We do not want to see article 50 extended. Our focus is on getting a deal that Parliament can support and on leaving on 29 March. Extending article 50 simply defers the moment of decision and extends that uncertainty.
The Prime Minister has, since Tuesday, opened up the possibility of extending article 50, subject to EU agreement. From the UK’s perspective, this could be used for three options: to deliver Brexit, a general election or a people’s vote. Can the Secretary of State think of any other options?
We are clear that we want to secure a deal and that we do not want to extend. The hon. Lady should really come clean, because she says that she wants to extend but what she really wants is to go back on the largest vote in our country’s history and revoke Brexit entirely. She does not want to extend in order to secure a deal; she wants to stay in the EU and go back on the deal. She is praying in aid an extension when that is not really her policy.
If there is a vote on 14 March, will the Secretary of State vote to extend article 50?
We have already had this question twice, but I am happy to refer the hon. Gentleman to the answer I gave a moment ago. We are committed to securing a deal; that is the Government’s objective.
Does the Secretary of State really think that, without an extension, he can get the necessary legislation through before we leave the EU? By the way, I am not trying to obstruct us leaving.
I respect the way in which the hon. Gentleman has framed his question, because I know, as he does, that his constituency voted leave and that many of his constituents will be keen, as mine are, to ensure that we get this deal over the line. Clearly, the withdrawal agreement Bill is a significant piece of legislation and we will need to get it through the House, but the key issue is getting the deal through, because once we have done that, we will have the basis for the necessary consensus in the House to approach that legislation.
I entirely agree with the Secretary of State that extending article 50 is a very unsubtle way of thwarting the will of the 17.4 million people who want to leave. Does he agree that one way of avoiding having to extend article 50 would be to ensure, in the negotiations, that the Malthouse proposals—which he has asked a taskforce to work up into detail—should be put into the legal text of the treaty with a definitive implementation date?
I pay tribute, as the Prime Minister did, to the work that my right hon. Friend and a number of colleagues have done on taking forward the alternative arrangements work. He will be aware of the time pressure relating to the derogations required as part of that, and that is why this is seen as a phase 2 issue by the European Union. He can be reassured, however, that, as the Prime Minister has set out, there is a commitment to £20 million of funding to take that work forward, together with civil service resource. That shows the goodwill and intent of the Government in relation to progressing the alternative arrangements.
Paul Flynn told me that I had star quality, but as my friend, I do not suppose that he was an objective observer. In the event of the withdrawal agreement being defeated a second time, the Government must be committed to voting in favour of a no-deal Brexit; otherwise, they will in effect have taken no deal off the table, won’t they?
I am sure that the former Member for Newport West was not the only person to say that my right hon. Friend had star quality. The key issue is that we need to give businesses certainty and we need to secure the deal. Unlike my right hon. Friend, I am optimistic that there is an opportunity for the House to come together on the areas on which we agree. This is about the winding-down arrangements, but many of the issues on which there is further debate to be held relate to the future economic partnership. We have already signalled that we want to work much more closely across the House on taking that work forward.
I am very glad that the right hon. Member for New Forest West (Sir Desmond Swayne) was heartened by the tribute from Paul Flynn, but it seems to be manifest and incontrovertible that he exhibits star quality. Indeed, it is as manifest, incontrovertible and predictable as the passage of the seasons, for goodness’ sake.
During yesterday’s debate, the Minister for the Cabinet Office clarified that, in the event of the House voting on 14 March for an extension to the article 50 process, the Government would be required to bring forward legislation and that the House would have a chance to approve whatever final extension length might be agreed with the EU. I have a simple question for the Secretary of State: do the Government foresee that legislation being primary or secondary, and will it be the means by which the House could express its view on the proposed length of the transition?
The hon. Gentleman is getting slightly ahead of himself. Before the vote on 14 March, we have a vote on 12 March. This Government are committed to winning that vote, and therefore the vote on 14 March will not apply.