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Article 50 Extension

Volume 657: debated on Thursday 4 April 2019

10. What recent discussions the Government have had with the EU on the possibility of an extension to the article 50 negotiations. (910219)

The Prime Minister agreed the terms of a short extension at the March European Council. Were the House to have approved the withdrawal agreement by 29 March, we would have had an extension until 22 May. Given that the hon. Gentleman and his colleagues voted against that, he will be aware that we do not have that right, and the current right will be terminated on 12 April.

We are moving inevitably towards a situation in which we need an extension in order to have a confirmatory referendum. If a trade union negotiated an exit from a deal, it would go back to its members and ask them to confirm that that was still what they wanted, and to confirm the terms. Is that not a logical, sensible and inevitable outcome of this process?

I would have thought it was logical for the hon. Gentleman to follow his manifesto, which said that he would respect the referendum result. Going back to square one and asking the question again is not consistent with the manifesto on which the hon. Gentleman stood at the last election.

21. Let us see if I can get an answer from the Secretary of State. A recent poll highlighted that six out of 10 people favour a people’s vote, and an extension is required for one to take place. I do not know how many times the Prime Minister has said there will not be a people’s vote, but should the Government not face reality and accept that there will be one and that they might as well start planning for it now? (910234)

I do not know which selective poll the right hon. Gentleman is quoting from, but in our democracy we address these issues through the ballot box. In 2016 we had in essence the ultimate poll and 17.4 million people cast their vote to leave. The key message we get in our constituencies and very clearly from the business community—I do not need a poll for this—is that people do not want this process to drag on further. They want it to come to a resolution, and they want the House, instead of being against everything, to come to a decision. It is time we moved on and got this delivered.

Last night, the House voted to prevent a disastrous no-deal Brexit and to exert greater control over the process of extending article 50. The Secretary of State’s views on an extension are well known, but will he confirm that when the European Union (Withdrawal) (No. 5) Bill returns from the other place, he and the Government will comply with the spirit of it and dutifully seek a further extension of article 50 beyond 12 April?

I am very happy to confirm that, as set out in the “Ministerial Code”, Ministers will abide by the law. If the law of the land dictates a certain course of action, Ministers will, under the code, follow the law. The hon. Gentleman gets slightly ahead of himself, because the Bill passed Third Reading with a majority of only one last night, and it was passed in such haste that many of my colleagues had as little as two minutes to speak on Second Reading. I pointed out to the House flaws in the Bill, which I am sure their lordships will wish to explore. We will need to see what consideration takes place in the other House before any further deliberations are necessary in this place.

The House will have noted—I think with disappointment—the Secretary of State’s attempts to undermine the clear will expressed last night. The Opposition have no doubt that the Lords will discharge their duties quickly and efficiently in the circumstances. Given the clear will of the House as expressed in the Bill’s passage last night, I ask him to set out his view at this stage about what the Government believe the role of this place will be in the event that the European Council proposes a date different from that set out in a motion approved by the House, or if the Council agreed to the proposed date but attached conditions.

That is an odd response, if I may say so. The hon. Gentleman started by saying he was disappointed by my answer, in which I said I will follow the law and the ministerial code—I thought the Opposition would have expected that. He then said that he had “no doubt” that the Lords will pass the Bill, which was carried in the Commons by just one vote. That is pretty condescending to the other place. By having no doubt that their lordships will simply approve the Bill, he takes for granted the scrutiny process in the other place. Given the many constitutional experts there are in the other place, I would have thought that their lordships would want to scrutinise this Bill, which was passed in haste with its constitutional flaws.