(Urgent Question): To ask the Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union if he will make a statement on the Government’s policy of a meaningful vote in Parliament to agree the final withdrawal agreement with the European Union.
I thank the shadow Secretary of State for his question. We have been very clear right from the start of the process that there will be a vote in both Houses of Parliament on the final deal that we agree with the European Union. I reiterate the commitment my Minister gave at the Dispatch Box during the article 50 Bill, when he said:
“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.”
Furthermore, he said:
“we intend that the vote will cover not only the withdrawal arrangements but also the future relationship with the European Union.”—[Official Report, 7 February 2017; Vol. 621, c. 264.]
These remain our commitments.
The terms of this vote were also clear. Again, as my Minister said at the time:
“The choice will be meaningful: whether to accept that deal or to move ahead without a deal.”—[Official Report, 7 February 2017; Vol. 621, c. 275.]
Of course this vote cannot happen until there is a deal to vote upon, but we are working to reach an agreement on the final deal in good time before we leave the European Union in March 2019. Clearly, we cannot say for certain at this stage when this will be agreed, but Michel Barnier has said he hopes to get a draft deal agreed by October 2018, and that is our aim as well. So we fully expect there will be a vote in the UK Parliament on this before the vote in the European Parliament and before we leave the EU. As we have said before, this vote will be over and above the requirements of the Constitutional Reform and Governance Act 2010.
We have also said many times that we want to move to talking about our future relationship as soon as possible. The EU has been clear that any future relationship and partnership cannot legally conclude until the UK becomes a third country, as the Prime Minister said in her Florence speech. As I set out in the Select Committee yesterday, our aim is to have the terms of our future relationship agreed by the time we leave in March 2019. However, we recognise that the ratification of that agreement will take time and could run into the implementation period that we are seeking. There can be no doubt: Parliament will be involved throughout this process.
What a mess! We get one thing one day and another thing the next. Yesterday, the Secretary of State was asked in the Brexit Committee, “Could the vote in our Parliament be after March 2019?” The answer he gave was, “Yes, it could be.” Later in the day the Prime Minister had a go at correcting him, and then his own spokesperson had to clarify his remarks. Today, he says that the vote will be before the deal is concluded. That is not good enough. May I remind him that the commitment he has just referred to, made at the Dispatch Box, that we would have a meaningful vote was made when the Government were on the verge of losing a vote on a Labour amendment to the article 50 Bill to give Parliament that vote? That commitment cannot now casually be dispensed with.
The text of article 50 is clear: there can be no deal until the European Parliament has approved it and voted on it. The nonsense we heard yesterday about “nanoseconds” has to be put in that proper context. It would be wholly unacceptable if time was found for the European Parliament to vote on the deal before it is concluded but time was not found in this House. Does the Secretary of State expect us to sit here watching on our screens the European Parliament proceedings while we are told that we do not have time? I do not think so. We need a cast-iron guarantee that that will not happen.
The Secretary of State has repeatedly asked us to accept his word at the Dispatch Box. Given the events of the past 24 hours, will he now accept the amendments tabled to the withdrawal Bill that would put into law a meaningful article 50 vote, so that we all know where we stand and do not have to repeat this exercise?
I am afraid the right hon. and learned Gentleman altered the quotation from yesterday slightly. What the Chairman said, and I refer to exactly what he put to me, was that “it is possible”—possible—“that Parliament might not vote on the deal until after the end of March 2019. Am I summarising correctly what you said?” I said, “in the event we don’t do the deal until then.” That is the point I was making.
I will take up the right hon. and learned Gentleman’s point about the European Parliament, because I have said at the Dispatch Box and we have said that it is our intent and our expectation—those were the words used; I crafted them—that we will vote on this in this House before the European Parliament does. That stands. If it goes to the timetable that Mr Barnier expects, or wants to go to, which is October 2018, it is likely that the European Parliament will vote in December or January, under the normal processes that apply to that Parliament; it has a committee stage to go through first. We will vote on that and we will have it put before the House before then. There is no doubt about that. That undertaking is absolutely cast iron.
The issue that I raised yesterday, because I take it as a responsibility always to be as forthright and open as I can with the Select Committee, was to go through what has happened in the past in European Union treaty negotiations. This time, there is an expectation by the Commission; there is an incentive on the part of the various countries to get it done as quickly as possible; and there is our expectation and intention. None of the undertakings given at the Dispatch Box have in any sense been undermined. The issue here is one of practicality and what we control. What we control, we will run to give Parliament a proper and meaningful vote at the right time.
I understand my right hon. Friend’s concern about hypothetical situations that might arise at the end of the negotiation, but is not the reality that if the negotiation leads to an agreement, it will be necessary for not only the European Parliament but ourselves to act in accordance with our constitutional principles in deciding to approve it? The only way we can do that properly is by statute in this House. In those circumstances, is not it rather fanciful to imagine that, having reached a deal with the European Union, it would hold us in some strange way to ransom because we pointed out that we needed the time to enact the necessary statute? That flies in the face of reality. It would just tone down the debate a little and introduce a bit of rationality if we understood that our European Union partners would expect us to reach our own conclusion in accordance with our own constitutional requirements.
My right hon. and learned Friend has a point. As I understand it, the reason why Mr Barnier wants to conclude the negotiations, including that element of article 50 that refers to the future arrangements, by October is to enable that ratification process to take place. In that respect, I agree with my right hon. and learned Friend.
May I just ask the Secretary of State to face the House, because some colleagues could not quite hear?
I was facing you, Mr Speaker.
I am always delighted to be faced by the right hon. Gentleman, but I think that privilege should be enjoyed by the House as a whole.
We have a withdrawal Bill that has not only been delayed, but just has not come to the House in any of the three or four weeks in which we expected it to, and we do not know when it will. We have the former UK ambassador to the European Union telling us that the Prime Minister’s approach to the negotiations is in danger of leaving the UK “screwed”. The negotiations are being led by somebody who thinks that Czechoslovakia is one of the countries with which we are negotiating, although unlike the Cabinet, Czechoslovakia is split into only two parts and they are still on amicable speaking terms. The Government refuse to publish the truth about the impact of Brexit, saying it is confidential, despite the fact that between 2013 and 2014 they published 16 different analyses of the potential impact of a yes vote in the Scottish independence referendum. The Prime Minister is having to make emergency trips to Europe to try to bail out her failing Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union.
Will the Secretary of State confirm that, for any vote to be meaningful, we must be in possession of the full facts? Will he therefore agree that Parliament will have sight of the Government’s recently produced analysis before a vote takes place, and will he confirm that the Administrations of the three devolved nations will be treated as equals, as the Government have promised, and that they will also have a timeous and meaningful vote before we leave the EU?
Before I answer the hon. Gentleman’s substantive question, may I just correct him? He talked about Czechoslovakia. The Minister involved was correcting somebody else; he was not asserting a belief that that was who we were negotiating with. I would prefer that to be on the record.
Yes, with the full facts, absolutely; that is why the vote has to take place once the draft deal is concluded. At that point, we will know precisely what the withdrawal deal amounts to and what the framework for the future arrangement is.
Given the way the EU has delayed and delayed, it is not entirely unreasonable for my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State to think it will carry on delaying. Will he impress on Monsieur Barnier, however, that it would be much more preferable to conclude a deal as early as possible, because any implementation period will be of far less value if business cannot be certain it will be available to it sooner rather than later?
My hon. Friend is exactly right. Indeed, that is one of the things I said to the Select Committee yesterday—that we intend or will try to get the Commission to agree the implementation period as soon as possible.
The Secretary of State told the Committee yesterday that the Government’s aim was to conclude one agreement covering the divorce, the transitional arrangements and the new deep and special partnership with the EU, but he has also accepted that the last of these has to be agreed by a different process because that deal could not be finally concluded until we had left the EU. Given that it is likely to be a mixed agreement, only one Parliament objecting would mean it could not be concluded. In those circumstances, would that bring down the whole deal, and if so, is it not sensible to separate out the divorce and the transition, which would not require the consent of every Parliament of the 27, and the new deep and special partnership, which ought to be negotiated during the transition period?
As I think I said to the right hon. Gentleman’s Committee yesterday, negotiating that during the transition would put us at a negotiating disadvantage. The House was promised, in respect of the approval of the negotiations, that all three elements—the divorce, as he terms it, the transition and the long-term arrangement—would be put to the House together. That is the best way to assess this whole thing. The hon. Member for Glenrothes (Peter Grant) said that the decision should be made on the whole facts—all the decisions, all the facts.
There is a way for the Government to put this matter completely beyond doubt and that is to accept amendment 7 to the withdrawal Bill tabled by my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Beaconsfield (Mr Grieve). Reports have reached Government Back Benchers that the Secretary of State does not think that those Conservative Members who have signed the amendment are serious about supporting it if we need to. My I tell him that we are deadly serious? It would be better for all concerned if the Government were to adopt a concession strategy and have the withdrawal agreement secured by statute sooner rather than later.
I will not pre-empt the discussions on the Bill, but those reports are not true.
With the Under-Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union, the hon. Member for Worcester (Mr Walker), saying one thing from the Dispatch Box on 7 February and the Secretary of State saying not one but two things in the space of 24 hours yesterday, it is clear that ministerial assurances on this matter are not enough. Does the Secretary of State not agree that after the shambles of the last 24 hours, when he had to be rebutted by his own departmental spokesman, the only way to guarantee Parliament a meaningful say on and input into these most vital negotiations is to amend the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill accordingly?
No, I do not agree with the right hon. Gentleman on that. His description of events is also wrong. It is one thing to give an undertaking, which is binding, and another to say that these are the probabilities and the difficulties that we face together, which is what I said yesterday. I treated the Exiting the EU Committee chaired by the right hon. Member for Leeds Central (Hilary Benn) with absolute respect in outlining what had happened previously—not what we expect, not what we intend, not what the Union intends, but what had happened previously and the risks that we have to take on board. We intend to meet all our undertakings, and I do not take it very well that the right hon. Member for Wolverhampton South East (Mr McFadden) suggests that we will not.
How can we approve an agreement before we have an agreement?
My right hon. Friend makes a very good point; we cannot. That is why the House will be given the agreement to approve as soon as possible at the draft stage, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Clwyd West (Mr Jones) has previously made clear at this Dispatch Box.
Hardly a day goes by without another example of the Government’s muddle about Brexit. Yesterday, the Secretary of State confirmed to me three times during the Select Committee proceedings that the vote could come after March 2019. This is not about leave or remain, but about the nation coming together for the big change ahead. Will he confirm what he understands by the term “meaningful”? Does it still mean a choice between leaving the European Union with a negotiated deal or not? If Parliament votes against a deal, what happens next? In the case of no deal, would the Government expect to leave the European Union without a vote of the UK Parliament, or would the Prime Minister seek further negotiating time? Is the vote meaningful if there is nothing that it can change? Has he taken into account the fact that, next year, the European Parliament will dissolve for elections? If we are delayed beyond October, will our deal not be left in limbo?
I am afraid that I have lost count of the questions. As the hon. Lady is challenging the status of statements from this Dispatch Box, I will repeat this to her. The choice will be meaningful: whether to accept that deal or to move ahead without a deal. Full stop. That was the promise that was made.
I listened to the Chair of the Select Committee, and I want the House to know that he was expressing his view, and not the view of everyone on the Committee.
Of course it was my view.
Well, in the past, Sir, Select Committee Chairmen have come to this House to represent the Committee, not their own personal views. [Interruption.] I am diverging and wasting the House’s time. [Interruption.] Sorry, let me get to the point. I would like the Secretary of State to agree with Labour Members that, if we do not have agreement by October 2018, it will be impossible to do a deal. Will he go back to Brussels and say, “If we do not have a deal by 26 October 2018, there will not be a deal and we will be coming out without one”?
My hon. Friend is trying to tempt me. No, it is my job to get the best deal possible, and if that means keeping going until November, then so be it; that is what we will do.
Order. There was a little hubbub a moment ago following the observations of the hon. Member for Wellingborough (Mr Bone). Just to put the matter to rest, let me say this: conventionally, if the Chair of a Select Committee comes to the House under our procedures to make a statement—a relatively recent innovation in our procedures—they are doing so on behalf of the Committee. However, it is perfectly commonplace for Select Committee Chairs to come to the Chamber to ask questions, and it is understood that they are doing so on their own account and taking responsibility for their own words, a proposition to which—to name but two at random—the hon. Members for Reigate (Crispin Blunt) and for Harwich and North Essex (Mr Jenkin) can readily and with enthusiasm sign up.
The Foreign Secretary went around this country in a big red bus, saying that £350 million extra per week would go to the NHS if we voted to leave. That will not happen. The Environment Secretary said that the 3 million EU citizens in this country would be automatically granted the right to remain. That has not happened. This Secretary of State said that this House would get a vote on our withdrawal arrangements before we leave, and that does not look like it is guaranteed to happen either. Why should we believe anything that is said at this Dispatch Box? Clearly, we have to take what they say with a lorry load of salt.
As I understand it, the hon. Gentleman’s first two comments referred to the leave campaign. Those remarks were not made at this Dispatch Box or by Government Ministers in this context, so I afraid that he is not correct. The undertaking that I gave will stand and does stand.
No deal would be a very bad deal indeed for this country. What if the House votes on the final deal and rejects it? Is the Secretary of State implying that those who voted against it would be saying that they would like to leave with no deal at all?
All I was doing was repeating exactly the statement that was made at this Dispatch Box by the Minister during the debate on the relevant Bill.
Sorry, but the answer is not good enough. This is a critical question. The Secretary of State says that if the House votes against the deal, which could be a bad one, the Government will move ahead without a deal. Does that mean that the only choice is to crash out on to World Trade Organisation terms, which would be an absolute disaster for our country, or does it leave open the option of the Government continuing to negotiate, seeking more time or even staying in on current terms?
What I was saying was exactly in answer to the question; it was what was given as an undertaking by the Minister in the article 50 debate.
Will my right hon. Friend confirm that it remains his intention and that of the Prime Minister to make regular reports to this House on the progress of the negotiations with the European Union? Does he agree that it is always open to this House to subject those negotiations to the minutest possible scrutiny, as this urgent question amply demonstrates?
My right hon. Friend is, of course, right. He knows this subject rather better than most, given that I have been quoting him throughout my contributions today. During the course of the article 50 Bill, I made the point a number of times to the House that there will be many votes on many aspects of the deal—on the Bills before the House now such as the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill and the Nuclear Safeguards Bill, and on a number of other pieces of primary legislation. In addition, the undertakings to this Chamber were given over and above the Constitutional Reform and Governance Act 2010. I remind the House that that means that any treaty—there may well be a number, as the Chair of the Select Committee said—is subject to being denied ratification by a vote of this House. That point should not be forgotten.
Does the Secretary of State accept that a meaningful vote will be a vote that allows Parliament to send the Government back to the negotiating table, rather than the false choice between a deal and no deal? If Parliament is offered a meaningful vote, the public should also be offered one—a vote on the facts.
The right hon. Gentleman’s party’s policy is for a second referendum, and I do not think that any other party in the House believes in that.
There was a meaningful vote. It was in June 2016. On a 78% turnout, 61% of voters in Kettering voted to leave. People in Kettering are honest, straightforward and plain-speaking. Will the Secretary of State reassure them that we are leaving the European Union in March 2019?
Yes. My task is to respect that vote because, as my hon. Friend said, it is the biggest mandate given to a modern Government. It is also my task to deliver the best deal possible—which means a deal, not no deal—respecting that vote.
The wording of amendment 7 to the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill is clear. It would require
“the prior enactment of a statute by Parliament approving the final terms of withdrawal of the United Kingdom from the European Union.”
Surely that should be of concern to us all across the House, whatever form of Brexit we want and whatever size of divorce bill we think is acceptable. It is a simple matter about Parliament having the right to have its say, and guaranteeing that on the face of the Bill. Will the Secretary of State agree to accept amendment 7 or table a very similar Government amendment—yes or no?
I am not here to preview the Committee stage of the Bill, but let me say this to the hon. Gentleman. I take very seriously the views of the House in this matter, and I expect that there will be any number of votes—I have just referred to the Constitutional Reform and Governance Act as one element of that, but it will not be the only one—which will give the House very strong influence on the outcome of this negotiation.
In his answer to the shadow Secretary of State, my right hon. Friend said that there would be a vote at the right time. Will he confirm that the right time is prior to a deal being signed and before we leave the European Union in March 2019?
The right time has to be, first, when we have a draft treaty in front of us—not an actual treaty, because it will be prior to ratification by the European ratification process, starting with the European Parliament, and we have made that undertaking. It has to be after that is done, in order for the House to be informed. Otherwise, it will be as soon as possible, and as I have said, our intent and our expectation is that it will be before the European Parliament has its opportunity and, therefore, before the process goes ahead.
Surely the point is that a fait accompli is not a British concept in law. What the Government are trying to do, effectively, is present this House, Parliament and the country with a fait accompli—take it or leave it. If the Secretary of State were not a Government Minister now, I am sure he would be signing the amendment of the right hon. and learned Member for Beaconsfield (Mr Grieve). Just in case the Secretary of State loses his job between now and Committee stage, would it not be a good idea for him to declare now that he is going to sign up to that amendment?
Will I be signing somebody else’s amendment? I am not sure—I think not. The processes we are going through are designed to give the House a great deal of input into this process. That includes, as was said earlier, the sequences of statements, appearances before Select Committees, urgent questions and the like. In addition to that, as I said—it was ignored, of course—the Constitutional Reform and Governance Act 2010 gives the House the outright ability to reject out of hand, if it chooses.
The truth is that we run a £70 billion trade deficit with the European Union. Does my right hon. Friend believe that that will help to focus minds and keep these discussions and deliberations on timetable?
My hon. Friend is right, in that it drives the views of the member states in terms of what they want out of this negotiation. One of the things that is happening between now and December is that the Council will lay down its guidelines for this process, and particularly about future trade arrangement. In those guidelines, it may well be that the Council actually says something about the timetable, which will relate to the issues in front of the House.
Yesterday, the Secretary of State told the Exiting the EU Committee that he is seeking meetings with the leaders of various European Union regional Parliaments. Of course, he knows that they will have a vote on the final deal if, as he envisages, it is a mixed agreement. He said he particularly wanted to discuss trade issues with them. Will he confirm that he will involve the Scottish Parliament, the Welsh Assembly and the Northern Irish Assembly in relation to trade matters? Will he confirm that the Scottish Parliament, the Welsh Assembly and the Northern Irish Assembly will get a vote on the final deal, just as other regional and national EU Parliaments will?
What I think I told the hon. and learned Lady yesterday was that, at the last Joint Ministerial Committee on European Negotiations—JMCEN—I talked about the economic impacts within each of the devolved Administrations, and I talked about information exchanges to influence the process.
My right hon. Friend will be aware of the 18 Labour MEPs who recently voted to hold up these key EU negotiations, showing, frankly, a distinct lack of ambition about moving forward on the key issue—our trading agreements. We should be pulling together in the national interest to secure the best possible deal and outcome. That is what all our constituents want.
My hon. Friend is right: this House should be pulling together in the national interest, but let me say this. I have never, ever accused my opposite number of being anything other than interested in the national interest—of course, he has a political interest. While I am at it, by the way, I should also say to the Chairman of the Exiting the European Union Committee that I took his views as his views, not those of the Select Committee as well. It is very important in this exercise that we keep things on a proper, stable, rational and patriotic level, and I think everybody does.
Will the Secretary of State ignore the voices of manic optimism that seem to be compulsory among Conservative Members and agree that the choice that will be made on the final deal will be very, very different from the choice made on 23 June 2016? Does he not believe that well-informed second thoughts are always superior to ill-informed first thoughts?
Unlike the hon. Gentleman, I respect the views of 17.5 million people, and I intend to uphold them.
Does the Secretary of State agree that since the Florence speech there has been a change of tone in EU capitals, and that M Barnier is far from alone in wanting to see progress towards a good deal as soon as possible?
My hon. Friend is exactly right. The Florence speech had a massive impact, frankly, on the attitudes in the capitals of the European Union and, indeed, within the Commission. Certainly, Mr Barnier, Mr Juncker and Mr Tusk have all said as much.
The Secretary of State can hardly be surprised that many people in this House think that the promises—the undertakings—he is giving on a meaningful vote are merely empty words, given the debacle of yesterday. May I therefore encourage him to put his money where his mouth is and put this into the Bill, so that we can move on to other issues? Can he give the House and the country one good reason why he would not put it into the Bill?
They are not empty words; they are the exact words that were said to the House when the undertaking was given. That is what is important in this. The undertaking was given in those terms.
I thank the Secretary of State for the tremendous amount of work that he and his team are doing to achieve the best possible outcome for the United Kingdom. I know that he, as a true parliamentarian, would expect us to vote on this matter before we leave the EU and not after. As the right hon. Member for Leeds Central (Hilary Benn) said, there are three issues: withdrawal; the transition, or implementation; and the final agreement. It should be quite possible to achieve the first two by sometime in the middle of next year, or hopefully earlier. On the third, a heads of agreement could perhaps be agreed on the European system of qualified majority voting so that it can come to this House and we know exactly what we are talking about even if all the details are not sorted out.
As the Chairman of the Select Committee said, there are three components to this, but they are not unrelated, with article 50 itself taking into account the framework of the future relationship. We intend that they are broadly agreed at the same time and that they are conditional upon one another. That is because it would have a material impact on the negotiation to separate them completely. That is why we will bring the whole thing to the House. That was the undertaking given. Indeed, that was what was asked for during the passage of the article 50 Bill. With regard to the future relationship, of course, as the Prime Minister said in Florence, article 218 says that that agreement cannot be signed until we are a third country, in effect. It is also the case that there could well be more than one treaty, for reasons of interest and benefit to ourselves. The House will therefore have multiple occasions to look at that separately from the overall decision. That, I think, is in the interests of democracy.
The issue that we are debating today goes to the heart of the trust and confidence that the British people should have in our parliamentary democracy. The sad reality is that ministerial assurances are no longer good enough. The Secretary of State has said that he will not sign somebody else’s amendment, so why does he not table his own amendment to the withdrawal Bill to give this House and the British people the clarity and coherence that is so desperately needed?
I say two things to the hon. Gentleman. He was in the Committee yesterday and he saw that I was answering questions as straightforwardly and factually as is possible. What I was describing were items of fact, not promises. His own Front-Bench colleague, my opposite number, the right hon. and learned Member for Holborn and St Pancras (Keir Starmer), said yesterday: “I don’t doubt assurances which are given at the Dispatch Box.” I think that is the proper approach to this.
I wish the Secretary of State well in his negotiations with Mr Barnier, and I pledge that I will do nothing that could ever be interpreted as trying to undermine those negotiations. We have had 11 referendums in this country since 1975. Can my right hon. Friend think of one in which we have gone against the wishes of the British people? Will he accept that, as a democrat, I am deadly serious that, at the end of this process, we will be leaving the European Union?
There have been a few references by Opposition Members to my commitment to Parliament, but my commitment to Parliament is an indirect commitment to the democracy of the British people, and that is what matters here. Seventeen and a half million of them voted for this—a majority of more than 1 million. We have to take it seriously; we have to deliver the best outcome on that decision.
Order. May I gently say to the House that we must not, either calculatedly or inadvertently, allow this exchange to elide into a general discussion of the merits of EU membership or withdrawal? That is not the subject matter. The subject matter, as I have just been helpfully reminded by our procedural king, is the question whether there is a meaningful vote on a deal. That is the narrow question, and questions should focus on that matter.
In the Bill, the Secretary of State is taking the power to set the exit date. Will he now acknowledge that he can allow Parliament as much time as it needs to take the primary legislation to approve the new arrangements?
What we are doing is taking that power, but the power does not give us the right to overrule article 50, which takes us out of the European Union in March 2019.
Under the terms of withdrawal from the European Union, the Government have announced a series of measures—a series of eight Bills that will be brought before Parliament and go through the parliamentary procedures. One of those Bills, dealing with an important aspect, is the immigration Bill. Do the Government intend to take that Bill through its parliamentary stages before we vote on the final deal, or will that Bill be brought before Parliament after we have agreed a deal? That could affect our negotiation strategy.
It will be before the deal—that is what I would expect anyway, unless it goes much faster than I expect. That is true not just of that Bill but of most of the other Bills my hon. Friend refers to.
I think the general public will be bemused at the contrived controversy that has developed here today, because even the most uninformed observer will know we cannot have a vote on an agreement until an agreement has been reached. Does the Secretary of State share my concern that a stand-alone unspecified transitional arrangement, plus the mixed message coming from this House on its willingness to respect the wishes of the people of the United Kingdom, are likely to encourage EU negotiators to delay any agreement, with the consequence that we continue paying money into the EU when we do not need to?
I agree that there is a degree of contrivance in the fuss and noise coming from the Opposition—there is no doubt about that, but that is not new, I guess. As for the ongoing transition or implementation period, the hon. Gentleman is right. That is why I said that if we let the negotiation go into that period, we will be at a disadvantage, because the EU will presumably be receiving money, if that is the arrangement, and will want to spin out the time it does so as much as possible. We have to be practical and sensible if we intend to respect the will of the British people and deliver the best outcome for them.
The Secretary of State will know that proportionately more people in my constituency than in any other in the country voted to get us out of the European Union. Does he agree that far more damaging than not having a meaningful vote in this House is the idea that we should have a second referendum, or indeed that we should talking about not leaving at all?
My hon. Friend is right. I think he has taken a moral and outstanding stance, given his views and those of his constituents. He is exactly right: we have to respect that vote and not undermine it by other contrivances.
It is not just Members of this House who want to be absolutely assured that parliamentarians will have a meaningful vote. My constituents have understood all along that I would come here to vote to represent their best interests, and that that would make a difference. Although I am sure that the Secretary of State means what he is saying to this House today, any assurance for the future is meaningful only if it is on the face of the Bill, so I ask him either to accept amendment 7 or to table his own amendment to achieve the same outcome.
I hear what the hon. Lady says and take it as it is meant. The Government’s intention is to create circumstances whereby this House has appropriate influence without undermining the negotiation. That is what we will try to do.
I am sure that the Secretary of State will have reflected on the fact that, unlike in many other trade negotiations, our starting point is that our regulatory position and much of our law are the same as those of the EU. Does he therefore agree that there is plenty of time not only for a full and frank negotiation resulting in a good and deep deal, but for a vote on it in this Parliament?
Yes, my hon. Friend is exactly right: this is a unique trade negotiation, about which I will say two things. First, we already have open trade and, secondly, a vast amount of trade is already going on—it is worth something like €600 billion—so there is a strong vested interest in protecting that.
May I say to the Secretary of State, in the friendliest of terms, that he should stop fudging? This vote is a complex matter and our constituents and the people of this country deserve clarity. We understand and sympathise with why he fudged yesterday, and that is why he is here today—because the nest of vipers behind him and in the Cabinet make him a fudger. Stop fudging and be honest with the British people! [Interruption.]
I have known the hon. Gentleman a very long time and I always get nervous when he starts a question with, “May I say in the friendliest of terms?” We are having this discussion today precisely because I did not fudge yesterday. I told the Committee what I saw that the facts were, and that in no way changed our intent or, indeed, our commitment to the House.
There was a certain amount of harrumphing from a sedentary position from the right hon. Member for New Forest West (Sir Desmond Swayne), in response to which I simply observe, without fear of contradiction, that none of my parliamentary colleagues is a viper. However, I think it would be fair to say that that is a matter of taste rather than of order.
Does the Secretary of State agree that if we are to have a meaningful vote on the final deal, it would be better if all Members engage constructively with the proceedings rather than seek to frustrate the will of the British people?
I could not have put it better myself.
Given the confusion yesterday, will the Secretary of State publish a written timetable of what he expects the sequence of decision making will be, both here in the UK and in the European Parliament? And just in case he is inclined to say no, why not?
If I controlled the timetable, I would happily do so; but it is a negotiation, so I do not.
There is a dangerous and sinister anti-intellectualism running through the Brexit ranks—we have seen more evidence of that this week. There is no substitute for facts, so if we are to have a meaningful vote, will the Secretary of State undertake to publish, before that vote takes place, his own Government’s impact assessments on the effect of Brexit?
I do not think it is anti-intellectual at all. I will abide by the instruction of this House, which it passed by a very large majority in December last year, to provide as much information as possible without undermining the interests of the country.
The UK Government have got themselves into an unnecessary muddle. As has been said, if there is a final deal, it will have to be ratified by the EU27, including national and regional Parliaments within EU states, and six months has been allocated to that process. In order to ensure that the future relationship works for every part of the British state, does the Secretary of State agree that the formal endorsement of the National Assembly for Wales, the Scottish Parliament and the Northern Ireland Assembly should be sought before any final deal is reached—or is it going to be a case of “Westminster knows best”?
To answer the first half of the hon. Gentleman’s question, one of the reasons we said that we would put a draft deal to the House is that we wanted to give the House the first say, before the European Parliament and other European institutions came to it. This is a treaty for the United Kingdom.
In the Secretary of State’s discussions with Michel Barnier, what is the last date that this Parliament can have a meaningful vote before the European Parliament has its ratification vote?
As I said earlier, what Mr Barnier is aiming for is October next year as the outcome for the draft agreement. If we hit that, the likely timetable, as I think I said to the right hon. and learned Member for Holborn and St Pancras (Keir Starmer), would be for the European Parliament to address that in December, January or even later, and the undertaking I gave was that we will come to this House before then.
The Secretary of State’s pledge is that a meaningful vote will be taken and that we will have full knowledge of all the facts. When will he issue the UK Government’s impact analysis showing the possible detriment to Scotland, so that I can explain to my constituents the reasons for casting the vote that I am going to cast?
As I said in the Committee yesterday, at the last Joint Ministerial Committee we did actually discuss some of these matters with the devolved Administrations—at an official level—before we go into the negotiation, so that they can influence the negotiation, taking into account the impact by sector, by country.
I think we have learned that the Government will not accept amendment 7, in the name of the right hon. and learned Member for Beaconsfield (Mr Grieve), and that they will not table their own amendment, but can the Secretary of State at least guarantee that we will have a vote on a no deal strategy?
The hon. Lady starts by attributing to me a lot of things I have not said. I have quite deliberately not got into the questions of what will be before the House in Committee; it will be appropriate at that point for the Minister dealing with it to respond at that stage. The meaningful vote will be as laid out in the undertaking to this House by my right hon. Friend the Minister of State at the time.
The Secretary of State can keep parroting the words “the undertaking given to this House”, but that is meaningless unless we know what happens after a supposedly meaningful vote. When will he explain to us what he means by, “We move ahead without a deal”?
I would have thought that would have been self-evident. What we intend, however, is that the House will have put to it by the Government the deal that we negotiate, which will be the best deal we can obtain for this country, respecting the decision of 17.5 million people. In other words, it will bring back control to this House; it will being back control to this country; it will deal with the borders issue; it will deal with money; it will deal with the future relationship. All that will be put to the House and the House will decide whether it approves of that or not.
On a very germane point of order, Mr Speaker.
Ah! A new criterion in the mind of the right hon. Gentleman: that a point of order should be selected earlier than it otherwise would be, on account of the self-description “germane”. Because I am in an indulgent mood, I will give him the benefit of the doubt. Let us hear the point of order. I am in a state of eager anticipation, with bated breath and beads of sweat on my brow, to hear what the right hon. Gentleman has got to say.
How can I get it on to the record that I am in fact the parliamentary species champion for the smooth snake and not the viper?
The right hon. Gentleman has achieved the early gratification that he sought, and I am sure that his observations will be of consuming interest, not least to scribblers.