I inform the House that I have not selected either of the amendments.
Well, it is essentially a negativing, but the hon. Gentleman can expatiate on the matter if he is successful in catching my eye. It is always a pleasure to call Mr Peter Bone. To move the motion, I call the Minister—the Solicitor General, no less.
I beg to move,
That this House agrees for the purposes of section 1 of the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2019 to the Prime Minister seeking an extension of the period specified in Article 50(3) of the Treaty on European Union to a period ending on 30 June 2019.
I will endeavour to be brief in my remarks. I will, of course, take interventions, but please allow me to make three points by way of introduction. First, the Government did not want to be in this position. I do not say that in the spirit of seeking to attribute blame to people, but in a moment of solemn reflection it is important that we acknowledge where we find ourselves.
It is of great disappointment to me and many others that this House has not felt able to approve the withdrawal agreement. The Prime Minister said last week that any plan for the future must include the withdrawal agreement. It is what we negotiated with the EU, and it remains the Government’s position that leaving with a deal is the best way for this country to leave the EU. Although I understand that certain right hon. and hon. Members have not found themselves in a position to support the withdrawal agreement, if we are to leave the EU in a smooth and orderly manner, we must find a way to find a plan for the way forward that includes it. Furthermore, the Government have already been clear that we are seeking an extension. As such, we continue to be of the view that the Bill passed last night was, with respect to its movers, unnecessary.
Secondly, it is clear that the House is not willing to leave without a deal. Thirdly, nobody who respects the outcome of the referendum could wish the UK to participate in the European Parliament elections, nearly three years after our country voted to leave the institutions of the European Union. However, if the UK remains a member state on 23 May, that is what it will be legally required to do. That is because the EU treaties provide that European Union citizens have the right to be represented in the European Parliament, and that the European Parliament needs to be properly constituted, with duly elected MEPs from all member states, for it to perform its functions.
When my hon. and learned Friend says that we need to have left by 23 May, that is the date the election actually takes place. Will he inform the House of the latest date possible for the returning officer to publish the notice of poll and start the process of those elections?
In the letter that was sent to colleagues in the names of my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster and my right hon. and learned Friend the Attorney General, I think reference was made to the necessity of allowing a suitable time between the bringing into force of the order that allows the elections to proceed and the elections themselves. My recollection is that that is a 25-day period. However, I will say also say, with regard to the process, that, of course, the new European Parliament does not meet until early July, and therefore it is important for us to distinguish between the need to hold elections and the requirement for British MEPs to actually sit in the European Parliament, if we are indeed to leave the European Union before early July.
I give way first to the hon. Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant).
I think the Solicitor General said earlier that what we have to do is find a way to find a plan to find a way forward. That sounds just a little bit nebulous, if he does not mind me saying so; it seems quite unlikely that that is going to be very concrete by 30 June. So if the European Council says, “Actually, we think you need to have an extension to the end of the year,” will the Government be open to that?
As the hon. Gentleman knows, negotiations will carry on in the Council tomorrow, and I think it would be idle speculation for me to try and anticipate what might be agreed. Some people take offence at the word nebulous; I do not. [Interruption.] I really do not. What I have tried to do, at all stages of this process, is to find a way forward and to seek a solution. It is in all our hands, and I say that in a spirit of friendship and co-operation to all hon. Members.
It seems to me that the Solicitor General is simply giving the House a reality check as to the position that we have been put into by Members who voted in various ways. But is not the situation in law that, although it might be necessary to participate in elections—which neither he nor I nor, I think, most of us want—as a matter of law, the outgoing European Parliament exists until the moment that the new Parliament is created, and therefore there are certain things that could take place, such as ratification of any agreement, until the point that the new Parliament meets; also, the argument that British presence might impugn the new Parliament would not exist if we have left by that time?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend. I think he is absolutely right about the way in which the European Parliament is constituted. It is due, I think, to rise on 18 April, but it does not cease to exist—it does not dissolve in the way that we do. That is important in terms of ratification, because section 13 of the withdrawal Act that we passed obviously includes that requirement as well.
I just want to clear up something that I heard my hon. and learned Friend say. I think I heard him say at the Dispatch Box that it was wholly feasible that the Government may actually end up fighting the European elections, then only after that not allow its MEPs to take their seats—say they had been given an extension, but somehow we had managed to ratify the deal. Is that correct? Is it Government policy that we would go as far as to fight an election but not take our seats at the end of it?
My right hon. Friend is right to ask about that detail. I think that we are obliged, as a matter of law, to prepare for European elections, but if we have exited the European Union by the end of June, we are no longer a member but a third country. Therefore, the requirement to take our seats in the European Parliament would have ended.
Further to the point made by the right hon. Member for Derbyshire Dales (Sir Patrick McLoughlin), will the Solicitor General give the House an assurance that, bearing in mind that postal votes will be cast before polling day, no one who casts a vote will find that the election in which they have cast that vote is cancelled after they have marked their cross on the piece of paper?
The ingenuity of the right hon. Gentleman knows no bounds. He is right to ask detailed questions such as that, but we have a solution to all these vexed questions: to agree a deal so that we can get on with leaving.
That goes to the very heart of the issue. I have no objection to supporting this afternoon’s Government motion for extension, but I am mindful that we cannot go on lurching from one cliff-edge crisis to another. Unless the Government are able to craft a deal that commands a majority of this House, we must bear it in mind that 22 May or 30 June are not very far away. That concerns me. I would much prefer an opportunity, if necessary, for a longer and fungible extension, which enables us to make some decisions without the pressure we are under. Finally, with respect to the Bill passed through this House yesterday, I make the point that, like the nuclear deterrent, it works because we do not have to use it.
My right hon. and learned Friend tempts me on to a path of anticipating what might or might not be the outcome of the summit. I hear his point about the need to avoid regular cliff edges. He will forgive me if I remind him politely but firmly that there is an option for us all to take, which is to agree a way forward and an orderly exit.
Further to the point made by the right hon. and learned Member for Beaconsfield (Mr Grieve) and by my hon. Friend the Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant), I appreciate that the Solicitor General will not get into what might or might not be discussed at the European Council, and I appreciate his sincerity about wanting to get a deal agreed as soon as possible, but the reality is that many of us will support the motion conditional on our expectation that the Prime Minister will listen seriously and consider any longer options suggested, such as flextension, fungible extension or whatever we want to call them. I ask for his assurance that the Prime Minister will listen carefully to any offers put forward by other European leaders.
I think it is axiomatic that the Prime Minister will indeed listen carefully to any constructive suggestions made by the Council and the Commission on such matters. That is what she has always done—she has borne the brunt of some criticism for doing so, but her painstaking approach is the right way to go.
Is there little point to the British Government setting their red lines for the extension of the extension, because the decision on its length and the conditions attached will be made tomorrow by the European Council, with the British state outside the room?
The hon. Gentleman is right to characterise the decision of the 27, but before that there will have been active and proper negotiation and discussion between the United Kingdom and the Council. The reality is that we can end all of this here, in this House, by coming to a sensible agreement and making those compromises that many of us have had to do, me very much included.
In the event of a whole swathe of MEPs being elected but not taking their seats, will they be entitled to compensation? Will the Solicitor General assure us that that compensation will be paid for not by our constituents but by the EU?
My right hon. Friend makes an intriguing point. I will not get into any discussions about the question of liability. Everyone who might put themselves up as a candidate for that election would know the likely outcome.
The Solicitor General talks about compromise, but he overlooks the fact that certainly most of us on the Opposition Benches voted for every single one of the four options before us last week; the problem was that most Conservative MPs and the Government did not vote for any of them.
Well, that did not include me.
My hon. and learned Friend is chopping about with various dates that he would prefer, and he keeps making the obvious point that article 50 can come to an end if and when we have support for a withdrawal agreement, which I have supported all the way through. Would not the best thing be to take some far distant date and give us a proper extension—saying, of course, that it will end forthwith, as soon as any withdrawal agreement is passed? I think that is being proposed in Brussels at the moment, and I cannot think of the slightest sensible reason against it. We cannot keep having these ridiculous cliff-edge debates, moving the date forward by a fortnight or a month every now and again.
My right hon. and learned Friend is right to talk about the need to avoid cliff edges. To that extent, I can agree that today we are seeking to create a situation whereby we will have the flexibility to leave if ratification takes place. That aspect of his intervention is a very important one to remember. The negotiability of the position is simply that the talks between the parties are ongoing and if there is something fruitful as a result, we can proceed to use the provisions of section 13, with which all of us are notably very familiar. Those stages can then be passed and ratification will be deemed to be complete.
What advice would my hon. and learned Friend give me to pass on to council candidates for the forthcoming local elections? For two years, they have been telling constituents that we were leaving on 29 March; then it became 12 April. We now have a wipe-clean board in my office so we can fill in the current date that we are leaving. What should our candidates be telling people on the doorstep?
Just like my hon. Friend, I am an assiduous canvasser and I am having those conversations myself. The message that I would give to my constituents is that we are doing our part and trying our very best to resolve this situation, but we now need all elements—all Members of Parliament—to come together in a spirit of compromise, so that we can get on with the job that we were mandated to do.
Is not the point that whether the delay is two weeks, two months or two years, it is not time that is needed, but political will to come to a deal? People such as me have made compromises—there is much in the withdrawal agreement that I do not like—to move to a position to support the withdrawal agreement. Is it not about time that other Members of this House were willing to do the same?
My hon. Friend makes an extremely powerful point. I pay tribute to him and to all hon. and right hon. Members who were faced with a very difficult decision and took what I would regard as the statesman or stateswomanlike approach by deciding to support the withdrawal agreement. It was absolutely the right thing to do, and I pay warm tribute to each and every one of them.
Let me just make a little bit of progress, and then I will of course take more interventions.
There is only time for one or two more interventions because lots of people want to speak—move on.
I will obey your strictures and move on, Mr Speaker.
I turn to the question of what might happen with regards to the further extension. Before the House considers the motion, as the Prime Minister said last week, we should all be very clear what the extension would be for. It is all about ensuring that we leave the EU in a timely and orderly way, and that means leaving with a deal. That is why the Government have engaged in a constructive process with the Opposition to seek to agree a plan—either a unified position that could command the confidence of the House, or a series of options upon which it could decide. As we know, that process remains ongoing.
Six times now, the Solicitor General has said that the best way to move forward is to agree a deal and that, if we are to have a Brexit at all, that is self-evidently true. The problem is that we are not being offered a deal; we have been offered the deal—the Prime Minister’s deal. Is this not the time to concede that it is a bad deal socially and economically, and that that is the reason why the Government are in the position they are in?
With the greatest respect to the hon. Gentleman, I disagree with his analysis about the deal. I did not note much opposition, certainly from certain corners of the House, to the detail of the withdrawal agreement. The focus of the debate has been on the nature of the future relationship and the declaration that accompanies the agreement. I therefore take issue with his characterisation of the current position.
It is our desire to pursue this process with expedition. Our intention is to secure the House’s assent to the deal and we have been clear, as I have just said, that that could include making changes to the political declaration. That would meet the necessary preconditions for ratification by 22 May, so that we could leave the EU without the need to hold European Parliament elections. While all sides recognise the urgency with which we need to make progress, given where we are and that it will be challenging, we cannot be certain that an extension until just 22 May would provide us with sufficient time.
Just to support what my hon. and learned Friend says, business says very clearly to us that the deal is good enough for it. Is he aware that the mini-extensions are really difficult, particularly for manufacturing? The car factories are shut down at the moment in anticipation of disruption. They cannot just open up and shut down on these cliff edges, so flexibility is essential.
My right hon. Friend makes a powerful point. As a Member of Parliament, she represents car manufacturing interests very proudly. I care very deeply indeed about the future of that important industry and will do everything I can to secure it.
I will not give way, because I need to move on and wrap up, as Mr Speaker said.
For the reasons I have given, we have sought an extension up to 30 June, which as I said earlier is before the new European Parliament will be constituted in early July.
This is a point we have been debating among ourselves here. I gather that the European Parliament has already divvied up the seats, so to speak. What will happen if we take our seats and then do not take our seats? Surely what is being proposed will throw the whole thing into confusion.
My hon. Friend is right that the European Parliament has had to make contingency plans for constitution with the UK and without the UK, and there is no doubting the complications of that.
Tempted as I am to take further interventions from right hon. and hon. Members, I must finish.
I think most colleagues would agree that it would now be odd to leave on 22 May, when just a few additional weeks would allow for the finalisation of the ratification of a deal. I should explain why we cannot seek to extend only to 22 May and then ask for a further extension to 30 June. To put it simply, we must all recognise that we cannot assemble and reassemble the European Council every few weeks.
The Government have committed to deliver on the result of the referendum, and we in this House must now come together to find a way forward, rather than seeking to further extend the process. It is up to us to chart a course for this country beyond the EU and to agree a plan that can deliver what I hope and believe will be a bright future, with the close and meaningful partnership with the EU that we all want to see. That is what the Government’s extension will provide time for, and that is why I urge all right hon. and hon. Members to support it, to support the Prime Minister at tomorrow’s Council, and to support a plan that will deliver on the referendum and take the United Kingdom out of the European Union. I commend the motion to the House.
The motion before us is a straightforward one. I note the Solicitor General’s remark that he did not want to be here, but the more pertinent point is that we should not have found ourselves here. When Parliament voted overwhelmingly to give the Prime Minister the authority to trigger article 50 and begin the negotiations, we never expected that we would be in this position two years later.
The Government should be mortified that they have been forced to ask once again for the House’s approval to seek an extension to the article 50 process, not only because the fact that another extension is required is a damning indictment of their mishandling of the negotiations and their failure to secure a deal that commands the confidence of the Commons, but because the very fact that we are being asked to approve the motion before us, pursuant to an unconventional Act of Parliament spearheaded by my right hon. Friend the Member for Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford (Yvette Cooper) and the right hon. Member for West Dorset (Sir Oliver Letwin) and passed last week in the face of Government opposition, is testament to the serious erosion of trust between the Executive and this legislature. If right hon. and hon. Members are weary, it is first and foremost a weariness of the undeliverable promises made by this Government and the false expectations that have consistently been raised, whether it be the Brady amendment or the Malthouse compromise.
Even this morning, contrary to all the available evidence and the constancy of the EU position, the Leader of the House chose to give credence to the fantastical notion that the EU, at the same time as considering another extension request, might also entirely shift its position and agree to reopen the withdrawal agreement. It is long past time that Government Ministers stopped peddling myths to indulge the hardliners on their own Benches and advance their personal agendas.
Does my hon. Friend agree that it would be preferable to have a longer extension to get this right without cliff edges? Has he noticed that the European Research Group has been doing its best to stymie a long extension by threatening that the UK will cause havoc in EU institutions if there is one? Will my hon. Friend take this opportunity to condemn absolutely that view and that method of working?
My hon. Friend makes a very good point. Conservative Members tell us that we have had no influence whatsoever throughout the duration of our membership but that if we stay in we will be able to exert influence in a way that is wholly irresponsible for the functioning of the Union.
This is a genuine question. If Her Majesty’s Opposition had tabled an amendment seeking a much longer extension, I think it would have won support, certainly from most of us sitting over in this quarter of the Chamber. Is there a reason why the Opposition did not table an amendment to get a long extension, which would do the job for manufacturers in particular?
The honest answer is that we all know that 30 June is not a particularly realistic proposition and that the Prime Minister was forced to propose that date more for reasons of party management. She has, in a sense, contracted out the decision to the EU. We would expect the Government to accept any reasonable extension that goes beyond 30 June, with the proviso that if this House approved and ratified a withdrawal agreement we would exit at that point.
Will my hon. Friend also take this opportunity to reassure our European partners, some of whom may feel nervous about granting or asking for a long extension because of the threats made by the ERG, that our own Prime Minister has finally stopped kowtowing to the ERG, so the European Union does not need to start kowtowing to it, too?
I entirely agree with my right hon. Friend. Events have clearly overtaken us since the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2019 was first conceived, with the Prime Minister having already written to the President of the European Council indicating her intention to seek an extension until 30 June. As I have said, we wholeheartedly support the Government’s efforts to secure one; indeed, that is vital if we are to avoid a disastrous no deal. We would expect the Government to agree to any reasonable extension beyond 30 June, and the Opposition would support accepting that proposition.
As we have argued consistently, however, any extension must be for a worthwhile purpose, and the length of the extension must flow from that purpose. The public will not forgive the Government if an extension is sought and agreed under the pretence of efforts to secure cross-party compromise, but for Ministers then to use the time secured in a vain attempt to find a way to force this House to accept the same flawed deal that has been voted down on three occasions.
Will the hon. Gentleman give way?
I will give way one final time, because I know that many Members wish to speak.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for making the right decision to give way. Is it not about time that we accepted that the strategy the Prime Minister has pursued up until now is a failed strategy, that there is no majority in this House for the deal, and that being pressured at the last minute to cobble something together that is divisive in the House is not the right approach either, given how irreversible and momentous the decision in front of us is? We should embrace the opportunity of a longer extension to pause and reflect and to get the right deal for our country.
I entirely agree with the hon. Gentleman that this is a failed strategy. As I will come on to say, for any viable proposition to be accepted, there has to be real movement from the Government. It was on that basis that the Opposition agreed to substantive talks with the Government in the national interest.
As you will be aware, Sir, a further round of talks is taking place as we speak, and we will continue to engage with them in a constructive spirit. However, the talks will inevitably fail if the Government are not willing to countenance fundamental changes to their deal. It is futile and, frankly, patronising to right hon. and hon. Members across the House to be told that if we only understood the Government’s deal properly, we would realise that the concerns we have expressed to this day are unwarranted.
If a stable majority is to coalesce around a single unified approach, it will require genuine compromise, as the Solicitor General said. It will also require honesty from the Government about where legitimate differences exist, how they might be bridged in an overhauled political declaration, and how this House would entrench any changes that might be agreed so that they cannot simply be ripped up by whichever of the expanding field of candidates eventually succeeds the Prime Minister, as well as about the requirement for seeking public approval for any agreement that might emerge at this late hour by means of a confirmatory referendum.
Will the hon. Gentleman give way?
I am not going to give way again.
Finally, honesty is also required about the obligations that any extension beyond 22 May might entail. That includes being honest with ourselves and the public about participation in the European Parliament elections, abiding by a duty of sincere co-operation, and any other reasonable conditions that the EU might set. There is no question but that the House should approve the motion before us, so that we can secure the necessary extension to the article 50 process. We must then use that extension not to prolong the misery of recent months, but to recalibrate and to forge a different way forward.
It is a pleasure to speak in this debate and to follow the shadow spokesman, the hon. Member for Greenwich and Woolwich (Matthew Pennycook), some of whose points I actually agreed with. I will be brief because I know a large number of Members want to speak.
In simple terms, to get the message across, this is a bad motion spawned from a bad Bill. Going right back, I have said this many times, and Members of the House yawn and look tired at the fact—I am looking at the Chairman of the Exiting the European Union Committee, the right hon. Member for Leeds Central (Hilary Benn)—but 17.4 million voted. This is a constitutional first because the people went against the voice of the establishment. The Father of the House and others have long sat here believing in parliamentary democracy, but this time, for the first time in history, the people were given the right to decide very clearly and to the horror of the establishment—political, commercial and legal—they went against it.
The right hon. Gentleman talks about what the people wanted, but were the people told in 2016 that they would be leaving the EU on 29 March 2019?
They were told that we would leave and take back control, and then, in the ensuing general election, the two main parties and the Democratic Unionist party confirmed that leave meant leaving the single market, leaving the customs union and leaving the remit of the European Court of Justice. That was confirmed by 498 and 494 Members on the Second and Third Readings of the withdrawal Bill triggering article 50, which triggered departure on 29 March.
Opposition Members just must understand the anger outside this House; and the frustration will turn into something that I would not like to quantify. People approach me the whole time and I get letters, emails and calls because it is very clear that this House, perhaps stunned by the immediate impact of the referendum, voted to trigger article 50 and has since done everything it can do to stymie it, culminating in the Bill that went through last night in ridiculous circumstances. The Second Reading went through by a majority of one, and it was then rammed through with hardly any procedures here.
I suggest to the right hon. Gentleman that insulting the majority of people in this House is not exactly a great way to win an argument. However, will he confirm that he himself said we would be wrong to leave the single market? Will he also confirm that the leave campaign made it very clear that we would not leave the European Union before a deal on trade—a long-term relationship—had been established with the EU? That is right, isn’t it?
The right hon. Lady has done a very good job of infuriating the 17.4 million people out there and insulting them on a daily basis because of her stand. She and I were elected on a clear platform of leaving the single market, the customs union and the remit of the European Court of Justice.
Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?
No, I am going to move on, because others want to speak.
I am aware that such views do not go down well in this House, but I really do appeal to Members to think of the reaction outside it. The anger is touchable. People expect us to leave. At the moment, there is a real, existential threat to both the main parties. The first 100 marginals that the Labour party must win include 78 for leave, and we know that a similar number of the marginals that we on the Conservative side must win are strongly for leave. At the moment, we have a free market in terms of leave votes—UKIP has disappeared, and there is no one else. If we are so stupid as to pass this motion tonight and to go for a European election—I appeal to my colleagues on the Front Bench—we will singlehandedly give a new party an opportunity to emerge, funded with European money, and that would be a great mistake.
I say with the greatest of respect to my right hon. Friend that this is about getting it right for our country—for businesses and employees. It is not about grubbing around for votes.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Very helpfully, he has moved me on to my next point. I am looking at the clock, and I will be quite brief.
The biggest danger to business at the moment is uncertainty. Last week, sadly, we had the resignation of my hon. Friend the Member for Daventry (Chris Heaton-Harris)—or “Dane-tree”, as it was pronounced when I used to work in Northampton. He said to the Prime Minister:
“whilst I would have preferred to leave the European Union with your deal, I truly believe our country would have swiftly overcome any immediate issues of leaving without a deal and gone on to thrive.”
It is absolutely clear that there has been a relentless campaign by “Project Fear” against no deal. There is no such thing as no deal; there has already been a succession of mini-deals. We were told that aeroplanes would not fly; that has been sorted out. We were told that drugs would not arrive; my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health has fixed the drugs problem. We know from Monsieur Puissesseau, who runs the port of Calais, that people there are relaxed. Looking at the World Trade Organisation terms, the WTO facilitation treaty, and the sanitary and phytosanitary terms, it is clear that it is illegal for our partners to arbitrarily stop the shipment of goods that conformed the day before we left. This whole issue of no deal has been blown up out of all proportion; it is a last stand for remain.
Has my right hon. Friend seen the excellent article in the business section of The Daily Telegraph today, in which several very senior German people, including Mr Verheugen and others, have made it categorically clear that the failure of these negotiations is the fault of all the participants, including the EU itself?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend and neighbour for mentioning Mr Verheugen, who quite rightly warned about the dangers to the German economy, which, as we know, is sadly moving into recession. We will be doing the whole European economy a service if we resolve the wretched wrangle about Brexit now.
Will my right hon. Friend give way?
I am going to move on, because I know others want to speak.
Under the legal position at the moment, unless the Government and particularly the Prime Minister take an executive decision, we will leave at 11 pm on Friday. That is the legal position, so all the pantomime we have had with the Bill over the past few days and last night is actually irrelevant. There has to be a Government decision. I appeal to the Government at this late stage to recognise the extraordinary anger outside this House at the fact that it is not listening to the 17.4 million people who voted to take back control. This issue could be resolved by leaving on Friday evening at 11 o’clock. Lo and behold, we would see that all these fears—there might be some interruptions, there might be some disruption—would be nothing like the damage to the integrity of our democratic institutions. People have said to me, “Mr Paterson, I voted all my life. I am never voting again because they”—all of us in this House—“are not listening.” That will be profound. That is a much bigger danger than a few small interruptions, which will be sorted out in the next few weeks.
May I wish everybody, not just the Brexiteers, a very happy National Unicorn Day?
I pay tribute to Members across the House, from all parties, who have made today’s votes possible and who have tried to find a meaningful way through. In a Parliament of minorities, we will, increasingly, have to do that. I find it astonishing that we are still debating whether to rule out a no-deal Brexit. Even today, this most simple of moves—our amendment asks that the delay should be at least three months—seems like a measure that we should not even be discussing or debating, so straightforward and common-sense does it seem. Yet we are having this debate. I want to make it clear that from the SNP perspective we are nowhere near being any closer to finding a solution, and that means we need a lengthy extension to sort out the mess that the Conservative party has created for everybody in the UK. Ministers know that a no-deal Brexit would be devastating for jobs, the economy and public services. Ministers know that, yet there are still a number of them who would like to see us crash out on Friday night. That is, plain and simple, a case of putting party above country.
I pay particular tribute—I do not do this often—to those Conservatives who have sought compromise. They will disagree with me strongly and legitimately on a regular basis, but I pay tribute to the courage they have shown. The way that they are treated when they seek to reach compromise and reach out, as we all must in a Parliament of minorities, is an outrage. They find themselves being deselected and called all sorts of names that I will not repeat in this House. This is a party that has been taken over by its most extreme elements who want to crash out of the European Union: for trade deals that never materialised; for parliamentary sovereignty that disrespects the devolution settlement; and for democracy, as they call it, in a place where somebody can make laws due to an accident of birth. What kind of democracy is that?
We are in this mess because the Brexiteers could not even agree what kind of Brexit they wanted. They never even bothered setting it out. [Interruption.] I notice some chuntering from a sedentary position. Not one of them can defend that position.
Am I not right in thinking that the referendum vote was the biggest expression of democracy this country has ever seen?
There was a higher turnout in the Scottish independence referendum, when things were set out. There have been higher turnouts in general elections before. The right hon. Gentleman needs to recognise that democracy did not stop on the day of the EU referendum—nor will it stop on that day. I notice he did not bother to defend the point I was making about the Brexiteers not setting things out. He did not have the courage or decency to tell us why they did not set anything out. They had no plans and they are in a mess of their own making. President Tusk, who stood up for democracy and went to jail for democracy, was right to say that there is a “special place in hell” for those who wanted to leave the EU but had not even thought about how to do it. The particular hell that he referenced seems to have come early in a House of Commons that is blocked up by Maastricht rebels of a quarter century ago who are still fighting the same fights. We do not get time to debate the impact of Tory austerity on public services. We are not debating climate change, the biggest challenge of a generation. We are talking about process in Parliament—a Parliament that is increasingly failing.
On that point, we are being told by the Tories who backed Brexit that we have to leave now, with the disasters that that will bring, because of the European elections. Just think of that! A Parliament that is fully elected, with no appointed Members in sight. Imagine elections that give people decisions over their futures. We are told, however, that we should not participate in those elections because of what it will do to the Conservatives in electoral terms. I do not give a stuff about what it will do to the Conservatives in electoral terms, but I do care what a disastrous no deal will do to my constituents, and so should each and every Member of this House. When we have a Government who are talking about medicine and food shortages and unrest on the streets, that needs to concern each and every one of us.
Ultimately, I want to live in a Scotland that is not beholden to the extremists who are currently calling the shots in this place; that is comfortable with giving citizens and businesses the opportunities of all four freedoms that the EU has provided; and that welcomes the world and seeks to work on an equal basis with our neighbours. I want to live in a country that is happy to share sovereignty and resources over issues such as protecting the environment and medical research, rather than having nuclear weapons in Governments we do not vote for imposed upon us. But for now, just for today, getting to the end of the week without crashing out with a disastrous no deal is going to have to do.
We find ourselves in an extraordinary position, and we really cannot go on like this. It is exasperating our constituents, our businesses and our farmers, and it is exasperating this House and all its Members. This issue has to be resolved and not just kicked down the road even further. It is difficult to envisage how we could be in a worse position than we are now—except, of course, if the Leader of the Opposition was running things officially—so it is time for a few home truths.
This Act is a catastrophe. It is the culmination of weeks and months of attempts to obfuscate the single largest manifestation of the democratic will of the people of our country—for the Government and this House to deliver Brexit—yet I fear that that clear instruction appears as elusive as ever. This Act is the latest demonstration of remain-supporting MPs who think that they can overrule the will of constituents in the 406 parliamentary constituencies that voted to leave in the referendum, and who, in telling us constantly what they oppose and what they want to thwart, have rarely come together responsibly to find a solution that we can rally behind to fulfil the will and wishes of our people.
What we have witnessed is no less than a conspiracy of chaos to undermine Brexit. Saboteurs from the Back Benches and some Front Benchers have been trying to hamstring the Prime Minister’s hand in trying to negotiate a workable deal by increasingly restricting the alternatives available to her. We have a Labour party whose policy has been to oppose everything and to fuel the chaos and indecision, and whose prime objective is just party political advantage.
Given that Conservative MPs voted en masse against just about everything in the indicative votes, where does the hon. Gentleman place his colleagues on the Government Benches in the hierarchy of chaos that he is outlining?
Let us remind ourselves of what has happened when it comes to voting for something that would take us through Brexit and end this chaos. On the Friday before last in the third meaningful vote, 89% of Conservative Members voted for the Prime Minister’s deal. That included something like three quarters of members of the ERG, who compromised hugely to back that deal. Of the Opposition, all but seven Labour MPs voted against the deal and delivering Brexit and for continuing the chaos. That is the truth of the matter. The hon. Gentleman should not blame the Government for the lack of a deal; it is his side that has consistently voted against any deal on offer. That includes Labour Back Benchers who are in the difficult position of having constituencies that voted to leave by 60% and 70%, but who now think they know better.
The conspiracy of chaos includes the Independent Group Members, who have a strong vested interest in continuing the chaos and debate on Brexit—
Will the hon. Gentleman give way?
I have not finished criticising the hon. Gentleman yet. If he will wait for the criticism, I will take the rebuff. Those Independent Group Members have a strong vested interest in continuing the chaos and debate on Brexit, because the minute it is resolved—and it will eventually be resolved—their common purpose is gone. They will have to come up with some non-Brexit policies that they can all agree on. Now I shall give way.
I am extremely grateful to the hon. Gentleman. I say just one thing to him. Members of the Independent Group voted the way they did because we recognise, along with many Members of all parties, that leaving the European Union will be a disaster for our country and that therefore we should put any proposed deal back to the people to give them the final say.
Yet page 24 of the manifesto of the hon. Gentleman’s former party and page 36 of my party’s manifesto, on which Members of the Independent Group held themselves up to their electorate, pledged that Brexit would become a reality—no second referendum, no thinking about it again; they put themselves forward for election to make Brexit a reality. The remarks of the hon. Gentleman therefore just do not wash.
Then we have the SNP, which is interested only in Scotland in isolation. [Interruption.] SNP Members are at least consistent in ignoring the results of referendums.
A conspiracy of chaos across the House has used every tool at its disposal to frustrate the Brexit process, however at odds with previous commitments on the record to honour Brexit, and tried to induce us all to believe that it has all become so complicated that we should just call the whole thing off. That should not and must not happen.
Despite my having argued and voted for a solution to Brexit by supporting the Prime Minister’s deal on the last two occasions, as I am duty bound to deliver for my constituents who voted for me to do that, those who have consistently voted no to any solution now hold sway. The Act simply enshrines that conspiracy of chaos in law to extend the uncertainty.
The Act is an unprecedented abuse of parliamentary procedure, steamrollering the will of the minority through Parliament to change the rules of the game midway.
Will the hon. Gentleman give way?
I will not give way to the hon. Gentleman —no.
Faced with that abuse, with the Prime Minister’s inability to control her Cabinet, her Government or indeed Parliament, and with the determination of some Conservative colleagues, who should know better, but seem hellbent on flouting the instruction of the people who voted them in, I see no obvious way out of the mess that the House will rally behind.
My biggest fear is the continued uncertainty that further delay will bring to business in particular, whether it is weeks or months—and we are now talking years. We have not just kicked the can down the road; we have kicked it into the cul-de-sac and are now kicking it round and round the cul-de-sac, getting nowhere.
I therefore want to make a plea directly to the EU. We hear that European leaders have increasingly bypassed the Government and Ministers and appealed to individual Members to gain some idea of what is going on. So I now make a plea to President Macron and Chancellor Merkel and her colleagues in particular: “Please put us out of our misery now, as this House and the Government appear incapable of doing. At tomorrow’s EU Council, please vote against further extensions to article 50 and oblige the UK to leave the EU on Friday on World Trade Organisation terms, given that you previously said you would honour any application for an extension only if there was a credible reason to do so. That credible reason does not exist. It is, after all, the default position that the Prime Minister always promised when set against a bad deal, and which all of us who voted to trigger article 50 and to pass the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018 wanted to achieve, as the vast majority did. If you agree to extend yet again, be in no doubt that you will unleash a further tsunami of chaos and uncertainty from which none of us will benefit. If the EU elections go ahead, it is highly likely that the UK will elect an army of Nigel Farage “mini-mes”, who, I am afraid, will wreak havoc with the European Parliament and wreck your calculations about the balance of power within the EU.
Let us be realistic: there is no prospect of any agreement between the Government and the Leader of the Opposition in the current talks, and there is certainly no prospect of an agreement that will carry the majority of Conservative Members with it. Moreover, it is likely that in a matter of months you will be dealing with another Prime Minister, with whom you may find it less easy to negotiate. If an extension runs for another year, you will have to resign yourselves to a further year of disagreement and obfuscation in the House of Commons, with the knock-on effects of chaos and the undermining of regular EU processes such as budgets and other measures to be negotiated.”
This is my appeal to the EU: “If you value your future, you do not want us to remain an integral part of it in the current circumstances. Do yourselves a favour, do this House a favour, do this country a favour, and say that the UK is out.” Then, armed with that certainty, let us all sit down constructively and pragmatically to decide what our future relationship will actually look like. Let it be one that works to our mutual benefit and sets a course on which we can remain friends, allies and trading partners in years to come, working together for a common purpose, but not as part of the same prescriptive organisation that this country, like it or not, voted to leave—and leave we must.
The hon. Member for East Worthing and Shoreham (Tim Loughton) and I were elected at the same time and sit together on the Home Affairs Committee, and we agree on many things, but it will not surprise him to hear that we strongly disagree on this Act and the risks of no deal. Let me gently say to him, and to other Members, that I think it would be really bad for manufacturers in my constituency to suddenly face customs checks, tariffs and delays if we end up with no deal, and I think it would be really bad for overstretched families in my constituency to suddenly face food tariffs and an increase in food prices. I also think it would be really bad for West Yorkshire police to suddenly lose, overnight, the policing and security co-operation on which they, and other countries, depend in order to be able to investigate the most serious criminals.
Will the right hon. Lady also take into consideration the 14-page letter that was sent to Cabinet Ministers recently by the Cabinet Secretary, Mark Sedwill? It details some serious concerns about the impact of leaving. This is a letter from the country’s senior civil servant, who is not part of any conspiracy but who has responded to the duties that he feels he owes to the country. Is it not a salutary piece of literature to be put before anyone who would lightly advocate leaving with no deal for the sake of it?
I think that that advice was very important. The job of the civil service is to attempt to do everything it can and strain every sinew to deliver the will of the Government of the day. The fact that Sir Mark Sedwill has given such advice shows quite how seriously that is taken. It is particularly significant that Sir Mark is also the Government’s national security adviser and the former permanent secretary at the Home Office: he will be well aware of the security and policing issues that we face.
I welcome the fact that the Prime Minister has tabled this motion as a result of the Bill that we passed, which is now an Act. I think it shows that the Cabinet has taken that advice seriously, but also that Parliament as a whole has consistently opposed the damage and the chaos that no deal would cause. That is why we have reached this point, and it is why we should now support an extension. The purpose of the motion is to provide that parliamentary safeguard and a legal underpinning for the Prime Minister’s negotiations, so that she is not under pressure to slip backwards from the course she has decided upon.
We are here because the Prime Minister ran down the clock. She put forward a motion in December, although it was clear even then that her deal would be rejected, and then pulled the vote the first time. Instead of reaching out at that point, she simply ran down the clock, using the threat of an imminent deadline to try to force decisions. She has tried that process of brinkmanship in decision making repeatedly, but it simply has not worked. I just think that approach, like a continuing game of chicken, is a really bad way to make decisions. We have heard different concerns from different perspectives on the Prime Minister’s deal, but none of the assurances get any better simply because it is 10 minutes to midnight. Running down the clock was the wrong way to address those concerns. It would have been far better to have the kinds of debates and conversations that have now started in order to try to find a way forward. This is incredibly frustrating for people across the country, who are tearing their hair out about the way this has all happened. We should be honest about that. That is why we all have a responsibility to come together and try to find a way forward. The problem is that there are different views about different kinds of Brexit, and about different ways of reaching public consensus and consent. We have to be honest about those different views, tease them out and debate them, rather than thinking that the ticking clock will provide all the solutions.
Was my right hon. Friend as surprised as I was to hear that the betrayal narrative is already up and running across the country, with claims about any kind of Brexit not being pure enough? We have today heard members of the Conservative party suggest that somehow the disaster of no deal is now the only desirable outcome.
I think that there is a problem with the way in which everyone has been approaching the debate. Like my hon. Friend, I think that a no-deal Brexit would be deeply damaging to our constituents, but I also think that the continual attempts to suggest that there are betrayals and conspiracies make it harder for people to come together and reach a sensible and sustainable outcome.
One of the reasons we are in this situation is that there has been no attempt to build a consensus since the referendum. That is why I argued for a cross-party commission at the very beginning of this process, and for a process that would bring together leave and remain voters to try to work out the best way forward. Frankly, if we do not do that, nothing lasts. If everyone thinks only about winning in the short term and getting what they want straightaway, rather than about how we can build consensus for what is effectively a constitutional change, even if they win in the short term it will not last and whatever we get will end up unravelling.
My right hon. Friend knows that I completely support her proposal for such a commission—indeed, that may still be necessary, whatever conclusion we reach. Does she agree that the danger for our European partners of lurching from one cliff-edge deadline to another is bad news for the negotiations overall? The longer flextension that has been proposed would be very sensible for the whole negotiations, on both sides.
The idea of a flextension is a very interesting proposal. As I understand it, it would allow us to conclude the article 50 process at any point, if agreement is reached but, equally, we could take longer if we needed to. I hope that the Prime Minister will seriously consider that approach, because one of the reasons we are now in this situation is the focus on the date, whether 29 March or 12 April, and it is a situation of her making. None of those dates was in the original referendum in 2016; they are dates that she created. It reminds me of the debate we had on the Government’s net migration target. The Prime Minister chose to make the net migration target a big focus, even though everybody knew that she had no plan to deliver it. However, that focus on the target ended up creating more anger, more confusion and a greater sense of betrayal. It is my fear now that again, in suggesting that it will be a betrayal if everything is not solved by a particular date, the Government and particularly the Prime Minister have made it harder for us to reach consensus. They have created more alarm and anger across the country instead of adopting a practical focus on the way forward.
The proof of that is the fact that we are here again without having reached agreement. The Prime Minister has tried to focus minds by using brinkmanship and creating dates and deadlines, but it simply has not worked. That is why we have to try to do this in a different way. We have to try to bring people together. We now have a process of indicative votes and cross-party talks—which, to be honest, should have started some time ago—but we also have to recognise that we do not have the same consensual political and parliamentary traditions that other European countries have been able to draw upon. I understand that, from the other member states’ point of view, we can look very adversarial. We are having to do something that we have no tradition of doing in this House, but I hope that our attempts to do it now will be effective and will lead to a conclusion. I certainly hope that the cross-party working that we have managed to achieve to get this Bill in place and to get this motion to go forward will be an indicator that it is possible for us to draw on more consensual traditions when it comes to this kind of constitutional change.
Will my right hon. Friend give way?
I ought to finish, because other Members want to speak.
I shall conclude where I started by saying that, when we have constitutional change such as this, we need people to try to come together and reach agreement. No matter how we have voted over the past few months—and certainly the past few weeks—we have all had threats and abuse, including to our constituency offices. That is damaging to our democracy and to our debates, so I hope that we will be able to come together and find a way forward, and to support the Prime Minister’s motion today.
Order. There are 25 minutes to go and five people wanting to speak, so there will be a five-minute limit.
It is very nice to follow the right hon. Member for Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford (Yvette Cooper), because she talked about taking a consensual approach to this. The consensual approach of this House was to trigger article 50 and to decide on the date of 29 March. The extension that is being requested today is very open-ended, and I find this incredibly concerning. The rhetoric in the media surrounding the extension has been, as the Attorney General said today, that we might not have to take up our seats in the European Parliament if we end up taking part in the European elections. However, if the extension were to last a year or longer, those European parliamentarians might well be in their seats. I find it bizarre that we are talking about good behaviour and not interrupting a budget—in other words, trying to bind those people who might have stood on a manifesto of their own making or perhaps a Conservative manifesto, and expecting them to behave themselves and be good. I find that very worrying. If those discussions are indeed taking place, it would be even more worrying if a similar agreement were extracted from the Prime Minister of this country that she and the British Government should also behave themselves and not give due scrutiny to or make any criticism of the budget.
I am following carefully what the hon. Lady is saying. Does she agree that it seems really humiliating for this country to have our Prime Minister going over to the European Union to beg for an extension? What does this say about our country when we know that 17.5 million people said very simply that they wanted to leave? That was very simple.
I completely agree with the hon. Lady.
I should like to refresh the memory of those in the House who think that there is no problem in having this flextension. In 2002, a decision by the European Council stated:
“Members of the European Parliament shall vote on an individual and personal basis. They shall not be bound by any instructions and shall not receive a binding mandate”.
The article also stated:
“Members shall exercise their mandate freely and independently, shall not be bound by any instructions and shall not receive a binding mandate”.
The loose talk about what we may or may not expect of our MEPs if we stand candidates in the next elections is extremely worrying. We have to take that seriously. People who stand in those elections should have every right to take up their seats as MEPs. It is likely that the House will not reach any form of agreement or consensus. It needs restating that only five Members of the official Opposition agreed to the separated withdrawal agreement. The political declaration has always been open for discussion, yet Labour seem to want to bind any future leader of the Conservative party. When people seek to bind the hands, the voices and the opinions of duly elected MEPs, who speak on behalf of their constituents, or of this Government, that is not democracy.
It is appalling that we may seek an extension with no real sense of purpose. If the Labour party gave an undertaking that it supported the withdrawal agreement and that its disagreement was simply with the political declaration, perhaps our Prime Minister could go along in the sure and certain knowledge that some sort of deal could be done fairly quickly.
Not only will there be no sense of purpose, but there is no certainty. My hon. Friend’s constituents, my constituents and business are crying out for certainty, but there are Labour Members who will vote for this extension secretly hoping that it will not end on 30 June but that there will be further extensions. Does that not cause further uncertainty?
As my hon. Friend the Member for East Worthing and Shoreham (Tim Loughton) admirably said, the can has been kicked down into the cul-de-sac and it is now being kicked around the cul-de-sac.
My point is that there is no sense of purpose from the Labour party. Labour does not even want to get past first base of the withdrawal agreement, which would be absolutely necessary, and whatever political declaration it wishes to try to bind our Government’s hands with. Our Prime Minister cannot go and seek any extension in the knowledge that she can give the European Union any form of assurances.
I would rather the Prime Minister did not seek an extension. We are becoming a laughing stock because we cannot stick by our words, by our manifestos, by undertakings that have been given in this House or by our vote to trigger article 50. I do not know why anyone would turn out for any future referendum, or even election, when they cannot believe a word of what goes on in here.
Labour Members need to look at themselves. They cannot get past first base. They need to say what a flextension would be for. The withdrawal agreement would certainly be part of it. There is real unhappiness among the public that people say, “We need to be consensual,” but only five Opposition Members reached across to be consensual with the Prime Minister. That says a lot.
I changed my position and voted for the withdrawal agreement, not because it is perfect but because I can see where the House is going. The House is doing its level best to bind the hands of the Prime Minister and potentially of any MEPs who are elected. It is trying to get them to play nice and to remove any scrutiny of the EU budget. Taxpayers in this country have a right to expect their MEPs to conduct scrutiny, not to go and play nice because we happen to be leaving the club at some unspecified point.
I am against this extension, because I am not sure what conditions will be extracted for it and I am not sure that Labour will ever be prepared to withdraw from anything. They could not even agree to the withdrawal agreement. From what I can see, the whole point of this extension is to ensure that we are bound in our agreements with the EU and stymied by staying in, and that the can is kicked so far down the road that people argue, “Well, probably half the people who voted in that referendum are dead, so we need to bring it all back again.” That is no way to treat the British public.
To those who say they want certainty, I say there is no certainty in a flextension. There is no certainty in an open-ended agreement in which we say, “Let’s keep chatting about it.” This is the worst of all worlds, and I sincerely hope that all those Members who could not even bring themselves to support the withdrawal agreement, forgetting all the other things they were unhappy about, because they did not trust the Prime Minister, ask themselves how consensual that was. The right hon. Member for Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford is busy on her phone, but I say to her that consensus works both ways. Five Labour Members, and no Independent Group Members, voted for the withdrawal agreement. That is how consensual the Opposition are. They are holding our Prime Minister, our country and this Brexit to ransom, and it is time they worked out that they will rue the day they did so.
I begin by acknowledging that the Prime Minister, for the second time now, has decided to put the national interest before taking this country over the cliff of a no-deal Brexit. I say to Conservative Members who have argued for a no deal that at no point did the leave campaign suggest that it was proposing to the British people that we should leave without a deal.
I pay tribute to my right hon. Friend the Member for Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford (Yvette Cooper), the right hon. Member for West Dorset (Sir Oliver Letwin) and others for their role in encouraging the Prime Minister to act in the national interest because of this Act.
I will vote for the Government’s motion seeking an extension to 30 June. We will not know until the end of tomorrow whether that date or a different date is granted, but there seem to be two truths here. First, the Prime Minister will have to take whatever date is offered to her. Secondly, having been granted a date—I hope we are granted a date—we will have to decide what on earth we are going to do with the additional time.
I welcome the fact that the Government have reached out to the Opposition and that the talks are taking place, but I gently say to the Government that the talks will require some flexibility and a willingness to compromise if we are to make progress, and I think that that should include a compromise on how we finally take the decision.
Why are we in this state today? The House has been very clear that it will not accept leaving without an agreement. We are also here because it has become clear that the promise that we could somehow, on the one hand, bring back and retain all our sovereignty and, on the other hand, keep all the economic benefits of European Union membership was not true. The Prime Minister’s deal lays that bare, which is why some Conservative Members cannot bring themselves to vote for her deal, because it confronts them with a choice that they are not prepared to make. We have heard their criticism, but the irony is that if all the Conservative Members who campaigned most passionately for leaving the European Union had voted for the deal, we would be out by now. But this is not a choice that the nation can continue to avoid. We must confront it.
The Attorney General spoke wisely when he told Nick Robinson the other day that, on Brexit
“we have underestimated its complexity. We are unpicking 45 years of in-depth integration. This needed to be done with very great care…It needs a hard-headed understanding of realities.”
That is why I would argue that the situation today is different from the situation in June 2016.
Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that part of the shame of this process is that it has proved possible that the Government could ever have underestimated the impossibility of unpicking 46 years of close co-operation?
The right hon. Gentleman points to one of the other truths about this process, which some people were sadly unwilling to acknowledge in campaigning to leave. The fact that they never had a plan has been exposed for all to see. I have learned over two and a half years just how much the complexity of these relationships means to businesses, companies and individuals the length and breadth of the land.
I think people knew why they voted in the way they did—no one is saying they did not—but what they were offered did not and does not exist. Therefore, is it not time for us to put that truth back to the British people? Especially as the more time that passes, the more the mandate from the referendum of June 2016 will inevitably age.
I do not know whether the British people have changed their mind, but I have come to the conclusion that we should now ask them whether they wish to confirm their original decision in light of the real choice that confronts the country, and not the fantasy that was offered three years ago. If we agree to do that we could move on because, however long the extension that is granted, and we must hope and pray in the national interest that we get one tomorrow, the continuing drama, the anger referred to by Conservative Members—I acknowledge that anger, which the right hon. Member for North Shropshire (Mr Paterson) spoke about with real passion—and the uncertainty could finally be brought to a conclusion in the capable hands of the British people.
Order. It would help if Members confine themselves to three minutes each.
As ever, it is a great pleasure to follow the right hon. Member for Leeds Central (Hilary Benn). I agree with everything he says. Every time I hear a right hon. or hon. Member on the Government Benches making the case for a no-deal, off-the-cliff, hardest-of-all Brexits, I grow stronger in my belief that I did the right thing by leaving that party. The fact that people who claim to be the party of business are doing the one thing that British business does not want—it would be “ruinous”, in the words of the Business Secretary—fills me with absolute astonishment, but that is the future of the Conservative party. The direction of travel is towards a far-right, extreme version of Brexit. It is not acceptable.
May I put on the record that not everybody on this side of the House shares that view? The right hon. Lady knows from our conversations that my constituents and I do not share it.
I do not doubt for one moment that the hon. Gentleman does not share that view, but the reality is that the majority of members of the Conservative party, as we heard in earlier speeches, are travelling in that direction. The next leader of the Conservative party will be exactly the sort of person who believes in the most ruinous version of Brexit—a no-deal Brexit.
I was heartened to attend a rally at lunchtime today in central London organised by People’s Vote. What a rally it was. People from all backgrounds, of all ages and from all over the United Kingdom came together in support of sending this matter back to the British people. The star of the rally was undoubtedly the brilliant Baroness Boothroyd, who got a standing ovation before she even spoke. After she spoke, she got another rousing standing ovation, and rightly so. She reminded everybody in the audience that she is in her 90th year—I do not think she wanted that broadcast. The point that she made so beautifully, compassionately and passionately is that this issue is not about her generation. Indeed, it is not about my generation either—I am 62. It is about our children and grandchildren. The overwhelming message from that rally was that many young people have spoken to their parents and grandparents, who are now in turn increasingly saying, “Yes, we voted leave, but now we have listened to our children and grandchildren as we have seen the reality of Brexit unfold. We have changed our minds.” It is profoundly ironic that there are right hon. and hon. Members on the Government Benches who have changed their minds and voted for the Prime Minister’s withdrawal agreement, but they deny the people of this country, two and a half years on, the right to a final say and to change their minds too.
People talk about the will of the people, but the evidence is clear that the will of the people is changing. In any event, 63% of people in this country did not vote to leave the European Union, and the 52% who voted for it did not vote for this Brexit chaos and this Brexit crisis. As they see Brexit unfold, they are increasingly demanding a final say and a people’s vote. I will vote for this motion, but I want a longer extension so we can have a confirmatory vote—a people’s vote—because that is the only way out of this crisis.
I thank the right hon. Members for Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford (Yvette Cooper), for Leeds Central (Hilary Benn) and for West Dorset (Sir Oliver Letwin) and the hon. Member for Cardiff South and Penarth (Stephen Doughty) for getting us as far as we have got today.
On the extension, I certainly would not want our friends in the European Union to think that 30 June is, by any stretch of the imagination, ideal or leaves us satiated, because it does not. It is clearly not long enough for a people’s vote, although it clearly is long enough for the European elections to take place, which the Liberal Democrats and a number of other parties will fight very hard and positively.
Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that the June date would not allow enough time, not only for the people’s vote, but also for some kind of process, like citizens’ assemblies, that might just have a chance of bringing the country back together again, by addressing some of the very real reasons that people voted leave in the first place?
Absolutely, and clearly an extension could be used for that purpose, or indeed for expanding on the process that is already taking place, with all the parties in this place—with the exception, I am afraid, of the DUP—working across parties to try to find a way forward. What the hon. Lady suggests could be part of that process.
The extension is not long enough for a people’s vote, which would probably require 20 weeks or thereabouts for planning and for campaigning, so we need an extension until September at the very least. I want to help the Prime Minister. She should accept the flextension that we hope will be offered to her tomorrow, because that will save her from embarrassment in the future. Members will recall that she said there would not be a general election, and then there was; that she was going to stand by the withdrawal agreement that she had spent months negotiating with the European Union, which she then did not; and that she said there would not be an extension to the article 50 period, and then there was. So she could save herself a lot of embarrassment by simply accepting that there is going to be a people’s vote, so a long extension is required to deliver one.
We are assuming, of course, and I think it is a safe assumption, that we will be granted an extension by the European Union, but if we are not, we need some clarity from Ministers as to what exactly will happen—what the next steps that the Under-Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union, the hon. Member for Worcester (Mr Walker), who is now in his place, referred to actually include. Will those next steps include, if we do not get an extension to the article 50 period, revoking article 50 by the end of this week? If the Minister wants to intervene to confirm that that is the case, he is welcome to do so. He has a frown on his face, but I think he is reflecting intensely on that.
I shall conclude by saying again that the Prime Minister must face up to the truth. She will need a long extension. She should grasp it tomorrow, to avoid humiliation a few weeks later when she would have to go and ask for it.
I call the hon. Member for Swansea West (Geraint Davies) to speak very briefly; I also want the hon. Member for Birmingham, Erdington (Jack Dromey) to get in.
People who voted leave in Swansea voted for good things. They voted for more money, more control, more trade, control over immigration. Now they finally see that they will not be getting any of those things. They are having to pay more money. There will not be more trade. We will have an open border in Northern Ireland. So they are saying to me that they have been let down, and they want to vote on whether the deal stacks up to what they were promised—and it will not.
I very much hope that we will get a long extension, so that there can be a proper collaboration between the parties to put a Labour-Tory mixed deal to the country so that people can decide whether they are better off in or out of the EU.
Everyone who talks to me in Swansea is saying, “This is taking longer; it is costing more; it is much more complicated than we were told before.” The French are now saying that, in the event that we do not agree a deal and we do not have a long extension, the default position that we have chosen is no deal; but frankly, the people who voted leave do not even like what they are seeing with the deal, let alone no deal, which would be a complete calamity. Given that the House has now voted several times to say no to no deal, it is important that the default—
Will the hon. Gentleman give way?
No, I will not.
It is important that the default position is not no deal, but revocation. I introduced a Bill, the European Union (Revocation of Notification) Bill, to that effect. It is important that we remember that we should stay where we are.
I had the great privilege of opening an exhibition in memory of Henry Richard, who, as people will remember, was the “apostle of peace” who was an MP in this place until 1888. He put forward the arbitration in the treaty of Paris that ended the Crimean war. He was very much of the opinion that the canvas for future peace and prosperity should be across Europe. Obviously, we saw the bloodshed of the first and second world wars, but now we have a situation where Europe is in jeopardy of breaking apart. At last people are beginning to think that we have made a mistake, and a lot of older people are saying to me now, “I voted to leave, but I have concerns, I have guilt, and I want to make things better. I want to vote on whether we do in fact remain in the EU.” So I very much hope that we will have a flextension, and that we will have an opportunity to talk again about a possible deal, and put that to the people. In my mind, we should stay where we are, with the best deal —in the EU.
The Jaguar plant lies at the heart of Erdington, which is rich in talent but one of the poorest constituencies in the country. The plant was turned around from closure in 2010, doubling in size to 3,300 jobs. It has transformed the lives of thousands of workers locally. It has now lost 1,000 jobs. It would be unthinkable to put it at risk.
The voice of the world of work could not be clearer—to the CBI and the TUC, we are facing a national emergency, so they say no to no deal. The Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders on building cars, the ADS on building planes and Make UK, the former Engineering Employers’ Federation, all say that a no-deal Brexit would be a catastrophe. The Food and Drink Federation says that prices would soar and that no deal would be a disaster. Our farmers would face immense problems with our biggest market, on the continent—no deal would be a disaster. The Investment Association is talking about the billions in money now flooding out of the country, rather than being invested here in our economy. The British Ceramic Confederation warns that household names will close in the next stages—the quintessentially English product of the Potteries.
There are those who believe that they know more about building cars than those who build cars, more about building planes than those who build planes and more about national security than the head of national security, who has warned against the catastrophe of a no-deal Brexit. Those people are wrong. They talk about a managed no deal, but that is like a managed parachute jump without a parachute. Were we to plunge over the cliff into a no-deal Brexit, our country would be the poorer in every sense of the word for a generation. The task now is for us to come together in Parliament to find a way forward and a better deal for Britain.
In conclusion, I pay tribute to Tory colleagues with whom we have worked, the right hon. Members for West Dorset (Sir Oliver Letwin) and for Meriden (Dame Caroline Spelman), and to my right hon. Friend the Member for Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford (Yvette Cooper) for her outstanding leadership—all working together to prevent a no-deal Brexit. Why? Because it would be a catastrophe that our country would take a generation to recover from. We cannot go over the cliff.
One and a half hours having elapsed since the commencement of proceedings on the motion, the Speaker put the Question (Standing Order No. 16(1)).
9 April 2019
The House divided:
Question accordingly agreed to.View Details
That this House agrees for the purposes of section 1 of the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2019 to the Prime Minister seeking an extension of the period specified in Article 50(3) of the Treaty on European Union to a period ending on 30 June 2019.