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Business of the House

Volume 656: debated on Wednesday 13 March 2019

Mr Speaker, in the light of tonight’s decision, I should like to inform the House that tomorrow’s business will now be a debate on a motion relating to an extension of article 50. On Friday 15 March, the House will consider private Members’ Bills.

I shall announce next week’s business tomorrow in the usual way.

Yet again the House has been given an emergency motion, and yet again we have only just had sight of it—a colleague has managed to get us copies of it. This is no way to run a Government and no way to run a country. We now have a situation where the Government are voting against their own motions, which is a terrible state of affairs. The Government are staggering from week to week, day to day, and motion to motion. The country deserves better.

The Leader of the House does not wish to comment. Fair enough. It is a business statement, so she can respond if she wishes but she does not wish to do so.

It is no wonder that the Leader of the House chose not to respond, because that was a pathetic statement, given tonight’s events and the chaotic cluelessness at the heart of Government. The public must be watching this place and wondering what on earth is going on. The Prime Minister gave a petulant and unsatisfactory response to the preceding events. This Government are still determined to flog a dead deal, but at some point they are going to have to accept that the game is over.

We have just got sight of tomorrow’s motion and it seems to me that it is readily amendable. All we need to get rid of is the first two parts and we will get to what this House really wants and requires, which is an indefinite extension of article 50 until we get the issue resolved. The will of the House has to be respected in these matters.

I have seen the provisional business for next week and there is nothing in it—nothing at all—so the Government could table a motion that reflects the wish of this House to legislate to take no deal off the table. Is that in the thinking of the Leader of the House, and does she intend to do it? That is what this House expects, and it is now what this country expects.

As the hon. Gentleman will know, the Prime Minister set out some time ago that should the House reject the withdrawal agreement and future declaration, there would be a discussion for the House to decide whether it wished to take leaving the EU without a deal off the table, and then, should the House make that decision, there would be a further discussion on whether the House wishes to seek an extension to article 50. That is the motion we will discuss tomorrow.

As my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has just said, tomorrow’s motion will set out the fundamental choices facing the House. If the House finds a way in the coming days to support a deal, that will allow the Government to seek a short, limited, technical extension to article 50 till 30 June 2019, to provide time to pass the necessary legislation and ratify the agreement we have reached with the EU. If the House does not find the way to support a deal in the coming days, and is not willing to support leaving without a deal on 29 March, it is highly likely that the EU will require a clear purpose for any extension, not least to determine its length, and that any extension beyond 30 June 2019 would require the United Kingdom to hold European Parliament elections in May. I hope that that answers the hon. Gentleman’s question.

The motion, which we now know will be debated tomorrow—doubtless it will be subject to amendments—says that the House has to agree a motion

“approving the negotiated withdrawal agreement and the framework”


“20 March”.

Does that mean that the Government intend to bring forward the same motion that we have dismissed in this Session on Monday or Tuesday next week? If so, I gently suggest to the Leader of the House that that flouts all the conventions that have operated in this House since the 16th century. It has always been held that, if a motion has been dismissed in one Session of Parliament, it cannot be brought again. Clerks regularly refuse to accept ten-minute rule Bills and private Members’ Bills that have been disposed of in the Session. Will we have that motion on Monday or Tuesday? If so, does the Leader of the House confidently expect Mr Speaker to refuse to allow it?

The hon. Gentleman will be aware that the House has just voted twice on the amendment in the name of my right hon. Friend the Member for Meriden (Dame Caroline Spelman) among others. That vote was on the same amendment.

It appears to me that the Leader of the House is merely organising meaningful vote No. 3 on exactly the same deal in complete contravention of the will of the House expressed in two defeats of the Government motion. Instead of attempting to play this ridiculous game of chicken with the future of our country, and attempting to tear up all the conventions of this House, showing nothing but contempt for how it has made its decisions, should she not facilitate the decisions of the House by moving an amendment—a statutory instrument—that will take the date of our leaving the European Union of 29 March 2019 out of the statute? Is that not her job?

The hon. Lady will be aware that tomorrow’s motion is amendable. It is for the House to decide whether it wants to put forward amendments and vote on them. As my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has said, if the House votes for an extension, she will seek to agree it with the EU and will bring forward the necessary legislation to change the exit date commensurate with that extension.

Does the programme motion tomorrow mean that the votes will be at the moment of interruption, or will they be at some other time?

The programme motion sets out that the vote will be at the moment of interruption, but it is subject to the agreement of the House.

Will the Leader of the House undertake this evening to use her best endeavours to ensure that, at the end of this process, the Government facilitate and enact the will of the House by bringing forward and making time for statutory changes, instead of simply offering more motions that do not have the operative Executive impact for which this House has voted?

The Prime Minister and I have both said that if the House votes for an extension, we will seek to agree that extension approved by the House with the EU and bring forward the necessary legislation to change the exit date commensurate with that extension. As has been said several times, it is not within the Government’s gift to insist on an extension. That will be a matter for agreement with the EU and will potentially be subject to conditions imposed by it, and the hon. Lady will be aware that it will require unanimous agreement by all 27 members of the EU. I can reassure her, however, that the decision would come back to the House finally and would need to be approved by Parliament.

It was only a little while ago that the Government were attacking the Leader of the Opposition for not agreeing to meet the Prime Minister. If were are trying to fulfil the will of the House, surely the Government should be reaching out to all sections of the House to find a way through. Where in this timetable is there a facility for those sorts of discussions to take place?

The hon. Gentleman will be aware that the Prime Minister has sought to reach out to Members across the House. The Leader of the Opposition was willing to meet once only and that was very late on in the discussions, but the Prime Minister and Ministers, including the Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union, have sought the views of Members across the House and will continue to do so.

As the right hon. Lady knows, the Leader of the House has a hugely important constitutional role—to be the voice of Parliament to Government. The Government seem to be ignoring vote after vote in this Chamber, as we heard from the Prime Minister earlier this evening. The Leader of the House has announced that tomorrow we are to have an amendable motion on extending article 50. If the House passes those amendments, takes out the conditionality that the Government have put into it, it appears from the last two or three votes that they will just ignore that. How can we have confidence in the motions we discuss and pass and confidence in the Leader of the House, who has demonstrated in other areas that she can speak up for Parliament? She should be roaring to the Executive that the expressed will of Parliament is being ignored. What is she going to do about that?

I take very seriously my role as Parliament’s voice in Government and at all times I seek to ensure that the views across the House are heard in the Government very clearly. I will always stand up for Parliament in that way. As I have always said, the Government take very seriously views expressed by this House. The Prime Minister has been clear that if the House votes for an extension, the Government will seek to agree that extension with the EU and will bring forward the necessary legislation to change the exit date commensurate with that extension.

This need not be the Schleswig-Holstein question all over again, but it does risk driving us all a bit mad. Now that the House has ruled out no deal, is not the only thing now entirely within the House’s gift—as opposed to relying on members state of the EU—the revocation of article 50?

The hon. Gentleman will be fully aware that the revocation of article 50 would mean not leaving the EU and so would put us in direct contravention of the will of the people expressed in the referendum, and the Government will not be doing that.

Order. I simply say to colleagues that I think it is clear that whatever the House decides, it will not be a state secret. It will become public. It will be known. The message will be communicated. In fairness, I think the Leader of the House has acknowledged that whatever the House decides, it will be communicated to the European Union. That will happen, and the wording of what has been decided will be absolutely crystal clear. The will of the House will be forwarded to the European Union, whatever that will is.

Given that we have seen plenty of briefings indicating that meaningful vote No. 3 will take place at some point next week, and given that the pound appears to be going tonto just about every day, can the Leader of the House tell us when meaningful vote No. 3 will be, so that the markets can be prepared for the same nonsense again next week?

What I can say to the hon. Gentleman is that I will announce next week’s business tomorrow. Obviously, however, he will be aware that we are currently focusing on trying to identify the will of the House, which is why we have tabled a motion enabling it to discuss tomorrow its desire, or otherwise, for an extension of article 50.

I will not rehearse the sequence of events that we were promised this week in the context of why we have reached this point tonight, but I am utterly astonished that the Leader of the House has produced a motion for us to debate tomorrow which is essentially a forerunner to meaningful vote No. 3. The entirety of the motion is dependent on the expression by the House of its view again, by 20 March, on not what she described to the hon. Member for Perth and North Perthshire (Pete Wishart) as “a deal”, but “the” negotiated withdrawal agreement and “the” framework for the future relationship, namely the current EU withdrawal agreement and the current framework for the future relationship that the House has already rejected twice. If the Government are listening to the will of the House, the motion should clearly say, “We have listened to the will of the House, and we will go back to the European Union to seek an extension”, should it not?

As I have said to a number of Members, the Government are listening very carefully to the views of the House. That is why my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister said that if the meaningful vote was not passed, we would come back to the House today with a vote on rejecting a no-deal Brexit, and in the event that that was passed, we would come back to the House tomorrow to seek its views on an extension of article 50. That is exactly what we are doing. The Prime Minister has further said—as have I, just now—that if the House wants an extension of article 50, we will seek to agree that with the European Union, but what Members must understand is that it is not in the Government’s gift to insist on an extension. That will be a matter for agreement with the European Union.

I think everyone is aware of that. I do not wish to be unkind to the Leader of the House, but I do not think she is telling us anything that we do not know. We all know that.

Well, repetition is not an unknown phenomenon in the House of Commons. I understand what the Leader of the House is saying, but I think everyone is perfectly well aware that an extension request is just that: a request.

In claiming that the Government are listening, the Leader of the House really is stretching the boundaries of credibility. The Prime Minister was told after Chequers that the Chequers proposals did not command a majority of the House. She ignored that, and went off to Brussels. She then came back with something worse, and feigned surprise when, funnily enough, the House did not vote for it.

The Prime Minister and the Government have now been told twice—not by small numbers, but by unprecedented, historic numbers—that this deal does not command the support of the House of Commons. What the Leader of the House is trying to stand up this evening is, as has already been said, meaningful vote No. 3, and that will not succeed either. All that she is doing—or facilitating, as Leader of the House—is running down the clock, limiting our options and harming our country. I think that that is reckless and irresponsible, and it is not how she should be behaving as Leader of the House. Can she tell us when she plans to bring us meaningful vote No. 3? Why not do it tomorrow, so that we can inflict the defeat sooner rather than later?

The hon. Gentleman is simply wrong. The Prime Minister set out, in response to the strong desire of this House, a trajectory towards a second meaningful vote, and if that was not passed towards giving the House the opportunity to take leaving without a withdrawal agreement off the table, and if that was passed giving the House an opportunity to ask for an extension to article 50. The Prime Minister has been clear that she will comply with the House’s request, and all I am pointing out is two things. One is that it will be a request—the Government cannot insist on it—and, secondly, the motion tomorrow will be amendable. So if the hon. Gentleman wants to put forward an alternative proposal that he believes will carry the House then of course, by definition in an amendable motion, he is able to do so.

Since the last vote I have taken the opportunity to canvass the external Brexit campaign groups to find out their opinion as to whether, in the light of all this, we were right to vote down the deal, and I can tell the Government that unanimously so far the opinion is that the deal was so rotten that we were absolutely right to vote it down and that come what may we should continue to do so. And I tell the Government now that when meaningful vote No. 3 comes back I will see to it that we honour—honour—what we owe to them: to keep voting this down however many times it is brought back, whatever pressure we are put under, and come what may. Please don’t do it: go back to the EU and say, “It won’t pass.”

My hon. Friend and I clearly have a different perspective on this. In my opinion the Prime Minister’s proposal delivers on the will of the people as expressed in the referendum. It means we are leaving the single market and the customs union; we are taking back control of our money, our laws and our borders; we are getting out of the common agricultural policy and the common fisheries policy; and, importantly, we will have the opportunity to write free trade deals with other nations around the world. But important too is the fact that the Prime Minister’s deal respects the views of so many who did not want to leave the European Union, because it ensures that we will continue to have a close and collaborative relationship with our EU friends and neighbours. So in my opinion it is the best combination to deliver on the will of the referendum.

If the hon. Gentleman does not mind—and I am always interested to hear his views—I would prefer to conclude the exchanges on the emergency business statement and if he is still keen to raise his point of order then I shall be happy to hear him.

When we were in talks with the Prime Minister before—probably a month or six weeks ago—she was absolutely adamant that it was no deal, her deal or revocation. Now the Government have pivoted to extension. So why is there this change of position? Why did they not stick to no deal, her deal or revocation? Her deal is dead so it is now between no deal or revocation.

Actually what the Prime Minister was saying was that she was concerned that the House was not giving due consideration to her negotiated proposal, and what she was pointing out to the House is that the Government are determined to fulfil on the will of the people expressed at the referendum and that the alternative to either a negotiated deal such as her deal or not fulfilling on the will of the people was to leave the EU without a deal, which nobody believes would be in the best interests of the country.

My right hon. Friend has said that we would need to have a clear purpose in order to extend article 50, particularly if that was for a short period of time. Can my right hon. Friend tell the House whether she believes that a change of chief negotiator will amount to such a clear purpose?

My hon. Friend gives me the opportunity to pay tribute to the excellent work of the civil service, who have spent the last two and a half years above and beyond the call of duty—so many of them focused on delivering on the referendum. That is something to be proud of.

Does the Leader of the House not recognise that the Prime Minister will not be able to pass a deal simply with the support of the Members sitting behind her—and if she had not fully recognised that until this evening surely she does now? If there is to be any deal that we can take to the European Parliament, European Commission and European Council in order to try to secure any sort of deal other than a no-deal Brexit, she is going to have to negotiate a deal with Members on the Opposition side of the House—not just to talk to Members on the Opposition Benches, but negotiate a deal with them.

My right hon. Friend has indeed reached out to Members across the House, and the hon. Gentleman knows that full well.

Once again the Government are happy to use the most arcane and incomprehensible procedures when it suits them in order to frustrate the will of the House, and also to ignore them when it suits them to do so. The hon. Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant), who is no longer in his place, has pointed out that the Government seem determined to cast aside the time-honoured tradition that if you put forward a motion and lose it once, it is gone. Also, if the Government have already decided, as they clearly have, when the crucial third vote will be held, surely it is another time-honoured tradition to have the courtesy to give the House such information now, rather than keep it for some other time. Will the Leader of the House give a commitment that when the meaningful vote is brought back and the discredited deal is rejected yet again, every member of the Government will honour the time-honoured tradition of three strikes and they are out?

I find it a bit odd that the hon. Gentleman is suggesting that we are using arcane procedures when we are actually using business motions and motions of the House that are by no means arcane. We are merely fulfilling the commitment that the Prime Minister gave to ensure that the House could vote on whether it wished to take no deal off the table and then vote on whether it wished to request an extension to article 50 from the European Union.

Can the Leader of the House tell us whether there will be time to debate one quite interesting aspect of the withdrawal agreement? It really is an encapsulation of much of what is wrong with the Government’s attitude to the House. It involves the backstop proposals for how the technicalities of customs will work at the border. They are silent on VAT and they will require the EU’s permission to be workable and compliant with the EU customs code. They will also require the EU to agree on what the law on our borders will be. This goes against the statement that the Government keep making that we will have control of our money, borders and laws through the withdrawal agreement. How can we identify this and explain it more fully than the Government have done to date?

I am sure that there will be Ministers from the Department for Exiting the European Union on the Front Bench tomorrow. That might be an appropriate time for my hon. Friend to raise his specific questions.

I am a new MP and I have lost my circus programme, so can the Leader of the house tell me what time close of play will be tomorrow? Or will there be an extension?

The motion that has been laid suggests that the House will carry on its debate until 5 pm, but that is a matter for the House to agree.

I would like to ask the Leader of the House whether it is still a convention that if a Government Minister breaks a three-line Whip, they are expected to resign.

Given that Parliament has rejected leaving the EU in a no-deal scenario, the Leader of the House has outlined that tomorrow we will debate extending article 50. She has also told us tonight that the Government cannot go back to the EU to ask for that extension of article 50 unless a proper deal has been agreed in Parliament. What is she doing to bring forward the mechanisms for Parliament to decide what they want to take back to the EU for the purposes of extending article 50, instead of this nonsense of another meaningful vote on a deal that we have already rejected twice?

I think perhaps the hon. Gentleman has misunderstood. What I said was that if the House should vote to extend article 50, the Prime Minister has said that she will indeed go to the EU to seek its agreement to that. However, the fact is that that would only be a request. The Government are not able to insist upon it because it requires the agreement of all 27 EU members. So we can request the extension on behalf the House, and will certainly do so, and if the EU agrees to such an extension, the Government will bring forward legislation. The point that the Prime Minister was making is that we cannot insist on that extension.

After Aberdeen’s brilliant result against Rangers last night, it was probably only right to give Kilmarnock a wee win.

Last night, the Prime Minister and the Leader of the House both gave a commitment that if this House backed no deal as a way forward, that would become Government policy. The extension of that principle and that logic, which is important after what the hon. Member for Wycombe (Mr Baker) said, means that the Government should now adopt no “no deal” as their policy, so why is the first item of business tomorrow not a statutory instrument removing from legislation the exit day of 29 March?

The Prime Minister committed to allowing the House to decide whether it wanted to decline to leave the European Union without a deal, and the House made that decision. The Prime Minister also said that she would give the House the opportunity to decide to extend article 50, with a clear commitment to making that request should the House decide to agree to it. The hon. Gentleman will appreciate that the only way to avoid the legal default, which is still that the United Kingdom leaves the European Union on 29 March with or without a deal, is to put in place an alternative deal or, indeed, to extend article 50. I have merely stated the fact that that in itself requires the agreement of the all other 27 EU member states.