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European Union (Withdrawal Agreement) Bill and Extension Letter

Volume 666: debated on Monday 21 October 2019

(Urgent Question): To ask the Prime Minister if he will make a statement on the publication of the European Union (Withdrawal Agreement) Bill and his letter of 19 October to the European Council seeking an extension to the period provided under article 50.

Notice of the withdrawal agreement Bill was given to the House on Saturday. The Bill was handed to the House yesterday, as agreed with the House authorities. It will be introduced for First Reading at the start of the main business today. Publication of the withdrawal agreement Bill is therefore now being delayed by the Leader of the Opposition, because he has tabled this urgent question requesting publication of the withdrawal agreement Bill—genius.

The withdrawal agreement Bill could not be finalised until the European Council on Thursday 17 October, and then there followed an historic meeting of this House on Saturday 19 October. It has been introduced on the following sitting day, and, as you said a moment ago in response to a point of order, Mr Speaker, what could be sooner than the next sitting day? The sooner that this urgent question and the next urgent question are concluded, the sooner it will be available to Members.

In respect of the Prime Minister’s letter to President Tusk of 19 October, that was sent in compliance with section 1 of the Benn Act. The President of the European Council has accepted the request as valid and indicated that he is considering it and consulting member states.

I do admire the Secretary of State for keeping a straight face while he gave that answer, and I am very grateful to you for granting this urgent question, Mr Speaker.

The Prime Minister has not deigned to grace us with his presence today, but I am reassured that, despite his pledge, he is not to be found anywhere in a ditch. I welcome the fact that the Prime Minister has sent a letter over the weekend to the EU President Donald Tusk to comply with the European Union (Withdrawal) (No. 2) Act 2019. As we have come to expect with this Prime Minister, this has been done with posturing and attempts to distract, but despite having told the British public over and over again that he would never do it, the letter has in fact been sent. Not only is the request legally necessary and prevents us crashing out of the EU with no deal, but the extension allows this House the space to scrutinise the Prime Minister’s Brexit deal. I pay tribute to all those Members who have worked hard to ensure that a no-deal Brexit is ruled out, and I will continue to work across the House to ensure that this continues to be the case.

The European Commission has confirmed today that Brussels is now considering the terms of an extension. Can the Secretary of State tell the House when he expects any extension to be granted? Can he categorically rule out the absolutely ridiculous reports yesterday that Conservative MPs are trying to amend the law to jail Members of Parliament alleged to have colluded with foreign powers? Does he, like me, fear for the hon. Member for Shrewsbury and Atcham (Daniel Kawczynski), who is telling everyone who will listen that he is trying to collude with the Polish and Hungarian Governments to veto any possibility of article 50 extensions?

This type of nonsense is doing nobody any good at all. If the Prime Minister wants to get his deal through, he should bring forward the withdrawal agreement Bill for scrutiny. Will he also bring forward an economic impact assessment, which has so far not seen the light of day? And will he allow this House ample time to scrutinise what this deal means to the communities that we all represent?

I can tell the House what has been ditched—the right hon. Gentleman’s manifesto, with him moving from the commitment he gave to respect the referendum result to one that is now characterised by dither and delay. The Leader of the Opposition questions the letter from the Prime Minister. What the Prime Minister made clear was that we would abide by the law, and Lord Pannick, among many others, has confirmed that the Prime Minister has done so, so there is no question as to the commitment from him. Of course, the Leader of the Opposition disagrees with the action, but the position of the Prime Minister and his commitment to leaving on 31 October will not surprise any Members either of this House or of the European Council.

The Leader of the Opposition talks about collusion. In this House, we want to collude with the British public to respect the referendum result and to get Brexit done. When he talks about delay, he should answer this question: he wants a second referendum, as we know the shadow Brexit Secretary does, but how long is that going to take? How long will the primary legislation take? How long will the Electoral Commission requirements take? How long will he leave the House in purgatory? He gave a commitment that if we went past 31 October, there would be a general election, and yet on the “Andrew Marr” programme on Sunday, the shadow Brexit Secretary said that he wanted a further delay to have a second referendum. When will the Leader of the Opposition accept the Prime Minister’s challenge? When will he have a general election? Or are we to have, as the shadow Brexit Secretary said, more dither, more delay and more shirking of his responsibilities?

Will my right hon. Friend try to ensure that the Government stop giving this sacred quality to the date of 31 October, which is a really rather silly point that has intruded into the extremely complicated arguments we are having? I would be quite happy if we concluded a withdrawal agreement along the lines the Prime Minister is proposing by 31 October, if we could do it properly, but the date was not selected by the British public or the British Government; it was a compromise in the EU between President Macron and the rest and was plucked out of the air. Will he agree that what matters is that we get the right withdrawal agreement, carried with the tenuous majority the Government may have, through Second Reading and Third Reading so that its form can be settled, and that we then proceed in a way that future generations, if we get it right—or even if we get it wrong—will regard as much more important than whether we made it by a particular day in October 2019?

The date was set by the previous European Council, and it is not a unilateral decision for the UK Parliament whether that date is changed. Previously in the House the Father of the House said that what mattered was avoiding no deal. The Prime Minister has secured a deal that does that. What matters now is that we end the uncertainty for businesses and citizens, deliver on the deal the Prime Minister has negotiated—one agreed by the EU27 as well—and get Brexit done.

I congratulate the Leader of the Opposition on lodging the urgent question, but of course it was a question to the Prime Minister about his behaviour. Where is he? Where is his respect for the House? He was utterly humiliated by his defeat on Saturday, which saw the House reject his unfair and anti-democratic deal and has forced him to send a letter to the EU Council requesting an extension. But what did he do? He sent a letter not on headed paper and unsigned. Is he used to sending unsigned letters in his capacity as Prime Minister? If so, how many such letters has he sent? I want a direct answer, although I think we know the answer.

The Prime Minister’s behaviour lacks dignity and respect and is not becoming of any Prime Minister. Once again, he has shown himself to be unworthy of the office he holds. I have with me a copy of a joint letter sent from the First Ministers of Scotland and Wales to President Tusk, properly addressed, with their official letterheads and duly signed. The Prime Minister should take note: that is a lesson in how to behave. His actions show disrespect not only to the House but to the Court in Scotland and to President Tusk himself. Despite the Prime Minister’s childish game of sending a contrary letter, the SNP is pleased to see that the grown-ups in the room—namely, the European Council—are now considering an extension, which must be secured to protect our interests from the economic oblivion that would follow from a no-deal Brexit.

I join the Leader of the Opposition in expressing the Scottish National party’s outrage that the Prime Minister has instructed his Government to publish the withdrawal Bill without securing adequate time for parliamentary debate and scrutiny. Once again, this Conservative Government are showing disregard for democracy. It is absolutely imperative that representatives here are able to do their jobs and scrutinise this legislation, given the magnitude of its ramifications.

I say this to the Prime Minister, through the Secretary of State who is present: if he is not afraid of democratic debate, let him secure the extension, and let us have the time that we need for full scrutiny of the Bill. Let me also ask him this: if he is so sure that the people are with him, will he confirm today that he will seek support for the Bill from the Scottish Parliament, which must give consent first?

The crux of the issue is that the Prime Minister has complied with the law, but it is right that alongside that, he has set out his well-known views, and that should not come as a surprise to the right hon. Gentleman any more than it should to any other Member. What is unworthy is to hold referendums and then ignore the results, which is the position of the right hon. Gentleman in terms of not just the 2014 referendum but the referendum of 2016.

More than 1,200 days have passed since the referendum, and the one thing that I do not think the House has lacked is opportunity to debate the issues contained in the withdrawal agreement Bill. The Bill will be published—it is with the House—in order for further debate to happen. It is time for the House to begin that debate, back the Bill, get Brexit done and get on to the domestic priorities: the record investment in our health service, the extra 20,000 police officers we are recruiting, and the levelling up of all parts of the United Kingdom as part of strong economic delivery.

I am glad that the Government wish to base our future relationship with the EU on comprehensive free trade agreements, but will they get on with tabling one, and show urgency in trying to secure one? The sooner we can secure one, the more reassuring it will be for Northern Ireland; and the public, who are heartily sick of all this, do not want to waste another 15 months.

May I personally thank you, Mr Speaker, for avoiding groundhog day today? I heard all the arguments on Saturday, and I do not think that I need to hear them again.

I agree with my right hon. Friend: we need to get on to the future relationship. The House has been endlessly debating the winding-down provisions, which are contained in the withdrawal agreement Bill. The political declaration sets out a clear framework for a best-in-class free trade agreement, and we need to pass the Bill in order to get on with that.

The Prime Minister was withering in his criticism of the first Brexit deal, and yet he voted for it. He said that no Conservative Prime Minister should ever accept a border down the Irish sea, and yet he has done so. He said that he would never ask for an extension of article 50, and yet he sent a letter doing just that. If the Prime Minister is allowed to change his mind, surely the Government should give the public the opportunity to do the same by putting their Brexit deal to a people’s vote.

I think it is somewhat ironic to hear a question about changing minds from a member of the Liberal Democrats, who were the first party to call for an in-out referendum, and who now want a people’s vote on the basis of ignoring the people’s vote that we have had.

The urgent question was asked by the Leader of the Opposition, which was somewhat unusual. May I refer my right hon. Friend to a Bill that was introduced in 1997 in the name of the Leader of the Opposition, along with that of the right honourable Tony Benn? That Bill stated:

“Sections 2 and 3 of the European Communities Act 1972 are hereby repealed.”

It also stated that the European Court of Justice shall have no effect in the United Kingdom.

Does my right hon. Friend recall the number of times—which, as far as I am concerned, was indefinite—when the Leader of the Opposition went through the Lobby with me on every single instance relating to European matters? Does he accept that this demonstrates not merely a monumental U-turn, but a monumental lack of memory and lack of understanding of what the withdrawal Bill is all about, and of the referendum itself?

My hon. Friend has always stuck to his principles; the reality is that the Leader of the Opposition cannot even stick to his own manifesto.

Does the Brexit Secretary not agree that the Prime Minister has a problem with veracity? He told us that he would rather be dead in a ditch than sign the letter, and signed the letter. He told us that there would be no border in the Irish sea, and then he negotiated a border in the Irish sea. Why on earth should we ever believe a single thing this Prime Minister says?

The Prime Minister did not sign the letter, so I think the issue of veracity was actually in the question.

Does my right hon Friend agree that what the recipients of the letter and other EU member states, and indeed this country, want to know is whether the agreement that they have reached with the Prime Minister commands the majority support of this House, and how does he propose to explain to them that now, on a second day of the House of Commons meeting, we are still unable to discover that?

I very much share my right hon. Friend’s frustration. That exactly is the question that will be posed in capitals; they have reached a deal with the Government and they want to see the UK leave in a smooth and orderly way. That is what their citizens want to see, it is what UK citizens in Europe want to happen, and the sooner we get on and do it the better.

It is reported that the Secretary of State told the House of Lords European Union Select Committee this morning that under this agreement, goods leaving Northern Ireland for the rest of the United Kingdom will require an exit summary declaration to be submitted. Can he confirm for the House that such declarations have to be made when goods leave the customs territory of the European Union and, if so, how does that square with article 4 of the Northern Ireland protocol, which says that Northern Ireland is part of the customs territory of the United Kingdom? It is either part of the European Union or the United Kingdom; it cannot be both.

What I was referring to in those remarks was in line with international obligations. Some practical information will need to be provided electronically on the movement of goods from west to east. However, the Government will be considering the process during the implementation period.

May I just say on the Floor of the House now that I have zero respect—absolutely no respect—for the Benn surrender Act? I have no respect for the means by which it was brought to the House and the Order Paper taken over. I have no respect for the fact that it had four hours’ debate with one day’s notice. I have no respect for the manner in which—Mr Speaker, you were not in the Chair that afternoon—manuscript amendments were being debated before they were available. This was a shambolic Act brought by those who do not want to respect Brexit. The Government should be in control of the Order Paper, and if others do not want that, they can lay a vote of no confidence, but they will not.

I really wonder, Mr Speaker, what this urgent question is for: is it an argument that somehow the Government should have delivered a gold-trimmed letter on a sequinned velvet cushion to the Commission? Can the Secretary of State confirm that the letter has obviously been treated as genuine and is being dealt with in the appropriate way by the Council of Ministers—even though I would have much preferred it had the Government and the Prime Minister had ignored this shambolic Benn Act?

As my hon. Friend knows, the Benn legislation was designed to prevent a no-deal exit. The Prime Minister was told that changing the backstop was impossible; he delivered it. He was told that the withdrawal agreement text could not be changed; he did so. We now have a deal that the House can pass; I hope Members across the House will do so with the withdrawal agreement Bill in order that we can leave on 31 October, as citizens and businesses around the country want us to do, and get on with it.

I hope the Secretary of State realises that I could never get angry with him. He and I have always had a very good relationship, and I trust him a very long way, but I beg him to talk to the Prime Minister about his philosophy of “Get on with it” and “We must get this done”. Does he not agree that it is our sacred duty not just to get on with it but to ensure that the deal and the quality of the deal will actually serve our constituents? They depend on us for their health, their welfare, their future and their prosperity, so we must take this business seriously and slowly. “Get on with it” is a nasty jibe. Stop it!

First, I thank the hon. Gentleman for the kind words with which he prefaced his question. I have always enjoyed working with him on that basis. He is right to say that we need to get the detail right, but we also need to be clear as to the scope of the withdrawal agreement Bill. It is to implement the deal—the international treaty—that has been reached. It is not to determine the future relationship, which the House, through the withdrawal agreement Bill, will have a lot of opportunity to discuss and get right in the negotiation mandate. We need to implement the treaty through what has been agreed with the EU in the withdrawal agreement Bill, and then get on to the debate, which I look forward to having with the hon. Gentleman, on the terms of the free trade agreement as we move forward with that deal.

I wonder whether my right hon. Friend shares my concern that two Front-Bench Members of Opposition parties have now said that it is not good enough simply to police the Prime Minister’s actions through the courts and that they now want to police his thoughts and opinions as well. That is quite a sinister preview of what life might be like under a Labour Government, if that were to happen. Can he confirm my understanding of the process for the following week, and perhaps give my constituents some clarity on the legislation? Will he confirm that if Opposition Members were to bring forward amendments that are incompatible with the agreement we have made with the European Union, they would not achieve their intended outcome and would simply frustrate and prevent us from passing a deal and leaving on time?

On the detail of the next steps, my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House will make a business statement after the urgent questions, and I would not want to pre-empt that. On the wider point, my hon. Friend is absolutely right. The Prime Minister has met his legal obligation, and that has been recognised by the President of the European Court and the European Union. What we now need to do is implement the withdrawal agreement Bill, get Brexit done and get on to the free trade agreement that was referred to earlier.

I welcome the fact that, despite all the malarkey, green-ink letters and spin on Saturday night, the European Union has accepted the request for an extension. However, in the court action raised in Scotland—in which I acknowledge the support of Dale Vince—the Prime Minister, the Attorney General and the Advocate General have all assured the court that the Prime Minister will obey the Benn Act and asked the court to dismiss the action. Does it concern the Secretary of State that despite all those promises and assurances, the court has seen fit to continue the action to ensure that the Prime Minister keeps his promise?

It is not for a Minister of the Crown to comment on any live court proceedings, but, to follow the lexicon of the hon. and learned Lady, what would be malarkey would be for claimants to send letters before the publication of the correspondence that addressed the issue that was sought in the earlier judgment.

I have recently returned to the House after two weeks’ paternity leave following the birth of my beautiful son—[Interruption.] Even better, I have returned to find that the Prime Minister secured a wonderful Brexit deal, which I look forward to voting for—

Arthur, Mr Speaker.

Can my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State reassure me that he will now crack on and get the legislation through so that we can get Brexit done and not still be talking about this when Arthur is old enough to drive?

Let me be the first to congratulate the hon. Gentleman on the birth of Arthur. We wish him a long, happy and healthy life. I had noticed the absence of the hon. Gentleman, and it is very good to welcome him back to the Chamber.

There may have been delays in getting Brexit delivered, but I am delighted that Arthur has been delivered, and I am sure I speak for the whole House in offering our congratulations and wishing him every success for the future.

My hon. Friend is absolutely right to suggest that there is huge frustration up and down the country, not only among our constituents but among the businesses that want an end to the uncertainty. They want to see a deal reached, and they recognise that it is in the country’s interests to leave in a smooth and orderly way. They see that the Prime Minister has agreed a deal that has been brought to the House, and it is now for the House to pass the legislation to enable us to move forward and get on to the other priorities that we want to address.

Since the Prime Minister brought back his deal on Thursday, I have received thousands of emails from constituents who are asking me to tell them what the impact of this deal will be on their jobs, their livelihoods and the future prosperity of their communities. I am unable to do so because the Government are refusing to publish an economic impact assessment. What is the answer for them? Will GDP go down? Will unemployment go up? What is the answer?

The answer is to listen to the Governor of the Bank of England, who says that passing the deal will be a boost to our economy, because a huge amount of investment is ready to be released if we get this deal. Business voices up and down the country want a decision and want the UK to move forward in a smooth and orderly way, and the best way of addressing the hon. Gentleman’s constituents’ concerns is to get Brexit done.

At the Dover frontline, we have long been ready to leave the European Union in any eventuality—deal or no deal—but we now need certainty, because uncertainty is dragging on and becoming economically damaging. Has the Secretary of State received any representations from the Labour party as to how it will assist with getting on with Brexit, or has he only ever heard, as I have, that it simply wants to cancel Brexit and defy the British people?

I absolutely agree with my hon. Friend that we need certainty, and the Prime Minister’s deal offers exactly that. What we have from those on the Opposition Benches is more dither, more delay, and a desire for a second referendum, but no clarity on how long that second referendum would take.

I understand the political reasons for the Minister’s reluctance around the Benn Act, but it is the law of the land. I am worried by what he said, because he seems to give the impression it is only about sending a letter, but it is about more than that. Section 1(4) of the Act requires that the Prime Minister “must seek to obtain” an extension. It is not just a matter of sending a letter; he must seek to obtain that extension, and that involves the Prime Minister using his best endeavours and good faith in trying—[Interruption.]

There is a duty on the Prime Minister that he must seek to obtain an extension. Will the Minister therefore acknowledge that the Prime Minister’s legal duties are not simply about sending an unsigned letter?

The reality is that this is Parliament’s letter, and the Prime Minister has sent Parliament’s letter. However, he has been clear that he will comply with the law, and he has complied with the law, which is reflected in the comments of figures such as Lord Pannick, but the Prime Minister is also entitled to express his views, which is exactly what he has done.

Lots of my constituents in east Yorkshire and north Lincolnshire think that what happened on Saturday was a Westminster bubble smarty-pants stitch-up to stop us leaving the European Union on 31 October, and—do you know what?—that is exactly what it was. The reason why 31 October is so important is that many people in this country, particularly across the north of England, have figured out what is going on in here. There has been an attempt to play for time—to delay, delay, delay—with one simple aim, which is to overturn the referendum result that people in here never accepted and never had any intention of accepting.

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. The House said that it did not believe that the Prime Minister would get a deal, but he did get a deal. The House said that it wanted a meaningful vote, but when the opportunity was presented it was made a meaningless vote. It is time for those games to stop and for us to get a deal through. The opportunity to do that is to support the withdrawal agreement Bill, which legislates for the deal that the Prime Minister has reached.

The Chancellor has responded to the Treasury Committee’s request of three months ago for updated economic analysis of the free trade agreement that the Government are pursuing. He acknowledged that the current economic analysis does not correspond with previous Government analysis, but he has not indicated any commitment to provide updated economic analysis. He appears to think it is acceptable for MPs to vote blindly on a potential free trade agreement. He either has something to hide, or he thinks that it is acceptable for MPs to be left in the dark.

The reality is that the House will have opportunities to debate the negotiating mandate and to instruct how those negotiations are taken forward. Any modelling for the future will have to take on board the future direction of the Commission under the new leadership. It will have to consider what actions the UK Government will take in response, and it will have to model what will happen elsewhere in the world, such as in China and the US. The reality is that one cannot forecast these things, but it is right that the House will have an opportunity to negotiate and discuss these things as part of shaping the mandate for the future.

The Leader of the Opposition is slightly wrong to say that the letter takes a no-deal exit off the table. That is impossible, because it is up to the other nations of the European Union whether or not they grant an extension. The only definite way to take a no-deal exit off the table is, as someone once said, to vote for this deal, which is exactly what this House should do. [Interruption.] Does the Secretary of State agree?

I very much agree with my hon. Friend, and I am grateful to him for supporting the deal. This is Parliament’s letter, but as he says, the reality is that any extension would require the agreement of all 27 member states, which is outside Parliament’s control.

I am not quite sure from her expression whether the right hon. Member for Maidenhead (Mrs May) is welcoming the belated support of the hon. Member for Wellingborough (Mr Bone) or regretting the fact that it was not on offer at a rather earlier stage.

I believe that one of the reasons why the Government wanted to bounce us on Saturday, and wanted to bounce us again today, is to hide some of the content and some of the revelations that will come out in the Bill, which will be published shortly. There will be great concern not only among Opposition Members but among others who take a very different position on Brexit.

I take the Secretary of State back to the question about customs declarations between Northern Ireland and the UK, which was raised by the Chair of the Exiting the European Union Committee, my right hon. Friend the Member for Leeds Central (Hilary Benn), who is no longer in his place. Will the Secretary of State confirm what he said to Lord Wood, that export declaration paperwork will have to be carried out and that firms in Northern Ireland will therefore have to carry out paperwork, whether digital or otherwise, to trade within their own country—within the United Kingdom? Will he also confirm whether that will apply going back in the opposite direction?

As I said in response to the earlier question, I am happy to confirm that, in accordance with international obligations, there will be occasions when electronic information is needed for the movement of goods.

The hon. Gentleman talks about bouncing decision makers, but we have already had two extensions. The House has debated these issues endlessly. The first version of the withdrawal agreement was published as long ago as last November. The reality is that he does not want any Brexit. He wants a second referendum; he wants to remain; and he will do everything he can to frustrate Brexit.

Can we write another letter to the European Union saying that we utterly oppose a second referendum? Does my right hon. Friend agree that a second referendum would be a betrayal of the many thousands of Harlow voters and the millions of working people across the country who voted to leave? We should respect democracy and implement the result of 2016.

I absolutely agree with my right hon. Friend. A second referendum would simply take us back to square one. It would create huge uncertainty and huge delay, and it would prolong the paralysis of this Parliament when we need a general election to let the people decide.

I return to the economic impact assessment, because the effect of all this on manufacturing, particularly in my constituency, is critical. I do not know whether the Government are unwilling or unable to release any information they have on this, but surely the Minister can see how important it is that we have all this information before we make any decisions. After all, he would not buy a house without looking at the deeds, would he?

The point the hon. Gentleman is missing is that the free trade agreement has still to be negotiated, and what is causing damage to businesses in his constituency and elsewhere is reflected in the comments of people such as Lord Rose, a leader of the remain campaign who now recognises that what is damaging to business is the ongoing uncertainty. We need to bring that uncertainty to an end, and the hon. Gentleman’s continued refusal to vote for a deal—while opposing no deal—is prolonging the uncertainty and damaging the interests of businesses in his constituency.

Mr Speaker, I do not know whether you stayed tuned to “The Andrew Marr Show” after watching “Match of the Day” yesterday morning, but if you did, you would have heard my right hon. Friend the Member for Esher and Walton (Dominic Raab) say that Parliament cannot “muzzle” the Prime Minister. If he does not want an extension, he should be at liberty to tell the EU that. Does the Brexit Secretary agree?

I very much agree. I do not think the Prime Minister’s view will come as a surprise to colleagues in Europe, as he has been clear from day one that he wanted a deal, despite many voices in this House suggesting otherwise, and that it is in the country’s interests to leave on 31 October. That remains his commitment, and it is exactly what the Government are committed to doing.

I think the hon. Gentleman was referring to a show at 9’o’clock on Sunday morning. I do periodically watch that programme—it is not top of my list of priorities, but occasionally I will observe it—but I am bound to say that it was a rather greater priority yesterday morning at 9 o’clock to be playing tennis.

As well as the unsigned letter that the Prime Minister refused even to grace with his name, he sent another letter, signed in his own name, saying, in effect, “Dear Donald, please ignore the first letter I’ve sent you. I sent it only to comply with an Act of Parliament.” If the purpose of that second letter was not to deliberately attempt to frustrate an Act of this Parliament, what on earth was the second letter for?

As I have said in response to several questions, the Prime Minister is entitled to express his view, and that should not come as a surprise to the hon. Gentleman. The Prime Minister has complied with the law, and leading legal figures such as Lord Pannick accept that he has done so. In addition, he has set out his view, as he is entitled to do.

I had not planned on speaking, but I just wanted to make a clear point that “Match of the Day” trumps anything else as far as I am concerned every time. Will my right hon. Friend explain something to me? It finally appears to be the Opposition’s position, although I am never clear whether that will change next week, that they want to have a second referendum. Will he explain what anybody could say to the British public when they say, “We didn’t trust you last time. Now you have to trust us that we will trust you again on a second referendum.” How could they possibly believe or trust British politicians again?

I must tell the right hon. Member for Chingford and Woodford Green (Mr Duncan Smith) that he shares that penchant with the late and great Anthony Crosland, who greatly enjoyed watching “Match of the Day”. He would often have colleagues around the dinner table in his home and they would be discussing political matters, but moments before “Match of the Day”, Crosland would make it very clear that all further political discussion must cease as he proposed to watch the programme. He would usually don a bobble hat while doing so.

Perhaps we could have a similar tradition for the remaining duration of the rugby world cup, to which many Members from across the House would enjoy applying that maxim. My right hon. Friend is absolutely correct on the Opposition’s position. I appreciate that they have moved a lot and frequently, but if I take the position set out on Sunday by the shadow Brexit Secretary, the right hon. and learned Member for Holborn and St Pancras (Keir Starmer), it clearly was for a second referendum. That is odd, given that they do not trust the people with the first referendum. The question that the Leader of the Opposition is not answering and needs to answer is: how long does he expect the primary legislation to take? How long does he expect the question testing from the Electoral Commission to take? How long does he expect the operational preparations to take? How long does he expect the regulated campaign period to be for? If his position is to have a second referendum, we need answers to those questions, because he risks leaving this Parliament in paralysis because he is not answering how long he wants to delay Brexit for.

Just to clarify the Secretary of State’s earlier statement about the Bank of England, the bank was, of course, comparing the current withdrawal agreement with a no-deal Brexit, rather than with the current economy. Will the Secretary of State answer my young constituents and say whether he has ever sent a letter that he has not had the courtesy to sign?

As I think is the case with all MPs, there have been occasions when I have, for example, dictated letters to my parliamentary office, and they have been sent out as dictated and signed on my behalf.

When you mentioned your activities at 9 o’clock yesterday morning, Mr Speaker, I was rather hoping that you would say that the pressing engagement was a famous Welsh rugby victory in the quarter final of the world cup. It was slightly fortunate, but a famous victory none the less.

When it comes to the more complicated matter of the future trade relations, every single member state of the European Union, including some constituent parts, such as Wallonia in Belgium, will have to endorse the final free trade agreement. The withdrawal agreement and the political declaration make no mention of the British Government’s having to seek the consent of the Senedd in Cardiff or, indeed, of the Scottish Parliament. Why, as things stand, will Wallonia, a constituent part of the Belgian state, have more influence over the future FTA with the EU than Wales and Scotland will have?

The hon. Gentleman raises an important point about how we engage with the devolved Assemblies as we take forward the negotiations. It is a fair point and one we are keen to address. I recognise that there have been concerns, particularly in respect of the first phase, about the effectiveness of the Joint Ministerial Committee discussions. One thing that I changed in my own Department was to ask officials to engage at official level much more. The Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster has spoken to the Scottish and Welsh Governments in the past day or so, and the Minister of State in my Department went up to Edinburgh for meetings, but the hon. Gentleman raises a fair point on which I am keen to work with him.

On Saturday, Parliament voted by acclamation to pass the motion on the withdrawal agreement as amended. Will the Secretary of State confirm that when the withdrawal agreement Bill comes before the House for its various stages, the Government will respect it if the House decides to amend the Bill in certain different ways? We previously saw a Government commitment to respect the indicative votes; if we see a majority emerge in the House for amendments to the Bill, will the Government respect that?

The hon. Gentleman will get an opportunity to see the withdrawal agreement Bill once the two urgent questions are finished. On amendments, he will be aware that the scope of the Bill is quite wide, but what amendments are selected will always be for the Chair—the Speaker or, indeed, the Chairman of Ways and Means.

The Secretary of State pretends that the Government are unable to make economic forecasts on a new Brexit deal, on the basis that things may change in the Commission or in the world economic environment, but of course the Treasury consistently makes forecasts on what the size of the economy would be relative to what it would be if we stayed in the EU versus various scenarios, so what he says is clearly false. The projection is that there would be a reduction in the size of our economy of approximately 5%. When will the Treasury and the Government come forward with a detailed analysis of how much poorer the poorest will be, how much more corporation tax businesses will have to pay when they face a huge burden of red tape, how the public accounts will be affected and what the impact will be? That way, people will be able to judge what is on the plate, having ordered it from the menu, and then vote again in a people’s vote, so that they get what they ordered from the menu rather than the Secretary of State’s garbage.

I was just pointing out an economic reality. One can set out, as the Treasury frequently does, broad landing zones, but forecasts are inherently difficult because there are so many variables that shape what happens. To say with absolute certainty where things will be in 2033, which is where the forecasts would be trying to determine a precise landing zone, is open to a significant challenge. When the Treasury presented the cross-Whitehall analysis last November, we saw such challenge not only from Government Members; it was also there in the sort of questions that the hon. Gentleman and other Opposition Members were asking.