Under the terms of the business of the House motion to which the House has just agreed, amendments for the Committee stage of the Bill may now be accepted by the Clerks at the Table. An amendment paper containing all amendments tabled up until 6.15 pm today, and the names of signatories, will be available in the Vote Office and on the parliamentary website by 7 pm. Members may continue to table amendments up until the start of proceedings in Committee of the Whole House. If necessary, an updated amendment paper will be made available as soon as possible during proceedings in Committee. For the benefit of everyone, however, I would encourage Members to table their amendments as soon as possible. The Chairman of Ways and Means will take a provisional decision on selection and grouping on the basis of amendments tabled by 6.15 pm, and that provisional selection list will be made available in the Vote Office and on the parliamentary website before the start of proceedings in Committee.
On a point of order, Mr Speaker. I wish to raise a point of order regarding the need for a money resolution under the Standing Orders in respect of the Bill. For example, if the Bill was to result in a very great extension, the cost could be £36 billion of taxpayers’ money. Fifty MPs have written to you, Mr Speaker, in my name and theirs, in the belief that a money resolution is required, particularly as the matter is apparently decided by the Clerks of the House of Commons. That raises a question for the Procedure Committee as to whether or not there should be a money resolution. I therefore ask you, Mr Speaker, first of all, what is your conclusion on that, as advised; and, secondly, whether the matter can be referred to the Procedure Committee, because in my judgment it is completely unacceptable for matters to be decided in this way?
Further to that point of order, Mr Speaker. The contention of the hon. Member for Stone (Sir William Cash) that the Bill could cost £36 billion is, of course, highly controversial. It could equally be argued that crashing out with no deal would cost as much, if not more. In that case, it seems to me that what has happened hitherto and the advice from the Clerks has been wholly proper.
Further to that point of order, Mr Speaker. I do not want to get into the argument about what the Bill is going to cost, but as a member of the Procedure Committee I do think it is an arguable contention that when we are indulging in such constitutional innovations the matter should go to the Procedure Committee first. Otherwise, what is the point of the Procedure Committee?
It is not for the Chair to pronounce judgment on the attendance record of right hon. and hon. Members at Committees. Suffice to say that I have heard points of order from the hon. Members for Stone (Sir William Cash) and for Bishop Auckland (Helen Goodman) and the right hon. Member for Gainsborough (Sir Edward Leigh), and the House has heard what they have had to say. If there are no further points of order—[Interruption.] Oh, very well.
On a point of order, Mr Speaker. This is on another matter.
On a point of order, Mr Speaker. I thought this matter would come at a later stage, because on private Members’ Bill Fridays we do not have money resolutions until Bills need to go into Committee. The money resolution is given at that stage. It is the case that a Bill cannot proceed out of Committee without a money resolution, not Second Reading, is it not?
That is true, but I say to the hon. Gentleman that there is no automatic or compelling obstacle to the House treating of the matter now. I judged, in consultation with the hon. Member for Stone, that it might be for the convenience of the House—particularly a relatively full House, at this time—for me to say something about the matter now on the back of what he has said. The alternative was for him to expatiate on this point in the course of any speech that he might make on Second Reading.
Of course, the two are not mutually exclusive, but I am sure that the hon. Member for North East Somerset (Mr Rees-Mogg) would agree that for me then to interrupt the Second Reading debate to respond to the point would be a rather ungainly way in which to proceed. I thought it better to treat of the matter now, before we embark on Second Reading. I have heard his point, and I respect it, but I do not think it is conclusive.
On a point of order, Mr Speaker. I seek your advice, because many of the people who wish to have the debate that we are about to have argue that the mandate—[Interruption.] Mr Speaker, I am trying. They argue that the mandate given by a margin of a million people in a referendum was not sufficient. They also argue that a 4% margin was not sufficient, in percentage terms. Could you therefore advise me as to the appropriateness of carrying on a debate that has got through on one solitary vote?
Yes, I can. The answer is that procedural propriety in the House has got absolutely nothing to do with numbers for or against a particular proposition, either in a referendum or in a general election. I say to the hon. Gentleman with great courtesy, because he is among the most courteous Members of this House, that he has made what might be thought by some people to be a very good polemical or campaigning point, but—I think he and I did O-levels, and I say this to him with some trepidation, because he is an extremely intelligent man—in procedural terms, I am afraid his observation would not warrant anything better at O-level than an unclassified. I am sorry. He has made an important campaigning point, but not a procedural one; I do not say that in any spirit of unkindness.
I am absolutely certain that the hon. Gentleman got vastly better than unclassified in everything. As I said, he is a very clever man. My point was about this issue, not about his intelligence.
If there are no further points of order on this matter, I will now give a definitive ruling on which, as I have been advised, no further points of order will arise. We will then proceed to the business before us.
As the hon. Member for Stone knows, the view taken by the Clerk of Legislation, who decides these matters in the first instance, is that neither Queen’s consent nor any financial resolution is required for the private Member’s Bill presented by the right hon. Member for Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford (Yvette Cooper). Under the terms of the Bill, if enacted, the Prime Minister “must” move a motion agreeing that she should seek an extension of the negotiating period under article 50(3) of the treaty on European Union to a specified date. The Bill requires the Prime Minister to have the approval of the House before agreeing an extension of the negotiating period. An extension could come into effect only if the European Union 27 decided unanimously to agree an extension with the UK.
As the House will recall, no Queen’s consent was required for the contents of the European Union (Notification of Withdrawal) Bill, which was introduced in January 2017 after the UK Supreme Court decision in the Miller case. My ruling is that as no prerogative consent was required for the Bill in 2017 giving parliamentary authority to the Prime Minister to take action under article 50 of the treaty on European Union, there is no requirement for new and separate prerogative consent to be sought for legislation in 2019 on what further action the Prime Minister should take under the same article 50 of the treaty on European Union.
I recognise, colleagues, that extending the period under article 50 would, in effect, continue the UK’s rights and obligations as a member state of the EU for the period of the extension, which would have substantial consequences for both spending and taxation. I am satisfied that the financial resolutions passed on Monday 11 September 2017 give fully adequate cover for the exercise by Ministers of their powers under section 20(3) and (4) of the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018 to move exit day in order to keep in lockstep with the date for the expiry of the European treaties, which of course is determined by article 50 of the Treaty on European Union. This has been demonstrated by the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018 (Exit Day) (Amendment) Regulations 2019, with which I know the hon. Member for Stone is keenly familiar, and which were laid before this House on 25 March and approved by the House on 27 March. Accordingly, my ruling is that the European Union (Withdrawal) (No. 5) Bill does not require either a Ways and Means motion or a money resolution.
Order. Forgive me; I have treated the hon. Gentleman with the utmost courtesy, as I always do, and I am happy to discuss the matter further with him. However, that is a ruling on advice, to which very careful thought has been given, and we cannot debate it further. We must now proceed with the business.
I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.
I start by welcoming some of the words of the Prime Minister from yesterday. She said as part of her announcement:
“This is a difficult time for everyone. Passions are running high on all sides of the argument”,
and that debate and division is
“putting Members of Parliament and everyone else under…pressure…and…doing damage to our politics.”
I think we all recognise the pressures that she is talking about and the efforts that Members on both sides of the House, and with all kinds of different views on Brexit, are making to do the right thing in the national interest, to do the right thing whatever their different views on Brexit, and to do the right thing for their constituents. I hope that the very respectful and thoughtful tone of the debate that we had on the programme motion will be continued in this debate as well.
We have put forward this cross-party Bill to avert no deal on 12 April. We have done so for fear of the damage that no deal would do to all our constituencies. We understand that the Cabinet Secretary and National Security Adviser to the Government, Sir Mark Sedwill, told the Cabinet yesterday that no deal would make our country “less safe”. The Cabinet has a responsibility to listen to that advice and I am extremely glad that it did. We understand, too, that the Cabinet was warned that food prices would go up by 10% in the event of no deal. Again, I am glad that it listened to that advice because that would have a huge impact on overstretched families across the country.
I endorse and thank the right hon. Lady for the tone in which she has brought in the Bill. However, given that she has been one of the people who has most vociferously argued for long periods of scrutiny over our decision to leave the European Union, why does she think that it is acceptable to take off the table a way out of the EU that very many people who voted to leave it believe to be the way in which we should leave? Given her previous demands for a long scrutiny process, why is this all being done with only a few hours of debate in this place?
The hon. Gentleman is right that there is a tight timetable for the Bill. That is because there is a tight timetable for the House, facing the deadline of 12 April and the European Council meeting that will take place. I will be honest: I could never have imagined when we started these debates that we would be in a situation where, nine days from Brexit day, nobody knows what is going to happen. That is causing huge concern and anxiety for businesses, families and people across the country. I will come on in a minute to the damage that no deal would do to my constituency and many others. We have a responsibility to ensure that we can avert it.
I share my right hon. Friend’s frustration that there was no time for more scrutiny, but would it not have come better from someone who had not just voted against an amendment that would have allowed us to discuss the matter again on Monday?
I have the greatest respect for the right hon. Lady’s endeavours today and for what she is trying to achieve, but may I draw attention to one of the things that we have to do in the House, which she mentioned at the beginning of her speech? We are all used to battling for our ideologies here, and for our beliefs and for what we want. Is this not one of the rare occasions when it is appropriate for us to think not about what we believe in and what we fight for, but about what is right for the country? Some of us, both remainers and arch-leavers, need to compromise and meet somewhere in the middle.
I completely agree. In fact, I proposed a cross-party commission to oversee the negotiations immediately after the referendum and again after the general election, because I was fearful that we would end up in gridlock, and I thought that the task would be performed best in a way that would build consensus.
The truth is that we have been trying to squeeze into a few days a process of consensus building that should have taken two years. It should have started a long time ago. That is why I think it so important to ensure that, just at the point at which we are trying to come together and build some consensus, we do not tumble off the edge of a cliff and end up doing unfair damage to our constituents.
The right hon. Lady is being very generous in giving way, and I appreciate the manner in which she has introduced the debate, but may I gently remind her that predictions about the consequences of voting to leave or no deal have proved very wrong in the past? We heard dire economic predictions in 2016—for instance, it was predicted that by Christmas that year 500,000 more people would be unemployed—but the economic reality has been very different. The predictions were wrong then, and I suggest to her that they are wrong now.
I think the hon. Gentleman is talking about the assessments of the impact on confidence that were made immediately after the referendum. Those were very different from the assessments of the impact of, for instance, World Trade Organisation tariffs, which are very practical, because it is clear what the impact will be on numbers, or on border capacity if customs checks are necessary. Those practical measures have not yet come into being, and I hope that they will not, because frictionless trade is important to our constituencies.
I am pleased to co-sponsor my right hon. Friend’s Bill. I am pleased that it has had cross-party sponsorship from all the Members who want to prevent no deal because they have been listening to the CBI, the TUC and all the voices in our constituencies. Whatever our views on where Brexit goes, we all believe that we must avoid that catastrophic no deal, and whatever the progress of the Bill tonight, the House has resolved to avoid that.
My hon. Friend is entirely right. Let me quickly tell the House about some of the points that have been made to me about why this is so important. No deal would mean that we would immediately lose access to the European arrest warrant and to crucial criminal databases. A Castleford police officer told me what no deal would mean and said “It is going to be incredibly difficult for me to do my job properly. Obviously with more serious offenders such as sex offenders who will travel, this is going to cause serious concern.”
No deal will also mean the kind of border delays that have led the NHS to stockpile. A friend told me in Pontefract that he is waiting for radiotherapy for his cancer and does not know whether that treatment will be delayed because short-life isotopes cannot be stockpiled. Major manufacturers and producers in our area such as Burberry, Haribo and Teva have told me how hard they would be hit by WTO tariffs, customs checks and border delays. We should be standing up for British manufacturers abroad, not holding them back. Local small businesses in particular have told me how much they fear being dependent on imports. They simply do not have the margins and could end up going bust if their stock is delayed. Local trade unions have warned about the impact on jobs.
Perhaps what I fear most of all is the impact of no deal on some of the most overstretched families in my constituency. We have had to set up “hungry holiday clubs” for kids on free school meals who may go hungry in the Easter holidays. In Airedale, we have had support and free lunches for families and those families are going to struggle if there is a 10% hike in food prices; it is simply not fair on them.
I am going to make some progress before giving way again because I have given way many times.
Therefore, I think we have a responsibility. I know that there are Members across this House and people across the country who say they would like to see no deal happen and to see it happen as soon as possible. I simply say that it will hit other people’s lives and it is not fair. For the sake of the Castleford police officer, the Airedale families, the Pontefract and Normanton manufacturers and the small businesses and cancer patients across the country that is why I think we have a responsibility to make sure we have a system in place to prevent no deal on 12 April, just nine days away.
Let me say something about the Prime Minister’s process, and then I will give way again.
The Prime Minister has announced her intention to pursue an extension, but the reason for continuing with this Bill is that there is no clear process for how the decisions will be taken about the length of the extension and the context, and this Bill does the following. It provides some clarity about how those decisions about the length of the extension will be taken. It gives a role for this House in that process. It also ensures we do not just slip back into facing that no deal cliff edge almost by accident because of the nature of the difficult conversations and the complexity of what we are all facing. Crucially, it will demonstrate to the EU parliamentary support for what the Prime Minister is asking for, and to be fair to the EU, given the turbulence we have had in this House at every stage of this process, it is quite reasonable for it to ask whether the Prime Minister has the support of the House in the things she is asking for.
I congratulate the right hon. Lady on her Bill and the progress she has made thus far. She speaks clearly, based on evidence, and I am delighted that, as I expected from her, she has clearly listened to business. Does she agree that we can only assume that the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy has also listened to business, and of course he has looked at the Government’s own impact assessment of no deal and he claims it would be “ruinous” for our country? Does she think he is right?
I think we should take seriously that assessment, and not just from Government Ministers but also from the CBI and the TUC, who have come together in a powerful way to say very strongly the damage that would be caused by us being simply left with no deal. Therefore many of us have been trying to make this process work and trying to come together, whether through proposals we have made through Select Committees for different Brexit policy options or the work we have done calling for consensus or putting forward indicative votes and options. A lot of work has been done but I hope we all share the view that we should avoid a no-deal Brexit.
The right hon. Lady knows I support the broad thrust of this Bill, but I am concerned that it does not say when the Prime Minister has to ask for an extension, and it also does not seem to provide for a situation where Parliament has asked her to go for an extension longer than 22 May but she does not want to do so. It does not seem to have enough teeth. Can the right hon. Lady address those points?
It sets out that:
“On the day after the day on which this Act receives Royal Assent, the Prime Minister must move a motion in the House of Commons”.
It also provides for the Government to be mandated by what the House has voted for. This is a two-clause Bill and that is all it is; it is very simple. It requires the Prime Minister to put the motion to Parliament proposing an extension of article 50. It asks the Prime Minister to define in the motion the length of the extension. Parliament can debate the motion and can seek to amend it in the normal way, and the conclusion is binding on the Government. The Prime Minister has to take that to the EU. If the EU Council agrees, then that is resolved; if the EU Council proposes a different date, the Bill proposes for the Prime Minister to come back to the House with a new motion.
The Bill simply provides for a simple, practical and transparent process to underpin the Prime Minister’s plan. It ensures that the extension has the support of the House of Commons, but also that we keep the parliamentary safeguard in place. So whatever is agreed by any further talks or indicative processes, or by the Prime Minister’s approach, she herself has said nothing can be implemented by 12 April. She has recognised that she cannot implement anything in only nine days, which is why the extension is needed. This is a hugely important Bill.
The right hon. Lady has clearly had conversations with senior police officers about the impact of leaving the European arrest warrant. Apparently, it takes an average of six weeks to process cases now, but that would become an average of six months. Would she like to speculate on the impact of that sort of delay on processing serious cases?
The right hon. Gentleman is right. I have also heard that we can access criminal records using the European Criminal Records Information System—ECRIS—in a matter of days at the moment, but that that could take weeks as a result of leaving the EU. That evidence was given to the Select Committee.
Can the right hon. Lady tell the House how long the extension will be, because that is also a matter of principle? It is not just a matter of committing to it. What does she expect the words in square brackets in the Bill to be? Three months? Nine months? Two years? Secondly, does she agree that it is extraordinary that such an extended period would cost the British taxpayer billions and billions of pounds?
Thank you, Mr Speaker.
The Bill deliberately does not specify that, because it should be for the Prime Minister to make a proposal. She has to go into the EU Council and do the negotiating. She also has to lead the process around indicative votes, so I think it is right that she should put this forward and that the House will then decide.
I am conscious that those on the Front Benches need to speak, so I shall make my final point.
It is really important for people to come together, both as part of this process and in how we go forward, because the challenges that we face from the threat of no deal are very significant. Three years on from the referendum, the biggest problem for all of us is that so little has been done to heal the national Brexit divide or to bring people together. This is a major constitutional change, and, to be honest, if we do not make the effort to bring people together, whatever we conclude today, tomorrow or next week will not last because we will not have done the work to build consensus. We all know that there is no consensus on the best way forward at the moment—we hope we can reach it, but at the moment there is no agreement—but let us at least sustain our agreement on ruling out the worst way forward. I commend the Bill to the House.
Thank you very much, Mr Speaker. I was only just beginning to write my speech, but I shall muddle along. Needless to say, as an almost lifelong Brexit supporter, I shall be speaking against the proposal. I recognise that there are Members across the House who quite genuinely did not want to leave the European Union and who believe that the best interests of our country are served by being a member of that Union. That is a perfectly honourable position. What I find objectionable, however, is that some are quite deliberately seeking to frustrate the will of the British people that was so clearly demonstrated in June 2016. In my constituency, there was a 70% vote to leave. I am pleased about that, because I was one of them. I have campaigned long and hard to achieve this. I know I do not look old enough, but I did actually vote in the 1975 referendum, and of course I voted to leave on that occasion.
Is it not the case that many of our constituents, nearly 70% of whom voted to leave the European Union, as my hon. Friend says, now think that there is a stitch-up trying to deny the referendum result? That is a problem with Bills such as this. It is perfectly fine for people to talk about coming together, but when legislation proposed by people on the other side of the campaign would deny a way of leaving the EU, our constituents will only feel that this place is more out of touch with them and that this is all one massive stitch-up.
I am not my hon. Friend’s constituency neighbour, but I thank him for letting me intervene. I agree that we had a people’s vote in 2016. I campaigned and voted for remain, but we must respect the vote and get on with leaving the European Union. However, many Labour Members are thwarting that even though they campaigned on a manifesto commitment to leave the European Union.
I thank my hon. Friend for that intervention. Although he is not my neighbour, he is of course welcome to visit Cleethorpes at any time. He will be made most welcome.
I was moving on to talk about a second referendum and the uncertainty and division that it would cause. I ask those Members who think that it would resolve the issue what would happen if a rerun with 16.4 million people voting remain led to them winning on a lower turnout. Would that satisfy the 17.4 million who voted to leave in 2016? Of course not. The uncertainty and division would continue, and we would be battling on for another 20 or 30 years about our future in Europe.
We must remember that the 2016 referendum was, to a great extent, an emotional vote. We had “Project Fear” telling the people that they would be worse off and that taxes would rise within days—hours, even—of a decision. However, the people said, “That’s fine. Let’s look at that.” We did not want to leave because of some potential downturn in our economy; it was a cultural issue. Our history, our structure of government, our Parliament and our judicial processes are all different, and we were having to make more and more changes to our established processes.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for giving way. The vote itself was on our membership of the EU. It was not about our future relationship. All those emotional matters may well have been sold to the people during the campaign, but the vote itself was about our membership, so it cannot be prayed in aid when considering how our future relationship should be shaped.
Needless to say, I strongly disagree with my hon. Friend. The people voted to leave the structure of the economic union, and they wanted to slam the door closed. They wanted a clean break. They were not thinking about our future relationship; they said, “We’ve had enough of the existing relationship.”
My hon. Friend is making an excellent speech. I am sure he will agree that in addition to the emotion the people were proved right, because despite the predictions of doom and gloom in 2016, the economic reality since is that we have had a strong period of growth, and those investment decisions have been made in the full knowledge that we could be leaving with no deal on WTO terms.
I entirely agree with my hon. Friend.
They made that decision to leave, and they expected us to leave—they certainly expected us to be leaving in a lot less than three years. It has been suggested that if we go back and rerun the referendum, people will change their mind because of the economic arguments and so on. The reality is very different. We should recognise, as I recall the Attorney General saying on one of his outings in the House on this issue, that this has now come down to a political decision, and the political decision should follow the result of the referendum. There would be an enormous backlash against not just the party in power but the political classes if we are not seen to walk through the door before us marked “exit.”
I urge the House to vote against Second Reading and to continue the battle. If we end up with no deal, so be it.
Order. I encourage colleagues to make speeches not exceeding three minutes. In fact, there will be a three-minute limit on Back-Bench speeches. The Front Benchers are going to be encouraged to be extremely brief. Lots of people want to speak and there is very little time.
Thank you, Mr Speaker. I lend my support to this important Bill, which is a vital safety net to ensure that we do not crash out with no deal next week and that we have enough time to find a constructive way forward.
Many others have already spoken passionately about the impact that a no deal would have on business and on the most vulnerable. Of course, a no deal would hit the poorest communities hardest. I want to say a few words about two things. First, I think we would put the Good Friday agreement at risk if we did not pass this Bill, and we would risk greater insecurity and tension in Northern Ireland, which would be a criminal thing to do. I am inordinately shocked, even knowing what I know, that 14 members of the Cabinet appear to be positively enthusiastic about leaving with no deal—I cannot think of anything more irresponsible.
Secondly, a no deal would be a disaster for our environment. It would lead to a huge governance gap. Not only would we not have the environmental policies that have been key to protecting our environment in this country and that have come from Brussels, but we would also lack the crucial enforcement agencies.
I will not give way because I have been told that I have only three minutes.
There are huge further concerns about a no deal, crossing everything from security to medicines, fissile materials and pharmaceuticals. We often hear from Conservative Members that, somehow, crashing out of the EU would make it easier for us to make trade deals. If other countries are considering whether we are a potentially trustworthy partner, would they really want to conduct a trade deal with a partner that has crashed out of the EU and has presumably not even paid its divorce bill? I think it would make us look incredibly untrustworthy.
Finally, let us not have all this stuff about there being some kind of stitch-up to prevent us from leaving the EU. Conservative Members cannot possibly say what was in the minds of those who voted leave nearly three years ago. What we do know is that, in fact, those who voted leave represented 37% of the electorate, it was nearly three years ago and a no deal was not on the ballot paper. How on earth can we take such far-reaching action, which would cause so much damage to our constituents and our environment, on the basis of little over a third of the electorate nearly three years ago?
At the very least, this has to go back to the people. We cannot possibly pretend to be acting in their name unless we have the courtesy to go back and check that this is what they meant. Frankly, from everything I know from speaking to people across the country, they did not mean for the amount of devastation and destruction that would be caused to this country by crashing out of the EU with no deal, which is why this Bill is so important.
I find it very strange, this condescending view that, “People did not know what they were voting for first time around, so we are going to give them a second vote. If we don’t like that result, we will give them a third and a fourth.” It is complete nonsense.
No. Mr Speaker has told us to be brief, and I will be brief.
I ask the House to reflect for a moment and use moderation when it comes to this issue of so-called crashing out or falling off a cliff by leaving on no-deal WTO terms. I gently remind the House that in 2016 there were lots of dire predictions about what would happen if we voted to leave. We had predictions from the trade bodies, the business organisations and the Government—the Treasury Front Benchers. We had predictions of 500,000 extra unemployed by Christmas 2016, and the CBI came out with a figure of 950,000 extra unemployed within a couple of years. They all proved to be wrong, so much so that the Bank of England had to apologise.
What has happened since? We have had record low unemployment, record inward investment and record manufacturing output. I suggest to the House that the reason we for that is that economic reality, trade and comparative advantage trump predictions. When we talk about comparative advantage, factors such as how low our corporation tax rates are compared with those in other countries, how much more flexible our labour markets are, our financial expertise, which is unrivalled—certainly within Europe—our research and development, and our top universities are more important, in aggregate, than WTO tariffs and leaving with no deal. The proof of the pudding is in the economic reality. We would all agree that a low unemployment rate is terribly important, as high unemployment is one of the social evils in our society, and our unemployment rate is nearly half that of the EU average. That is the issue in point. We trade with many countries outside the EU, very profitably, on WTO, no-deal terms, so I suggest to the House that if we want to respect the referendum result, the triggering of article 50 and our election manifestos, we should be leaving the EU on 12 April on no-deal, WTO terms if we cannot agree a deal before then.
Absolutely. This was specifically about the impact of no deal—this Bill is clearly about ruling out the possibility of no deal—and the concerns of these businesses about the impact of VAT being applied. They went much beyond that in terms of the impact of no deal on Northern Ireland, extending to, for example, security and the issue that I referred to earlier—the European arrest warrant. No deal would have an effect on labelling; there would be uncertainties as to whether a company that manufactures here but also has shops in other parts of Europe would need to change its labelling. Clearly, the impact of no deal goes far beyond some of the issues that have been raised today. I hope that this Bill will provide clarity on the extension. I am open about believing that the extension needs to be a lengthy one, of the sort businesses were talking to me about earlier today. That is one way of ruling out no deal.
Finally, I wish to mention something related to the point made by the spokesperson for the Greens, on the legitimacy of the vote of three years ago. Trade union legislation requires ballots to be rerun after six months to ensure that they are valid and that the views expressed in a ballot six months earlier remain valid six months on. Clearly, that could equally apply to a ballot that took place three years ago. I hope that we will allow this Bill to proceed through its Second Reading. I know that we have a number of amendments in Committee, one of which applies to a people’s vote. I hope that we will get to debate that shortly, too.
I support the Bill for this reason: we are seeing the revisionism of history by European Research Group members, who claim that 17.4 million people voted for no deal. That was not on the ballot paper; what was on the ballot paper was our membership of the EU.
Many of us in the House triggered article 50 on the basis that we were saying to the EU that we would not remain a full member, but wanted a new relationship, one that might look like Norway or Switzerland, or to be in EFTA. That is what Vote Leave campaigned for on the campaign trail, and its electoral registration made it absolutely clear that the decision on the future relationship would be up to Parliament. Voters were voting to leave the political institutions of the EU—out of the European Court of Justice and the ever closer union—but not ruling out the single market or the customs union.
Why has this House ruled out no deal? That is because we have faced the reality of what leaving with no deal would look like. We are due to do that in just over a week, with no process in place. If we are to change that, we need to change the law. Parliament has voted by 400 votes to 160 against no deal. The Bill is not undemocratic; it implements that decision. We have not ruled out leaving the EU, and are still leaving other options open for our future relationship.
I have supported the Prime Minister’s deal three times. I have voted on behalf of my constituents to implement their decision in the referendum. The problem is the hard core of ideological WTO-ers who want to hold this House and the country to ransom. Distressed businesses in my constituency are saying that we must resolve this.
I am sorry, my hon. Friend has spoken many times.
Distressed employers in my constituency who are responsible for thousands of employees want a resolution. The Bill will give Parliament a proper say, in the event that we cannot get a resolution in the timeframes currently set out. Far from being undemocratic, this is about putting a process in place that allows us to implement a decision and to have time to look at the best way in which to implement our future relationship with the Europe. That is why I shall be voting for the Bill.
It is a real pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Eddisbury (Antoinette Sandbach), who has been one of the voices of sanity from the Government Benches throughout this debacle. Others, I am afraid, are living in cloud cuckoo land if they still believe that no deal will not be a disaster for the economy of these islands.
My constituency has the second biggest financial sector in the United Kingdom; two major universities, Heriot-Watt and Edinburgh Napier; and many businesses, small and large, which are concerned about the impact of a no-deal Brexit. And of course my constituents did not vote for Brexit at all: 72% of them voted to remain in the European Union.
I therefore support the general principle of the Bill. It has some serious shortcomings, but it is all that we have at the moment—our only insurance policy against a no-deal Brexit. I would have preferred to have seen something with far more teeth in it, such as my proposal on Monday, and I have a number of questions about the Bill that have yet to be answered.
I am worried that the Bill does not say when the Prime Minister has to ask for an extension of time. The European Council is next Wednesday, but the Bill does not state specifically whether she has to ask before then or on the day. What happens if the European Council gives us an extension with conditions attached, such as with a longer extension? Or what happens if the Prime Minister will not contemplate extending beyond 22 May when Parliament has forced her to ask for a longer extension? The Bill seems to imply that she could sit on her hands. The Bill is ripe for a bit of amendment, and the SNP will certainly table some if we get to that stage.
I shall be very brief indeed; I want to make a point to which I have referred before. As my European Scrutiny Committee report made clear back in March last year, this entire process is being driven by the guidelines and the Government and Prime Minister’s humiliating supplication to the European Union. That is true and clear. Furthermore, I point out the reversal of the position at Chequers, where the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018, which had been overtaken by events, was, on a pre-planned basis, turned into a new arrangement that became the withdrawal agreement.
My final point is this: there is profound humiliation for the British people in our being required to do what the EU says. The Bill will ensure that the EU dictates the terms. As Sir Paul Lever, I and others have made clear over the years, things will be decided by Germany in the Council of Ministers and the European Council. Sir Paul says, as do I, that this is a German Europe, run by Germany; that is the bottom line, and that will be the case in relation to this decision as well.
I will not support the European Union (Withdrawal) (No. 5) Bill, because it means delay without end. Business wants certainty above all. I do not believe all the scare stories; sadly, the Treasury has been proved wrong in most of its assessments of Brexit. This Bill will simply be the water torture of endless delay.
I base my decision on two points. First, we have to honour the referendum result. That means voting for Brexit. I do so because the country voted for it; because my Island, the Isle of Wight, voted for it; and because the best way of improving the reputation of politics is for politicians to do what we said we would. The problem is that we are not doing that. This chaos is self-induced by people who do not want Brexit.
Secondly, we have to live in the real world, and that means accepting that this Parliament has a remain majority. It has been obvious for months that we would not get no deal through, and while I respect my hon. Friend the Member for Stone (Sir William Cash) and many other Brexiteer colleagues, I cannot think of a more perfect example of snatching defeat from the jaws of an acceptable victory. There has never been a chance of getting no deal through, as we are finding out.
We are not theologians. We need to cut a deal, not philosophise on the nature of Brexit perfection.
Thank you. I am flattered to have been criticised by Members on both sides; I know I am right.
I do not think the deal is too bad, and a vote on alternatives in a Strictly Come Brexit dance-off next week would be another well-meaning shambles. It is truly obvious—at this stage, mind-numbingly, stupefyingly obvious—that if we want to leave with a deal, we should vote for one.
On 18 July 2018, the SNP became the first party in this Parliament to call for an extension of the article 50 deadline. The need for a real extension is more urgent now than it was then. Although we have a number of concerns about the wording of the Bill, we will compromise on those concerns just now, and support it. Hopefully, we can improve it at the next stage.
The Government are still trying to blackmail the House by insisting that the choice is between the Prime Minister’s rotten deal and no deal at all. That claim is simply not true; revocation is still an option. We hope to amend the Bill to make that perfectly clear. I commend my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Edinburgh South West (Joanna Cherry) for the part she played in confirming that point in a court case on which Her Majesty’s Government spent £150,000 of our money; they sent lawyers to the European Court just to tell it that the Government did not have a view on the matter under discussion, which seemed a good use of money.
Ironically, in the long term, possibly the best way to get the Brexit that people actually voted for would be to stop this insane process and start all over again before it is too late. I was disappointed that Labour did not fully support a motion that my right hon. Friend the Member for Ross, Skye and Lochaber (Ian Blackford) put forward that would have done that. I hope that Labour accepts that that was a mistake, and will support a similar motion if they get the chance. Our concern is that the Bill leaves too much in the hands of a Prime Minister who cannot be trusted to get anything right; we will seek to get that amended as well.
We need a clear reason for the extension, and that will dictate how long the extension has to be. Our preference would be for an extension to allow a people’s vote—not a rerun of the 2016 referendum, but a different vote on a different question. If the Government were confident that their withdrawal agreement had the support of the people, they would not run away so quickly from the chance to give people a say.
Earlier this afternoon, my right hon. Friend the Member for Ross, Skye and Lochaber held up a copy of “Scotland’s Place in Europe” in the House, and it was howled down by the Conservatives. They can laugh at it, but Scotland’s place is in Europe, and Scotland will retain its proper place as a full, sovereign member of the family of European nations.
I thank my right hon. Friend the Member for Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford (Yvette Cooper) and the right hon. Member for West Dorset (Sir Oliver Letwin) for their work on the Bill, and the way in which they introduced both the business motion and the Bill to the House.
Labour supports the Bill because it is necessary to fulfil the wishes of the House, which has voted down the Prime Minister’s deal on three occasions and has also voted against leaving without a deal on three occasions.
I cannot, and that underlines the importance of this Bill, which provides for the further extension of article 50, which is now inevitable. The Bill offers a legislative framework through which the House can have an effective role in the process of determining that extension.
Clearly, the Bill sits in the new context of the Prime Minister’s statement late last night, in which she said that she was seeking talks with my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition. Those talks have now begun. We welcome what the hon. Member for Grantham and Stamford (Nick Boles) described as a “late conversion to compromise”, although we regret the damage that has been done to the economy and the credibility of this House by the Prime Minister not compromising sooner. It is an approach that she should have adopted long ago.
The Prime Minister could have adopted this approach almost three years ago, after the referendum, when the country decided by a painfully narrow margin to leave the EU, but not to rupture our relations with our closest neighbours, key allies and most important trading partners. She could have done so after the election, when she went to the country saying that Parliament was obstructing her and seeking a mandate for a hard Brexit, but lost her majority and failed to get the mandate. She could also have done so on any of the three occasions when her deal was defeated by the House, but she chose not to. We have consistently called on the Prime Minister to reach out to the sensible majority in the House and to unite the country, recognising that the people of this country include both the 52% and the 48%. But better late than never.
We also welcome the way in which the Prime Minister distanced herself last night from those kamikaze colleagues who, as she said,
“would like to leave with No Deal next week.”
The House has expressed its clear view on leaving without a deal, and this Bill provides the legislative lock to ensure that the will of our sovereign Parliament is not frustrated. It also provides for the flexibility to ensure that we can accommodate whatever comes from the discussions between our parties and across the House over the next few days.
We have set out clearly the framework on which we will be seeking the compromise that the Prime Minister talked about last night: a permanent and comprehensive customs union; close alignment with the single market; dynamic alignment on rights and protections; clear commitments on participation in EU agencies and funding programmes; and unambiguous agreements on future security arrangements. We have also been clear in our support for a confirmatory public vote on any deal that comes about at this very late stage. We look forward to the further discussions on these issues, and we are pleased to give our full backing to this Bill.
We will oppose this Bill. It is being passed in haste, and the fact that we have a time limit of two minutes for a number of speeches this evening is an indication of the fact that the Bill is being passed in haste. It is constitutionally irregular and, frankly, it fails to understand the decision-making process by which any discussion of an extension or agreement of an extension at the European Council will be reached. I will come to that in the limited time I have in which to speak.
It is not just me who has concerns about the Bill on behalf of the Government. Objections to the Bill have been raised by the Chair of the European Scrutiny Committee, my hon. Friend the Member for Stone (Sir William Cash); the Chair of the Procedure Committee, my hon. Friend the Member for Broxbourne (Mr Walker); and the Chair of the Select Committee on Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs, my hon. Friend the Member for Harwich and North Essex (Sir Bernard Jenkin). All have raised concerns about the Bill—particularly the fact that it is being rushed through in such short order—and indeed about the precedent it sets for this and successive Governments.
The Bill also calls into question the royal prerogative. It has been a long-standing practice that Heads of Government can enter into international agreements without preconditions set by the House that would constrain their ability to negotiate in the national interest. Let me give an example of how such constraints could have adverse effects and, in particular, given that the House has voted against no deal, how the Bill could increase the risk of an accidental no-deal exit. On Wednesday 10 April the European Council could propose an extension of an alternative length, yet under the Bill the Prime Minister would then have to return on Thursday 11 April to put that proposal to the House. However, by 11 April the European Council will have concluded and the leaders will have returned to their member states. We would then need to confirm the UK’s agreement to the European Council’s decision and get its approval for that by 11 pm on 12 April.
At the heart of this is the fact that last Friday the House voted against the withdrawal agreement, which was the only legal right the House had to an extension to 22 May, which, as I understand it, Mr Speaker, was at the heart of your decision to grant that vote, because, as the Attorney General set out, that was an additional right bestowed on the House as a result of the previous European Council. We have no automatic right to a legal extension. That right was forgone as a result of the House’s decision last Friday. Yet the Bill would put the House in the position of having to agree after the European Council has concluded and the leaders have returned to their member states.
It is not usually my practice to quote from The Guardian, but I suspect that it is the right hon. Gentleman’s newspaper of choice. We all remember its front-page headline, “No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No”—it was quoted by many EU leaders—because this House failed to agree on the various options.
The Prime Minister has sought to compromise. Indeed, part of the challenge she has had with her deal is the fact that people on both wings of the debate feel that it is too much of a compromise. She has sought to compromise in the national interest, reflecting the fact, as Members have said, that 48% of the public did not vote to leave. That is why she reached out to the Leader of the Opposition, but for several weeks he refused to meet her. Indeed, he even refused to meet just because the hon. Member for Streatham (Chuka Umunna) happened to be in the room, which was apparently beyond the pale. I am pleased that today I was able to join the Prime Minister at a meeting with the Leader of the Opposition.
The fact that the House has consistently voted for what it is against, rather than what it is for, and indeed its decision on Friday not to approve the withdrawal agreement, is the very essence of running down the clock, because it waived our right to an extension to 22 May and therefore allowed an extension only to 12 April. It is very odd for the right hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington (Tom Brake), having voted for that reduction in time, now to complain about it.
We are passing the Bill in haste and do not have adequate time to debate it in the manner that I would like us to—there is only one minute left on the clock. There are problems with the speed of its passage, the constitutional principle of it and the way it will interact with any decision reached by the Council that differs from the earlier decision taken by the House. I hope that the constitutional experts in the other place will address some of the Bill’s flaws. It is because of those defects that the Government will oppose the Bill, and I urge Members to oppose this defective Bill.
Question put, That the Bill be now read a Second time.
Bill read a Second time; to stand committed to a Committee of the whole House (Order, this day).
I have just been to the Vote Office and, most unfortunately, for some reason that we cannot understand, the copy of the Bill we should be getting actually malfunctioned in some way or another, so, as I understand it, it cannot be obtained from the Vote Office.
I am not sure that a Bill is itself capable of malfunction. My imagination, which is quite vivid, is being stretched. It may well be that there has been some malfunction that has caused the absence of the Bill, which the hon. Gentleman wishes to see and of which he would want a copy. That is unfortunate and I hope the matter can be speedily remedied. [Interruption.] I have just been advised—I am grateful to the hon. Member for Harwich and North Essex (Sir Bernard Jenkin) and the right hon. Member for Rayleigh and Wickford (Mr Francois)—that it was the amendment paper that was not forthcoming. However, I gather that honour is served. The amendment paper is here, the Chairman of Ways and Means is in his place, he has made his selection and the House is going to hear it.