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Brexit: Article 50

Volume 795: debated on Tuesday 5 February 2019


Asked by

My Lords, our position remains clear. We will respect the outcome of the referendum and will not revoke the Article 50 notice. We are committed to delivering on the instruction given to us by the people. As the Prime Minister has said, we will be leaving the European Union on 29 March.

I thank my noble friend for the Answer. Both he and I have been Members of the European Parliament, and I understand that the elections to it this year are used as an argument not to delay, as it would be inappropriate to field candidates. In the circumstances of there being an application to pause the Article 50 process, not least to enable us to pass the legislation required before 29 March, would he make the case to the Cabinet that we should apply for observer status for a number of Members of the European Parliament for the interim?

I thank the noble Baroness for her question, but I am afraid that I do not recognise the word “pause”. Pausing Article 50 is not an option. The UK could either revoke Article 50 or request an extension, but I am afraid that there is no remote control in DExEU with a pause button on it.

My Lords, is the Minister aware of the suggestion made by Mr Hilary Benn in Brussels yesterday that the logical time to implement the leaving of the European Union is at the end of the implementation period? Should not Article 50 therefore be adjusted to that end?

I did not hear that suggestion yesterday, but if we did not leave the European Union until the end of 2020 we would not have an implementation period, would we?

My Lords, how are we going to get six Bills, hundreds of statutory instruments and scores of treaties through the House by the end of next month, even without having any recesses whatsoever?

I am tempted to reply that if the noble Lord was a little less obstructive in Committee, then we would not—

Of course proper scrutiny is important, but raising a series of irrelevant points is not helping anybody. We are totally committed to the proper scrutiny of all the required and appropriate legislation, and we will do that.

My Lords, I wonder whether the Minister occasionally thinks that he is playing the role of the boy who stood on the burning deck whence all but he had fled, as numerous reports appear of members of the Cabinet saying that there will need to be an extension. Does he realise that when he stands at that Dispatch Box in about a month’s time and tells us that the Government have asked for an extension he will get a very warm welcome from many parts of this House?

I always get a very warm welcome from all parts of this House. As a representative of the Government, I can only tell the noble Lord what the policy of the Government is as set out by the Prime Minister, which is that we will not seek an extension and will leave the European Union on 29 March.

My Lords, I agree with the drift of the question from the noble Lord, Lord Hannay. It is clear that the Government will have to seek an extension of Article 50; several Cabinet Ministers support such an extension. Is not the attempt to corral MPs into supporting the Prime Minister’s deal—although she does not support it herself—by threatening a chaotic and disastrous no deal immoral as well as an abdication of government responsibility?

I do not agree that we are corralling anybody; we are attempting to convince Members of Parliament that the best way to avoid no deal is to vote for a deal. I am pleased that a number of the more sensible Labour MPs are also reaching the same conclusions—and one Liberal Democrat MP.

My Lords, given that the other place threw out the withdrawal agreement largely because of the backstop, that the governing majority then deputed the Government to replace the backstop, that the EU itself has said that if we leave with no withdrawal agreement there will not be a hard border in Northern Ireland and that the EU never reaches an agreement until the last minute, is it not clear that we have to stick by 29 March and then it will give us alternative measures to the backstop before we leave?

I remind the noble Lord that as well as getting the meaningful vote passed by Parliament we need to legislate for it. Clearly, that is quite a challenging programme, but we will attempt it. The most important thing is to keep putting forward relentlessly the argument that the best way to avoid no deal is to vote for a deal.

My Lords, since the Minister mentioned scrutiny, does he think that for departments to submit compendium statutory instruments covering multiple subjects replete with errors—in one case, a fatal error was referred back to the department and the department then said that it intended to withdraw the instrument but has not done so—expedites scrutiny?

It is difficult to comment on that specific example without seeing it. I hope that departments want to work with the noble Lord’s committee to make sure that the quality of statutory instruments is appropriate and that the appropriate scrutiny is applied to them. It sounds from what he says as though the appropriate scrutiny is being applied.

My Lords, is there not widespread agreement among leavers and remainers that one of the principal motives of the 17.4 million people who voted to leave was that they felt that Parliament and the elected politicians—in our case, the unelected politicians—were not listening to many of their grievances and concerns? Should we now, two and a half years after the referendum decided that we should leave, propose a further extension of that period? Would that not simply reinforce and confirm the fears and concerns that leavers felt when they voted the way they did in 2016?

I can certainly say to the noble Lord that, on this side of the House, we are committed to listening to what the people told us in the referendum in 2016 and to implementing that result. I am sorry to say that a number of Members on opposition Benches believe that we should somehow ask the people to think again or to overturn that result, but the Government believe that the referendum result should be respected.