This historic day will restore our democratic freedom to govern ourselves

This historic day will restore our democratic freedom to govern ourselves

The triggering of Article 50 today by the Prime Minister, to formally notify the EU of our intention to withdraw, has been for me and for many of my colleagues, and no doubt for many readers too, a very long journey. It is 30 years ago that I first tabled an amendment to a Westminster Bill incorporating an EU Treaty, to assert the sovereignty of the United Kingdom Parliament. Back then, it was denied me and the amendment was not selected. One only has to look at the European Union (Notification of Withdrawal) Act to see how far we have come in regaining our sovereignty. The Second Reading in the House of Commons on that Bill was passed by 498 to 114.

The referendum was a massive peaceful revolution by consent, of historic proportions. The Article 50 Bill endorsed that revolution. From the 17th Century right the way through our history, including the Repeal of 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 our British political history which have, ultimately, been determined by decisions taken by backbenchers in the House of Commons and calling the Government to account.

A decision for a referendum by a sovereign Act of Parliament was given to the British voters whose common sense and democratic will gave them back their freedom. The fundamental question over Brexit on which we have fought, not only on the referendum, but all the battles back into the 1980s, has been simple: who governs this country?

The United Kingdom had to leave the EU. We had reached a point where it was clear they were not listening. It did not work for us. It was and remains undemocratic and the Declaration in Rome on Saturday by the 27 EU leaders pays virtually no attention at all to democracy itself. They could not and would not reform. We had to assert our national interest, our own democracy and the sovereignty of our own Parliament and the inalienable right of the British people to govern themselves. We will of course continue to cooperate in trade with the EU but we could not continue to be governed by their majority voting, imposing laws upon us, not to mention the European Court.

When we look at the internal machinations of the European Union, at the very time when it needs fundamental reform to try to stabilise this collapsing edifice, they have done everything to achieve the opposite. As I warned, as far back as 1993, in A Brave New Europe: “As the neutering, under Maastricht, of national parliaments gathers pace, so the paralysis of the real Europe will give way to the prospect of the collapse of the Rule of Law, compounded by waves of immigration from the east, recession and lawlessness.” I also warned of the rise of the far Right and that “… when monetary union collapses (as did the Exchange Rate Mechanism) there will be widespread chaos with massive political and commercial instability throughout Europe.”

Since then, with one Treaty piled on top of another, from Maastricht to Lisbon, the European Union and its leadership have created a massive compression chamber, waiting to implode with incalculable consequences for those it claims to govern and for the rest of the world.

The referendum was essential. I came to the conclusion back in the 1990s, looking at the Labour and Conservative Front Benches in the House of Commons that nothing else 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 for my part, I set up the Maastricht Referendum Campaign.

With colleagues, we fought for a referendum on Maastricht and afterwards on the Bill itself and, in Parliament, on every European measure from then until we succeeded in our goal and forced David Cameron’s hand. We fought to unshackle the United Kingdom from increasingly undemocratic European government.

We must trust the people in now pursuing the negotiations and exiting the European Union in line with their wishes. The instructions of the British people have to be carried out, and that is what we will do. In the words of William Pitt in the Guildhall in a speech of 1805, “England has saved herself by her exertions, and will, as I trust, save Europe” – and, I might add, the whole of the United Kingdom – “by her example.”

People fought and died for the right to govern themselves and for their democracy – and it is on democracy that everything else depends. This is not anti-European. It is not anti-European to be pro-democracy. At the heart of leaving the European Union is that, although there are legal matters to be resolved, this is above all a matter of democratic, political will. It is therefore necessary to ensure in our national interest not only to regain our right to govern ourselves and our democracy on which everything else depends, but that as the Prime Minister has said, to adopt a policy of a Global Britain based on free trade.

We must free ourselves from the shackles and the accumulating instability of the European Union, increasingly dominated by Germany and lacking a proper, democratic foundation. There is no trust between the Member States, nor between the Member States and the EU institutions and above all, between the citizens and their governments or the European Union itself.

In the near the future, Parliament must pass the Great Repeal Bill. I drafted and circulated my Repeal Bill last May, because I believed that we would achieve a vote to leave the European Union. I was of course delighted when the Prime Minister announced that the principles underpinning that Bill were made Government policy in her speech to the Conservative Party Conference on 2nd October last year. Today, the Prime Minister on behalf of the United Kingdom formally notifies the EU of our intention to withdraw. This has been and still remains a long journey but our democratic freedom to govern ourselves is now at hand.