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Brexit: Parliamentary Processes

Volume 799: debated on Thursday 3 October 2019

Question

Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what steps they will take in Parliament (1) to enable the United Kingdom to leave the European Union on 31 October, and (2) to comply with the provisions of the European Union (Withdrawal) (No. 2) Act 2019.

Yesterday, the Government put forward a proposal for an amended protocol on Ireland and Northern Ireland that means that we can leave the European Union without disruption. The proposal is a fair and reasonable compromise for all sides that respects the referendum result. We are sure that Parliament will want to work with the Government to get Brexit done on 31 October.

Yes, my Lords, and I hope that is the case, but my noble friend has not answered the Question. There is an Act of Parliament that obliges the Government to take certain steps if we have not left the EU. Yesterday, my noble friend kept repeating the mantra, “We will obey the law”, but he did not explain how, nor how you reconcile these two things. Will he now please tell the House what the Government have in mind?

The Government have in mind that we will attempt to negotiate a new and improved deal with the European Union that will enable the referendum result to be respected. Beyond that, we will abide by the law.

Will the Minister do the House the courtesy of trying to answer the Question asked by the noble Lord, Lord Cormack? How do the Government intend to reconcile the apparently irreconcilable positions of potentially crashing out of Europe on 31 October and adhering to the law that says that, if an agreement has not been reached by 19 October, then the Government must ask for an extension? I am sure that Downing Street has a cunning plan—or at least a Cummings plan—to reconcile the irreconcilables, but can the Minister at least give this House the guarantee that the Government will abide not just by the letter but by the spirit of the European Union (Withdrawal) (No. 2) Act? In view of the Supreme Court judgment, he should be in a position to give the House that very guarantee.

The noble Lord was obviously a loss to stand-up comedy. I repeat the assurances that I gave that the Government will of course at all times abide by the law. I have to say that, if the Opposition spent half as much time helping us to negotiate a better deal as they do undermining our negotiating position, we might be able to get a deal that we could all get behind and we would not have to go near obsessing about the provisions of the Benn Act.

My Lords, does the Minister agree with me that most Acts of Parliament are designed to benefit the people of this country, and the surrender Act is simply a ruse designed by those who want to stop us leaving the EU to tie the hands of our Prime Minister at this crucial time? I believe that it is a move that they, and this House, will live to regret.

I agree with my noble friend. I think the Benn Act was designed to undermine our negotiating position by people who actually do not want to leave the EU but do not have the courage to admit to the British people that that is what they in fact desire.

My Lords, at the beginning of this Session, the Government set out a series of Bills that needed to be passed in order to provide for an orderly Brexit. These included Bills on trade, immigration, fisheries and agriculture, none of which has yet proceeded through this House, completed their progress and become Acts. Do the Government intend that we have a disorderly Brexit without the legislative framework, or are we intending to sit Saturdays and Sundays for the last two weeks in October in order to get the legislative framework in place?

As I said to the noble Lord before, we are able to give him the reassurance that he needs that we already have all the necessary legislative framework in place that will allow us to leave the European Union on 31 October in an orderly fashion.

My Lords, given the special voting arrangements that apply to the Northern Ireland Assembly, which quite deliberately give a veto to the minority for certain decisions, I anticipate that the Government thought that those might be triggered by the decision of the Assembly that this deal offer requires. To that extent, will the Minister tell the House the names of those nationalist politicians who represent that community whose support for this may be required who were consulted during the drafting of this provision and whether the Government have their support, as they appear to have of the DUP?

The great thing about this proposal is that it has attracted support from across the sector, including, I am delighted to say, from a number of Labour MPs who take quite a constructive approach to wanting to deliver on the referendum result. It looks as though we have a majority assembled for this provision, but we still have a lot of hard negotiating to do. We will endeavour to bring back a proposal that will enjoy widespread support across all communities and all parties.

Does the Minister agree that there is an irony in this Question, which calls on the Prime Minister to comply with the provisions of the European Union (Withdrawal) (No.2) Act? Section 1(4) of that Act says that we should apply for an extension,

“in order to debate and pass a Bill to implement the agreement between the United Kingdom and the European Union under Article 50(2)”,

requiring the Prime Minister to give an undertaking that he can pass an agreement which has been consistently rejected by the House of Commons because of Labour going through particular Division Lobbies.

My noble friend makes a sensible point. It appears to many of us that this Bill was designed to try to undermine the UK’s negotiating position. It was interesting that we had six hours of debate on EU withdrawal yesterday and nobody—either from the Labour Front Bench, where we had two speakers, or the numerous speakers from the Labour Back Bench—but nobody had anything to say on Labour’s position on this, because, of course, its position is ridiculous. Its position is that it wants to go to the European Union, negotiate a new deal, come back and then vote against it. What a shabby Opposition they have become.