With permission, Mr Speaker, I will make a statement on the judgment issued by the European Court of Justice this morning on the Wightman case.
Today, the European Court of Justice has delivered its judgment on the question of the revocability of an article 50 notice. The Court has found that the UK has the right, in accordance with its constitutional requirements, unilaterally to revoke the notification of its intention to withdraw from the EU. We note the judgment from the European Court, the role of which is to provide rulings on the interpretation of EU law. The judgment clarifies the law, but it does not in any way change our policy. That the Government know this course is possible, just as many undesirable actions are possible, does not change the fact that such an approach is hypothetical and the Government have no intention of doing so.
The Government’s firm and long-held policy is that we will not revoke the article 50 notice. That position has not changed. To do so, or to hold a second referendum, would be to undermine the result of the 2016 referendum and the professed will of this House to give effect to that result. The House voted to hold the referendum and promised to deliver it. Five hundred and forty-four Members of this House voted to give the British public their say, with just 53 opposed. Almost three quarters of the electorate then took part in the 2016 referendum, resulting in 17.4 million votes to leave the European Union. That is the highest number of votes cast for anything in UK electoral history, making this referendum the biggest democratic exercise in our history. The House then voted again to empower the Prime Minister to notify under article 50, and voted yet again to repeal the European Communities Act 1972.
The Government remain focused on their task, on their mandate and on delivering a deal that honours the 2016 referendum result. We will be leaving the EU on 29 March 2019. I commend this statement to the House.
I thank the Secretary of State for advance sight of his statement.
Yesterday, Andrew Marr asked the Secretary of State whether the meaningful vote was going to be delayed, and the Secretary of State said:
“The vote is on Tuesday. That is what we’re focused on.”
I know he is the new boy on the block and is very keen to impress his new boss but, like his two predecessors, I fear he has been left out of the loop. Seeing as we all have a bit more time this evening and tomorrow, can I ask when he learned that the meaningful vote would not take place tomorrow?
It has been reported that the requirement for the Government to make a statement to this House on no deal by 21 January will no longer apply following the Prime Minister’s decision to defer the vote. Can the Secretary of State clarify whether this is or is not the case? If he has not already done so, will he seek legal advice on this matter and make an urgent statement to the House tomorrow? The Government’s incompetence is not an excuse to threaten this country with no deal.
Turning to the substance of the Secretary of State’s statement, this is an important and clear judgment from the European Court of Justice and it makes three points. First, that article 50 can be unilaterally and unconditionally revoked. Secondly, that doing so would mean the terms of our European Union membership are unchanged. Thirdly, that revocation could bring the withdrawal procedure to an end. We welcome the clarity this ruling has brought.
The Government sought to block the case from even being heard by the European Court. Can the Secretary of State confirm how much taxpayers’ money was spent on trying to obstruct this predictable decision? Can he also make it clear that, if article 50 is extended due to the Government’s failure to negotiate a deal by the end of March, the Court ruling states that the UK could still unilaterally revoke article 50?
We have always been clear that the revocability of article 50 is a political matter, not a legal one. Today’s ruling underlines that. This country is yearning for political leadership from Ministers. Is it not the case that a Government cease to function when they are too scared to put votes to this House? This is a Government in name only.
The Prime Minister addressed the first point in full detail over the course of two and a half hours. On the substance of the remarks by the hon. Member for Darlington (Jenny Chapman), she will know the judgment is very clear that revocation would need to be unequivocal and unconditional. The question for her and for the Labour Front Bench is how serving such a notice could be in any way compatible with the manifesto on which Labour stood at the last election. Labour made a clear commitment to its electorate, many of whom voted to leave, that it would not seek to revoke article 50 and that it would honour the terms of the referendum. The Government’s policy has not changed. What Labour needs to address is whether its policy has changed.
It is a matter of policy that we will not revoke article 50, and therefore this is a hypothetical question. Of course the Government made their case, as they always will, in the courts, but our policy has not changed. The question for the Labour Front Bench is: has theirs?
As I have listened to today’s proceedings, the chances of the Government ever getting their withdrawal agreement approved by this House seem to me to be quite slight. I cannot think of any assurances the Prime Minister will get in Brussels that would change that most unfortunate situation.
I am sad that the whole thing has not been contrived to save the House from my making a speech tomorrow, in which I would have supported the withdrawal agreement. The situation is grave because, with no withdrawal agreement, we are going towards 29 March and we will leave with no agreement at all, because there are no signs of any alternative emerging. Article 50 has to be looked at.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that article 50 could only be suspended for two or three months? There are legal problems in deferring it any longer. Although the majority of Members regard themselves as bound by the opinion poll, or referendum, we held in 2016, in which absolutely none of the circumstances we are now talking about were remotely discussed with the public before the vote was taken, is it not obvious that the Government should start considering revoking article 50 to save us from the disastrous consequences of leaving with no deal? It would be disastrous for our economy, our businesses, our employment and many other things. If anybody can ever put this shambles back together again and wants to resume the process of leaving the European Union, they could go ahead and see if a future House of Commons is more receptive than this one has been.
Order. Before the Secretary of State replies. Can I just say to the right hon. and learned Member for Rushcliffe (Mr Clarke) that I hope he derives some succour from knowledge of the fact that he has, at least, delivered a fair share—it is not for me to say precisely what share—of the speech to which he would have treated the House tomorrow if he had had the opportunity to do so?
I am sure that I and many in the House would have much enjoyed hearing the remarks of my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Rushcliffe (Mr Clarke). To be fair, he has always been consistent. He did not vote for the referendum, and he has always taken the view that this House should decide, but many others in this House did vote for the referendum, and they also voted by a very substantial majority to trigger article 50.
The crux of the issue is that the Government’s policy has not changed. We are not going to revoke article 50, but if the Labour party is flirting with doing so, it needs to square that with the manifesto on which it stood at the last election.
I thank the Secretary of State for his statement.
I am proud to be one of the six Scottish parliamentarians who took this action through the Scottish courts and all the way to the Court of Justice of the European Union. I did it with an SNP colleague, two Labour colleagues and two Scottish Green colleagues, which shows the strength of cross-party working and what can be achieved when the Opposition work together. I also thank Jo Maugham, QC—he was also one of the petitioners —the Good Law Project and those who crowdfunded this litigation.
The UK Government fought us every inch of the way, including attempting an unconstitutional appeal to the UK Supreme Court. No appeal to the Supreme Court lies in Scots law for an interim decision of the Inner House, so quite a lot of money was wasted on that unconstitutional appeal.
I have a number of questions for the Secretary of State. First, why were the Government so desperate to prevent parliamentarians and the public from knowing what we now know, which is that article 50 can be revoked and we can stay in the European Union on our current terms and conditions? I invite him again to answer the question asked by the hon. Member for Darlington (Jenny Chapman). How much taxpayers’ money was spent attempting to keep this House and the public in the dark? I sat through a fair number of the court hearings, and I can tell hon. Members and the public that the UK Government had a veritable array of silks lined up on a daily basis, which does not necessarily come cheap.
The Secretary of State keeps saying that the question is hypothetical. If he has read any of the judgments of the Court of Justice or the Scottish courts, he will see that it has been ruled that the question is not hypothetical. It has been ruled that it is not for the UK Government to decide whether to revoke article 50 and that, as a matter of the British constitution, it is for this House to do so. Does he accept the view of Scotland’s most senior judge, the Lord President, Lord Carloway, that constitutionally it is for the House of Commons to revoke article 50, not the Government? The Secretary of State also says it is not Government policy to revoke article 50, but can he tell us what Government policy is at present? It is not at all clear to me today.
Finally, if the Prime Minister really does believe in this deal and that it is such a great deal for the United Kingdom, why do she and her Government not have the courage of their convictions and put it to a vote so that people across the United Kingdom can choose between it and remaining in the European Union on our current terms and conditions?
The hon. and learned lady started by asking why the Government took this position. The position taken by the Government was the same position as taken by the Commission—
On a point of order, Mr Speaker.
Order. We cannot have a point of order at this stage. I will come to the hon. and learned Lady at a suitable juncture, and she will have an opportunity to make her point.
We will come further to that point.
The second point the hon. and learned Lady made was that legal fees are not cheap. She needs to answer, therefore, why a case was brought on something that clearly is not Government policy and that the Government have no intention of applying. Therefore, it is a hypothetical case; this is something that the Government do not intend to pursue.
The hon. and learned Lady also asked what Government policy is on this issue. The Government’s policy is extremely clear: it is to deliver on the biggest democratic vote in our country’s history and ensure that we leave on 29 March next year.
I do not think many people were really in much doubt that this was going to be the judgment of the Court; it was always pretty clear, and I was a little surprised that we spent any time on it. Notwithstanding that, it is intriguing that the Court has managed, arguably for the first time, to have an advocate-general’s opinion, followed four or five days later by the full Court’s decision—I can remember, when in government, spending three or four years waiting for the Court to come to a judgment. Does my right hon. Friend think this may have something to do with the fact that there could have been a vote tomorrow? There is a delicious irony, is there not, in the fact that we can revoke article 50 but we cannot revoke our backstop? Does he not find that funny?
My right hon. Friend is correct to draw attention to the fact that this was an expedited process. The typical length of time for such cases is three to six months, and on this occasion it was just over two months, but that was a reflection of the fact that the Scottish Court requested that proceedings be dealt with on this expedited basis, and the President of the Court agreed with that request.
For two years, the Prime Minister has told the House that the only alternative to a withdrawal agreement is leaving the European Union with no deal. Can the Secretary of State confirm that today’s ruling by the European Court means that there are now two potential ways in which that could be avoided? The first is by extending article 50, and the second is by revoking it. Therefore, the Prime Minister’s threat—it would be disastrous for the country anyway—no longer has any credibility in law, does it?
On the first point, the judgment from the Court today does not cover extension—that is addressed in article 50. It was about revocation, not extension.
Actually, I think the Prime Minister has always been clear that there is an alternative, which is to go back on the referendum result and have no Brexit. The Government do not support that option, which is why one is then left with the choice of the deal, with the certainty that the Prime Minister offers, or the uncertainty of no deal.
Will the Minister confirm that under no circumstances whatever will the 29 March exit date be altered?
As I said in my statement, the Government are clear that we will not be revoking article 50, and we are committed to leaving the European Union on 29 March next year.
If the Government do not come forward with their future plan before Christmas, Government Departments and businesses across the country will be shifting staff and huge amounts of resources into preparing for no deal. To prevent that from happening, will the Secretary of State now rule out no deal and commit to seeking an extension of article 50?
As I said in an earlier answer, the judgment of the Court does not actually deal with extension; that is a separate point. It deals with revocation, and it is that to which my statement refers. I am very happy, Mr Speaker, to stray into areas beyond the statement, such as no deal, but I do not want to fall foul of a ruling from the Chair, and I want to focus on the issue of revocation.
Well, it is principally about revocation, as the Secretary of State rightly states. Matters that appertain to article 50 would obviously be thought to be within scope. If it were thought that a Member were out of order, I would have received advice to that effect, and the House will have noted that I have not—I have received no such indication at all. I know that the Secretary of State—he is a most courteous individual—would not for one moment suggest that he should be the arbiter of scope. He can tell us what is in his statement, but he cannot tell us what should be raised by other Members. As I say, I have had no indication that anything that has been said so far has been in any way disorderly, but I am always alert, and if I find something that is, I shall rule on it accordingly.
Further to the question from my right hon. Friend the Member for Chingford and Woodford Green (Mr Duncan Smith), it is certainly interesting that the ECJ has been able to hand down this judgment with great speed. The Brexit Secretary is far too diplomatic to agree with me that it is, of course, a political court. However, will he say that this is yet another reason why we need to comprehensively leave the European Union, including the jurisdiction of the ECJ?
I agree with my hon. Friend that the Prime Minister has always been clear that we are coming out of the jurisdiction of the European Court. That is a key part of the deal that she has secured, and it is a key part of us delivering on our commitment to take back control of our money, borders and laws.
The Secretary of State has been asked twice now how much British taxpayers’ money has been wasted fighting this case, and he has failed to answer. He could show the House some courtesy by answering that question. If he does not know the answer, he should just say so. However, is he honestly telling the House that if it instructed the Government to revoke article 50, they would simply ignore the will of the House?
As the right hon. Gentleman will understand from his time as a Minister, the judgment was only today, so some of those costs for lawyers’ fees are still to come in. Costs such as that are declared, as is always the case, in the Department’s accounts. That is the standard way in which such accounts are itemised. This was a judgment that was reached today.
Does the Secretary of State agree that it seems from the contributions of Opposition Members that it may now be their position to seek to revoke article 50? Will he confirm that it remains the Government’s policy—and that I can go back and tell my constituents in Redditch categorically—that we will not seek to revoke article 50?
I am happy to give my hon. Friend that assurance.
Will the Secretary of State confirm that, in the circumstance that this House voted to revoke article 50, his Government would go along with the view expressed by the House and recognise the House’s sovereignty?
The reality is that this judgment has just been reached today. We will need to take it away and consider what the legal implications are. The hon. Lady will know that the triggering of article 50 was subject to significant legal dispute and discussion. We will need to analyse this to understand what the implications are.
It is in everybody’s interests to try to find an amicable solution. Can the Secretary of State confirm the rumours going around on social media that the Prime Minister is due to meet the Dutch Prime Minister in the morning and to have further discussions with Michel Barnier and team during the week?
It is for the Prime Minister to address whom she will be having discussions with, in the usual way. The key issue in terms of this statement is that this Government have no intention of changing their policy on article 50.
The Government fought against this case tooth and nail, every stage of the way. Will the Minister now accept that it is clear to the British public that they have the right to stay in the EU if that is their choice, with no Schengen, no euro—they can keep the opt-outs. We can keep all our current privileges of European Union membership. Is it not wrong that Ministers fought against the hon. and learned Member for Edinburgh South West (Joanna Cherry), the right hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington (Tom Brake) and myself, as petitioners in this case, for which we had to take significant personal financial risk? We put our necks on the block to prove to our colleagues that they have the right to make this decision on behalf of our constituents if they seek to do so. Will the Minister now at least acknowledge that the Government expended public money to contest this case and they were wrong to contest it?
I very much respect the position the hon. Gentleman takes and has consistently taken on his desire for a second referendum, but the people did have a people’s vote in 2016 and this Government are committed to honouring it—the Prime Minister addressed that in her remarks. On his second point about whether the Government spend money pursuing their policy in the courts, that was the approach when he was a Minister and it has been the approach of all Governments that I can recall.
The Minister, with his excellent skill, is pumping out the Government line on article 50. He did that on Sunday on television, and we all believed him then—I expect he believed what he said then—but the Government changed their mind on that. So how do we know they are not going to change their mind on article 50?
My hon. Friend and I have known each other a long time. The policy of the Government has been clear on article 50, and we made that clear in the case. I hope that the criticism from Opposition Members about the fact that the Government fought this case gives him some reassurance as to our commitment to that point.
The public watching this will be disappointed that the Secretary of State has not been able to share with this House how much his Government have spent on the case thus far. It will only require one of us to put in a parliamentary question tomorrow to get some sort of answer. I listened to him, and he said that he notes the judgment. Can he confirm that the Government accept the judgment? Will he also confirm that he will not be going to the Scottish courts to overturn this ruling?
Of course the Government accept the judgment of the Court, as would always be the case. As for whether we will look to appeal in the Scottish court, this judgment was reached today and we will need to consider that in due course.
Today’s judgment does provide more clarity to the debate, but I think my right hon. Friend would agree that many parties here will use it to drag us back, to keep us in purgatory and to try to frustrate our country and the Brexit process. Will he please give the House some assurances that after the delay today we will get certainty in the coming weeks, which my constituents and so many of my local businesses so badly need?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right to say that businesses up and down the country want certainty, and that is what is on table; we have the certainty of the Prime Minister’s deal versus the uncertainty of no deal or the risk of going back on the biggest vote in our country’s history. I am happy to give him that assurance, and that is why this House should back the Prime Minister’s deal—it gives businesses the certainty they seek.
The Public Accounts Committee has produced eight reports in the past year raising serious concerns about the Government’s preparedness for Brexit, whether there is a deal or not. I did not vote to trigger article 50, partly for that practical reason, but also because of my love of the EU. The Secretary of State is a thoughtful man and a former member of the PAC, so does he really believe it is possible to deliver Brexit by 29 March? Surely this ruling— even if I were to agree with the Government’s policy—gives them a way of negotiating and taking us forward in a much more measured way.
First, let me pay tribute to the hon. Lady for her work as Chair of the PAC, for which she is respected across the House, and for her consistency on this point. She rightly says that she did not vote for article 50, and I understand her position. As the Prime Minister set out this afternoon, the Government have done a huge amount of no-deal planning to prepare, but not all of that is within their control. For example, it relies on the response of businesses to technical notices and on the response of other member states. The Government, through the Under-Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union, my hon. Friend the Member for Daventry (Chris Heaton-Harris), the no-deal Minister, have done a huge amount to prepare for no-deal planning, but obviously some of these issues are outwith the Government’s control.
First, may I, too, welcome the cross-party nature of this legal case and take this opportunity to thank the legal team who helped me and the hon. Member for Nottingham East (Mr Leslie)? By the sounds of it, we may need their help again, as the Minister has not ruled out appealing. I must admit that the timing of this judgment was exquisite. Can the Secretary of State confirm that even if the Prime Minister tries to run down the clock to seek to force no deal on the House, thanks to this judgment Parliament could, at any point until 29 March, stop the Brexit process—or could do so if people vote to stay in the EU after a people’s vote?
There was a time when the right hon. Gentleman used to believe in the democracy bit of the Liberal Democrat name. He will recall that this House voted in favour of triggering article 50, with 498 for to 114 against. One would hope that as a democrat, he would respect that decision.
I did not vote to trigger article 50 because I did not think that the Government knew what it was about, and lo and behold we now know that they did not know what it was about. Is not the real danger of delaying making a decision now that businesses up and down the land will have to make enormous contingency plans against the danger of no deal? That will involve wasted money and will lower productivity in this country. The Government will be hard-pressed to get the legislation through in time for 29 March, so I give the Minister one tiny bit of advice: stop making categorical statements, because so far every one of those he has had to make he has had to withdraw afterwards. I bet he will end up withdrawing this one when he issues the revocation of article 50.
It is always interesting to have advice from the hon. Gentleman. He talks about giving businesses certainty. What they want is the certainty of a deal that will give us a period up until the end of 2020 to leave in good order, which he says he is against. Yet there is a lack of certainty here, because he stood on a manifesto that said he would honour the referendum result—[Interruption.] He is signalling that he did not stand on that manifesto, but I thought he stood as an official Labour party candidate. If he is saying he stood on a different manifesto from his Front Benchers he should have made that clear to his electorate.
The Government have spent the past two years saying that article 50 could not be revoked, but we know now that that is not true. They spent the past two weeks saying that we were definitely going to have a vote tomorrow on their Brexit deal, but we know now that that is not true. Is the Secretary of State not worried that the country might start to mistrust the Tories on Brexit?
What is clear is that on the key issue of whether the referendum result is respected, we are clear in this House that it is our policy to deliver it—we are committed to leaving on 29 March. To protect the jobs in the hon. Gentleman’s constituency and the supply of goods, and to give businesses the confidence to invest, we need to give businesses a deal. It is the Prime Minister’s deal that delivers that.
First, I warmly congratulate my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Edinburgh South West (Joanna Cherry) and her colleagues on this thoroughly deserved and epoch-making victory. May I gently advise the Secretary of State that it is not a good look for a Minister and a Government who claim to abide by the rule of law to seek to impugn the motives of the winners in a serious court case, or to appear to agree with colleagues who want to impugn the professionalism and integrity of the court that has delivered the verdict?
The Secretary of State has confirmed that the judgment does not change the law but clarifies it, and that it does not change Government policy. Does it change the Government’s understanding of the law? He has carefully avoided the question that has been asked twice, which I will ask a third time: how much has this cost the British taxpayer? Was that money spent because the Government were badly advised and thought they could win, or was it spent criminally negligently by a Government who knew they were going to lose and continued to spend our money just for the hell of it?
I have answered the question about the money several times. The Court judgment was reached just today, so not all the costs associated with the case will have accrued as yet. We will need to work that out in the normal way. The hon. and learned Member for Edinburgh South West (Joanna Cherry) will know about that from her time practising at the Bar. Again, I have already answered the question about respecting the process. We respect the Court’s decision, but the facts of the matter do not change, and they are that this Government are committed to honouring the referendum, we will ensure that we leave on 29 March next year, and we have absolutely no intention of revoking article 50.
On behalf of the millions of Labour supporters who voted to leave, I welcome the Government’s commitment to not revoking article 50. Does the Secretary of State agree that many of the people who want to see it revoked really just want to reverse the decision of the 17.4 million? By legal means or by any means, they want to stop the British people getting what they voted for.
The hon. Lady hits the nail on the head: that is the intention of some Members. To be fair, some Members are quite explicit about that. The point I am alluding to is whether that is now the official policy of those on the Labour Front Bench, because it is at odds with what Labour voters were told at the most recent general election.
Purely hypothetically, will the Secretary of State say whether it is in the national interest to have no deal or to revoke article 50?
Instead of getting into hypotheticals, I would rather deal with reality. [Interruption.] Members on the Opposition Benches may wish to go down the hypothetical route, but I would rather deal with the reality, which is that we had the biggest vote in our country’s history, and at the most recent general election two parties stood on manifestos that said they would deliver on that vote. Any revoking of article 50 would be a huge betrayal to those voters, including those referred to by the hon. Member for Vauxhall (Kate Hoey) in her question a moment ago.
I congratulate my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Edinburgh South West (Joanna Cherry) on her work. Is it not a great irony that the ECJ has given us much vaunted controls, but we still have Tory Brexiteers complaining? The UK now has a choice: either revoke article 50, or we in Scotland will have our second independence referendum, as Scotland voted to remain. Will the Government table a motion to revoke article 50, or do we in the Scottish National party get going with indyref 2? When they crash the economy, we are getting the lifeboat out of here.
It was a good attempt to shoehorn the indyref debate into the one on this referendum, but the reality is that the hon. Gentleman’s party lost in that referendum. That is why it is a UK decision and the referendum in 2016 was on the basis of a United Kingdom decision. He might not like democracy—he might not like the way the vote goes—but unfortunately his side lost in 2014. One would have thought that he might have come to terms with that four years on.
I know that the Secretary of State is quite new in his post, but has he looked at the impact of today’s events on the financial markets and the value of the pound? Has he met, as I have today, a major manufacturing company with worldwide markets that is desperately worried about staying in the United Kingdom? Does he not realise that many people think we are on the cusp of an economic and financial meltdown now—not in the distant future, but now? The revocation of article 50 could help to sort that out.
As I am sure that you, Mr Speaker, and the House recall, the hon. Gentleman voted to trigger article 50. He himself voted for it, so if he is now saying that he has changed his mind, perhaps that is the sort of uncertainty about which the financial markets have expressed concern. They look to the House for a response that will deliver them certainty for their investment and see Members like the hon. Gentleman changing their mind.
Today marks exactly 900 days since the outcome of the referendum in 2016. The Secretary of State says that there will be no article 50 revocation, but if between this morning and this afternoon the Prime Minister can change her mind about us having a vote tomorrow, why will his Government not allow the people to have a vote in a second referendum?
One would have thought, after 900 days, that we would be clear as to what the Labour party’s policy is. It is still unclear as to whether the Leader of the Opposition thinks that we can stop Brexit or not—he said it could not be stopped and then his shadow Brexit Secretary, the right hon. and learned Member for Holborn and St Pancras (Keir Starmer), said that it could—and he was unclear as to how he would vote in a second referendum. It is unclear today whether he would actually seek to revoke article 50 and go back on the manifesto commitment that he gave.
Were the Government to act on today’s legal judgment, it would mean no backstop, no hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, and no need for any border down the Irish sea with new trade barriers between Northern Ireland and the rest of the United Kingdom. The Secretary of State’s problem is that last week he said to the Exiting the European Union Committee that the vote tomorrow would go ahead, but it will not, and the Government said that the deal was not renegotiable, but they are now trying to renegotiate it, so why should we believe him when he says that the Government’s policy is that we will not revoke the article 50 notice, when we could not believe them on those other two matters?
What the right hon. Gentleman omitted from that question was that his own constituency voted to leave and he himself voted to trigger article 50. It is a little rich to come to the Chamber to say that there is inconsistency when he himself voted to trigger article 50 and is now suggesting that we should revoke the very article that he voted to trigger.
Given the delay to the meaningful vote and the fact that there is no clarity at all as to the timescale from now on, how confident is the Secretary of State really that we will leave the EU with a deal on 29 March 2019?
At the weekend, the Secretary of State said that the vote this week would definitely be happening, and in response to my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Edinburgh South West (Joanna Cherry) he wrongly said that the Commission had taken the same view as the Government in the article 50 case. Either he is auditioning for a minor part in an Orwell production, or he is hopelessly out of his depth. Which is it?
I thought we were going to wait for the point of order to deal with the substance of the comments of the hon. and learned Member for Edinburgh South West (Joanna Cherry), but we can deal with that now. The point is that the European Commission did raise doubts about whether the proceedings were admissible, and that was the case that the Government put. It was our view that it was hypothetical and we raised similar doubts. We put these issues to the Court and the Court formed its view. There is no inconsistency there.
Hundreds upon hundreds of my constituents have contacted me in the past few weeks, and even more have done so today, after this ruling. They hoped that I would speak tonight and represent them in the debate on the withdrawal agreement, but I will not be able to do that now. They have many different opinions on Brexit, but the one thing that unites them is their frustration at the lack of clarity and at things being changed. Now, after I told them that I would speak in the debate tonight and vote tomorrow, that is not happening. Can the Secretary of State say anything to reassure my constituents, or does he agree with quite a lot of them that under this Government the agreement is doomed?
The hon. Lady says that she wants certainty; it is the certainty of a deal and leaving in good order that is what most businesses—most of the people who employ people in jobs—want to see, and that is what the Government are offering.
Like his predecessors, the Secretary of State is kept in the dark about a lot, but he must know when he was first told that tomorrow’s vote was off. We know that it was not yesterday, when he said the vote would be on Tuesday. Did he know it was off when at 11.07 this morning the Prime Minister’s spokesman said that it was definitely on? Or did he know only when the conference call with the Cabinet happened at 11.30?
I will let the Secretary of State respond, but then let us get back to the revocation of article 50.
I will take your guidance, Mr Speaker. I think the Prime Minister covered the chronology this morning.
In July 2016, I asked an urgent question on whether Parliament’s agreement was needed to trigger article 50 and the Minister did not know the answer. After everything that has happened, is the Secretary of State saying today that he does not know whether the decision to revoke article 50 is purely for the Executive or for Parliament?
No, it is quite the opposite. What I am saying is that we have a very clear Government policy, which is that we will not revoke. We are absolutely clear on that and that is where the Government stand.
Is the Secretary of State aware of the case of Wilson and others v. the Prime Minister currently in the High Court, which argues that the EU withdrawal Act empowers the Prime Minister to trigger article 50 based on an advisory referendum and, if that referendum is found to be legally flawed, which it was because of the leave campaign, then the advice is void and, in the case of a general election, that would be ruled void? Therefore, will he look at that ruling, take guidance from it and, if they find in favour, revoke article 50, which they will be asking for?
Order. I am not sure whether the case is currently in the High Court—I do not know whether I heard correctly the hon. Gentleman’s reference to court proceedings—but if that be so, the Secretary of State will want to weigh his words carefully in any response that he gives us. If there are current legal proceedings, I know that he will be cautious.
I always take your guidance on these matters, Mr Speaker. The point of substance is that, regardless of where the court case is or is not, the Government’s policy is firm, as I have already set out.
Does the Minister not see the absurdity or the irony of the ruling today, which underlines the absolute sovereignty of the UK to make constitutional decisions, being debated on the same day as the Prime Minister tried to sell us a deal which removes sovereignty from the UK with reference to Northern Ireland? Will he return to the PM and press on her that an assurance is not satisfactory and only a legal change in the withdrawal agreement as it pertains to Northern Ireland will be acceptable?
I know that the hon. Gentleman takes these issues very seriously and I am always happy to discuss points with him further. However, this was a hypothetical issue taken before the courts because it is not Government policy to revoke. So it has been an interesting court case but it does not, for one iota, change the intention of this Government, which is to maintain their policy of not revoking article 50.
Irrespective of one’s view on the second referendum or the people’s vote, what is at stake here is a very important constitutional principle. We are not here to debate the Government’s policy on the revocation of article 50. We are here asking the question of whether, if Parliament were to vote to revoke article 50, the Government would honour that vote. So further to the questions from my hon. Friends, can we have an answer to that question—yes or no?
That is a question for Parliament. It is for Parliament to decide what it does or does not do. My role as a Minister is to answer on behalf of the Government. That is what I am doing and it is the Government’s clear policy—it has not changed; I say that again—that we will not revoke. The question for Opposition Members is: are they potentially going to look to revoke article 50? That is what people want to know, particularly, as the hon. Member for Vauxhall alluded to, those people who voted for a Labour manifesto that said that it would honour the referendum result.
If the European Council unilaterally decided to say that it wanted to extend the implementation period for article 50, would the Government automatically oppose that?
Again, we have covered this several times. The Court case dealt with the issue of revocation; it did not deal with the issue of extension. Extension requires the consent of the other EU27 countries. That is an unchanged position from the Court. It is outside the jurisdiction of this case.
The Secretary of State keeps telling us that the Prime Minister’s deal offers certainty, but the Prime Minister has removed the opportunity for us to vote on that certainty tomorrow. He has said that he will not revoke article 50. We on the Labour Benches are opposed to no deal because we know that that is a bad deal, but will he not admit now that refusing even to countenance revoking article 50 is tantamount to holding a no-deal Brexit gun to our collective heads?
Again, we risk straying beyond the scope of the statement, but the point is that the Prime Minister made it clear that we will have a vote, so it is delayed; it is not withdrawn.
In the event that the House votes down the deal in the meaningful vote and that there is no majority in the House for no deal, in order to deliver on the will of the House, will the Government consider suspending article 50?
Part of the difficulty for the House of working out the will of the House is that Opposition Members keep changing their minds. [Interruption.] I am sure—[Interruption.]
Order. I want to hear the Secretary of State’s mind—or the contents of it—and what he wants to say.
I am sure that it will come as a huge surprise to you, Mr Speaker, and to other Members that the hon. Gentleman himself voted to trigger article 50. Having triggered it, he now seems to want to revoke it.
It is the will of this House that there is a no-deal Brexit and the Government’s policy is also that, so the Secretary of State is perhaps premature in saying that it is not Government policy to revoke article 50. Surely, if faced without option, where there is only going to be a no-deal Brexit, ruling that out of hand would be supremely reckless for the Government.
Again, the Prime Minister covered this at length. It is simply not the case that it is the Government’s policy to have a no-deal Brexit. The Government’s policy is to have a deal. That is what the Prime Minister set out in around two and a half hours of debate this afternoon and the hon. Gentleman is simply misquoting what is the Government’s policy.