I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.
I want to say at the start that every Member of this House, whatever view they hold on the fundamental political question before us, is trying, as they see best, to act in the national interest and in the interests of their constituents. The problem—the reason why we are here today—is, of course, that each of us has a slightly different view of what those best interests are.
I recognise that we have only a very short amount of time in which to debate this Bill. Let me respond on that point by quoting—I can do no better—the right hon. Member for West Dorset (Sir Oliver Letwin), who said:
“it can only be done at high speed, because there is no time left.—[Official Report, 3 April 2019; Vol. 657, c. 1065.]
Wherever we stand on this issue, we know there is very little time left, and following the decision on Prorogation, there is even less time than would have been available previously. Therefore, I hope that, recognising that we have strongly held views, we will treat each other with respect and consideration during this debate.
The purpose of the Bill is simple: to ensure that the United Kingdom does not leave the European Union on 31 October without an agreement. The Bill has wide cross-party support; may I say that it is a great pleasure to be just above the right hon. Member for North East Bedfordshire (Alistair Burt) on the list of names? The Bill is backed by Members who have very different views on how the matter of Brexit should be finally resolved, including Members who until very recently were senior members of the Cabinet. People could describe this as a somewhat unlikely alliance, but what unites us is a conviction that there is no mandate for no deal, and that the consequences for the economy and for our country would be highly damaging. Those supporting the Bill believe that no deal is not in the national interest.
I do not know where these sector deals are. My concern, and the reason for this Bill and the support I hope it will enjoy in the House today, is that the Prime Minister has made it absolutely clear that he is prepared to leave on 31 October without a deal. Those who I hope will support the Bill today do not wish that to happen.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that these debates have been going on for long periods and many of us have tried to learn lessons from them, and that in that process people have changed their mind or the order of importance they give to things in respect of preventing a no-deal Brexit? One of the amendments today seeks to give people another look at what we might call the “May plus” proposal. Some people turned that down at the time but feel that if they had had then the experience that they have now they might have voted differently. Given all the rush that there, necessarily, has been, has he had the chance to look at that amendment tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Aberavon (Stephen Kinnock), which now has quite a large amount of support? Can we have another look at that as an alternative to a hard Brexit?
I have not had a chance to read the final version, and it will be tabled with the Clerks during this Second Reading debate, but I am aware of the intention of the amendment and I completely understand what my hon. Friends are trying to achieve. We cannot continue to delay taking a decision, and I shall come back to that point later in my speech. I will, of course, also listen to the debate that follows in Committee. I would just say that the Bill is deliberately open as to the purpose of the extension; it provides a framework for reporting and debate. As I have just pointed out, it is supported by right hon. and hon. Members who have already voted for a deal and would vote for one again. It is important that we focus on the principal purpose, which is to prevent a no-deal Brexit, and keep the coalition that shares that view together. I will have more to say about that—
There may well be a general election at some point, but this legislation needs to be passed. It needs to go through the other place and receive Royal Assent, and it needs to be given effect. In other words, we must secure that extension to article 50, otherwise there is a risk that the election would result in our leaving without a deal, which, as it may turn out at 7 o’clock tonight, is not what the House of Commons wants. We should respect the view of the House of Commons.
I think I have just explained the reason, which has been made clear by my right hon. Friend the leader of the Labour party, my right hon. and learned Friend the shadow Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union, and others. We must deal with first things first, and preventing a no-deal Brexit is the central, most important question facing the country.
I think the right hon. Gentleman has answered my query. The reality is that an election at this stage, or even next week, would undermine the purpose of the legislation. We cannot support one.
I applaud the right hon. Gentleman’s call for respect on all sides; we need to calm down the whole debate. I voted for the deal twice; he voted against the deal three times, presumably because he thought it was not in the country’s best interests. How does he think this procedure to delay any agreement yet further is going to produce an offer from the EU that might actually tempt him into voting for something because it is in the better interests of the UK than what has gone before? How can that possibly come about through this procedure?
The reason why I voted against the deal three times was not really to do with the withdrawal agreement—the legally binding treaty; it was to do with the nature of the political declaration and the absolute lack of clarity about where the then Prime Minister wanted to take the country. That is my view and other Members have different views.
If Members will forgive me, I am not going to give way again at this point. I have been reasonably generous and I am conscious of the time.
It is important that we acknowledge the evidence before us about the consequences of no deal, because that evidence is the fundamental reason behind the Bill. As we heard from my right hon. Friend the Member for Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford (Yvette Cooper) when she spoke to her Bill earlier this year, it was reported that the Cabinet Secretary and National Security Adviser, Sir Mark Sedwill, had told the previous Cabinet that no deal would make our country “less safe”. If the National Security Adviser says that to the Cabinet, we ought to pay attention.
We have all seen the Government’s own economic assessment, which makes it clear that no deal would cause the greatest loss to the economy. Make UK, the body that represents British manufacturing industry, has described no deal as
“an act of economic vandalism”.
Since we last debated the question of an extension, new information about the consequences of no deal has come to light. The Government themselves have now admitted that there would be damage to companies. They have said that they are prepared to compensate certain businesses and industries. This is the first time in my experience that a Government have advocated a policy that they know will do economic damage.
Let me finish this point.
Operation Yellowhammer, on which the report was published in The Sunday Times, talked about the potential for protests; significant delays for lorries at Dover and other ports—the Exiting the European Union Committee heard powerful evidence on that subject only this morning—a potential impact on medicines; a decrease in the supply of fresh foods and some price rises; an impact on petrol refineries; huge uncertainty for businesses; and serious damage to farmers. Given the progress that Northern Ireland has made in the past 20 years, in some ways most worrying of all was the expression of the view that the current open border between Northern Ireland and the Republic could be unsustainable because of economic, legal and biosecurity risks.
I am of course keen to support the Bill. My right hon. Friend made the point about security. Is he aware that the Home Affairs Committee repeatedly heard evidence from senior police officers and security officials about the devastating impact of a no-deal Brexit? We keep hearing all the time from the Government about bilateral security treaties, but they are not in place and we do not have agreements to keep our borders safe from terrorists, criminals, paedophiles and others who would exploit our national security.
May I clarify something? Members of the Labour party have commented in the media, and I think the right hon. Gentleman said earlier, that the Bill stops no deal. We should be clear that the Bill does not stop no deal; it prolongs the time until the date we leave. The likelihood is that, unless something changes dramatically, we will be at exactly this same point a few weeks before the new deadline. The only way to stop no deal is to revoke article 50. If that is really what Opposition Members want, they should be honest with the British public.
If someone says, “You can jump off a cliff, with all the damaging consequences, in a couple of weeks’ time, or we could put it off for three months—which would you like?”, the sensible course of action to take, given the damage that it would do to the country, is to put it off. I accept that ultimately we need to find a way forward. I have my own views, as have other Members, about how that should be done, but that is not the purpose of the Bill. It would, though, provide for a framework within which the Government could decide what they are going to do.
Three independent and highly respected bodies—the Health Foundation, the Nuffield Trust and the King’s Fund—have written an open letter to all MPs setting out in stark terms how there would be significant damage to health and care services from a no-deal Brexit and, more importantly, to the people who depend on them—the people we are supposed to be in the House to protect.
I agree with the hon. Lady. Other Members will have lots of other experience of the potential consequences. These are not risks that we should take with our economy, businesses, jobs, livelihoods and health. I hope these risks remind everyone in the House that, for all the focus on process, motions and procedure, this debate is about the impact that a no-deal Brexit would have on the lives of the people we represent.
I understand that there is a political imperative to “get this done” and to “move on”, but is not the point that the practical imperative is that no deal will not allow us to move on? It will resolve nothing and will lead to many of the implications that the right hon. Gentleman has talked about. If we have no withdrawal agreement on 31 October, we will have to seek a withdrawal agreement on 1 November.
With this Bill, the Chairman of the Select Committee is trying to prolong no damage until as far as 31 January. Make UK is absolutely correct that anything else but the current deal we have will damage the economy. We all have to get our heads around the fact that the best way to stop any damage at all is to revoke article 50. I have tabled an amendment to that end; it would include a helpful letter in the schedule. It needs one signature—that of the Prime Minister—and this nightmare will be over in that length of time.
I respectfully disagree with the hon. Gentleman, because just as no deal is unacceptable, so revocation—which is basically saying, “Let’s cancel the whole result of the referendum”—is not acceptable either. I have expressed previously in the House my view about how we should resolve this matter by going back to the people. Other Members have different views, but that is not the issue today.
If I may say so, I am particularly grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for the way in which he chairs the Select Committee and takes vital evidence. Is that not really the point, over and above the Bill? That is precisely the sort of work that should be done. Questions should be asked of Ministers. This place should be making sure that we are ready for no deal, yet we are being closed down next week when we should be sitting and asking questions. The right hon. Gentleman’s Committee, and others, should be able to do their valuable work.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that it is surprising that there appear to be Members in this House who know more about making cars than those who make cars, more about building planes than those who build planes and more about engineering than the engineers? The simple truth is that the overwhelming and unmistakeable voice of the world of work and industry, and of all the employers’ organisations and trade unions, is that a no-deal Brexit would have catastrophic consequences, with tens of thousands of workers losing their jobs, making our country poorer in every sense of the word for years to come.
My hon. Friend makes a powerful point. Those industries and sectors, whose representatives we have all met and whose evidence we have heard, are troubled that the message that comes from their expertise and knowledge—after all, they are the people who create the wealth of the country—is not being heard by a Government who say, “We are prepared to leave with no deal on 31 October.”
I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for giving way. This morning, I received a letter from North East England Chamber of Commerce, in which it says:
“Over the past three years we have been clear and consistent: preserving the trading conditions and relationship we currently enjoy with the EU ought to be the primary objective of any Brexit outcome. Sadly, the Government’s willingness to embrace No Deal as an acceptable end to the Brexit negotiations flies in the face of this.”
It goes on to say that it is a disastrous outcome for the north-east of England. Do these comments not go to prove that his Bill is an absolute necessity?
They absolutely do.
Having now, in a sense, concluded a discussion and reflection on the economic and other consequences of no deal, I want to turn to what the Bill actually does. It intends to stop this happening by seeking an extension to article 50 in certain very specific circumstances.
It is very important to understand that the Bill allows the Prime Minister the opportunity to reach a new agreement with the European Union at the European Council and to seek Parliament’s consent to any such agreement. That is condition No. 1. It also allows the Government to bring a motion to the House of Commons to seek our consent for leaving without a deal—for example, if discussions at the European Council prove unsuccessful. I think that the Government would find it rather difficult to get such a motion through the House of Commons, but the Bill allows them to seek to do that. Clause 1 specifically provides for both those eventualities, and if either of the conditions is met there can be no further extension. If, however, neither of those conditions has been met by 19 October, which was chosen very deliberately as it is the day after the conclusion of the European Council, the Prime Minister must ask the EU for a further extension until 31 January 2020 in the form of the letter set out in the schedule to the Bill.
Clause 3 deals with what happens next. If the European Council accedes to that request, the Prime Minister must agree to it. If, however, the Council proposes an extension to a different date, the Prime Minister must agree to that as well, unless the House of Commons decides not to pass a motion agreeing to it. That is what clause 3(3) does.
It has been wrongly claimed in some commentaries that the EU could propose an extension of any length—six months, 20 years, a millennium—and the Prime Minister would be required to accept it, but that is not so. In those circumstances, the House could decide. Furthermore, if a deal is reached after the Prime Minister has asked for an extension, that would override any extension, so it also allows him, if he can, to reach a deal after the European Council concludes on 18 October.
I will give way in a moment.
In other words, the Bill gives the Prime Minister the flexibility that he wants and needs to get a deal if he can. It does not render further negotiation pointless—if the Prime Minister were here I would say this forcefully to him—but what does is the Prime Minister’s apparent refusal to put any proposals to the EU if this Bill passes, which I can describe only as a very odd state of affairs.
Clause 3(2) is very clear that the period of two days begins with
“the end of the day on which the European Council’s decision is made.”
We were told very clearly during proceedings on the change of date, after the two previous occasions when the Government accepted an extension, that we were merely implementing a decision that was already made and binding in European Union law. The right hon. Gentleman’s proposal depends on the European Union making a conditional offer that comes into force only if it chooses to make it conditional on subsequent approval by the House of Commons. He has no way of binding the European Union’s procedures by domestic legislation.
If the Bill is passed, the House of Commons will pass it in the knowledge that it is seeking in the circumstances set out an extension to 31 January. If, however, the European Union proposes a different date, it seems to be only right and proper that the Prime Minister should be able to say, either, “Yes, that is fine by me,” or, “I will need to go back and check.” I agree with the hon Gentleman that, of course, we cannot bind the European Union in the way it seeks to work, but it is not at all unusual for member states to say, “Well, we will need to go back and check with our Parliament.” I am certain, given the importance of this issue, that the European Union would be able to find another procedure, which might not involve the European Council meeting again, to confirm the decision it made in making the offer in the first place.
The second point is that the two days is intended precisely to give the Prime Minister the chance to come back to the House in those circumstances.
I thank the right hon. Gentleman for giving way. My reading of this Bill is that it does not stop no deal—it postpones it potentially for three months—but it does make it virtually impossible for our Prime Minister to negotiate. Therefore, it is a political Bill, which, sadly, some on our Benches have supported. What it does is tell the European Union that, if it does not choose to negotiate and it does not choose to give us a better deal, it has the opportunity to offer us an extension of whatever it wants this House to take.
I have dealt with that last point—an extension of whatever length. There is a means by which the Government can ask the House not to approve that, and then the House would have to make a decision in the light of what had been offered by the European Union. I do not accept the hon. Lady’s central premise that this somehow undermines the Prime Minister’s negotiating ability.
No, that is not the case. In those circumstances, the House could decide to ask the Prime Minister to go back. The central point is that it gives the House of Commons the ability to express a view, but if the extension was to 31 January we would have already decided that we were prepared to accept that. Therefore, it is only if the Prime Minister does not get a deal that the Bill prevents him from taking us out of the EU without an agreement.
Article 50(3) of the treaty on European Union baldly states that we leave after two years
“unless the European Council, in agreement with the Member State concerned, unanimously decides to extend this period.”
There is no obligation on the European Union to decide to make a conditional offer—it can decide—yet the Bill requires the Prime Minister, in those circumstances, to accept the terms that are on offer, and that is it. The Bill hands the decision back to the European Union, rather than to this House.
I do not agree. Of course, we all recognise that with any of these provisions there is no guarantee that the European Union will grant a further request from the United Kingdom for another extension of article 50. It takes only one member state of the European Union to say, “No, I’m not giving the United Kingdom a further extension” for us to be in even greater difficulty than we are already.
The provision seeks to require the Prime Minister to ask for and agree to an extension, because that is what is required to prevent the current Prime Minister from taking us out of the EU on 31 October without a deal. We did not have to put those provisions in the earlier Bill introduced by my right hon. Friend the Member for Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford because the former Prime Minister readily accepted the decision of the House of Commons, but we are now in different circumstances.
Clause 2 covers what happens if an extension is proposed and agreed. Members have asked, quite rightly, what the extension is for. The immediate answer is, of course, to avoid a no-deal Brexit on 31 October, but clause 2 provides a framework under which the Government will publish a report to the House on 30 November—this comes back to the point that my right hon. Friend the Member for Birkenhead (Frank Field) raised with me earlier—and move a motion to the effect that the House has approved the report. That gives the Government a chance to say, “What are we going to do next?” It is also something that we can point to with the European Union. Members should remember that, last time, Mr Tusk said, “Use the time well,” and it is important that we in this House show that we are not just saying, “Right, we want a further extension, and then we are going to twiddle our thumbs for another three months.”
The Bill suggests a process. If the report is amended or rejected, there must be further reports from the Government on 10 January and every 28 days thereafter, either until an agreement is reached with the EU or until otherwise indicated by a resolution of the House. I think the framework in clause 2 will help to answer the question about what we intend to do with the additional time, and that will be a matter for Parliament.
Surely, one of the things that we would want to do during that time is to try to find a solution to the Irish question. Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the EU Commission taskforce is reporting that the Prime Minister is reneging on his commitment to protect the all-Ireland economy and meaningful north-south co-operation? Clearly, the time should be used to ensure that there is decent co-operation.
I have read those reports and they are of concern to me, as I know they are to the right hon. Gentleman and many others in the House.
The aim of the clause is not, as I think the Leader of the House suggested yesterday, to create a “marionette Government” but, I would argue, to give the Government the time they need to do their job. I say that because it is not clear what is happening at the moment, as we discussed yesterday, and how much negotiation is taking place when no proposals have been made. It is very hard to understand that, because I would have thought that the Government had been working flat out since July. It is also important to make the point that even if agreement was reached, it is very hard to see how it would be possible to get the House’s approval and pass all the legislation between 18 October or so and 31 October.
My final point is this. What would happen if we left with no deal? The Prime Minister talks about getting it done and ending the uncertainty, but the truth is—the hon. Member for Winchester (Steve Brine) made this point powerfully—that no deal would not end anything. It would simply plunge us into greater uncertainty—uncertainty about the degree and length of disruption, uncertainty about the border arrangements in Northern Ireland, and uncertainty about our future trading relationship with our biggest, nearest and most important trading partners, the other members of the European Union.
Given that it has taken three years to get this far—in other words, not very far at all—and given that it took Canada seven years to negotiate a deal and the Prime Minister says he wants a super-Canada deal, it is going to take years to agree a new relationship. Every single EU member state, member state parliament and regional parliament will have to agree to any deal. No deal will not be the end of Brexit; it will only be the end of the beginning. In that time, faced with that degree of uncertainty, businesses will have countless decisions to make about where to invest, what to make and where, what to do about the sudden disappearance of all the arrangements that they have come to know and work within, and what to do about the sudden imposition of tariffs. It would be utterly irresponsible to allow that to happen. We have a duty to prevent it, and I hope the House will vote for this Bill tonight.
I rise to speak as the proud but slightly bemused independent Member for North East Bedfordshire. I commend my friend, the right hon. Member for Leeds Central (Hilary Benn), for his remarks and the way in which he went through the technicalities of the Bill. I have no wish to do the same and do not wish to detain the House on those matters. Let me make just three brief points in support of the Bill.
First, is the Bill a stumbling block to negotiations? No, it is not. The Bill does not prevent the Prime Minister or the Government from negotiating. The reason that we do not yet have a deal or might not get one is not this Bill. Ever since the referendum and the start of negotiations, a variety of reasons have been cited for not getting a deal. In no particular order, it has been: a remainer Parliament, a remainer Prime Minister, Olly Robbins, the EU, Michel Barnier, Martin Selmayr—always a different reason. We were told recently that all could be solved if only we elected a Prime Minister who was a Brexiteer with an absolute determination to leave, no questions asked, because the EU would then fold and we would have the deal that the UK always wanted. We have such a Prime Minister, whose determination is clear, and the EU has not folded, so this time we are being told that it is us—that it is me. That is nonsense.
There are two reasons why we have not had a deal. First, Members in this House have not voted for a deal. If they had looked at it hard two years ago, they would have bitten your hand off to accept all the provisions in the withdrawal agreement and the transition period, which a Brexiteer will now be in charge of. The second reason is that many in the UK have failed to grasp that it is we who are leaving the EU. That means that it is a negotiation between us. We have never really understood the EU or its arguments, believing that a negotiation was a series of demands from the United Kingdom, not a negotiation. That and the language that we have used—built on 20-odd years of the drip, drip of poison about the EU—has made sure that we did not get a deal.
The right hon. Gentleman and I came to this House in the same year, so I am sad to hear his announcement that he is going. Does he agree that the kind of language being used from the Government Front Bench and in the media about those who are trying to prevent no deal, such as “traitors” and “collaborators”—all of that war-like language—is less than helpful?
Absolutely. In my conclusion, I shall talk a bit about that and how we have got to reset, but the hon. Lady makes a good point.
Secondly, why do we want to avoid no deal? I will not repeat all the things that the right hon. Member for Leeds Central said, which are obvious; the economics are clear. For me, there are three reasons. The first is the threat to the Union. I am a Scot, my mother and father are from Scotland. I am a proud Scot. I am also British through and through. I could not believe a recent poll of Conservative members that said they would abandon almost anything, including the Union, providing they left the EU. I regard that as a terrible threat. We should not risk it.
My second reason is Ireland, which is treated by some here as some sort of irrelevance and a place that has made up the border issue to prevent us from leaving the EU. With our history in relation to Ireland and everything that happened there, it became our best friend in the European Union. Our choice to leave—our Brexit—has put Ireland in the most catastrophic situation of any country, and we now expect it to accept another English demand that it should do something. Have we no understanding of what that relationship means and the damage done?
My third reason for wanting to avoid no deal is the damage to Europe and the relationship with Europe itself. I grew up as part of the first generation to avoid war in Europe for countless hundreds of years. I arrived in the House of Commons when there were giants here such as Denis Healey, Willie Whitelaw and Ted Heath—people for whom Europe was the place where they and their friends had fought and died—and they wanted something different. That has always motivated me in my sense of Europe. Whether we are in the European Union or not, that relationship with Europe is clouded by the sort of language that the hon. Member for Wallasey (Ms Eagle) mentioned. I do not want to see that relationship threatened by a no deal.
I have listened to the hon. Gentleman involuntarily for most of the years that I have been here—most, not all, because I went to campaign for him in his by-election of 1984. I have no wish to hear from him voluntarily. [Laughter.] Let me go on.
Thirdly, let me end where I began, as the Independent Member for North East Bedfordshire. I do not complain at the removal of the Whip—voting on an issue of confidence, I accept the rules—but I say to my colleagues: just think how this looks. Last week, the Conservative party lost Ruth Davidson, and George Young in the House of Lords resigned the Whip. This morning, we lost my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Rushcliffe (Mr Clarke) and my right hon. Friend the Member for Runnymede and Weybridge (Mr Hammond) —who made the economy we were cheering just a few minutes ago. What are people going to think about what we have left and what we have lost? Some will have been very happy at the fact that some have been purged—purged. A few weeks ago, one of our colleagues retweeted an article in The Daily Telegraph that looked forward to the purging of remoaners in the Conservative party. That was disgraceful. I say to my colleagues, if we are being purged now, who is next? Watch a film called “Good Night, and Good Luck”, and you will take my point.
This may be the last substantive speech I make here as I am not standing again—and who knows when the election will come? I will leave with the best of memories of this place, friends and colleagues on all sides. The obsession that my party has developed may have sought to devalue my past as a friend of the EU, of our sister centre-right parties, and of many friends, and it may have curtailed my future, but it will not rob me of what I believe. I will walk out of here looking up at the sky, not down at my shoes. [Applause.]
Thank you, Mr Speaker. It is a pleasure to be speaking in this particular debate.
May I start by paying tribute to my predecessor, Mr Chris Davies? He worked hard for our local communities, raising awareness of the very difficult issue of mental health and suicide in farmers. I thank him for his service. Chris followed hard on the heels of the highly respected Liberal Democrat MP, Roger Williams. Roger’s are large boots to fill and, if I can even partly match his passion, service and commitment, I shall be very pleased.
It is a huge privilege to represent Brecon and Radnorshire, one of the most beautiful constituencies in the country. It is also the largest constituency in England and Wales— something that I am sure some Members here will have discovered during the recent by-election when searching for another elusive farmhouse up yet another long and scenic track. Brecon and Radnorshire is home to strong and resilient communities, some of which are Welsh-speaking. Sadly, many of our libraries, banks and post offices in these communities have closed in recent years. Despite this, there is a real joy for life in the old counties of Radnorshire and Brecknockshire, as well as a healthy rivalry between them, that makes sure that the mid-Wales spirit—yr ysbryd—is alive and well.
Many Members here will have had the luxury of making their maiden speeches in the weeks and months following a general election, looking forward to the many years of a full parliamentary term. My maiden speech could not be made in more different circumstances. [Laughter.]
On the night of the by-election, I promised the people of Brecon and Radnorshire that I would tell the Prime Minister exactly why a no-deal Brexit would be damaging for my constituents. Well, I am delighted that last night my very first vote as the Member of Parliament for Brecon and Radnorshire was to help Parliament take back control of the agenda and to do everything possible to prevent us leaving the EU without a deal, including speaking in this debate today. When it comes to a no-deal Brexit, we need to stop talking in terms of the hypothetical and the theoretical and start talking with candour about the real and damaging consequences it would bring.
A no-deal Brexit would be damaging for everyone in my constituency, but particularly for the people who are the lifeblood of Brecon and Radnorshire—the farmers. Welsh farmers, as we heard this morning, export 40% of their lamb, and over 90% of that goes to the EU. Currently, if farmers in Brecon and Radnorshire export to the EU, export tariffs are—let me have a think—zero. A no-deal Brexit would mean 40% tariffs on Welsh lamb exports. That would risk putting farmers in my constituency and right across Wales out of business.
I will be using my votes today to ensure that a no-deal Brexit is avoided, as it would be catastrophic for the people of Brecon and Radnorshire. Whether people voted remain or leave, they did not vote for a no-deal Brexit that would make them poorer. They did not vote for long waits for life-saving medicines and they did not vote for a decline in our country’s environmental standards.
I am extremely privileged to be able to serve the wonderful people of Brecon and Radnorshire and I shall do my utmost to be an MP they are proud of. Diolch yn fawr iawn—thank you very much.
Thank you, Mr Speaker. I want us to leave the European Union with a deal and I voted three times to leave the European Union with a deal. I regret the fact that it has become necessary for this Bill to be brought forward now, and it is necessary now for two reasons: first, because Parliament stands prorogued, so we will not have time potentially to bring Parliament back after my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has had the 30 days that he asked for, to see whether he has been successful in getting a deal; and, secondly, because members of the Government have speculated openly that the Government may not comply with legislation even if it is passed and we therefore need to allow time for not merely legislation but litigation as well.
On that point, we have heard noises to that effect from certain members of the Government and Government sources. Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that, if this Bill is passed, it is very important that the Prime Minister adheres to its terms, because it is a fundamental duty of Government to uphold the rule of law?
I absolutely agree, but we have heard clearly that we cannot rule out the possibility that the Government will dispute the interpretation of the Bill and that there will be a need for litigation in the courts, to ensure that its effect is delivered.
We need to act because there is no mandate for a no-deal Brexit, and a no-deal Brexit will be a catastrophe for the United Kingdom. I remind my hon. and right hon. Friends on the Front Bench that many of us who are now on the Back Benches have had the privilege of seeing the detailed analysis from within Government about the precise and damaging effects of such a no-deal Brexit.
We need to act for another reason. The Prime Minister repeats two statements. He says that he is sincerely trying to get a deal, and he says that we will leave on 31 October come what may, do or die. Regrettably, those two statements are incompatible. Even if the fantasy deal that the Prime Minister sets out, where the EU concedes to every demand of the United Kingdom and removes every one of its red lines, were agreed tomorrow, it would still not be possible to get through all the stages of process required, including passage through both Houses of this Parliament, by 31 October. So we had to act.
The right hon. Member for Leeds Central (Hilary Benn) set out brilliantly the purposes of the Bill and how it works. Time is limited, so I do not intend to rehearse those arguments. I want simply to focus on two claims that are made against Conservative supporters of this Bill—or former Conservative supporters of this Bill—by the Government and seek to rebut them. Presumably these claims have been made as a justification for the mass purge that occurred last night.
The first claim is that, by removing the threat of no deal on 31 October, we are cutting the legs from under the Government in their negotiations with the EU. That is wrong. It is wrong because, actually, there is no negotiation going on with the EU. We have had confirmation from multiple sources across the European Union that nothing is happening, and confirmation from within Government that nothing is happening. The Government have declined to bring forward any proposals or serve any proposals on the European Union. It betrays a deep misunderstanding of the way European politics works. Yes, European politics is every bit as scrappy as British politics, but across the continent of Europe people who are sworn enemies and debate vigorously are used to having to make deals because, for the overwhelming majority of our colleagues in Europe, coalition Government is the norm. They have a different system from our adversarial system.
The EU has taken a remarkably consistent approach throughout these negotiations. On the format of the negotiations, on its mandate and on its commitment to transparency, it publishes everything openly. Nothing that we are doing here is going to undermine the Prime Minister’s ability to negotiate with the EU. The thing that will undermine it is his unwillingness to pursue a realistic negotiating objective. If he tried to achieve significant changes to the way the backstop works, that would be a major concession by the EU, but I do think that my right hon. Friend—as a new Prime Minister, leading a new Government—would stand at least a reasonable chance of getting a hearing and maybe succeeding. However, by setting the bar, as he has, at the total removal of the backstop, he has set the bar at a level that is impossible for the European Union to comply with.
The second claim that is made against us is that by supporting this Bill we are handing power to the Leader of the Opposition. I would sooner boil my head than hand power to the Leader of the Opposition. Most of us will have no truck with the concept of a vote of no confidence. The purpose of this Bill is to instruct this Government and this Administration how to conduct the UK’s future arrangements with the European Union. It is not an attempt to remove this Government and it is certainly not an attempt to hand power to the Leader of the Opposition. It is not we who are heightening the risk of a Government led by the Leader of the Opposition. It is my right hon. Friend by pursuing a course of action that, if unchallenged, can only lead to a no-deal Brexit.
I rise in support of the Bill. The Prime Minister has decided that the UK should leave the EU on 31 October with or without a deal. He says that he is making progress in talks with a view to getting a deal, but he is not. Chancellor Merkel says no proposals have been put forward by the Government. The Deputy Prime Minister of Ireland says no proposals have been put forward by the Government. Across the EU, everybody says no proposals have been put forward by the Government. Yesterday, the Government did not deny that they have not put forward proposals in these negotiations; they just dodged questions and refused to answer honest questions about whether there is any evidence of any progress in the talks.
The Government are convincing no one, and at Prime Minister’s questions today the Prime Minister tied himself completely in knots in suggesting that he had not put forward any proposals because this Bill might pass later this week. So for the last six weeks, he has not done anything in case a Bill he had not heard of gets Royal Assent sometime soon. Ridiculous! There is no progress, and there is no workable alternative on the table to prevent a hard border in Northern Ireland. Indeed—this point has already been touched on—far from making progress on this crucial point, it was reported yesterday that the Government are seeking to backtrack, and to revisit the commitments to protect the all-Ireland economy, including the December joint report.
My wife comes from County Armagh, and I was married some two miles from the border at the height of the troubles. Is it not arguable that the present border arrangements in the island of Ireland contribute massively to the present peace process that we enjoy?
Massively. They are the manifestation of peace in Northern Ireland. As I have said many times, they are more than a question of getting goods and people across a line; they are the manifestation of peace that allows different communities to live together in peace.
I am enormously grateful to the right hon. and learned Gentleman for allowing me to intervene. Does he agree that it is very strange, to put it mildly—bearing in mind that the Republic of Ireland is our nearest EU neighbour, shares a land frontier with part of the United Kingdom in Northern Ireland and is a co-guarantor of the Good Friday agreement—that if the Prime Minister has been so, so, so busy negotiating over this summer, as he claims, he has not actually found time to go to Dublin to meet the Irish Prime Minister, Leo Varadkar, and discuss any proposals that he might have? Is that not extraordinary?
Yes, it is extraordinary, but it sits with the other evidence that there are not any proposals being put forward and that there are not any negotiations actually taking place. Therefore, we are not closer to a deal now than we were when this Prime Minister took office; in truth, we are further away. That appears from leaks to be the Prime Minister’s chief of staff’s policy position, because he talks of negotiations, apparently, for domestic consumption, yet the talks are a sham.
Will my right hon. and learned Friend reassure me that we will not fall into the trap being set by the Prime Minister, and that we will not support a general election before not only this Bill is enacted, but its provisions, including an extension, have been implemented?
I will make some progress and give way in a moment.
So the truth is that we are on course for a no-deal Brexit for which there is no mandate from the public or from this Parliament. We might think that in those circumstances this Parliament would be sitting every available day between now and 31 October, to avert this threat, to scrutinise the Prime Minister’s plan—if there is one—and to find a way forward, if we can. We would all willingly sit on those days to find that way forward, but no: from next week the Prime Minister wants to shut this place down for five weeks in this crucial period. He thinks that we and the public will be fooled by the obvious untruth that Prorogation is merely for a Queen’s Speech. The five-week Prorogation is to silence this House and frustrate attempts to prevent no deal, and any suggestion to the contrary from anyone, in my view, is disingenuous.
Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that the characterisation by Conservative central office, which is appearing on Twitter and on its other social media even now, as we debate this extremely important Bill—hashtagging this Bill the #SurrenderBill—is beneath contempt?
It is beneath contempt, and I can only imagine how businesses—the people who work in businesses and the management of businesses—will look on in horror, because they have repeatedly told me and many other Members of this House their deep concerns about no deal, and we are protecting this country against no deal.
I will make some progress and then I will give way.
In circumstances in which there is no progress in the negotiations, we are hurtling towards no deal and the Prime Minister is closing down this place, we have no alternative but to pursue this Bill. We have to act with urgency and to pass binding legislation to rule out no deal by the time this House prorogues. That is what this Bill will achieve today.
I want to put on record my thanks to the right hon. and hon. Members who have worked over many weeks on this Bill, in particular the right hon. Member for West Dorset (Sir Oliver Letwin), the right hon. and learned Member for Beaconsfield (Mr Grieve), my right hon. Friend the Member for Leeds Central (Hilary Benn) and the right hon. Member for Runnymede and Weybridge (Mr Hammond), as well as the leaders of the Scottish National party, the Lib Dems, the Greens, Plaid and Change UK, because this has genuinely been a cross-party Bill. On behalf of all my colleagues, I acknowledge the courage of the 21 former Conservative MPs who voted as a matter of principle in the Standing Order No. 24 debate last night, putting their country before their career. We acknowledge their courage and what they did as a matter of principle.
Why has there been such concerted effort? It is not usual to find an alliance of all Opposition parties and cross-party MPs. The answer is that we all appreciate the appalling damage no deal would cause to jobs, to industry, to our NHS, to security, and to peace and prosperity in Northern Ireland. Therefore, we were all shocked, if not surprised, at the warnings contained in the leaked Yellowhammer documents: food and fuel shortages, delay to medicines, and chaos at ports and channel crossings, all affecting the poorest communities. What leapt out to me from the Yellowhammer documents was the honest advice to the Government that, try as they might, the civil servants could not find a way of avoiding the conclusion that if we leave without a deal there will have to be infrastructure in Northern Ireland.
Is it not ironic that in the very week the Government announce an advertising campaign called “Get ready for Brexit”, they simultaneously refuse to release any details about what we are meant to be getting ready for? Would Ministers not be better advised to be transparent about the impact of no deal, and, frankly, about the fact that it sounds to me like there was never a detailed plan on how to deliver Brexit? There has not been one in three years, and I really worry that it never existed in the first place.
Of course that information should be put in the public domain, so that everybody understands the impact of no deal. The fact that the Government do not want it in the public domain speaks volumes. The mantra is that they cannot put our proposals in public because they do not negotiate in public, but they can surely put them before the partners they are supposed to be negotiating with. They just are not there.
I will, but I am not sure that my calling for that is enough in itself to get it published. We will see what else we can do. Mr Speaker, I will press on, because I do know there are other speakers to come.
This is a very simple Bill. It is deliberately constrained. It does not answer the question, “What else needs to happen?” It gives the Prime Minister the chance to get a deal and to get it through. It gives the Prime Minister the chance to have the courage to come to the Dispatch Box and say, “My policy is to leave without a deal. Do I have a majority for it?” If he did that, we would not need to go down this route. He will not do that, however, because he knows what the result will be. Only if there is a no deal and only if there is no approval for leaving without a deal do the provisions in the Bill requiring an extension kick in.
Mr Speaker, this is an extraordinary route, but these are extraordinary times. We have to act. We have to act now. Today is the last chance to prevent no deal, and we must seize it.
Perhaps I can start by agreeing with something that others have said, which is that, regardless of one’s views on this subject, the right hon. Member for Leeds Central (Hilary Benn), my right hon. Friend the Member for North East Bedfordshire (Alistair Burt) and others who spoken in this debate are acting the national interest in bringing up these issues in the way that they do. They do not deserve to be name-called as a result. Having said that, however, I disagree with the Bill.
The Bill does three things: it sets out that the Government should get specific parliamentary authority for any deal they negotiate; it sets out that they should get specific authority for any exit from the EU without a deal; and it sets out that, failing either of those, they should enact a three-month further extension in our departure from the EU. I am afraid that my view is that the first two of those are unnecessary and the third is undesirable. In two and a half minutes, I will try to explain why.
On the first, it seems to me that our existing procedures allow for the Government to bring forward any deal that they negotiate, for us to approve it or not. It would be an international treaty, and the processes are already in place for us to do that.
Secondly, in relation to a no-deal outcome, what the right hon. Member for Leeds Central and colleagues have put forward is on the premise that there is no mandate for no deal. It is certainly true that the leave campaign in the 2016 referendum did not advocate no deal. That was not its preference and, as I understand it, that is still not the Government’s preference, but nor was it put to the electorate that we would leave only if there was a deal with the EU. That could never have been guaranteed. There was no pattern to follow and no example for us to look at, and it could never have been certain that the EU would put forward a proposal that we found acceptable. Indeed, some of us who argued for remain in the referendum campaign said, “If you decide to leave, you take a leap in the dark. You cannot know what the future will look like and you cannot know what, if any, deal we will be offered by the EU or by anyone else.” The electorate, as it was their absolute right to do, listened to those arguments, rejected them and decided to leave anyway. It was their decision to make and, in my view, they were perfectly entitled to make it.
Even if I accepted my right hon. and learned Friend’s main point about the way that the referendum campaign was conducted by leave, which I do not, does he not accept that in a democracy, minorities have rights? A minority as big as 48%, and a majority in Northern Ireland, in Scotland and in our northern cities, should not be so dismissed.
I certainly agree with my hon. Friend that minorities should not be dismissed, and frankly, the way in which we conduct this debate should reflect the fact that 48% of the public voted in a different way from the prevailing outcome. I do not think that we have succeeded in that as a Parliament or in a broader national debate. The truth is that we—Parliament—set out the rules for this referendum in the European Union Referendum Act 2015. As she has just said, many of us participated in the referendum campaign on both sides of the argument, and we stressed that it was the public’s decision to make. When they had made it, we— Parliament—decided to trigger article 50 of the EU treaty.
As someone who has spent more time than is good for anyone looking at article 50, I can tell the House that it does not require the leaving country to do so with a deal. When we—Parliament—decided to trigger the article 50 process, we knew, or we should have known, that one possible outcome was a no-deal outcome. It was not one that we wished to see and not one that we expected to see, but it was one that could have happened, so I am afraid that on this fundamental point, I cannot agree that we do not have a mandate for no deal and therefore that we must proceed as the right hon. Member for Leeds Central sets out in the Bill.
I very much welcome the Bill and the tone with which my right hon. Friend the Member for Leeds Central (Hilary Benn) introduced it. It reminded me of the famous book, “Profiles in Courage”, by John F. Kennedy, in which he said that
“there are few if any issues where all the truth and all the right and all the angels are on one side.”
We would do well to remember that in this House. Coherent, persuasive and passionate arguments and points have been made by people with every single type of view on Brexit, and we ought to respect one another and conduct the debate in that spirit.
This is not an easy thing for me to vote for, because I have spent the last few years arguing passionately that delay has consequences, that companies in my constituency need certainty and that the public cannot take much more of this. They want to see us come together, compromise and respect the 48% of people who came out and said that they wanted close ties with the EU.
I will not, because of time. They also want to see us respect the fact that 52% of those who voted wanted to leave the EU. We said it was their choice, and we have a duty to try to enact it.
But the truth is this Bill is the right thing to do. There are many people in my constituency—a third—who voted remain and want us to stop this process altogether. There are others—I would say the most significant group—who want to cut all ties and leave the EU altogether. They shout louder than the others and often drown out the voices calling for consensus, but it is my job to make sure they do not, because they do not have the right to put food manufacturing companies in my constituency out of business. We lived through the closure of the mines in Wigan and we live with the consequences still. It was a tragedy for many families from which some never recovered. I will not let those small and medium-sized employers in my constituency, which make up the bulk of employment, be put out of business because we cannot get our act together as a House, because we cannot stop this reckless Prime Minister, because we cannot work together to achieve the deal we have promised the people.
People do not have the right to say to the child in my constituency waiting for a potentially life-saving clinical trial, “You will not get it”. A mum stopped me at the train station to say she was stockpiling medicine. They do not have the right to keep her up at night because she does not know if her child will survive. That is why this matters. After years of saying that no deal was a hoax, that it was a bluff, that it would not happen, we in this House have woken up to the reality of it, and now we have to make sure it does not happen. We have to go out and win that argument with the public, so that, as my right hon. Friend the Member for North East Bedfordshire (Alistair Burt) so rightly and eloquently said, we can walk out of here looking at the sky, not at our shoes.
I rise to support this Bill, but before I do so, I want to make it clear that I have always believed that the referendum result must be honoured. Indeed, I voted for the withdrawal agreement on every occasion it was presented to the House, which is more than can be said for my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, the Leader of the House and other members of the Cabinet whose serial disloyalty has been such an inspiration to so many of us. I think that history will in due course favour the view articulated so clearly last night by my right hon. Friend the Member for West Dorset (Sir Oliver Letwin) that a threat to commit an act of self-harm if your counterparts in negotiations do not do exactly as you wish is not likely to be an effective or successful negotiating strategy.
The Bill is modest in its ambitions but powerful in its mandate. It merely seeks to avert the immediate risk of the disaster of a no-deal Brexit on 31 October and thereby seeks to give the Government and the House a further opportunity to achieve a resolution of this profoundly difficult issue. Contrary to the Prime Minister’s assertion, the Bill does not deprive him of the ability or flexibility to achieve a negotiated settlement with the EU on 17 October, but it does ensure that if he should fail, as with his current demands I think he is likely to do, there will be time for him to rethink his remarks.
I will not be standing at the next election.
I am very grateful to my right hon. Friend, for whom I have such high regard.
I will not be standing at the next election, and I am thus approaching the end of 37 years’ service to this House, of which I have been proud and honoured beyond words to be a Member. I am truly very sad that it should end in this way. It is my fervent hope that this House will rediscover the spirit of compromise, humility and understanding that will enable us finally to push ahead with the vital work in the interests of the whole country that has inevitably had to be so sadly neglected while we have devoted so much time to wrestling with Brexit. I urge the House to support the Bill.
I congratulate the hon. Member for Brecon and Radnorshire (Jane Dodds) on her maiden speech. I warn her that, although it may not look like it or feel like it, in normal parliamentary times I would still be in my first term, and there are a number of twists and turns that we have seen and that she should continue to expect.
As the right hon. Member for Mid Sussex (Sir Nicholas Soames) has just illustrated so eloquently, there are very few positives to be taken from this process, but one of them has been the way in which those of us who disagree vociferously on many issues have been able to cross party lines and reach out. I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his speech and for his service as well, and I thank other colleagues with whom I have had the privilege of being able to deal.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for allowing me to intervene briefly. He has just paid tribute to the cross-party work to secure the Bill—hopefully—this evening. Does he agree that it is crucial—and I know that the hon. Member for Carmarthen East and Dinefwr (Jonathan Edwards), who is also part of our coalition, has made plain his view—for us not only to secure the Bill in law, but to secure its implementation before any election is called or held, and not to allow the possibility of a re-elected Johnson Government who would then reintroduce a no-deal Brexit on 31 October?
Yes. As usual, the hon. Gentleman has been a good colleague, and has made an excellent point. In a Parliament of minorities, we must work together. We want a general election, but we will not have a general election on the terms of this Government, because we do not trust them. None of us can trust them, and we should be absolutely clear about that.
Over the past few years—and I say this personally—it has often been humbling to see people give up careers and livelihoods for what they think is right, and we have seen the best of that over the past few days. There are Members opposite, and Members on these Benches who may not have started on these Benches, who know that a no-deal Brexit will damage their constituents. I never thought that I would be here proposing a Bill with the likes of the right hon. Member for Putney (Justine Greening), the hon. Member for Grantham and Stamford (Nick Boles) and the right hon. Member for Runnymede and Weybridge (Mr Hammond). To be fair to them, I do not think they thought that they would be here proposing a Bill—which might be passed—with a member of the Scottish National party. However, that is the position in which we have been left.
The Bill does not go as far as I might have liked. My SNP colleagues and I do not want to see Scotland taken out of the European Union against its will, and we want to stop Brexit. However, I know that others who have signed the Bill and will vote for it want to deliver Brexit. We disagree on that, which is fine, but we agree fundamentally that a no-deal Brexit is unacceptable and must be stopped at all costs.
This legislation is important, and I am sorry that we have a Government who cannot be trusted and who have tried every trick in the book to avoid scrutiny and democracy. Can Members imagine how we can be in a position whereby, over the weekend, the Government could be asked a legitimate question about whether or not they respect the rule of law? I hope that Members will reflect on that during the coming days. Unfortunately, it goes to the heart of the Prime Minister’s approach. He is the least trustworthy resident of No. 10 Downing Street whom anyone can remember. We are in our present position because of a mess of his making. He had no plans before the referendum, and he has no plans now.
There is nothing new in the negotiations, and the Ministers have told us nothing new about them. Instead, we have a Government who are perfectly willing to let the rest of the population endure food price increases when too many people already depend on food banks, medical shortages that will hit the most needy and vulnerable, and damage to public services that have already been hit by a decade of austerity, depriving our young people of education and employment opportunities that my generation enjoyed and benefited from.
All of us in Parliament should be doing our utmost to support and protect those people. That is a basic tenet of our democracy. This slash-and-burn approach to politics will damage everyone across these islands and Europe for decades, but most of all it will damage people in the United Kingdom. We can stop it now, and we can do so with legislation. We owe that to the most vulnerable, and to those who will be worst affected.
I want to refer briefly to the remarks of the right hon. Member for North East Bedfordshire (Alistair Burt). I simply want to explain very simply that I was going to intervene because he referred to the sacrifice that people had made in the last war and I want to put it on record that my father was killed in the last war, and I think I understand not only the issues involved in that, but also the fact that he fought for freedom, and I believe that that is our heritage, and that is what we should fight for—not to be governed by other people. I just leave that on the record.
I happen also to very much agree with my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Kenilworth and Southam (Jeremy Wright) on what is an extremely rare occasion when somebody has actually explained, as I have a number of times, that there is nothing in this arrangement that has been foisted upon us that would prevent us from leaving without a deal. We can do so if we wish to do so, and there is nothing in the referendum Act, or any question in the Act, which constrains us from that course of action.
Fundamentally, I simply want to make the following point. I would not call this the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill; I would call it the European Union (Subservience) Bill. We have only to look at the words in the Bill, and in the very short time that I have available I will simply refer to a few of its phrases. Clause 1 says:
“The Prime Minister must seek to obtain from the European Council an extension of the period”.
Clause 3 states:
“If the European Council decides to agree an extension…the Prime Minister must, immediately after such a decision is made, notify the President of the European Council that the United Kingdom agrees to the proposed extension”
and so on.
Clause 4 says, in relation to the withdrawal Act of 2018 that, where regulations are to be made, for the definition of exit day
“for ‘may’ substitute ‘must’.”
This is a disgraceful reversal of our constitutional arrangements. We operate in a free Parliament where we have elections that are taken periodically—every five years as a normal rule—and we make our decisions. We have a system of parliamentary Government, not government by Parliament; that is a fundamental constitutional principle. This Bill offends that principle, and that is why I am deeply opposed to its proposals.
I strongly support the Bill before the House and have long believed that a no-deal Brexit would be disastrous. Resolving this issue and stopping our country crashing out of the EU is of the utmost urgency, as I believe that the Prime Minister wants no deal. All the actions of the current Prime Minister support that view as does everything he has said since becoming Prime Minister. He is sending our country hurtling towards no deal. This is a prospect no one voted for, or campaigned for, in 2016. It is simply wrong to be playing with people’s lives, jobs, businesses and wellbeing in this way.
At Brimsdown in Enfield we have the second largest industrial estate in London. It is a vital part of our local economy, with 8,000 people employed in 240 companies on site. Many of these companies trade throughout the EU. If we crash out with no deal and these companies get hit by tariffs on their exports, Brimsdown and Enfield will suffer.
The Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster yesterday promised to help firms hit by no-deal tariffs but gave no full details on how that would work in practice, nor is he willing to publish estimates of the impact no-deal tariffs could have on various sectors. How much financial support would be made available to companies? How long would that support last for? Which businesses would and would not be covered by Government subsidy? There are so many questions and never any answers.
In Enfield we also have very high levels of deprivation that are growing apace. We have nearly 40,000 children living on or below the poverty line, but a no-deal Brexit or a general election are not going to stop this nightmare; they would exacerbate exponentially the problems my constituents are facing.
We hear much about the technicalities of all this every time it is debated, and particularly today. Those who want a no-deal Brexit or any kind of Brexit at any price want to talk all the time about technicalities. I want to see Members of this House take real responsibility for the impact that a no-deal Brexit would have on our constituents, particularly the most vulnerable of them. It is an abrogation of our responsibility as their representatives to go down this road, and let us be clear that a no deal will just be the start. I believe that the only way out of this mess is to go back to the people with a people’s vote on Brexit, but at the very least we must take the catastrophe of no deal off the table now. I urge all Members to support the Bill today.
I want to put on record what a pleasure it has been to serve my constituents in Eddisbury. I think they would be amazed to know that the purge of the Conservative party that took place yesterday led to their Member of Parliament being expelled from the party, together with eight Privy Counsellors, two former Chancellors, a former Lord Chancellor and my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Rushcliffe (Mr Clarke), who has been a political inspiration to me for years. The economic arguments are well known, but in my constituency, where the chemicals, car, pharmaceuticals, aerospace and nuclear industries and the food and drink sectors are all key sectors in the north-west, 80,000 jobs are at risk in a no-deal Brexit. I do not regret putting my job on the line to save my constituents’ jobs, but I do regret that the Prime Minister forced me to do it. I want to say to Conservative colleagues that no deal is not the end of Brexit. My hon. Friend the Member for Isle of Wight (Mr Seely) said yesterday that he wanted Brexit to be over, to focus on other issues that matter to his constituents. I agree; so do I. I voted for the deal three times. However, keeping the threat of no deal on the table does not achieve this.
I say this to my Prime Minister: the reason that your negotiations are undermined is not because of a no-deal Brexit, but because the Europeans cannot see the steps that you are taking to build consensus in this House and get any concessions given to you through Parliament. That is what puts you in the weaker position, not a threat of no deal. Without the public and Europe being able to see how you are trying to build consensus in this House, and how this party, this Government, this House and this Parliament are trying to work together to get a solution, you will not get concessions from Europe. It is the people in this House who voted down the compromise—the withdrawal agreement—that have brought us to the brink of a no-deal precipice. I believe in the principle that Parliament should have a say in one of the biggest questions of our times, and tonight we should stand up.
My hon. Friend is on a point that has not been sufficiently emphasised. Does she agree that, at root, the horrors that those of us who find ourselves estranged from the party we love have gone through over the past 18 months derive from the inability of successive Governments to find a compromise?
I completely agree. This is a result of the inability of successive Governments to work cross-party across the House to seek common ground, common agreement and common principles. I know many people in this place from all sides of the political divide, and I am certain that there is a will and a way to get through this, but I just have not seen the leadership from the Front Benches to argue for it. That has been my biggest shame in being a Member of this Parliament for the past three years: not seeing proper leadership out there to build our country back together again, to get people to work together and to explain in our constituencies why we should honour the referendum result but do so in a way that will maximise the chances of a positive relationship with Europe and give us the best foundations to build on for the future. That is why I say that Parliament should have a say in the biggest question of our time. If we cannot get that leadership on the Front Benches, Parliament needs to provide that leadership to the country.
May I extend my best wishes to the right hon. Member for Mid Sussex (Sir Nicholas Soames)? I will miss our occasional lift encounters in Portcullis House—[Interruption.] Hang on, do not use up all my three minutes on that, because it is not for today.
I have voted for a deal twice, and I would have voted for the withdrawal agreement Bill, so I have probably voted for a deal more times than some prominent members of the present Government. However, I have also opposed no deal more times than some of the ex-Cabinet members and Ministers who are supporting this Bill today. I have been trying to seek compromise, but the decision on the UK’s departure from the European Union that we delegated to the British people has been dogged by a lack of compromise on both sides. Hard-line leavers and hard-line remainers have succeeded in turning a complicated decision into a crisis. Between them, they are eroding the trust and patience of the British people.
Today’s debate is born of the understandable fear that the UK will leave with no deal and that that will cause avoidable damage to our economy. It is born of a fear that the Prime Minister—I hope I am not using unparliamentary language, Mr Speaker—is insincere in his stated intention of reaching a deal with the EU27. However, others in the House must also be self-critical. It is disingenuous for someone to tell the public that they are against no deal if they are really also against any deal and, indeed, against Brexit. If the EU27 can accept a deal, however revised, it must be better for the UK and the EU27 than no deal.
Therefore, if the amendments in the name of my hon. Friend the Member for Aberavon (Stephen Kinnock) are selected today, I urge colleagues to support them, because they would tie an extension to securing a deal, which is the proper way forward.
I thank the right hon. Lady for giving way and pay tribute to her for the way in which she has sought compromise. Many of us have voted for deals of various kinds, and I agree with what she says about the approach set out by the hon. Member for Aberavon (Stephen Kinnock), which has considerable potential. Does she agree that one of the other reasons why we should seek to resolve this by way of a deal, and do so quickly, is that the longer the argument goes on, the more divided our society remains and the harder it will be to knit it back together? The danger of an approach that simply asks for a further extension, without any real idea of what we will use the extension for, is that that argument is perpetuated and the damage continues to be done.
I absolutely agree. One of my greatest concerns in all this is that, following a referendum that saw such a massive record turnout, there are many people who will never vote again if we continue to thwart a conclusion, and that will damage our democracy for decades to come. I am saddened that some in this House think that our only obligation is to the 48% and that others think we only need to consider the 52%. We need to respect the British people, whether they voted leave or remain and whichever party they support. We must show them that we can move forward and not simply block progress at every stage.
I want to look my leave voters in the eye and say, “Yes, I respected, as a remain voter, the decision to leave. We have now left. We will regain control of our laws and borders.” To remain supporters, whom I stood alongside in 2016, I want to say, “Yes, we respected the decision to leave, but we have successfully protected the things that you and I value most: open trade with the EU, workers’ rights, high environmental standards, rights for Brits abroad, respect for EU citizens working here, student exchange programmes, joint research projects”—I could go on. All of that can be secured, but only with a deal.
No deal is a decision, but one that defers 100 decisions. I urge the Government to secure a deal before 31 October, and I am willing to work every day and every hour to make that happen. However, other colleagues must also show some compromise as well. We must link an extension to securing a deal, because an extension with no purpose is not the way forward.
It is a pleasure to follow the right hon. Member for Don Valley (Caroline Flint), and I agree with virtually everything she says.
It is a pleasure to have listened to my right hon. Friends the Members for North East Bedfordshire (Alistair Burt) and for Mid Sussex (Sir Nicholas Soames), with whom I have served in this House for 36 years. I know they do not want to stand again, but if they were to stand, I would want to stand with them shoulder to shoulder as a Conservative candidate.
There are procedures for dealing with this sort of issue, but I very much hope that those like my right hon. Friend the Member for Runnymede and Weybridge (Mr Hammond) who voted for their conscience—I do not agree with him, but he did vote for his conscience—can find a way to stand again for our party. The trouble with purges is that if one group of people is purged, another group of people might have to be purged when we try to push a deal through Parliament, so I think we need compromise.
Indeed, that is the whole point of what I want to say today. I am a Brexiteer and my constituency voted 62:38 for Brexit, but I am in a bit of a minority here because I voted for the deal three times. We hear so much about how terrible a no deal is, but so many people in this place voted against the deal three times. We could have had Brexit by now. This whole thing could have been resolved, and I still want to resolve it. I still believe it is perfectly possible to make progress in these negotiations in the coming weeks.
So much ink has been wasted on the backstop, and there has been so much debate about something that will never happen. I do not believe, and I do not think anybody believes for a moment, that the backstop will ever happen. Nobody intends to impose a hard border, and there are so many ways to resolve this. We are this close to resolving the issue, and there has been so much talk about how we do not trust the Prime Minister and how he wants a no deal. I genuinely believe that he and the Cabinet want to achieve an orderly Brexit, but the problem they face is that the present deal simply cannot get through Parliament, so they have to make progress.
We had the Brady amendment, so we can win a vote in this place. I do not want to make a bore of myself by going on about devices such as the Vienna convention, which I have mentioned many times, but they are all possible. The trouble with this Bill is that if it is passed—I know this has been said many times, but it is an unanswerable point—there will be absolutely no incentive for the EU to make any progress, and therefore it drives a coach and horses through our negotiating tactics.
I end with an argument that might appeal to the Labour party. At the October 1957 Labour party conference, Aneurin Bevan said:
“if you carry this resolution”—
the resolution was on unilateral disarmament—
“you will send a Foreign Secretary…naked into the conference chamber.”
That is what we will be doing if we pass this Bill, so let us compromise, let us draw together and let us get a deal.
Vauxhall Motors in Ellesmere Port has been producing cars for over 50 years. It employs around 1,000 people, with many thousands more in the supply chain and associated businesses, but statements made by the parent group over the summer have made it crystal clear that the plant’s very existence is dependent on the UK avoiding a no-deal Brexit.
We know the plant faces challenges, as every car manufacturer does, but in the past, with the help of the Government, management and unions, everyone has pulled together to make it work, but now we have the absurdity of the Government actively pursuing a policy that will destroy the industry. WTO terms mean a 10% tariff on all car exports, and around 80% of the vehicles built in Ellesmere Port are exported to the EU. We know the plant just will not be able to compete with other plants across Europe with a 10% albatross around its neck. It is as stark as that: no deal means no Vauxhall.
I have always said that I will abide by the outcome of the referendum, but that does not mean I will do so at any cost, and certainly not at the cost of my constituents’ jobs, which is where we are now. The Government are effectively asking me to put my constituents on the dole queue, and I cannot in all conscience do that. I am astounded that any Government would choose that course of action, so let us be clear about where we are.
The Conservative party, which used to have a reputation as the party of business, has purged itself of 21 Members who voted against a policy that they know could knock 10% off the economy. If anyone had said a year ago that that is where we would find ourselves, I would not have believed them, but such is the reckless ideological madness we see from the Government. That is exactly where we are today.
The Prime Minister tells us that he cannot negotiate with the EU if a no deal is taken off the table, but given that he claims the primary change he wants to make is on the Irish backstop, which is a very specific issue, there seems to be no connection between the changes he says he wants to make and the need to keep the threat of no deal on the table.
I am, as many hon. Members are, at a loss to understand how the Prime Minister can reconcile his statement yesterday—that the first thing the EU asks in respect of any proposals made by the Government is whether they have the support of Parliament—with his refusal to share his proposals with Parliament. How can he say we would support his proposals if we do not even know what they are?
It is not only the automotive sector in my constituency that is under threat: aerospace, chemicals and petroleum, to name but three, employ thousands of people whose jobs are at risk from a no-deal Brexit. I have just come from a briefing by the Road Haulage Association, which has clearly said the sector is not ready for a no-deal Brexit on 31 October; it says that with just 42 working days left it still does not know what the customs documentation process will be or who it can go to for advice. It is doing what it can, but at the moment we face haulage businesses going bust and food rotting on lorries because it cannot be delivered on time, leaving aside the effect that will be had on medicine supplies.
So let us, as a country and as a Parliament, pull ourselves back from the edge at the eleventh hour. Let us have a moment of clarity. Let us have a moment of reason and of compromise, so that we do not force Brexit through by 31 October regardless of the consequences, because those consequences will be devastating and enduring, and they will do nothing to heal the deep divisions that have led us here in the first place.
May I begin by paying tribute to the new hon. Member for Brecon and Radnorshire (Jane Dodds), who spoke with great distinction on behalf of her constituency?
As they indicated that they may have been making their final speeches in the House, may I also pay tribute to my colleagues the right hon. Members for Mid Sussex (Sir Nicholas Soames) and for North East Bedfordshire (Alistair Burt), who have served with great ability and courtesy throughout my time in the House?
The central issue before the House is whether the Government’s negotiation is sincere and deliverable. The Opposition have continued to refuse to vote for a deal, while making it clear that they will rule out no deal. As the right hon. Member for Don Valley (Caroline Flint) pointed out, there is an inherent contradiction in that position.
The problem with this Bill is, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough (Sir Edward Leigh) made clear, that there is no incentive for the EU to move, because it gives the EU complete control of the outcome of these talks. Let me remind the House that President Tusk, and others within the EU, have repeatedly said that they do not want the UK to leave. He has said:
“If a deal is impossible, and no-one wants no deal, then who will finally have the courage to say what the only positive solution is?”
So let us be in no doubt: those on the other side of the negotiation do not want the UK to leave. They do not want to lose the financial contribution of 12% of the EU budget that the UK pays or the £1 billion per month that this extension will mean. So there will be no incentive for the EU to move and this, in practice, will be legislation that will act as purgatory and endless delay.
Of course it was the Government’s own chief adviser who described the negotiations as “a sham”, so we know what is really going on. I wish to ask the Secretary of State whether it is true that members of the Government Legal Service have been requested, in the past two days, to provide advice on all tactics possible to avoid this Bill receiving Royal Assent. Is that true—yes or no?
The Prime Minister addressed the issue about Royal Assent during his statement yesterday and Ministers abide by the code. The hon. Gentleman says that the negotiation is a sham, yet one should look at what the Commission has said. At Strasbourg, it said that alternative arrangements had merit as an alternative to the backstop. Just last month, the Council pledged, in its official guidelines on Brexit negotiations, “flexible and imaginative solutions.” Senior European figures claim the backstop will not be required. For example, a former German MEP and member of the European Parliament Brexit steering group said there was a
“99% chance that the backstop would never be used.”
Indeed, the issue arises because of the sequencing of talks, which was at the choice of the EU itself and left insufficient time for the negotiation. In fact, this issue should be addressed as part of the future economic relationship.
In addressing issues such as the claim made by those on the Opposition Benches, it is worth reflecting on the fact that the EU position has moved, from the language of “no change” to the withdrawal agreement to now saying that changes can be made if “legally operative text” on alternative arrangements can be found. It is worth contrasting Donald Tusk’s comments in June that
“nothing has changed when it comes to our position”,
with President Macron’s comments last month that he was “very confident” that the UK and EU would be able to find a solution
“if there is a good will on both sides”.
Is the truth not that Government Members just do not trust the Prime Minister any more than Opposition Members? When he went to Berlin on 21 August, the Prime Minister committed to presenting a deal within 30 days. We are now a third of the way through that timetable and the truth is that there is no deal. That is the problem.
The hon. Gentleman says this is about trust in this Prime Minister, but he voted against the deal that the previous Prime Minister brought back three times. The trust is lacking in those who trusted the Labour manifesto that promised to respect the referendum result.
It is worth looking at the communiqué issued by the Commission at lunch time. I am sure Members will have read it and seen, first, very little detail on the Irish border, and, secondly, that the Commission’s objective in a no-deal situation would be
“a more stable solution for the period thereafter.”
So the Commission’s own communiqué falls short of the demand for an all-weather, all-insurance, legally operative text, which is the condition it has set the United Kingdom. The legal text by 31 October will of course set out the detail, but the test needs to be one that involves creativity and flexibility on both sides. It also needs to reflect the fact that the operational detail will be shaped by the Joint Committee during the implementation period. An illustration of that point can be seen in the response to the detail presented by the previous Government. The right hon. Member for Runnymede and Weybridge (Mr Hammond) spoke about his concerns about the detail, but he will remember that when the previous Government simply presented detail against that all-weather test, the Commission dismissed it as purely magical thinking.
My patience has been rewarded; I am enormously grateful to the Secretary of State for allowing me to intervene.
The Secretary of State will be well aware that the Prime Minister claimed in August that the backstop contravenes the consent principle in the Good Friday agreement. Will the right hon. Gentleman take this opportunity to correct the record? The backstop in no way compromises the consent principle in the Good Friday agreement. It is important to have that on the record.
There are two issues in relation to that point. First, the Prime Minister has concerns about the rule-taking element of the backstop, under which those in Northern Ireland will continue to take rules on which they will not have a say. Secondly, there is the concern that the element of consent from both parts of the community in Northern Ireland is undermined.
To address the hon. Lady’s earlier intervention in respect of contact with the Irish Government, the Prime Minister will discuss the issues around the alternative arrangements with the Taoiseach on Monday. That will build on considerable other interaction with the Irish Government—for example, I had a meeting with Simon Coveney in the Irish embassy in Paris last week, and the Foreign Secretary met him in the same week. There has been extensive contact with the Irish Government.
The Prime Minister’s EU sherpa is in Brussels today. The last round of technical talks was last week and he will have further talks on Wednesday to explore much of this detail. But the detail needs to be in place at the end of the implementation period, which is the end of 2020—or even potentially, by mutual agreement, at the end of a further one or two years. The timescale, therefore, is realistic and negotiable—
The Bill? I am very happy to talk about the Bill. The issue for the hon. Gentleman is that he talks about voting against no deal, but he should come clean and admit that actually he is opposed to Brexit entirely. The public want Brexit delivered. The business community wants certainty. The Bill will leave our negotiations in purgatory, with a third extension after more than three years. Much has been made about parliamentary time—about the period between now and 14 October—but the EU itself says that a deal would not be struck until the eleventh hour, and that it would take until 17 October for the EU Council to reach a decision. The issue is not the time that is spent in September, but the time between 17 October and 31 October.
Over the summer, this new Government have narrowed their negotiating asks, as set out in the letter to President Tusk. They have targeted their request on the withdrawal agreement and a best-in-class free trade agreement. This is a Bill that is intended to stop Brexit. I urge colleagues to oppose it.
The Speaker put the Question (Order, 3 September), That the Bill be now read a Second time.
Bill read a Second time; to stand committed to a Committee of the whole House (Order, 3 September).