Before I make my statement, may I too recognise the work of Yvonne Marie Blenkinsop and others, and indeed all those who have campaigned over the years to ensure that those in the workplace can have the degree of safety and security that they need?
With permission, Mr Speaker, I would like to make a statement on the Government’s work to deliver Brexit by putting forward a new deal that Members of this House can stand behind.
We need to see Brexit through, to honour the result of the referendum and to deliver the change the British people so clearly demanded. I sincerely believe that most Members of this House feel the same—that, for all our division and disagreement, we believe in democracy, and that we want to make good on the promise we made to the British people when we asked them to decide on the future of our EU membership. As to how we make that happen, recent votes have shown that there is no majority in this House for leaving with no deal, and this House has voted against revoking article 50. It is clear that the only way forward is leaving with a deal, but it is equally clear that this will not happen without compromise on all sides of the debate. That starts with the Government, which is why we have just held six weeks of detailed talks with the Opposition—talks that the Leader of the Opposition chose to end before a formal agreement was reached, but which none the less revealed areas of common ground.
Having listened to the Opposition, to other party leaders, to the devolved Administrations and to business leaders, trade unionists and others, we are now making a 10-point offer to Members across the House—10 changes that address the concerns raised by right hon. and hon. Members; 10 binding commitments that will be enshrined in legislation so they cannot simply be ignored; and 10 steps that will bring us closer to the bright future that awaits our country once we end the political impasse and get Brexit done.
First, we will protect British jobs by seeking as close to frictionless trade in goods with the EU as possible while outside the single market and ending free movement. The Government will be placed under a legal duty to negotiate our future relationship on this basis.
Secondly, we will provide much-needed certainty for our vital manufacturing and agricultural sectors by keeping up to date with EU rules for goods and agri-food products that are relevant to checks at the border. Such a commitment, which will also be enshrined in legislation, will help protect thousands of skilled jobs that depend on just-in-time supply chains.
Thirdly, we will empower Parliament to break the deadlock over future customs arrangements. Both the Government and the Opposition agree that we must have as close to frictionless trade at the UK-EU border as possible, protecting the jobs and livelihoods that are sustained by our existing trade with the EU, but while we agree on the ends, we disagree on the means. The Government have already put forward a proposal that delivers the benefits of a customs union but with the ability for the UK to determine its own trade and development policy. The Opposition are sceptical of our ability to negotiate that and do not believe that an independent trade policy is in the national interest. They would prefer a comprehensive customs union with a UK say in EU trade policy, but with the EU negotiating on our behalf.
As part of the cross-party discussions, the Government offered a compromise option of a temporary customs union on goods only, including a UK say in relevant EU trade policy, so that the next Government can decide their preferred direction. We were not able to reach agreement, so instead we will commit in law to let Parliament decide this issue and to reflect the outcome of this process in legislation.
Fourthly, to address concerns that a future Government could roll back hard-won protections for employees, we will publish a new workers’ rights Bill. As I have told the House many times, successive British Administrations of all colours have granted rights and protections to British workers well above the standards demanded by Brussels. I know that people want guarantees, and I am happy to provide them. If passed by Parliament, this Bill will guarantee that the rights enjoyed by British workers can be no less favourable than those of their counterparts in the EU—both now and in the future—and we will discuss further amendments with trade unions and business.
Fifthly, the new Brexit deal will also guarantee that there will be no change in the level of environmental protection when we leave the EU. We will establish a new and wholly independent office of environmental protection, able to uphold standards and enforce compliance.
Sixthly, the withdrawal agreement Bill will place a legal duty on Government to seek changes to the political declaration that will be needed to reflect this new deal, and I am confident that we will be successful in doing so.
Seventhly, the Government will include in the withdrawal agreement Bill at its introduction a requirement to vote on whether to hold a second referendum. I have made my own view clear on this many times—I am against a second referendum. We should be implementing the result of the first referendum, not asking the British people to vote in a second one. What would it say about our democracy if the biggest vote in our history were to be rerun because this House did not like the outcome? What would it do to that democracy and what forces would it unleash? However, I recognise the genuine and sincere strength of feeling across the House on this important issue. To those MPs who want a second referendum to confirm the deal, I say that you need a deal and therefore a withdrawal agreement Bill to make it happen. Let it have its Second Reading and then those MPs can make their case to Parliament. If this House votes for a referendum, it would require the Government to make provisions for such a referendum, including legislation if it wanted to ratify the withdrawal agreement.
Eighthly, Parliament will be guaranteed a much greater role in the second part of the Brexit process: the negotiations over our future relationship with the EU. In line with the proposal put forward by the hon. Members for Wigan (Lisa Nandy) and for Stoke-on-Trent Central (Gareth Snell), the new Brexit deal will set out in law that the House of Commons will approve the UK’s objectives for the negotiations. MPs will also be asked to approve the treaty governing that relationship before the Government sign it.
Ninthly, the new Brexit deal will legally oblige the Government to seek to conclude the alternative arrangements process by December 2020, avoiding any need for the Northern Ireland backstop coming into force. This commitment is made in the spirit of the amendment tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Altrincham and Sale West (Sir Graham Brady), passed by this House on 29 January. Although it is not possible to use alternative arrangements to replace the backstop in the withdrawal agreement, we will ensure that they are a viable alternative.
Finally, tenthly, we will ensure that, should the backstop come into force, Great Britain will stay aligned with Northern Ireland. We will prohibit the proposal that a future Government could split Northern Ireland off from the UK’s customs territory, and we will deliver on our commitments to Northern Ireland in the December 2017 joint report in full. We will implement paragraph 50 of the joint report in law. The Northern Ireland Assembly and Executive will have to give their consent on a cross-community basis for new regulations that are added to the backstop. We will work with our confidence and supply partners on how these commitments should be entrenched in law, so that Northern Ireland cannot be separated from the United Kingdom.
Following the end of EU election purdah, the withdrawal agreement Bill will be published on Friday so that the House has the maximum possible time to study its detail. If Parliament passes the Bill before the summer recess, the UK will leave the EU by the end of July. We will be out of the EU political structures and out of ever closer union. We will stop British laws being enforced by a European court. We will end free movement. We will stop making vast annual payments to the EU budget. By any definition, that alone is delivering Brexit. By leaving with a deal we can do so much more besides: we can protect jobs, guarantee workers’ rights, and maintain the close security partnerships that do so much to keep us all safe. We will ensure that there is no hard border between Northern Ireland and Ireland, and we can bring an end to the months—years—of increasingly bitter argument and division that have both polarised and paralysed our politics. We can move on, move forwards, and get on with the job that we were sent here to do and what we got into politics to do. That is what we can achieve if we support this new deal.
Reject the deal, and all we have before us is division and deadlock. We risk leaving with no deal, something that this House is clearly against. We risk stopping Brexit altogether, something that the British people would simply not tolerate. We risk creating further division at a time when we need to be acting together in the national interest. We also guarantee a future in which our politics becomes still more polarised and voters increasingly despair as they see us failing to do what they asked of us. None of us wants to see that happen. The opportunity of Brexit is too large and the consequences of failure too grave to risk further delay. In the weeks ahead, there will be opportunities for MPs from all parts of the House to have their say, to table amendments, and to shape the Brexit that they and their constituents want to see.
In time, another Prime Minister will be standing at this Dispatch Box, but while I am here, I have a duty to be clear with the House about the facts. If we are to deliver Brexit in this Parliament, we will have to pass a withdrawal agreement Bill. We will not do so without holding votes on the issues that have divided us the most. That includes votes on customs arrangements and on a second referendum. We can pretend otherwise and carry on arguing and getting nowhere, but in the end our job in this House is to take decisions, not to duck them. I will put those decisions to this House because that is my duty and because it is the only way that we can deliver Brexit. Let us demonstrate what this House can achieve. Let us come together, honour the referendum, deliver what we promised the British people, and build a successful future for our whole country. I commend this statement to the House.
I thank the Prime Minister for an advance copy of the statement. In fact, I received it yesterday when she made an appeal entitled, “Seeking common ground in Parliament”. Where did she make that appeal? Not in Parliament, but in a small room just down the road.
It is now clear: the bold new deal that the Prime Minister promised is little more than a repackaged version of her three times rejected deal. The rhetoric may have changed, but the deal has not. I thank the Prime Minister for her letter, but it offers no change on a customs union, no change on single market alignment, and no dynamic alignment on environmental protections. This Government are too weak, too divided, to get this country out of the mess that they have created. For more than two years, the Prime Minister bullishly refused to consult the public or Parliament.
She did not seek a compromise until after she had missed her own deadline to leave, and by the time she finally did, she had lost the authority to deliver. That became evident during the six weeks of cross-party talks that ended last week—talks that were entered into constructively on both sides to see if a compromise was possible.
But while those talks were going on, Cabinet Minister after Cabinet Minister made statements undermining what their colleagues in the room were offering. The Foreign Secretary, the Leader of the House, the International Trade Secretary and the Treasury Chief Secretary all made it clear that they would not tolerate a deal that included a customs union, while Tory leadership contender after Tory leadership contender took it in turns to make it absolutely clear that any compromise deal would not be honoured. Therefore, no matter what the Prime Minister offers, it is clear that no compromise would survive the upcoming Tory leadership contest. The multiple leaks reported from the Cabinet yesterday show that the Prime Minister could not even get the compromise deal she wanted through her own Cabinet, and it is clear that the shrunken offer that emerged satisfied no one—not her own Back Benchers, not the Democratic Unionist party and not the Official Opposition either. No Labour MP can vote for a deal on the promise of a Prime Minister who only has days left in her job.
Even if the Prime Minister could honour her promises, the deal she is putting before us does not represent a genuine compromise. Her 10-point plan is riddled with contradiction and wishful thinking. First, the Prime Minister pretends she is delivering something new with a temporary customs union. This is not a compromise— it is just accepting the reality. Under the withdrawal agreement, we will already be in a temporary customs union through the transition period, which can last up to four years, and if not, we will enter the backstop, which, in effect, keeps us in a customs union, too, without any say.
Secondly, why would this House legislate for a plan that has already been comprehensively rejected by the European Union? The Government want to align with the European Union on goods to keep frictionless trade, but they also want to pursue trade deals that would undermine this process. It is simply not compatible. The technology they need to continue to pursue their Chequers plan simply does not exist. It has already been ruled out by the EU as illegal, impractical and an invitation to fraud. The Government have failed to provide any economic analysis to show that this would make us better off. Why would the House support such a chaotic and desperate approach?
Labour set out a sensible compromise plan over a year ago, including a comprehensive and permanent customs union with the EU that gives us a say, which would allow us to strike trade deals as part of the world’s biggest trading bloc, bringing investment, while maintaining the highest standards. It is credible and achievable, and the best way to protect industry, manufacturing and jobs—something that this Government are woefully indifferent to, as the latest crisis in the steel industry shows today. The Government must be prepared to step in and take a public stake to save thousands of high-skilled jobs at British Steel—a foundation industry for any major economy. Instead, the Tory obsession is for striking trade deals with the likes of Donald Trump. They prioritise chlorinated chicken, further NHS privatisation and deregulation over protecting supply chains and jobs in this country.
On workers’ rights, we have yet to see the full package the Government intend to bring forward, but many people in the trade union movement remain very sceptical. As Frances O’Grady of the Trades Union Congress said yesterday:
“This reheated Brexit deal won’t protect people’s jobs and rights.”
On environmental protections, it is clear that the Prime Minister is not offering dynamic alignment and that under her proposals the UK would fall behind in a number of areas, with only a toothless regulator under the control of the Environment Secretary in place of binding international commitments to protect our environment.
Finally, on a confirmatory vote, I am sure that nobody here will be fooled by what the Prime Minister is offering. Will she tell us now, if this offer is genuine: will she give her party a free vote on this issue or will she, as before, whip against a confirmatory referendum? If the Government truly believe this is the best deal for the economy and for jobs, they should not fear putting that to the people.
For too long, our politics has been seen through a prism of leave or remain. This is dividing our society and poisoning our democracy. It means that vital issues are being neglected—the crisis in our schools and hospitals, the housing crisis and the cruelty of social security policy and universal credit. Our country needs leadership to bring us together. However, this Prime Minister is not the person to do that. Throughout the last three years, she has made no attempt to unite the country. She has been focused only on keeping her divided party together—and it has not worked. Her time has now run out. She no longer has the authority to offer a compromise and cannot deliver. That is why it is time for a general election to break the Brexit deadlock and give the country a say.
I think that the right hon. Gentleman gave the game away when he made it absolutely clear that, as far as he is concerned, the way to get this through the House is for everybody else to compromise to his plan and only his plan. He was very clear that he was not making any proposals to compromise. The Government have indeed compromised. We have recognised that there are issues on which this House will need to decide—and that is the plain fact.
There are different opinions across this House on the two key issues of the future customs arrangement and the second referendum. I have made my position very clear on these. The Government have set out their position. But it is for this House to decide, and the best vehicle to do this is within the withdrawal agreement Bill, so then this House can finally make its mind up on what it wants the future customs arrangement to be and whether it thinks there should be a second referendum.
The right hon. Gentleman talks about free votes on a second referendum. Well, of course, in the indicative vote process that went through, we did indeed give Conservative Members a free vote on this issue, and the second referendum was rejected across the House.
The right hon. Gentleman made some inaccurate comments. He talks about the environmental regulator. It will be an independent body that is able to hold the Government to account on environmental standards. I think that he shows his blinkered view on trade when what he sets out is that, as far as he seems to be concerned, the only people he wants to trade with are in the European Union. Actually, what we want to see is a good trade deal with the EU and good trade deals with other countries around the world—that is the best way forward for the United Kingdom.
The right hon. Gentleman talks about British Steel. I answered questions in Prime Minister’s questions on British Steel and what the Government are doing. He talked about Labour’s position of wanting a comprehensive customs union, all the dynamic alignment and single market alignment. What the Labour party wants to achieve in its relationship with the EU would make it even harder for a British Government to take action to protect industries such as the steel industry. He has always complained about state aid rules, but he wants to tie us into those state aid rules with what he proposes.
The right hon. Gentleman talks about different opinions across the House. Of course, the one issue that has never properly been resolved in this House and that the withdrawal agreement Bill would force to be resolved is whether he himself is for Brexit or against it. If he is for Brexit, he will vote for the withdrawal agreement Bill. Voting against the withdrawal agreement Bill is voting against Brexit.
The Environment Secretary was on the radio this morning, and when asked whether it was certain that the Bill would be brought to Parliament for Second Reading, he did not answer in the affirmative. He said that the Government would “reflect” and listen. Having presented this statement at the Dispatch Box, is the Prime Minister absolutely certain that she will bring the Bill to the House for Second Reading? If so, could she name the date now and then say she will stick to it?
We have already made the Government’s position clear: the Second Reading of the withdrawal agreement Bill will be brought to the House after the Whitsun recess.
It is customary to thank the Prime Minister for advance sight of her statement. It was some surprise that we all saw the statement being delivered not in the House of Commons but elsewhere yesterday. Why was the usual protocol of Parliament being the first to hear such statements from the Prime Minister not followed?
Let me give the Prime Minister some friendly advice: this deal is dead. Stop the charade, and let us get on with putting the decision back to the people once and for all. The headlines this morning cry of doom. Conservative Members are concentrating on ways to mount a leadership coup. Where are they? That is exactly what they are doing this afternoon—they are not here to support the Prime Minister.
This is no way to run a Government. The Prime Minister is asking MPs to vote for a deal that takes Scotland out of the single market and eventually out of the customs union. That simply cannot be allowed to happen. This is a rookie Government attempting to blackmail MPs. If we look behind the smoke and mirrors, we see a new, revised deal that has not even been negotiated with Brussels; a second EU referendum, but only if we vote for the Bill; a possible temporary customs union that a future UK Government could change and the European Union has dismissed; and a trade tariff arrangement that the former UK representative to the EU has described as “the definition of insanity”.
None of what the Prime Minister announced yesterday was discussed with the devolved Government in Edinburgh. This goes to the heart of the problem. In December 2016, the Scottish Government published a compromise position, which was rejected without discussion. Scotland’s voice has been ignored time and again. Brexit has meant powers being stripped away from the Scottish Parliament. There is no respect for the devolved Administrations by this Government. Westminster has ignored Scotland.
This is a sorry mess. Look around—there is no support for the Prime Minister’s deal. This deal faces an even bigger defeat than the last vote. Tomorrow, communities will make their voices heard in our democratic European elections. A vote for the Scottish National party is a vote to stop Brexit, a vote to stop this economic madness and a vote to respect Scotland’s decision in 2016. The Prime Minister has lost the confidence of her party. Parliament will not support her, and she has lost the trust of the people. It is time to go, Prime Minister. Will you do it?
The right hon. Gentleman talks about discussions with the Scottish Government. Of course there have been discussions with the Scottish Government. I have met the First Minister, and my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster has held a number of meetings with the Scottish Government. The devolved Administrations have been party to the debates and discussions that have been taking place.
The right hon. Gentleman says that a vote for the Scottish nationalists is a vote not to leave the European Union. A vote for the Scottish nationalists is a vote to betray our democracy and to betray the view of the people of the United Kingdom. People asked us in this House to deliver Brexit. We have a responsibility to do that. The question is how we do that. The withdrawal agreement Bill gives us the opportunity to debate the issues about how we do that. This House should have those debates, come to a decision, stop ducking the issues and get on with the job that the British people instructed us to do.
What does the Prime Minister say to the many members of the public who think the Government should have kept their promise to take us out on 29 March with or without the draft treaty? What does she say to the millions of angry leave voters who do not see the agreement as any kind of Brexit, but a lock-in for many months with no clear way out?
With the greatest respect to my right hon. Friend, what I say to voters who expected us to leave on 29 March is that the Government’s position was that we should leave on 29 March. The majority of Government Members voted for us to leave on 29 March. Sadly, Opposition Members and some others voted to keep us in on that date.
Given that this Bill appears to have been sunk even before its publication, the Prime Minister must know that the only way now to break the deadlock—which, as today’s terrible news about British Steel shows, is damaging our economy—is to put the choice back to the British people. At this eleventh hour, may I urge her to take that one final step, change her mind and say that she will support a confirmatory referendum?
As I have indicated in a number of answers to questions this afternoon, I have not changed my view on a second referendum. I believe that we should be putting into effect the views of the people expressed in the first referendum, but I recognise the strength of feeling in the House on this issue from the right hon. Gentleman and others, particularly on the Opposition Benches. That is why it is important that we in this House are able to determine this issue, which is best done through the passage of the withdrawal agreement Bill. That is why I have confirmed yesterday and today that there will be a vote during the passage of the withdrawal agreement Bill on whether to hold a second referendum. The Government’s position will be clear: we do not think it right to hold a second referendum. But it will be for Members of this House to come together and determine that, for those who believe there should be a second referendum to put their case to the House, and for the House to come to a decision.
The Prime Minister tells us that, if MPs vote for the withdrawal agreement Bill—which we have not even seen, let alone the amendments that will be tabled to it—we would leave the European Union by 31 July. How on earth does she know that?
Because I have been discussing, and business managers have been discussing, a timetable for the Bill’s passage. Obviously a business motion and a programme motion have to be agreed by the House. It is very clear, and the determination of the last European Council makes it clear, that bringing the Bill back for Second Reading after the Whitsun recess would enable us to do exactly what I said and leave the European Union on 31 July.
Given the awful news about British Steel, it is crucial that the Government stand up for British manufacturing. The Prime Minister will know that a customs union is immensely important to manufacturing across the north and the midlands, and that industry needs a long-term deal to support investment. Given the reports coming out of Cabinet yesterday, can she tell us: has the Cabinet ruled out a long-term customs union being part of the future partnership with the EU that they are supposedly going to negotiate after this withdrawal agreement? Have they ruled out a long-term customs union—yes or no?
The right hon. Lady referenced what has happened to Greybull Capital’s company, British Steel. She will be aware, as others will, that a number of issues and a number of challenges face the steel industry—not just in the UK, but globally—and part of that, of course, is the overcapacity issue because supply is outstripping demand. Of course, much of the excess production is coming from China. That is why in the G20 two or three years ago we acted to bring China around the table to try to deal with that issue.
The right hon. Lady asks about the long term. The compromise solution on the customs that I put forward and referenced in my statement is designed to ensure that a future Government can take that issue in the direction that they wish to take it, and for the House to determine what those negotiating objectives should be. What matters to our manufacturing industry is the frictions that take place at the border and having the benefits of the customs union in no tariffs and no quotas. That is exactly what is already in the political declaration—the benefits of the customs union—and, as I say, we are committed to ensuring that trade is as frictionless as possible.
It is difficult to make any judgments about a Bill when it has not been published. If there were issues with purdah, the announcement should not have been made this week. Next week, this House is in a recess, which is very nice for all of us, but it is not needed, given the seriousness of the situation. I will probably vote for the Bill when it comes back, but please can I ask the Prime Minister to reflect very carefully on whether it should be put to Parliament, because the consequences of its not being passed are very serious? If she really wants to heal the divisions and to get on with it, I ask her to reflect very seriously about this Bill not being put to Parliament in early June and being allowed more compromise and more time being taken.
My right hon. Friend is right that, if the Bill is not passed, this House will be faced with a stark choice. That choice will be whether Members go for no deal, for revoking article 50 or for a second referendum, with the intention that many have, in asking for a second referendum, to stop Brexit. That will be the choice that will face this House.
People talk about the compromises that have been made so far. There are people who are telling me that I have compromised too much in the package that has been put forward and others who are telling me I have not compromised enough in the package. At some stage, the House has to come together, and we have to decide the distance that we will go together in order to deliver Brexit and to deliver on what people asked us to do.
The Prime Minister has referred a lot in this statement and yesterday to the new deal—the new Brexit deal—but is it not a fact that the deal itself has not changed? The treaty is as it is, and these are a series of domestic legislative provisions to try to mitigate what is, in some cases, a very bad deal, but they will not actually change the Brexit deal itself. To illustrate that, the alternative arrangements proposal that she has put forward seeks merely to legally oblige the Government to conclude their own processes, but will she confirm that there is absolutely no obligation on the European Union to agree alternative arrangements? Indeed, the final decision about whether it accepts them or views them as reasonable is entirely a matter for the EU. It will not even be a matter of objective assessment. If a member state Government decide that they would rather keep us in the customs union, that is what will happen. There will be no means of getting out of it.
We have put forward to the House today a package of proposals. It is a new package of proposals. The right hon. Gentleman has been clear that, in relation to the operation of the backstop, one of his key concerns was making that UK-wide. That commitment is there in the statement that I have made today. As I have said, we are happy to sit down and discuss how we can ensure that these are enshrined in law, which I know has always been an issue of concern to him.
As regards the alternative arrangements, the groups to do that work have been set up by the Government and the money has been afforded by Government to do that work. But the European Union was clear—and it has committed itself in the legally binding commitments that have been made at recent Council meetings—that it will also work with us to ensure that those alternative arrangements are in place and are available by the end of December 2020.
Has the European Union agreed to any changes to the withdrawal agreement that are legally binding in international law?
I have said to my right hon. Friend and others on many occasions, and the EU Council has made it clear on many occasions, that the EU is not reopening the withdrawal agreement. What we have done in the processes that we have taken through the House up until now—until the most recent discussions with the European Union—is to be able to have certain legally binding commitments made by both the UK and the European Union in addition to the text of the withdrawal agreement, which cover a number of issues that have been of concern to people in this House.
Does the Prime Minister understand that she will not get enough support from Members on the Opposition side of the House to allow her withdrawal agreement to pass unless she includes a confirmatory vote in the Bill? She has come to the end of the road. But if she and indeed any Conservative MP wants to stop the Prime Minister’s successor from inevitably pursuing a no-deal Brexit, they must back giving the public the final say. Time is running out. Prime Minister, please change your mind.
This is an issue on which, as I say, there are very strong feelings across this House. I have met Members from all sides of the House who support a second referendum and who have put forward their case with their sincere belief in that second referendum. I have a different view. I believe we should be delivering on the first referendum, but I believe—because of the strength of view across this House, on both sides of the argument—that it is important that the House has the opportunity properly to consider it in a way that is appropriate, and that is through the withdrawal agreement Bill.
One of the ironies of resigning from Government is that it gives you rather more freedom and emphasis when you choose to support the Government, and I will be supporting the Prime Minister’s Bill. I thank her for her efforts and ask her to recognise that there are still many people in the country who believe that the best future for the UK outside the EU is with a compromise deal based on the interests of both, rather than a reckless and increasingly bitter pursuit of a single type of no-deal leaving—at a cost to many businesses, industry and agriculture and a cost to the country—so expertly skewered by the Chancellor in his speech yesterday?
I do indeed agree with my right hon. Friend that I think there are many people across this country who want to see us leaving the EU in an orderly way and with a deal. Indeed, that was the manifesto on which he and I, and those of us who sit here as Conservatives, stood at the last election. We stood to deliver the best possible deal for Britain as we leave the European Union, delivered by a smooth, orderly Brexit, with a new, deep and special partnership, including a comprehensive free trade and customs agreement with the European Union. Those are the objectives that I have been pursuing. I have put forward today a new package that does change the situation that has been voted on previously. I hope all those who want to leave the European Union with a deal will indeed support it.
In 1992, the Prime Minister and I toured the working men’s clubs of north-west Durham and I was hugely impressed with her resilience in front of audiences that were as hostile to her as they were indifferent to me. [Hon. Members: “What’s changed?”] Indeed. But it turns out that the audience behind her is tougher still. She will fail in her bid in two weeks’ time because people behind her who are for Brexit refuse to vote for Brexit. That is not her fault, but it is her problem. For old times’ sake, I want to help her out. If she will agree to put her deal—to be fair to her, it is the only concrete version of Brexit we have yet seen—to the British people in a confirmatory vote, I will join her in the Lobby. Will she help me to help her?
May I say to the hon. Gentleman that I fondly remember those days in 1992 in north-west Durham? I also say to him that I think, if this House does not pass the withdrawal agreement Bill and if the House does not enable the treaty to be ratified, what this House is saying is that it does not want to leave the European Union with a deal. I believe that the majority of people in this House do want to leave with a deal. This is the vehicle to do it.
May I correct my right hon. Friend on two points that she has made today? First, she said that it was up to the House to decide about a customs union and a second referendum. It is not up to MPs to decide that; the country decided to leave—spelled L.E.A.V.E—the EU. It is as simple as that. It is not for the House. Secondly, when she responded to my right hon. Friend the Member for Wokingham (John Redwood), she said that we could not have left the EU on 29 March. The legal position was that we could have done so, but she and, dare I say it, a very heavily remain Cabinet decided not to take us out.
I and my colleagues across Government voted to leave the European Union on 29 March. We continue to believe that the best way to leave the European Union is with a deal. That is the manifesto on which my hon. Friend and I both stood at the last general election, and I believe it is important that we recognise that and deliver it for the British people. He makes the point about whether it is for the House to decide. The British people voted to leave. I have been trying to leave the European Union. I am looking forward to voting a fourth time to leave the European Union in the withdrawal agreement Bill. Sadly, Opposition Members and some of my colleagues have not voted alongside me. How we do it is a matter for this House, because the deal must be ratified by this House, and the Government and this House must determine the objectives for the next stage of negotiations. I have been clear that those negotiations will be taken forward by somebody else leading this Government, but I am also clear that we cannot get on to that second stage of negotiations until we get over the first stage. That is what the Bill is about.
The Prime Minister rightly referred in her statement to the need to avoid the risks inherent in the Brexit process. Does she not realise that her latest proposals hard-wire those risks into the process?
If the right hon. Gentleman is talking about the issues on which there is significant division in this House—namely, customs and a second referendum—and taking those through in the withdrawal agreement Bill, the Government are committing to ensuring that those issues can be addressed during the passage of the Bill. The reality of the way legislation works is that people would table amendments to any Bill brought before the House, and amendments could be seen on a whole range of issues, including those. The key question is what this House determines in response to those issues. This House will have to come to a decision.
On the basis of the negotiations thus far, what arrangements alternative to the Irish backstop does my right hon. Friend consider to be most capable of securing agreement?
A set of proposals have been put before the European Union, with a number of elements in them that bring together both technological approaches, some of which can be improved as we see technology developing, and the key issues that have been debated and discussed so far—those around elements of the derogation from EU law that will be necessary in order to enable the alternative arrangements to provide for no hard border in the way that both sides intend them to.
With respect, the Prime Minister is asking us to put our faith in her deal while, frankly, authority is slipping from her grasp with every passing hour. The Tories have had three years to agree a deal among themselves, including weeks of full-on collaboration with Labour, yet there is no guarantee that she will be in a place to bring the Bill back next month. How can we believe that there is any guarantee of a people’s vote, when she cannot even bring herself to put it on the face of the Bill?
The right hon. Lady and I have different views on the issue of a second referendum, but I am saying that we will ensure that this House is able to determine that issue. She wants to ensure that there is a people’s vote, but that will be for this House to decide. It has already been rejected by this House, but it will be for the House to come to a decision on that issue, and for the House to accept that decision.
We cannot continue to leave our country in this uncertainty. This has to stop. The whole House needs to stop saying no to everything on the table, just because it is not our favourite dish. The EU negotiators also need to stop saying no every time we have an issue, but we have to end this uncertainty. If we vote for the Bill, we can move on and the discussions on the next stage can start. I ask the Prime Minister: what happens if we say no again?
My hon. Friend is right that we need to be able to move on. We can move on, while respecting the wish of the British people, by taking the Bill through and ensuring that we ratify and that we leave the European Union. If this House chooses not to take the Bill forward, it will face a choice of no deal or no Brexit; that is the choice that will be available to people in this House. I still believe that there is a majority in this House who want to deliver on the referendum result, but to do so with a deal. This is the Bill that will enable that to happen.
It is clear that the House will reject the Prime Minister’s deal a fourth time, and she has indicated that she will then set out a timetable for her departure. She has also just said that there is no mandate here, or indeed in the country, to leave without a deal. Regarding that timetable, if a change in Prime Minister occurs near the end of October, leaving her successor no time to negotiate a further extension, will she request a further extension herself before the September recess, to stop us leaving with no deal?
I am afraid that the hon. Gentleman knows my answer to that: if he really wants to ensure that we do not leave the European Union without a deal, the best way is to agree a deal, and that is the Bill.
It is the saddest irony that those of my colleagues who most want to leave the European Union have so far frustrated us from doing so by voting with Labour and the Scottish nationalists. The Prime Minister is right to highlight the dangers of Parliament not supporting the withdrawal agreement Bill the day before the European elections, which none of us on this side wanted to happen. Does she agree that the superficially seductive line from the Brexit party, “Just leave on WTO terms,” holds enormous dangers, above all for our farmers and manufacturers, and would in fact cause the break-up of the United Kingdom?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right, particularly in the point he makes about the dangers of a no-deal Brexit for the future of the United Kingdom. That is a key concern of mine in relation to that issue. It is also surprising to see that some of those who, at the time of the referendum, while encouraging people to leave, were talking about leaving with a deal, being like Norway and accepting those sorts of restraints on the United Kingdom’s ability, are now unwilling to accept a deal that would enable us to leave and would be good for the future of the UK. When people come to vote at the European elections tomorrow, they have an opportunity to vote for a party that not only believes in delivering Brexit but can do it, and that is the Conservatives.
The Prime Minister has said that this 10-point offer was framed after having listened to the devolved Administrations, yet there is nothing in it to address the concerns expressed by Scotland’s Government, the cross-party majority in Scotland’s Parliament and the majority of Scottish Members elected to this House. Now that her days of sneering at the democratically elected representatives of voters in Scotland are nearly at an end, does she concede that her successor will need a more intelligent approach to Scotland than she has felt able to adopt?
We have consistently engaged with the Scottish Government, and with the Welsh Government, throughout our discussions and negotiations on our future in the European Union. What is important is that we all recognise the responsibility we have to deliver on the vote that took place in 2016—
I don’t have that responsibility.
The hon. and learned Lady says she does not have that responsibility. She is an elected Member of this House and she has a responsibility in the votes that she casts. She has said consistently that she does not want us to leave without a deal. That can only happen if we have a deal, or, of course, if we choose to stay in the European Union. She says that we have not listened to the Scottish Government. What the Scottish Nationalists have made clear at every stage is that they wish to revoke article 50, they wish to go back on the referendum result of 2016, and they wish to keep the United Kingdom in the EU. The majority of the British public do not want that; they want the party in Government and parliamentarians in this House to deliver on what they asked us to do.
The Prime Minister rightly referred in her statement—[Interruption.]
Order. This is a most extraordinary situation. The hon. Gentleman is seeking to ask a question in a seemly way and is effectively being heckled and prevented from doing so by the chuntering from a sedentary position in pursuit of Scottish tribal warfare by the hon. Member for Ochil and South Perthshire (Luke Graham). Calm yourself, man. The Prime Minister is perfectly capable of looking after herself. She was asked a question and she has given an answer. There can be differences of opinion and interpretation as to what is the responsibility of a Member of Parliament, and those issues have been aired. The hon. Gentleman has not in any way benefited the mix by his disorderly chunter.
Thank you, Mr Speaker. The Prime Minister rightly referred in her statement to the importance of leaving in a way that maintains the closest possible security, policing and judicial co-operation with the EU27. That is what we have at the moment. The Justice Committee was given clear evidence by the head of the National Crime Agency that to do otherwise would severely impair our ability to fight organised crime and terrorism, and keep our country safe. Does she agree that to fail to leave without a deal—to fail, therefore, to pass the only available means of leaving with a deal—will be to put the security of the country at risk? That is not something that any Member of this House could responsibly contemplate doing.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right to raise the issue of security. It is one that is rarely raised in these debates. The majority of questions tend to be about the economic and trade relationship, but the security relationship is fundamental to us being able to keep ourselves safe. That is why I am pleased we have negotiated, in the political declaration, the strongest possible security relationship with the EU for the future of any country that would be outside the European Union. Of course, if we were to leave with no deal, those security relationships would not be open to us. Could we negotiate some for the future? That is, of course, possible, but it would require further negotiation and at the point of leaving those security relationships would be stopped.
I agree with the right hon. Member for Loughborough (Nicky Morgan), who has left the Chamber. The essence of what she was saying was that everyone should take a breath, take stock of what is on the table and look at the published Bill when it arrives on Friday. All colleagues across the House need to be mindful of the results of the European elections. The Prime Minister has said several times already that if the Second Reading of the Bill does not succeed, there will not be another opportunity to leave with a withdrawal Bill. The only course and direction will be to leave without any deal at all. Does she agree that anybody who claims to be against no deal, on whatever side of the House, should, without any commitments right now, give this proposition due consideration, think about how they would amend it, and, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford (Yvette Cooper) said recently in a newspaper report, stop the shouting and start agreeing on what we can agree on to move forward?
The right hon. Lady is absolutely right. The point of the process of legislation that we have in this House is that once we are beyond Second Reading of the Bill it will be open to Members across the House to table amendments to it and to have those debates about the precise detail of how we are leaving. Anybody who wants to ensure that we leave with a deal and that we do not see a no-deal situation should support Second Reading and enter into that debate. That debate, of course, does not make commitments towards the end of that process. I hope that we would see the Bill passed and therefore the treaty ratified, but it will be open to have that debate while the Bill is progressing through the House.
As so often, the right hon. Member for Don Valley (Caroline Flint) speaks with a great deal of common sense. Will my right hon. Friend spell out what she has heard the consequences will be for our economy of leaving without a deal?
There have been a number of analyses of the impact of leaving without a deal. I think there would be an immediate impact economically of leaving without a deal. Over time, of course, we could restore our fortunes, but I think it is much better to be in a position where we are leaving with a deal, which will unleash, I believe, significant business investment in this country and see that positive future for our economy that is possible by leaving with a deal.
I have been listening to the Prime Minister respond to several questions about the consequences of no deal. Given what is likely to happen in the European Parliament elections tomorrow and in the Conservative party leadership election to follow, on which she has fired the starting gun, does she regret legitimising and normalising a no-deal outcome in the minds of the public through the repetition of the mantra, “No deal is better than a bad deal”?
No, I don’t. No Government could have said they would accept whatever they were offered, rather than be willing to see no deal. If it had been a bad deal, I stand by what I said in relation to that matter. I also say to the right hon. Gentleman that anybody sitting in this Chamber who believes that we should not have a no-deal situation has to support a deal. That is the only way of making sure we do not leave with no deal. The vehicle for doing that, for determining the details of that leaving, is the withdrawal agreement Bill.
Unlike in 1831, the 1832 Reform Bill got through, because some of those who opposed the Government did not vote against it and that led to progress.
As a national interest Conservative, I have by choice voted with the Government on every single vote, because I think it is right. I hope that others who think that no deal is bad and that trying to reverse the referendum is bad do so.
The majority in this party, this House and the country would prefer to see the withdrawal agreement Bill at least get through Second Reading, so we can make progress and have a chance of a better future for our country.
Absolutely right. If we get through Second Reading we can determine the details, through the progress of the Bill, of the precise nature of our leaving. That will enable us to see progress for this country. To pick up on what my hon. Friend said, I believe it is absolutely in the national interest that we should leave the European Union as the referendum vote set out, but that we should do it with a good deal for this country. That is what is on offer.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Islington North (Jeremy Corbyn) asked the Prime Minister if she was intending to offer a free vote on the second referendum. I would like to ask her the same question about the customs arrangements, which she knows are extremely important for manufacturing industry. Would it be her plan to offer a free vote on those customs arrangements?
As in the normal progress of these things, whipping decisions will be taken when we see the proposals on the table. I reiterate the point I made in response to the right hon. Gentleman. The key issues raised around manufacturing industry are, yes, the benefits of a customs union—they are in the political declaration already—and ensuring we reduce friction for trade at the border. That is not just about customs, but the benefits of the customs union are in the political declaration already.
Ah yes, a Lincolnshire grandee: Sir Edward Leigh.
Not so grand, Mr Speaker, but just a question. The Prime Minister knows of my warm, personal support for her. I voted for her deal not once, not twice but three times. I have to say, as somebody who wishes her well and wishes the agreement well, that I am worried about the tactics. I thought we had agreed with the EU that we were going to have binding indicative votes, which would enable people such as me to express our opposition to a permanent customs union or a referendum and vote for the withdrawal agreement. Now when it is not necessary, because Parliament could do it anyway, I have been asked to vote for a Bill that has, on the face of it, a nod towards a second referendum, which I believe would be disastrous to the Union and to the vast majority of people who voted for Brexit.
I ask the Prime Minister to be very cautious, to listen to our party, to remember that the one vote we won was on the Brady amendment, and, if we cannot get this through, that, given the incalculable disaster of losing the Bill and not being able to bring it back again in this Session, she will, if necessary, think again and not bring it back?
My right hon. Friend refers to the indicative votes. I propose that during the passage of the Bill it will be possible to address these issues and to come to binding decisions on them—particularly the one he references on customs. The fact is that regardless of what indicative votes had been taken and what decisions had been put in the Bill from those indicative votes, had that been the way we progressed, those matters would have been within the scope of the Bill—it would still have been possible for Members to put down other amendments to that position and to vote differently from the way in which they had voted in the indicative votes. That is why it is better to bring these matters to the point of decision, which will be the point within the Bill where Members are deciding not just to indicate a position but what position comes into legislation.
Is the Prime Minister aware that I sincerely want to help her get a good deal through this House—but could she help me? My good, common-sense folk in Huddersfield, who are very clever people, are saying to me that, after three years and now that we know the full consequences of leaving the EU, why can they not have a chance to say what they think of the deal once it comes out of this House?
I have responded to similar points from the hon. Gentleman’s honourable and right honourable colleagues this afternoon. He wants to put a decision back to the people—we have to have a deal to do that, as I think he indicated at the end of his question—which means getting a withdrawal agreement Bill through, and it will be possible for the House to determine its position on this matter within that Bill. As he will know, the House has rejected a second referendum on a number of occasions, but at the point at which it takes that decision within the Bill it will be making that decision in a different environment. As I say, my position continues to be that we should deliver on the first referendum.
A choice between such distinguished colleagues—I call Mr Jacob Rees-Mogg.
My right hon. Friend must have noticed the response in this House and overnight to her statement. In proposing this folderol, is she going through the motions or does she really believe in it?
I do not think I would have been standing here at the Dispatch Box and have been in receipt of some of the comments that I have been in receipt of, from colleagues on my side and across the House, if I did not believe in what I was doing. I am doing it because I genuinely believe that it is in the national interest for us to leave the European Union with a deal. The only way to get a deal through is to get a withdrawal agreement Bill through this House. There are issues that this House disagrees on. I believe that those issues should be put to the House and it will determine them. At that point, the House and all Members of it will have to come to some decisions.
At the moment, it has been possible through indicative votes to give indications, but they have not been decisions that will be put into legislation. When the time comes to look at this matter, these will be decisions about what should go ahead in the Government’s position and what should be in legislation. People will not be able to duck the issues. It will be necessary to come to an agreement. [Interruption.]
The hon. Member for Huddersfield (Mr Sheerman) does not need to chunter from a sedentary position. He is a very illustrious representative of Huddersfield, but the hon. Member for North East Somerset (Mr Rees-Mogg) has just used a noun that, I hazard a guess, has probably not been used on any other occasion in this Parliament, or if it has, only by the hon. Gentleman.
It is because he’s got a Lib Dem council now. [Laughter.]
I am very grateful to the right hon. Gentleman.
What I welcomed most about the statement yesterday was its change in tone, which was markedly different from the ones that had gone before. I express my gratitude to the Prime Minister for the amount of time that she has personally spent with Members from across the House—including me—with whom she has disagreed but engaged in recent weeks. It is clear, though, that the contents of the statement yesterday have widened, not healed, divisions going forward. In the two weeks before the Bill comes before Parliament and this House, I urge her to carry on that engagement with an open mind and to enter into discussions at least about what can be changed on the face of the Bill going into Committee, in which case we will all have something to talk about. Otherwise, it is not even worth putting it forward in the first place.
Obviously, I am happy to continue engaging across the House, as I have been, and I thank the hon. Gentleman for his comments. I also suggest that, as his right hon. Friend the Member for Don Valley (Caroline Flint) said, it will be helpful to all Members of the House to wait and see, when the Bill is published, what its actual terms are. He is encouraging me to put a position on the face of the Bill with which I do not agree, but it is right that what we do in the Bill is enable this House to come to a decision.
A Hampshire knight who represents a beautiful forest—I call Sir Desmond Swayne.
Out by the end of July, she says! A Brexiteer of whatever flavour could grant the Bill a Second Reading, saving their reservations for Committee, and make their final judgment on Third Reading, could they not? And what is a folderol?
There are different definitions. A showy and useless item, allegedly, or an unnecessary or inconsequential fuss, or something—but that is only the view of the matter from the hon. Member for North East Somerset (Mr Rees-Mogg). I am not expressing any view on that matter; I was just intrigued by the endless lexicon of the hon. Gentleman.
I have to say, I think that when my hon. Friend the Member for North East Somerset (Mr Rees-Mogg) used that word, he was not intending it to be complimentary about the package that the Government have brought forward. My right hon. Friend the Member for New Forest West (Sir Desmond Swayne) is absolutely right: for the Bill to get through, for the treaty to be ratified and for us to be able to leave at the end of July, it is about not only getting Second Reading through but ensuring that the Bill is confirmed on Third Reading. By getting through Second Reading, it is possible to have those debates during the progress of the Bill on the key issues that remain and on which there remains disagreement between Members of this House, such that it will be possible—I believe—to come to an agreement that can see us leave the European Union.
The Prime Minister has made it clear that she does not intend to put a commitment to a second referendum on the face of the Bill on Second Reading. In the spirit of compromise, therefore, will she commit to giving her MPs a free vote in Committee when we debate and vote on that measure?
As I have said, what we intend to put in the Bill is the commitment to have a vote on whether to have a second referendum and that the Bill cannot be completed and the treaty ratified until that vote has taken place. I hope that that gives confirmation to Members of the House who are in favour of a second referendum that that issue will be addressed properly within the passage of the Bill. As I said, whipping decisions will be taken closer to the time. I note the keenness of some Opposition Members to determine what the whipping arrangements for those on the Government Benches should be, but with no reference to their own whipping arrangements.
The Prime Minister asks what it would say about democracy if we put this back to the public. The Leader of the Opposition has said from the Dispatch Box that if the Prime Minister likes her deal so much—this is roughly what he said—she should not be afraid of putting it back to the people, and I agree with him. She is putting it back to us time after time after time when we have already rejected it time after time after time. Why does she not trust the people? Why will she not go back to them and ask them what she thinks of her deal?
I do trust the people. That is why I believe that it is our duty to put in place what the people asked us to do.
After weeks of negotiations between a pro-Brexit Prime Minister and a pro-Brexit Labour leadership, it is clear that we have not been able to get an agreement on the terms of this process. It is also clear that no Parliament can bind its successor and no lame-duck Prime Minister can bind her successor. Is it not clear that this Parliament is unable to resolve these matters and that we should go back to the people in a people’s vote, or, if we are unable to do that, revoke article 50 and have more time to find a way forward?
It is clear from the Court judgment that we cannot just revoke article 50 to create more time to consider a deal and then re-trigger it and go back into a negotiating process. Once we revoke, we revoke, and we stay in. I believe we should not stay in. We should leave.
In her statement, the Prime Minister said that
“to address concerns that a future Government could roll back hard-won protections for employees, we will publish a new workers’ rights Bill”.
It was this Government who rolled back those protections in the anti-trade union Bill. If she is serious about workers’ rights, will she reinstate those lost protections in this new Bill?
The Government have enhanced workers’ rights and are putting in place the recommendations from the Taylor review. Ours is the first Government to consider seriously what workers’ rights are suitable for the economy of today. We have enhanced workers’ right and will continue to do so.
I will support the Bill when it comes to the Floor of the House for the simple reason that it is the only deal on the table that will protect under international law the rights of British citizens living in the EU as well as those of EU nationals living here. I am grateful for the comments the Prime Minister made last September following Salzburg about unilaterally protecting certain rights of EU nationals. I regret that there was no mention of British citizens in her statement. What message does she have for British citizens living in the EU?
My message has been consistent. It is that we have been working for their interests as well as those of EU citizens living in the UK. That is why I was pleased that we achieved the reciprocity in the withdrawal agreement—it is an important part of the withdrawal agreement and therefore of the withdrawal agreement Bill. We continue to work with the other 27 member states to ensure they can confirm that in a no-deal situation—as I say, that remains the legal default—they would also protect the rights of British citizens living in those 27 member states.
This is the Prime Minister’s deal. Others in the House want to leave on WTO rules, some want Norway plus, some common market 2.0, others Canada plus—the list goes on and on. Which option does she think the people voted for in 2016, and how can the Government know that their definition of Brexit is the option people voted for without asking them?
The hon. Gentleman references the different opinions in the House. That is precisely why I think it is important that we crystallise those opinions to a position that can command a majority across the House. People voted in 2016 to leave the EU, to end free movement, to ensure our courts were supreme, and to ensure we did not send vast annual sums to the EU. They wanted us to be that independent nation. I believe that an independent trade policy is part of that independence, which is why I have proposed and supported the position I have on customs, but it will be for the House to determine the customs union objectives—we are talking about the objectives—for future negotiations.
With the inevitable end nigh for the Prime Minister and our still being in the EU under an extension to an extension, and with burning injustices still unextinguished everywhere, will the Prime Minister tell us, under her premiership, factoring in the two new Ministries she has created, the civil servants from all over redeployed to this exercise and her costly and sometimes incompetent no-deal planning experiments—she now tells us no deal would be a bad thing—how much Brexit has cost the public purse?
The hon. Lady knows full well that the Treasury’s figures for the two Departments preparing for Brexit, in whatever form it takes, have been made public. She alludes to other work the Government have undertaken. I am very pleased that this Government introduced, for example, the race disparity audit and that we are taking action to ensure that those in certain communities who find it harder to get into the workplace are given the support they need, and introducing changes to domestic abuse legislation. There are many areas where this Government are acting to deal with exactly the injustices I have referred to previously.
The Prime Minister knows that her promises are only valid for as long as she is Prime Minister—that is probably now measured in hours rather than days—because her successor can tear them up. Even if the House were to vote for what has come to be known as “May’s Brexit mayhem”, we could end up with “Boris’s Brexit boorach”. Is it any surprise that the people of Scotland are not prepared to accept that and that tomorrow they will once again declare our determination that our nation remain in the EU? If her nation insists on leaving, it had better reconcile itself to leaving without us.
For those in Scotland who want us to leave the EU with a deal that is good for the whole United Kingdom, including Scotland, there is only one party to vote for, and that is the Conservatives, and for those in Scotland who want Scotland to remain part of what is, economically and in other ways, its most important union—the United Kingdom—there is only one party to vote for, and that is the Conservatives.
The Prime Minister states that those of us seeking a public vote should support her withdrawal agreement and make our case to Parliament on Second Reading, but we have already and repeatedly made our case in the Chamber for a public confirmatory vote. If the Prime Minister wishes to be bold with her new offer, she must allow the public a voice on her deal, which would be democratic. Does she agree?
I think I answered that question earlier. I refer the hon. Lady to that answer.
At the latest count, eight Ministers or Members of Parliament who sit beside or around the Prime Minister are jostling for her job. Most, if not all, appear to be enthusiastic endorsers of a kamikaze no deal. Given what she knows about no deal, can she understand why any of those candidates would want to advocate one?
The right hon. Gentleman can leave the issue of the determination of the leadership of the Conservative party to the Conservative party. The House has to decide whether it wants to leave the EU with or without a deal. The withdrawal agreement Bill is the vehicle that enables us to ensure we leave with a deal.
The Prime Minister has been very clear that she believes that her deal is what the public want, but she is also very clear that she is not supporting a second referendum or confirmatory vote. Does she see the inconsistency in that argument? What is she scared of?
It is very simple. As I say, if we get through Second Reading of the withdrawal agreement Bill, it will be possible for people who want a second referendum to put that case to the House and for the House to come to a decision on that matter. I have made changes to the offer I have put forward. I set those out today in my statement to the House. They reflect the discussions we have had across the House and address concerns raised by Members.
In her statement, the Prime Minister talked a lot about compromise. I agree that compromise is required. Since the referendum result in 2016, the Scottish Government have sought to compromise. Can she name one single part of the document “Scotland’s Place in Europe” that she agreed to compromise on?
We have had discussions with both the Scottish and Welsh Government about their concerns, particularly around trade across the EU, and our proposals reflect those concerns, together with our discussions with business across the whole UK. As I understand it, the position of the Scottish nationalists now is that they want to revoke article 50. That is not a compromise. It is a position that goes back on the result of the referendum.
MPs from around the House have suggested that the Prime Minister’s deal is not sustainable because she has announced her resignation and that it is not future-proofed. Does she agree that neither her deal nor any other deal can be future-proofed or sustainable unless entrenched by a public confirmatory vote? On that basis, if she wants to heal the wounds and make it sustainable, she should put that public confirmatory vote in the Bill itself.
No, I am afraid the hon. Gentleman is wrong. The concern people have about entrenching for the future is about the objectives for negotiating in the future stages. Those will not be determined by a people’s vote—by a second referendum—because, by definition, they will be part of a negotiation with the European Union in the future. Nobody can say at this stage absolutely what will come out of those negotiations; it will be part of a process.
I spent 24 years on the frontline of the NHS, and like the vast majority of clinicians, I am desperately worried about the impact of a no-deal Brexit—a WTO Brexit—on the NHS, social care, science and research, and public health. I really want to help the Prime Minister get her deal across the line if it is subject to a confirmatory vote, but I do not believe it has the consent of even the loudest voices among the Brexiteers, let alone of constituents across this nation. Will she please commit to ending all of this? Her deal would get across the line with the support of so many colleagues across this House if she would just agree to make sure that it was genuinely the will of the people?
If the hon. Lady wants to ensure that we do not leave without a deal, and she wants to press the case for a second referendum, the way to do that is to vote for Second Reading of the withdrawal agreement Bill. Then, during the progress of that Bill, we will be able to have that debate about a second referendum and, indeed, about other issues on which there is disagreement across this House, and come to a determination on them. That is the proper process to follow; it is the process that enables this House to take that decision.
The reality is that we are getting the same withdrawal agreement coming back that has already been rejected three times, with some additional legislation on things such as workers’ rights, which the Government could have brought forward over the last nine years. The political reality is that the Prime Minister’s deal is not going to pass in this House unless there is a guarantee of a second referendum. Why is she willing to risk her deal rather than reach a compromise?
What I want to see is this House voting to leave the European Union with a deal. I have compromised, and I have moved on the issues that have been raised as concerns by Members across this House. There are two elements of the deal with the European Union—the withdrawal agreement and the political declaration. We have made it clear that we will be seeking changes to the political declaration to reflect the package that I have put to the House today. It is important for the House to make decisions on this matter and to ensure that we can deliver on the result of the 2016 referendum, but to do that with a good deal.
May I strongly urge the Prime Minister to look across this House and to understand, as I am sure she does, that there is no majority for any version of Brexit compromise, or therefore for her Bill? That is causing so much harm to our businesses, our communities and our democracy. The only way to avoid the threat of no deal and to get this Bill passed is to put a confirmatory vote back to the people for a democratic say.
The hon. Lady talks about the impact of the situation we are in on British business. Yes, uncertainty is never good for business, and business always wants to have the certainty of knowing the way forward, but what she proposes will not remove that uncertainty from British business—
I am sorry, but it will increase the period of uncertainty for the British people. Anything that extends the point of decision making actually increases that uncertainty for a further period of time. It will be for this House to decide. If the hon. Lady is certain of her arguments, she should not be worried about the House having the opportunity to hear those arguments and make a decision.
Given that the Prime Minister has indicated that she will publish a new workers’ rights Bill, will she confirm whether the publication of that Bill relies on the withdrawal agreement Bill being passed? It seems to me that the House could decide to pass the workers’ rights Bill and not the withdrawal agreement Bill. Will she also say how the workers’ rights Bill will work in practice? I am thinking specifically of rights for workers in the gig economy, where Europe seems to be offering better and stronger protections than those that our Government have proposed in relation to the Taylor report.
What will happen is that the withdrawal agreement Bill will be published and the draft workers’ rights Bill will be published, and we will see them progressing in tandem.
The Prime Minister has repeatedly talked about having a democratic mandate. However, the Information Commissioner’s Office found repeated data breaches in Cambridge Analytica’s work for Vote Leave, and Chris Wylie, the Cambridge Analytica whistleblower, said,
“if we allow cheating in our democratic process …what about next time? What about the time after that? This is a breach of the law. This is cheating…this is an irreversible change to the constitutional settlement of this country.”
Does the Prime Minister not really need a democratic mandate for this withdrawal agreement, considering how tampered with and damaged the campaign was in the last referendum?
The hon. Gentleman refers to issues in relation to the conduct of the last referendum. Of course, the Electoral Commission has acted on a number of the issues, but if we look across what happened, we see one of the most significant exercises in democracy in our history from people who came out to vote in the referendum. What the hon. Gentleman is saying is that we cannot actually trust the British people to exercise their vote according to their judgment and their instincts. I believe that is what the British people did, and we should listen to them.
Yesterday, in her prequel to this statement, the Prime Minister referred euphemistically to the “devolved lock” that would come forward as part of the withdrawal agreement Bill, but her comments did not stretch as far as whether legislative consent would be required from the devolved Administrations. Will she therefore confirm that she accepts that legislative consent will be required for the Bill, and that she will accept the mandate given to her by the Scottish Parliament as to whether it will grant legislative consent?
The hon. Gentleman is, I am sure, very clear about the legislative consent requirements that relate to the Scottish Government and the Welsh Government in relation to these matters. Of course, I am well aware that the Scottish Government have made it clear that they do not wish to give legislative consent to matters that are put forward in relation to this issue, but we will be discussing that with the Scottish Government when the time comes.
What is the purpose of bringing forward withdrawal agreement mark 4 if no attempt has been made to address the backstop, which continues to be a key obstacle to any way forward? I reiterate firmly but gently that we seek and need protection for Northern Ireland that is both legally binding and time-limited. What talks have there been, and what effort has been made, to address the backstop?
Obviously, the hon. Gentleman has raised this point with me on a number of occasions. As he knows, we have had a number of discussions with the European Union that have led to further commitments in relation to alternative arrangements, for example, and we will also enshrine those in UK domestic legislation. The key issue about the separation of Great Britain and Northern Ireland is one we have committed to dealing with. As I said in my statement, we will work with our confidence and supply partner, the DUP, to look at how that commitment can best be enshrined in law.