29 October 2019
Sir Geoffrey Clifton-Brown backs December General Election to resolve Brexit

Sir Geoffrey Clifton-Brown backs a General Election so we can elect a new Parliament and Government who will have the authority of that general election to resolve the Brexit question once and for all.

Sir Geoffrey Clifton-Brown (The Cotswolds) (Con)

Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker, for allowing me to catch your eye. I intend to make a very short contribution to this important debate. I am delighted to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Mid Dorset and North Poole (Michael Tomlinson). He is one of the up-and- coming Members, and he has made some useful and telling points.

This is the fourth time Parliament has been asked to hold a general election. The nation has been in schism, unable to do anything worthwhile as the dreadful problem of Brexit hangs over us. I should have infinitely preferred this Parliament to have sorted the Brexit problem out so that we could have left the EU on 31 March, before holding a general election, but the fact is that we have not sorted it out, and we are now in this position.

We are in this position because the coalition Government, under my right hon. friend the then Member for Witney, passed the Fixed-term Parliaments Act 2011, which the Bill seeks to amend. That Act was passed in a very different time. It was passed with the purpose of ensuring that the coalition could not end early, and it was passed in undue haste, without proper consideration of what the consequences might be in a situation in which there was no overall majority in Parliament. I think that one of the first things that whoever gains a majority in the House after the election will want to do is revisit the Act to see whether we want to alter its provisions so that we never get into this situation again.

As I have said, for too long this Parliament has been paralysed. It has been three years and four months since we held the referendum.

Sir Desmond Swayne

Seems longer.

Sir Geoffrey Clifton-Brown

I think that it seems an eternity.

Indeed, 80% of Members voted to trigger article 50, and most Conservative and Labour Members produced manifestos in 2017 in which they pledged to honour the result of the referendum, yet Parliament has still not resolved the matter. I am therefore delighted that we appear to be moving to the likelihood that the House will pass this Bill tonight. The only question that remains—posed by the Opposition’s amendment 2—is whether we will have an election on 9 or 12 December.

My marginal preference is for a Thursday election. As many Members have already said, Thursday elections are a long tradition for a number of very good reasons. Mention has been made of problems with booking halls and rooms that would be big enough for the count, but I think that most competent authorities can deal with that. Indeed, I know from discussions with my local authorities that they have already booked the venues. Those in charge of the schools, halls, libraries, garages, pubs and community centres in which the polling stations will have already been warned and will have already agreed that they can manage an election some time in December.

I take the point about the need to complete Northern Ireland business. I should have thought that we could do that on Thursday if we are to prorogue on that day, but it is vital for it to be completed, because it gives legal authority for public funds to be drawn down.

We can all discuss the pros and cons of the 9th and the 12th, and that is an important part of the debate. I think that there are some pros and cons. The 9th is marginally farther away from Christmas; however, although the venues have already been booked, an election on the 12th would give electoral registration officers a little more time to confirm those bookings, put their staff in place and make other preparations.

The staff do a terrific job during elections. We could not run an election without them. I have talked to them often during the seven elections that have taken place since I was first elected, and I know that they work incredibly hard. They often arrive at 6 in the morning and do not leave until well after the close of the polls at 10 pm. Often in my constituency—I hope no village or parish will take offence at this—the village hall is very draughty and cold, and I have seen them there pretty cold, and I would think they could be, in December, in a pretty cold situation, so I hope that they will have plenty of heaters to keep them warm.

An election now is absolutely essential. We need to resolve by a general election, through a full franchise, and by electing a new Government, a new Parliament, a new Executive, who will have the authority of that general election to resolve the Brexit question once and for all. I sincerely hope that we re-elect a Conservative Government with a good majority, so we can get it resolved.