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EU Council

Volume 794: debated on Monday 17 December 2018


My Lords, with the leave of the House, I shall now repeat a Statement made by my right honourable friend the Prime Minister in another place. The Statement is as follows:

“Mr Speaker, with permission, I would like to make a Statement on last week’s European Council. Before turning to Brexit, let me touch on two significant conclusions from the other business of the Council. First, we expressed our utmost concern over the escalation that we have seen in the Kerch Strait and the Sea of Azov and Russia’s continued violations of international law. We agreed to roll over economic sanctions against Russia and stand ready to further strengthen our support, in particular for the affected areas of Ukraine.

Secondly, we also agreed to work together on tackling the spread of deliberate, large-scale and systematic disinformation, including as part of hybrid warfare. On this, I outlined some of the world-leading work that the UK is doing in this field. I was clear that, after we have left the European Union, the UK will continue to work closely with our European partners to uphold the international rules-based system and to keep all our people safe. That is why it is right that our Brexit deal includes the deepest security partnership that has ever been agreed with the EU.

At this Council, I faithfully and firmly reflected the concerns of this House over the Northern Ireland backstop. I explained that the assurances that we had already agreed with the EU were insufficient for this House and that we had to go further in showing that we never want to use the backstop and that, if it is used, it must be a temporary arrangement. Some of the resulting exchanges at this Council were robust, but I make no apology for standing up for the interests of this House and those of our whole United Kingdom.

In response, the EU 27 published a series of conclusions. They made it clear that it is their,

‘firm determination to work speedily on a subsequent agreement that establishes by 31 December 2020 alternative arrangements, so that the backstop will not need to be triggered’.

The House will forgive me, but I think that this bears repeating:

‘the backstop will not need to be triggered’.

They underlined that,

‘if the backstop were nevertheless to be triggered, it would apply temporarily’,

and said that, in this event, the EU,

‘would use its best endeavours to negotiate and conclude expeditiously a subsequent agreement that would replace the backstop’.

They gave a new assurance in relation to the future partnership with the UK, to make it even less likely that the backstop would ever be needed, by stating that the EU,

‘stands ready to embark on preparations immediately after signature of the Withdrawal Agreement to ensure that negotiations can start as soon as possible after the UK’s withdrawal’.

In these conclusions, in their statements at the Council and in their private meetings with me, my fellow EU leaders could not have been clearer: they do not want to use this backstop and want to agree the best possible future relationship with us. There is no plot to keep us in the backstop. Indeed, President Macron said on Friday that,

‘we can clarify and reassure … the backstop is not our objective, it is not a durable solution and nobody is trying to lock the UK into the backstop’.

As formal conclusions from a European Council, these commitments have legal status and should be welcomed. They go further than the EU has ever gone previously in trying to address the concerns of this House. Of course, they sit on top of the commitments that we have already negotiated in relation to the backstop, including ensuring that the customs element is UK-wide; that both sides are legally committed to using best endeavours to have our new relationship in place before the end of the implementation period; that if the new relationship is not ready we can choose to extend the implementation period instead of the backstop coming into force; that if the backstop comes in, we can use alternative arrangements, not just the future relationship, to get out of it; that the treaty is clear that the backstop can only ever be temporary, and that there is an explicit termination clause.

But I know that this House is still deeply uncomfortable about the backstop. I understand that and want us to go further still in the reassurances that we secure. Discussions with my EU partners, including Presidents Tusk and Juncker and others, have shown that further clarification following the Council’s conclusions is in fact possible. So discussions are continuing to explore further political and legal assurances. We are also looking closely at new ways of empowering the House of Commons to ensure that any provision for a backstop has democratic legitimacy and to place its own obligations on the Government to ensure that the backstop cannot be in place indefinitely.

It is now only just over 14 weeks until the UK leaves the EU. I know that many Members of this House are concerned that we need to take a decision soon. My right honourable friend the Leader of the House will set out business on Thursday in the usual way, but I can confirm today that we intend to return to the meaningful vote debate in the week commencing 7 January and hold the vote the following week.

When we have the vote, Members will need to reflect carefully on what is in the best interests of our country. I know that there are a range of very strongly held personal views on this issue across the House and I respect all of them. But expressing our personal views is not what we are here to do. We asked the British people to take this decision, with 472 current Members of this House voting for the referendum in June 2015 and just 32 voting against. The British people responded by instructing us to leave the European Union. Similarly, 438 current Members of this House voted to trigger Article 50 to set the process of our departure in motion, with only 85 of today’s Members voting against. Now we must honour our duty to finish the job.

I know that this is not everyone’s perfect deal. It is a compromise. But if we let the perfect be the enemy of the good, we risk leaving the EU with no deal. Of course, we have prepared for no deal, and tomorrow the Cabinet will discuss the next phase of ensuring that we are ready for that scenario. But let us not risk the jobs, services and security of the people whom we serve by turning our backs on an agreement with our neighbours that honours the referendum and provides for a smooth and orderly exit. Avoiding no deal is only possible if we can reach an agreement or if we abandon Brexit entirely and—as I said in the debate earlier this month—do not imagine that, if we vote this down, a different deal is going to miraculously appear. If you want proof, look at the conclusions of this Council. As President Juncker said, it is the ‘best deal possible’ and the ‘only deal possible’. Any proposal for the future relationship, whether Norway, Canada, or any other variety that has been mentioned, would require agreeing this withdrawal agreement. The leader of the Opposition, as well as some others, are trying to pretend they could do otherwise. This is a fiction.

Finally, let us not break faith with the British people by trying to stage another referendum. Another vote would do irreparable damage to the integrity of our politics, because it would say to millions who trusted in democracy that our democracy does not deliver. Another vote would likely leave us no further forward than the last, and another vote would further divide our country at the very moment we should be working to unite it. Let us not follow the leader of the Opposition in thinking about what gives him the best chance of forcing a general election. For at this critical moment in our history, we should be thinking not about our party’s interests but about the national interest. Let us a find a way to come together and work together in the national interest to see this Brexit through.

I will work tirelessly over these new few weeks to fulfil my responsibility as Prime Minister to find a way forwards. Over the last two weeks, I have met quite a number of colleagues and I am happy to continue doing so on this important issue so we can fulfil our responsibilities to the British people, so that together we can take back control of our borders, laws and money, while protecting the jobs, the security and the integrity of our precious United Kingdom; so that together we can move on to finalising the future relationship with the European Union and the trade deals with the rest of the world that can fuel our prosperity for years to come; so that together we can get this Brexit done and shift the national focus to our domestic priorities—investing in our NHS, our schools and housing, tackling the injustices that so many still face, and building a country that truly works for everyone. For these are the ways in which, together, this House will best serve the interests of the British people. I commend this Statement to the House”.

My Lords, that concludes the Statement.

Well, my Lords, another Monday, another Prime Minister’s Statement. I am grateful to the Leader of the House for repeating today’s offering, not that it offers very much. Last week, the noble Baroness referred to these Statements as her “weekly treat”, but I doubt that she or the Prime Minister feel the same way today. How relieved they must be that Parliament is not sitting next Monday—as far as we know.

This is not a Statement from the Prime Minister that gives any assurance or confidence that she knows where this is going or, indeed, where she is going. In last week’s Statement, following a weekend of assurances that MPs would vote on Tuesday, the Prime Minister refused to allow MPs to make a judgment on her deal. Rather than face defeat she pulled the vote, citing her wish to go back to the EU, although none of us was really clear what she was trying to get. Was it a change or a clarification? In the end, it was neither. Yet again, it was about her living in the moment, delaying a difficult decision, averting today’s immediate crisis without any credible plan for tomorrow.

So what is today’s Statement about? The Prime Minister has now been forced, at the very last minute, to indicate when the Commons will be able to vote on her agreement, but despite continued efforts to present the vote as a choice between her deal and no deal it remains the case that MPs will accept neither. What are the alternatives? We know that the Prime Minister does not want a further referendum, but I have to say I do not think she understands that the main reason this idea is now gaining greater currency, including apparently in her own Cabinet, is the failure of her own leadership. Noble Lords will have seen reports that Mrs May’s chief of staff and her de facto deputy have discussed a further referendum as a means of breaking the current impasse.

Her Statement today, briefed out yesterday, to warn against a further public vote, is yet another example of her attempts to manage her own party rather than delivering for the people and businesses of this country. It is hard to know where her support now is. Despite winning a vote of confidence from her MPs, it is clear that if we assume, as I think we must, that the remaining Government members all voted for the Prime Minister in the secret ballot, she now has the support of only around half her Back-Benchers. All the while, some of her Cabinet colleagues—I use the word loosely—are attempting to take control of the Brexit process amid an unseemly jockeying for position in the chaos that now passes for government.

The Prime Minister cannot expect the world to stand still while she holds on to her deal, fearing its rejection by MPs but allowing nothing else to move on or make progress. It is worth recalling Sherlock Holmes, who said—or had it written for him, I should say—that:

“Once you eliminate the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth”.

So although the Leader of the Commons will make arrangements for the meaningful vote during the week commencing 14 January, that will be almost two months since the publication of the draft text and a mere 10 weeks until Article 50 expires. Surely MPs should have been allowed to eliminate the impossible—which, as noted earlier, are both the Prime Minister’s deal and the no-deal option—because for the past week the country has been paralysed by Mrs May’s reckless time-wasting. As things stand, this will continue now until the middle of January. We have said for months that parliamentarians should have been involved in mandating the negotiations.

The Education Secretary appears to have been convinced, proposing at last week’s Cabinet conference call a series of free votes to flush out which, if any, majorities exist in the Commons. The International Trade Secretary appeared to agree on “The Andrew Marr Show”, stating that he,

“wouldn’t have a huge problem with Parliament as a whole having a say”,

on what the options were. That may well be the only sensible thing we have heard on Brexit from Liam Fox. The Business Secretary added his support to that suggestion today, but still Mrs May stubbornly ploughs on towards the cliff edge. The public and businesses are desperate for certainty. Last week we saw the announcement of 5,000 job losses at Jaguar Land Rover, with our departure from the EU confirmed as part of the reason. As the deadline looms, others will be making investment plans, or not.

The Statement notes that European Council conclusions are legally binding, but this was not the test that the Prime Minister set herself last week. The Prime Minister says negotiations are ongoing. The Commission disagrees. I have a couple of fairly simple and straightforward questions for the noble Baroness. First, given this pressing need for certainty, with the deadline looming, can she confirm whether, in her opinion, any meaningful change, clarification or progress was secured at the summit? Our view is that it is wrong for the Government to try to stumble into the Christmas Recess without putting the matter to a vote and allowing Parliament to move the process forward. I have to say to the noble Baroness that it really feels now that the Prime Minister is deliberately orchestrating a delay to ensure that there is an irresponsible choice between her deal and no deal.

The noble Baroness heard the truncated debate in your Lordships’ House earlier this month—I know she sat through a very large part of it—and the wide support for the no-deal part of the Motion in my name. She will also be at tomorrow’s Cabinet meeting, where apparently there is to be a discussion about spending an extra £2 billion on no-deal planning. Many in your Lordships’ House will consider this a dire use of taxpayers’ money. Would it not be better to cut that Cabinet debate short and use the time to prepare to get a view from MPs before Christmas on what is impossible, so that the time that remains—the sand is dropping out until the end of March—can be used to achieve something that is possible? Is the noble Baroness prepared to relay such a message from this House to the Prime Minister at the Cabinet meeting tomorrow?

My Lords, I thank the Leader of the House for repeating the Statement. The following seems to me an accurate summary of the current situation:

“Downing Street has stopped selling the Prime Minister’s flawed deal. Instead we have displacement activity designed to distract from last week’s failed renegotiation and a concerted attempt to discredit every plausible alternative as they run down the clock. This is not in the national interest”.

These are not my words but those of Sam Gyimah, until recently a member of the Government, speaking earlier this afternoon. They sum up the Statement and the current impasse precisely. The Prime Minister did not achieve anything of substance at last week’s Council and is offering no prospect of any change to the backstop provision which stands the remotest chance of assuaging her opponents on her own Benches, far less any opposition MPs. The arithmetic in the Commons is the same as it was last week and will remain so, even if the Prime Minister gets one or two further general, vague assurances from the EU in the coming weeks.

In these circumstances, to wait four weeks for any meaningful vote in the Commons—almost 30% of the time remaining until 29 March—is immensely irresponsible and clearly not in the national interest. I hope the Leader of the House will be able to tell us what the Government’s timetable is for the resumed debate on the deal in your Lordships’ House and when she expects us to be able to vote on it.

When we had our unfinished debate on the Government’s deal, I said that an election would fail to clarify matters because it would be fought by three Conservative Parties. I must apologise to the House. There are not three views of Brexit in the Conservative Party. There are now four different views being expounded by members of the Cabinet alone on the airwaves and in the press. Collective responsibility has completely disappeared, for the truth is that the Government have collapsed. On Brexit, there is no Cabinet agreement on anything. Beyond Brexit, as the Select Committee chairs forcefully pointed out over the weekend, there is no progress on any domestic policy reforms at all, because Brexit is, in their words “sucking the life out of the Government”. In normal circumstances, the Opposition would be rampant. They certainly have every justification for calling a vote of no confidence this week.

I gather that the Opposition are indeed now tabling some sort of vote of no confidence in the Prime Minister, but it seems unclear quite what it means. I am tempted to say, “Nothing much new there, then”.

Let us see whether there is a substantive no confidence vote. If there were, whatever its outcome, it would have the advantage of narrowing down the options we now face. Of all of them, the Prime Minister has today decided particularly to attack the concept of a referendum. In her Statement, she says that such a vote would be extremely damaging,

“because it would say to millions who trusted in democracy that our democracy does not deliver”.

But that is precisely the point. The Prime Minister’s deal—indeed, any conceivable deal—could not deliver on the promises of the 2016 referendum, which were grounded in fantasy, not reality. That is why people are so disillusioned, why a majority now want to have the final say, and why they say that they would reject her deal and vote to remain if given such a say. By delaying a meaningful vote for four weeks, the Prime Minister is merely delaying the inevitable. She really should just get on with it.

I thank the noble Baroness and noble Lord for their comments.

The noble Baroness asked about assurances at this summit. As the Statement made clear, there were a number of assurances in the EU Council conclusions. In particular, there was one new assurance, that the Council,

“stands ready to embark on preparations … to ensure that negotiations”—

on the future partnership—

“can start as soon as possible”.

Following the Council, the Prime Minister met with President Macron, Chancellor Merkel, Prime Minister Rutte and Presidents Tusk and Juncker. All were very clear that discussions on clarifications can continue. She will continue to discuss these over the coming days.

The Government understand that both Houses want to move on, which is why the Statement made clear that we intend to start the debate on the meaningful vote in the week commencing 7 January—the first week back after Christmas—and to hold the vote the following week.

The noble Lord asked about timing of a debate in this House. We had this announcement only today, but we will certainly be having discussions with the usual channels in parallel to discussions in the Commons. We have all worked on a cross-party consensus for the arrangement of debates previously. We certainly intend that to continue. We will let noble Lords know the outcome of those discussions as soon as we can.

The noble Lord mentioned again the second referendum. I can only reiterate what the Prime Minister has said, which is that Parliament has a democratic duty to deliver what the British people voted for. She remains determined to see that happen.

The noble Baroness asked for a message to be relayed to the Prime Minister. I can certainly assure her that the Prime Minister listens to the views of this House and will continue to do so.

My Lords, if the deal put forward by the Prime Minister fails to get through the House of Commons, as seems very likely, will my noble friend please tell the Cabinet that there is a large body of opinion in the Conservative Party, in Parliament and outside, supporting a further referendum? We will make common cause with all opinion, wherever we may find it, to achieve that desire.

We are working hard to ensure that we do get this deal through. Should the House of Commons choose to reject it, however, there is a process set out in legislation. We will follow that.

My Lords, in the seventh sentence of this Statement, the Prime Minister said that her,

“Brexit deal includes the deepest security partnership that has ever been agreed with the EU”.

This seems a very odd choice of words, since no such security partnership exists. The political declaration, in paragraphs 80 and following, sets out an ambition to have a broad, deep and comprehensive partnership with the European Union, but that is for negotiation. These paragraphs also make it clear that it will not be as good a partnership as we presently have with the other members of the European Union. Will the Leader of the House confirm that no such partnership exists; that the one we eventually have will be worse than we presently have; and that nobody who voted for Brexit voted for less security?

The noble Lord is absolutely right. The political declaration is a declaration of our intentions for our future relationship. It certainly sets out the intention to have the strongest and broadest security relationship between the UK and the EU. Our partnership and strength in these matters was shown in particular, for instance, in the strong language of the Council conclusions on Russia and its actions in Ukraine, which was very much led by the Prime Minister. We will continue to work very closely on our security relationship. Both sides are absolutely determined to make sure that it is the deepest relationship that exists between the EU and another country.

My Lords, would the Leader of the House agree with me that the language of the Statement is not helpful? It says:

“But let us not risk the jobs, services and security of the people whom we serve”.

It is a fact that Brexit, of itself and the process we have gone through, has already done that. To say “Let us not further risk” might be more accurate. It also says:

“Another vote would do irreparable damage to the integrity of our politics”.

That integrity has already been rubbished by the lack of honesty about the realities that Brexit entails. Thirdly, it states that we should,

“get this Brexit done and shift the national focus to our domestic priorities”,

as if they were either/or.

As Sir Ivan Rogers makes clear in his remarkable lecture from the University of Liverpool—to which I would like to see a response from the Government—Brexit is process, not event, so there is no way in which it can be “got done”. This stage of it might be, but surely it is misleading to the country to suggest that it is somehow done if we get through this bit.

This Government are going to deliver on the wishes of the British people, as expressed in the referendum. We and the EU have been clear that this is the best deal possible. It is a deal that we have worked extremely hard to secure and it will lead to a strong relationship between the UK and the EU in future. That is what we have been working towards and want to deliver to the British people, because that is what the British people wanted.

My Lords, I ask the Leader: what will happen if, as seems very likely, the House of Commons does not approve the deal in the week of 14 January? Are the Government prepared to seek an extension of the Article 50 process in order to avoid the worst possible result, which is that we leave the EU with no deal?

The Government will be working very hard to get the deal through the House of Commons. But, as I said in response to a previous question, if the House of Commons chooses to reject the deal, there is a process set out in legislation, which we will follow.

My Lords, the Statement is anxious about future damage in the event of a second referendum, but what about the damage which recent events have been causing—in particular, damage to the value of the pound, which will undoubtedly result in an increase in the cost of living, and damage to the stock market, which will have an adverse impact on the value of the pensions of many of our citizens? Is the Cabinet so suffused with personal ambition and disloyalty that none of them notices what is happening?

The reason we have spent so much time negotiating this deal, which is a good deal, is that we want to ensure that we have a strong relationship with the EU going forward. We are all cognisant of the problems of uncertainty; for instance, that is why we have agreed an implementation period to help ensure that there is not a cliff edge. We are cognisant of the concerns the noble Lord outlined, which is exactly why the Prime Minister has been spending so much time negotiating a deal that is in the good interests of the UK and the EU.

Does my noble friend agree that it would be wrong in principle to embark on a second referendum when we have not yet completed delivery of the instruction from the electorate in the first referendum? But surely there is another reason, which is that it would be pointless to have a further referendum now because, far from people being better informed, the future relationship negotiations have not even started—and those are the ones that will most dramatically affect the future relationship between ourselves and the European Union.

I entirely agree with my noble friend, which is why we are working to make sure that the deal is approved by the House of Commons and we can move forward and, as he rightly says, get to the extremely important position of talking in detail about our future relationship with the EU—a strong, deep one, which we all want.

My Lords, given that the Prime Minister said that it was important to act in the national interest, and given that the clear majority of Members of Parliament want to rule out no deal, in the national interest, why can we not have an early vote in the House of Commons which makes it quite clear that the House of Commons rejects the possibility of no deal?

As the Statement makes clear, we have set out the timetable for the vote to take place. We do not want a no-deal situation, which is why the Prime Minister is focusing on providing additional reassurances to the House of Commons, which it has clearly said it wants in order to feel able to support the deal. That is what she is working on, but we have to prepare for all eventualities—that is the only thing a responsible Government could do—and until this deal is passed, there is the possibility of no deal. We are working hard to avoid it but we have to prepare for all eventualities.

My Lords, is it not outrageous that a vote that was supposed to take place last week will not take place until the week of 14 January, against a deadline of 21 January? Having sat through more than an hour of the questioning in the other place earlier, it is quite clear that there is not a majority for this deal or for a no-deal Brexit. In those circumstances, is not the plea that was made a moment ago from the Cross Benches for an extension of Article 50 the only sensible way to try to find a consensus, which does exist but is not being allowed to surface?

I am afraid I cannot say anything more to noble Lords about the date of the meaningful vote. That is the date that the Prime Minister has announced. That is the date on which it will take place in the House of Commons.

My Lords, will the Leader of the House perhaps answer a couple of questions on the backstop? First, it is stated in the Statement that the conclusions of the European Council have legal status. That is not my understanding. They have political status but I do not believe they have legal status. Secondly, has anything come out in the conclusions from the European Council or in any other way that has led the Attorney-General to vary the advice he gave the Cabinet that there is nothing in the withdrawal agreement that permits one side to unilaterally exit the backstop?

As the conclusions were published only on Friday, I am afraid I do not know whether the Attorney-General has given any further advice. With regard to the timescale, I very much doubt it, but if that is not the case, I will write to the noble Lord.

My Lords, the Prime Minister in her Statement suggested that another vote,

“would do irreparable damage to the integrity of our politics, because it would say to millions who trusted in democracy that our democracy does not deliver”.

But if there is not a position or a deal on which Members of the House of Commons can agree, democracy is already under challenge. To suggest that voting on the Prime Minister’s deal and pushing that through is the way to deliver democracy is a travesty. It is not what people who voted leave voted for—some of them did; many did not—and it is not what people voted remain for. We need to look again.

We have not had a vote on the deal yet. The vote is coming. To decide further courses of action before we have actually had a vote does not seem that sensible. As I have made clear, if the House of Commons chooses to reject the deal, there is a process set out which will be followed.

My Lords, I welcome the fact that the Cabinet is to discuss its preparedness for no deal tomorrow morning. In light of that, would it be possible for the Government to give a Statement to Parliament on their preparedness for no deal before Christmas?

As my noble friend will be aware, the Government have regularly updated this House, the other House and Select Committees on our no-deal preparations, and we will continue to do so.

Is it not the case that people are allowed to decide themselves how they vote? If they wish to change their mind from time to time, they have the right to do that. But on what possible basis of justification do the Government think they can dictate to the British people that they should not be allowed to vote to remain in the European Union if they want to?

Parliament asked the people to make a decision and they did so in the referendum. That is what we are now delivering.

My Lords, the Prime Minister tells us that nobody in Europe wants to use the backstop. That begs the question: if no one in Europe wants to use it and no one in Westminster wants to use it, why is it there? Can the Leader tell the House precisely what changes the Prime Minister requested that she believes will effectively deal with the backstop?

The noble Lord will be aware that the backstop is an insurance policy. We, the EU and the Irish Government have been clear time and again that nobody wants to use the backstop. As I said, the Prime Minister wants further assurances for MPs in the House of Commons that it will not be used. As I have said, in the conclusions that were published on Friday the EU made it clear that it was its firm determination to work speedily on a future relationship so that the backstop will not need to be triggered, and that if the backstop was ever triggered it would apply only temporarily.

My Lords, having noted what the Prime Minister said in the Statement with regard to another referendum, the Leader will agree that there is a growing clamour in favour of having another referendum. As we move towards that—possibly—could we all stop talking about a second referendum? It is in fact a third referendum. The small group of people who clamoured over the years to have a second one, which they succeeded in getting in 2016, are now exactly the same people who are saying that a third one at this stage would be unconstitutional. Surely that is hypocrisy in the deepest possible way.

I can say to my noble friend that the focus of the Government is to get through the deal that has been negotiated—a deal that delivers for the UK and the EU and a deal that both sides say is the best deal possible.

My Lords, when the noble Baroness the Leader meets her Cabinet colleagues tomorrow to discuss preparations for no deal, will she encourage them not to waste their energies on trying to conjure political rabbits out of the House of Commons hat, to dismiss the lurid propaganda about cliff edges and catastrophes, to apply themselves vigorously to preparing for an orderly transition to WTO rules and to embark at the earliest possible moment on negotiations for a free trade agreement with the EU?

As the noble Lord knows, and as I have said in response to earlier questions, we do not want no deal but it is only right that a prudent Government plan for one. He will also be aware of the extensive work that has already been under way to prepare for no deal over the past two years: the 106 technical notices, the various agreements that we have in place and the money that we have put into preparing for it. This is not a situation that we want to be in but we have to ensure for the British people that all contingencies are covered, and that is what we are doing.

My Lords, how much taxpayers’ money would be spent if we had a second referendum? A second referendum would be a complete disaster. As the Prime Minister said, it would damage the core of a democracy that we took 1,000 years to achieve, and this Parliament is part of it. If you do a second referendum, why not a third or a fourth? Actually, why not govern by referenda and get rid of Parliament altogether? It is madness.

I understand that the Electoral Commission has recently published figures showing that the referendum in 2016 cost around £150 million or £160 million. If that is incorrect then I will write to my noble friend, but I think those are the figures that were published. We are not considering a second referendum. We are working to ensure that this deal is passed by the House of Commons.

My Lords, much has been made of the need to get the right sequencing into all this. People have generally agreed that it has to be sequenced in a proper way. In order that we do not run out of road, can the noble Baroness the Leader confirm that the current government thinking is that, now that we know the meaningful vote is not until the middle of January, nevertheless there will be time for Parliament to use its good offices to look at how far different options can add value to the way in which the body politic goes forward before other ideas are considered in this very tight timetable, unless we extend the period?

I reiterate that the meaningful vote will be held in the week of 14 January. Obviously we are looking towards winning that vote. As I have also set out, if the House of Commons rejects the deal then there is a process set out in legislation but, as the Statement said, if the deal goes through then we are looking at ways in which we can engage Parliament further in future as we move into the political relationship.

Perhaps alone, I think the Prime Minister actually makes a rather compelling case for her deal in the Statement. Yes, it is a compromise, and it is risky and unpalatable, but it offers a route to a productive future relationship with the EU. In this febrile atmosphere, though, I fear that no one is listening to her.

I have two buts. First, we should not wait a month for a meaningful vote; if this does not get through, we need a plan B much more quickly than that. Secondly, I disagree—I hope the noble Baroness the Leader will tell the Cabinet tomorrow the mood of this House—with the Prime Minister’s argument that another vote would divide our country. That is simply not true. I think the opposite is the case: if we run out of road, and it looks as if we are doing so, another vote will be the only way to unite the country.

As I have said, what we will be focusing on in the weeks before the vote in January is to hope to provide reassurances to MPs so that they vote to support the deal. We will be continuing to talk about the fact that we believe that it is a good deal for both the EU and the UK. That is what our European partners have said and it is what we believe, and we will continue to make the case while trying to get the reassurances that MPs need in order to feel able to support it.

My Lords, may I take the noble Baroness back to the question asked by the noble Lord, Lord Pannick? If the House of Commons rejects the Prime Minister’s deal, she tells us that there is a process. Does that process include consideration of the extension of Article 50, or of the other options that are under consideration—for example, the customs union and the Norway option? Could she give us more detail, particularly on the point about Article 50?

As I have said, our focus as a Government, and the focus of the Prime Minister, is to ensure that we provide the reassurances that MPs need to get this deal approved. This is the best deal for the EU and the UK. I am afraid I am not going to speculate on situations that may arise if this deal is rejected by the House of Commons. As I have said, a clear process is set out. What our focus is on is to make sure that this deal does get the support that we believe it warrants and that is what the Prime Minister will be focusing on in discussions with her European colleagues over the coming weeks to try to make sure that that is the situation that happens, because we believe that that is the best outcome for the UK and we believe that that is what delivers the referendum result that the people voted for.