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 Full text 
Tuesday, 16 April 2019 - Strasbourg Provisional edition

Conclusions of the European Council meeting of 10 April 2019 on the withdrawal of the UK from the European Union (debate)

  Syed Kamall, on behalf of the ECR Group. – Mr President, when you look at the pictures last night of Notre-Dame burning, in times like this it’s time to put aside politics and wherever you are, whether you are British, European or from the rest of the world, many people shared sorrow when they saw those pictures.

Personally, 25 years ago my wife studied in France and she worked in Paris for a while and we used to go to Notre-Dame. It’s an iconic building and we were only there last month and we took photographs of it, bringing back fond memories. Think of the millions of people over the years who have stood and watched that building, whatever their faith, looked at it and it’s been a symbol not only of Paris but of the history of Europe, but also the whole feeling it gives. And even though it’s a building not of my faith, I share the pain of many of you in this Chamber today and I hope that we can all come together, whether British, European or from outside Europe, come together and do our bit in that rebuilding.

Many of us had hoped that we wouldn’t be having this debate today and that the UK would have left the EU on 29 March, or even last week, but we have to deal with life as it is. The British Government is still committed to delivering Brexit in an orderly way ...


... and leaving the European Union as soon as possible, so that the people in the UK and the EU can focus on the future, or what Jean—Claude Juncker referred to as a ‘positive agenda’.

However, I realise that your patience has worn thin and that you look and wonder what is happening in Westminster. But EU membership has been a divisive issue in our country for many years, not just in my party but in the main opposition party too, and you can see these divisions playing out, and I know many people here will ask: well, why didn’t you begin cross-party talks sooner? And while that may seem natural to most people in this Chamber, this is not how the UK system of parliamentary democracy works.

You only have to look at the House of Commons, where the two parties sit opposite each other rather than side by side as in this Parliament. On one side sits the government, on the other the opposition, and rather than seeking to build coalitions across, it’s a much more adversarial style of politics. So the current talks are naturally uncomfortable for members of both main parties, myself included.

The Article 50 extension agreed at last week’s Council may not have been the answer everyone, or perhaps anyone, wanted, but it gives us more time to pursue all the options in search of a breakthrough and I hope that my colleagues in Westminster do not take too long. Our economy, our politics and our country need certainty and we must aim to find a solution in time to avoid participating in the European elections. The time has now come for pragmatism. Let’s get it done.

I’d like to thank Mr Tusk for his more constructive approach last week compared to, say, some of his more recent statements. I think, Mr Tusk, that your words in advance of the Council struck the right chord, that this shouldn’t be about recriminations or humiliations, and that to remain friends and move forward we have to build a future partnership that can truly stand the test of time.

As a country the UK has been in difficult positions before, but we have a reputation for seeing things through and I believe that this time will be no different.

I just wonder if I could end on a personal note. This may be my last speech from this seat or in this Chamber after nearly 14 years and can I just say to my colleagues that whether we have agreed or disagreed over the years, whether you are re-elected or moving on to new challenges, can I thank you all for your service. Can I thank you all for being part of this amazing experience and can I wish you all the very best for the future.


Last updated: 9 July 2019Legal notice