash: I am very touched by my good friend’s comment.
We fought for a referendum on Maastricht and afterwards. We fought to unshackle the United Kingdom from increasingly undemocratic European government. Those who vote against the Bill will be voting against the outcome of the referendum. The Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union, my right hon. Friend the Member for Haltemprice and Howden (Mr Davis), is absolutely right to say that we must trust the people. Those Members will be voting against the people and against their vote, as expressed in the referendum. If the House of Lords were to attempt to stand in the way of the vote by the British people, it would be committing political suicide. This Westminster Parliament is now the focus, where the instructions of the British people have to be carried out, and that is what we will do. I shall repeat the words of William Pitt in the Guildhall speech of 1805:
“England has saved herself by her exertions, and will, as I trust, save Europe”—
and the United Kingdom—
by her example.”