Speech to Brexit Central fringe meeting at Conservative Party conference

In a busy day at the Conservative Party conference in Birmingham. Theresa Villiers MP addressed a fringe meeting hosted by the Brexit Central website. She took part in a panel with Dan Hannan MP and John Longworth who was part of Business for Britain who campaigned for a leave vote.

The event was chaired by Jonathan Isaby and the topic for discussion was “Reflecting on the referendum result and looking ahead to making a success of Brexit” with several hundred attending. This is the speech Theresa gave:

“I felt that one of the turning points of the referendum was when Sky’s Faisal Islam asked David Cameron which would come first, World War III or the Brexit recession?

It was one of those moments when a few well-chosen words provides inescapable clarity and no wonder it left David Cameron in some difficulty.

Whilst we cannot yet be certain of what the long term consequences of Brexit will be, the early signs are positive.

So far, none of the disasters predicted by Remainers has happened.

The very day after the result, the French government reaffirmed the Le Touquet treaty.

So they not sending our border guards home after all.

Now almost nobody is predicting the recession which the Remainers (and the Bank of England) tried to scare us with.

The OECD, who warned of a major negative economic shock in April, have upgraded their growth projections for the UK for 2016.

There has been good news from the ONS and the Treasury has reversed its gloomy post referendum forecast and restored its 1.8% prediction for growth in 2016.

There have been strong manufacturing PMI figures and the car industry enjoyed its highest August sales for 14 years, and Honda has announced plans to make their Swindon plant a global hub for car exports.

Astra Zeneca and GSK have announced major investment in their UK operations.

July saw record 3.8 million tourists pour £2.5bn into the UK economy in just four weeks.

There is no sign of the spike in inflation that Remainers were certain was on the way.

The deficit is down, unemployment is down and our trade deficit in exports actually narrowed in July.

Not bad, considering that by now we were supposed to be crawling about in the scorched earth ruins of the Brexit apocalypse.

But the economy was not the only issue about which Remainers made ominous predictions.

One of the most irresponsible of all came from Tony Blair during a visit to Derry/Londonderry - that a Brexit vote would undermine the Northern Ireland peace process.

In my view, it was both irresponsible and insulting to suggest that a vote to leave the EU would mean that people in Northern Ireland would weaken or abandon their commitment to the principle that their future will only ever be decided by democracy and consent, never by violence.

It is a matter of deep regret that there are criminal gangs in Northern Ireland who still resort to terrorism.

But they have virtually no public support and there is no evidence to indicate that the referendum result has changed that in any way.

Throughout the campaign, Remainers routinely asserted that Brexit would mean the break-up of the United Kingdom.

Wrong again.

A recent BBC poll in Northern Ireland showed 63% wanting to remain in the UK, while only 22% support a united Ireland - results very little changed from the last time the poll was conducted in 2013.

Nor is there evidence of any significant shift in opinion on Scottish separation.

The case for the Union remains as strong today as it has ever been.

Then there was the Remain threat that the EU would punish us if we voted leave.

Setting aside the oddity of an organisation which purports to champion democratic values punishing people for the way they voted, Article 8 of the European Treaty places a legal requirement on the EU to maintain good relations with neighbouring states and to maintain:

“an area of prosperity and good neighbourliness”.

There may be hard-liners in the Commission who talk in hostile terms, but even Guy Verhofstadt, the arch federalist appointed to the EU’s Brexit negotiating team, has acknowledged that the UK’s exit process should not be about punishment or revenge.

Addressing the European Parliament he shared a simple truth that the EU needs to make a success from this process for the sake of the citizens of the remaining EU.

No one would benefit from a trade war.

Recent research by Civitas indicates that almost 6 million jobs across the 27 Member States of the remaining EU are linked to trade with the UK.

It is the interests of both sides that the forthcoming negotiation delivers a deal between the UK and the EU which maximises the opportunities for trade between us in both goods and services.

And that is what I believe the Government now has the opportunity to deliver.

Looking back now on the campaign, and polling research carried out since the result, it seems that people just didn’t believe Project Fear.

But the debate continues with regard to what did motivate people to vote for Brexit?

In considering that question, I’d like to refer to a second rather less high profile broadcasting moment of the campaign. And that took place on the Stephen Nolan Show.

I imagine that not many of you will have ever heard BBC Ulster’s daily dose of radio phone-in confrontation and controversy.

But on this particular occasion, Remain supporting MLA was asked to name a European Commissioner, and she struggled.

Like the vast majority the people of this country, she couldn’t name a single solitary one.

A key point that the Leave Campaign had to try to get across was that EU membership means vesting supreme law-making power in people we do not elect and we cannot remove.

Not only that, as Stephen Nolan’s question highlighted, EU membership means vesting this power in people we cannot name and have never even heard of!

A concerted effort has been made since the referendum to portray leave votes as ignorant, prejudiced, reactionary or worse.

But the decision to leave the EU is not symptomatic of a nasty, inward-looking or little Englander mentality.

People voted leave because they wanted more control over our laws, our money and our borders.

Democracy was what the referendum was all about.

That was the case I made throughout the campaign.

Until we leave the EU, no matter who we elect to Westminster, there are many things we simply cannot change.

As President Juncker candidly put it:

"There is no democratic choice against the European treaties".

Well as Dan Hannan reminded us in his speech at the Spectator referendum debate 350 years ago we fought a civil war in this country to defend the principle that no laws shall be passed nor taxes raised except by our own elected representatives.

And, ladies and gentlemen, from these small islands on the far north western edge of Europe, we have exported the principle of self-governing democracy across the seas and to the four corners of the globe.

And on 23rd June the people of this great country seized the opportunity they were given to restore our freedom and take back control over making our own laws in our own Parliament.

The Remainers did all they could to talk our country down (some of them are still at it).

At the heart of their argument was the claim that somehow we are too small, and too weak and too stupid to govern ourselves and decide our own destiny.

Well we here in this conference know that they were wrong.

We are a great country. We have so much going for us.

We are the fifth largest economy in the world.

We're the 4th largest military power with the best armed services on the planet.

The ‘soft power’ reach of our popular culture is unrivalled.

We have the biggest and best financial centre in the world.

We speak the international language of business and our legal system commands unbeatable levels of trust and confidence.

We have some of the greatest scientists and the greatest universities.

We can stand on our own two feet and we can thrive.

I believe we can look forward to a bright future outside the European Union as we regain our freedom and become an independent self-governing democracy once again.

And I am proud to have played even a small part in making that happen.

Thank you.