[2nd Allocated Day]
Further considered in Committee (Progress reported, 6 February)
[Natascha Engel in the Chair]
I think the hon. Gentleman knows the answer to his question. This is very early for points of order, as we have not even started. As he knows, the grouping of amendments was the subject of the programme motion that was voted on last week. As he says, there will be a Division on the lead amendment. As for subsequent amendments, it depends on what happens in the rest of the debate.
New Clause 1
Parliamentary approval for agreements with the Union
“(1) Where a Minister of the Crown proposes to conclude an agreement with the European Union setting out the arrangements for the withdrawal of the United Kingdom from the European Union—
(a) the Secretary of State must lay before Parliament a statement of the proposed terms of the agreement, and
(b) no Minister of the Crown may conclude any such agreement unless the proposed terms have been approved by resolution of both Houses.
(2) The requirements of subsection (1) also apply where a Minister of the Crown proposes to conclude an agreement with the European Union for the future relationship of the United Kingdom with the European Union.
(3) In the case of a proposed agreement setting out the arrangements for the withdrawal of the United Kingdom from the European Union, the statement under subsection (1)(a) must be laid before the proposed terms are agreed with the Commission with a view to their approval by the European Parliament or the Council.”—(Keir Starmer.)
This new clause requires Ministers to seek the approval of Parliament of any proposed Withdrawal Agreement before final terms are agreed with the Commission and prior to endorsement by the European Parliament and Council.
Brought up, and read the First time.
With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:
New clause 18—New Treaties with the European Union—
“So far as any of the provisions of any new treaty with the European Union may depend for ratification solely upon the exercise of prerogative, they shall not be ratified except with the express approval of Parliament.”
This new clause would ensure that any future treaties made with the European Union must be ratified with the express approval of Parliament.
New clause 19—Future relationship with the European Union—
“(1) Following the exercise of the power in section 1, any new treaty or relationship with the European Union must be subject to the express approval of Parliament.
(2) It shall be the policy of Her Majesty’s Government that, in the event of Parliament declining to approve such a new treaty or relationship, further time to continue negotiations with the European Union shall be sought.”
This new clause seeks to ensure that, if Parliament declines to give approval to any new deal or treaty following the negotiations in respect of the triggering of Article 50(2), that Her Majesty’s Government shall endeavour to seek further time to continue negotiations for an alternative relationship with the European Union.
New clause 28—Parliamentary sovereignty—
“Before exercising the power under section 1, the Prime Minister must undertake that a vote on the proposed agreement setting out—
(a) the arrangements for withdrawal, and
(b) the future relationship with the European Union
will take place in the House of Commons before any vote in the European Parliament.”
This new clause puts a requirement on the Prime Minister to ensure a vote on final terms takes place in the House of Commons before the European Parliament votes on the deal.
New clause 54—Negotiating timeframe—
“Before exercising the power under section 1, the Prime Minister must undertake that if Parliament does not approve the terms for withdrawal and the future relationship within 24 months of notifying the United Kingdom’s intention to withdraw from the EU, she will request that the European Council extends the time period for negotiations.”
This new clause makes provision for a situation in which negotiations have not been concluded or in which Parliament has not approved the deal either because of time constraints or because it has declined to give approval. In any of these situations the Prime Minister would seek extra time to continue negotiations with the EU.
New clause 99—Parliamentary approval of the final terms of withdrawal from the EU—
“The United Kingdom shall withdraw from the EU once either—
(a) Royal Assent is granted to an Act of Parliament that approves—
(i) the arrangements for withdrawal, and
(ii) the future relationship between the United Kingdom and the EU
as agreed to between the United Kingdom and EU, or
(b) Royal Assent is granted to an Act of Parliament that approves the United Kingdom’s withdrawal without an agreement being reached between the United Kingdom and the EU.”
This new clause aims to embed parliamentary sovereignty throughout the process and requires primary legislation to give effect to any agreement on withdrawal or for withdrawal without such an agreement.
New clause 110—Future relationship with the European Union—
“(1) Following the exercise of the power in section 1, any new Treaty or relationship with the European Union must not be concluded unless the proposed terms have been subject to approval by resolution of each House of Parliament.
(2) In the case of any new Treaty or relationship with the European Union, the proposed terms must be approved by resolution of each House of Parliament before they are agreed with the European Commission, with a view to their approval by the European Parliament or the European Council.”
This new clause seeks to ensure that Parliament must give approval to any new deal or Treaty following the negotiations in respect of the triggering of Article 50(2), and that any new Treaty or relationship must be approved by Parliament in advance of final agreement with the European Commission, European Parliament or European Council.
New clause 137—Future relationship with the European Union—
“(1) Following the exercise of the power in Section 1, any new treaty or relationship with the European Union must be subject to the express approval of Parliament.
(2) In the event of Parliament declining to approve the new treaty or relationship set out in subsection (1), Her Majesty’s Government shall seek to negotiate an alternative new agreement with the European Union.”
The Prime Minister has guaranteed that Parliament will have a vote on the final deal between the UK and the EU. This new clause is intended to make that vote meaningful by ensuring that if Parliament votes against the terms of such a deal, the Government shall try to negotiate an alternative future trading agreement and shall not default without agreement to the World Trade Organisation rules.
New clause 175—Request for Suspension of Authorisation—
“If Parliament has not approved terms on which the UK will leave the European Union within the two years specified in Clause 3 of Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty, or any extension of the negotiation period agreed in accordance with that clause, then the Government must request the European Council to consider the notification authorised by this Act as suspended.”
This new clause would require that Her Majesty’s Government request the European Council to suspend the notification of the United Kingdom’s intention to leave the European Union if Parliament does not approve the terms of departure.
New clause 180—UK—EU membership: reset (No.2)—
“The Prime Minister may not exercise the power under section 1(1) until she has sought an undertaking from the European Council that failure by the Parliament of the United Kingdom to approve the terms of exit for the UK will result in the maintenance of UK membership on existing terms.”
New clause 182—Parliamentary approval for agreements with the Union—
“(1) Where a Minister of the Crown proposes to conclude an agreement with the European Union setting out the arrangements for the withdrawal of the United Kingdom from the European Union—
(a) the Secretary of State must lay before Parliament a statement of the proposed terms of the agreement, and
(b) no Minister of the Crown may conclude any such agreement unless the proposed terms have been approved by resolution of both Houses.
(2) The requirements of subsection (1) also apply where a Minister of the Crown proposes to conclude an agreement with the European Union for the future relationship of the United Kingdom with the European Union.
(3) In the case of a proposed agreement setting out the arrangements for the withdrawal of the United Kingdom from the European Union, the statement under subsection (1)(a) must be laid before the proposed terms are agreed with the Commission with a view to their approval by the European Parliament or the Council.
(4) In laying a statement before Parliament under subsection (1)(a), Her Majesty’s Government shall have regard to the requirements of Parliament for adequate time to consider the statement before the proposed terms are put to each House for approval under subsection (1)(b).”
This new clause is an alternative version of NC1 which provides for additional time being allowed for consideration by Parliament of the proposed terms of the agreement before the vote.
Amendment 50, in clause 1, page 1, line 3, at end insert—
“(1A) The Prime Minister may not notify under subsection (1) until a Minister of the Crown has published an assessment on whether such a notification can later be revoked, and laid a copy of the assessment before Parliament.”
Amendment 20, page 1, line 5, at end insert—
“(3) If the power is exercised under subsection (1), the Prime Minister’s commitment to hold a vote in both Houses of Parliament on the outcome of the negotiations with the European Union shall include the option to retain membership of the EU.”
Recognising that the Government wishes to begin negotiations on a deal to leave the EU, and recognising the Supreme Court ruling on the sovereignty of Parliament, this amendment provides a safety net, ensuring that there is a real vote on the outcome deal that provides the option of the UK staying in a reformed EU should the final terms of the deal be detrimental to the UK’s national interest.
Amendment 43, page 1, line 5, at end insert—
“(3) Before exercising the power under section 1, the Prime Minister must prepare and publish a report on the process for ratifying the United Kingdom’s new relationship with the European Union through a public referendum.”
In speaking to new clause 1, I will touch on other new clauses in the bucket. As we go through the debate on these amendments, which is probably the most important debate that we have had thus far and are going to have, it is important that we remind ourselves of the context. The negotiations that will take place under article 50 will be the most difficult, complex and important for decades—arguably, since the second world war. Among other things, it is important that we ensure the best outcome for our economy and jobs, and the trading agreements. As I have said on a number of occasions, what that entails is very clear; we must have tariff-free and barrier-free access to the single market, regulatory alignment, and full access for services and goods. In the White Paper published last Thursday, the Government accept the strength of those arguments about the trading agreements.
It is important that we have the right ongoing future relationship with our EU partners. Labour has been forceful in arguing for maintaining close collaboration with our partners in the fields of medicine, science, research, education, culture, security, policing and counter-terrorism. Although the Prime Minister and the Secretary of State maintain the idea that all this can be agreed within two years, leaving just an implementation stage, the reality is that we will have two deals: the article 50 agreement and a new UK-EU treaty setting out the new arrangements, along with transitional arrangements.
To be clear, we all have a vested interest, on behalf of all our constituents, in getting the right outcome, and that raises the proper role of Parliament in this process. That is why I have consistently argued for three elements of scrutiny and accountability, and this is a debate that, in a sense, has been going on for the last three months. The first element, which I started the argument for last October, was that, at the start, we should have a plan or White Paper—a formal document setting out the negotiating objectives. We should then have a system for reporting back during the negotiations, and we should have a vote at the end of the exercise. Those are the three elements of scrutiny and accountability that I have argued for.
Is it the case that if all the hon. and learned Gentleman’s proposals are rejected by the Government, the Labour party will simply endorse Third Reading and support the Government? What is the point, therefore, of making all this case for these proposals if he is just supinely going to cave in to what the Government want on article 50?
I am not sure how helpful interventions like that are to a debate, which is actually really important, about scrutiny and accountability. Just to be clear, nagging away, pushing votes and making the argument over three months, we have got a White Paper, and it is important. Nagging away and making the arguments, we have got commitments about reporting back. Nagging away and making the arguments, we have got a commitment to the vote at the end of the exercise. So when the charge is levelled at the Opposition that they have not made the case, and are not succeeding on the case, for scrutiny and accountability, that simply does not match what has happened over the last three months.
My hon. and learned Friend is right to point out that progress has been made, but does he agree that to make a vote at the end of the process meaningful, we have to have meaningful scrutiny as the process goes on, and as a Parliament we have to have the chance to say to the Government, “You must go back and try to do better”? Having an all-or-nothing vote at the end, when all the discussions and negotiations are over, is not, in my definition, meaningful scrutiny. Does he agree?
I am grateful for that intervention, and I will come to that, but the central theme of the case I will seek to make this afternoon is that a vote in this House must be before the deal is concluded; that is the dividing line that makes the real difference here.
I am grateful to the Secretary of State, and I think that this may be helpful—[Interruption.] Forgive me, the shadow Secretary of State. I hope that this will be helpful to him. He has mentioned the fact that the Government have made a commitment to a vote at the end of the procedure. Later, when I address the House, I will be outlining what I intend that vote shall be, but it may be of assistance to him now to know what is proposed. First of all, we intend that the vote will cover not only the withdrawal arrangements but also the future relationship with the European Union. Furthermore, I can confirm that the Government will bring forward a motion on the final agreement, to be approved by both Houses of Parliament before it is concluded. We expect and intend that this will happen before the European Parliament debates and votes on the final agreement. I hope that is of assistance.
Minister, I am very grateful for that intervention. That is a huge and very important concession about the process that we are to embark on. The argument I have made about a vote over the last three months is that the vote must cover both the article 50 deal and any future relationship—I know that, for my colleagues, that is very important—and that that vote must take place before the deal is concluded, and I take that from what has just been said.
Would the hon. and learned Gentleman—I nearly said “Friend”; I will have to be careful—agree that it is really important that, as a nation and a House, we now come together, putting aside all the party political differences, to do the right thing by our country? But most importantly perhaps, on the very point he makes, does he share my concern that, in the event of no deal being reached, this House must also decide what happens next?
I am dealing with this intervention, if you don’t mind.
What is significant about what has just been said is that it covers the article 50 agreement and it covers any future relationship. That is the first time we have heard this. It is a very significant position by the Government, and I am grateful that it has been made. It is very important that it has been made, because, on both sides of the House, there has been real anxiety that it should cover both bases.
Whether it goes far enough for the fall-back position, I will reflect on. Ideally, of course, one would want that covered, but I do not want to underplay the significance of what has just been said about the two deals, because this is the first time that clarity has been given; it is the first time the point has been conceded. It is an argument I have been making for three months, and it is very important that it has now been conceded: it is important for my colleagues, and I am sure it is important for people across the House.
Equally important is the timing—that the vote should be before the deal is concluded. The great fear was that there would be a concluded deal, which would make any vote in this House meaningless.
What I hope can now happen on the back of that concession is what I anticipate will happen in the European Parliament: by regularly reporting, updating the House and setting out the direction of travel, there can be agreement about progress, and what happens at the end will not come as a surprise to any of us in this House. But what has been said by the Minister is a very significant statement of the position, which meets in large part everything I have been driving at in new clause 1.
I welcome, as my hon. and learned Friend does, the concession from the Government Benches, but does he agree that, as well as the timing, it is the scope of that vote that will be absolutely vital? As the right hon. Member for Broxtowe (Anna Soubry) says, if we are faced with a choice between a hard Brexit and World Trade Organisation rules, that is no choice—the Government will have to go back and renegotiate.
At the moment, I agree that we should have as big a say as possible on all of this, but I do not want to understate what has been conceded in the last 10 minutes. I do take the point, but where we have made significant progress on scrutiny and accountability, we should recognise where we have got to.
While I echo what the hon. and learned Gentleman has said, would he agree that instantly leaping on a concession may be a little unwise until we are quite clear what it amounts to? I recall that a concession on a plan led to a speech in Lancaster House, which did not take us very much further. I would like to be persuaded that a major concession has been made. Does he agree that it would be helpful, as we will not know quite what we are debating if we continue now, if the Minister tried to catch the Chairman’s eye after the hon. and learned Gentleman has sat down, so that he can explain in more detail what he is proposing? The substance of the debate on this group of proposals will then be altogether better informed.
I recognise the strength of that point. There are of course other opportunities to examine what has been conceded, and to ensure that it might find its way into the Bill. I think it would be sensible to recognise the significance of what has been said, hear a little more detail if we can, and reflect on that during the course of the afternoon. Of course, the Bill does not complete its passage today, or in this House.
The hon. and learned Gentleman is making a fair point. I think he and I would accept, as advocates, that if somebody says something to us in good faith, we take it on board, bank it, and sometimes do not push too hard—we take a valuable concession and recognise it for what it is.
I came into the Chamber with the full intention of supporting new clause 1, and I still feel that we need to press it to a vote. I hear what my hon. and learned Friend is saying—that he wants to trust and believe the Government. However, if we saw a manuscript amendment before the end of the afternoon, I would find it much easier not to have a vote on new clause 1. Does he agree that a manuscript amendment would be helpful?
That is in the hands of the Minister, but I certainly take the point.
Let me make some progress, because we have not got very far. [Interruption.] Well, I have not got very far. Looking again at the big picture, there is a commitment in paragraph 7.1 of the White Paper—this is important for trade unions, for working people and for constituents who have repeatedly raised these points—to convert all EU-derived rights, including workers’ rights, into domestic law. I do not think that commitment has been heard loudly enough. We certainly intend to hold the Government to that at every step of the way, along with other EU rights such as environmental and consumer rights.
I have consistently argued that the Prime Minister cannot, in the article 50 negotiations, negotiate to change domestic law or policy—that will require primary legislation. Paragraph 1.8 of the White Paper makes it clear that the Government do not accept that the Prime Minister would have that authority, and expressly refers to separate Bills on immigration and on customs. I highlight that because there is huge concern among my colleagues about the threat made by the Prime Minister to alter our social and economic model and turn the UK into a tax haven. That cannot happen without primary legislation. It is important that we note that.
I rather agree with the right hon. Member for Broxtowe (Anna Soubry) and my right hon. Friend the Member for Exeter (Mr Bradshaw). Given the Government’s position, which has just been outlined, does my hon. and learned Friend agree that the only substantive reason now for the Government not to agree to our new clause 1 is to deny the other House a vote on a resolution, and that the Minister should explain why that is the position?
I hear what my hon. Friend says. I think we will have to wait to hear from the Minister.
So far as the vote is concerned, there has been a change of position, and it is important that I set that out. Initially, the Secretary of State for Brexit said back in October that he would observe the requirements of treaty ratification. Then in December, at the Dispatch Box, he almost said that we would get a vote—he said that it was “inconceivable” that we would not. Then, just before Christmas at the Liaison Committee, the Prime Minister appeared to back away from that altogether under questioning from the Chairman of the Brexit Committee, and the fact of a vote was only conceded after Christmas. Then in paragraph 1.12 of the White Paper, there was a commitment to a vote on the final deal. Today has taken us a lot further forward. That demonstrates how, by chipping away and arguing away, we are making progress on accountability and scrutiny.
My hon. and learned Friend may have heard what the Minister said in more detail than I did. Was it clear whether we would get a vote in this House if there was no deal? If the Government failed to get a deal with the EU—none of us wants that to happen, but if it did—was it clear to him from what the Minister said whether we would still get a vote in Parliament?
The hon. and learned Gentleman has ably outlined the Government’s position to date. He has ably shown all of us that the Government have made quite a major change in their position today. That change in position appears to have taken place when we are debating many differently nuanced amendments about the circumstances surrounding a final vote, so does he agree that it is important for the Government to commit to exactly what their concession is in writing, and to do so in the appropriate way, which would be by way of a manuscript amendment?
Order. Could I ask that interventions be a bit more brief, because we have only four hours for this debate and a lot of people to get through?
On a point of order, Ms Engel. Given that, as the hon. and learned Member for Edinburgh South West (Joanna Cherry) said, we require some sort of information as to what the Government are putting forward, is there any way in which you can require the Government to put before us a manuscript amendment so that we actually know what we are debating for the rest of the afternoon?
I am going to make some progress, because I barely got through two or three sentences before taking interventions. I do not think anybody could accuse me of not giving way.
In the end, there is stark choice for the House. If we are to have a vote, it will be either before the deal is concluded, or afterwards, in which case it will be a fait accompli. This concession appears to suggest that it will be before it is concluded. I recognise that there are other issues that flow off the back of that timing, but that is critical, because the sequence of events at the end of the exercise is extremely important to what the House can meaningfully say or do about the agreement that is put to us for a vote.
Does my hon. and learned Friend agree that we must consider not just the timing of the vote but what happens if the House declines to accept the deal that the Government have put forward? The Prime Minister said on 25 January:
“If this Parliament is not willing to accept a deal that has been decided on…with the European Union, then, as I have said, we will have to fall back on other arrangements.”—[Official Report, 25 January 2017; Vol. 620, c. 295.]
That does not guarantee that this House will have the final decision on our future relationship with the EU.
I have made the case for accountability and scrutiny, I have made the case for a White Paper, I have made the case for reporting back and I have made the case for a vote. We have got this concession, and I think the most helpful thing, in the circumstances, would be for hon. Members to be given the opportunity to test what the Minister has said.
I had hoped to speak at the end of the debate, but it may be of assistance to the Committee if I deal with some of the matters that the shadow Secretary of State touched on. However, I do not want to go into the details of the various amendments that other hon. Members will no doubt wish to speak to. With your consent, Ms Engel, I will address them briefly at the end of the debate.
May I first repeat what I said to the shadow Secretary of State when I intervened on him a few moments ago? The Government have repeatedly committed from the Dispatch Box to a vote in both Houses on the final deal before it comes into force. That, I repeat and confirm, will cover not only the withdrawal agreement but the future arrangement that we propose with the European Union. I confirm again that the Government will bring forward a motion on the final agreement—
I will just finish the sentence, because it is rather important. The Government will bring forward a motion on the final agreement to be approved by both Houses of Parliament before it is concluded, and we expect and intend that that will happen before the European Parliament debates and votes on the final agreement.
Will the Minister stress to the Committee again that that applies to both the withdrawal agreement and a final agreement on the future relationship between the UK and the EU? It is my view, which is shared by many others, that the former is feasible within two years but the latter is highly unlikely. What will happen if a withdrawal agreement is reached but not a new agreement between the UK and the EU?
I must preface what I am about to say by saying that we do not expect that we will not achieve such an agreement, but my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has already made it clear that if we cannot come to an agreement, we will have to fall back on other arrangements. The Government have consistently been clear about that.
This point goes back to the conversation we had yesterday about the importance of transitional arrangements. The Minister cannot guarantee that the new trade agreement will be concluded within two years. If we do not have a transitional agreement, it will be like jumping out of an aeroplane without a parachute. Why will he not agree to negotiate that transitional arrangement now in case we need it?
What the hon. Lady says is, of course, true. An agreement has to be negotiated by two sides, and it is always possible that we will not be able to achieve such an agreement, but I believe that we will. We have also made it clear that we see it as important that during the negotiations for the new arrangements, whatever they are, we consider what implementation period may be necessary following the agreements.
I am grateful to the Minister for speaking at this stage and enabling us to have the process that he is talking about, and I congratulate him on that. He says that Parliament will have a vote before the agreement is concluded. Does that mean before agreement has been reached with the other 27 countries, or after agreement has been reached but before it has been put into effect?
I believe that parliamentary sovereignty requires that Parliament should have the ability to influence the Government’s position before they conclude the deal, so that those with whom the Government are dealing—the other parties to the negotiations—know that the British Government have to produce an agreement that will get the support of Parliament. If the Government wait until hands have been shaken with all the other Europeans before coming here, Parliament will be told, “If you reject the agreement, you will have nothing and it will be a WTO disaster.” That would give the Government a majority, but not a very satisfactory conclusion.
May I first deal with the point that my right hon. and learned Friend has made? After I have done so, I will come back to the hon. Member for Swansea West (Geraint Davies).
This will be a difficult and complex agreement, and the negotiation will, from time to time, be subject to reports to the House, to the Exiting the European Union Committee and so on. What we are proposing, and what I am committing to from the Dispatch Box, is that before the final agreement is concluded—the final draft agreement, if you like—it will be put to a vote of this House and a vote of the other place. That, we intend, will be before it is put to the European Parliament. That is as clear as I can make it.
After we trigger article 50, the EU27 will decide a deal in their interests. If that deal comes to this House and we vote it down, and subsequently the Commission and the European Parliament agree it and say, “Like it or lump it,” what will we do then?
I want to come back to the point made by the right hon. Member for Sheffield, Hallam (Mr Clegg) about the timing of the two deals that are being negotiated in parallel: the exit deal and the framework for our future relationship. I think we can be a little more optimistic than he is. In article 50, it is envisaged that the negotiation for the exit agreement can only be done taking into account the framework for the future relationship. Article 50 envisages those two agreements being negotiated in parallel, so I think that what the Minister has set out has every prospect of coming to fruition.
I implore Members to keep interventions shorter. They are very, very long—they are little speeches—and we have got very little time. I implore Members to keep them a bit briefer.
The Minister raised our hopes for a second, and then I felt myself deflate as he said that if things did not work out, we would
“fall back on other arrangements.”—[Official Report, 25 January 2017; Vol. 620, c. 295.]
Can he be absolutely clear about what he meant by falling back on other arrangements?
It would depend on precisely what was agreed, but if there were no agreement at all, which I think is an extremely unlikely scenario, ultimately we would be falling back on World Trade Organisation arrangements. That is nothing new. It has been made very clear previously, including by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister.
Can the Minister clarify a point that was raised by the shadow Secretary of State and that is important to us all? An agreement at the end of the process might be an agreement that there is no agreement at all, and that we will go to the default position. I believe that what the Minister has announced will give the House a vote if there is a deal, or indeed if there is no deal. Can he confirm that the House would get a vote in those circumstances, which is what I understand the assurance to be?
The Minister is inflating and deflating people as he goes along. May we get back to the manuscript amendment? If the concession is as significant as the Minister is leading us to believe, it is really important that it comes forward as an amendment. If the Government are not prepared to make that happen, surely the message to the other place is that what the Minister has said should be encapsulated in an amendment that can be properly re-debated here.
Is not the problem that the Government and the House have the fact that we do not know at what stage the negotiations will be concluded? They could be concluded, with months to go, within the two-year timeframe. In those circumstances, I would expect the House to be able to consider the agreement—even, perhaps, before it was provisionally agreed with the Commission, because there would be no time pressure.
Equally, however, we could end up in a situation where the agreement is made at one minute to midnight at the end of the two-year period. If the Government do not then conclude an agreement to bring it to the House after that, but before it goes to the European Parliament, we could end up with no deal at all. The Minister may agree that the Government have a real dilemma. It is important that the House should understand those limitations, because they go fundamentally to the question of whether an amendment can be reasonably crafted to meet that situation.
My right hon. and learned Friend makes a very fair point. As we proceed, we have to keep reminding ourselves that we are where we are because the United Kingdom has voted to leave the European Union. What we are seeking to achieve is a departure from the European Union on the best possible terms. I strongly believe that what the Government are proposing is as much as possible in terms of a meaningful vote at the end of the process.
Timing is significant only if it further empowers Parliament to have a meaningful say on the negotiations. Can I ask the Minister again: what will happen if the House declines to approve the draft agreement that he intends to bring before us?
I think that I have already answered that extremely clearly. There will be a meaningful vote. The vote will be either to accept the deal that the Government will have achieved—I repeat that the process of negotiation will not be without frequent reports to the House—or for there to be no deal. Frankly, that is the choice that the House will have to make. That will be the most meaningful vote that one could imagine.
The point is that if this is to be a meaningful concession, the House needs the opportunity to send the Government back to our EU partners to negotiate a deal if one has not been reached. Going to World Trade Organisation rules will be deeply damaging for our economy and wholly unacceptable.
I hear what the hon. Gentleman says, but frankly I cannot think of a greater signal of weakness than for the House to send the Government back to the European Union saying that we want to negotiate further. That would be seized on as a sign of weakness and therefore I cannot agree with it at all.
I would like to make further progress. I have taken a large number of interventions and I am sure that other hon. Members wish to speak.
Let me say this. It will be a meaningful vote. As I have said, it will be the choice between leaving the European Union with a negotiated deal or not. To send the Government back to the negotiating table would be the surest way of undermining our negotiating position and delivering a worse deal. In any case, we cannot unilaterally extend—
When the Minister first revealed his concession to the shadow Secretary of State, there was a bit, which he has not read out in the speech that he has just been giving, that referred to timing, intention and the position of the European Parliament. Will he please repeat what he said the first time round? I think it important that the House should be able to hear that.
I will, if that will be of assistance to the right hon. Gentleman, although I did, in fact, read out the same words twice. I will read them again so that he fully understands the commitment that the Government have made. The Government have committed to a vote on the final deal in both Houses before it comes into force. This will cover both the withdrawal agreement and our future relationship with the European Union. I can confirm that the Government will bring forward a motion on the final agreement, to be approved by both Houses of Parliament before it is concluded. We expect and intend that that will happen before the European Parliament debates and votes on the final agreement.
I will not take any further interventions; I have already been more than generous.
I turn to the amendments. The shadow Secretary of State has referred to his new clauses 1, 18, 19, 28, 54, 110, 137, 175 and 182, which all seek, in one way or another, to ensure that Parliament will have a vote on the final deal that we agree with the European Union. Let me assure Members again, as I have said in answer to interventions, that the House will be involved throughout the entire process of withdrawal. Again, I remind the House of the extent of the Secretary of State’s engagement.
I have a very brief question for the Minister. If the European Parliament votes down the deal, Europe will carry on negotiating. He is saying that if the British Parliament votes down the deal, that will be the end of the negotiations. We pride ourselves on our sovereignty in this House; the Minister’s position seems to be a denial of that sovereignty.
With huge respect, I am not entirely sure that the right hon. Gentleman understands the process. At the end of the day, the role of the European Parliament will be to grant or withhold consent to the deal agreed by the European Council, and there can be no assurance that there would be further negotiations. May I say that we are some considerable way away from that position. As I have said, as the negotiations proceed, there will be very many more opportunities—many, many more—for this House and the other place to consider the negotiations.
I am afraid not; I have already been very generous.
I was reminding the House of what the Secretary of State has already done in terms of engagement. He has made six oral statements and there have been more than 10 debates—four in Government time. More than 30 Select Committee inquiries are going on at the moment. Furthermore, there will be many more votes on primary legislation between now and departure from the European Union.
I suggest that the amendments that I have referred to are unnecessary. I reiterate that both Houses will get a vote on the final deal before it comes into force and I can confirm, once again, that it will cover both the withdrawal agreement and our future relationship. However, we are confident that we will bring back a deal that Parliament will want to support. The choice will be meaningful: whether to accept that deal or to move ahead without a deal.
I rise to speak to new clause 180 and amendment 50, in my name and those of my hon. Friends. I also want to speak very favourably about new clause 110, which is in the name of the hon. Member for Nottingham East (Chris Leslie). It is the strongest of the other amendments, although I should say that any amendments from this group that are put to the vote will have our support as they are all trying to increase parliamentary supervision of the process.
Before the Minister led us through the dance of the seven veils, I was going to question him on the irrevocability or revocability of article 50. I still think that that goes to the heart of what we are debating. However, I say directly to the Minister, with regard to what he described as a “serious announcement”, that if one makes a serious announcement in the course of the Committee stage of a Bill of this importance, it should be followed by an amendment. If we were here debating the Dangerous Dogs Bill, which I remember debating some time ago, and a serious announcement was made, that serious announcement would be followed by an amendment to the Bill. If that is good enough for a Bill of that description, how much more important is it to have such an amendment when we are debating the biggest constitutional change facing this country for half a century.
Not just now.
We thank the Minister for his announcement and the apparent concession. We do not doubt for a second the seriousness with which he makes his serious announcement, but I think that most of us—including the Minister himself—would think that such an announcement should be followed by an amendment to the Bill so that it could go through the proper processes, with hon. Members being able and willing properly to debate an announcement of such seriousness.
I give way to the former Chief Whip, who seems through these proceedings so anxious to regain his previous elevated position.
I assure the right hon. Gentleman that I am very content being able to speak in the House on these important matters. The reason it might not be sensible to have a detailed amendment is that, as is clear from the range of interventions from colleagues, a large number of scenarios may arise, which will have to be dealt with politically. I do not want detailed legislation that means that this matter goes back to the courts. I want it to be debated in this House, not by a judge.
At least the right hon. Gentleman is consistent: when he was Chief Whip he did not want detailed amendments either, in case democracy prevailed in these matters. Most people, on hearing a serious announcement from the Front Bench, would expect it to be followed by an amendment, so that it could be properly debated and tested.
I agree with the right hon. Gentleman about a manuscript amendment—it would make things a lot clearer for all of us. Does he agree that the announcement that we may have a Hobson’s choice at the end of the process means that there will not really be a proper choice?
In a minute or two.
The hon. Lady’s point goes to the heart of the dilemma the House will find itself in, unless we take action to the contrary. It strikes at the question of whether article 50, once invoked, is irrevocable or not. In my point of order earlier, I tried to give a flavour of the Government’s confusion, but it was a brief point of order and I want to give the full flavour of the Government’s confusion.
The Brexit Secretary said in the Exiting the European Union Committee, when asked about this specific point, that
“one of the virtues of the article 50 process is that it sets you on way. It is very difficult to see it being revoked. We do not intend to revoke it. It may not be revocable—I don’t know.”
That is the basis on which we are being asked to take this fundamental decision that will affect the future of this country. We have to know these things, because they will determine the position the House finds itself in.
If article 50 is irrevocable—if after the two years, unless there is a unanimous agreement from the other 27 members of the European Union, the negotiations stop, the guillotine comes down and we are left with a bad deal or no deal—any vote in the House against that sword of Damocles hanging over the House will not be a proper, informed judgment.
Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that triggering article 50 on the basis of its possible revocability is like walking down the M4 in the middle of the night and hoping you will not get killed—you might not, but it is better not to walk down there in the first place?
The hon. Gentleman promised me that he would change the motorway when he next made that point, but the analogy is there.
Of course, the noble Lord Kerr of Kinlochard, who drafted article 50, believes it to be revocable. Presumably, he had that in mind when he drafted the article in the first place.
I am very grateful. Perhaps I can clarify the matter by saying that the Attorney General was very clear in his submission to the Supreme Court, as was the lawyer on the other side of the case, that article 50 is irrevocable, and the judgment was based on that proposition. Does the right hon. Gentleman therefore agree that it is irrevocable?
The concession of the Government in the Supreme Court was merely for the purpose of those proceedings. I say to my right hon. Friend the Member for Wokingham (John Redwood) that we can derive nothing from that as to whether article 50 is revocable or not. Indeed, there is powerful legal argument that it is capable of being revoked.
The two Members should talk among themselves before they come to the House with an agreed position. However, both those amazingly talented people are on the Back Benches, so it does not really matter if they have an informed and learned debate after proceeding to agreement. What matters is the confusion on the Front Bench. Whatever they think, the Brexit Secretary did not know whether it was revocable or not.
The right hon. Gentleman is pursuing this matter relentlessly. Will he explain why he is doing so? I suggest that it is because he knows that the answer to the question he is putting depends on whether the European Court of Justice gets its hands on this matter. That is what it is about, as I am sure he will accept.
To be told I am pursuing something relentlessly by the hon. Gentleman is a compliment that I shall treasure. This is not about the European Court of Justice; it is about this House having a genuine choice at some stage. It must be able to look at what the Government have negotiated and say yes or no, without the sword of Damocles of a bad deal or no deal, which was the threat from the Prime Minister, hanging over it.
Is not one of the problems with the concession that has just been made that it tacks together in one votable motion the withdrawal agreement and the potential trade agreement? If Members do not like the trade agreement, they will face the unpalatable option of voting down the withdrawal agreement, thereby bringing us back to where we are now with the outcome of the referendum.
Not just now.
We make an effort to solve the problem in new clause 180, which we call the reset amendment. It asks the Prime Minister to seek from the European Council an agreement that if this House and the other place refuse to agree the terms negotiated, we will reset to our existing membership of the European Union on the current terms and try again. We would then approve a deal only once we believed its terms were in the interests of this country. The Prime Minister should be prepared to present us not with a bad deal or no deal—not a bad deal or World Trade Organisation terms—but a deal that we know is in the interests of our constituents and the country. That is fundamental to this debate.
I know and understand the exigencies of political leadership, but the date of the end of March came about at the Tory conference because Brexiteers were beginning to get a bit flappy about whether the Prime Minister was a born-again Brexiteer or still a secret submarine remainer. I cannot understand why people think—even on the Brexiteer side, because presumably the Brexiteers want success for this country and its economy—that it is a good idea to invoke article 50 before we know what the destination will be. Similarly, I cannot believe that it is a good idea to leave the European economic area, which is governed by different agreements and instruments, until we know what the alternative is. Instead of giving these points away and putting all the negotiating power in the hands of those we are negotiating with—they are our partners now, but in any negotiation there is a tension between two parties—any negotiation depends on the cards in your hand. If the other side know that after two years the sword of Damocles comes down, it puts them in a much more powerful position in the negotiation.
I agree with most of what the right hon. Gentleman is saying. It is very important to have an amendment, so that the House and the Government know exactly where we are going. Why do we not put those on the Government Front Bench on a TUC course to learn how to negotiate?
The hon. Gentleman makes an astute point. There is a lot to be learned about a negotiating position. The prime point is not to put yourself in a position of weakness with the European Union. On the whole, they are honourable people who want what is in the interests of the continent of Europe. Certainly, it is not a good idea for the Government to put themselves in a position of weakness with the new President of the United States, who will take every possible advantage from an opponent he senses—as he will sense—is negotiating from a position of weakness.
I argue strongly for the new clause and the amendments we have tabled, which aim to secure the position at the end of the negotiations before we embark on something that will leave this House not just with a bad deal or no deal, but with a metaphorical gun pointed at our head when we address these serious questions. We have to know the end position before we embark on that fundamentally dangerous course.
I agree fully with the right hon. Member for Gordon (Alex Salmond) that we should not wish to do anything that weakens or undermines the British bargaining position. All the efforts of this House, as we try to knit together remain and leave voters, should be designed to maximise our leverage, as a newly independent nation, in securing the best possible future relationship with our partners in the European Union. That is why I find myself in disagreement with many of the well-intentioned amendments before us today. I think they are all, perhaps inadvertently, trying to undermine or damage the UK’s negotiation—[Interruption.] One of my hon. Friends says, “Nonsense,” but let me explain why it would be dangerous to adopt the amendments.
We are being invited to believe that if the House of Commons decided that it did not like the deal the Government negotiated for our future relationship with the EU and voted it down, the rest of the EU would immediately say sorry and offer us a better deal. I just do not think that that is practical politics. I do not understand how Members believe that that is going to happen. What could happen, however, is that those in the rest of the EU who want to keep the UK and our contributions in the EU might think that it would be a rather good idea to offer a very poor deal to try to tempt Parliament into voting the deal down, meaning that there would then be no deal at all. That might suit their particular agenda.
I support the Government offering this House a vote. They cannot deny the House a vote—if the House wants to vote, the House will vote—but it is very important that those who want to go further and press the Government even more should understand that this approach could be deeply damaging to the United Kingdom’s negotiating position. It is based on a completely unreal view of how multinational negotiations go when a country is leaving the European Union. I find it very disappointing that passionate advocates of the European Union in this House, who have many fine contacts and networks across our continent, as well as access to the counsel and the wisdom of our European partners, give no explanation in these debates of the attitudes of the other member states, the weaknesses of their negotiating position and what their aims might be. If they did so, they could better inform the Government’s position, meaning that we could do better for them and for us.
The right hon. Gentleman is, as ever, making an articulate case from his point of view about the dangers of a vote at the end of the process. Can he explain why, on 20 November 2012, in a very interesting blogpost entitled, “The double referendum on the EU”, he advocated a second referendum with the following question:
“Do you want to accept the new negotiated relationship with the EU or not?”?
How on earth and why on earth has he changed his mind since then?
I do not disagree with that at all. I am very happy for the House to have a vote on whether the new deal is worth accepting, but that would be in the context of leaving the EU. I agree with my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister that no deal is better than a bad deal. If the best the Government can do is a bad deal, I might well want to vote against that deal in favour of leaving without a deal. That is exactly the choice that Government Ministers are offering this House. It is a realistic choice and a democratic choice. It is no choice to pretend that the House can re-run the referendum in this cockpit and vote to stay in the EU. We will have sent the article 50 letter. The public have voted to leave. If this House then votes to stay in, what significance would that have and why should the other member states suddenly turn around and agree?
If the right hon. Gentleman wants to maximise negotiating leverage, would it not be better to delay article 50 until after the elections of the new German Government in October and the new French Government in May? We will have only two years, so that would give us the power of having more time to negotiate while we are member, instead of giving that up. If we were to offer a referendum to the people before we trigger article 50, European countries might think that we could stay in, so they might come to the table before article 50 was triggered.
I do not think we should have two referendums on whether or not we leave. The issue is our future relationship. The House is perfectly capable of dealing with whether we accept the future relationship that the Government negotiate.
The point that Opposition Members and their amendments miss is that once we send the article 50 letter, we have notified our intention to leave. If there is no agreement after two years, we are out of the European Union. The right hon. Member for Gordon (Alex Salmond) rightly asked whether the notification is irrevocable, but he did not give his own answer to that. I found it very disappointing that the SNP, which takes such a strong interest in these proceedings, has no party view on whether it is irrevocable. Personally, I accept the testimony of both the Attorney General and the noble Lord who was the advocate for the remain side in the Supreme Court case that it is irrevocable. The House has to make its decision in light of that.
As far as I am concerned, this is irrevocable for another democratic reason: the public were told they were making the decision about whether we stayed in or left the EU. Some 52% of the public, if not the others, expect this House to deliver their wishes. That was what the Minister told this House when we passed the European Referendum Act 2015. Every voter in the country was told by a leaflet sent at our expense by the Government: “You, the people, are making the decision”. Rightly, this House, when under the Supreme Court’s guidance it was given the opportunity to have a specific vote on whether to send the letter to leave the European Union, voted to do so by a majority of 384, with just the SNP and a few others in disagreement. It fully understood that the British people had taken the decision and fully understood that it has to do their bidding.
Is the right hon. Gentleman not assuming that, as we walk into the room, all the people we are negotiating with are our adversaries? Is that perhaps not the wrong standpoint to take? Is it not the case that a meaningful vote on the substance of any deal might equally focus the Government’s mind on what they can sell to this House to unite it, as well as the people we represent, in a very divided country?
The hon. Gentleman has won that argument. We will have a vote in this House on whether we accept the deal and I hope that that works out well. My criticism is not of the Government’s decision to make that offer. I think it was a very good offer to make in the circumstances. My criticism was and is of those Members who do not understand that constantly seeking to undermine and expose alleged weaknesses damages the United Kingdom’s case. It is not at all helpful. As many of them have talent and expertise through their many links with the EU, it would be helpful if they did rather more talking about how we can meet the reasonable objectives of the EU and deal with the unreasonable objectives held by some in the Commission and a number of member states.
Despite the right hon. Gentleman’s certainty about irrevocability, the person who drafted the clause, Lord Kerr, thinks that notification is revocable. The right hon. and learned Member for Beaconsfield (Mr Grieve), the former Attorney General, who is sitting to the right hon. Gentleman’s right, is not absolutely sure but does not agree with him, and the Brexit Minister does not know. Does this not remind us of a certain question in European history, where of those who knew the answer one was mad, one was dead and the other had forgotten? Is this the basis on which he wants to take us over the cliff edge?
I have attempted to give the House a clear definition and to show that there is good legal precedent for my argument, based on senior lawyers and the Supreme Court. I note that the SNP does not have a clue and does not want to specify whether the notification is irrevocable.
I thank my hon. Friend for that helpful intervention, although there is this legal wrangle. It is fascinating how those who wish to resist, delay or cancel our departure from the EU are now flipping their legal arguments from three or four weeks ago, when they were quite clear that this was irrevocable.
My right hon. Friend is a man of courage with a long, fine history of supporting the sovereignty of this place. He says that the Government will give us a vote in the event of a deal, but why does he not agree with those of us, on both sides of the House, who want the same vote, so that we ensure the sovereignty of this place, in the event that the Government cannot strike a deal, despite their finest efforts?
May I take the right hon. Gentleman back to his comments on his blogpost in November 2012, when he argued in favour of a referendum at the beginning and at the end of the process? He has just said that he does not think that there should be a referendum on whether we leave the EU—we can disagree on that—but he did not exclude a referendum on the terms of the deal. Will he clarify whether he thinks that the people should have the final say on the terms of the deal?
No, not on this occasion, because 2012 was 2012, and we were trying all sorts of things to get us out of the EU—we found one that worked, and I am grateful for that. However, now is now, and we have to speak to the current conditions and the state of the argument.
On a referendum, it depends what the options are. The hon. Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale (Tim Farron) is clear that his two choices are that we accept the deal or we stay in the EU. I was on the remain side of the argument, but the question on the ballot paper was unconditional: leave or remain. I accept that my side lost and we are leaving. He wants to rerun the referendum all over again, but that is not acceptable.
I agree with that.
People are trying to make these negotiations far more complicated and longwinded than they need be. Because of the Prime Minister’s admirable clarity in her 12 points, we do not need to negotiate borders, money, taking back control, sorting out our own laws, getting rid of ECJ jurisdiction and so on. Those are matters of Government policy mandated by the British people—they are things we will just do. We will be negotiating just two things. First, will we have a bill to pay when we leave? My answer is simply: no, of course not. There is no legal power in the treaties to charge Britain any bill, and there is no legal power for any Minister to make an ex gratia payment to the EU over and above the legal payments in our contributions up to the date of our exit.
Secondly, the Government need, primarily, to sort out our future trading relationship with the EU. We will make the generous offer of carrying on as we are at the moment and registering it as a free trade agreement. If the EU does not like that, “most favoured nation” terms under WTO rules will be fine. That is how we trade with the rest of the world—very successfully and at a profit.
Members should relax and understand that things can be much easier. There will be no economic damage. The Government have taken an admirable position and made wonderful concessions to the other side, so I hope that those on the other side will accept them gratefully and gracefully, in the knowledge that they have had an impact on this debate.
I rise to speak to new clauses 28, 54 and 99, standing in my name and those of other right hon. and hon. Members. New clause 28 deals with the sequencing of votes on the final terms—the issue on which we have had a concession this afternoon from the Minister; new clause 54 is about how to secure extra time if we need it in our negotiations with the EU; and new clause 99 embeds parliamentary sovereignty in the process.
I am pleased to follow the right hon. Member for Wokingham (John Redwood), but I am disappointed that he has not come clean to the Committee on the fact that he has identified an alternative process he hopes to use to secure the kind of Brexit he wants. He did not refer to another blog he wrote recently, in which he said:
“Being in the EU is a bit like being a student in a College. All the time you belong to the College you have to pay fees... When you depart you have no further financial obligations”.
This is a somewhat outmoded view of the way student finances work, but putting that to one side, he evidently has not read the excellent paper by Alex Barker of the Financial Times pointing out that the obligations on us will fall into three categories: legally binding budget commitments; pension promises to EU officials; and contingent liabilities, which indeed are arguable.
I will make a little more progress, if the right hon. Gentleman does not mind.
The right hon. Member for Wokingham has also pointed out that Ministers can only authorise spending and sign cheques with parliamentary approval. He is right about that, and it is right that we have that say, but he is hoping to use that moment to veto the withdrawal arrangements and scupper the chances of a more constructive and productive future relationship. On Second Reading, the right hon. Member for Tatton (Mr Osborne) said—this was astute if somewhat tasteless—that it
“will be a trade-off, as all divorces are, between access and money.”—[Official Report, 1 February 2017; Vol. 620, c. 1035.]
For the right hon. Member for Wokingham and his friends, there is no trade-off—he does not want access or money.
New clause 54 calls for extra time. Hon. Members have already raised the need for extra time if Parliament declines to approve the final terms. The new clause adds a scenario in which the Government have not managed to complete the negotiations within the 24 months specified in article 50. This is more likely than not. Almost everyone who has looked at the matter in detail is incredulous that we can complete these negotiations in 24 months. The record on completing trade deals is not good, and there are many more strands to this negotiation. It would be patently absurd to flip to a damaging situation without an agreement, if we can see, once we are in the negotiations and have the detailed work schedule, that a further six or 12 months would bring us to a successful conclusion. Similarly, it is possible that the Minister’s optimism is well founded but that, while the negotiations have been completed, the parliamentary process has not. In that instance, too, we ought to have extra time.
New clause 99 addresses a different matter. It would embed parliamentary sovereignty in the process of approving the final terms of withdrawal and ensure that the UK withdrew on terms approved by Parliament. Bringing back control and restoring parliamentary sovereignty were a major plank of the Brexit campaign. The new clause is the fulfilment of that promise—the working out in practice of what was promised. The Prime Minister has already said that Parliament should have a vote at the end of the process, and new clause 99 strengthens that promise by requiring primary legislation to give effect to any agreement on arrangements for withdrawal and, even more importantly, on the future relationship. This is important, so that Parliament does not have to give only a metaphorical thumbs-up, which could, as my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Holborn and St Pancras (Keir Starmer) has said, be meaningless. Instead, Parliament can undertake line-by-line scrutiny. Brexit has major constitutional, political, economic and social consequences. It is right for Parliament to approve the way in which it is done. This new clause will improve the dynamic of the negotiations and strengthen the Prime Minister’s hands. She can say to the EU, “Parliament won’t agree to that.”
Paragraph 1 of article 50 states:
“Any Member State may decide to withdraw from the Union in accordance with its own constitutional requirements.”
The Supreme Court said in its judgment:
“Withdrawal makes a fundamental change to the UK’s constitutional arrangements…The UK constitution requires such changes to be effected by Parliamentary legislation”.
In line with the Supreme Court judgment, new clause 99 embeds parliamentary approval as a constitutional requirement, which the EU must respect.
The new clause deals with the issue raised at the beginning of the debate by the right hon. Member for Broxtowe (Anna Soubry): what to do in the absence of any agreement. Either the Prime Minister’s negotiations will succeed in reaching a satisfactory conclusion or they will not. New clause 99 provides for both scenarios— legislation in the second as well as the first instance—so that Parliament is in control and is able to decide the basis for leaving. The new clause does not block Brexit; it does not slow down the negotiations. I voted to give the Bill a Second Reading, and my constituents are leave voters. This is about Parliament having sovereign control over the process.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for tabling and speaking to this new clause, which I think is important in view of the concerns expressed on all sides of the Committee about the so-called concession offered earlier by the Government Front-Bench team. Will my hon. Friend confirm that she will press her new clause to a vote?
The hon. Lady said a moment ago that new clause 99 did not seek to delay or derail the leaving process. In the event of paragraph (b) of the new clause coming about—namely, no deal—if Parliament voted against it, would the effect not clearly be that we would stop the process of leaving, thereby denying the effect of the referendum?
I do not think it does mean that. It would depend on whether or not extra time had been agreed with the European Union. If the right hon. Gentleman referred back to article 50, he would see that we might get an extension if the other member states agree to provide us with it unanimously. They may; they may not. As we stand here today, it is quite difficult to project ourselves forward into the situation we will find in two years’ time.
I am doubly grateful to the hon. Lady. Does she not agree that in the event that we are not given extra time by mutual agreement, and in the event that Parliament has rejected withdrawal without an agreement, the effect of paragraph (b) of the new clause would clearly be the negation of the result of the referendum by Parliament? Does that not go against what she has voted for?
I do not think it does, because it leaves open the possibility of the Government’s going back to the drawing board and making a further new arrangement. As I say, for us now, when we have not yet embarked on the process and we do not know what the deals will be and what is going to be offered, it is extremely difficult for us to foresee.
Does my hon. Friend agree that many of the other 27 countries will be going to their Parliaments for approval with respect to their approach to these negotiations, so that it would surely strengthen our Government’s hands if they involved themselves in a process that could through this Parliament maximise the support coming on all sides for our Government’s approach? Why is that not seen as a strength?
I could not agree more with my hon. Friend. We know that Angela Merkel has to get a parliamentary mandate for how she conducts herself in all her negotiations in the European Union. Some of us have tried over the years to improve the quality of our European scrutiny, but it seems that we are focusing it now only on the moment when we are about to leave.
Assuming that the Committee agrees to this amendment, that we trigger article 50 on 31 March and that we vote against the deal, what could we do about it if the Commission and the European Parliament said, “Sorry, but that’s the deal you’re going to get, like it or lump it”? They do not care; we do not have the sort of power necessary to stop them imposing the deal they want once article 50 has been triggered.
My hon. Friend is arguing along the same lines as the right hon. Member for Wokingham—that article 50 is irrevocable. It is the same point as was raised by the right hon. Member for Gordon (Alex Salmond) as well. As I have said, paragraph 3 of article 50 includes the words
“unless the European Council, in agreement with the Member State concerned, unanimously decides to extend this period.”
That can happen, and it will depend on how the negotiations are undertaken, on where we have got to, and on their tone.
The treaty of Lisbon clearly sets out the two-year term. Whether or not article 50 is irrevocable comes down to the weakness of the treaty of Lisbon itself, not the legal interpretation. Does the hon. Lady not agree that some of the best deals reached with the EU have been at the 11th hour, and that the one thing that will concentrate the minds of all involved in these negotiations is the fact that they have to happen by March 2019—otherwise, it will go on and on and on?
I do not think that the threat of the cliff edge is a positive in these negotiations. I note that the Chancellor of the Exchequer has described this as a second-best option and that the White Paper also says that crashing out is a second-best option. Actually, I think it is the worst option, and new clause 99 levels the playing field so that as well as having the vote on the terms of withdrawal and the money, this House will be able to have detailed scrutiny of the future relationship.
I have consulted my constituents on the kind of Brexit they want: they do not want the cliff-edge option, and there are all sorts of things about Europe that they like, even though the majority voted to leave. They like the customs union; they like the social chapter; they like co-operation and collaboration; and they particularly like the European arrest warrant.
The hon. Lady says that she would like collaboration to support the Government’s negotiations. Does she think that in a negotiating situation it is a good idea to say, “We think we owe you lot some money; tell us how much?”; or does she think it would be better to say, “I do not think that we owe you anything”?
In my experience of negotiation, one of the most important things is to understand what the people on the other side of the table think, and I believe that that is fundamental to our success in this negotiation. It is not to say that we are going to give the people on the other side of the table everything they want, but we need to be willing to listen to what they want as the negotiation proceeds.
May I return the hon. Lady to what she said about the different approaches that European states adopt to negotiation? I am not a lawyer, and I hesitate to express an opinion in the face of such eminent legal presence in the Chamber, but my understanding is that treaties made in countries such as Germany, which has a monist legal culture, are directly applicable without further legislation, whereas because ours is a dualist system, we have to legislate to put them into effect. Do not those countries take a tougher approach to their negotiation before authorising it because once their Governments are signed up to a treaty, it becomes law automatically?
I do not see this as an opportunity for a seminar on the political institutions of the Federal Republic. New clause 99 is about embedding what is basic to the British constitution, as found by the Supreme Court, which is parliamentary sovereignty throughout the process. In the end, the referendum was about trust. It was about the kind of settlement that most voters wanted. I know what kind of Brexit deal my voters want, and I think that new clause 99 provides the best way of giving it to them.
I hope the Committee will allow me to mention that today, 7 February, is 25 years to the day since the signing of that fateful Maastricht treaty. I see that my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Rushcliffe (Mr Clarke) is looking at me with a wry smile on his face. I do not doubt for a minute that he will recall that he once said—I hope I am not mistaken—that he had not read the treaty. Perhaps he never said anything of the kind, and I should be more than happy to accept his assurance to that effect from a sedentary position.
At the time, I tabled some 150 amendments, and I voted against the treaty 47 or 50 times. I have to say that I will not vote against this Bill in any circumstances whatsoever. Indeed, this will be the first occasion on which I shall not have voted against European legislation since 1986. The legislation passed during that year included the Single European Act. When I tabled the sovereignty amendment to that legislation, I was not even allowed to speak to it because it was not selected for debate, which I found difficult to accept at the time. However, we have now moved well ahead. We have had a referendum, the proposal for which was accepted by six to one in the House. We have also had a vote on the principle of this very Bill, which was passed by 498— 500 if we include the tellers—to 114.
In deference to the other Members who wish to speak, I shall not go through the intricacies of this vast number of new clauses. I do not think that that would help us much, for a very simple reason—the bottom line is that they would effectively provide for a veto to override the result of the referendum. It is as simple as that.
My hon. Friend said that he had tabled 150 amendments off his own bat. Surely he is contradicting his own argument. The whole point of this place is to challenge what we do not believe in, on the basis of principle. That is what we are trying to do, and my hon. Friend should be supporting us.
I am so glad that my hon. Friend has made that point. The difference between what I was doing in those days and what is happening now is that we were arguing against the Government’s policy of implementing European government, which is what the Maastricht treaty was about—incidentally, the electorate made it clear in the referendum that they now accept that. Moreover, we were arguing in favour of a referendum, which we have now had. My amendments were moving in the right direction, in line with what the Government have now agreed following the referendum and in line with what the people themselves agreed.
The hon. Gentleman—my next-door neighbour from Stone—is clearly enjoying his days in the sun. Like the right hon. and learned Member for Rushcliffe (Mr Clarke), I did not vote for the referendum legislation. Will the hon. Gentleman tell us what regard he has had, over his 40 years of campaigning, for the two thirds of people who, at the time when he started his campaign, voted for the UK to remain in the European Union?
I can only say that, in our democratic system, six Members to one in the House of Commons, and indeed the House of Lords, voted in favour of a referendum, by means of a sovereign Act of Parliament, to give the people a say in the hon. Gentleman’s constituency as well as mine next door to it—not to mention in Stoke-on-Trent Central, where quite an interesting test will take place in a few days’ time. The fact is that the decision was given to the people by an Act of Parliament, and they made the decision to leave. That is definitive. I see no purpose in wasting time on the intricate arguments we have heard so far, many of which go around in circles. The real question is: do we implement the decision of the United Kingdom or not? The answer is that we do, and we must. That was conceded by this House, and by almost everybody—I say, with great respect, to my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Rushcliffe that he did not, but the bottom line is that we are giving effect to the decision of the United Kingdom electorate.
Unless my memory betrays me, the hon. Gentleman himself was one of the two thirds back in 1975 when he voted for the European Community, so all these years he was campaigning against the sovereignty of that decision; indeed, he was campaigning against his own sovereignty and his own decision.
That is politics, as the right hon. Gentleman knows only too well, because he has a similar experience in his position with regard to Scotland.
The bottom line is that we are faced with a simple decision, which is going to be decided in a vote later today, I imagine—it might be in part tomorrow as well, and then there will be Third Reading. I hope that all these attempts to, in my judgment, produce different versions of delay will effectively be overridden by the vote taken by the House as a whole, in line with the decision taken by the British people. That is the right way to proceed.
I would like to add one further point, with respect to the Bill itself. I am in no way criticising the selection of amendments, because I think it is entirely right that we should have an opportunity to look at a variety of permutations before the main vote is cast. But I have to remind the Committee that the Bill, which was passed by 498 to 114, simply says that it will
“confer power on the Prime Minister to notify, under Article 50(2) of the Treaty on European Union, the United Kingdom’s intention”,
as expressed by the referendum itself,
“to withdraw from the EU.”
Clause 1 simply says this, and no more:
“The Prime Minister may notify, under Article 50(2) of the Treaty on European Union, the United Kingdom’s intention to withdraw from the EU.”
I am glad to see that it goes on to say—just to put this matter to bed, in case anybody tries to argue that, somehow or other, this could be overridden by some other European Union gambit— that “This section”, which we have already passed in principle,
“has effect despite any provision made by or under the European Communities Act 1972 or any other enactment.”
In other words, nothing that emanates from the European Union is to stand in its way. That is a very simple proposition. The Bill is short because it should be short.
I would just like to make one last point, looking back at what the Supreme Court said. The Supreme Court made a judgment on one simple question: should we express the intention to withdraw and notify under article 50 by prerogative or by Bill? There was a big battle, and many people took differing views. We respect the Supreme Court decision, and that is why we have this Bill. The fact is that that is final.
In paragraphs 2 and 3 of the judgment, the court itself made it clear what the judgment was meant to be about, which was whether this should be done by Bill or prerogative. The court said it should be done by Bill. It added—these are my last words on the subject for the moment—that it was about one particular issue, which was the one I have mentioned. The court then said the judgment had nothing to do with the terms of withdrawal, nothing to do with the method, nothing to do with the timing and nothing to do with the relationship between ourselves and the European Union. Yet new clause 1 spends its entire verbiage going into the very questions that the Supreme Court said the decision was not about. So that new clause and the others are all inconsistent both with the Supreme Court decision and with the decisions taken on Second Reading.
I do not think that that is a point of order; it is not a matter for the Chair.
I am sure that it is in order. The problem is whether we vote for it, and there are extremely good reasons for not doing so. New clause 1 and the other amendments have been tabled by honourable people—hon. Members on both sides of the House, and some right hon. Members—but they know perfectly well what they are doing. They are trying to delay, to obstruct and to prevent the Bill from going through, and I say, “Shame on you!”
It is an honour to follow the hon. Member for Stone (Sir William Cash), who has fought his corner for 40-odd years. I intend to fight mine, but hopefully not for as long as that. I rise to speak to amendment 43, which is in my name and those of my right hon. and hon. Friends. It concerns the issue of democracy at the end of this process as well as at the beginning, and it would require the Prime Minister to look at the overwhelming case for a people’s vote on the final exit package that the Government negotiate with Brussels after triggering article 50.
On 23 June last year, a narrow majority voted to leave the European Union. I deeply regret that outcome, but I am a democrat and I accept it. However, voting for departure is not the same as voting for the destination. The Government should now give the British people a decision referendum, to be held when the EU negotiations are concluded. I admit that “mandate referendum” and “decision referendum” are not terms that I have used before in this context. They are not really my words; they are the words that were used by the Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union when he eloquently made the case in 2012 for holding a referendum on the deal at the end of the process, which is Liberal Democrat policy today.
As it stands, the Government intend it to be a once-in-a-generation opportunity. As the hon. Member for Stone has proved, however, we sometimes have to fight for two generations for the thing that we believe in. If we have the courage of our convictions, we keep going.
I want to quote the Brexit Secretary directly. I do not want to paraphrase him or risk misquoting him in any way. Describing the strategy of having two referendums—a mandate referendum and a decision referendum—he said:
“The aim of this strategy is to give the British people the final say, but it is also to massively reinforce the legitimacy and negotiating power of the British negotiating team.”
I shall not say this often during this process, but I completely and utterly agree with the Brexit Secretary on that. As we have learned, his words were endorsed the following day by the right hon. Member for Wokingham (John Redwood) on his blog, although we have now discovered that he did not really mean it; he was just saying that as a ruse.
The hon. Gentleman and I were on the same side in the referendum, but I want to tell him why he is completely wrong on this matter. If we were to place a second referendum in the Bill at this stage, it would tie the hands of our negotiators. We could only be offered a bad deal, and it would be in the hands of the people we were negotiating with to drive the British people to reject it. It would be a failed policy from the start.
If we follow the logic of the hon. Gentleman’s argument, the Minister should not have made his offer for the House to have a say at the end of the deal. If someone is about to go over a cliff, not giving themselves the opportunity to do otherwise is the ultimate negotiating weakness, as the Brexit Secretary rightly pointed out four and a bit years ago.
The hon. Gentleman really must correct the record. I did not make the offer in 2012 flippantly or without intending to see it through; it was a fair offer that was not taken up. My colleagues and I then made a different offer in 2015, which was accepted and we are pursuing it.
In no way do I wish to impugn the right hon. Gentleman’s integrity—I am sure that he meant that offer. What I think he said earlier on when I intervened on him was that that was effectively a ruse, plot, method or attempt at that point to try to get a certain outcome. I suppose he is therefore the hard Brexit equivalent of Malcolm X—“by any means necessary.”
If I can make a little progress, I will be grateful.
It is true that this argument began with democracy, but it cannot now end with a stitch-up. That is especially true given that the leave campaign offered no plan, no instructions, no prospectus and no vision of what “out” would look like. At no point did it produce any credible or unified position on what the UK would look like outside the European Union.
We are dealing with many fundamental problems in any event.
Forgive me if I am being pedantic, but the reality is that we are not talking about a second referendum. One could argue that the referendum on 23 June was the second referendum. We are arguing for a referendum on the terms of the deal, which has not been put to the British people.
The hon. Gentleman says that we would reach a cliff edge, but his offer of a referendum involves no choice. People would either have to vote for it or against it. If they vote against it, what would that leave? There would be that cliff edge that people are trying to avoid.
We are offering the British people an opportunity not only to have the final say on the terms of the deal, but to say, having looked over the cliff edge, “No thanks,” and to remain in the European Union. That is a perfectly legitimate democratic offer for a party to make. While it is thoroughly legitimate to have an alternative point of view, that is fully democratic.
I want to make a clear point and a little progress.
A few of them are here now, so I want to give a little credit to our SNP colleagues. During the Scottish independence referendum, they were able to produce a 670-page White Paper on exactly what leaving the United Kingdom would look like. Of course, I did not agree with them, but at least the people of Scotland knew what they were voting for or what they would be rejecting. If that vote in 2014 had gone the other way, there would have been no need for a second vote on the independence deal.
This Government are going to take some monumental decisions over the next two years. I still believe that it will be impossible for them to negotiate a deal that is better than the one we currently have inside the European Union, but the negotiations will happen and a deal will be reached. When all is said and done, someone will have to decide whether the deal is good enough for the people of Britain. Surely the only right and logical step is to allow the people—not politicians in Whitehall, Brussels or even this House—to decide whether it is the right deal for them, their families, their jobs and our country. No one in this Government, House or country has any idea of what deal the Prime Minister will negotiate with Europe. It is completely unknown.
Does the hon. Gentleman share my surprise at the resistance to his perfectly sensible suggestion of a ratification referendum? The hallmark of the leave campaign was “taking back control” but surely that means control for the British people, not just for the MPs in charge.
Once again, the hon. Lady makes an excellent point. It seems utterly bizarre that having claimed that we were “taking back control”—that effective slogan—they now want to cede control to those occupying the smoke-filled rooms of Brussels and Whitehall in the 21st century and to have a stitch-up imposed upon the British people. The hon. Member for East Worthing and Shoreham (Tim Loughton) has been very persistent, so I will give way to him.
The hon. Gentleman will remember that his predecessor produced a leaflet that said only the Liberal Democrats would offer a “real referendum.” I presume that the Liberal Democrats had absolutely no idea of the implications if the people had actually voted to come out at that stage. The hon. Gentleman said that this is a once-in-a-generation vote, and he is now saying that we should have a mandate referendum and a terms referendum. If those two referendums go through, when will he be asking for an “Are you really sure about that?” referendum?
The hon. Gentleman seems to be under the impression that democracy is a one-hit game and that, somehow, a person who believes passionately in what they believe in has to give in. He and I both sat on the Opposition Benches during the last five years of the Labour Administration. When the Labour party won its big majorities in 1997, 2001 and 2005, did he give in and say that, somehow, it would be frustrating the will of the people to carry on fighting the Conservative cause? No, he did not. The reality is simply this: it is right to respect the will of the people, but it is to disrespect democracy to cave in and give up when we passionately believe in something.
I have said before that the hon. Gentleman’s approach is like Hotel California: you can check out but you can never leave. He is like the SNP, because he just wants people to vote, vote and vote again until he gets the result he agrees with. The British people have voted. We have to leave the European Union and implement the will of the British people.
I will come on to that in a moment, but it is not in any way enacting the will of the British people consistently to refuse the British people the right to have a say on a deal that will affect generations to come and that none of us here knows what it will look like.
I support the position that the hon. Gentleman articulates with amendment 43 but, in light of the concession we heard from the Government today, does he share my concern that, at the end of the negotiation, the choice that this Parliament will have will be between accepting the deal that the Government offer—possibly a bad deal—or falling out of the European Union on WTO terms at a cost of £45 billion to our gross domestic product? Does he not think the British people might be worried about that and might want to have a say?
The hon. Gentleman continues to make a strong case, and he is bold in putting it across, and not just today. There is no doubt that, whatever the British people voted for on 23 June, they certainly did not vote to make themselves poorer. It would be absolutely wrong for that game of poker to end with our dropping off a cliff edge without the British people having the right to have their say.
The hon. Gentleman’s argument would have force if the question on 23 June had been to give the Government a mandate to negotiate and bring back a deal, but it was not a conditional question. The question asked, “Do you want to leave, or do you want to remain?” People listened to all the arguments about all the risks, and they decided to leave. He cannot accept that, and a democrat should be able to accept it.
The right hon. Gentleman is quite wrong, because undoubtedly—I have said this very clearly—the majority of people voted on 23 June to leave the European Union. That is the direction of travel that the Government have a mandate to follow at this point. What the British people did not do, because they were not asked, is decide on the destination. As the Brexit Secretary rightly said in his speech just over four years ago, destination and departure are different things. It is right for democrats to make the case that the British people should not have their will taken from them and should not have a stitch-up imposed upon them.
Will the hon. Gentleman give way?
The hon. Gentleman makes a strong point. It troubles me that those who argued for the sovereignty of Parliament, for the sovereignty of this country and for the enforcement of the will of the people, and all of that, are now so scared of the people. It makes me worry that they do not have the courage of their convictions.
I will make some progress because other Members need to get in. The deal must be put to the British people so that they can have their say, because that is the only way to hold the Government to account. We already know that, in all likelihood, 48% of the British people will not like the outcome of the deal. We now know the kind of Brexit that this Prime Minister intends to pursue, and we can pretty much bet that perhaps half of the 52% will not like it, either. They will feel betrayed and ignored, and the only way to achieve democracy and closure for both leave and remain voters is for there to be a vote at the end.
The Government claim to be enforcing the will of the people, but that is nonsense. If I was being very generous, the best I could say is that the Government are interpreting the will of the people; some would say they are taking the result and twisting it to mean something quite different. The Conservatives won a mandate in the May 2015 general election, having made two promises on this in their manifesto. The first was to hold a referendum on Britain’s membership of the European Union. The second was to keep Britain in the European single market. That second pledge was not caveated, time-limited or contingent on the outcome of any referendum. It was a clear pledge and the Government are now breaking it.
I have given way an awful lot.
The Government are making a choice, one that the British people have not given them permission to make. This choice is not just damaging to our country, but divisive. The Prime Minister had the opportunity to pursue a form of Brexit that united our country, achieved consensus, reflected the closeness of the vote, and sought to deal with and heal the divisions between leave and remain. Instead, she chose to pursue the hardest, and most divisive and destructive form of Brexit. She is tearing us out of the single market and leaving us isolated against the might of world superpowers.
I passionately believe that ending our membership of the world’s biggest free market will do untold damage to this country and to prospects and opportunities, especially for young people, who voted so heavily to remain. This market is vital for our economy, which is why my party refuses to stop making the case that this deal must include membership of the single market. Those who settle for access to the single market rather than membership are, I respectfully suggest, waving the white flag to this assault on British business and on the cost of living for every family in the country.
Given that the Government are making a set of extreme and arbitrary choices that were not on the ballot paper last June, the only thing a democrat can do is to give the people the final say. If the Prime Minister is so confident that what she is planning is what people voted for, why would she not give them a vote on the final deal?
I am not going to give way, as I have given way many times and I want to bring my remarks to an end, for everybody else’s sake. [Hon. Members: “Hear, hear.”] I thought Members would like that.
The final deal will not be legitimate, it will not be consented to and our country will not achieve closure if it is imposed on the British people through a stitch-up in the corridors of power in Brussels and Whitehall. Democracy means accepting the will of the people at the beginning of the process and at the end of the process. Democracy means respecting the majority and it also means not giving up on one’s beliefs, rolling over and conceding when the going gets tough. You keep fighting for what you believe to be right and that is what Liberal Democrats will do. So we agree with the Brexit Secretary: let us let the people have their say. Let us let them take back control.
Let me start by correcting the record. I had something to do with the production of our manifesto, which clearly the hon. Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale (Tim Farron) was unable to read in the time available to him. It made no assertion such as he suggests. It was perfectly clear that what it said about the single market would be superseded were there a referendum with the unanticipated result of the British people taking us out of the EU as a whole. I regret that decision—I voted and campaigned to remain—but the British people voted to leave.
The interesting thing about this interesting debate is that it is one of those moments when the cloak of obscurity is lifted from an issue and the dynamic that is actually going on becomes clear. We have reached the crunch issue. We have reached the point at which we are discussing whether the effect of the Supreme Court judgment should be that Parliament has the option at some future date of overruling the British people and cancelling the leaving of the EU, or whether it should not have that ability.
My right hon. Friend the Minister made it perfectly clear that there will be a vote, but he also made it perfectly clear that that vote will be between the option of accepting a particular set of arrangements that have been negotiated by Her Majesty’s Government, and not accepting those arrangements and thereby leaving the EU without either a withdrawal agreement or an arrangement for the future. He is right to be optimistic that we can reach such agreements, but neither of us can possibly know whether we will. It is therefore right, if one is trying to follow the logic of the referendum decision, that the judgment of this House should simply be about whether the deal is good enough to warrant doing or, on the contrary, we should leave without a deal.
That is a completely different proposition from the one which, in various guises, some on the Opposition Benches—I exempt entirely from this the Opposition Front-Bench team—are putting, which is that Parliament should instead be given, by one means or another, the ability to countermand the British people’s decision to leave the EU by having a vote either on whether we should or should not leave or, in the proposition of the leader of the Liberal Democrats, on whether the people should have a second referendum on whether we should leave. In both of those propositions is a clear determination to undo the effect of the referendum, and we have now reached the point at which that has come out into the open.