With permission, Mr Speaker, I would like to make a statement on last week’s European Council. Before the Council, I wrote to President Tusk to seek formal approval for the legally binding assurances on the Northern Ireland backstop and alternative arrangements agreed in Strasbourg on 11 March. I reported your statement, Mr Speaker, which made it clear that for a further meaningful vote to take place, the deal would have to be
“fundamentally different—not different in terms of wording, but different in terms of substance”.—[Official Report, 18 March 2019; Vol. 656, c. 782.]
I explained that, as a result, some right hon. and hon. Members were seeking further changes to the withdrawal agreement, and I requested a short extension to the article 50 process, to 30 June. I regret having to do so—I wanted to deliver Brexit on 29 March—but I am conscious of my duties as Prime Minister to all parts of our United Kingdom and of the damage to that Union that leaving without a deal could do when one part of it is without devolved government and unable, therefore, to prepare properly.
The Council formally endorsed the legal instrument relating to the withdrawal agreement and the joint statement supplementing the political declaration. This should increase the confidence of the House that the backstop is unlikely ever to be used, and would only be temporary if it is. But the Council also reiterated, once again, its long-standing position that there could be no reopening of the withdrawal agreement. So however the House decides to proceed this week, everyone should be absolutely clear that changing the withdrawal agreement is simply not an option.
Turning to extending article 50, this has always required the unanimous agreement of the other 27 member states. As I have made clear before, it was never guaranteed that the EU would agree to an extension—or the terms on which we requested it—and it did not. Instead, the Council agreed that if the House approves the withdrawal agreement this week, our departure will be extended to 11 pm on 22 May. This will allow time for Parliament to pass the withdrawal agreement Bill, which is legally necessary for the deal to be ratified. But if the House does not approve the withdrawal agreement this week, our departure will instead be extended only to 11 pm on 12 April. At this point, we would either leave with no deal, or we would
“indicate a way forward before this date for consideration by the European Council”.
If that involved a further extension, it would certainly mean participation in the European parliamentary elections.
The Council’s conclusions were subsequently turned into a legal decision, with which the UK agreed and which came into force last Friday. So although the Government have today laid a statutory instrument, which will be debated later this week, to reflect that decision in our own domestic legislation, the date for our departure from the EU has now changed in international law. Were the House not to pass the statutory instrument, it would cause legal confusion and damaging uncertainty, but it would not have any effect on the date of our exit.
I continue to believe that the right path forward is for the United Kingdom to leave the EU with a deal as soon as possible, which is now on 22 May, but it is with great regret that I have had to conclude that, as things stand, there is still not sufficient support in the House to bring back the deal for a third meaningful vote. I continue to have discussions with colleagues across the House to build support, so that we can bring the vote forward this week and guarantee Brexit. If we cannot, the Government have made a commitment that we would work across the House to find a majority on a way forward.
The amendment in the name of my right hon. Friend the Member for West Dorset (Sir Oliver Letwin) seeks to provide for that process by taking control of the Order Paper. I continue to believe that doing so would set an unwelcome precedent, which would overturn the balance between our democratic institutions, so the Government will oppose the amendment this evening. But in order to fulfil our commitments to the House, we would seek to provide Government time in order for the process to proceed. It would be for the House to put forward options for consideration and to determine the procedure by which it wished to do so.
I must confess that I am sceptical about such a process of indicative votes. When we have tried this kind of thing in the past, it has produced contradictory outcomes or no outcome at all. There is a further risk when it comes to Brexit, as the UK is only one half of the equation and the votes could lead to an outcome that is unnegotiable with the EU. No Government could give a blank cheque to commit to an outcome without knowing what it is, so I cannot commit the Government to delivering the outcome of any votes held by the House, but I do commit to engaging constructively with the process.
There are many different views on the way forward, but I want to explain the options as I understand them. The default outcome continues to be to leave with no deal, but the House has previously expressed its opposition to that path, and may very well do so again this week. The alternative is to pursue a different form of Brexit or a second referendum, but the bottom line remains that if the House does not approve the withdrawal agreement this week and is not prepared to countenance leaving without a deal, we will have to seek a longer extension. This would entail the UK having to hold European elections, and it would mean that we will not have been able to guarantee Brexit. These are now choices that the House will have the opportunity to express its view on.
This is the first chance I have had to address the House since my remarks last Wednesday evening—[Interruption.]
I expressed my frustration with our collective failure to take a decision, but I know that many Members across the House are frustrated too, and we all have difficult jobs to do. People on all sides of the debate hold passionate views, and I respect those differences. I thank all those colleagues who have supported the deal so far, and those who have taken the time to meet with me to discuss their concerns.
I hope we can all agree that we are now at the moment of decision, and in doing so we must confront the reality of the hard choices before us: unless this House agrees to it, no deal will not happen; no Brexit must not happen; and a slow Brexit that extends article 50 beyond 22 May, forces the British people to take part in European elections, and gives up control of any of our borders, laws, money or trade is not a Brexit that will bring the British people together. I know that the deal I have put forward is a compromise—it seeks to deliver on the referendum and retain trust in our democracy, while also respecting the concerns of those who voted to remain—but if this House can back it, we could be out of the European Union in less than two months. There would no further extensions, no threat to Brexit and no risk of a no deal. That, I believe, is the way to deliver the Brexit that the British people voted for. I commend this statement to the House.
I thank the Prime Minister for the advance copy of her statement and for the meetings that we have had in recent days.
The Government’s approach to Brexit has now become a national embarrassment. After two years of failure and broken promises after broken promises, the Prime Minister finally accepted the inevitable last week, voted to extend article 50 and went to Brussels to negotiate. Last week’s summit represented another negotiating failure for the Prime Minister. Her proposals were rejected and new terms were imposed on her. We now have an extension until mid-April, or 22 May, but despite the clearly expressed will of this House, we still face the prospect of a disastrous no-deal Brexit. This is even more remarkable given that the Minister for the Cabinet Office told this very Chamber that
“seeking such a short and, critically, one-off extension would be downright reckless”.—[Official Report, 14 March 2019; Vol. 656, c. 566.]
This failure has been compounded by the Prime Minister’s attempts last week to pin the blame for this debacle on others. It was wholly inappropriate, last Wednesday, for her to try to pit the people against MPs—elected MPs doing their duty to hold the Government of the day to account, which is what Parliament exists for. In a climate of heightened emotions where MPs from all parts of the House have received threats and intimidation, I hope that she will further reflect and think again about making what I believe to be such dangerous and irresponsible statements.
Every step of the way along this process the Government have refused to reach out, refused to listen and refused to find a consensus that can represent the views of the whole country, not just those of the Conservative party. Large parts of our country continue to be ignored by this Government. It is no wonder that so many people felt compelled to march on the streets or to sign petitions over the weekend. Even the most ardent of leavers think that this Government have failed. It is easy to understand the frustration at this chaos—it exists in this House, in Brussels, and across the country.
The Government have no plan. For them, it is all about putting the Conservative party before the country. Given that the Prime Minister has admitted that she does not have the numbers for her deal, will she accept today that her deal is dead and that the House should not have to waste its time giving the same answer for a third time?
The Prime Minister has succeeded in unifying two sides against her deal. The CBI and TUC’s unprecedented joint statement last week demanded a plan B that protects jobs, workers, industry and communities. Does the Prime Minister have a plan B? The Government have failed, and they have let the people down whether they voted leave or remain. The country cannot afford to continue in this Tory crisis. It is time for Parliament to take control, which is why, later today, we will be backing the amendment in the name of the right hon. Member for West Dorset (Sir Oliver Letwin).
You made it clear last week, Mr Speaker, that, for the Prime Minister to bring back her deal, there must be significant changes. There are none. Rather than trying to engineer a way to bring back the same twice-rejected deal, will she instead allow plans—rather than fight plans—for indicative votes? She cannot accept that her deal does not have the numbers and also stand in the way of finding an alternative that may have the numbers. It is ridiculous to suggest that Parliament taking control is “overturning democratic institutions”. It is not; it is Parliament doing its democratic job of holding Government to account. Will the Prime Minister agree to abide by the outcome of these indicative votes, if they take place on Wednesday?
The Labour party will continue cross-party discussions to find a way forward, and I thank Members who have met colleagues of mine and me to have those discussions. I believe that there is support in this House for a deal—one that is based on an alternative that protects jobs and the economy through a customs union, provides full single market access, and allows us to continue to benefit from participation in vital agencies and security measures. If the Government refuse to accept this, we will support measures for a public vote to stop no deal or a chaotic Tory deal.
The Government have had more than two years to find a solution, and they have failed. It is time that we put an end to this, move on from the chaos and failure, and begin to clean up the mess. It is time for Parliament to work together and agree on a plan B. If the Prime Minister is brave, she will help to facilitate this. If not, Parliament must send a clear message in the coming days. I hope that where the Government have failed, this House can and will succeed.
Once again, the right hon. Gentleman said that we still face the prospect of no deal. As I said earlier, the House has rejected no deal twice now and could very well continue to reject it, but the only way of actually putting that into practice is to support a deal. He also talks about reaching out. I have reached out to party leaders and other Members across the House, and my right hon. Friends the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster and the Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union have held a number of meetings with Members across the House and with party leaders.
The right hon. Gentleman ended by saying that it is now time for the House to decide. The point is that, up to now, the House has not decided. [Interruption.] Yet again, Opposition Members say that they have not had a chance. The House has had many chances to table amendments. The House has voted twice on the right hon. Gentleman’s plans for the future and rejected them, it has voted to reject no deal and it has also voted to reject a second referendum. The right hon. Gentleman asked whether the Government would commit to abide by the indicative votes. As he accepted, I gave him advance notice of my statement and I then read that statement, in which I clearly said:
“I cannot commit the Government to delivering the outcome of any votes held by this House.”
That’s not good enough.
The shadow Foreign Secretary shouts, “That’s not good enough.” Let us just think about this for a moment. First, we do not know which options will be tabled. Secondly, we do not know which amendments will be selected. But there is another important point: no one would want to support an option that contradicted the manifesto on which they stood for election to this House. The Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster will be opening the debate this afternoon, and will refer to the processes of the House that will be involved.
The right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition said that it was important that MPs were elected here to take responsibility and make decisions. But the MPs elected to the House at this time have a duty to respect the result of the referendum that took place in 2016. Attempts to stop the result of that referendum being put in place or to change the result of that referendum are not respecting the voters and they are not respecting our democracy.
Finally, the right hon. Gentleman mentioned the fact that a number of people had marched on the question of a second referendum. [Interruption.]
The right hon. Gentleman referred to the fact that a march for a second referendum took place. It is, in fact, the right hon. Gentleman’s policy, and I noticed that his deputy went on the march. I thought that the right hon. Gentleman normally jumped at any opportunity to go on a march, but he was not actually there on this occasion; I can only assume that he was involved but not present.
What would the Prime Minister say to a leave voter who wants us to leave on 29 March and thinks that indicative votes are a waste of time because, as she rightly says, the options on offer have already been rejected once or twice in this Parliament?
My right hon. Friend is absolutely right that the options that appear to be on offer have already been rejected by this Parliament. I would have to point out, of course, that for reasons that I explained in my statement—in relation, particularly, to the Governments of parts of the United Kingdom—we have requested the extension to article 50, so the 29 March date is no longer there. But I would say to a leave voter: we can guarantee Brexit and leaving on 22 May, as the Council conclusion suggests, by supporting the deal that has been put forward. That is the way to guarantee Brexit; anything else does not guarantee Brexit.
I thank the Prime Minister for an advance copy of her statement.
We are in a crisis, but one of the Prime Minister’s own making. Her ill-judged speech before she departed for Brussels concluded that everyone is to blame but herself, trying to put herself on the side of the people and blaming parliamentarians. It was Trumpesque. We do not need such raw populism at a time like this—it is truly flabbergasting. Will she now apologise for blaming parliamentarians in the way that she did?
The Prime Minister needs to be reminded: she is supposed to be leading a country. No one on these Opposition Benches thinks she can deliver. Her Back Benchers do not think she can deliver. People right across the United Kingdom do not think she can deliver. Prime Minister, time is up. Today is about parliamentarians taking back control. People at home are watching, and they are ashamed of this Parliament, ashamed of this Government, ashamed of the embarrassment that British politics has become. Today, Parliament must move to find a consensus. We must come together and protect the interests of citizens across Scotland and all other parts of the United Kingdom. I say to Members: we still have a choice.
I want to ask the Prime Minister now, with all sincerity—will she respect the will of Parliament and reject no deal? While she is telling us that our votes do not count, Privy Counsellors are being given briefings by her Government, and those briefings are talking about catastrophe and the real risks that there are to the United Kingdom. It is the Prime Minister who is threatening the people of the United Kingdom with no deal, and a no-deal exit that this Parliament has already rejected. What is the point of us all sitting in this Chamber and voting in debates when the Prime Minister thinks she can ignore parliamentary sovereignty? What a disgrace—what an insult to this place; if our votes do not count, then frankly we may as well just go home.
If this Prime Minister is telling the people of Scotland that our votes did not count when we voted to remain, well, we know what the answer is: the day is coming when the people of Scotland will vote for independence and we will be an independent country in the European Union. So will the Prime Minister tell us, do our votes count? Are they binding on the Government or is this just a puppet show? If that is the case, this is the greatest assault on democracy inflicted by any Prime Minister. If Members of Parliament are prepared to tolerate that, then shame on them—shame on them. Scotland will not be dragged out of the European Union by this Prime Minister. From the very beginning of this process, Scotland has been ignored, and now we learn that Parliament will once again be ignored.
At the weekend, I was proud and privileged to take part in a historic march in London. I was proud to stand with the people, alongside Scotland’s First Minister, and demand that the Government listen to the people. Let me tell the Prime Minister this: she said that no deal is the alternative; well, we on these Benches will move to revoke, because Scottish parliamentarians have made sure that we have that power, and we will stop her driving us off a cliff edge. Over 1 million people marched to have the chance to vote again to stop this chaos. Prime Minister, why are you not listening? The Prime Minister must end this madness. Put it to the people—let us have a people’s vote.
The right hon. Gentleman put forward a number of proposals for the way forward in the speech that he has just given in response to my statement. There was one point at which he said Scotland would vote to become an independent country in the European Union. Of course, what was perfectly clear in the independence referendum in 2014, when Scotland rejected independence and decided to stay—
The right hon. Gentleman says, “Give it a rest!” He stands up here proclaiming the benefits of democracy and yet tells me to give it a rest when I point out that the people of Scotland voted to remain part of the United Kingdom. He talks about coming together. This House has a duty to deliver Brexit. That means, I believe, delivering a Brexit with a deal that enables that smooth and orderly exit. He asks whether his vote counts and votes in this House count. Of course votes in this House count, but so do the votes of 17.4 million people who voted to leave the European Union.
The statutory instrument for the extension of time was laid one hour ago. There is grave concern that there was no lawful UK authority for the decision on 22 March to extend the exit date. Did the Prime Minister seek the Attorney General’s advice beforehand, as clearly required by both the ministerial code and the Cabinet manual, and will she publish that advice? Why did she not invoke the commencement order for section 1 of the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018, repealing the European Communities Act 1972?
My hon. Friend talks about the decision to extend article 50. This House had supported an extension of article 50. Yes, the Council took a different decision in relation to the length of time that that extension could take place for, but the House was clear—people are saying to me, “Listen to the House and respect the House”—that an extension of article 50 should be sought, and an extension was agreed.
The Prime Minister has told the House that if her withdrawal agreement is not approved by this Friday, the extension we have been granted will last only until 12 April. If the Prime Minister currently does not intend to bring her deal back for another vote, she will then be faced with only two choices: doing nothing, in which case we will leave with no deal on 12 April, or applying for a further extension. Given the crisis that is facing our country, the public have a right to know which of those two options the Prime Minister intends to choose. Prime Minister, could you please tell us?
The right hon. Gentleman is right that I said that, as things stand, I did not believe there was support for bringing back a meaningful vote, but I also indicated that I was continuing to talk to colleagues across this House. I would hope to be able to bring back a vote in this House that enables us to guarantee Brexit, because the one way of guaranteeing Brexit is to abide by the decision that was taken last week and ensure that we leave on 22 May.
Does the Prime Minister welcome the comments of the Taoiseach over the weekend that he believes that there are special arrangements that could be put in place to maintain an invisible border on the island of Ireland, even in the event that the UK leaves without a deal?
We have, as my right hon. Friend knows—she has been involved in some of these discussions—been looking at the alternative arrangements that could be put in place, and further work is required, but I would also draw her attention to, I believe, a release by the European Commission today, in which it makes clear that, in all circumstances, all EU laws would have to be abided by.
Those of us who were among the 1 million on Saturday naturally regret that both the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition were too busy to join us. Does she agree with the observation of her Chancellor that such a referendum is a “perfectly coherent proposition”?
Virtually every time the right hon. Gentleman stands up when I have made a statement or am opening a debate in the House on this subject, he asks me about a second referendum. My view about a second referendum is very simple. I was not on the march not because I was too busy, as he says, but because he and I hold a different opinion about a second referendum. I believe it is important that this House, rather than talking about and wanting to pass the decision back to the British people again, says to them, “We will abide by the instruction you gave us in the referendum in 2016.”
The cost to the British people and the amount of money that will be payable under the deal that the Prime Minister has put forward is between £34 billion and £39 billion. What do the Government estimate is the cost to the United Kingdom of no deal?
My right hon. Friend asks an important question. We have published economic analysis that shows the impact of no deal. Over £4 billion is being spent by the Government on preparations for leaving the European Union with or without a deal. As I say, there is economic analysis that shows the impact of no deal over the coming months. My own view is that, over time, we would be able to address the issues that arose, but there would be an immediate impact on the economy.
The Prime Minister said that she is prepared to provide for indicative votes and to engage constructively with the process, but she has also many times—she appeared to again today—ruled out supporting a customs union. If a customs union is supported in indicative votes, is she ruling out the Government attempting to negotiate a customs union with the European Union?
The right hon. Lady has asked me on a number of occasions about a customs union, and I have made my view on a customs union very clear. A number of alternative ways forward in relation to a deal have been suggested over time in this House, but there are a number of questions that Members need to ask themselves. When she talks about a customs union, what rules would she see us abiding by? Would it involve abiding by state aid rules? In some of the proposals, there is a real question whether free movement would continue to be abided by. I stood on a manifesto that made reference to a customs union because I and the Labour party both believed we should be able to have an independent trade policy. It continues to be my view that we should have an independent trade policy in the future.
The European Commission said today that all preparations for no deal had been completed, and last week the Under-Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union, the hon. Member for Daventry (Chris Heaton-Harris), made it clear in response to the urgent question that good progress had been made by the UK on preparations for no deal. So it is a bit surprising to hear from the Prime Minister that Northern Ireland is “unable” to “prepare properly” because it does not have devolved government. Which areas of Government activity present a problem, and when will they be resolved?
The Northern Ireland civil service does not have the powers to take the decisions that would be needed if the UK left the European Union with no deal. It is possible to address those issues, but had that not been done by 29 March, the question about the impact on Northern Ireland, where there is no devolved government, would be an important one. It is absolutely right that the Government took the view that it was not appropriate to allow no deal to go ahead at a time when the powers were not in place to ensure proper exercise of the decision making necessary in a no-deal situation.
On that last point, the Prime Minister and the House have known for some considerable time that 29 March was the target date, so why have appropriate preparations not been made? Why do we need another two weeks? What will happen in another two weeks that could not have happened up to now? This is a fundamental lack of preparation, and the Government are entirely responsible for that if it is the case. This is an entirely new argument that we are hearing for the first time about why we need an extension.
The former Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, the right hon. Member for Chipping Barnet (Theresa Villiers)—who has great experience, having served for four years in Northern Ireland—has pointed out that Leo Varadkar has made it clear that, in terms of no deal, he is very confident that there will be no border checks. [Interruption.] The Prime Minister shakes her head, but that is what he said. Michel Barnier and Angela Merkel have said the same. The reality is that this backstop problem has been elevated. I would like the Prime Minister’s views on this: why does the EU insist on it when, in the case of no deal, there do not need to be any checks? Why did the Prime Minister ever agree to this backstop in the first place when it is the thing that bedevils her agreement?
Today is not the first time that the position of Governments about Northern Ireland in a no-deal situation has been raised. It was raised by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs in the debate on no deal, which took place nearly two weeks ago. I simply say to the right hon. Gentleman that a number of statements are made and have been made by individuals about the situation in relation to the border in Northern Ireland. If we look at the detail of what the European Union has said, we see that it has made it clear that European Union law would need to be adhered to in any circumstance in which there was no deal. We ourselves have said, and the right hon. Gentleman is aware of this, that we would ensure that we were moving towards a period of time—because of the legal situation it could only be for a temporary period—of minimal checks with exceptions, but the legal position is different, given the necessity to be able to have certain checks taking place. The European Union has been clear that EU law would need to be applied in all of these circumstances.
Further to that point, is the Prime Minister suggesting that in order for Northern Ireland to be ready to leave with no deal, there would need to be some form of direct decision making by us in this House in the absence of a Stormont Government?
Yes, my hon. Friend is absolutely right. If there is no Stormont Government and if powers and ministerial direction, which are not currently available to the civil servants, are needed, that would require some form of direct application of powers from Westminster.
The Prime Minister appears to have ruled out bringing back her deal for an indefinite length of time, and yet we have only two weeks before we crash out without a deal. She has said that she will not necessarily take notice of this House’s indicative vote process, and she has also said that she will not continue as Prime Minister if we remain in the EU beyond 30 June. The situation seems to be pointing directly to a prime ministerial dash for no deal. Will she say that that is not what she wants and tell us when she is going to abandon her deal rather than keep postponing the vote on it?
I have always been clear that I want us to leave the European Union. My preference is for us to leave the European Union with a deal. But I have also always been clear—it is a very simple, logical fact—that it is not possible for hon. Members simply to say that they do not want no deal. If they are going to leave the European Union, we have to have a deal if we are not going to leave without a deal.
Sometimes it is hard to believe what one hears in this House these days, but we have it written in black and white that the Prime Minister said this afternoon that she cannot commit to delivering the outcome of any votes held by the House. Does she realise that that makes a mockery of parliamentary democracy? Will she reconsider, and commit to holding a binding vote to avoid a no-deal Brexit?
It is a very simple position—an indicative vote is exactly that: an indicative vote. Members of this House cannot expect the Government simply to give a blank cheque to any vote that came through. For example, the SNP position is that they would like to see the House voting to revoke article 50; the Government’s position is that we should deliver on the referendum result of 2016 and deliver Brexit.
Prime Minister, you have told us from the Dispatch Box on 108 separate occasions that we would leave the EU on 29 March. You have told the House that the date is now 12 April, but you have not changed your mind about ruling out a second referendum, unlike your Chancellor, who on “Sophy Ridge on Sunday” yesterday, effectively opened the door to it. Have you said anything to the Chancellor about this, or has collective responsibility on your watch completely collapsed?
I think the Chancellor of the Exchequer made the point that this was one of the propositions. It is indeed one of the propositions that has been put forward. Members from across the House have referenced that already, but I assure my right hon. Friend that I have not changed my view about it. As I indicated earlier, I believe we should deliver on the result of the first referendum.
The Prime Minister speaks of the frustration felt by MPs. Does she accept that it is born out of her intransigence, which is the greatest barrier to getting a deal? Following on from the question of my right hon. Friend the Member for Leeds Central (Hilary Benn), if we do not get a deal through Parliament by this Friday, in 18 days—by 12 April—we will have to decide whether we want a longer extension or to crash out without a deal. Given that Parliament has voted twice already not to leave without a deal, will the Prime Minister confirm that, by 12 April, she will seek that longer extension and abide by Parliament’s wishes?
The hon. Lady is right about the result of the Council meeting that took place last week. If we can guarantee Brexit by agreeing a deal this week, we will leave on 22 May, and we have been clear about the commitment to facilitate seeing whether there is a majority in the House for anything. However, the Government cannot be expected simply to say that we will accept anything that comes through. We all stood on manifestos; we all have positions in relation to our duty to deliver on the referendum. I think that that is important and we should keep it in our minds.
The Prime Minister has accepted that the House will have so-called indicative votes to try to find whether there is a majority for a way forward, but she has twice declined to commit the Government to giving effect to a majority in the House, citing the fact that she stood on a manifesto, which she thinks should guide things. May I remind her that that manifesto appeared only halfway through the election campaign? I do not think that it was discussed in Cabinet. It was not circulated to the candidates, who were already fighting their campaigns, and nothing on Europe in that manifesto played any part in the general election. We are all being asked to show pragmatism and flexibility and to put the national interest first. May I ask my right hon. Friend to be prepared to bend from her commitment to the manifesto, apart from the one proposal that she dropped fairly promptly when it first appeared?
First, I do not accept the entire description that my right hon. and learned Friend set out. I say to him that, during the whole process of negotiation, there has been compromise. He was a respected and long-standing member of previous Governments. If he were standing at the Dispatch Box, prior to the possibility of indicative votes—and we will have to see; the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster will give a further explanation of the Government’s position later this afternoon, but if the amendment tabled by my right hon. Friend the Member for West Dorset (Sir Oliver Letwin) passes, those indicative votes will take place—I do not think he would give a blank cheque. I think he is indicating his assent to what I am saying.
The Prime Minister has said once again that the European Union is not going to, under any circumstances, look again at the withdrawal agreement, so I agree with her that indicative votes are a nonsense, because, in the end, they are talking about the future relationship and not the withdrawal agreement. Why will she not start to prepare properly for what I do not call a “no deal”? It is not a no deal; it is a different type of deal that would take us out. [Interruption.] It is a World Trade Organisation deal. Why will she not continue to prepare for that, and to ensure that, in the end, what really matters is the people’s vote, not what this Parliament says?
I have heard many colleagues on the Opposition Benches say that they oppose the deal not because they do not support the terms of the withdrawal agreement—in fact, many of them are at pains to say they do support the terms of the withdrawal agreement—but because they have problems with the political declaration. Has the Prime Minister considered providing the House with the opportunity to have votes on the terms of the withdrawal agreement and then on the political declaration, to enable us to come to a view on whether the terms of our departure are acceptable to a majority of the House?
Throughout the debates we have had, one of the concerns that many people across the House have raised relates to the political declaration and the fact that it was not legal text. They were concerned to, if you like, tie it down further, which is what we did in our discussion with the European Union. I am sure my right hon. Friend has also seen the terms of the Council conclusions, but we have always worked to ensure that the political declaration could be firmed up—if one likes to describe it as such—to give greater confidence in that sort of future relationship.
First, may I echo Mr Speaker’s comments and say how good it is to see the right hon. Gentleman back in his place?
I was trying to make a very simple point last week, which is that this is a moment of decision for Parliament. We gave the people the choice. The people gave their decision. Parliament needs to deliver on that decision. The time has come for Parliament to decide.
I very much agree with my right hon. Friend that this is the moment for Parliament to decide. While I would very happily vote for the withdrawal agreement and the future declaration for a third time, other colleagues will not. Will my right hon. Friend give us a bit more information about how the Government are going to enable the House to come to a solution for a plan B, so that she can go back to the EU and make sure that we deliver on what all of us in this House said we would do—what the main political parties said they would do—and deliver Brexit with a deal?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for her question. The opportunity will come for the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, in the debate that follows this statement, to set out in a little more detail how the Government see the processes going forward over the next few days. It is of course the case that the European Union Council has made it clear that the withdrawal agreement remains closed and will not be reopened. It is against that background that Parliament would look at any options it brought forward.
I can say on behalf of a lot of right hon. and hon. Members that I was proud to march with the People’s Vote—the 1 million people from all over the United Kingdom, of all backgrounds and all generations, who came to London on a precious Saturday because they want this matter to go back to the people. The people of this country are crying out for leadership and businesses are crying out for certainty, but in this Prime Minister they are not getting either of those things. She has been asked twice now by hon. and right hon. Members on this side of the House: come 12 April, if her withdrawal agreement has not been passed by this House, what is her plan B? She still has not told us. Is it going to be no deal or a lengthy extension? Prime Minister, just answer the question.
I point out to the right hon. Lady that she talks about the response of business, and business was very clear that it wanted the House to support the deal—[Interruption.] Yes, business was very clear that it wanted the House to support the deal. When we get to the point—[Interruption.] Some right hon. and hon. Members are saying to me, “The Government should say now what you will do on 11 April”. Others are saying, “Listen to the House and do whatever the House says on 11 April.” These two are not entirely compatible.
Has the Prime Minister noted the fourth section of the European Council conclusions, which states:
“Any unilateral commitment, statement or other act should be compatible with the letter and the spirit of the Withdrawal Agreement”?
In noting the words “any” and “should” and the tense of this conclusion, does the Prime Minister conclude with me that it would be legally enforceable and allowable for the United Kingdom to give further interpretation on a unilateral declaration to reassure colleagues on our ability to exit the backstop?
My right hon. Friend is right to draw attention to that conclusion. There are certain unilateral commitments that we have made—unilateral commitments in relation to Northern Ireland. We have indicated that we are prepared to make those unilateral commitments. He has raised before the question of the application of international law, and we are looking again at how we can reflect that properly in any papers that are brought forward.
The Prime Minister’s deal has been rejected twice and no deal has been rejected twice by this Parliament, yet she stands here today threatening that we leave with no deal on 12 April if her deal is not approved this week, and saying that she will whip her colleagues tonight to vote against the very process for which the EU has granted that extension. We are now in the levels of the theatre of the absurd. A million people stood in Parliament Square demanding their right to be heard. If MPs can have three votes in three months, why can the people not have two votes in three years?
There are two ways in which the extension has been granted by the European Union Council. The first, of course, is for us to exit on 22 May with a deal, if this House were to agree a deal this week. The second is to provide for a possibility of the United Kingdom going forward to the European Union with some plan to take forward if the deal has not been agreed. I indicated in my statement why the Government will be whipping against the amendment in the name of my right hon. Friend the Member for West Dorset (Sir Oliver Letwin). There are elements about this issue of Brexit, but there are also elements about the precedent that that sets for the future—for the relationship between this House and the Executive.
I have voted for the withdrawal agreement before and I will willingly back the Prime Minister and vote for it again, but I owe it to my constituents, if that should not pass, to have the opportunity to debate in full the alternatives. The Prime Minister urges us against the so-called Letwin proposal tonight, but says that the Government will make time for alternatives to be considered. Can I press her again, as my hon. Friend the Member for Truro and Falmouth (Sarah Newton) did, to say if that is to be the case, when?
I hope my hon. Friend will have a little more patience, because the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster will soon set out more detail on this, but we stand by the commitment he gave in the House: if we do not get a deal through, the Government will, in the two weeks after the EU Council, facilitate that opportunity for people to consider other options.
The Prime Minister accused MPs of wasting time and playing games. Can I remind her that it was not MPs who made her sign article 50 before she was ready for the negotiations, that it was not MPs who made her call a general election in the middle of the article 50 process, that it was not MPs who made her burn through three Brexit Secretaries in two years, and that it was not MPs who made her set red lines that could never pass this House? She has spoken consistently about compromise, but what she has really meant is capitulation. If she is now really in the mood for compromise, can I urge her to meet with those of us truly trying to find a compromise that can work for her and this place?
As I have said in the House before, I am happy to meet the hon. Gentleman and other Members—[Interruption.] I have been meeting them. As the Leader of the Opposition indicated, I met him earlier this afternoon. I also remind the hon. Gentleman—[Interruption.] I have indicated that I am happy to meet Members to discuss these issues, but I remind the hon. Gentleman that the House voted to trigger article 50 and for the general election.
I absolutely agree with my hon. Friend. People would ask what on earth we were doing if, having voted to leave the EU nearly three years ago, they then found themselves electing Members to the European Parliament. The way to ensure that we do not have to do that, however, is to ensure that we leave the EU by 22 May, and that is only possible if a deal is agreed this week.
Like many other Members, I was proud to walk alongside the more than 1 million people on the streets on Saturday. At one point, I walked alongside two youngsters and their family carrying a banner that said: “Votes: PM—three; people—one”. This is a fundamental point. Can the Prime Minister explain to the millions of young people up and down the country why she gets to have multiple votes on a deal that has been rejected by the House and is not supported by the country, but the people do not get a chance to say whether they want to go ahead with a deal that the House can agree on?
The House votes many times on many different issues. It voted on whether to ask the people of this country whether we should leave the EU. The people made that decision. At the time, the Government said they would abide by it—that it was not an advisory decision but effectively an instruction to the House—and that it was the duty of the House to abide by it. That is what we should do.
Does the Prime Minister understand that, by taking no deal off the table at the behest of this remainer Parliament, she has just put the final torpedo into her own deal and any real prospect of Brexit, and that her statement will represent the most shameful surrender by a British leader since Singapore in 1942?
I said in my statement that the House had voted twice to reject no deal and may very well continue to vote to reject no deal and attempt to ensure that no deal cannot take place. The SNP has already indicated that it will be moving a vote to revoke article 50, which would reverse the referendum result. I might point out to my right hon. Friend that Opposition Members have been complaining that I have refused in my answers to take no deal off the table. The reality is that the House has shown its intention to do everything it can to take no deal off the table. If we are to deliver Brexit, we all need to recognise that situation.
Prime Minister, the current difficulty that you face hangs around the withdrawal agreement and the way in which Northern Ireland has been pulled into these discussions. This weekend the Irish Government made it clear that the whole premise of the withdrawal agreement is based on a foundation of sand. There will be no checks along the Irish border; therefore there will be no threat to peace in Northern Ireland; therefore there will be no disruption to the island of Ireland. Today we are told that this is because Northern Ireland is not prepared, yet all the preparations that are made by central Government apply to Northern Ireland. When are you going to stop using Northern Ireland as an excuse, and do you realise that the importance of this agreement to delivering Brexit, and also to the Union of the United Kingdom, is such that we will not be used in any scare tactics to push this through?
What I have genuinely been trying to achieve through everything that I have been doing is ensuring that we respect the wishes of the people of Northern Ireland, and that we respect Northern Ireland’s position within the United Kingdom. It is the case, as I have said, that the remarks about the border have been made—I think I am right in saying—by the Taoiseach and others previously, and have then been contradicted by the European Commission in terms of what might be necessary. I merely say that the situation in relation to the European Union’s proposal is that it has been very clear about EU laws and the necessity of those laws being applied.
Order. I have no wish to distract Members from the importance of these matters, but there has been quite a lot of naughty behaviour this afternoon, including the behaviour of the right hon. Members for East Antrim (Sammy Wilson) and for Rayleigh and Wickford (Mr Francois) in repeatedly using the word “you”, which is unparliamentary. I am looking to a custodian of our fine traditions of parliamentary courtesy, and I need look no further than Victoria Prentis.
Well, Mr Speaker, I do not know about you—[Laughter]—but I think that the 2017 Conservative manifesto is possibly not bedtime reading in many households, so let me remind the House of it briefly.
“We want to agree a deep and special partnership with the European Union. This partnership will benefit both the European Union and the United Kingdom: while we are leaving the European Union, we are not leaving Europe, and we want to remain committed partners and allies to our friends”.
Does the Prime Minister think that any of the indicative votes that we may be able to cast on Wednesday—aside from the meaningful vote on the withdrawal agreement—will be covered by that manifesto? If so, will she whip us to vote in any particular way?
My hon. Friend is tempting me to indicate what we might do. We do not know what the options are. We do not know which options will be chosen, or the sequence in which they will be chosen. However, my hon. Friend is absolutely right to point out that we stood on a particular manifesto. We stood on a manifesto to honour the result of the referendum, and the Labour party stood on a manifesto to honour the result of the referendum. I think that there is a way to honour the result of the referendum, and it is a pity that we have not been able to agree that.
The Prime Minister talks of frustration with Parliament. She has also said today, on a number of occasions, that today is decision time. But given that she is not putting her deal to another vote, and she is preventing the House from having indicative votes, will she advise us on how we are to express our decision?
Actually, what I said was that “as things stand”, I was not bringing back the meaningful vote, but
“I continue to have discussions with colleagues across the House to build support, so that we can bring the vote forward this week and guarantee Brexit.”
The process that will take place in the absence of a meaningful vote and in the absence of agreeing the deal this week will be referred to by the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster in the debate that will take place after this statement, and, of course, there is the amendment tabled by my right hon. Friend the Member for West Dorset (Sir Oliver Letwin), which gives an indication and a timetable that would operate were that amendment to be passed. I will be whipping against the amendment, for the reasons that I set out earlier.
If we go to indicative votes and we look at other options, the issue of free movement is likely to feature. I strongly agree with the Prime Minister that the public want us to end free movement, but must we not recognise that immigration into this country from outside the EU is now running at a 15-year high of 261,000? That is more than the population of Ipswich and Colchester combined. Should we not therefore have some candour and say to the public that if we end free movement immigration is unlikely to fall but will simply come from much further afield?
Over time, the Government have taken a number of actions to ensure that we can deal with introducing more control into our immigration system. One of the advantages of ending free movement is that we can put an entirely new immigration system in place that enables it to be skills-based rather than based on the country somebody comes from. But I also believe that for many people what underpinned their vote and decision to leave the EU was a desire to see free movement end and that is why it is absolutely right that the proposals the Government have put forward would indeed do that.
The fact that the Prime Minister had to ask EU leaders for an article 50 extension last week was a highly predictable outcome from an inflexible Prime Minister who has consistently sought to sideline Parliament and the country over the last two years. So further to the question from my right hon. Friend the Member for Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford (Yvette Cooper), if through indicative votes this House votes, for example, in favour of a Norway-based deal or a customs union, will the Prime Minister shift her red lines in line with the will of this House, or will we come out of this process and her “constructive” engagement to find that nothing has changed?
Further to the question from my right hon. Friend the Member for Preseli Pembrokeshire (Stephen Crabb), does the Prime Minister agree that there is perhaps a majority across this House for the withdrawal agreement on its own, given that there needs to be a bit more work on the terms of the backstop, and that the political declaration is very close to the manifestos of both the Conservative and the Labour parties in 2017 and, again, with a bit more work there should be a majority, with good will across this House, for the agreement?
My hon. Friend is right that there are those across this House who obviously have continuing concerns with the withdrawal agreement, but there are many across the House who do not have those concerns in relation to the withdrawal agreement but who do have concerns about the certainty of the future in the political declaration. The political declaration provides for a spectrum of options in relation to our trading relationship. We certainly stood on a manifesto commitment to have that independent trade policy. We want to see that delivered in the agreement we have with the EU, but others in this House also stood on a basis of having that independent trade policy, and moving into a permanent customs union does not deliver on that independent trade policy.
May I press the Prime Minister a little further on this notion that she may scuttle any outcome of indicative votes because perhaps they are not negotiable with the EU? She knows, because the Chancellor told her so yesterday, that a confirmatory referendum—a people’s vote—is a perfectly viable proposition. I want to know, and I do not wish to interrupt her while she is on her phone, but if she wouldn’t mind—[Interruption.] Well, she was on the phone, Mr Speaker. I would like her to answer specifically: if this House agreed a confirmatory referendum, would she also not abide by that particular outcome? Yes or no?
I apologise to the hon. Gentleman; just a bit of female multitasking was trying to take place there. In terms of the concept of the confirmatory vote, that is often attached not just to being a confirmatory vote but to having remain on the ballot paper, so that it is effectively a second referendum on whether or not we should leave the EU. As I indicated earlier, I believe we should be leaving the EU because that is what people voted for in the first referendum.
We must leave the EU, but to do so without a deal would decimate agriculture in North Dorset, which is why I have supported the Prime Minister’s deal on both occasions and will do so again whenever she asks me to. She has indicated that the statutory instrument to confirm the extension of the withdrawal period has been laid before the House. Can she advise me when it will be debated and voted upon?
The Prime Minister said in her statement that she could not commit the Government to delivering the outcome of any votes in this House. So, if her deal again fails to get through and if we hold indicative votes and a majority of MPs vote for an alternative to her deal, is she really saying that she is going to ignore the democratic will of this House? Would she prefer to crash out without a deal rather than respect the will of the House?
First, if the hon. Lady will permit me, I have just checked and I can say that the statutory instrument will be debated on Wednesday. In answer to her question, the House has passed motions saying that it does not want no deal, and it may very well pass more motions saying that, but if it is going to deliver on ensuring that we do not have no deal, it will have to agree a deal. That is very simple; it is not enough simply to say that the House does not want no deal.
The Prime Minister inadvertently failed to answer the second part of the question from my hon. Friend the Member for Stone (Sir William Cash). Will she please tell us when the commencement order will be made under the provisions of section 25(4) of the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018? As she will know, this is a matter of particular importance.
In the light of the political crisis that the Prime Minister faces, does she think it might be better if the Cabinet met in public, given that all the details are being diligently leaked to the media on every single occasion? Does that not suggest that the Cabinet is also in deadlock and that the only ways to break the impasse are either a second referendum or a general election?
The hon. Gentleman has heard my answers to the question on a second referendum on many occasions, and I continue to believe that it is not in the best interests of this House. It is in the best interests of the House to agree for us to deliver on Brexit, to do it in a smooth and orderly way and not to go down the route of either a second referendum or a general election.
I voted for the withdrawal agreement twice before, and I would do so again, but I welcome my right hon. Friend’s move towards indicative votes, because I think that they will be helpful. Can she confirm that there will be a full range of workable options, including the European Free Trade Association, so that we can debate and decide on them in this House?
It is time we recognised that, beyond those in this place and outside who are polarised, the overwhelming number of Members across the House and members of the British public want us to come to some sort of compromise and to move on and move forward. For some people, no deal will ever be good enough: those who want to crash out with no deal and those who want to overturn the referendum. It has already been said that, in many parts, there is agreement with the withdrawal agreement but concerns about the future relationship in regard to trade and security. Can the Prime Minister assure the House today that, if we agree to the withdrawal agreement—I have voted for it once because I think it is the right thing for my constituents and the country to move on—in the next stage, when we get into the detailed discussions on trade and other matters, this House will be able to explore those options in detail, debate them and vote on them?
First, I agree with the sentiment expressed by the right hon. Lady that most members of the public want to see this situation resolved and want us to be able to move on. In relation to the future relationship, there are differences of opinion around the House about the nature of the future trade relationship, but I have already indicated that there will be greater involvement for Members in the next stage of the negotiations than there was in the first stage.
I have not yet met a constituent who envies the Prime Minister’s task of trying to deliver our leaving the EU responsibly. However, quite apart from the concerns of manufacturing and farming and the clear view of this House, does my right hon. Friend agree that, in the absence of a political agreement between the parties of Northern Ireland to govern that country, it would be irresponsible for any Government to push ahead with no deal? If she does agree, is that absolutely clear to all Members of this House, especially those on the Government Benches, so that we can focus on the advantages of her proposals?
My hon. Friend makes an important point. It is about the responsibility to ensure that we do have appropriate governance in a no-deal situation, where significant decisions would need to be made, and it is entirely right and proper that the Government have taken the position that they have in relation to that matter.
The Prime Minister has told this House on numerous occasions that she is committed to delivering on the will of the people as it was expressed almost three years ago. However, given that 1 million people took to the streets at the weekend, that more than 5 million have signed a petition, and that anyone who has ever sat on these Benches knows that the will of the British people can change, does the Prime Minister not agree the time has come to check whether the will of the people has in fact changed and whether they want something different from what they wanted two and a half years ago?
If the Prime Minister’s deal is not to come back before the House, it is vital that this House has the opportunity to consider what it can agree on a cross-party basis. The Prime Minister kindly indicated that parliamentary time will be given over for that process but, notwithstanding that we will be getting a statement from the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, will she as Prime Minister indicate by when those votes will take place?
Although I have indicated that we would whip against the amendment from my right hon. Friend the Member for West Dorset (Sir Oliver Letwin), if it were to pass it would lead to some votes taking place on Wednesday. The commitment that the Government have made is that there would be opportunities over this week and next week. My right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster indicated that we would facilitate the opportunity for the House to make those decisions in the two weeks following last week’s European Council.
As someone who is not a member of the DUP or the ERG or from a leave-voting seat, I thank the Prime Minister for the “Dear colleague” letter she sent me, which includes the offer of a meeting. When she came to Ealing Central and Acton in 2017, my majority was 200 and she had hopes of taking the constituency back. Today, in that same seat, more people have signed a petition to rescind article 50—never mind supporting a people’s vote—than voted Conservative in that same election. If she is serious, will she meet me to thrash out a way forward so that London is not lost forever? If not, it will seem that she just listens to the same old voices all the time.
Having spent time in my constituency over the weekend speaking to constituents, I need to tell the Prime Minister that many of them took her at her word when she said that we would be leaving the EU at the end of March and now feel disappointed, disillusioned and even betrayed that that is not happening. Will she reassure my constituents that she is absolutely determined to do everything in her power to ensure that we leave the EU as soon as possible?
I regret not being able to deliver Brexit on 29 March. I had genuinely wanted to be able to do that. I can confirm that it is important that we do deliver Brexit and that we deliver on the vote that people took. I want to see that. Obviously, if we are going to do that with a withdrawal agreement that has been put into legislation, that takes time, which is why the extension to 22 May was agreed at the European Council. I want to ensure that we do leave and that we do deliver on the wishes of the people.
Members have been expressing their views in a whole variety of ways, and they will continue to do so over the coming weeks. I indicated this to Members earlier, so they will not be surprised by my position: I think it is important that we deliver on the vote that took place in 2016. If a second referendum took place and came to a different decision, presumably some Members would say that that decision should be held to, regardless of whether people subsequently said they had changed their mind. Actually, many people would ask why we have failed to do what the British people asked us to do.
I would like to be able to support the Prime Minister’s withdrawal agreement, but I continue to have concerns about the backstop and our lack of control of it should it kick in. When the Prime Minister brings it back for a third vote, I very much hope there will be enough changes for me to be able to support it.
In the meantime, will the Prime Minister confirm that she will indeed table the commencement order so that we can, if we need to, have 12 April as a no-deal departure date? If we do not replace 29 March, we will have no pressure point with which to encourage colleagues to support the withdrawal agreement when it comes back.
I indicated earlier that the Government are not giving a blank cheque to the indicative votes process, which is important. It is perfectly possible that the House might come to a decision, to contradictory decisions or to no decision at all. We will obviously have to engage constructively with whatever comes out of those votes.
I share the Prime Minister’s scepticism about the indicative votes procedure. Indeed, I would go further and say it is a complete waste of time. I am sure some who propose it are genuine in their desire to find a way through but, in actual fact, I think the majority want to thwart the result of the referendum.
I was out in my constituency over the weekend and, as the Prime Minister knows, it is a 70% Brexit-supporting area. Like me most of my constituents are prepared to back her deal when I explain it, imperfect though it is, but fear that there may yet be further concessions. Can she give an absolute assurance that she and the whole Government will not agree to anything that further delays Brexit beyond a few weeks?
I want to be able to deliver Brexit, and to do it within the extension we have been given to 22 May. Any further extension would require us to stand in European parliamentary elections. As I said earlier, I think people would ask what on earth we were doing if, having voted nearly three years ago to leave the European Union, they were then asked to elect Members to the European Parliament. I think they would say that we were failing to deliver on their vote, and I believe we have a duty to do that.
I genuinely believe that people have the right to compare any Brexit deal with the promises that were made in 2016. It is their right to want the final say in this process. I know how much work the Prime Minister is doing to get her deal across the line and, in the spirit of compromise, I would help to facilitate the passage of her deal, indeed any deal, so long as it goes back to the British people. May I ask her to meet me and my hon. Friend the Member for Hove (Peter Kyle) to discuss the compromise we think is the way out of this? Whatever the result of that ballot, we will not bring this country together until we hold it.
I say to the hon. Gentleman, as I have indicated to the hon. Member for Ealing Central and Acton (Dr Huq) and others, that I am happy to meet Members of the House to discuss these matters. I know that the Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union has already met him and talked about this issue. I continue to have the reservations and concerns I have expressed previously in relation to these matters of a confirmatory vote, but, as I have said, I am happy to meet hon. Members.
Almost three years ago, every household in my constituency, like the rest of the country, was sent a leaflet from the Government, paid for by the taxpayer, advocating that we remain and, crucially, saying that the result would be honoured. Three years on, following a general election in which 589 Members of Parliament were elected on a promise to deliver Brexit and with the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018 now law, is it not within the Prime Minister’s power to now deliver Brexit? The message that I clearly get from my constituents is that they want that now achieved.
I thank my hon. Friend for reminding the House that that Government leaflet did indeed say that we would abide by the result of the referendum and that some 80% of Members of this House were elected on the basis that they would honour the result of the referendum. I think that is absolutely what we should be doing. The point I was making earlier in relation to a number of matters is that of course this House has already indicated ways in which it does not want to see Brexit being delivered—by voting against no deal—and may continue to do so. We could very well see the House trying to ensure that that solution is not delivered. I am very clear that we need to deliver Brexit—we need to deliver it because we promised people we would.
Why is the Prime Minister incapable of accepting the principle that democracy is a process, not a single, one-off event? For nearly three years, opinion poll after opinion poll has shown that people do want to have a final say on whatever deal comes out of this place. Before she answers by saying that that might lead to a third or a fourth referendum, let me say that she knows perfectly well that the beauty of the Kyle-Wilson amendment is that whatever the result of going back to the people on the deal that comes out of this place, it will go straight into law, so that it will be an end of it. So why will she not accept that?
I have answered it on a number of occasions. I think that when I met the hon. Lady she indicated that she would want to see remain on the ballot paper as well as the deal. She is not asking for confirmation of the deal in relation to leaving the European Union; she is questioning people, by going back and saying, “We asked you the question and you gave us an answer, but actually we are not sure that is the right one. Have another go.”
I think I might surprise the Prime Minister by saying that there is something I welcome in her statement. She said in her statement that
“unless this House agrees to it, no deal will not happen.”
So can she confirm that if this House continues, as it has so far, to vote against no deal, she will not seek to take us out of the European Union on 12 April without a deal?
I say to the right hon. Gentleman that if we are not going to leave the European Union without a deal, we clearly need to have a deal that enables us to leave the European Union. It is very simple. I have made the point on a number of occasions and I will continue to make it.
I gently remind the Prime Minister that this House has expressed a view in law: to leave on 29 March, with or without a deal. Given the constant assurances we have had about no-deal preparations, including in answer to my urgent question last week, may I urge her now to face down this remain-dominated Westminster bubble and support leaving on no-deal, World Trade Organisation terms, in order to honour not just the referendum result and the triggering of article 50 but our own manifesto?
I do want to deliver Brexit; I do want to make sure that we leave. I continue to believe that leaving with a deal is the best route for the United Kingdom. We are continuing with the no-deal preparations. My hon. Friend will be aware of the Council conclusions in relation to the extensions. I continue to believe that if it is possible to do so, we should leave on 22 May, and that is the way to guarantee Brexit.
Does the Prime Minister realise that when she so flippantly dismisses calls for a confirmatory public vote or second referendum, she is—just like that—dismissing the million-odd people who marched on Saturday and the 5.5 million and rising who have signed the petition to revoke article 50? She says it would undermine democracy, but does she realise that democracy is not indefinitely owned by the people who voted that day in the referendum? It is not owned by the Government, it is certainly not owned by the Conservative party, and it is most definitely no longer owned by the Prime Minister. Our country’s future is owned by the people. Does she not realise that it is no longer her decision to make? It is now Parliament’s turn—it is our turn—and following that, this decision absolutely must go back to the British people.
For two years we have heard the opinions of MPs in this place, of whom the majority sadly do not want to leave the EU or want our leaving watered down to the extent that in fact we really have not left. That is the problem that the Prime Minister is dealing with. Prime Minister, what about the people of this country who voted overwhelmingly to leave—L-E-A-V-E—the EU? Can she assure me that that is what we will do—that if it takes till 12 April, so be it, but if a deal cannot be agreed, we will leave the EU, as we promised the people of this country, on that date?
I want to deliver on the vote of those 17.4 million people to leave the European Union. I continue to believe that it is better to do so with a deal. We have the extension to 22 May. We can guarantee Brexit by agreeing a deal and leaving on 22 May.
Let me say to the hon. Gentleman, and to many other Members of this House, that on the one hand people are asking me to listen to the House of Commons and to abide by its decision, but on the other hand they are asking me to have a plan B, which could very well be different from that decision of the House of Commons. You cannot have it both ways.
Does not everything the Prime Minister has said today indicate that she still believes that no deal is better than any deal other than her own? Does she understand that this House will not permit her to allow this country to crash over the edge into a no deal? Why does not she just state that clearly so that we can get on with the indicative votes?
I have dealt with the issue of indicative votes, and I have said that no deal is better than a bad deal. I happen to continue to believe that we negotiated a good deal with the European Union. I repeat to the hon. Gentleman the point I have made to others: it is all very well the House wanting to say that it does not want to leave with no deal, but the House then has to agree something to put in its place.
The Prime Minister refuses to support a people’s vote, and she also refuses to support a second referendum on Scottish independence, despite the fact that there has been a fundamental material change in circumstances. If she is so sure of her position, why is she scared of trusting the people and putting it to a democratic vote?
I implore the Prime Minister not to believe that she can run down the clock to the extent that she puts her deal back to the Commons with days to go and think that Members across the House will vote differently. If she takes it to the wire and makes it a choice between her deal or no deal, she will usher in a period of economic chaos and political damage that will give succour to the extreme fringes of our politics on the left and the right.
I want us to be able to leave the European Union in an orderly way. I want us to recognise the vote, to deliver on that Brexit and to do it in an orderly way, which, as I have said before, protects not only our Union, but jobs and livelihoods for people and our security. That is what I will continue to work for.
In a previous question to the Prime Minister, I stated clearly that Northern Ireland would never be the sacrifice for the withdrawal agreement. I felt the sacrifice then, as I feel it now, and I refuse to play that role. Does she understand our determination to be treated as an integral part of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland? The failure to deliver the legally binding assurances and the time-limited backstop continues to be the stumbling block and obstacle and we must not—and we will not, Prime Minister—be treated differently from the rest of the United Kingdom.
We have, of course, been working with the hon. Gentleman and his colleagues to look at the ways in which we can ensure that there is that commitment to the people of Northern Ireland that there will not be that different treatment. We were very clear with the European Union on the need to have a UK-wide customs territory in the backstop, not Northern Ireland-only customs territory. We continue to maintain our commitment to ensure that Northern Ireland is treated as an integral part of the United Kingdom.
The Prime Minister may recall that, just a little over a week ago, I spoke to her at the door of this Chamber and begged her to dial down the hate not only because of the incessant abuse and threats that I receive, but for the millions of people in our country who are fearful. She responded on Wednesday evening with a despicable statement that, frankly, many of us felt put more of us and more of the public at risk. Being Prime Minister is a huge privilege, but with that privilege comes responsibility. Will she tell me today how she will use her responsibility to dial down the hatred?
The hon. Lady and I did indeed have a very serious conversation just outside this Chamber just over a week ago. As I said in my statement, I was expressing my frustration. Others have their frustrations—[Interruption.] Everybody has their frustration in relation to this issue. I do not want to see anybody—[Interruption.] I genuinely do not. She may recall that, following our conversation, I took action to ensure that some of the things that she had said to me were properly looked into.
I did indeed do that. I want to see the people of this country feeling that this Parliament has been able to deliver for them—that is important for us—and that is what we will do. I continue to believe that, as we carry this debate forward, we should indeed take care with the language that we use, and I will take care with the language that I use.
Prime Minister, I am a former Member of the European Parliament. I was a proud Member of that Parliament. I am ashamed of the way that our Parliament has been behaving towards the European Parliament and the whole European community. If any kind of deal goes ahead and we come out of the EU, my constituency will be poorer. The people there know that. One of my constituents has just sent me a message saying that the Prime Minister is doing deals with all kinds of people. “Why do you not ask her,” they said, “for the money that we need in our area and that we have been deprived of? We just want to clear up 126 acres of contaminated land. It will cost £12 million.” Is the deal still open?
The right hon. Lady will be aware that we have made some extra funding commitments for places across the country. We have also indicated our recognition that funds have been available from the European Union for different parts of the country, and our shared prosperity fund will be available to different parts of the country to deal with their needs and the various issues that they face.
Following on from the question asked by the hon. Member for Dewsbury (Paula Sherriff), in the past week the Prime Minister has shown that there is not a word too harsh that she will not say it, that there is not a dog whistle too shrill that she will not blow it and that she is prepared to take the UK to the brink of catastrophe to get her own way. When she reflects on the past seven days, does she do so with a sense of pride or with a deep sense of regret and shame?
What I want to ensure—what I am working for and what I hope that we will be able to achieve in this House—is that we deliver Brexit, and that we do so in a way that enables us to protect our Union, jobs and livelihoods, and our security. That should be the aim of everybody across the House, and I hope that everybody will be able to come together to deliver that.
Since October, there has been extensive no-deal planning in the United Kingdom and the European Union. This has been acknowledged not only by those in the UK and the EU, but also by the Governor of the Bank of England. I therefore simply say to the Prime Minister: have faith in our officials. Let us try to get a deal by all means, but, if we cannot, let us not be frightened of no deal. [Interruption.]
My hon. Friend is right that the no-deal preparations have been, and are continuing to be, put in place. He expressed a wish for us to leave with a deal, and I want us to leave with a deal. The point that I made in my statement is that this House has already shown on a number of occasions that it wants to try to ensure that we do not leave without a deal. The best route is to leave with a deal, and I think my hon. Friend indicated that he agreed with that position.
Today, I went to an excellent cross-party briefing organised by the Cabinet Office on the subject of no deal—something that I would recommend that those who advocate no deal attend. It set out the extensive damage that no deal would do to the United Kingdom, so will the Prime Minister finally allow this House to pass a binding motion that rules out no deal?
As the right hon. Gentleman will know, the House has already passed, I think, two motions saying that it does not want to leave without a deal, and it will have further opportunities to look at the options that lie ahead. The right hon. Gentleman talks about a binding motion to ensure that we do not leave without a deal, but if we are going to leave—which the right hon. Gentleman does not want to do, but I believe we should be doing because that is what people voted for—and if we are not going to leave without a deal, we need to leave with a deal and we need to agree the deal that we can leave with.
Does not this statement show the completely incoherent approach from the Prime Minister? She has just answered a question from the right hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington (Tom Brake) regarding no deal, saying that the only way to prevent no deal is to back a deal, yet her statement from the Dispatch Box said:
“Unless this House agrees to it, no deal will not happen.”
So what did she mean by that?
That is a statement that I have made not just today, but previously. I have been very clear that this House may very well try to ensure that we do not leave without a deal, but that the question to Members—if they wish to do that—is, what do they then want to do? Do they want to leave with a deal, or do some Members of this House not want to leave at all? We need to leave.
This is a parliamentary democracy and it is quite clear that this Parliament will not approve the Prime Minister’s deal. If, through an indicative vote process, a majority forms behind an alternative way forward and she does not then implement it, will not any remaining shred of authority or credibility she has with our EU partners completely disappear? How on earth could she remain in office in those circumstances?
The hon. Gentleman heard the response I gave earlier in relation to the Government’s position on indicative votes. We will engage constructively with those votes. It is possible that those votes will decide contradictory things; it is possible that they will not decide anything at all. We will engage constructively.
I do not know who advises the Prime Minister, but she says she will engage in this constructively, yet she is whipping against the idea of having it and she will not make any of it binding. Just as an observer, that does not seem very constructive to me at all. But what did seem constructive was all the meetings that she had over the weekend and the people—sorry, men—that she invited to those meetings. What comes out this morning shows without any doubt to anyone, if anyone even had any left, that this is just some psychodrama in the Tory party. Every time I think that she does actually have a sense of duty, she totally disappoints me. This is about whether the right hon. Member for Uxbridge and South Ruislip (Boris Johnson) can become the Prime Minister, and it is writ for all to see. This has got to end. So the question I ask the Prime Minister is: if we have indicative votes and we come up with a new way for the political declaration, how can she guarantee that any of that will happen, because it will not be up to her?
May I start by paying tribute to the bravery of my hon. Friend the Member for Dewsbury (Paula Sherriff) and the many other hon. Members who have suffered lots of attacks over the past few months? In her statement, the Prime Minister said about what she said on Wednesday:
“I expressed my frustration with our collective failure to take a decision”.
I do not think that it is actually correct—it was an attack on Members of Parliament doing their job scrutinising the Government at a time when tensions in the country are already heightened and MPs are accused of being traitors. In my constituency, the majority of people who have asked me about this do not want me to vote for the Prime Minister’s deal. So will she now do the right thing and apologise to Members of Parliament for what she said on Wednesday evening?
It was never my intention that what I said should have the sort of impact that the hon. Lady is talking about, and I regret if it did have that impact, because the point that I was trying to make was a very simple one, which is that we stand at a moment of decision for this House. It is an important moment. People have talked about responsibility. We all have the responsibility as Members of this House to make the decision that enables us to deliver Brexit for the British people.
Does the Prime Minister intend to lead the next phase of Brexit negotiations?
Prime Minister, on your watch your deal has failed. The UK has seen austerity rise and food bank use rise, and now we hear that the Government will delay the repeal of the Swedish derogation, leaving thousands of agency staff financially worse off. So will plan B include any resignations?
Two years ago, after the triggering of article 50, the Prime Minister went on a walking holiday during the Easter recess. Does she have any plans to go on a walking holiday in April? If so, will it begin at the end of next week, when the recess is supposed to happen, or after 12 April?
The Chancellor of the Exchequer described the proposal to hold a ratification vote on the Government’s deal as perfectly coherent and worthy of consideration. Given that there have been efforts across the House to build consensus around this idea, will the Prime Minister at least agree that it is worthy of consideration and that it is coherent, reflecting the model of the Good Friday agreement?
The Chancellor did indicate that this was one of the proposals that has come forward. I have indicated on a number of occasions—I have done it in answer to a number of questions in this House—that I continue to believe that we should deliver on the result of the first referendum.
As I said earlier, I recognise the collective responsibility we have across this House in relation to the failure so far to get an agreement for a deal. I continue to believe that it is important to get agreement to a deal so that we can deliver Brexit in time.
The Prime Minister has still not answered the question that was put to her quite a long time ago by my right hon. Friend the Member for Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford (Yvette Cooper). She was not asked whether she approved of Britain being part of a customs union with the EU after Brexit. What she was asked was whether, if this House agreed through indicative votes to go for that option, she would abide by that decision and seek to negotiate that with the European Union. Will she now answer that question?
I would like to take the Prime Minister to the beautiful, misty highlands. In particular, I would like to take her to the Glen Mhor hotel by Loch Ness, which, by the way, is one of the best places to see the Loch Ness monster. The Glen Mhor hotel is having enormous trouble hiring EU seasonal workers this year; they are not particularly encouraged to apply for jobs, because of where we are right now in our history and because the unemployment rate in Inverness is considerably lower than in the rest of the UK. We have a huge problem that is hitting the highland economy right now—even before we know what we are doing. How do the Government intend to tackle this massive issue?
I think that is the first time in this House that any hon. Member has invited me to a hotel to spend some time with them—but we perhaps will not go there. I recognise the issues, but we do have high employment rates—the hon. Gentleman referenced the high employment rate and the low unemployment rate in Inverness—and that is something to be celebrated. We are making sure, through the policy that we are producing in relation to the future immigration system, that we will enable people to come into this country based on their skills, not the country they come from. Of course, at the moment, we are still a member of the European Union, and we have guaranteed the rights of those EU citizens who come here and abide here.
I voted against the Prime Minister’s deal twice; she voted against a people’s vote. I never thought I would contemplate voting for any Brexit deal, because I am a passionate believer in staying in the European Union, and the nearly 50% of people who voted to stay in the European Union would not expect me to do anything else. However, I am prepared to vote for her deal if she is prepared to support a people’s vote. Is that not a true compromise?
Can the Prime Minister explain the mechanism by which a meaningful vote suddenly becomes a meaningless vote? Ignoring indicative votes on motions to take note in this House is one thing, but when she ignores a meaningful vote, it shows a level of bad faith that is frankly matched only by her grotesque speech last week in Downing Street.
The House was very clear after the first meaningful vote that it wanted to see change in a certain area, and the one thing the House positively voted for was to leave with a deal, with some changes to the withdrawal agreement. We negotiated changes to the withdrawal agreement—we negotiated legally binding changes to the withdrawal agreement. The House has not accepted those changes. I continue to talk to colleagues, because I continue to believe that it is better for this country to leave the European Union with a good deal.
The Prime Minister has often said that she considers the withdrawal agreement to be in the national interest. If she concluded that the only way she could get support for her deal in this House was to offer her resignation, would she do so in the national interest?
People are very concerned and alarmed by this Brexit chaos, in North Ayrshire and Arran and the UK as a whole. This is a time of crisis, and people in Scotland and across the UK are represented in these Brexit talks by a Prime Minister and a Government whom EU leaders at the weekend described as “evasive” and “confused”, in the final days before Brexit. Does she think that that description by EU leaders inspires confidence in those across the UK who are worried about Brexit?
What I hope people across the UK who are worried about Brexit will see is a Government who are trying to ensure that we deliver on the vote of the British people but in a way that protects their jobs, protects our Union and protects their security.
Yet again the Prime Minister displays a lack of self-awareness and a complete irony bypass. In her statement, she said that if she cannot get her vote through, she will work across the House to find a solution, except then she tells us that she will block Parliament taking control and will not bind the Government to accepting votes, and she dismisses all alternatives but is keeping no deal on the table. The truth is that she had no strategy when she triggered article 50, she has negotiated a bad deal, and when the wheels have come off the bogie, her idea of seeking consensus is threatening Parliament. When will she recognise her own failures, do the right thing and walk?
We have indeed engaged with others across the House. I have engaged with the leader of the Scottish National party, the right hon. Member for Ross, Skye and Lochaber (Ian Blackford), and leaders of other parties. There are different views across the House. I do not agree with revoking article 50. I think we should deliver on the Brexit vote. That is a difference of opinion between us, but we have reached out to see whether we can find a way to ensure that we leave the European Union with a deal that delivers for people and delivers to protect their jobs, their security and our Union.
The Prime Minister has tested to destruction the possibility of getting the DUP and the right-wing ERG to get her deal through the House. She could, however, get it through if she agreed to check that it still is genuinely the will of the people. Instead of listening to the 14 men in fast cars who came to Chequers, will she listen to the 1 million people who walked past her door? Considering that she spoke earlier about “female multi-tasking”, will she agree to meet a delegation of 14 women parliamentarians from across the House, so that we can really get things done?
As I have indicated to others—and as she knows, because we have previously sat down and discussed these matters—I am always happy to reach out and talk to Members across the House. I have a different opinion from the hon. Lady on a second referendum, because I believe we should deliver on the first.
In 2002, the then newly elected chairperson of the Conservative party said:
“Twice we went to the country unchanged, unrepentant, just plain unattractive. And twice we got slaughtered.”
That chairperson is now the Prime Minister. Has the prospect of bringing her rotten deal back a third time made her reflect on those comments?
On seven occasions the Prime Minister has referred to the result of the 2014 Scottish referendum and correctly observed that a majority of people voted to remain in the United Kingdom. She will know, however, that a great many of those people believed the promises made by her party and her Government that by doing so they would, first, retain their European citizenship and, secondly, that their views would be respected within the United Kingdom. Given how things have turned out, does she understand that many of those people are now reconsidering that decision?
We went into the European Union as one United Kingdom and we will leave the European Union as one United Kingdom. Many people who voted remain in the 2016 referendum say to me that they believe that we should be delivering on the vote. Although they took a different decision, they believe that it is important that the decision is respected and that we deliver on it.