Considered in Committee (Order, 3 September)
[Sir Lindsay Hoyle in the Chair]
On a point of order, Sir Lindsay. We are about to debate in Committee, under your chairmanship, amendments that are not available to Members. I have just been to the Vote Office to try to find the amendments. [Interruption.] They have become available now, but they were not available five minutes ago. How can we possibly debate such an important issue without the amendments being released earlier?
The amendments have not yet been selected for voting. They were allowed to be tabled until 5 o’clock, so there had to be time for that. If you were to go now, they should be listed, but the amendments to be voted on have not been chosen yet. During the next two hours, I am sure that a man as competent as yourself will keep up with what changes may come.
I am confident of that.
Duties in connection with the withdrawal of the UK from the European Union
I beg to move amendment 19, in clause 1, page 1, line 3, leave out subsections (1) to (3) and insert—
‘(1A) After this Act has been passed, but no later than 21 October 2019, the Prime Minister of State must make arrangements for—
(a) motion to the effect that the House of Commons has approved an agreement with the European Union under Article 50(2) of the Treaty on European Union, to be moved in the House of Commons by a Minister of the Crown; and
(b) a motion for the House of Lords to take note of the agreement, to be moved in the House of Lords by a Minister of the Crown.
(1B) If the House of Commons decides to approve the motion in paragraph (a), subsection (4) must be complied with.’
The intention of this Amendment is to ensure that debate takes place after the European Council meeting on 17/18 October 2019 on either the existing withdrawal agreement or any new withdrawal agreement that may have been agreed.
With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:
Amendment 8, page 1, line 16, leave out subsection (2).
Amendment 9, page 2, line 8, leave out subsection (3) and insert—
‘(3) If the condition in subsection (1) is not satisfied, subsection (4) shall apply.’
Amendment 10, page 2, line 10, leave out subsection (4) and insert—
‘(4) The Prime Minister shall seek to discuss with the European Council a further short extension of the period under Article 50(3) of the Treaty on European Union ending at 11.00 pm on 31 October 2019 by sending to the President of the European Council a letter in the form set out in Schedule [Form of letter from the Prime Minister to the President of the European Council (No. 2)].’
Amendment 20, page 2, line 12, leave out from “2019” to end of line 17.
The intention of this Amendment is to ensure that if the House of Commons approves a withdrawal agreement, the Prime Minister must seek an extension of the period under Article 50(3) TEU.
Amendment 6, page 2, line 14, at end, insert
‘in order to debate and pass a Bill to implement the agreement between the United Kingdom and the European Union under Article 50(2) of the Treaty on European Union, including provisions reflecting the outcome of inter-party talks as announced by the Prime Minister on 21 May 2019, and in particular the need for the United Kingdom to secure changes to the political declaration to reflect the outcome of those inter-party talks.’
This amendment would set out as the purpose of seeking an extension under Article 50(3) TEU the passage of a Withdrawal Agreement Bill based on the outcome of the inter-party talks which concluded in May 2019 – see NC1 for contents of the Bill and Amendment XX for text of the request letter to the European Council.
Amendment 11, page 2, line 15, leave out subsection (5).
Clause stand part.
Clause 2 stand part.
Amendment 22, in clause 3, page 2, line 43, leave out subsections (1) to (3).
The intention of this Amendment is to remove the requirement to accept whatever extension is decided on by the European Council while preserving the flexibility in subsection (4) to agree an extension otherwise than under this Act.
Amendment 25, page 3, line 3, leave out subsection (2).
Amendment 23, page 3, line 19, leave out “section” and insert “Act”.
The Amendment is consequential on Amendment 22 leaving out subsections 3(1) to 3(3).
Clauses 3 and 4 stand part.
Amendment 15, in clause 5, page 3, line 31, leave out subsection (3).
Amendment 16, page 3, line 35, leave out subsection (5) and insert—
‘(5) This section comes into force on the day on which this Act is passed.
(5A) The remaining provisions of this Act come into force on such day or days as the Secretary of State may by regulations made by statutory instrument appoint.
(5B) No regulations may be made under subsection (5A) unless a draft of the statutory instrument containing them has been laid before Parliament and approved by a resolution of each House of Parliament.’
Amendment 17, page 3, line 35, leave out from “force” to end and insert “on 22 October 2019.”
Clause 5 stand part.
New clause 1—Publication of Withdrawal Agreement Bill—
‘(1) The Prime Minister must within the period of five days, not including any Saturday, Sunday or bank holiday, beginning with the day on which this Act is passed publish a copy of a draft Bill to implement the Withdrawal Agreement between the United Kingdom and the European Union under Article 50(2) of the Treaty on European Union.
(2) The draft Bill must include provisions reflecting the outcome of inter-party talks as announced by the Prime Minister on 21 May 2019, and in particular—
(a) provision for the Government to seek to conclude alternative arrangements to replace the backstop by December 2020;
(b) a commitment that, should the backstop come into force, the Government will ensure that Great Britain will stay aligned with Northern Ireland and to incorporate in United Kingdom law paragraph 50 of the 2017 joint report from the negotiators of the European Union and the United Kingdom Government on progress during phase 1 of negotiations under Article 50 TEU on the United Kingdom’s orderly withdrawal from the European Union (TF50 (2017) 19);
(c) provision for the negotiating objectives and final treaties for the United Kingdom’s future relationship with the European Union to be approved by the House of Commons;
(d) legislation on workers’ rights to guarantee workers’ rights in the future in the United Kingdom will be no less favourable than comparable workers’ rights in the European Union;
(e) provisions ensuring that there will be no change in the level of environmental protection applicable in the United Kingdom after the United Kingdom leaves the European Union, and to establish an independent office of environmental protection, able to uphold standards and enforce compliance;
(f) a requirement for the United Kingdom to seek as close to frictionless trade in goods with the European Union as possible, while outside the single market and ending free movement;
(g) a requirement for the United Kingdom to keep up to date with European Union rules for goods and agri-food products that are relevant to checks at the border in order to protect employment that depends on just-in-time supply chains;
(h) a customs compromise for the House of Commons to decide upon;
(i) an opportunity for a decision to be made by the House of Commons whether the implementation of the withdrawal agreement should be subject to a referendum; and
(j) a duty for Ministers of the Crown to secure changes to the political declaration to reflect the provisions in this subsection.’
This New Clause would require the publication of a Withdrawal Agreement Bill incorporating the ten headline points from the inter-party talks which concluded in May 2019.
Amendment 7, schedule, page 4, line 10, at end insert
‘I wish to make clear to European Council colleagues that the purpose of this proposed extension is for the UK Parliament to debate and pass a Bill to implement the agreement between the United Kingdom and the European Union under Article 50(2) of the Treaty on European Union, including provisions reflecting the outcome of inter-party talks as announced by the Prime Minister on 21 May 2019, and in particular the need for the United Kingdom to secure changes to the political declaration to reflect the outcome of those inter-party talks.’
This amendment would require the Prime Minister to set out in the letter to the President of the European Council seeking an extension under Article 50(3) TEU that the reason for seeking an extension is to pass a Withdrawal Agreement Bill based on the outcome of the inter-party talks which concluded in May 2019 — see NC1 for contents of the Bill.
That the schedule be the schedule to the Bill.
New schedule 2—Form of letter from the Prime Minister to the President of the European Council—
‘Dear Mr President
The UK Parliament has passed the European Union (Withdrawal) (No. 2) Act 2019. Its provisions now require Her Majesty’s Government to seek to discuss an extension of the period provided under Article 50(3) of the Treaty on European Union, including as applied by Article 106a of the Euratom Treaty, currently due to expire at 11.00pm GMT on 31 October 2019.
I am writing therefore to inform the European Council that the United Kingdom wishes to discuss a further short extension to the period provided under Article 50(3) of the Treaty on European Union, including as applied by Article 106a of the Euratom Treaty.
Prime Minister of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.’
I rise to seek colleagues’ patience in proposing something that I believe is a compromise that many Members in this House have long sought and many people have expressed support for. The compromise goes like this. There are many of us on both sides of this House who do not want no deal and yet, as has been pointed out by many Members, including the right hon. Member for Don Valley (Caroline Flint), many colleagues have not supported a deal. My simple amendment to the Bill would require the Government to have a vote on Monday 21 October—the first sitting day after the EU Council—on a deal, whether it be a new deal or the previous deal. Should that vote be successful and approved by Members of this House, the Government would be required, if they needed more time, to ask for an extension from the European Union, purely in order to get the legislation through Parliament.
Whereas other amendments that will be debated today require the Government to ask for an extension and then set about trying to find the deal, mine does the opposite. It gives us all the chance to vote for either the existing deal previously negotiated by the last Government or whatever new deal is successfully negotiated by the new Government. That means that everyone in this House who wishes to prevent no deal would have the chance to do so by voting for that deal. I hope that many colleagues around this House who have been able to prevent making a decision between a deal and no deal would realise that that was the last chance to do that—merely a week before no deal became the default on 31 October.
I know there are some colleagues for whom the business of asking for an extension is part of the circuit of trying to prevent Brexit from happening at all, and I understand that. However, I believe there may be a majority in this House who have accepted the will of the people in the referendum, and who have said and told their constituents that they respect the referendum result, and a lot of us were elected on a manifesto pledge to do so. This would be the moment when we could put that to the test and vote for a deal.
The hon. Gentleman’s amendment mentions our having a motion of the House. The last time we had a withdrawal agreement motion, we had five days of debate. Is there sufficient time to have five days of debate before 31 October, if we pass his amendment?
The short answer to that is almost certainly no. However, we have had not just five days of debate, but weeks and months and years of debate on these issues. The previous deal, which I regarded as a good deal, was debated ad infinitum in this House. I do not believe that we would need five more days of debate to be able to reach a decision about whether we wanted a deal or no deal.
The hon. Gentleman says that he regarded that deal as a good deal. However, a very large number of Members in this House do not regard it as a good deal. His amendment, proposed in the way it is, seems to suggest that this is a binary choice. It is not a binary choice. We want a deal that actually satisfies the reasons why we think we need to get the best out of a Brexit deal or remain, and this does not enable us to do that.
I understand the hon. Gentleman’s point of view. There are 650 Members of this House, all of whom, if we designed the perfect deal ourselves individually, would have differences from each other. However, we are at the stage where I believe the vast majority of people in this country want this issue resolved. Therefore, if we are to decide whether we want to accept a default position of no deal because we cannot reach agreement on a deal, this would be the moment for all of us to ask ourselves what we really want: do we really want a deal at all, or are we prepared to go straight to a no deal?
My amendment does not call for the Government to have a vote on no deal. It accepts that, if the vote for a deal were lost, this Parliament would have had myriad opportunities to support a deal and would, in that situation, have failed. I believe this amendment is fair to almost every point of view in this House. It gives us all one last chance to vote for a deal if we do not want no deal.
The hon. Gentleman’s amendment is of course predicated on the Prime Minister actually negotiating a new deal. What evidence does he have, because I cannot see any, of there even being a negotiating team in place, as the 30 days evaporate like snow off a dyke? Can he show us that there is any evidence of a new deal coming back from this Prime Minister?
In fact, the hon. Gentleman misreads part of the point of my amendment, which is not to prejudge whether or not the Prime Minister and this Government come back with a deal. I believe the Government are genuinely trying to get a deal, but it is perfectly possible either that they do not succeed, or—this would be the hon. Gentleman’s view—that they are not really trying that hard. In either of those events, my amendment would allow this House to vote on the deal that was put before this House previously. It would give everybody one more chance—the hon. Gentleman’s party says it is against no deal—a chance to vote for a deal. If, in that situation, the House were to say, “We don’t like this deal: it’s not good enough for us”, there could be no hiding from anyone in this country about why we had gone for no deal. It would be because this House failed the final opportunity to prevent that. I believe, in that situation, this is fair to everyone.
Surely, the withdrawal agreement was rejected on the three times that it came to the House, and the backstop was a clear issue on each of those three times. If that continues to be the case, would the hon. Gentleman still insist on pushing for a withdrawal agreement that insists on the backstop? Clearly, for us, the backstop has to be removed, and that is the opinion of the Prime Minister, and, I understand, this Government.
My amendment suggests that there are three options for this House to vote for on Monday 21 October. The first is the withdrawal agreement as it was presented to the House previously. The second is the withdrawal agreement plus the cross-party agreement that was reached, but was never voted on in this House. The third is any new deal arrived at by the Government. In that situation, Members would have the chance to vote for a deal and prevent no deal, which many of us feel could have dire consequences.
My hon. Friend is coming up with such sensible provisions. Does he agree that this would smoke out those who claim to want to avoid no deal but, truth be told, vote against every route to avoid it? This would smoke them out. If they vote for this, they will truly be avoiding no deal.
My constituency neighbour is absolutely right, but my aim is not so much to smoke out—to use his phrase—the motives and underlying thoughts of colleagues across this House, but to give all of us the opportunity to say, ultimately, what we really prefer: is it a deal or is it no deal? In that sense, he is absolutely right.
I thank my hon. Friend for the thoughtful way in which he is setting out his case. He and I both just voted against the principle of this Bill on Second Reading, largely because we want the Prime Minister to have the strongest possible hand in his negotiations with the European Union. I shall listen carefully to the Minister’s response, but does my hon. Friend think that by agreeing this amendment tonight the House would in any way weaken the Prime Minister’s negotiating hand?
My hon. Friend makes a very good point. One reason I drafted this very short amendment in the way that I did, with the help of the Clerks, was precisely not to take away the pads or gloves of the Government’s batsmen when they go into negotiations with the European Union, because this way would not predetermine the result of their negotiations at all. It would allow them to seek the deal that I believe—contrary to what some colleagues from the Scottish National party are saying—they are sincere about. If they were unsuccessful, it would still give the rest of us a chance to have a vote on a deal before no deal became the default option, so she is absolutely correct. This is not designed to weaken the Government’s stance in any way, but rather to allow their sincerity to give us the chance to express our view.
I thank my hon. Friend for his brilliant contribution in bringing forward this amendment. I voted for the withdrawal agreement. I was proud to do so, because the only way to stop no deal is to vote for a deal. I hope and expect that our new Prime Minister will get an even better deal than the last one, but my hon. Friend’s amendment really would preserve the freedom of action of this House and give us a lifeboat if things went wrong. I will support it in the strongest possible terms.
I am very grateful to my hon. Friend. That is the key point: when constituents ask us, “Will this House have the final say before we go to a no-deal exit from the European Union?”, my answer is that I believe we should have a chance to vote once more, and this amendment would provide that.
Given what the hon. Gentleman is trying to do and what he is saying, some of us are concerned that the Prime Minister is talking of a cut-and-run general election before the calamity befalls him on Halloween. The hon. Gentleman, I take it, would never under any circumstances support a cut-and-run general election before the Halloween calamity of the Prime Minister’s Brexit.
It is a perfectly valid point that this short amendment does not allow for every conceivable possibility that might exist out there. It does not—unlike this Bill, tabled by the right hon. Member for Leeds Central (Hilary Benn)—sketch out the precise wording of the letter that the Prime Minister should write to the European Union, for example. The Prime Minister said that Parliament would be prorogued until 14 October, after which the European Council meets. Monday 21 October is the first sitting day after that Council. It is to me—I may be naïve—inconceivable that the Government would not be here that day and would not allow that debate if Parliament had passed this amendment. I am, to some extent, taking on faith what I, and we, have been told about this Government’s plans, but I believe that that is a reasonable position to take.
On a point of order, Mr Hoyle. Before the next speaker, in these days of Twitter I would just like to correct the amendment paper. Some people might be surprised to find my name leading amendments with the hon. Members for Christchurch (Sir Christopher Chope) and for Wellingborough (Mr Bone), the right hon. Member for Gainsborough (Sir Edward Leigh), the hon. Member for Amber Valley (Nigel Mills) and the right hon. Member for New Forest West (Sir Desmond Swayne), although probably not as surprised as those right hon. and hon. Members. [Laughter.] I would just like everybody to know that this is a drafting error. It can happen from time to time and I am not bothered in any sense, but I just wanted to make that clear.
That is a great point of correction. I think the hon. Gentleman would be very dizzy if he went that far south.
I rise to speak in favour of amendments 6 and 7 and new clause 1, which have been tabled in my name and those of my right hon. Friend the Member for Don Valley (Caroline Flint) and many other Members across the Committee. Before I do, however, I want to briefly say that I will be voting for the Bill this evening. That is because I have always been clear that the worst possible Brexit outcome would be a catastrophic no-deal crash-out that severely damages the security and economy of our country and our communities. This is why an extension of any kind is far superior to crashing out on 31 October.
I and other colleagues from across the Committee are, however, deeply concerned that it is nearly three years since MPs voted to trigger article 50 to leave the EU and our nation is still stuck in limbo. We believe that if the UK does not specify the purpose of the extension, we will end up in exactly the same position on 4 January as we are in today on 4 September. The public are getting increasingly tired of this and, like Parliament, increasingly polarised. Finding compromise, or indeed any route forward, will only become more difficult as time goes on. A further extension to the timetable to leave the EU without a very good, clearly defined purpose will leave most of the country banging their heads against a brick wall. The public are fed up of talking and hearing about Brexit. Most people, regardless of what some campaigners may like to tell themselves, would like to see the referendum result honoured. Therefore, amendments 6 and 7, together with new clause 1, aim to set a purpose for the extension request until 31 January. The explicit purpose, we state, should be to pass a Brexit Bill, and, more specifically, to pass something similar to the withdrawal agreement Bill that was drafted in May 2019 as a result of cross-party talks.
I have worked with the hon. Gentleman on a couple of issues over the past few years and I think he does want to make good on the referendum. The problem with his extension, of course, is that we have repeatedly heard from Members saying that they want to respect the will of the referendum, but every time we come to a vote on the matter there is always a reason why they cannot quite bring themselves to trot into the Lobby and vote for the withdrawal agreement. We have had three occasions on which we could have voted for the withdrawal agreement, and four other occasions on which to express an opinion in favour of Norway, the European Free Trade Association or the European economic area. Every single time, the same MPs trot up and say they support the referendum result but when it comes to the vote they vote to block Brexit, so what is going to be different this time?
I gently say to the hon. Gentleman that the meaningful votes that took place are a very different kettle of fish from what was produced by the cross-party talks. As I will say later in my speech, the cross-party talks contained a number of extremely important compromises and concessions from Labour Members. It is therefore a travesty that this Parliament never had the opportunity to debate or vote on the withdrawal agreement Bill. It is a different kettle of fish from what went before. For those with short memories, the withdrawal agreement Bill was very different from the former Prime Minister’s initial so-called “blind Brexit”—which was rejected three times by this House—because it contained 10 major concessions that gave far more clarity on the UK-EU relationship. We were not prepared to give carte blanche to the Government.
The cross-party talks gave the detail that we need. That was a direct result of the hard work of Opposition and Government Front Benchers and negotiating teams over the course of six weeks of serious talks. The concessions included a customs union compromise, with a binding vote on post-Brexit customs arrangements; a workers’ rights Bill that would guarantee that employment rights in the UK would not lag behind those of the EU; a pledge that the UK would see no change in the level of environmental protection after Brexit; a promise to seek as close to frictionless trade in goods with the EU as possible while being outside the single market and ending free movement; a commitment to having parliamentary time to allow for a vote at Committee stage on whether the deal should be put to a second referendum; an assurance to MPs that they must have the final say on the future UK’s relationship with the EU; and a promise that Northern Ireland would stay aligned with the rest of the UK on regulations and customs, even if the backstop were to come into force.
I appreciate the spirit in which the hon. Gentleman is approaching this debate and his amendments. Will he clarify whether the 10 changes that he outlines would involve changing anything in the 585-page withdrawal agreement?
The 585-page withdrawal agreement would remain intact, because those are the separation issues. All these issues relate to the future relationship, which the EU has made clear it is open to amending. The future relationship is, of course, a political declaration. The reasons why Labour Members were opposed to previous deals were that there was so little detail on the future relationship, and frankly, that we had said repeatedly that the Government should, rather going to the wrong extreme in this debate, reach out to Labour Members. Finally, the former Prime Minister agreed to do that. We had the cross-party talks, and it is a travesty that this House never had the opportunity to debate and vote on those issues.
As someone who feels very strongly that the polarisation in this debate has been immensely damaging for our country and that there are not enough people finding ways of bringing our country back together again, may I ask the hon. Gentleman whether he shares my view that this is a route to achieving a compromise—an art that appears to have been lost in this place at present—and perhaps a way for someone such as me, who believes in a relationship that is akin to what Norway has, to find a way forward and achieve a compromise that not only meets the obligation of implementing the referendum outcome, but recognises the views of many people about the need to maintain a very close relationship with the EU?
I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his intervention and for adding his name to our amendment. I agree with every word that he said. Let us not forget that a Parliament that is captured by its extremes is one that plays directly into the hands of the no-dealers, because the legal default position is that if there is no alternative, we leave without a deal. The failure to compromise has played directly into the hands of the no-dealers, who are a small minority in this House. The tail has been wagging the dog for too long. It is time for it to stop. The Committee stage of a withdrawal agreement Bill would provide ample opportunity for amendments such as a common market 2.0 type of arrangement, but that has to be debated in this House in Committee. Let us first get it over the line on Second Reading.
The hon. Gentleman is proposing a compromise, which I appreciate—it is time that Members started to vote for things, rather than just against things—and he says he wants greater detail. I served under my right hon. Friend the Member for Aylesbury (Mr Lidington) in the Cabinet Office, and as we know there was no cross-party Front-Bench agreement on these measures. Even if we were to go forward with this compromise, he would not have his Front Benchers behind him, so how can we get behind it?
I was not party to the decision taken not to support the withdrawal agreement Bill, which included the 10 concessions our negotiating team did such a great job in securing, and I regret it. It is a tragedy that the House has never had the opportunity to debate or vote on the withdrawal agreement Bill. I truly hope that hon. Members on both sides of the House will tonight join me and other colleagues in the Division Lobby to make it clear that it is time to vote for something, not just against things.
As the hon. Gentleman knows from the Second Reading debate, I have a good deal of sympathy with the approach he is setting out. I appreciate, too, that he is recommending to the House that we pass amendments 6 and 7 as well as new clause 1. If I were minded to support new clause 1 but not amendments 6 and 7, would I effectively be presenting an option that everyone in the House could choose to adopt, in preference to no deal and no Brexit, and that the Government could bring forward so that there was an option for us all to pursue, but then if the Government were to themselves negotiate a separate deal, nothing in new clause 1 would prevent them from proposing that option?
I can confirm that we are saying in the amendments that the vote should reflect the outcome of the cross-party talks, but clearly this is not about setting that in stone. The current Prime Minister is welcome—good luck to him—to go to Brussels and try to get a deal. I am sure that hon. Members will forgive me if I am sceptical about whether serious attempts are being made to do that, but if he is able to secure changes that he feels he can bring back, clearly they would still have to be based on that 585-page document, which is the basic building block for a deal. It will not be torn up by the EU.
As the hon. Gentleman says, the House has never voted on the proposal that so nearly came forward. I think I would have supported it had it got that far. Does he agree that had the whole House realised then what form subsequent events would take to lead us to today and what would happen to public opinion in the ever increasingly wild debate that followed—if the vote could have been taken with that foresight—it would have been carried by a large majority in this House, that the withdrawal deal, as amended, would now be in place, and that we would now be able to have civilised and sensible debates about the long-term arrangements to be agreed during the transition period?
I thank the Father of the House. Like many Members, I wish that crystal balls had been handed out when we first came to this place. Unfortunately, that was not the case. It goes back to what he said earlier—Parliament and the debate have been captured by the extremes, and we have to move on from that. We have to break the deadlock and find a sustainable way of preventing no deal, and the way to do that is to leave with a deal.
My hon. Friend and his colleagues have put forward a very interesting amendment indeed. Could he clarify what discussions he has had with the Opposition Front Benchers about the amendments and what response he has had from them?
I recognise my hon. Friend’s point, but at present I have not had a conversation with our Front Benchers on this topic.
My party’s Brexit spokesperson, my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Holborn and St Pancras (Keir Starmer), made it clear in an interview on last weekend’s Marr show that Labour only withdrew from the talks due to the inability of the former Prime Minister to deliver her own party. He stated:
“We took a judgement call that some of the proposals that the Prime Minister put forward she would not be able to get through her own party”.
I think this confirms that our side was ready to compromise on a deal if the Prime Minister could have delivered her own party. The good will was clearly there. Now all the focus should be on finding a way to put that deal back on the table, to study it, to debate it, to amend it, to vote on it, and ultimately to use it as the basic vehicle for sorting out the shambolic situation we find ourselves in.
I appreciate the tone of the hon. Gentleman’s remarks, and I agreed with his opening remark that we want this to be over with and to move on, but my worry is this. Does not his idea require guarantees and statements from the European Union? What would they be, and how could we secure them?
At the heart of our amendment, and of the withdrawal agreement Bill, is a document that has absolutely been signed off by the EU27. It is there; it is ready to go; it is off the shelf. The changes—the 10 concessions—relate to the political declaration on the future relationship. So the answer to the right hon. Gentleman’s question is that the European Union would, I think, bite our arms off if we were able to come forward and say, “This is the deal. It needs some tweaks, but, in essence, this is where we need to go.” That is why I think it is so vital for us to use the extension period for a purpose.
The hon. Gentleman is being very generous in giving way. I am sorry that there are so many questions, but it is interesting to note that when there is a sensible suggestion the House is genuinely interested in trying to establish some consensus, and in that spirit I ask a slightly cheeky question. Were one to have committed oneself to “do or die” by 31 October, is there any way in which we could get this consensus—this new idea—through the House before that date without relying on the extension?
As my right hon. Friend the Member for Don Valley (Caroline Flint) said on Second Reading, we are ready to work every hour of every day, 24/7. The 31 January date is named in the extension document, but if we can get this done before then, and indeed before 31 October, yes—and the huge advantage is that it is on the shelf and ready to go.
We would not have to accept the withdrawal agreement Bill as it stands in its entirety. We could add amendments in Committee; we could improve it, just as with any other legislation. Those who are campaigning for a second referendum can even try again to add a confirmatory vote in Committee, if that is the way they wish to go. As I said earlier, I myself would consider trying to introduce something nearer to a common market 2.0 approach. All those options would be open to us in Committee, but we have to get the Bill over the line on Second Reading. The reality is that whatever angle we are coming from in this deeply divided and fragmented House, the withdrawal agreement Bill is the only game in town if we want to make progress.
Our second substantive proposal calls on the Government to publish a copy of the draft Bill to implement the withdrawal agreement between the United Kingdom and the European Union within five working days. The draft Bill must include provisions reflecting the outcome of the inter-party talks. We know that that document exists, and we need to see it published so that we can give it the scrutiny that it requires.
For any Member who supports either a deal-based Brexit or even a second referendum, supporting our amendments is the most sensible and pragmatic approach, and the way forward. Let us get this done. Let us rediscover the lost art of compromise. Let us move our country forward, on to the issues that matter to people up and down the country.
I am sorry to interrupt the hon. Gentleman, because I suspect that he has reached his peroration, but may I ask him a simple question? Has he checked with his Front Benchers that they would support his amendment if he were to press it?
I understand that our position at the present time would be to abstain, but I am not 100% sure of that. I really hope that, having listened to the debate, colleagues throughout the House will consider supporting the amendment, because I think that given the amount of support that we are receiving from Members on both sides of the House, we have a real chance of getting this across the line.
Will my hon. Friend give way?
I will give way briefly, but then I must press on.
In new clause 1(2)(b), my hon. Friend talks of alignment with Northern Ireland. Is he saying that the whole United Kingdom—all four nations—would be in a single market until such time as the Europeans reached an agreement during the transition period?
That is correct. The commitment in the clarifications of the withdrawal agreement Bill makes it clear that that will be the case until such time as alternative arrangements are found. I will be absolutely frank: the backstop is at the heart of the withdrawal agreement Bill, but if Members really boil it down, how many in this House are actually opposed to it? I am a big fan of the backstop because I believe the backstop protects peace in Northern Ireland. The vast majority of Conservative MPs voted for the withdrawal agreement, which has the backstop at its heart. There are a maximum of 50, or 60 maybe, Members of Parliament who are opposed to the backstop, and as a result we are in the mess we are in now; it is the definition of the cliché “the tail wagging the dog”, and it has to stop.
Let us move forward. Let us get back to the issues that people really care about on the doorstep: education, health, housing and cutting crime. Do we remember when we used to discuss those issues in politics—the vital bread-and-butter issues that really matter to our communities?
This House has been paralysed by its extremes; it is time to break the deadlock, and I hope that colleagues will join us in the Division Lobby later in that spirit.
Order. To help the situation for Members, nothing has been selected for votes as yet, so let’s hope that people will be happy.
The question I raise in this series of amendments relates in particular, as I said in my brief speech just now, to the extent to which the United Kingdom is put under a duty—an obligation —to be subservient to the European Union. I find this Bill deeply offensive for that reason alone, and, as I said earlier, our whole parliamentary constitutional arrangement is based on the fact that we make decisions in general elections by the free will of the British people in a secret ballot. When those decisions are taken and the results come out in the respective constituencies and a majority or otherwise is arrived at to decide upon the composition of this House of Commons, that is a free Parliament based on a secret ballot and on the free choice of the British people.
I believe that we are heading for a general election, and I think that that will sort out a lot of the problems we are currently experiencing with this Bill and, indeed, in relation to the whole question of satisfying the decision taken by the British people in the referendum, and indeed by this House on frequent occasions with the referendum Act itself by six to one, the notification of withdrawal Act by 499 to 120, and then again the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018. Every single Conservative MP voted for that Act, which clearly stated that we would leave the European Union and repeal the European Communities Act 1972 on exit day, which is 31 October. That is categorically the law of the land, so the whole concept of our democracy, which is somehow or other being subverted by this Bill, is actually already in place; this has been decided and I see absolutely no justification whatsoever for seeking to reverse it. I also see no justification for reversing the votes that my hon. Friends have themselves already cast over and over again in favour of not only the referendum Act—it was also in the manifesto—but also the notification of withdrawal Act, and the withdrawal Act itself?
So I can see no justification for the majority in this House, because although this measure scraped through by 29 votes, we know where the votes came from. There is no doubt about it; they came from former Conservative Members of Parliament, and some who are unfortunately —I think by their own choice—in a position where they have had the Whip taken away from them.
I regret that; I saw it happen on a previous occasion with the Maastricht treaty, although it did not happen to me personally, but I can only say that if you live by the sword, you die by the sword.
My right hon. Friend nods his head, because that is true, and that is how it goes.
But is not the fundamental unacceptable point about this piece of draft legislation the way in which it allows the EU to dictate to the United Kingdom and the Prime Minister any terms it likes and leaves us no bargaining position whatsoever?
That is absolutely right, and that is why, in my short speech earlier, I said that this should be called not the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill but the European Union (Subservience) Bill. This is a subjugation, and we have experienced this. That is why I called on the previous Prime Minister to resign. We had a capitulation on 11 April; we had a flurry of points of order, then we had a statement that afternoon, at which point I asked her whether she would resign, because she had capitulated. This Bill is a mirror image of that, but in a way it is even worse, because it places a legal duty on the Prime Minister—enforceable by judicial review if it came to it—to carry out this act of political suicide. Members on the Opposition Benches really ought to reflect on the full extent and nature of the subservience, subjugation and vassalage that they are putting the United Kingdom in. It is a total and utter disgrace. It flies in the face not only of the referendum result itself but of section 1 of the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018, which specifically states:
“The European Communities Act 1972 is repealed on exit day.”
Exit day is prescribed as 31 October.
I want to add another point, which is about money. Does the self-indulgence of the people who voted for this bear in mind the fact that every single month that has gone by since the end of March, when we should have come out, is costing about £1.2 billion? Every time they go in for this self-flagellation and this unbelievable determination to extend the period of time—for no purpose whatsoever, because they will never come to an agreement—it is costing the British taxpayer, the people we represent. This is a denial of the democracy that they expressed in the referendum, which we in this House specifically gave to them to decide. We did not say, “Oh, we’re giving you this right under the European Union Referendum Act 2015 to make a decision on whether we stay or leave, but actually when it comes to it, if we don’t like the outcome, we are going to turn turtle on you and reverse that decision in Parliament.” Parliament, by a sovereign Act that is still on the statute book, gave the right to the British people undeniably and deliberately to make that decision of their own account, and not ourselves.
An astonishing illustration of what I am saying is to be found in clause 3(2) of the Bill, which states:
“If the European Council decides to agree an extension of the period in Article 50(3) of the Treaty on European Union ending at 11.00 pm on 31 October 2019, but to a date other than 11.00 pm on 31 January 2020, the Prime Minister must, within a period of two days beginning with the end of the day on which the European Council’s decision is made, or before the end of 30 October 2019, whichever is sooner, notify the President of the European Council that the United Kingdom agrees to the proposed extension.”
This is the enforceable duty. This is the insane provision that is being imposed on us in defiance of our constitutional arrangement that decisions are taken not by individual Members of Parliament in a private Member’s Bill but by the elected Government, in line with the referendum decision. So the Prime Minister would be under an obligation within a period of two days—beginning with the end of the day on which the Council’s decision is made, or before the end of 30 October 2019, whichever is sooner—to notify the President of the European Council that the United Kingdom agreed to the proposed extension. So, it is not just that we are going to be saddled with a decision on an extension to 31 January 2020 to the cost of something well over £3 billion, because if the Council agrees, we would then be under an obligation to accept whatever date it puts forward, being a date other than a period ending 11 pm on 31 January 2020. It is strange to say that I have not heard that point being explained by the proponents of this Bill. I heard the right hon. Member for Leeds Central (Hilary Benn) giving a description on Second Reading of what the Bill is about, but I did not hear him say what I have just said. I would like him to get up and deny it if what I have just read, which is in the text of the Bill, is wrong.
I did directly address that question in my speech on Second Reading, but the hon. Gentleman has not read clause 3(3), which explains the circumstances in which subsection (2), to which he has such objection, would not apply.
I do not think that that is really an excuse, because the reality is that this is the decision—[Interruption.] I will read out the subsection to which the right hon. Gentleman just referred. It states that
“subsection (2) does not apply if the House of Commons has decided not to pass a motion moved by a Minister of the Crown within a period of two calendar days beginning with the end of the day on which the European Council’s decision is made or before the end of 30 October 2019, whichever is sooner, in the following form—
‘That this House has approved the extension to the period in Article 50(3) of the Treaty on European Union which the European Council has decided.’”
However, the likelihood of that not happening is absurd. I really do think that this is just another example of the kind of obfuscation which this Bill provides in almost every clause. In fact, it is not just obfuscation, because it drives a coach and horses through the way in which we should be and have been governed.
A valuable point was raised earlier that also explains how this Bill is problematic, which is that clause 3 assumes that the EU would in some way make a conditional offer. However, the EU is in control of whether it makes any kind of offer—conditional or not—so the Bill hinges on the EU’s ability or desire to do that, which of course probably will not happen, and it is not meant to, anyway.
That is true. Indeed, we had all this back in April when, if one looks at the text of the decision and the manner in which it has taken, one can see that it was hedged with certain conditions. What is going on here is that this Bill is driving us to do something that is in complete contravention to the decision that has been taken already in section 1 of the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018, which itself implements the decision that was taken by the British people. This Bill undermines the referendum, it undermines the law of the land as expressed in section 1 of the 2018 Act, and the commencement order has already been made.
I pay tribute to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union for bringing in that commencement order, which makes things a done deal. We are now in a position whereby we have repealed the European Communities Act 1972, subject only to the fact that the law of the land says that that will have effect on 31 October. This Bill is a monstrous piece of legislation designed to turn inside out not only our constitutional arrangements, but the decision of the British people in the referendum and Government policy.
The Prime Minister established another important point in his leadership election result. He got two thirds of the parliamentary Conservative party to vote for him, and he got two thirds of the grassroots—the associations—to vote for him. If ever a Prime Minister had a mandate to make such decisions within the framework of the Conservative party, it is there, which is another reason why I take exception to the fact that this Bill is going through because a number of colleagues—I am sorry to have to say this, because it is a sad business—are flying in the face of the mandate that the Prime Minister got within the framework of the Conservative party.
There is no doubt whatsoever that, within the framework of our constitution—and I will conclude with these words—it is simply monstrous that we should be put in a position where a judicial duty is imposed on the Prime Minister to make a decision under the terms of this Bill. Frankly, I find it inconceivable that anyone could possibly vote for it.
It is a pleasure to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Stone (Sir William Cash) who, as always, is on the side of the optimists rather than the defeatists.
Listening to the hon. Member for Aberavon (Stephen Kinnock), with whom I have had the pleasure of serving on the Brexit Committee, I fear he is a pessimist in this. He thinks we need a compromise, but he does not talk about the need for the European Union to compromise. He talks only about the need for the United Kingdom to compromise, in the face of a clear commitment by the British people to leave the European Union.
I will speak briefly to the amendments in my name and in the name of my right hon. and hon. Friends. Three years ago, the people of the United Kingdom instructed us, with the largest democratic mandate in our history, to obtain a divorce from the European Union and, in March 2017, Parliament accepted that instruction by giving notice under article 50 of the EU treaty.
Article 50 makes provision for an amicable divorce or for a divorce without agreement. In a traditional divorce to dissolve a marriage, both parties accept the irretrievable breakdown and try to agree sensible future arrangements, but the EU has never accepted Brexit. The EU and its institutions do not want a divorce. If there was any doubt about that, it has been made clear to us on the Brexit Committee whenever we have visited the European institutions and their leaders that the EU is just hoping and praying that Brexit will go away and that we will remain in the European Union.
They do not want a divorce, so their motivation is to contest that divorce by putting forward unreasonable and unacceptable terms that offer us only a punishment deal. My right hon. Friend the Member for Maidenhead (Mrs May) anticipated that in her Lancaster House speech, in which she said she feared that that might be the approach of the European Union, that it would be intent on offering us a punishment deal.
That is exactly what the EU has done, and the only alternative to a punishment deal under article 50 is no deal. Unless amended, this Bill will remove even that option, which enables us to put pressure on the European Union to come to the negotiating table to talk about a better deal.
As my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House said yesterday, this is a dreadful deal that has already been rejected by the House on several occasions. With this Bill, are we really going to be left with the options of either no Brexit or Brexit in name only? That is essentially what we are talking about tonight.
The United Kingdom’s freedom to divorce under article 50 is constrained by this Bill by being made subject to an EU veto that enables the EU to block Brexit, effectively indefinitely, unless or until the UK reneges on the decision of a referendum. The Bill removes any incentive for the EU to negotiate, which is why the Prime Minister is right. If this Bill passes tonight, we will take away from him any opportunity to negotiate. All he could do is be a supplicant at the table of the European Union. In effect, this would be an example of modern international slavery, where we are imprisoned by the EU with no reasonable way out.
Sadly, the EU’s collaborators in this House have become more strident and less cautious as time has elapsed. My right hon. Friend the Member for West Dorset (Sir Oliver Letwin) has said, in public, in this House and in private, that his objection to no deal is only because of the lack of preparation—
I will not give way. My right hon. Friend has now dropped that pretence, telling us yesterday that this Bill will show whether or not the House of Commons accepts a policy of a no-deal exit. He is saying that if this Bill carries on into law, we will be telling the EU, “Not to worry, in no circumstances will we be leaving without a deal.” In other words, we will be throwing in the towel to the EU. Nothing in this Bill is related to the no-deal preparations or recognises that since the change of Government expenditure on no deal has increased dramatically and that we are now in a position where we will be prepared for no deal—we should have been better prepared for it in the first place.
If the remoaners had the guts, they would have brought forward a Bill to revoke article 50, which is what they want in their hearts and what the EU wants, but they know that that would be resoundingly defeated if it were presented to this House. What we have instead is the revocation of article 50 in all but name—a device to deceive the public. This is a squalid little Bill. It is an affront to Parliament, to democracy and to the people, because it enslaves the UK to the EU. It relegates us to the status of a colony. It treats the UK as though we had been vanquished in war, by giving the EU the power to dictate the terms of our surrender. I despair at the defeatism of so many of my colleagues, and I hope that we will fight back and win in a general election, for which I cannot wait.
On a point of order, Dame Eleanor. Is it in order for my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch (Sir Christopher Chope), for whom I have great respect, to compare what we are talking about now with slavery, which, around the world, is a most terrible thing and—
Order. I appreciate the point the hon. Gentleman is making, and indeed his dedication to fighting that particular evil, but that is a debating point, not a point of order, and we do not have time this afternoon.
I am going to be brief, as I know many others want to get in, Dame Eleanor. I wish to compare a couple of these amendments and say a few words as to why this Bill is a very bad one. First, let me say to the hon. Member for Aberavon (Stephen Kinnock), who is, sadly, no longer in his seat, that his is a genuine attempt to find a way forward. I have just been reading it, having just looked at it, and it is intriguing. He is specific in one of his amendments, saying that the purpose of the letter to extend would be to
“include provisions reflecting the outcome of inter-party talks as announced by the Prime Minister on 21 May 2019”.
As I say, this is a genuine attempt being made by those who really do think that this House stands in serious danger of being perceived by the public more and more as having taken the position that nothing will satisfy it and that the only thing that it wants at the end of it all is to defy the decision taken at the time of the referendum. That is very much the opinion growing out there, and I was intrigued when the hon. Gentleman made the point that we in this place are now being perceived as a Parliament opposed to the people, not a Parliament to represent them. The people voted to leave, whether we liked it or not, and now this Parliament seems set on a course to obfuscate and delay that, with a view to overturning it eventually.
There is no question in my mind about the hon. Gentleman’s legitimate observations—we get on very well and play football together, so I am slightly in favour of him anyway—but although he said the talks were good, the problem was that at no stage did his Front-Bench colleagues conduct them in a genuine sense. The truth was that they probably never intended to agree anything with my right hon. and hon. Friends who were in government at the time. I had a whispered exchange with the Father of the House, and he made the point that one reason for that was probably that they were under attack by the second-referendum crowd, who were absolutely opposed to any idea that the Opposition could strike any kind of agreement with the Government that would do away with the idea of a second referendum and therefore the opportunity to vote down the original referendum result. That lies at the heart of it. There is a deceit in all this. As I said earlier, I genuinely believe that the hon. Gentleman was genuine in his view, as were many of those aligned alongside him in that regard, but I do not believe that to have been true of the Labour party Front-Bench team—in fact, throughout all this they have played fast and loose.
When I come to the proposition with which the Bill is concerned, I come back to why I think it is a bad Bill. For all the talk about not wanting to have no deal and wanting to have a deal, although some of those who propose this measure voted for the previous Prime Minister’s deal, if every one of them really wanted any deal rather than no deal, they would have voted for that deal. Strangely, they found themselves voting against it at the time.
My right hon. Friend is making an absolutely valid point. There is a huge amount of virtue signalling in the House from people who do not want no deal but will not vote for a deal. The amendment I have tabled would enable everyone to state clearly, on the record for their constituents, whether they will allow us all the chance to vote for a deal rather than for no deal, on Monday 21 October. Does my right hon. Friend agree that that is a sensible way of being absolutely straightforward about the issue?
I was not going to come to my hon. Friend’s amendment, because there was a fair amount of debate, but I would link him and the hon. Member for Aberavon, in the sense that both are trying genuinely to find a way through. My hon. Friend and I are old friends, and he has made a genuine effort to propose that idea. My hon. Friend and the hon. Gentleman are similar in one regard, accept that the hon. Gentleman’s proposal goes back to the final discussions that were taking place.
My problem is that in truth I just do not think enough Opposition Members really want to ensure that we leave. The truth is that the idea has grown, particularly among those on the Labour party Front Bench but also in some of the other parties, that if we delay this long enough, at some point there will be a way and the cry for a second referendum will get stronger and stronger, and then they will go to that. As we hear from the Labour party Front Benchers, their view now is that they support a second referendum, having originally said that they did not, and they now also support voting remain in that referendum, which before they said they did not, because they said at the 2017 election that they would implement the original referendum decision.
Many Opposition Members wish to vote for a deal. In fact, I will vote for a deal when one comes back in front of the House. The issue now is to make sure that we have the opportunity to vote for a deal so that we can ensure that we do not crash out of the European Union, thereby damaging the economy for my constituents.
I encompassed the hon. Lady in my remarks about those lined up alongside the hon. Member for Aberavon with genuine intent, who want to do something about it.
All these issues are interesting, but the problem we face is that the position of those on the Labour party Front Bench has now completely shifted. It is clear to me that they do not want an agreement of almost any sort. Any obstacle will be placed in the way and a deal will never be achieved. They think that enough delay will produce a second referendum, and of course, they want to vote remain. This Bill is a vehicle to produce a route to a second referendum. That is what this is all about.
All I can say is that I did not want my colleagues to be taken out and to lose the party Whip—I have been a bit of a rebel in the past myself—but everybody knows what they do when the Government say there is a vote of confidence. The Government set a vote of confidence on this issue because it is at the very heart and soul of where the Government currently are, which is that they want to negotiate a deal. They want to get a deal, but they do not think we will ever get a deal if we are not able to say, “Ultimately, we will leave, whatever the case, so it is over to you to show some flexibility in the arrangements.”
I simply say that I will continue to vote against the agreement notwithstanding the fact that some of my colleagues will not. I have to say that this Bill is a route to delay and that delay in turn is a route to a second referendum and that second referendum, the Opposition hope, is a way to overturn the view and belief of the British people, which would be quite undemocratic.
I have some sympathy with amendment 19 moved by my hon. Friend the Member for Gloucester (Richard Graham), and some sympathy with new clause 1 and also amendment 6, but I cannot vote for them, particularly new clause 1 and amendment 19, because people outside have figured out what is really going on here. As I said in my intervention earlier, we are in this position of not having left the European Union because there are people in here who were elected on a mandate and who stood up and said that they intended to deliver the result, but who have never had any intention of delivering our exit from the European Union. They are scared of their electorates, yes, and they now scared of their “selectorates”, but they never had any intention of delivering on the result. What they have done is play for time, exactly as suggested a moment ago by my right hon. Friend the Member for Chingford and Woodford Green (Mr Duncan Smith). They now want to play for time again, because they want to get us to 2020. When we get to 2020, it suddenly becomes, “Well, that referendum was in 2016. It is quite hard to implement a mandate from 2016 in 2020, which is roughly the length of an average Parliament.” That is what is going on in here.
The people have figured it out. My constituents went to the polls in 2016 and voted to leave the European Union by a margin of 67% in the belief that the result would be implemented because both sides had told them that. They trotted along to the general election of 2017. Some 93% of them voted for two political parties, which said that they were going to implement the result. They have figured it out. They believe that there are people in here who never had any intention of delivering on the result. If we have another extension and something else comes back, there will be another reason why they cannot quite bring themselves to vote for it. The particular niche thing that they select, perhaps never having mentioned it before, will suddenly be the block on why they cannot quite get themselves across the line. I am sick of it. The people are sick of it. They have figured it out. The reason why we are in this position is that, when people talk about compromise, we have had this perverse alliance—
Will the hon. Gentleman give way?
We have had this perverse alliance—
Will the hon. Gentleman give way?
We have had this perverse alliance of people who never wanted us to leave the European Union—remainers—voting with the minority of people on the Conservative Benches who actively want us to have a no-deal Brexit. They have trotted through the Lobby together, while people like me who came into this House in 2010 are absolutely determined to get us out of the European Union. We have done exactly what was asked of us and what is being demanded of us now. We have compromised. We have looked at that withdrawal agreement and said, “You know what, it is not perfect, but I respect the promise that I made to my constituents.” I respect the minority of my constituents who also voted remain and therefore expect me to represent them as well, which is why I have compromised and voted for that deal on three occasions. I have voted for a Norway option and an European Free Trade Association option on four other occasions, and the same people who lecture us repeatedly about how we need to compromise to get us across the line are the very same people—not all of them, but many of them—who trotted through the Lobby to kill that deal on three occasions and to kill the indicative votes on those four occasions.
I have to ask this question: when did it become the case that people who campaigned for remain could tell people who voted leave what it is that they voted for? When did it become acceptable for them to say, “No, no, no! These leave voters, whom I do not fully understand because I was on the wrong side of the debate and on the wrong side of my constituents, did not vote for no deal.”
Last night, I received an email from a constituent called Kirsty. She posted this question to me. She said, “Why do these people who got the referendum result wrong, were on the wrong side, get to say why I voted?” She said, “I know why I voted leave and I am prepared to have a no deal.” She signed off as Kirsty, under 40, not a racist and quite well educated. All we have heard throughout is that if someone wants a no-deal outcome then obviously they are just a stupid, thick, racist northerner. People have seen this, and we are sick of it. I will not support any amendment that allows a further extension, because my constituents and I know what is going on here. Those colleagues are playing it long, playing for time and saying that they respect the result when they have no intention of doing so. They did not respect the result in March or April of this year, and they are not going to on 31 October. You can sure as damn tell it, Dame Eleanor, they ain’t going to on 31 January either.
I would like us to leave on 31 October, as agreed, with a free trade agreement, or with serious talks about a free trade agreement, so that new tariffs or barriers need not be imposed on our trade with the EU or its trade with us. I am quite sure that we have a chance of achieving that only if so-called no deal is left firmly on the table, and if the European Union knows that we will leave with no withdrawal agreement or free trade agreement if it does not agree to those talks or offer such an agreement. That is our only lever.
I came to this debate against the Bill, because I think it tries to take away our only or best negotiating lever. I have looked carefully at amendment 6, new clause 1 and amendment 19, and I have listened to the debate on them. I am quite sure that the hon. Member for Aberavon (Stephen Kinnock) and my hon. Friend the Member for Gloucester (Richard Graham) have very good intentions. I am sure that they are desperately trying to find compromise and a way forward at a time when the country is divided, as it was during the referendum campaign, and when this House remains extremely divided, or fragmented, into a series of different factions with different views on the best outcome.
Having listened to the debate, I share the view of my hon. Friends the Members for Brigg and Goole (Andrew Percy) and for Christchurch (Sir Christopher Chope). The amendments are on the side of thwarting the referendum result. They are designed to undermine Britain’s main negotiating card, which is our right to leave without having to make any more payments, accept any more laws or accept any instructions on our borders. The three things that the leave voters I met in large numbers during the referendum campaign wanted were to take control of our money, our borders and our laws. We have the right to do that on 31 October.
Take control of our laws!
Yes, take control of our laws. [Laughter.] That is what we are arguing about today. I am explaining the extreme irony that this Parliament, which claims to believe in democracy, is deliberately trying to thwart our democracy by denying the result of the democratic decision that was made by the people, and that we said was theirs to make; and that this Parliament is trying to overturn the promises that many candidates—on the Labour side, in particular—made in the general election of 2017, and that they seem to have forgotten now that they are Members of Parliament.
I noticed the laughter from the Scots Nats at what my right hon. Friend said. In view of the very good sense that he was speaking, I invite the House to consider this. Is it not the case that under the withdrawal agreement, during the transition period, decisions will be taken by the Council of Ministers to impose obligations and laws on the United Kingdom without our even being there, without any transcript, without any Hansard and almost invariably by consensus? Is not the whole thing a massive racket, the object of which is to put us in a state of subjugation—
Order. Sir William, thank you, but we are running out of time.
My hon. Friend makes an extremely important point, which goes to the heart of the crucial issue about our democracy that the hon. Member for Glasgow North (Patrick Grady) raised from a sedentary position. One of the features that many of us found most objectionable about the withdrawal agreement was precisely that for a long and unspecified transition period that could have stretched on for many months—it was not clear what would end it—we would be under any new law that the European Union wished to impose on us, with no vote, voice or ability to influence that law.
At the moment, as a full member, we have some influence. We have a vote, and sometimes we manage to water down or delay something, but in the transition period we would have none of those rights. Any of the existing massive panoply of European law could be amended or changed by decisions of the European Court of Justice, and that would be binding on the United Kingdom. This is completely unacceptable for a democratic country—that, when a majority of people in a democratic referendum voted to take back control of their laws, their Parliament then says, “No; far too difficult a job for us. We don’t want to participate in this process. We don’t want to take control of your laws. We want to delegate most of them, in many fields, to the European Union and have a foreign court developing our law for us in ways that we might find completely objectionable.” None of the amendments that I have just been mentioning, in the names of my hon. Friend the Member for Gloucester (Richard Graham), the hon. Member for Aberavon (Stephen Kinnock) and others, intending to find a compromise, tackles this fundamental obstacle to the withdrawal agreement and to the idea that we can somehow negotiate our way out of the European Union if it does not think we just intend to leave.
I am very grateful indeed to the right hon. Gentleman for taking an intervention. May I take him back to something that he said, because it is really very important? The right hon. Gentleman and many of his colleagues have claimed—in the referendum, subsequently and tonight—that they are going to take back control of the borders. May I just ask him how he intends to take back control of South Armagh, and would he like to come to Crossmaglen and explain why it is all right for us to go out without a deal?
Order. We are running out of time, and it would not be a proper debate if we did not hear from those on the Front Benches. I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman will understand that and bring his speech to a conclusion very quickly.
Well, of course, if we just leave, we take back control of our borders. We can then decide whether we wish to do anything about it. We may wish to leave in place exactly all the existing arrangements. I am not making any recommendations that would embarrass the hon. Lady or her friends in Northern Ireland. We are very sensitive about that border. Indeed, the British Government have made it very clear that they see no reason to impose new barriers or difficulties on our side of the Northern Ireland-Republic of Ireland border at all. I am sure that will be very welcome to all those in this House who are seriously worried about this issue. It makes one wonder why the backstop was ever invented or necessary. Why is it so difficult for the European Union just to strip it out given that the EU has a sincere promise—agreed, I think, by all parts of this House—that we do not wish to impose new barriers on that border in a way that could be an obstacle to good relations and the peace process?
I wonder whether my right hon. Friend has ever had the experience of having builders in and not having given them an end date. What happens? The building work goes on and on and on. Is it not time that we told the builders, “The end date is 31 October. You finish the job—no ifs, no buts, no compromise”?
We all know that it is great for emphasis to repeat things, but we are running out of time.
I will accept your guidance, Dame Eleanor.
In conclusion, these amendments do not fix the Bill. This Bill is extremely damaging to our democracy, undermines our negotiating position and would therefore achieve the opposite of what many of its proposers say they are trying to achieve.
One thing that this Bill has done today is to show the progress that can be made when Members of Parliament work together and overcome our political divides. Something that is also clear is that nobody seems to be arguing that leaving the European Union is a good idea.
I am not sure how to follow the last contributions, or how to talk about issues such as democracy when we have a Government who want to ignore laws that get passed by this place, who already ignore motions on crucial issues such as pensions fairness for the WASPI women and who want to stuff the unelected House of Lords full of pro-Brexit peers. The idea that that is somehow democratic and bringing back control defies belief.
Worst of all is the prospect of a no-deal Brexit for which there is no mandate—no one voted for it. In fact, the Prime Minister told us that it would be the easiest deal in the world and there would be no chance that this would ever happen.
Many Members on the Government Benches understand that, and I pay particular tribute to the right hon. Member for North East Bedfordshire (Alistair Burt), who made a fine contribution earlier today and who was a fine Minister, but for whom there is no space left in the Conservative party. But the hon. Member for Stone (Sir William Cash) told us everything we needed to know. When he talked of a mandate, he talked in terms of a Conservative party leadership election in which 0.1% of the population, if that, could vote. That is not a mandate; that is not democracy. Let me say to such Members—I have tried to say it gentle terms but I will do so in the strongest terms possible—that given the harm caused to everybody by the Government’s no deal, Brexit is bigger than the Conservative party, and bigger than every single party in this place. When Members think about this tonight, they would do well to remember that.
Members such as the hon. Member for Gloucester (Richard Graham), among others, have had good intentions in what they try to do, but this is a Government who have no idea what they are doing, and we must—must—take no deal off the table. I thank the Members who have backed our Bill tonight for their contributions. We will not be backing any amendments because we need to get this Bill through and take no deal off the table.
I thank everybody who has contributed to this debate, because it has been largely thoughtful and reasoned, both in Committee and on Second Reading. It has been the sort of debate that we could usefully have had more often over the past couple of years. I recognise that the amendments, particularly those tabled by the hon. Member for Gloucester (Richard Graham) and my hon. Friend the Member for Aberavon (Stephen Kinnock), are put forward with good intentions and to seek to assist the process. However, our view on all the amendments is determined by the objective of the Bill itself, as was made clear by my right hon. Friend the Member for Leeds Central (Hilary Benn) on Second Reading.
The Bill has one clear purpose, which is to prevent a disastrous no-deal Brexit on 31 October. An extraordinary coalition has been brought together over the past few weeks to put the Bill forward in the spirit of consensus. We know that no deal would be a disaster for jobs, for the NHS, for policing and for security. The Government’s own papers from Operation Yellowhammer made that clear.
In addition, there is real anxiety about the lives of EU citizens in the UK and those who are too often forgotten, UK citizens in the EU, being thrown into uncertainty and potential legal jeopardy. Of course, as many have pointed out, no deal would not be the end of Brexit, quite the opposite: it would be the beginning of years of long negotiation over our future relationship in which we would start from a significantly disadvantaged position.
When we make the arguments against no deal, we are speaking not only on behalf of the coalition in this House but for many beyond. The CBI has called no deal
“a tripwire into economic chaos”.
The TUC has said it would be “a disaster” for working people. This is our last chance to avoid no deal. The House has voted against it three times, but we need this legislation because the Prime Minister and his Government cannot be trusted to enact the will of the House without it. Parliament is sitting today only because of the amendments to the Northern Ireland (Executive Formation etc) Act 2019 tabled by the right hon. and learned Member for Beaconsfield (Mr Grieve). The Prime Minister made it clear that he saw this September sitting period as a nuisance, saying that the
“whole September session…is a rigmarole”.
The Prime Minister has told the House that he is pursuing a deal with the EU, but he has equally told the House that nothing has been proposed to it, and the EU has, in effect, confirmed that. We heard the devastating critique from the former Chancellor earlier today. European officials have told the press:
“There was literally nothing on the table, not even a sketch of what the solution could look like.”
The Prime Minister’s closest adviser has apparently called the talks “a sham”—he got that right, at least. The Government’s current working alternative to the backstop is simply taking the backstop out. Nothing new is being proposed. But if, by some miracle, there is some deal negotiated with the EU, then the Prime Minister can bring it back to the House for us to vote on; that is incorporated in the Bill. Let me turn to the amendments to the Bill.
Does my hon. Friend agree that there is no mandate in this place for no deal, just as there is no mandate for remain? In that spirit, will he and those on the shadow Front Bench support our compromise amendment, which looks to bring Members across the House forward to get a compromise deal and get the House and the country out of this crisis?
My hon. Friend pre-empts the point that I was about to make, as I was coming on to talk about the amendments. She is right to say that there is no mandate for no deal. All those who campaigned so vigorously for leaving the European Union in 2016 made it absolutely clear that they were doing so with the intention of securing a deal—a better deal, and a deal that would be available in months. The voters who cast their ballots back in 2016 were given the clear impression that that would involve a relationship described by the current deputy Prime Minister—if that is still the description that goes with his Cabinet Office post—as broadly similar to what we have at the moment. There is no mandate for no deal. Clearly, people voted to leave, but by a painfully—
Will my hon. Friend give way?
Like me, my hon. Friend stood on a manifesto that promised to respect the referendum and to implement the outcome of that referendum, yet it is absolutely clear that what those on the Labour Front Bench have done during this process is frustrate the entire exercise, create as much chaos as possible and prevent any prospect of a deal being implemented. If he wants people to believe that he is in favour of a deal, can he update the Committee on what work those on the Labour Front Bench are doing to put forward constructive proposals to uphold the mandate he was given at the last election, which was to find a way of leaving the EU?
I am happy to do that. We stood at the last election on a commitment to respect the result of the referendum but to rip up the negotiating mandate that the Tory Government had, which we felt failed the British people. I said from this Dispatch Box on 4 December 2018, when winding up the debate that the Prime Minister opened on the withdrawal deal, that if only she had seized the opportunity to be straight with the British people that they had voted to leave but by a painfully close margin and that the mandate was that we would no longer be members of the European Union but that we could retain a close relationship—in a customs union, aligned with the single market and part of the agencies and partnerships that we had built together—then we could have secured a deal. We entered into the cross-party talks in that spirit.
Will the hon. Gentleman give way?
I am conscious of the need to give the Secretary of State time to speak and the Chair’s beady eye, so I will not. I have taken a number of interventions. I will finish the point, which relates to the last intervention.
The point about the cross-party talks was that we entered into them in good spirit and with clear proposals. The Prime Minister refused to budge on her red lines, and those talks broke down. I listened carefully to the speech made by my hon. Friend the Member for Aberavon, and I listened carefully to him on the radio this morning. The difficulty with the amendment he has tabled is not his intention, but some of the practicalities of it, because he is proposing an amendment for something that does not really exist—a withdrawal agreement plus points to which the Government did not agree.
Will my hon. Friend give way?
Briefly, on that point.
I accept that we do not have an officially published withdrawal agreement Bill, but we do have a clear commitment from the Government based on the cross-party talks, which would be easily encapsulated in a Bill that was ready to be put forward to Parliament—I know, because the former Chief Whip showed it to me.
I think my hon. Friend is talking about the Theresa May Government, which is a very different proposition from the one we face at the moment. We were not at that stage of agreement. If there had been the basis for an agreement, we would have seized that opportunity in the talks. Although I have sympathy with what he says, and those proposals could be part of the discussions that we need to have in the extended period that we will secure when this Bill is passed, as will the proposals that other Members across the Committee have made, we need the space to have those discussions, and we can only achieve that space by voting for the Bill.
This Bill has successfully brought Members across the House together around a single, clearly focused objective. We are united behind the need to avoid a no-deal Brexit. We need to keep our focus very narrowly on that when we vote and ensure that we achieve that objective because we know—a clear majority know; a growing majority within this House know—that if we allow ourselves to stumble into a no-deal Brexit, it will be a disaster for the country.
The principle of this Bill in seeking an extension is wrong. The Government opposed it on Second Reading and we will oppose it on Third Reading. Indeed, it is so flawed that we have not bothered to table amendments to it; we oppose it in all forms.
This Bill cannot be improved because it goes against the democratic wish of the British people, the vote of 17.4 million of our citizens and the strong desire of many up and down this land who want certainty and clarity and who want Brexit done so that we can get on to the wider domestic agenda, as set out by the Chancellor in the spending review earlier today: 20,000 more police officers, with recruitment starting in Yorkshire tomorrow; a record increase of £6,000 on starting salaries for teachers; levelling up opportunity for those who warrant it; and supporting the economy through the tough decisions we took in 2010, which allows the record investment in our NHS, with 20 new hospital upgrades.
The hon. Member for Aberavon (Stephen Kinnock) spoke with sincerity and I do not question the spirit in which he brings new clause 1 to the Committee this evening, but he also spoke of compromise. As my hon. Friend the Member for Brigg and Goole (Andrew Percy) correctly identified, the reality is that the hon. Member for Aberavon voted against the deal all three times—all three times.
Not the deal in the amendments.
Now the hon. Gentleman says that he would vote for the deal as in the amendments. However, as he also said, the withdrawal agreement is unchanged. The vote on the third meaningful vote was not on the political declaration, which his new clause 1 speaks to. His vote in the third meaningful vote was against the withdrawal agreement alone; the extension was granted to 12 April and then 31 October. That would not have necessitated participation in the European parliamentary elections. I respect the spirit in which he brings new clause 1 to the Committee, but he seeks compromise on a withdrawal agreement text that he himself has voted against.
My right hon. Friend will have greater knowledge of this than many in the House, so will he confirm that the cross-party talks were not actually able to agree a compromise? Furthermore, the Government did go out of their way to make assurances on workers’ rights, environmental standards and domestic legislation that the Labour party demanded and subsequently rowed back on when it came to passing a vote, agreeing a deal and moving this country and this House forward.
I will come to the right hon. Lady in a moment, but I will just address my hon. Friend’s intervention. It is the case that the talks with the official Opposition were done in good faith on both sides. There were areas of genuine misunderstanding, such as about the appetite of the Government through the political declaration to participate, for example, in EU agencies. Perhaps at the start of the talks there was some genuine misunderstanding about that. However, as I set out at the start of those talks, if the purpose of those talks was to seek a second referendum, one only needed to look at the Kyle-Wilson amendment to see that the talks were not necessary. If we look at the way the talks collapsed, it was on the basis that the position of my shadow and opposite number—he is someone of great integrity, and I respect his position—is one of seeking a second referendum. If that was genuinely the crux of his concern, surely that was self-evident at the start of those talks, and it was not necessary for those talks to progress in order to tease out that point.
Of course, I have voted for a deal a number of times. I say, with the greatest respect, we have to move on from talking about who did what and when, and we have to look forward. Many of my colleagues regret not voting for a deal and they are dealing with that right now. From the Back Benches, we are trying—maybe those on both Front Benches could listen to this—to identify and agree that there is much in the withdrawal agreement Bill where there is consensus across the House. It is not the only deal, and our amendment asks Members to reflect and build on it, but, for goodness’ sake, we have to move on. There is an increasingly loud voice across the House wanting a consensus to move forward.
I agree with the right hon. Lady in substance and form. She is right about the requirement for us to move forward and not to look back. In fact, I made a similar point to the Irish Government about how we can move forward constructively, rather than look back at some of the talks to date. She is also right that there is much in the withdrawal agreement on which we can move forward.
That is reflected, if one looks at—[Interruption.]. I am trying to address the right hon. Lady’s point. There is much in the letter to President Tusk where the Prime Minister has narrowed down the issues in the withdrawal agreement. Many of my colleagues are concerned about lots of different aspects of the withdrawal agreement, whether on money, the European Court of Justice or geographical indicators, and the Prime Minister has narrowed those issues down. However, it is the case, as my hon. Friend the Member for Brigg and Goole reflected, that some of us have sought compromise and will continue to do so.
This is not really about the hon. Member for Aberavon (Stephen Kinnock) and the others, who genuinely, I think, do want to do something. The truth is, it is about the Labour party’s Front-Bench team, which is on a wrecking process. This is all about how to wreck the process of Brexit, have a second referendum—hopefully when everyone is so tired out that they will vote against it—and then overturn the referendum. If they have a genuine view, they should vote with us tonight to wreck this Bill.
My right hon. Friend is absolutely correct. The Prime Minister has been crystal clear in setting an objective of 31 October. In being clear and in turbocharging—through the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster—our preparation for a no-deal outcome we do not seek, we have seen movement, as I touched on in my remarks on Second Reading, from a starting point where not a word of the withdrawal agreement could be changed, to one in which creative and flexible solutions can be explored. Indeed, the Prime Minister’s Europe adviser is in Brussels today making progress on that, yet his work is dismissed by some, because of media reports, as not being of the substance that I know it to be.
Will the Secretary of State confirm that the possibility of us leaving without signing a withdrawal agreement is our main pressure point on the European Union and that without that there is no reason it should give ground?
My right hon. Friend is correct that the European Union, like the United Kingdom, wants a deal, and it is worth reminding the House why that is the case. While its position on money, citizen’s rights and the Northern Ireland border has been unified, the impact of a no-deal outcome is asymmetric across the EU, particularly on issues such as fishing and geographical indicators that are not protected. It is worth reminding the House that there are over 3,000 European geographical indicators, but just 88 UK GIs, so when we hear that the EU is fully prepared for no deal—that my counterpart, Michel Barnier, says it is fully ready for no deal—there is a difference between legislation or regulations it may want to put in place and the reality of operational readiness, which is much more varied between member states.
This Bill is about delay. It is about legislative purgatory. It is about disguising the true intent—not of all colleagues, because there are some who have voted for a deal three times—of many who voted against a deal not once, not twice, but three times, yet then say that they are against no deal, as well. This is a Bill that is designed to stop Brexit and comes at a cost of £1 billion a month—£1 billion that we want to see invested in our frontline in the way the Chancellor set out. This is a Bill that is flawed. I urge colleagues across the House to oppose it on Third Reading.
The Chair put forthwith the Question already proposed from the Chair (Order, 3 September), That the amendment be made.
4 September 2019
The House divided:
Question accordingly negatived.View Details
Amendment made: 6, in clause 1, page 2, line 14, at end, insert
“in order to debate and pass a Bill to implement the agreement between the United Kingdom and the European Union under Article 50(2) of the Treaty on European Union, including provisions reflecting the outcome of inter-party talks as announced by the Prime Minister on 21 May 2019, and in particular the need for the United Kingdom to secure changes to the political declaration to reflect the outcome of those inter-party talks.”—(Stephen Kinnock.)
This amendment would set out as the purpose of seeking an extension under Article 50(3) TEU the passage of a Withdrawal Agreement Bill based on the outcome of the inter-party talks which concluded in May 2019 – see NC1 for contents of the Bill and Amendment XX for text of the request letter to the European Council.
Clause 1, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.
Clauses 2 to 5 ordered to stand part of the Bill.
Schedule agreed to.
The Speaker resumed the Chair.
Bill, as amended, reported.
Question put forthwith (Order, 3 September), That the Bill be now read the Third time.
4 September 2019
The House divided:
Question accordingly agreed to.View Details
Bill read the Third time and passed.
On a point of order, Mr Speaker. The House has spoken this evening. I say to the Prime Minister that, if the other place passes the Bill, this House expects him to uphold the law and to fulfil the obligations that will be placed upon him by this Bill and prevent this country from leaving the European Union on 31 October without a deal.
May I thank the Clerks for their assistance, and the right hon. Member for West Dorset (Sir Oliver Letwin) and others for their great help? I also join my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Holborn and St Pancras (Keir Starmer) in most warmly applauding the bravery and the courage of many on the Government Benches who have stood by their convictions in the national interest.
On a point of order, Mr Speaker. Given that the House has now approved the Bill as amended, may I press the Government as rapidly as possible to publish the withdrawal agreement Bill, which really does require proper and robust discussion in this place?
The hon. Gentleman has made his own point in his own way, and it is on the record, and we are indebted to him.