I beg to move,
That there shall be an early parliamentary general election.
The House of Commons has passed a Bill devised by the Leader of the Opposition, who, I see, is not in his place. He is characteristically evasive, if not frit. It is a Bill that effectively ends the negotiations; a Bill that demands an extension at least until next year, and perhaps for many more years to come; and a Bill that insists that Britain acquiesces to the demands of Brussels and hands control to our partners. It is a Bill designed to overturn the biggest democratic vote in our history, the 2016 referendum. It is therefore a Bill without precedent in the history of this House, seeking as it does to force the Prime Minister, with a pre-drafted letter, to surrender in international negotiations. I refuse to do this. It is clear that there is therefore only one way forward for the country. The House has voted repeatedly to leave the EU, yet it has also voted repeatedly to delay actually leaving. It has voted for negotiations, and today, I am afraid, it has voted to stop—to scupper—any serious negotiations.
What this Bill means is that Parliament, or the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition, who is still not in his place—[Interruption.] I really do not know where he is. He refuses to give battle, or at least to engage in argument tonight. Perhaps that is a sign of how he intends to pursue things in the weeks ahead. [Interruption.] I am glad that he has now favoured the House with his presence. His Bill, among its other functions, will take away the right of this country to decide how long it must remain in the EU and hand that power to the EU. That is what it does, and I am afraid that it is time for this country to decide whether that is right.
The country must now decide whether the Leader of the Opposition or I go to those negotiations in Brussels on 17 October to sort this out. Everybody knows that if the right hon. Gentleman were the Prime Minister, he would beg for an extension and accept whatever Brussels demanded. We would then have years more dither and delay, yet more arguments over Brexit and no resolution to the uncertainty that currently bedevils this country and our economy. Everyone knows, by contrast, that if I am Prime Minister, I will go to Brussels and I will try to get a deal. Believe me, I know that I can get a deal. If they will not do a deal—I think it would be eminently sensible for them to do so, and I believe that they will—then, under any circumstances, this country will leave the EU on 31 October.
It is completely impossible for Government to function if the House of Commons refuses to pass anything that the Government propose. In my view, and in the view of this Government, there must be an election on Tuesday 15 October—I invite the Leader of the Opposition to respond—to decide which of us which goes as Prime Minister to that crucial Council on Thursday 17 October. I think it is very sad that MPs have voted like this—[Interruption.] I do; I think it is a great dereliction of their democratic duty. But if I am still Prime Minister after Tuesday 15 October, we will leave on 31 October with, I hope, a much better deal.
The Leader of the Opposition now has a question to answer. He has demanded an election for two years while blocking Brexit. He said only two days ago that he would support an election. Parliament having passed a Bill that destroys the ability of Government to negotiate, is he now going to say that the public cannot be allowed an election to decide which of us sorts out this mess? I do not want an election, the public do not want an election and the country does not want an election, but this House has left no option other than letting the public decide who they want as Prime Minister. I commend this motion to the House.
This is the second time I have replied to a Conservative Prime Minister who has sought to dissolve Parliament and call an election because they did not have a deliverable Brexit policy. Although I am not condemning the right hon. Member for Maidenhead (Mrs May) by comparing her to her successor, she at least made detailed speeches setting out her Brexit policy—even if we fundamentally disagreed with them. This Prime Minister claims he has a strategy, but he cannot tell us what it is. The bigger problem for him is that he has not told the EU what it is either.
At Prime Minister’s Question Time today, as in the statement yesterday, the Prime Minister was unable even to say whether he has made any proposals whatsoever to the EU. Basically, the policy is cloaked in mystery because, like the emperor’s new clothes, there really is absolutely nothing there. The naked truth is that the reality is deeply unpalatable: a disastrous no-deal Brexit to take us into the arms of a trade deal with Donald Trump that would put America first and Britain a distant second.
The Prime Minister knows there is no mandate for no deal, no majority support for it in the country and no majority for it in this House. The Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster—the co-convenor of the Vote Leave campaign—said in March this year that
“we didn’t vote to leave without a deal.”
Even the leaders of the leave campaign are absolutely clear that the referendum conferred no mandate for no deal. No deal is opposed by every business group, every industry body and every trade union—and by this House, as today’s vote and others have shown.
We want an election because we look forward to turfing this Government out.
The right hon. Gentleman obviously did not hear what I just said. Before he gently interrupted me, I was about to point out that the offer of the election today is a bit like the offer of an apple to Snow White from the Wicked Queen, because what the Prime Minister is offering is not an apple or even an election, but the poison of a no deal. I repeat what I said last night. Let this Bill pass and gain Royal Assent, and then we will back an election—so we do not crash out of the European Union with a no-deal exit.
It is the anti-democratic instincts of this Government that cause us concern. Despite the expressed will of the House to support the Bill debated today, the Conservative peers—the Government’s colleagues in the Lords—have tabled 92 amendments for debate. I really doubt that this is motivated by a desire to improve the legislation; not a bit of it. Instead, it is motivated by a desire to filibuster the Bill—an undemocratic cabal in Downing Street, aligned with an undemocratic and unelected House to override the democratic will of this House expressed in the Bill to which we have just given a Third Reading. If the Government cannot win the argument, they try to shut down debate.
We had the Prime Minister deciding to prorogue Parliament in August, and today he wants to dissolve Parliament to shut down scrutiny. He cannot handle dissent and debate in his own party, and has extraordinarily expelled 21 of his own MPs who voted against him last night. The hypocrisy of this process is phenomenal, from a Prime Minister who twice voted against the former Prime Minister’s Brexit plans.
A general election is not a plaything for a Prime Minister to avoid his obligations, to dodge scrutiny or to renege on commitments. He has committed to renegotiate Brexit, but where is the plan and where are the proposals? If he has a Brexit plan, be it no deal or the new mystery proposal deal of which we have yet to see any information, he should put it before the public in a public vote—a referendum or a general election—and seek a mandate from them. Let the Prime Minister go to Brussels tomorrow and ask for an extension so that he can seek a mandate for his unknown Brexit plan and put it before the people.
The truth is that this motion from the Prime Minister is about playing a disingenuous game that is unworthy of his office. I look forward to the day when his Government and his party, with all the austerity and misery they have heaped on this country, are turfed out of office, and when we prevent this country from crashing out on 31 October, with all the damage—he knows, because he has already seen the documents—that it will do to people’s lives and job prospects in this country. It is a cynical move from a cynical Prime Minister.
I do not know whether the House wants a debate, so I will be very brief. I was going to join in if other people were going to debate. Thank you for encouraging me, Mr Speaker—no doubt to the deep distress of everybody else waiting to have an important vote.
I merely say that I have found these exchanges quite predictable; they had been well rehearsed before they took place today. With the greatest respect, I do think that the Prime Minister has a tremendous skill in keeping a straight face while he is being so disingenuous. The fact is that he is now desperate to have a general election in order to bring this House’s proceedings to an end, and to have the election, clearly, before 31 October. He is obviously going to campaign before that on the basis that he has been thwarted in getting an amazing, beneficial deal for this country that is being blocked by wicked continental politicians and by MPs in the House of Commons who have no sense of the true national interest, which is to keep him in power.
It is wrong to say that those opposed to the Prime Minister are trying to reverse the referendum. A very large percentage of those who have been defeating him in the past two days are prepared to vote for Brexit. They voted for Brexit more often than he has. He caused delay in March and he caused delay in April when we wished to proceed on satisfactory, reasonable terms. We now have a Bill that is the beginning of a pathway to giving us more time for grown-up, sensible, diplomatic exchanges between each other.
The idea that those in the European Union are refusing us a deal because they think that they are going to trap us in it permanently is nonsense. They are desperate to get a deal—of course they are—but not so desperate that they are going to accept terms that will cause chaos in Northern Ireland, politically and economically, and will shatter the normal rules that hold together the single market and the customs union upon which they are based. The Prime Minister has thrown down dramatic conditions that he must know make any sensible negotiations pointless unless he changes his direction. He is now Prime Minister. He is now a responsible politician with huge responsibility. I urge him one last time to stop treating all this as a game and to use the time available to get a serious resolution of these impossible problems to look after the future good will of this country, to keep us in a proper—no doubt different—relationship with our partners on the continent, and, in particular, to keep our economic and trading relationships intact, because they are essential for the future of our children and grandchildren.
May I congratulate with all my heart the right hon. and learned Member for Rushcliffe (Mr Clarke), who has spoken with great sense, as he has done on many occasions when I have followed him? I will give you a piece of friendly advice, Prime Minister: sack your adviser Dominic Cummings and bring in the right hon. and learned Member for Rushcliffe, who might actually be able to give you some sensible advice.
We are having this debate tonight quite simply because the Prime Minister has been defeated. That is the reality. I say to the Prime Minister: as this House is supposed to be sovereign in your eyes, accept the will of this House, accept the Bill that Parliament has passed, accept your duty as Prime Minister, and go to the European Council on 17 October to negotiate the extension that you have now been told to deliver.
Yet again, this Government have been defeated by a majority in the House of Commons against a no-deal Brexit. The passage tonight of the Bill to block no deal is a victory not just for democracy but, yes, for common sense. I pay tribute to the Members of Parliament across these Benches who have worked tirelessly to build consensus for this legislation to pass and remove the cliff-edge catastrophe. The Prime Minister should not be talking about surrender—he should be congratulating Members of Parliament who have stood up for all our national interests. What a disgrace for a Prime Minister to accuse parliamentarians—decent parliamentarians—of surrender. It simply lacks dignity.
Now that Parliament has once again displayed its will, the Prime Minister must show respect for democracy and agree to abide by the will of Parliament and the Bill blocking no deal. [Interruption.] If the Prime Minister wishes to intervene rather than shout at me, I will give him the courtesy that he did not afford me.
I have been listening to the right hon. Gentleman with great care, but the one thing he does not say in all this is that the reason he has voted for the Bill tonight is that he and his party are adamantly opposed to ever delivering Brexit. Will he now admit that that is his purpose and the purpose of the Bill?
My heavens! I think it is quite clear, if anyone reads the Bill, what it is about—it is about removing the cliff edge of 31 October. We in the SNP have worked with colleagues right around the House in a spirit of consensus, but yes, of course I wish to stop Brexit and Scotland being dragged out. We will work collectively with everybody here, but my colleagues and I have a responsibility to stop this Government dragging Scotland out of Europe against its will. My message to the Prime Minister and the right hon. Gentleman is this: will you respect democracy in Scotland, and will you respect the fact that Scotland has voted to remain in the European Union?
It is the SNP’s top priority to avoid no deal. We know the devastation that a no-deal Brexit would bring to people in Scotland and across these islands. That is why we have been working hard for the past two years to avoid no deal. SNP MPs have voted consistently against no deal. We supported the Letwin-Cooper process in March to avoid no deal, and we are now doing the same with the Benn Bill.
I welcome the right hon. Gentleman’s confirmation tonight that he will, along with my party and the Labour party, vote against the Government. If the Government continue to pursue this reckless no-deal policy, will he continue to work with us to block any attempt to take us off the cliff edge against the will of Parliament?
The simple answer is yes. I commit myself to working with all others, because we have a responsibility to our constituents to stop the disaster of no deal. Indeed, I have been working with leaders of other parties to ensure that the Benn Bill passes tonight. We have come together to ensure that protecting the lives of people across the United Kingdom and their livelihoods is the absolute priority of this Parliament, and it is important that we keep working together.
No one voted for a no-deal Brexit. It was not on the ballot paper, and the Prime Minister needs to wake up to that reality—perhaps, Prime Minister, you might start listening to the debate, rather than chatting to the Chancellor, if you don’t mind. It is important that no tricks are deployed to avert the course of democracy over the coming days. [Interruption.] Government Members can try to shout us down. They tried last night, and it will not work. The unelected House of Lords should not under any circumstances seek to damage or kill the protections in this legislation, and the Prime Minister should quit game-playing stunts. The SNP will not fall for them.
The Scottish National party is ready for an election. We stand ready to bring down the Tory Government and give Scotland a chance to stop Brexit and decide its own future. We signal our intent to work with all across this House to stop a no-deal Brexit. It is in all our interests to do so. We will do our duty to protect all of us from a no-deal Brexit, but at the same time, this House should respect the sovereignty of the Scottish people and our right to be able to determine our own future.
I do not know whether my right hon. Friend noted last night the lack of enthusiasm from Scottish Conservatives for an early general election. That might have something to do with the fact that they are now at 20% in the polls and due to be decimated. If they vote for this tonight, would they not be turkeys voting for Christmas? If Ruth Davidson cannot stomach the Prime Minister, why should Scotland?
My hon. Friend is quite right. I look forward to SNP challengers standing in the Scottish Tory seats. We will take the fight to those constituents over the coming weeks and make sure that those constituents have the opportunity to return those seats to the Scottish National party.
Much of this debate has been about democracy. It is about the abuse of power by a Government seeking to shut down Parliament. This House must respect the Scottish Parliament, and in particular the mandate the Scottish Government have for a referendum on independence. It should be Scotland’s right to choose its own future, not the right of this Prime Minister or any other in Westminster to tell Scotland that our votes do not matter and that we cannot determine when Scotland votes in an independence referendum.
An election is coming, and I invite Scotland to send a message to Westminster: it is Scotland’s right to choose. The Times poll today shows that the SNP is set to win a majority of Westminster seats in any election. Make no mistake: we relish an election because we want to stop Brexit for good, stop the Tories and stop this Prime Minister; and, most importantly, we want to give the people a say—their choice to decide their own future. However, we will not be a party to the Prime Minister’s games and allow the Prime Minister to use an election to force a no-deal Brexit through the back door.
Simply put, the SNP cannot support this motion tonight because we do not trust the Prime Minister, and who could blame us? With his tall tales, his contempt for democracy and his Government’s broken promises to the people of Scotland, we cannot trust that he will allow this Bill to pass and remove the cliff edge before an election. I urge other opposition parties tonight to not give the Prime Minister the opportunity to bring in a no deal through the back door. We cannot allow a Government who have lost their majority, who do not command the House and who have treated this Parliament and this country with contempt to remain in office for one more day longer than is necessary.
The Prime Minister is going to shut this Parliament down so that he can spend four weeks running down the clock. We could instead use that time to run him out of office. Once a no deal has been blocked, MPs on the Opposition Benches should come together to bring down this Government—not on the Prime Minister’s terms, but on the right terms. Time is of the essence over the next few days in order to remove the cliff edge, and to remove this shambolic, irresponsible, incompetent Tory Government from office.
I think that I have an apology to make, and that is to Brenda from Bristol. On a personal basis, I think I have only just got over the 2015 election. However, we need to ask ourselves: what can this Parliament now achieve? Can it deliver the bold new agenda that a new Prime Minister wishes to put in place for this country? Would this Parliament even approve a bold and ambitious Queen’s Speech to put into statute in the future? Would it approve a Queen’s Speech to put 20,000 new police on the streets and to strengthen our criminal justice system? The answer must be no, or at least rather doubtful. There could be an issue of confidence if a Queen’s Speech is voted down, so possibly this place is only putting off the fateful day.
What we have seen this afternoon is more of the same from a moribund Parliament, while the public simply shake their head in dismay at what is going on in this place. It is bizarre, is it not? There are those in this House who will not countenance leaving the European Union without a deal.
It is very clear that the Prime Minister wants a cut-and-run general election. Surely, if he loses the vote that he has called tonight, as he has lost many other votes, the Prime Minister should simply follow his convictions and resign: go—go! But no, we know he wants to cut and run before the disaster that is coming. He will be lashed to the tiller and lashed for the disaster, and he should know that.
Has my hon. Friend ever heard so many Opposition Members crying out for an early general election, as they have done for the past two years? The Prime Minister is now giving them that opportunity, and they are running scared. They are not just running scared from the Prime Minister and the next general election, but running scared from the people of this country, who in 2016 said that they wanted to leave the European Union, and it is Opposition Members who are denying them that opportunity to leave the EU. Does my hon. Friend agree that if the British people get the chance to have an early general election, the Conservative party will win it?
I thank my hon. Friend for that powerful intervention. I could not agree with him more.
To get back on track, there are those in this place who will not countenance leaving without a deal. It is quite strange—is it not?—that they are the same people who go to their local market every week and will walk away from a trade if the price or quality is not right. If I said to the Leader of the Opposition, “I have a rusty old heap of a car. It’s yours for £15,000,” I am sure he would just take it without looking any further.
When this House was presented with a withdrawal agreement by the previous Administration, I obviously voted against it because I felt it was a lousy, rotten deal. I do not need to put those objections further tonight. There are many others—I am looking at them—who voted against that deal, the now-defunct withdrawal agreement, because of pure party politics.
No. Let me make progress. They claim they wanted a deal. As we know, that withdrawal agreement gave the vassalage and perpetual homage to the EU that many of them now seem to crave. It is now clear that this House would not agree a deal even if it were gold-plated. This House no longer reflects the will of the people of this country, who gave that clear message to us—to this Parliament—that we should respect that vote in 2016. They want us to get on with the job. They want us to leave on 31 October. They have waited long enough.
This Parliament serves no further purpose. It is time for a general election. It is time for that people’s vote that many are asking for. It is time to stop those critics who say that our Prime Minister is not properly elected. They can put that right by voting tonight for a general election, and I support that wholeheartedly.
I want to say thank you to the MPs in different parts of the House who worked so hard on the Bill that we all passed tonight. It is that cross-party working—putting party interest to one side and putting the national interest first—that the country expects us to do. In particular, those colleagues on the Conservative Benches who have stuck to their principles and done what they think is right should be commended for that. The way that they have been treated has been shameful.
I am intrigued that as a result of the House of Commons saying clearly that we will not countenance crashing out of the EU with no deal, the Prime Minister’s response is that this somehow messes up his plan. It is as if it is news to him that the House of Commons does not want a no-deal exit. Was he not paying attention on the previous occasions that we voted to say that there should not be a no-deal exit? Is he seriously saying that the extent of his plan was to try to bully the EU and that he could only get a good deal by threatening that we would leave without a deal? Because if that is the extent of his plan, it is not very well thought through.
It should be no surprise to the hon. Lady that the Liberal Democrats want to stop Brexit. We have been crystal clear on stopping Brexit. For all our different views in different parts of the House about that, I do not think that anyone can accuse us of not being straightforward about where we stand.
On the negotiation, the Prime Minister—
I have already given way.
On the terms of the negotiation, the Prime Minister says that he now cannot do this negotiation because we are taking no deal off the table, but we know that there are no serious negotiations anyway. The word “disingenuous” was used by the Father of the House, and I think that that is accurate. The Prime Minister has wanted the job he has for so long it has been almost painful to watch. He has been prepared to say anything and do anything to get that job. He said—
I have given way.
The Prime Minister has said that we will get a great deal. Well, now he has the job. That is the job: go and get a great deal. But he knows that he was just saying whatever came into his head to get the job. He knows he cannot a great deal because there is no such thing as a great Brexit deal, and he is scared of being found out.
I have already given way to somebody on the Government Benches. I am going to say what I have to say.
The way I think that this is best resolved is by putting this issue to the people in a people’s vote to decide on a Brexit way forward. I do not believe there is a majority in this country for any specific type of Brexit deal. I am not even convinced there is a majority in the Conservative party for any type of Brexit deal.
We could have a general election. I say to the Prime Minister that such an election should be held in a responsible, calm and orderly way, and not with the threat of crashing out with no deal either during the campaign or in the immediate aftermath. If he wants an election, extend article 50 for the purposes of having a general election and bring it on. If he is not prepared to do that, do not be surprised when people are not fooled by his tactics and vote against him.
It is very important in this debate that we are all very mindful of the language we use. It has been concerning that right hon. and hon. Government Members, including our Prime Minister, have chosen to use the words “frit” and “frightened” of those of us who believe that the last thing this country needs is a general election. Given everything that has happened in the past few years, there are a number of people in this place who could not be accused of being frightened. In fact, it has taken a lot of courage for some people.
If Government Members are not familiar with courage, they might want to talk to some of those hon. Members they have just booted out of their own party—decent, long-serving and hugely loyal members of the Conservative party who last night and again today chose to put their constituents and their country first. The price that they have paid is to see the end of their parliamentary career, and this House is right to commend each and every one of them for the considerable courage that it took.
I am in no doubt whatsoever that it is not just the people of Broxtowe, but the people of this country who are thoroughly fed up to the back teeth with Brexit, and that is why I have the very firm view that the matter of Brexit must be brought to a conclusion. There are people in this place who will know, from the many cross-party conversations that we have had—I am proud that we have worked together across parties, putting aside our normal differences, again, in the country’s interest—that my view is that any extension should not go beyond certainly January and maybe February next year, because of the profound need that we must bring this matter to a conclusion. That is one of the reasons why I do not believe that a general election is the answer at all, because it will not solve the Brexit crisis.
I am so sorry to tell the hon. Lady, but she has obviously been reading something completely different from the rest of us because it most absolutely does not. The Bill has been carefully drafted, and properly so, to make sure that it is in the interests of our country that we take no deal off the table, because that is the best thing for this country. [Interruption.] I am quite happy to take an intervention, rather than have her just shouting at me. The Bill is all about not stopping Brexit, as many of us would like to, but stopping no deal for all the reasons that have been explained.
The hon. Lady is right—she is right not only about no deal, but that the former Prime Minister’s withdrawal agreement would also not have ended the debate about Brexit, because it was a blindfolded Brexit that did not determine our future trading relationship with the European Union.
My views on this are well known: I believe that the only way out of the crisis is to have a people’s vote. Put the deal from the former Prime Minister—well, it was not a deal, but at least it was something—to the British people, with remain on the ballot paper, and let us get this matter over. I believe that the British people have also changed their minds. I think that they are now seeing Brexit for what it is and that, given the opportunity, they would vote for the best deal, which is the current deal that we have with the European Union. That is another good reason why this matter must now go back to the British people by way of a people’s vote.
I rise only briefly because I know we want to get through this.
The reality is that this is about a general election. We have heard speeches from a number of Opposition Members that are all about nothing to do with the general election, but are about recycling the debate that we had earlier.
The truth is that there is but a simple question in front of the Opposition parties. Only two days ago, they were crying out for an election. The shadow Chancellor said, “Bring it on. We’re ready for it.” The Leader of the Opposition, when he was not having his afternoon nap and was awake enough to be able to meet the media, said that he wanted to have an election. The Scottish nationalists were adamant that they were going to vote for an election.
No, no, wait a minute. The hon. Gentleman has made a fool of himself already. He should stay put; I am doing him a favour. [Interruption.] I am really doing him a favour—he may not understand it.
If they do not vote for an election tonight—if they refuse to vote to have that election—they will be running away from their democratic responsibility. I say to Members such as the right hon. Member for Broxtowe (Anna Soubry)—one time my right hon. Friend—
No, honestly, the hon. Gentleman really does not want to do himself any disfavours.
The right hon. Lady talks about a people’s vote. The problem with a people’s vote, if she wants to put it to a referendum, as the new leader of the Liberal party does, is that she would never accept the result—
Wait a minute. Let me finish, because this is important. Here is the fault line: without a different Parliament, a new referendum will change absolutely nothing if the people vote to leave again, because we would come back to this Parliament and they would stop, delay and try to defeat that motion.
The decision tonight is therefore the only decision that can be made in all reality. If we want to decide whether the British people were right, or wrong, to vote leave, we should put it to them in a general election and let them make that decision. [Interruption.] I see the hon. Gentleman opposite shaking his head. Only days ago, he and his colleague on the Front Bench—
On a point of order, Mr Speaker. I am so sorry, Mr Speaker, but the right hon. Gentleman said something about me that is simply not accurate. I asked whether I could intervene, but he did not allow me to do so. I accept that that is his absolute right, but I think that the record should show that I have always said that if this matter goes back to the British people and they vote for the former Prime Minister’s deal, or some new magical unicorn deal, as far as I am concerned, that is the end of it.
I am going to conclude, Mr Speaker.
If the right hon. Lady wants a people’s vote, I say to her that the people’s vote is in front of us tonight in this debate. It is called a general election. I have never known an Opposition not want to take over. This is a bizarre affair. They are running away from trying to defeat a Government. Let us have that election, let us make that decision, and if the right hon. Gentleman who leads the Labour party right now genuinely believes in democracy, let him put up or shut up.
I very much wish to talk about a general election—the right hon. Member for Chingford and Woodford Green (Mr Duncan Smith) has criticised others for not doing so—and to speak plainly. Tonight I will absolutely vote against a general election. I would vote against pretty much anything the current Prime Minister put in front of me.
I warn you, Mr Speaker, that I am not cracking on the parliamentary protocols and everything, but I fear I may say some things that are unparliamentary. If I do, please feel free to alert me. I have absolutely no faith in anything the current Prime Minister says—literally none. I would not trust him—am I allowed to say that? Well, there is literally no distance I could trust him. [Interruption.] Conservative Members say, “So stand in an election”. I have no fear—none whatsoever—that I would hold my seat in an election, but the Prime Minister is playing some bully boy game from some bully boy public school that I probably would never understand any more than I understand parliamentary procedures.
Order. The hon. Lady says she does not understand parliamentary procedure, but on the whole she does not shriek from a sedentary position. The hon. Gentleman has been in the House for 14 years. If he wishes to contribute, he can seek to catch my eye. He should not chunter from a sedentary position in evident disregard for the procedures of the House.
The reality is that what we have here is a game, and we are not being told what the rules are. The Prime Minister could bring a deal to the House. He could tell us what his plans are for Northern Ireland, and he could tell us what his plans are for trade. Yesterday, I watched Conservative colleagues begging him to tell them what he wanted—[Interruption.] Yeah, ta-ra a bit, bab. I saw colleagues, begging him, saying “Give us a deal to vote for.”
The Prime Minister has stood up and said, “I don’t want an election.” This is some game that three men in No. 10 Downing Street have come up with: they are trying to game the system so that they will win.
My democratic responsibility is to try to do my absolute best for the people in my constituency. At the moment things are not all that clear and we are all a little bit confused, but I am absolutely not going to use those people as a chitty in a game to enable the Prime Minister to achieve the ambition that he has only ever had for himself, and never for the country. I am not going to use my constituents as collateral damage.
One of the things that people watching the debate should be aware of, and what we all know in here, is that the Government want a cut-and-run election. The election that they do not want is one that would take place on 14 or 21 November; that is the election in which we would take them out.
I, too, will not vote for a general election tonight. I do not want no deal, because it will harm not only my constituents but the 22,000 EU nationals who are living in my constituency. The Home Secretary has said that freedom of movement will end at midnight on 31 October.
I could not agree more. There are thousands of EU migrants in my constituency, and lots of them have absolutely no idea what their situation will be. I have to represent those people as much as I represent the people who would be allowed to vote in a general election or a referendum.
Let us make no bones about the suggestion that I am not able to be completely critical when I think that things are wrong, both in my party and in the governing party. It is just a shame that quite a lot of the people sitting in front of me know that what has happened over the last two days is wrong, but are too cowardly to say in the House, in public, what they are all saying in the Tea Room. They know what has happened here. It is as if we were kicking out my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Camberwell and Peckham (Ms Harman). That is what it feels like. I say to those people: the way your party has behaved is an abomination. You have all crowed and given sympathy to me about the problems that we have in the Labour party, but you have just sat by silently while your colleagues have been marched out.
I agree with my hon. Friend about the way in which the Conservative party has treated loyal Members of Parliament. Whatever else night be said, I think it is unheard of in parliamentary history for the whip to be suspended from an MP who has voted against his party. That is a bully-boy tactic.
I entirely agree.
I am going to speak for Brenda in Bristol, although there are plenty of Brendas in Birmingham. I do not think that we should have a general election, and I will not vote for one. I also think that we should not have a conference recess and we should not prorogue Parliament. We are currently involved in a national crisis. This is not a game. This is not some toy that we can play with.
I am not going to give way any more. I apologise, but I have given way plenty of times already.
If we were to go out into the street and ask them, the British public would say that they think we should be in here doing our job. They think that we are away from here too often anyway. I am appalled by the Prorogation—and from now on let’s call it the shutting down of Parliament, because I literally hate the word “Prorogation” and the people outside probably do not understand what we are talking about half the time. The shutting down of Parliament has essentially killed a Bill that I have worked on for two and a half years; it is something that people in this House have deeply held feelings on, and I am meant to believe that the Prime Minister is really doing this because he has a vision for the people in this country. He has a vision that comes to him every night, and it is his own face. I will vote against an election until the end of October—until this is sorted—because the British public want me here working for them, and that is what I will do.
I have no doubt that the constituents of the hon. Member for Birmingham, Yardley (Jess Phillips) want her working here and representing them. She talked about this being a national crisis and it is a national crisis, but it is a crisis of trust: it is a crisis of trust in politicians, it is a crisis of trust in democracy, because it was this House that decided to give the British public the referendum in 2016. I know the expectation was that the British public would not vote to leave the European Union, but when they listened to all the arguments they decided that they wished to leave.
Following that, we had a general election. The Labour party and the Conservative party both stood on a similar platform on Brexit and that was that we were going to deliver the Brexit that people voted for. I remember the ballot paper. It said, “Do you want to remain in or leave the European Union?” It was a basic binary question. The fact is that 17.4 million people in this country decided that they wished to leave the European Union; the margin was about 1.4 million. And that was the expectation because of the pamphlet that David Cameron ensured got sent to all the households in the United Kingdom, which said on the back, “We will deliver what the British people have voted for.”
That was in 2016. Today we are in September 2019. We should have left on 29 March, but we did not. Then we should have left on 12 April, but we did not. Then the then Prime Minister said, “I cannot contemplate a date beyond 30 June for us leaving,” and we didn’t. Now it is 31 October and we have just given a Third Reading to a Bill that will extend that by another three months—unless of course the European Union decides it wants the period to be greater than three months, because that is something that we will then have to accept.
The hon. Gentleman can have his beliefs, but he cannot have his own facts. The Bill that we have passed tonight does absolutely nothing unless the Prime Minister fails to come back from the European Council with a deal. If he comes back with a deal, we then vote on it on 19 October. If the House votes for that deal, we leave the European Union with that deal. If that deal does not pass this House, this House has to vote on no deal and, if the House does not agree with no deal, that is when we go for the extension. Those are the facts about what we have done. It does nothing to the negotiations of the Prime Minister. That is a complete fallacy. What is happening here is that this Government are being run by Nigel Farage—that is what is going on here.
What this House did today clearly was to weaken the negotiating position of the Prime Minister. We all know that Michel Barnier and the European Union listen very carefully to this Parliament; in fact some MPs in this Parliament have a direct line to Michel Barnier and Juncker and Tusk. They are in fairly well daily contact with them sometimes—[Interruption]. There is one over there. And we know what they are saying: they are saying, “Don’t give in to the British Prime Minister because we can resist Brexit.” And that is what is going to happen.
We know that the British Prime Minister is already in discussions with people such as Angela Merkel and various others within the European Union to ensure that the problems that existed in the old deal are removed, but the Bill that was passed tonight gives the European Union no incentive whatever to come to the negotiating table and to have a proper negotiation.
The Liberal Democrats are at least honest, as are the Scottish nationalists, in saying that they do not wish to leave the European Union. However, given that we have had the referendum and the people have voted to leave, I just wonder which part of “Liberal Democrat” is actually “democrat”, because they clearly are not interested in what the British people voted for in 2016. They ask for a second vote, but what we are offering tonight is a general election, and that can be a second vote. The people will look at the policies of the Labour party under its current leader and at the policies of my party under its current leader, and they will decide whether the Prime Minister or the Leader of the Opposition should go to Brussels for that negotiation on 17 October.
Part of the problem, as we all know, is that during the 2016 referendum three quarters of the Members in this Chamber voted to remain in the European Union. They do not want to leave the European Union, and they will do anything that they possibly can to frustrate our leaving.
I think it would be more accurate, and kinder, to put a full stop and a pause after saying who voted which way in the referendum, before going on to suggest that those who voted one way have been voting the same way during the debate on leaving the European Union. I have voted three times to leave the European Union and I wish the same thing could be said about some of the zealots on my side.
The fact is that we now have a Prime Minister who believes in the mission and who wants to negotiate honestly with the European Union and be able to deliver the Brexit that people really voted for. They voted to leave the customs union and the single market; to not pay vast sums of money to the European Union as we currently do; to control our own immigration; to not be justiciable by the European courts; and certainly not to have a backstop that keeps us in the European Union without our permission and unable to leave. As I said, three quarters of Members of this Parliament voted to remain in the European Union, and the vast majority of those Members still do not wish us to leave. The fact is, however, that the British people have voted to leave the European Union and, if this Parliament decides that we are not going to leave the European Union, the British people ought to have the opportunity to change their Parliament. They can do that tonight.
This attempt to dissolve Parliament is a desperate and utterly cynical move, and I am delighted that it has been made clear tonight by all the Opposition parties that we are not falling for it. The Prime Minister can own his own horrendous mess. He is trying to smuggle out this no-deal Brexit during an election campaign, and that is what makes it so vital that no election happens before there is an extension of article 50—before it is agreed and, crucially, before it is implemented as well.
I notice that the Prime Minister has scuttled off. He cannot even be bothered to listen to the debate on his own motion on something as important as a general election. There are numerous reasons why many of us want to get rid of this cruel and callous Government. Believe me, I am one of those who absolutely wants to do that, not least because this is a Government who are not only doing nowhere near enough to tackle the climate crisis but actively exacerbating it with fracking, fossil fuel subsidies and so on. This is also a Government who have the arrogance to claim that a no-deal Brexit will just be “bumps in the road”. How dare they? They might just be bumps in the road to those on the Front Bench who have the luxury to be insulated from the impacts of a disastrous no-deal Brexit, but for most of our constituents a no-deal Brexit spells real disaster, not bumps in the road. The mere fact that the Government could use that phrase suggests just out how out of touch they are with their own constituents.
A general election on the Prime Minister’s terms right now is a trap. It will not resolve the Brexit crisis. Elections are rarely fought on one issue alone, and first past the post is notoriously bad at reflecting the true views of the public in the seats that are won. If we are to break the Brexit deadlock in Parliament, the people must lead the way. The Prime Minister regularly asserts his commitment to the will of the people, so why is he not prepared to listen to what people want now, specifically on Brexit, and go back to them in a second referendum—a people’s vote? That is how we resolve Brexit, not by proroguing, dissolving, dodging and obfuscating.
I have one more important point about how the people of our country have been let down by successive Governments. The status quo is intolerable for a huge number of people. Brexit laid bare the extent to which our governance structures are derelict. The social contract is broken. The power game is rigged. The 17.4 million people who gave the establishment such a well-deserved kicking in 2016 were right and reasonable to be furious—we need a powerful commitment now not even to try to go back to the way things were before 2016—but that means tackling democratic failure as well as economic failure. It means redistributing power as well as wealth.
If the Government were genuine about being on the side of the people, they would be honest enough to own the complete chaos that they have managed to create. They would put country before party, back a citizens’ convention to revitalise our democracy and explore proposals such as a codified written constitution and a fairer voting system, so that people’s views are properly heard. Let us at last have a democracy that puts people at the heart of it. The Government would also finally provide a categorical assurance that they will respect this House and the democracy that we do have, and not seek to avoid it in any way or try to avoid implementing the Bill that we have just voted on tonight.
I think every Member in this House respects the passion and bravery of the hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Caroline Lucas), but will she at least recognise the irony that she is calling for the revitalisation of democracy at the same time as speaking against renewing the representative mandate of this House? I would invite the House to consider—[Interruption.] I am going to be very brief. The irony also extends to those crying for a people’s vote who will vote against the people having a vote about the future of this House.
The British public have watched this House of Commons decline into almost a zombie Parliament—one that is incapable of deciding anything and is still dominated by remain thinking and remain attitudes even though the British people clearly voted leave in the referendum. Yesterday, I spoke about the problem of us having created conflicting representative and direct mandates. The legitimacy of this House was unquestionably as a House of representatives, but we qualified that as we introduced the concept of referendums into our constitution. The representative mandate is unalterably qualified by the fact that we had a referendum and said that we would implement the result.
However, this House has failed to implement that result. We therefore must ask ourselves: how is that going to be resolved? It will not be resolved by continuing to put off decisions, yet the Bill, which so many of the remain-supporting Members of this House are so pleased with, does no more than invite the European Union to put off its decisions. What is going to be gained by putting off decisions again? What kind of respect will this House gain by putting off decisions at the same time as avoiding a general election, which would make us accountable to our electors?
Does my hon. Friend share my puzzlement? Opposition Members are looking at a Government who have lost their majority, cannot get their business through and are offering the chance of a general election. An election will be about more than just Brexit. There are other things that matter to my constituents and they will still want to renew the mandate and give a Government a mandate to deliver on those things. A Government without the ability to deliver need to have a general election. I would have thought that any Opposition Member would have accepted that.
I agree with much of what my hon. Friend says, but I return to the question: how is it going to be resolved? Supposing the Opposition are successful, the Bill goes through and the Prime Minister is obliged to go and seek an extension and to accept an extension to, say, 31 January, or whatever date the European Union decides to offer—
I am not going to give way.
What will happen after that? A definition of madness is to repeat the same thing again and again expecting a different outcome. The longer this goes on, the more that Members of Parliament will fear holding a general election because, out there, faith in the established political parties—
I am not going to give way.
The voters’ faith in the established political parties is not being improved by what is going on; it is being further undermined. The last thing I want is for the whole of British politics to be realigned around the question of Brexit, but that is what will happen the longer we carry on putting off this decision.
Like so many of my voters and so many colleagues in this House, I long to move on to the questions beyond Brexit, but that requires us to respect the decision that has been taken. It requires respect for the fact that there is a Government in office with a responsibility to conduct the negotiations as they see fit, or it requires those who do not have confidence in the Government to table a motion of no confidence to resolve that question.
That brings me back to the Fixed-term Parliaments Act 2011, from which the motion we are debating this evening arises. It has turned out to be a recipe for this paralysis, which would never have arisen but for the Fixed-term Parliaments Act.
I beg your pardon. The right hon. Gentleman says that accusingly, but I certainly did not vote for it. I remember walking through the No Lobby on Second Reading with remarkably few people, and I said to them, “Don’t worry. This House will rue the day that it passed this piece of legislation.” We should now be rueing the day, because that legislation has put this House in a position where it can endlessly wound a Government but avoid killing them.
If the Leader of the Opposition has so much contempt for how this Government are conducting their affairs, and this Government no longer have a majority, why does he not table a motion of no confidence? It is because there is fear in this House about facing the consequences of a general election because of how this House has conducted the whole Brexit affair for the past three years.
I asked how this will be resolved, and I can tell the House that putting it off again and again will not make the political outcome of the eventual general election any easier for a great many colleagues. The Prime Minister, in his inimitable style, is showing leadership and courage at last. He is trying to resolve this issue.
“Leave” and “remain” were the words on the ballot paper. There was no reference to deal or no deal, but the Prime Minister of the day made it quite clear that we would leave the European Union, and this House has conspired again and again to delay that happening.
People in the constituencies of Opposition Members, particularly in remain-voting constituencies, should ask themselves what mandate they have for putting off this decision again and again. It is democracy in our country that is paying the price, and it is the rise of far more extremist parties that will be the result if this House carries on putting off the decision.
When I was elected as Member of Parliament for Colne Valley, one of the things I had to get used to was being addressed as “honourable Lady” and addressing male colleagues as “honourable Gentleman”; it seemed strange and arcane. Yet recently, I have been considering what it means to be honourable, and I have realised that it is indeed appropriate to consider what makes a person truly honourable. It is a pity the Prime Minister is not in his place. Would he be able to confirm that the people of this country consider the Government’s recent behaviour to be honourable? It is clear that many people outside Westminster think not.
Furthermore, I have been reflecting on my years as a teacher and headteacher, and considering how hard I worked, as do all teaching professionals, to instil the right values and ethos throughout a school—things such as respect, honesty and integrity.
I will make some progress.
I used to explain to younger children that integrity was doing the right thing even when someone is not watching. Well, we are watching the Prime Minister, and my fear is, if an attempt is being made to get away with no deal with no mandate and to gag Parliament while we are watching, what other horrors are going on behind closed doors? Will the Prime Minister tell me whether he believes his Cabinet has the integrity required to run our country, especially when some are lying flat out along the Front Bench?
I remember being invited to a meeting some time back with a Government Minister to discuss a local constituency matter. He said, “The Chamber is just theatre, and the real work goes on in meetings like this.” That stayed with me, as I know that this place is not theatre to me. When I speak it is from the heart, and I speak for my people in Colne Valley and those who are suffering under this Government’s cruel and callous austerity. Yes, I want a general election, so that we have a Government who act with both honour and integrity and respect the business in this Chamber. However, I want that election on the Opposition’s terms and when there is no possible chance of a no-deal Brexit. The history books will show that this current Government acted with neither honour nor integrity, and made us the laughing stock of the world. Our country deserves far better.
I stand briefly to raise one simple point, and it is an inconvenient truth for many in this Chamber: the overwhelming majority of Members here tonight voted to trigger article 50. What it said, very simply, was that we would leave the EU by 29 March, with or without a deal. Yet we have now seen two extensions to that deadline, and to many outside this place that is evident proof that there are too many remain MPs who will clasp on to any passing straw in order to delay and frustrate the EU referendum result. That is very wrong indeed. Not only does it make for a lack of trust, but it reinforces a scepticism in our politics that is not healthy at all.
I will give way in a moment, but I wish to finish this point. We have seen people clasp straws in the wind such as, “The people need another vote” and, “We need to support this motion.” The Opposition’s motion was ridiculous; anybody who has negotiated will understand that if one signals to those on the other side of the table that one is not prepared to walk away, it makes for a worse deal. That is a fact, but not to the many Members who will clasp at any straw to try to frustrate Brexit.
I will give one other example of how Brexit is being frustrated in this place. There is a near hysteria about no deal, despite the fact that the UK trades with the majority of the world’s GDP—with many countries outside the EU—on no-deal World Trade Organisation terms. Five of the EU’s top 10 trading partners trade on the basis of no-deal WTO terms. Since “Project Fear” in 2016 failed, we have had record low unemployment, record manufacturing output and record investment—in fact, last year we had more inward investment than France and Germany—all in the full knowledge that we could leave on no-deal WTO terms. Despite all that, Members in this place—too many remain MPs—have clasped at straws to frustrate Brexit and disregard the EU referendum result. That must now end. People have lost their patience with this place. The time has come to put forward actions instead of words.
I voted to trigger article 50, but the then Prime Minister called a general election, and I set down red lines to my constituents about what kind of deal I would vote for. The then Prime Minister in effect lost that election by losing 40-odd seats. My mandate comes from the 2017 election.
That is not a fair point, for the simple reason that in that general election both the Labour manifesto and the Conservative manifesto promised to deliver Brexit. All we have seen since is utter delay and confusion, caused largely by remain MPs who will not honour the referendum result.
The hon. Gentleman keeps saying that this is a remain Parliament with remain MPs—he keeps throwing that around—but the House of Commons Library confirmed that in excess of 575 MPs have voted for Brexit and voted for leave. How can he say that they are remain MPs when they vote to leave the European Union?
For the simple reason that the House has consistently voted not to honour the triggering of article 50. We keep kicking it into the long grass. When the hon. Gentleman and I voted to trigger article 50, the Bill was simple and short: it said that we would leave by 29 March, with or without a deal.
No, the hon. Gentleman has had his chance. It said that we would leave with or without a deal. Too many Members have continued to kick the can down the road—not once, not twice, but now three times, courtesy of the Bill passed earlier. It is absolutely ridiculous, and people are utterly fed up with it. A lot of remain MPs must look at themselves in the mirror and own up to the fact that all they want to do is stop Brexit. The people out there have had enough.
I am absolutely desperate to have a general election. I want to see a Government who will halt the privatisation of the national health service, who will properly fund our public services, who will stop the wealth of this country being squirreled away in tax havens in the Caribbean and who will care about the majority of people in this country and not just about the very wealthy, but that is not why the Prime Minister is calling for a general election. The Prime Minister is not calling for a general election so that we can have a Labour Government. The Prime Minister is calling for a general election so that, when and if we were to vote for it, he would be in sole control of what happened in this country, and there would be no Parliament here to hold him to account when we leave with a no-deal Brexit.
In my constituency of Ipswich, more than 50% of the people who voted in the referendum voted to leave. It was not much more than 50%, but it was more than 50%. I would not vote for a straight vote to revoke article 50, because that would be wrong. After there has been a referendum and people have voted to leave the European Union—albeit by a narrow margin—it would be entirely wrong for this House simply to go against those wishes.
I am sorry, I will not give way.
I want to see this Parliament agree on a viable deal that will not destroy the economy of this country. When we have a second vote—a people’s vote, a second referendum or whatever you want to call it—which I think we should have if we are to bring the country back together, I want there to be a viable choice. I do not believe that a no-deal Brexit is a viable choice. A no-deal Brexit is a suicide note. If anybody on the Government Benches thinks that, as passengers in a car speeding towards a cliff edge, we will take the option of jumping out just before we reach that cliff edge, they have another think coming. Yes, we will have a general election. This Government will not survive for very much longer, because they do not have an overall majority, but we will not have that general election while there is the danger of a no-deal Brexit.
I have to say that I find this a surreal debate in a zombie Parliament. I have tried pinching myself to make sure that I am awake. I asked my right hon. Friend the Member for Harlow (Robert Halfon) whether this was a dream, and he assured me that it was not. I heard one of my colleagues saying, “Now, Bob, please make it go away.” All I can say is that people who organise a coup generally do not put that coup to the people in the form of a vote. We want a people’s vote; it is called a general election. The Government are trying to get their agenda through, but, because of the nature of this Parliament, they are not succeeding. Therefore, we need an election to ask the people what they are for, rather than simply having their representatives endlessly voting on what they are against.
I want an election because I want a Government who deliver Brexit and then, frankly, get on and govern. The Scottish islands have the special islands needs allowance. I want something similar for my Isle of Wight. I was talking about it to the Prime Minister in the Tea Room today, and he is keen to give it to us. I want the Government to cover the NHS—an extra £10 million in revenue—local government, environment, food and rural affairs, and housing. We cannot get that. For six months, we have not had a domestic agenda because of our monomaniacal obsession with Brexit.
I do not know what the Opposition parties want. Three times they have been offered a Brexit deal, and three times they have refused it. Tonight, they are being offered a general election, and tonight they are refusing it. They cling to a zombie Parliament for fear of what will happen when they go to the people. We need a new Parliament, because we need a Government with a mandate and a Parliament that votes for something positive. From now on, a collection of Opposition MPs should, frankly, be known as a shambles. We offer leadership; what they offer, God knows.
What the Prime Minister has put to us is clearly a poisoned chalice. He is like the schoolroom clown, who thinks that he can offer us something while dancing around and blabbering from the Dispatch Box. But we know who he is. He is a man who has been twice sacked for lying. He clearly is a person we cannot trust, and we therefore—[Interruption.]
Order. The hon. Gentleman is referring to parts of a Member’s career. I do not think he is making any allegation, and I sincerely hope that he is not—[Interruption.] If you will let me finish, I hope he is not making any allegation about the conduct of a Member in this Chamber.
He is not, and therefore he is not out of order—[Interruption.] He is not out of order. I know the rules, and I know how to interpret them. I do not require any guidance from anybody on that matter. I am very clear about that. I say to him that there is much to be said for moderation in the use of parliamentary language. As somebody who likes the hon. Gentleman, I urge him to be a little more courteous.
One and a half hours having elapsed since the commencement of proceedings on the motion, the Speaker put the Question (Standing Order No. 16(1)).
On a point of order, Mr Speaker. I note that the Leader of the Opposition is once again not in his place, in what I think is a slightly symbolic way. Forty-eight hours ago, he was leading the chants of “Stop the coup and let the people vote,” and now he is saying, “Stop the election and stop the people from voting.” There is only one solution: he has become, to my knowledge, the first Leader of the Opposition in the democratic history of our country to refuse the invitation to an election. I can only speculate—[Interruption.] I can only speculate as to the reasons behind his hesitation. The obvious conclusion is, I am afraid, that he does not think he will win. I urge his colleagues to reflect on the unsustainability of this position overnight and in the course of the next few days.
No, I am dealing with one point at a time. One has to proceed in an orderly manner in these matters, I say to the Prime Minister. I am dealing with one point of order, and when I have dealt with it, I shall happily attend to another. It is evident from the smile on the face of the hon. Member for Harwich and North Essex (Sir Bernard Jenkin) that he is very pleased with the point he has made.