The European Union (withdrawal) bill will expose faultlines that run from top to bottom in both main parties

Almost 46 years ago, on 21 October 1971, the Conservative foreign secretary Sir Alec Douglas-Home rose in the House of Commons to open what had become known in the country as “the great debate”. The matter MPs were about to discuss was, Douglas-Home told them, “momentous”. The motion to be voted upon stated that “this house approves Her Majesty’s government’s decision of principle to join the European Communities on the basis of arrangements which have been negotiated”.

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