(Urgent Question): To ask the Prime Minister if she will make a statement on progress made in achieving legal changes to the EU withdrawal agreement and the timetable for approval in this House through a meaningful vote.
As negotiations are ongoing and at a critical stage, I am here to update the House on the latest developments. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister spoke to President Juncker by phone yesterday evening, teams will continue to talk throughout today and the Government will make a statement later today updating the House on the progress of discussions. As previously understood, the Attorney General’s legal analysis will be updated following the outcome of negotiations, and he will publish his legal analysis of any document produced and negotiated with the EU and present it to the House before it meets tomorrow.
Clearly, I cannot pre-empt the outcome of these sensitive and urgent discussions, and I am sure the House understands that I am not able to share details or engage in speculation about talks that are still ongoing, but I can assure it that, as soon as the negotiations have concluded, it will be updated. The meaningful vote will take place tomorrow and the motion will be tabled today ahead of that debate. The House will then face a fundamental choice: back the Brexit deal or risk a delay that would mean months more spent arguing about Brexit and prolonging the current uncertainty—uncertainty that would do nothing but pass control to Brussels and increase the risks.
It is incumbent on the House to deliver on the will of the British people and to provide certainty. Tomorrow, right hon. and hon. Members will have the opportunity to do just that in a meaningful vote fully informed by the Government’s legal analysis. I believe that the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition and every hon. Member in the House should take that opportunity to move forward and provide certainty.
This is a Government in chaos and a country in chaos because of this mess. I left my office at 20 past 3. At that time, Downing Street was unable to confirm who would be responding to my urgent question. It seems that the WhatsApp group, a lottery or something has chosen the hon. Member for Worcester (Mr Walker) to reply to the House, when my question was to the Prime Minister.
We find out from journalists and the Irish Government that the Prime Minister is apparently heading to Strasbourg this evening, or not heading to Strasbourg this evening, hours before a meaningful vote is due. The Prime Minister was clear and categorical on 26 February. She said:
“I want to reassure the House by making three further commitments. First, we will hold a second meaningful vote by Tuesday 12 March at the latest”—
there are still 24 hours to go, so who knows? She also committed to a vote on no deal by 13 March and a vote on whether to extend article 50 by 14 March. She then concluded:
“They are commitments I am making as Prime Minister, and I will stick by them”—[Official Report, 26 February 2019; Vol. 655, c. 166-7.]
This is a matter of trust. Time and again, the Prime Minister has failed to negotiate, failed to compromise and delayed and delayed. After three months, she has not achieved one single change to her deal. As we have often said, she has simply run down the clock, leaving us with a choice between her deal and the chaos of leaving the EU without any agreement. It was a bad deal in December, when it was first tabled; it was a bad deal in January, when it was rejected by the largest parliamentary margin by which any Government has ever been defeated; and it is still a bad deal today, 11 March.
These shambolic negotiations and endless delays are having real-life consequences in workplaces across the country: businesses are holding back on investment, jobs have been lost, workplaces are closing, workers fear for their jobs and the national health service and public services are having to spend millions of pounds preparing for a no-deal outcome, which the House has already clearly rejected.
Can the Prime Minister, I mean the Minister—I am sorry that the Prime Minister cannot be here, apparently—tell us what changes the Government have got to the backstop and when the Attorney General will publish his apparently new legal advice, or is it that, after three months of delay, nothing has changed? Given that they whipped their MPs to vote for the amendment in the name of the hon. Member for Altrincham and Sale West (Sir Graham Brady), which said the deal could only be supported with changes to the backstop, will the Prime Minister be voting against her own deal if no changes have been secured?
Will the Minister confirm that we will, absolutely, have the meaningful vote tomorrow, and that it will not be delayed yet again? Will we also have the vote to rule out no deal on 13 March, and the vote on extending article 50 on 15 March, as promised? If the deal is rejected again tomorrow, will the Prime Minister shift her red lines, and show that she is not just willing to meet Members, but willing to compromise with them as well?
This chaos cannot go on for much longer. The fate of people’s workplaces, jobs and businesses is at stake as the Government fail to negotiate and there is simply dither after dither, and then further delay. It is time for answers.
The right hon. Gentleman talks about further delay. I have confirmed to him that there will be a meaningful vote in the House tomorrow. I have explained that negotiations are ongoing, and the Government are seeking legally binding changes that will address the concerns that have been raised in the House.
The right hon. Gentleman speaks of chaos. We all remember his advice to the Government, on day one after the referendum, to trigger article 50 immediately. I think that we can be very clear that this process would be no safer in his hands. He talks about investment. He and his party will have the opportunity to vote secure and unlock investment tomorrow by backing the deal, and they will do so fully informed by the Government’s legal analysis. He asked about the timetable for the publication of the Attorney General’s advice, and I can confirm that that advice will be published before the House sits tomorrow.
My hon. Friend firmly confirmed that the vote on the deal would come tomorrow. He did not actually mention the event, if it is defeated, of the vote on Wednesday on whether or not we leave with no deal, and, further to that, the vote on Thursday about delaying article 50 if, indeed, the House rejects no deal. I hope that that was a mere oversight and that my hon. Friend is not going back on last week’s undertakings.
I am happy to confirm that the exact words of Prime Minister in giving that undertaking, which we absolutely stand by, were
“First, we will hold a…meaningful vote”
on 12 March. If the Government did not win a meaningful vote, they would
“table a…motion…to be voted on by Wednesday 13 March…asking this House if it supports leaving the EU without a withdrawal agreement… Thirdly”,
if the House rejected both those options,
“the Government will, on 14 March, bring forward a motion on whether Parliament wants to seek a short, limited extension to article 50.”—[Official Report, 27 February 2019; Vol. 655, c. 377.]
It is crucial that the House has the opportunity to extend article 50 on Thursday, because we have to take back control from this shambles of a Government.
We are 18 days away from the scheduled UK exit from the EU, yet the Government still have no plan to protect jobs and living standards. This Prime Minister is guilty of neglect. She has proved incapable of governance, incapable of negotiation and utterly incapable of leadership. The truth is that the politics of the United Kingdom has become a farce. The lack of leadership from either the Tory or the Labour party has left people across the country at a loss, panicking about their futures and abandoned by their so called leaders.
This morning, Downing Street exclaimed that tomorrow’s vote would go ahead, and the Minister has repeated that. It must happen, and it is welcome, because to dither and delay yet again would be another act of grave cowardice. We cannot ignore the facts: this place is in total chaos, and the crisis engulfing the United Kingdom is deepening. In Scotland, businesses, students, farmers, academics, mothers, fathers and EU nationals are rightly worried about their futures, but this Government, this Tory party and this Prime Minister could not care less about the people of Scotland. This deal will damage our economy, destroy growth and deprive Scottish people of all the cherished opportunities that the European Union has gifted us.
Michel Barnier was very clear: the negotiations are over. He said:
“We talked all weekend and now the discussions, the negotiations, are between the government in London and the parliament in London.”
Can the Minister answer these questions? Will the Government back the Prime Minister’s deal tomorrow? Will the text of the motion on which we shall vote provide for a new arrangement in relation to the Northern Ireland backstop? Has the Prime Minister negotiated with the European Union new protections for the Scottish economy? If not, are the Scottish MPs in her party ready to resign? Scotland did not vote for Brexit, and we must not be dragged out of the European Union against our will. The sovereign right of the Scottish people to choose our own future must be respected. We are, and we will remain, a European nation.
We are all leaving the European Union, but we are not leaving Europe. Amid the right hon. Gentleman’s rhetoric, he spoke about the interests of the Scottish people. Of course, the interests of the Scottish people are in our strong Union of the United Kingdom. We want to deliver a good deal for the whole United Kingdom.
Unlike the Leader of the Opposition, may I welcome the Minister to the Dispatch Box? I know from my own experience that, unlike the Leader of the Opposition, the Minister is a brilliant master of his brief. The Leader of the Opposition talked about trust. Is not the Prime Minister demonstrating the trust that this House should put in her by going to Europe and negotiating with the Europeans a deal that will deliver on the requirements of the British people—unlike the Opposition?
My right hon. Friend is absolutely right, and I pay tribute to his work on this process. He has said many times that negotiations with the EU often go right to the eleventh hour. We have a demonstration of that today, and there will be a statement from the Government later today.
Can the Minister explain to the House why the Irish Foreign Minister Simon Coveney said earlier today:
“The…Prime Minister is travelling to Strasbourg this evening…to try to finalise an agreement, if that’s possible, to be able to put that to a meaningful vote in Westminster tomorrow.”?
Can the Minister confirm that? If an agreement that changes the withdrawal agreement or the political declaration is reached tonight, will that have the approval of the Heads of Government? If not, will it actually constitute a negotiated agreement under the terms of section 13(1)(b) of the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018?
The right hon. Gentleman, who is the Chair of the Exiting the European Union Committee, asked me a series of questions, and I think that he knows I cannot answer them all. My Secretary of State has reiterated to me that he is keen to give evidence to the Select Committee tomorrow, so perhaps he can update the right hon. Gentleman and his Committee on all those issues.
May I likewise welcome the Minister? Before his well-deserved promotion, he was an excellent Parliamentary Private Secretary—[Interruption.] That was before my demotion, but there we are. Has not the right hon. Member for Leeds Central (Hilary Benn) just shown us exactly what the Leader of the Opposition should have done in an urgent question that is entitled “EU Withdrawal Agreement: Legal Changes”? The nub of the matter is that we would be better served by a forensic examination of the January letter from Presidents Tusk and Juncker, in which much was conceded by the EU, and that now needs to be turned into legally binding text. Many complain about delay, dither and the consequences for workplaces, but does the Minister agree that all that could be solved if the agreement was passed tomorrow?
My right hon. Friend makes a very good point. Of course we should pass this agreement, but it is vital that the Prime Minister has gone in to negotiate right up to the last moment so that she can address the concerns of this House. I agree with my right hon. Friend that the letter from the Presidents took some steps to address those concerns, but we have sought, and we will continue to seek, legally binding changes.
The Minister could not answer the question from my right hon. Friend the Member for Leeds Central (Hilary Benn). The status of tomorrow’s meaningful vote matters because we want to be sure that the Government will not use any shenanigans to avoid further votes later in the week. Will the Minister confirm that if by the end of tomorrow Parliament has not approved a withdrawal agreement and future partnership that have been agreed with the EU for the purposes of section 13(1)(b) of the European Union (Withdrawal) Act, the Government will go ahead on Wednesday with the vote on no deal, followed by the vote on the extension of article 50?
I have already confirmed that by repeating the Prime Minister’s assurance, and we do accept that section 31 of the withdrawal Act is binding.
Should the country leave the European Union without a deal, what would be the liabilities owed to the European Union?
My right hon. Friend asks an interesting question, and of course there are a range of different views on that. The House of Lords Committee has taken one view, and other hon. and right hon. Gentlemen will take others.
I think that the right hon. Member for Derbyshire Dales (Sir Patrick McLoughlin) was asking for the view of the Minister. The clue is in the nature of the exchange. If an hon. Member or right hon. Member gets up and asks a question, he is interested in the view of the Minister, not of some other Committee in some other place. I would have thought that that was fairly straightforward, but there you go.
The Minister says that he does not engage in speculation, but may I encourage him to make an educated guess? If the Prime Minister’s deal is passed tomorrow, how many more years of very public Tory bickering will the country face as the UK seeks to establish its new relationship with the European Union?
The right hon. Gentleman asks a question about what might happen if the deal is passed. I think that he should get behind the deal and support it, because we would then secure the implementation period that would provide certainty to businesses and citizens in this country while we negotiate the future relationship and ensure that it is put in place. It is certainly my aspiration to ensure that that is done before the end of the implementation period.
The European Union has known for some considerable time that we are going to have this vital vote tomorrow. Supposing it actually does offer to pull a rabbit out of the hat sometime late tonight, what would that say about the bad faith in which it has been negotiating?
It is our determination to progress the negotiations in good faith, and we have done so throughout. I am sure that the European Union will want to show its good faith by meeting the concerns of this House.
Will the Minister acknowledge that tabling an amendment with Government support tomorrow to make support conditional on a not-yet-negotiated agreement would fulfil neither the letter nor the spirit of the Prime Minister’s promise?
I think that the right hon. Gentleman should await developments later today and see what the Government put forward tomorrow. I have been very clear that we absolutely stand by the Prime Minister’s commitments on the meaningful vote and on what follows.
I welcome my hon. Friend to the Dispatch Box and congratulate him and his colleagues on getting the European Union to agree to set up a taskforce or workstream to work up the Malthouse compromise proposals. Will he commit to getting those into the legally binding text, so that there will be an implementation date that is fixed for the future?
I know that my right hon. Friend speaks with considerable experience in these issues. The alternative arrangements have been a crucial part of this conversation, and they will continue to play an important part in our negotiations. We are seeking legally binding changes.
Does the Minister care at all about the real impact of his Government’s utter incompetence on real people? In my constituency, American Express, the biggest private sector employer, is deeply concerned about recruitment problems because of his recklessness. Will he answer a very simple question? Will he himself vote against no deal if the Prime Minister’s deal is lost tomorrow?
I want to take the first opportunity to vote against no deal by voting for the deal in a meaningful vote. That is the best way to secure the absence of no deal and to secure the interests of this country.
The Minister has arrived at the big time and he is doing well. He has told the House that the Attorney General will publish any revised legal advice before the House sits tomorrow, which I am sure the whole House will welcome for obvious reasons. With regard to the motion that we might then have to vote on, will we get sight of it tonight, or will it be placed in the public domain only when the Order Paper is published electronically in the small hours of the morning?
My right hon. Friend asks an important question. The Government will bring forward the motion as soon as we possibly can, but I cannot necessarily guarantee the precise timing given that the negotiations are still ongoing.
Section 13(1)(b) of the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018 says that the vote must be on “the negotiated withdrawal agreement”. Does the Minister accept that a vote tomorrow on anything other than that would not count as the second meaningful vote and would not fulfil the Prime Minister’s promise of 22 February, when she said that
“we will hold a second meaningful vote by Tuesday 12 March at the latest”?—[Official Report, 26 February 2019; Vol. 655, c. 166.]
I can only reiterate what I have already said, which is that we will be holding the meaningful vote tomorrow. Of course, exactly what is brought forward by the Government will depend on the outcome of the negotiations, which are still ongoing.
With regard to the legal changes required to the withdrawal agreement, this House voted for the entire removal of the backstop. Does it not strike my hon. Friend as incongruous at the very least that it is harder to the leave the backstop than it is to leave the EU under article 50?
My hon. Friend makes an interesting point, as always. The Government have heard loudly and clearly this House’s concerns about the backstop, and they are what the negotiations are to address. I am confident and hopeful that we will come forward tomorrow with something that will allow even him to support the Government’s deal.
Given the mess that the UK Government are in at this eleventh hour, does the Minister think that his boss—the real Prime Minister—will ultimately be grateful for the ruling secured by myself and other Scottish parliamentarians from the Court of Justice in Luxembourg that article 50 can be unilaterally revoked and that there is a way out of this mess for the United Kingdom?
I simply say to the hon. and learned Lady that the way forward for the United Kingdom is to agree a deal and to leave the EU with a deal.
If the withdrawal agreement is defeated and this House assents to leave the EU without a deal following the votes this week, does my hon. Friend agree that there will be a whole series of permissions and protocols that we will need the EU to agree to in order to manage that situation? In those circumstances, why would the EU not turn around and make the obligations within the withdrawal agreement a prerequisite to it agreeing to any of the things that we need from it?
My right hon. Friend asks an interesting hypothetical question, but the best thing that we can do this week is to secure a deal that this House can support and then get it through the House so that we can avoid such eventualities and speculations.
May I press the Minister on the timing of the motion for tomorrow? For those of us wishing to speak in the debate, it would be particularly helpful to have the text of the motion so that we know exactly on what we are going to be voting. Will he please put it out by 5 o’clock today?
The hon. Lady sets a deadline to which I cannot commit, but the Government will bring forward the motion as soon as we can based on the outcome of the negotiations, which are ongoing.
The Government are formally seeking a legally binding text on the Malthouse compromise as an alternative to the backstop, aren’t they?
My right hon. Friend is as pithy as always. I can confirm that the Government are seeking legally binding changes to address the House’s concerns about the backstop.
The Minister needs to be very clear about the timetable. As I understand it from the answers that he has given, as much as he can give them, he is committing on the Government’s behalf to a meaningful vote tomorrow, and the motion will be tabled as soon as the Government can do so, which I think means as soon as they get all their ducks in a row. In any event, as far as I understand it, it must be published by the close of play this evening, which is 10.30 pm. Does the Minister think that that would then allow enough time not just to consider it, but for right hon. and hon. Members to table the necessary amendments to it? How does any opinion from the Attorney General then fit into that important timetable?
The Attorney General has committed to providing the House with his legal analysis of any document published by the UK and the EU as part of this process, and he will do so ahead of the debate. We will ensure that the Government’s motion is tabled as soon as it can be. The right hon. Member for Broxtowe (Anna Soubry) will appreciate that, with negotiations ongoing, I cannot commit to a specific time on that, but I take note of Mr Speaker’s advice from the Chair.
Well, I do not think I am offering the hon. Gentleman advice, but what I can give is a very clear indication of what the procedures of this House require. It is not by way of advice; I am telling him, on behalf of the House, what the position is.
The right hon. Member for Broxtowe (Anna Soubry) is correct in her understanding of the required deadline for the tabling of a Government motion to appear on the Order Paper tomorrow. I understand the Minister’s natural reluctance to commit to a specific time, pending the progress or otherwise of negotiations, but the deadline is the rise of the House.
In so far as the right hon. Member for Broxtowe and other hon. and right hon. Members might legitimately be concerned about the matter of adequacy of time for the possible tabling of amendments, it would perhaps be helpful to the House if I indicated that, in extremis—that is to say if circumstances require it—manuscript amendments will be taken. [Interruption.] That is absolutely the case. I do not need any help from the right hon. Member for Chelsea and Fulham (Greg Hands), who would not have the slightest idea where to start. I know what the position is, and I am helpfully indicating it to the right hon. Member for Broxtowe, which I think will help the House.
Many questions this afternoon seem designed to construct negotiating hurdles that are impossible for the Prime Minister, or any Government, to jump over. I have met lots of constituents in Gloucester over the last three days who want to see this issue resolved as sensibly and quickly as possible. Can I therefore give my hon. Friend the Minister all encouragement for the Prime Minister to come back with legally binding changes that will make a huge difference, particularly to the Northern Ireland situation, and then for this House, 80% of whom were elected on manifestos to respect the referendum, to get behind the deal and see it through?
My hon. Friend makes an excellent point. All I can say to him is that I hear the same thing from my constituents in Worcester as he hears from his constituents in Gloucester.
The Minister is asking Parliament to accept that, two and a half years after the referendum, he will give us maybe just a few hours to consider the deal that the Prime Minister may or may not conclude sometime overnight before we have one of the most important votes this Parliament will ever hold. That is not acceptable, is it?
The hon. Lady knows that negotiations often go to the wire, and I think it is absolutely right that the Government should fight for the best possible outcome to those negotiations, especially when we have been instructed to do so by this House. That is what we are doing.
Does the Minister agree that the intransigence of the EU on making legally binding changes to the backstop, whether to the time limit or an exit mechanism that would enable many of us to support the deal, justifies our concern that, if we ever enter the backstop as it stands now, the EU would never let us leave?
My hon. Friend clearly expresses the concerns that have been raised on both sides of the House about the backstop, which is why we are seeking to address those concerns through a legally binding change.
Tonight I was supposed to be meeting the Farmers Union of Wales in Caernarfon, rather than being here. Those hard-working and resourceful people battle the elements to produce the finest beef and lamb in the world. When they find that something they are doing does not work, they change what they do. What lesson for tomorrow’s proceedings does the Minister derive from their success?
It is important for those farmers that we get a deal with an implementation period, and with the good trading terms that that can provide, to make sure that Welsh lamb and beef can continue to be a huge success internationally.
The withdrawal agreement gives certainty to the British and European citizens most affected by Brexit; it gives our businesses the certainty of a transition period; and it brings certainty about the size of the bill we have to settle. Does my hon. Friend agree that the one individual who is bringing uncertainty, by his refusal to negotiate and compromise, is the leader of the Labour party?
Order. That is absolutely no responsibility of the Minister. It was a disorderly question; an answer is unnecessary and it was a complete waste of everybody’s time.
The Government intend to publish a motion, an agreement and legal advice on that agreement. Can the Minister commit to ensuring that we have all of this before the beginning of the debate tomorrow? Will he also ask the Attorney General to come to give a statement about the legal advice, so that we can ask questions on it in advance of tomorrow’s debate?
Yes, I do commit that that information will be available before the debate tomorrow, and the Attorney General has been clear that he will publish his analysis.
The Minister is answering the questions admirably, but we have heard from those on the Opposition Benches the desire for time to look at the legal advice and the motion, and time to table amendments and to consider them. Given that the Opposition are, in effect, requesting an extension to the meaningful vote, will the Minister take from this that we should perhaps consider putting off the vote until Parliament has time to consider what the Prime Minister brings back?
I note my hon. Friend’s representations, but the Government are clear that we will be having the meaningful vote tomorrow.
The thing is there is only one possible motion that can be considered tomorrow for it to be a meaningful vote under the Act. It is very straightforward and the Government themselves argued repeatedly to the Procedure Committee that if the motion had any other riders added to it, it would not be legally competent—it would not have any legal effect. So the Government could publish the motion now. I could publish the motion for them now—and, for that matter, the business motion which we will have to have tomorrow, because of the Constitutional Reform and Governance Act 2010. They could also introduce that now. Then we would be able to have proper scrutiny. Isn’t it time we had some proper scrutiny and we stopped flying by the seat of our pants all the time?
The hon. Gentleman talks about proper scrutiny. He will know that the Prime Minister and Secretary of State have been at this Dispatch Box literally hundreds of times facing proper scrutiny on this issue. We will bring forward the Government’s motion for tomorrow’s debate as soon as we can.
I echo the words of my hon. Friend the Member for Gloucester (Richard Graham) in wishing the Prime Minister every success today. On the important decisions we face this week, when will the Government publish the World Trade Organisation tariffs and quotas which are going to be needed to assess the merits of no-deal, in the event that the deal is defeated?
My hon. Friend makes an important point, although I think it is for another Department to answer. We will be having a meaningful vote on a deal that ensures that we need not have those tariff barriers between ourselves and the EU. That is one of the many reasons we should support the deal.
It will not be lost on many listening to this debate that those who are condemning the Prime Minister for not getting a deal are the very ones who have made it difficult for her to get that deal because they have insisted she rule out no-deal as an option. Will the Minister give an assurance that regardless of what the Prime Minister comes back with, she will not accept the diktat of Michel Barnier on Friday, who said that the UK can leave but the one thing that cannot happen is Northern Ireland leaving the EU unless the EU gives us permission?
I say simply to the right hon. Gentleman that it is very clear that the UK as a whole will be leaving the EU. Whatever the outcome of these negotiations, that will be the case: we will leave the EU as one United Kingdom.
I welcome my Worcestershire neighbour to his place. I know he is an assiduous doorstep campaigner and I wonder whether his experience is the same as mine in Redditch, which is that people just want us to get on with this. Does he therefore agree that it is very important that we hold the vote tomorrow so that we can express the wishes of the House and, most importantly, of our constituents, who want us to deliver on the result of that referendum?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right: our constituents want us to deliver on the result of the referendum. They also want us to secure the strongest economy for every part of our country—from Redditch to Worcester, and all around the country. We can do that by backing the deal.
This is completely crazy. The hon. Member for Wallasey (Ms Eagle) had this absolutely right: we are nearly three years on from that referendum and yet the Minister is perhaps going to give the House three minutes to consider a motion. [Interruption.] He is shaking his head; he will not give us three minutes. So will it be half an hour—or perhaps an hour? I am not sure whether my question should be to the Minister or to you, Mr Speaker, because I feel that the House should be suspended, or at least the Government should bring forward an opportunity for the House to properly look at the motion and consider any Attorney General’s advice, because I, for one, want to table an amendment with my hon. Friends for a people’s vote, so that we can sort this out straight away.
Let me be clear that, as I said earlier in my statement, the Government will be seeking to make a statement later on today.
Does the Minister agree that no competent negotiator would take no deal off the table and that an extension of article 50 would simply be a bigger bridge to nowhere? Will he reject the representations from the Labour party and its fellow travellers in the Independent Group and rule out a second referendum?
I heartily agree with my hon. Friend about seeking to rule out a second referendum, which I do not think would provide any solutions. All it would do is prolong the uncertainty. It is absolutely right that we should deliver on the people’s vote that this House voted for and voted to respect back in 2016.
Will the Minister confirm that tomorrow we will not be asked to consider and vote on a unicorn motion—that is, a motion that contains a withdrawal mechanism that could be unilaterally triggered by the UK, which is just wishful thinking and not agreed with at EU level?
I have updated the House by saying that negotiations are ongoing, the Government are seeking legally binding changes and we will come forward with a meaningful vote tomorrow. I do not believe in unicorns and neither does the hon. Lady. We should vote for a deal.
Over the past months I have contacted hundreds of local businesses in East Kilbride, Strathaven and Lesmahagow and the message is loud and clear: they want the single market and the customs union. Is the Minister risking what businesses need from Brexit with his pursuance of the backstop issue? Not one of my local businesses mentioned the backstop. We need to get a consensus across the House for business, jobs and livelihood.
The hon. Lady makes an interesting point. I agree with her to the extent that it is not traditionally businesses that express concerns about the backstop—or perhaps not businesses in Scotland; perhaps some businesses in Northern Ireland do—but we also have to recognise the concerns in the House. To get and secure a deal that will secure the market access about which she speaks, we need the House to vote for it. That means we need to address the concerns of communities up and down our United Kingdom.
If we are to take the Minister at his word—and I think we should—he is confirming that tomorrow the House will vote on something that is meaningful under the provisions of section 13 of the European Union (Withdrawal) Act. How does he think a Back-Bench Labour Member of Parliament, standing up for his constituents in Edinburgh South, will be able to table an amendment to that motion, have it signed by MPs from across the House so that it is selectable, and understand the legal implications of the Attorney General’s information?
The hon. Gentleman asks a fair question and I respect the integrity with which he does so. The Speaker has already indicated that he would be prepared to accept manuscript amendments and I have been clear that the Government will bring forward their motion and the Attorney General’s advice as soon as they can. I am sure the hon. Gentleman’s ingenuity will allow him to pursue the ends he means to pursue in a parliamentary way.
What assessment has the Minister made of what I think is an increasingly compelling case, which is that if the Prime Minister is able, tomorrow or subsequently, to bring forward an agreement that may be acceptable to Parliament, parliamentary approval for it should be subject to ratification in a subsequent public vote?
The right hon. Gentleman makes a call for a subsequent public vote—a people’s vote. I am very clear that that is not something that this Government would ever support.
It is often said that a lawyer who acts for himself has a fool for a client. We are going to receive legal advice tomorrow that has not yet been written because the negotiations have not finished. Will the Minister ask for that legal advice to cover the fact that what we will vote on tomorrow is a negotiated agreement for the purposes of section 13(1)(b) of the European Union (Withdrawal) Act?
The Attorney General has committed to publish his analysis in full.
Potentially extending article 50 until the end of June is, of course, welcome, but I am curious and a wee bit bewildered as to what dramatic change the Prime Minister expects by then. Perhaps the Minister could enlighten us on that, but would it not be more honest, more courageous, and more statesmanlike to abandon these futile and embarrassing attempts to hold the fractured Tory party together, revoke article 50 altogether and get on with the day job?
I do not think that it would be honest or statesmanlike to turn our back on the outcome of the referendum. I know that the hon. Lady’s party likes to ignore referendum results, but our party wants to deliver on them.
It is customary on these occasions for the House to complain that the Government have sent the monkey and not the organ grinder, but on this occasion we have not even got the monkey—we have not even got the codpiece. [Hon. Members: “Oh!”] While the Minister is enjoying his very exciting work experience day, can he confirm one thing that he said earlier in this statement, which was that the Attorney General’s advice would be available before the House sits tomorrow? Can he confirm that that will be the case—that it will be available before the House sits, and not just before the debate?
I just say for the benefit of hon. and right hon. Members that the hon. Gentleman’s choice of language is really a matter of taste rather than of order. I know that the right hon. Member for Rayleigh and Wickford (Mr Francois) will not take it in the wrong spirit if I say that whoever else might be in a position to complain about others’ use of language, I think that he is not on strong ground on that front. I have tended to indulge him because I know that he speaks with passion and conviction, but he tends to be rather robust in his treatment of others, so, all of a sudden, objecting to the hon. Gentleman is perhaps for someone else to do.
I was sticking up for the Minister. I am a Government loyalist.
Yeah, and I as a Back Bencher had a really good relationship with my Whips! I had a relationship with my Whips that was characterised by trust and understanding: I did not trust them and they did not understand me.
The Attorney General has said that he will publish his analysis, and I believe that to be before the House sits tomorrow.
The Minister has clearly been sent out today to defend an absolute Horlicks of a situation in Government. Given that he has already confirmed that there will be a meaningful vote tomorrow based on section 13(1)(b) of the Act and that there will not be any unicorns contained within it, can he also confirm that, if the Government cannot negotiate some last-minute changes to the withdrawal agreement and future framework, the meaningful vote tomorrow will take place on the existing negotiated agreement, which will not have changed?
The hon. Lady asks a series of hypothetical questions. The Government are negotiating, and I fully expect them to come back to this House with the results of that negotiation and then to hold the meaningful vote on those. I hope that she will be joining me in the Lobby to secure a deal as we exit the European Union.
In order to gauge whether it is worth my bothering to turn up for the statement later on, will the Minister confirm that the statement will outline legally binding changes to the withdrawal agreement? If it does, will he tell us what red lines have been rubbed out to allow that to happen?
Of course it will be worth the hon. Gentleman’s while to turn up to any statement from the Government. I look forward to him seeing that the changes that the Government have been negotiating on have been achieved.