With permission, Mr Speaker, I would like to make a statement on last week’s European Council. But before turning to Brexit, let me touch on two significant conclusions from the other business of the Council.
First, we expressed our utmost concern over the escalation we have seen at the Kerch strait and the sea of Azov, and over Russia’s continued violations of international law. We agreed to roll over economic sanctions against Russia, and we stand ready further to strengthen our support, in particular for the affected areas of Ukraine. Secondly, we also agreed to work together on tackling the spread of deliberate, large-scale and systematic disinformation, including as part of hybrid warfare. On this I outlined some of the world-leading work that the UK is doing in this field. And I was clear that, after we have left the European Union, the UK will continue to work closely with our European partners to uphold the international rules-based system and to keep all our people safe. That is why it is right that our Brexit deal includes the deepest security partnership that has ever been agreed with the EU.
At this Council, I faithfully and firmly reflected the concerns of this House over the Northern Ireland backstop. I explained that the assurances we have already agreed with the EU were insufficient for this House, and that we have to go further in showing that we never want to use this backstop, and if it is used, it must be a temporary arrangement. Some of the resulting exchanges at this Council were robust, but I make no apology for standing up for the interests of this House and the interests of our whole United Kingdom.
In response, the EU27 published a series of conclusions making it clear that it is their
“firm determination to work speedily on a subsequent agreement that establishes by 31 December 2020 alternative arrangements, so that the backstop will not need to be triggered.”
The House will forgive me, but I think this bears repeating: the backstop will not need to be triggered. The conclusions underline that
“if the backstop were nevertheless to be triggered, it would apply temporarily”,
And that in this event, the EU
“would use its best endeavours to negotiate and conclude expeditiously a subsequent agreement that would replace the backstop”.
And the EU27 gave a new assurance, in relation to the future partnership with the UK, to make it even less likely that the backstop would ever be needed by stating that the EU
“stands ready to embark on preparations immediately after signature of the Withdrawal Agreement to ensure that negotiations can start as soon as possible after the UK’s withdrawal.”
In these conclusions, in their statements at the Council and in their private meetings with me, my fellow EU leaders could not have been clearer: they do not want to use this backstop. They want to agree the best possible future relationship with us. There is no plot to keep us in the backstop. Indeed, President Macron said on Friday that:
“we can clarify and reassure...the backstop is not our objective, it is not a durable solution and nobody is trying to lock the UK into the backstop.'”
As formal conclusions from a European Council, these commitments have legal status and should be welcomed. They go further than the EU has ever done previously in trying to address the concerns of this House. And of course they sit on top of the commitments that we have already negotiated in relation to the backstop, including ensuring that the customs element is UK-wide; that both sides are legally committed to using best endeavours to have our new relationship in place before the end of the implementation period; that if the new relationship is not ready, we can choose to extend the implementation period instead of the backstop coming into force; that if the backstop does come in, we can use alternative arrangements, not just the future relationship, to get out of it; that the treaty is clear the backstop can only ever be temporary; and that there is an explicit termination clause.
However, I know this House is still deeply uncomfortable about the backstop—I understand that, and I want us to go further still in the reassurances we secure. Discussions with my EU partners, including Presidents Tusk and Juncker, and others, have shown that further clarification following the Council’s conclusions is, in fact, possible. So discussions are continuing to explore further political and legal assurances. We are also looking closely at new ways of empowering the House of Commons to ensure that any provision for a backstop has democratic legitimacy—[Interruption.]
We are looking at new ways of empowering the House of Commons to ensure that any provision for a backstop has democratic legitimacy and enabling the House to place its own obligations on the Government to ensure that the backstop cannot be in place indefinitely. But it is now only just over 14 weeks until the UK leaves the EU, and I know many Members of this House are concerned that we need to take a decision soon. My right hon. Friend the Leader of the House will set out business on Thursday in the usual way, but I can confirm today that we intend to return to the meaningful vote debate in the week commencing 7 January and hold the vote the following week.
When we have the vote, Members will need to reflect carefully on what is in the best interests of our country. I know that there are a range of very strongly held personal views on this issue across the House, and I respect all of them. But expressing our personal views is not what we are here to do. We asked the British people to take this decision; 472 current Members of this House voted for the referendum in June 2015, with just 32 voting against. The British people responded by instructing us to leave the European Union. Similarly, 438 current Members of this House voted to trigger article 50, to set the process of our departure in motion, with only 85 of today’s Members voting against. Now we must honour our duty to finish the job.
I know this is not everyone’s perfect deal—it is a compromise—but if we let the perfect be the enemy of the good, we risk leaving the EU with no deal. Of course, we have prepared for no deal, and tomorrow the Cabinet will be discussing the next phase in ensuring we are ready for that scenario. But let us not risk the jobs, services and security of the people we serve by turning our backs on an agreement with our neighbours that honours the referendum and provides for a smooth and orderly exit. Avoiding no deal is only possible if we can reach an agreement or if we abandon Brexit entirely.
As I said in the debate earlier this month, do not imagine that if we vote this down, a different deal is going to miraculously appear. If you want proof, look at the conclusions of this Council. As President Juncker said, it is the “best deal possible” and the “only deal possible”. Any proposal for the future relationship—whether Norway, Canada, or any other variety that has been mentioned—would require agreeing this withdrawal agreement. The Leader of the Opposition and some others are trying to pretend that they could do otherwise. This is a fiction.
Finally, let us not break faith with the British people by trying to stage another referendum—another vote that would do irreparable damage to the integrity our politics, because it—[Interruption.]
Order. Many Members of this House, including an illustrious Chair of a Select Committee, are heckling noisily. Mr Angus Brendan MacNeil, you are a cheeky chappy, but we need much less of the cheek and more by way of courtesy in listening to the Prime Minister.
Another vote would do irreparable damage to the integrity of our politics, because it would say to millions who trusted in democracy that our democracy does not deliver. Another vote would likely leave us no further forward than the last, and another vote would further divide our country at the very moment we should be working to unite it. And let us not follow the Leader of the Opposition in thinking about what gives him the best chance of forcing a general election, for at this critical moment in our history we should be thinking not about our party’s interests, but about the national interest. Let us a find a way to come together and work together in the national interest to see this Brexit through.
I will work tirelessly over these new few weeks to fulfil my responsibility as Prime Minister to find a way forwards. Over the past two weeks, I have met quite a number of colleagues on this important issue, and I am happy to continue to do so, so that we can fulfil our responsibilities to the British people so that together we can take back control of our borders, laws and money, while protecting the jobs, security and integrity of our precious United Kingdom; so that together we can move on to finalising the future relationship with the European Union and the trade deals with the rest of the world that can fuel our prosperity for years to come; and so that together we can get this Brexit done and shift the national focus to our domestic priorities: investing in our NHS, our schools and housing, tackling the injustices that so many still face, and building a country that truly works for everyone. For these are the ways in which, together, this House will best serve the interests of the British people. I commend this statement to the House.
I thank the Prime Minister for the advance copy of her statement.
On Ukraine, as NATO has said, we need both sides to show restraint and de-escalate, with international law adhered to, including Russia’s allowing unhindered access to Ukraine’s ports on the sea of Azov.
We face an unprecedented situation: the Prime Minister has led us into a national crisis. If any more evidence was needed of why we face this grave situation, the Prime Minister demonstrated it at last week’s summit. There were some warm words drafted, but the Prime Minister even managed to negotiate those away, to be replaced by words about preparing for no deal. The Prime Minister boasted:
“I had a robust discussion with President Juncker”,
but that cannot hide the cold reality that she achieved nothing. Standing at the Dispatch Box last week, the Prime Minister said,
“I have made some progress”.—[Official Report, 12 December 2018; Vol. 651, c. 274.]
She has not made any progress at all.
She said so herself while still in Brussels:
“The EU is clear, as am I, that this is the deal.”
The European Commission has been categorical. It said:
“It will not be renegotiated. The European Council has given the clarifications that were possible at this stage, so no further meetings with the UK are foreseen.”
The deal is unchanged and it is not going to change. The House must get on with the vote and move on to consider the realistic alternatives. There can be no logical reason for this delay, except that, in taking shambolic government to a new level, the Prime Minister no longer has the backing of her Cabinet. The International Trade Secretary has suggested that the Prime Minister’s deal no longer has the backing of the Cabinet. It is worth quoting his words. He said:
“I think that it is very difficult to support the deal if we don’t get changes to the backstop. I don’t think it will get through. I am not even sure if the Cabinet will agree for it to be put to the House of Commons.”
We have had the spectacle of the past few days with numerous Cabinet members coming forward with their own alternatives. The International Trade Secretary suggested that a two-year transition to a no deal is an option. The Work and Pensions Secretary says that the Government need “to try something different” and build a consensus in Parliament. The Attorney General is reported as saying that he wants the Prime Minister gone and for the deal to be renegotiated, while the International Development Secretary is allegedly liaising with the European Research Group to launch an alternative option. Others are reportedly working on a second referendum, but if even the Cabinet no longer backs the deal, then who knows what the options would be?
Will the Prime Minister give us some answers? First, does her deal still have the confidence of the Cabinet? Secondly, is Cabinet collective responsibility still in operation? Thirdly, does it remain Government policy to avoid a no-deal outcome? An unacceptable deal is on the table. No amendment has been secured. Renegotiations have been rebuffed and not even mere assurances have been offered. The Prime Minister’s shoddy deal no longer even has the backing of the Cabinet.
The Prime Minister ran away from putting her deal before Parliament, because even her own Cabinet has doubts, and she herself admits that Parliament will not back it, so we are left edging ever closer to the 29 March deadline without a deal and without even an agreed plan in Cabinet to get a deal. The Prime Minister has cynically run down the clock, trying to manoeuvre Parliament into a choice between two unacceptable outcomes: her deal or no deal.
The country, workers and businesses are increasingly anxious. Yesterday, the CBI said:
“Uncertainty is throttling firms and threatening jobs—not in the future but right now.”
The British Chambers of Commerce has said:
“There is no time to waste.”
A responsible Prime Minister would, for the good of this country, put this deal before the House this week so that we can move on from this Government’s disastrous negotiations. This is a constitutional crisis and the Prime Minister is its architect. She is leading the most shambolic and chaotic Government in modern British history; even Cabinet no longer functions. We have a Prime Minister whose authority has been lost, a Cabinet disintegrating into cliques and factions, and a Conservative party so fundamentally split that its very existence is being discussed. It is clear that the Prime Minister has failed to renegotiate her deal and failed to get any meaningful reassurances. There is no excuse for any more dither or delay. This Government have already become the first Government in British history to be held in contempt by Parliament. The debate on the meaningful vote was pulled at the last minute. The Prime Minister has now wasted five weeks having achieved nothing—not a single word renegotiated; not a single reassurance gained. This last week has embodied the failure, chaos and indecision at the heart of the Government’s shambolic handling of Brexit. Today, they have been dragged kicking and screaming to announce a date to restart the debate. It is—[Interruption.]
The right hon. Gentleman asked me three questions during his response. Does the deal still have the confidence of the Cabinet? Yes. Does Cabinet collective responsibility still apply? Yes. Does the Cabinet want to avoid no deal? Yes, the Cabinet wants to ensure that we leave the European Union with a good deal, and that is this deal.
The real indecision is the indecision at the heart of a Labour party that has no plan and no alternative. The national crisis is an Opposition who are irresponsible and who put their party interest before the interests of the British people.
It is clear, is it not, that the deal that my right hon. Friend has negotiated so assiduously is most unlikely to secure the support of this House of Commons? In the circumstances, does she not think it would be wiser to seek an extension to article 50, rather than—[Interruption.]
Order. I am not having the right hon. Gentleman shouted down. I say very gently to a Government Whip, do not stand near the Chair and shout at your colleagues. If you are going to do that, leave the Chamber and we will manage perfectly adequately without you.
I do not think it is right to seek an extension of article 50. What Parliament will be faced with is a decision to exercise its responsibility to deliver on the referendum vote and to deliver Brexit. I continue to believe that this is a good deal. Yes, we are seeking further reassurances, but I continue to believe that we can leave with a good deal and that this is it.
I thank the Prime Minister for advance sight of her statement.
I have to ask, “Where is the leadership?”—a phrase that is often used. We thought that the Prime Minister had reached rock bottom, but she is still digging. We have four sitting days left in this place before the Christmas recess. We are then left with the narrow window, when we return in January, to find a way forward out of the Government’s Brexit timetable. It cannot be done.
After two years of negotiation, the Prime Minister has designed a deal that she knows she cannot deliver. It does not have the support of this House. It is time to call time on this Government. They are a laughing stock. Companies and their workers do not know if we are going to crash out of the European Union in three months’ time. We have just over 100 days to prepare for the risk of a no-deal outcome that most sensible folk would reject as unacceptable.
The Prime Minister is playing a game of brinkmanship. The European Council President, Donald Tusk, was clear when he said:
“I have no mandate to organise any further negotiations.”
What more does the Prime Minister need to hear to know that her deal is dead? This is embarrassing. The Prime Minister might be prepared to be embarrassed by this shambles, but the rest of us are not. Parliament needs to take control of this situation and seek to find a solution that prevents a risk to jobs and prosperity. It is the people of our countries that we are talking about.
Today the Prime Minister tells us that there are no other options. That is not the case. Standing before Parliament ruling out another referendum on EU membership is an act of desperation from the Prime Minister. Knowing that she cannot get her own deal through this place, she wants to silence debate. Having taken away Parliament’s voice—our right to a meaningful vote—she now wants us to take away the right of the people to vote: their democratic right to have their say; their democratic right to change their mind.
I plead with the Prime Minister to put all options back on the table. Stop operating in isolation; reach out and speak to the Opposition parties. We all have a responsibility to protect our citizens. It is time to move beyond the narrow party politics with which this place operates; it is time to operate in the interests of all our nations. I ask her to bring forward the meaningful vote on her deal before the Christmas recess. There is no reason to delay. Let us have that meaningful vote this week.
Lastly, will the Prime Minister do the right thing and meet me and other Opposition party leaders this week, collectively? This is the true test of this Government’s word. If we are to believe that we are a partnership of equals, then now, today, we must be heard.
First, I am happy to say to the right hon. Gentleman that if he wants to come to talk to me about this issue, I am happy to talk to him about it. But we do have a fundamental difference of opinion that was revealed in his party’s response to what I said in my statement: I believe that we should deliver leaving the EU for the British people, and he believes we should stay in the EU, so that is a fundamental difference that we have. He talks about putting jobs and prosperity first. This deal does just that. It delivers on the referendum while protecting jobs and prosperity. He says he does not want to leave with no deal. Well, the only way to ensure that we do not leave having no deal is to support a deal. And may I just remind him gently that 56% of Scots voted for pro-Brexit parties?
The report by the Independent Commission on Referendums published earlier this year recommended that any second referendum on a subject
“should be specified in the legislation enabling the first referendum, so that the requirement for or possibility of a second referendum, and the reason for it, is clear to the electorate before the first vote takes place.”
Does the Prime Minister agree that no such provision was made, and that calling for a second referendum at this stage is merely a ruse to try to reverse the result and is not in the nation’s interests?
I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for pointing that out to the House. Of course, it is absolutely the case that there was no suggestion, when the referendum was put to the people in 2016, that there might be a second referendum. People were told—they were led to believe—that their vote would be delivered by the Government of the time subsequently, and that is what I believe it is certainly in our interests, as a Government, to do. We should deliver on that vote and leave the European Union.
The Prime Minister may be aware that the bookmakers have been offering 66-1 against her deal passing Parliament, but even money on a referendum and even money on her then winning it. Could it be that the Cabinet Ministers who are known to be preparing for a referendum are not being disloyal to her but are simply better at maths?
Will the Prime Minister confirm that, despite the European Council’s so-called legal endorsement of the withdrawal agreement, which it says is not open for renegotiation, this agreement has not been initialled or signed by her and is only a draft—it is no more than a political agreement under which nothing is agreed until everything is agreed, including the backstop—and therefore she can still walk away?
I can certainly confirm that this deal has been negotiated between the UK and the European Union, but it has to go through certain processes in order to be ratified. Part of that is ratification here in the United Kingdom Parliament, and part is ratification in the European Parliament. It is those processes that lead to the final agreement and the withdrawal agreement.
I am sure the Prime Minister agrees that European Council conclusions and declarations are political statements. The Council has talked about clarifications and reassurances but ruled out renegotiating, contradicting or reopening the legal text. Indeed, it even struck out language saying that the backstop did not represent a desirable outcome for the EU27. Will the Prime Minister tell us exactly what she is asking for to deliver on the key concerns about the legally binding and indefinite nature of the backstop, with no right for this country to exit it on its own terms?
What I am asking for is to ensure that we can deal with the concerns expressed by the right hon. Gentleman and other Members of the House about whether the backstop could or would be indefinite. There are two ways to deal with that. The first is to put in place arrangements to ensure that the backstop is not triggered in the first place, and the second is to ensure that if it is triggered, it is only temporary. As I said in my statement, I am seeking further political and legal assurances in relation to those issues, which can be achieved in a number of ways.
As others have said, on Thursday it will be 100 days until Britain leaves the European Union. At the moment, we have no deal and no plan B. This is a constitutional crisis because this House is not being allowed to express its will on behalf of our communities, who around the country are telling us that they reject this deal. That is why MPs want to be able to vote against it.
It is pointless criticising Members who are coming up with other solutions, whether it is a second referendum or Canada or Norway-style deals. We as a Parliament are trying to find a solution to the political cul-de-sac and mess that we find this country in. It was clear back in the summer that the Prime Minister’s deal was not going to succeed. She is now not only not listening; she is not allowing debate. This is totally unacceptable. Will she agree to bring the vote before the House before Christmas, so that she can reflect on the outcome over the Christmas break and then lead us?
I know that my right hon. Friend and I have different opinions on the issue of a second referendum. I have indicated when the vote will be brought back to the House. It will be necessary for the usual channels to agree what the business motion would be and how many days of debate would be available. We are not trying to stop debate. I am trying to—[Interruption.] I am recognising and reflecting to the European Union the concerns expressed in this House and seeking ways in which we can ensure that Members have sufficient confidence that those concerns have been addressed.
The Prime Minister went to the European Council seeking legal assurances and returned with none, and the next Council meeting scheduled is in the third week of March. Now that Cabinet Ministers are openly speculating about what should happen when her deal is defeated, can she tell the House what purpose it serves to continue to pretend that we might leave the European Union without an agreement, when she knows better than anyone else how damaging and disastrous that would be, and when she told the House just now that it would risk the “jobs, services and security” of the people?
I say to the right hon. Gentleman that I have responded on this point previously. We do have—this House has—a responsibility, and it will have a responsibility, to come to a decision on this matter and to determine whether to leave the European Union with a deal or to leave without a deal. There will also be those in this House who will try to ensure that, actually, we stay in the European Union. I think that would be wrong. I think we should be leaving the European Union, because that is what people voted for in the biggest exercise of democracy in our history. I believe that we should be leaving with a good deal, and this is it.
The final steps of contingency planning for departure on WTO terms are essential in case EU intransigence continues. Will the Prime Minister confirm that all of those necessary actions are now being taken to see us through any short-term disruption, including action to prepare for extra checks at the border, diversion of flow to friendlier ports, liberalisation of tariff schedules and cutting taxes for businesses?
My right hon. Friend is trying to tempt me into some budgetary decisions there, which, as he will know, would not be appropriate at the Dispatch Box. But I would say to him that we are making the plans—the contingency arrangements—for no deal. As I said in my statement, the Cabinet will be meeting tomorrow to discuss what further steps need to be taken. We have already stepped up those preparations—indeed, my right hon. Friend was responsible for them himself when he was the Brexit Secretary of State—but further stepping up of the no-deal preparations has gone on to address exactly the sorts of issues he is looking at, such as the flow of traffic into different ports here in the UK to ease the disruption. Disruption will take place under no deal in the short term. We want to take every step we can to mitigate that.
The Prime Minister ruled out a customs union, ruled out Norway, ruled out Canada, ruled out parliamentary votes on her objectives, ruled out parliamentary votes on the options and is now ruling out extending article 50, yet everyone knows she does not have support for her plan and she has no assurances from the EU that she asked for. If she carries on like this, she is the one who will take us over a no-deal cliff edge.
This Christmas, businesses and Departments across the country are now going to be spending billions of pounds preparing for no deal. Does she not have a duty and a responsibility to them to rule out no deal, to say she will extend article 50 and to have a proper discussion in Parliament to work out the way forward?
First, the right hon. Lady says that we ruled out certain things. Actually, in the vote that took place in 2016, the majority of the British people voted to leave the European Union, and one of the key issues in that was bringing an end to free movement, which some of the suggestions that she has as alternatives would not allow to happen. So, actually, we are trying to reflect the views that took place during that vote, and the decision as to whether or not we go forward with the deal will be one that this Parliament will take.
My right hon. Friend continues to negotiate changes to the backstop. Does she not agree that if those efforts were, unfortunately, to fail and if we are to avoid leaving without a deal, which we must at all costs avoid, it must now be critical that we build consensus in this House and forge a compromise that delivers Brexit while protecting British jobs and interests?
I agree with my right hon. Friend that the aim of everything we are doing, and I believe the aim of what this House will do, should be to ensure that we deliver on that vote and do it in a way that protects jobs and prosperity for people up and down this country. That is exactly what we are working for, and I hope that every Member of this House will consider that when it comes to looking at whether or not we should support this deal. I believe we should because it does exactly what my right hon. Friend has suggested.
Let me tell the Prime Minister what is irresponsible: delaying a vote on her agreement not because she is going to get any changes to it, but because she wants to run down the clock and try to intimidate MPs into supporting it to avoid no deal. Is it not the reality that this is not acting in the national interest, but in her personal interest, and that neither her party nor the country will forgive her for it?
I believe it would not have been right if I had not listened to the concerns expressed in the House. I listened to those concerns and I am working—discussions are continuing—with the European Union in relation to how we address them. It will then be for Parliament to decide but, at that point, Parliament and Members of the House will have a responsibility. The decision they come to will be about whether or not to deliver on the vote of the referendum in a way that protects jobs and our security.
Given that the Prime Minister has listened and is still trying to improve the deal, would the deal be more palatable if the timetable for starting on and agreeing the terms of future trade were as firm and as legally binding as the timetable for paying over all the billions?
My right hon. Friend makes an important point. From the Council conclusions, there has been further progress in relation to the EU’s commitment to starting the next stage of negotiations, but it is important for us to continue to discuss the issue he raises about getting that confirmation and certainty—he refers to legal certainty—as to when those negotiations can start, and when it is the determination of both parties to ensure that those negotiations end. We want that trade deal in place by the end of December 2020.
The Prime Minister has said for two years that no deal is better than a bad deal, but we now know why—her deal is a disaster and will never pass the House. As she desperately tries to let the clock tick down, will she publish her no-deal planning?
Will the Prime Minister publish the tariff schedule for the UK for a World Trade Organisation exit? Will that include zero tariffs on all components coming in for manufacture to provide yet another great boost to Britain as a big manufacturing centre?
These issues would have to be addressed in relation to a no-deal scenario. The Government continue to discuss the plans we need to put in place to deal with the possibility of no deal in order to mitigate the disruption that would occur in that situation. Obviously, we will be looking closely at the tariff schedules.
Responsible government is about ensuring that contingency arrangements are put in place. That is the responsible thing that any Government in this situation would do—ensure that contingency arrangements are in place until we have the outcome and know with certainty whether we are leaving with a deal or no deal. We need to make those contingency arrangements. That is the right thing to do.
After tomorrow’s Cabinet meeting when no-deal preparations will be high on the agenda, will the Prime Minister please arrange for a Minister to come to the House to give a statement—this week and every week until we leave the EU—so that we know what is happening and so that the country, businesses and individuals can be reassured? It is vital that the preparations happen, and this House needs to know what is happening.
My right hon. Friend raises the important point of making planning information available to the House. There are a number of ways in which that is expressed to the House. The Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union appears before the Select Committee and responds on those issues, and these matters have been addressed in debates in the House, but I understand the point she makes about wanting to ensure that Members are aware of the arrangements that have been put in place.
Does the Prime Minister accept that this House needs more time not to debate but to vote on the various options before it? Might she not therefore agree that we vote as soon as possible on the amendments that the Speaker will choose of those tabled? If she is unwilling to do that, might the Opposition parties think how they can use the time they have to debate on the Floor of the House to bring forward that vote? If Members agree with that line of action, might they sign the motion on the Order Paper in my name?
I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his question. Obviously, the intention is to have a proper number of days for debate when the vote is brought back in January. At that stage, how the matter is put before the House will depend on the further discussions that have taken place with the European Union. As we have always said, any motion on this issue is of course amendable by Members of the House.
We are told that the United Kingdom does not want the backstop. We are told that the European Union does not want to enter the backstop. What on earth is stopping the European Union giving us a legal guarantee that such a backstop would last only for a very short time?
It is exactly that further political and legal assurance that we are looking at. There have been very clear statements from the European Union. Those have been reiterated not only in the Council conclusions but after the Council conclusions as well. The best way to stop the backstop coming into place is of course to have a firm date for introducing the future relationship. That is currently the intention and that is currently 31 December 2020. We will continue to discuss what further assurances we can get on this point.
When precisely will the Prime Minister be securing this “Miracle on 34th Street” guarantee from the European Union on the backstop that she will come back with before 7 January? If she does come back with it, will the House be debating it on a fresh Government motion? On her commitment to come back on 7 January to start the debate, is that a promise?
First of all, the business motion and the way in which the debate is to be dealt with by the House will of course be discussed through the usual channels. I said we would be starting the debate in the first week, with a vote in the following week. The hon. Gentleman asked me about the timetable. Discussions are continuing with the European Union and I expect them to continue into the new year.
Here is what would do irreparable damage to the integrity of our politics: to run down the clock and end up forcing through a deal that 48% did not want because they did not want to leave the European Union, and that the majority of those who voted for Brexit do not want. The mathematics simply do not stack up. The majority, in this House and in the wider country, do not want this deal. Can I ask the Prime Minister to get on with it, so that we can vote on it and then look at practical alternatives?
As I indicated in my statement, we will bring the vote back in the second week in January. It is our intention that the debate will start in the previous week, the first week of January. As I said earlier, I have listened to the House. Had I not listened to the House and started the work to try to get further assurances, I suspect hon. Members would have raised that issue. It is right that I and the Government are doing exactly what we said we would, which is work with the EU for those further political and legal assurances.
We now know what the plan is. Having failed to win support for the deal in Parliament and having failed to get any meaningful change to it at the EU Council last week, the Prime Minister now simply wants to run down the clock and intimidate Parliament into choosing between a bad deal and the disaster of no deal. I put it to the Prime Minister that it is wrong to threaten and intimidate Parliament in this way. More importantly, it is reckless to take options off the table, as she has tried to do today, that could prevent the disaster of no deal for the country.
Whatever the point at which this House faced the meaningful vote, it will be a decision for Members of this House as to whether to accept the deal or—[Interruption.] There are some who would prefer to see action taken so that we do not leave the European Union—I think that would be wrong. What I believe is right is that we deliver on the referendum. The question will be for Members of this House as to whether they accept that responsibility, and to come to a decision. At the moment, there have been lots of ideas around this House about what should happen, but no alternatives that actually deliver on the referendum in a way that protects jobs. That is what the deal does, but it will be a decision for individual Members of this House to bear the responsibility that they have.
The Prime Minister will be aware that those of us who have large manufacturing companies in our constituencies—in my case, Johnson Matthey in Royston—that do integrated manufacture on a European basis with short supply lines are getting on to people like me and saying, “Look, it’s very urgent that we have a deal.” When she is negotiating and discussing in Europe with people like Mr Juncker, does she have the feeling that there is that urgent need to get a deal and that they are prepared to listen to what she says and really put in a shift? I must say that when I saw him looking so relaxed and really being rather patronising to our Prime Minister, I felt that was not really him putting in the sort of shift that she has.
The very clear message that comes back from the European Union—from the Commission and EU leaders—is that they do want a deal. We have obviously negotiated this deal. There are those further assurances that I am working to achieve, and it has been made clear by President Juncker and others that those further discussions can indeed take place.
The Prime Minister knows that no better deal will be found in Europe and that no majority will be found in Westminster. She also knows that no deal is disastrous. She delayed a vote because she knew her deal would fail to get the support that it needed. She can employ the same logic again. Will she confirm that she holds the power to seek an extension for article 50?
First of all, the Government hold the power to seek an extension for article 50; and any extension of article 50 would have to be agreed with the European Union, but I have been clear that what I believe is the right course of action, having triggered article 50 and having undertaken the negotiations, is that we ensure that we leave the European Union on the timetable that we have already set out.
The Prime Minister in her statement talked about empowering this House. The trouble is that she is asking the House to accept a deferral for several weeks of the meaningful vote on the draft withdrawal agreement, on the basis that further assurances can be agreed with the European Union, but there is nothing in what she has said today or in what has been reported from the EU Council to suggest that those further assurances are likely to be given. I say this as somebody who was going to vote for her draft agreement on the basis that she set out—that businesses need certainty and the country needs reassurance. I honestly do not think that businesses, employers and our constituents will understand why this House is going on holiday for two weeks when we should be having the meaningful vote this week.
What I believe is right is that, having heard the concerns that have been expressed by Members of this House, the Government are taking those concerns to the European Union. Yes, we have further statements from the EU with legal status in the Council conclusions than we have had before, but we are seeking yet more and further assurances from the European Union. I think that is the right thing to do, then that can be debated properly by this House and the vote taken.
Last Thursday, the Attorney General told the House that he was reviewing the question of whether article 50 could be revoked by a simple vote of this House or by legislation. This Thursday, the Scottish case is being referred back from the European Court of Justice to the court in Edinburgh to look at this issue. Can the Prime Minister confirm for us that the Government’s position on how article 50 could be revoked—whether through legislation or whether simply a vote of this House is required—will be set out to the court in Edinburgh on Thursday?
I will certainly look into that issue and get back to the hon. and learned Lady about the specifics in terms of the Government’s stance on the case that is going to the court in Edinburgh. I know that she has taken a considerable interest in revoking article 50. I simply remind all Members that the Government have said that we will not revoke article 50, because it means staying in the European Union.
I am one of the Members who would have and will support the Prime Minister’s deal, but I have to say that what is coming back to me from business, industry and the City is that we are haemorrhaging support and investment on a daily basis and it is getting worse. That is why I join hon. Members in saying, please think again about holding the vote and about considering a series of stand-alone resolutions, which mean that we can take a view and move on.
I understand the concern that my hon. Friend expresses about business. Business wants certainty. Business wants the deal. Business welcomed the deal when we negotiated it and I think that it still takes that approach. My hon. Friend referred to what have been called indicative votes—a number of motions that could be brought before the House. I have no plans for indicative votes. I say to him and other Members that it is necessary for the House to reflect on what Members want in terms of their responsibility to come to a decision on this matter. At the moment, there are a number of views in the House: some want to stay in the EU, some want to go for a second referendum, some would support no deal and some would support looking at other arrangements. As I said, any of those arrangements would require a withdrawal agreement, because they would require us to make clear the basis on which we are withdrawing from the European Union.
Last week, the Prime Minister admonished Jean-Claude Juncker for his use of the word “nebulous”. Many Members would take issue with her use of the word “meaningful” because there is nothing meaningful about a vote that forces Members to choose between her deal and no deal. When will the Prime Minister stop digging, start listening and build a consensus with Members across the House to get us out of this mess?
It was always going to be the case, whenever the vote came before the House, that Members would have a decision on whether to support the deal that had been negotiated with the European Union, with the consequences that failure to support it would bring. That is the same whenever that vote is taken.
Does the Prime Minister recall telling the House on 3 December that the £3 billion to £4 billion set aside in the Budget for contingency no-deal planning was about to be allocated in the next few days to relevant Departments? Has that allocation has been made and is the money now available for essential contingency planning?
Yes, I do recall saying that. Of course, the 2018-19 financial year allocations are in place and money is being spent. I think my right hon. Friend was referring to—and I was referring to—the 2019-20 allocations. Negotiations on those are well advanced, several Departments have settled and we expect to be in a position to confirm all those shortly.
Last Friday, a constituent said to me that although she had voted to leave in the referendum in 2016, she now wanted to register the fact that she had changed her mind, as she put it, for the sake of her grandchildren. If it emerges that a significant number of previous leave voters have reached the same conclusion, what would be more democratic: allowing them the opportunity to change their mind, or pressing on regardless?
I also hear from people who are in the opposite position: they voted to remain and now say that they would vote to leave the European Union. If there were a second referendum, which had the same result, would those hon. Members who wish people to be given the chance to think again continue to say that there should be a referendum? If there were a different result, I think many people would ask, “How many referendums shall we have?” We had the referendum and I believe that it is our duty to deliver on it.
The problem is that there is a consensus in the country, and that consensus is that this is one unholy mess and a solution must be found. The Prime Minister has still not told us what her plan B is. Does she not understand that, if we left the European Union without a people’s vote, knowing what Brexit looked like, and then it turned out that the people of this country, knowing what Brexit looked like, did not want us to leave the European Union, it would be the biggest betrayal of democracy in this country, and the people of this country, especially the young people, would never forget or forgive us—especially our party?
I know that my right hon. Friend has taken a particular view in relation to this issue, but I continue to believe that what we should be doing is delivering on the vote. As I said when I gave the figures in my statement, it was the overwhelming view of this Parliament that the people should have a vote in the referendum, and it was the overwhelming view of this Parliament that article 50 should be triggered. Article 50 leads to our leaving the European Union, and it is now our duty to deliver that.
How does the Prime Minister have the gall to accuse those of us who want more democracy of breaking faith with the public, when she herself has turned faith breaking into a new art form? She promised no general election last year, and then granted one. She promised a meaningful vote last week, and then cancelled it. But one cannot break faith with the British public by asking for their views. Why can the Prime Minister not understand that a people’s vote would be the first opportunity for people to vote on the facts, not on the fantasy and the fabrication?
As my right hon. Friend has said, the outcome is that we leave without an agreement to leave, a transition and future arrangements, or we somehow return to the attempt by some to reverse the result of the referendum—or we have the deal with the agreements that are being negotiated now. In an article published in The Times on Thursday, Freddie Sayers made it clear that seven people out of eight in the country—and, I suspect, here as well—would rather have the deal with the agreements than drop out without a deal or have another referendum. So I can say to the Prime Minister that I think most people support her, and we should too.
I thank my hon. Friend. What he has said reflects comments from around the country: people say or write to me that they want us to get on with it, to deliver and then to be able—as a Government and as a Parliament—to get on with addressing the domestic issues that matter to them day to day.
Let us be clear: it is the long list of broken promises of leave campaigners whom the Prime Minister appointed to her Government that has done irreparable damage to the integrity of our politics. She has made three statements in the House, and on each occasion the House has made clear that it will not vote for her plan, but she continues to refuse to listen. May I ask her a specific question? She has said that no deal is not something that she would countenance. Let us suppose that we reach the March 2019 European Council and there is no consensus in the House on a route forward. Will she now commit herself to request an extension of article 50 at that European Council to stop no deal from happening?
Notwithstanding what Emmanuel Macron said on Friday, recent comments from the European Commission have been rather more hostile, and anything but nebulous. Martin Selmayr is reported to have told officials that losing Northern Ireland was the price of Brexit. Briefing EU ambassadors on the deal, Sabine Weyand said that the UK
“must align their rules but the EU will retain all the controls.”
At the weekend, a further EU official was reported in The Times to have said:
“To use a Christmas theme, we want all parties and factions in the British parliament to feel the bleak midwinter.”
Does that sound to my right hon. Friend like people negotiating in good faith?
I have always been clear throughout this that these have been tough negotiations, but we have held our side and achieved a deal that delivers on the vote of the British people, and delivers it in a way that protects jobs and security and, I believe, protects our prosperity for the future.
Is it not the truth that, while the Prime Minister talks about democracy, she prevented the Cabinet from having a vote, she is preventing Parliament from having a vote and she does not want the public to have a vote on this deal? If she wants to talk about democracy, she should think very carefully about that. Will she not admit that she is acting in a completely reckless fashion with jobs, with business, with investment and with our constituents’ futures, because on 2 January, when the vast majority of people in this country will go back to work, this Parliament will not be sitting, the Government will still be stalling for time and trying to come up with a magic solution and people will simply be asking, “What is going on?”
We have had our people’s vote in Lincolnshire—and they are people, by the way. May I express an unfashionably supportive view of the Prime Minister today? I think that this matter is resolvable, and many of us who have been sceptical about the deal so far could be persuaded to vote for it if there were a legally binding protocol saying that, as is normal with international treaties, if a temporary arrangement ceases to be temporary, then either side can unilaterally withdraw, and in any event under international law we would have the right to abrogate those parts of the treaty if they prove not to be temporary. So I say to the Prime Minister—keep calm and carry on.
I thank my hon. Friend for his comments and I think that the amendment he has tabled to the motion reflects the view he has just expressed. There are many ways in which we can achieve what everybody, I think, who is concerned about the backstop wants, which is to make sure that if it is used it is only temporary. I want to try to make sure it is not used at all.
Is the Prime Minister aware that many people in our country feel that they were conned over the last referendum by a combination of fraudsters, cheats, foreign money and dissembling about the real truth of the challenges our country faces? Does she also know that many of us feel it is tragic to see her so isolated—isolated from her party, from this Parliament and from the people in the country? Will she change her mind, as I have done, and go for a people’s vote and a people’s choice on the facts, not on the theory?
My right hon. Friend has said that she is going to be stepping up work to mitigate any disruption in the event of a no deal and the Cabinet will be discussing that tomorrow. Given that there are just over 100 days to go and we have the Christmas and new year break, can she inform this House and the watching country how many COBRA meetings there will be, how many she will chair, and whether there will be meetings throughout the Christmas and new year break of Cabinet Ministers and COBRA to plan for this?
May I welcome the Prime Minister ruling out a second referendum when we have not actually implemented the first, and may I also congratulate her—she did not get her hair ruffled by President Juncker in the way he seems to do to everybody? However, has she had a word with the Chancellor of the Exchequer? He implied the people who voted leave—17.4 million people—were extremists. Has she had a word with him to make sure that he is not going to take that attitude to decent people across the country?
Everybody in this Government recognises that this Parliament gave people the decision on whether or not to leave. People went out and 17.4 million people chose that we should leave the European Union. They did so for a variety of reasons—ending free movement was a reason for many of them, but for many of them a reason was also the concept of wanting a United Kingdom able to stand independent in the world, to make those trade deals around the rest of the world, but to be free of the bureaucracy of Brussels; that was another reason people voted to leave. They did that with their hearts and with their heads and with the best of intentions, and it is our job to deliver on the vote they gave.
By your leave, Mr Speaker, may I congratulate the Prime Minister on winning the confidence of the Conservatives in this House last week and assure her that she therefore commands my confidence, too? On the issue of the second referendum—better known as the losers’ vote—I support the Prime Minister’s opposition to this not only because it is undemocratic and would be divisive but because it would be very hard to deny a second referendum in Scotland if we had a second referendum on membership of the European Union.
My hon. Friend makes a good point. We have a record on a number of referendums over the years. We have accepted the decisions that people have taken and we have not gone back to them with a second referendum. He is absolutely right, and I also thank him for his remarks at the beginning of his question.
We have been told that there is going to be a 34-day delay, from when we were supposed to have the meaningful vote last Tuesday until the new date of 14 January. There are clearly not going to be any substantive changes to the withdrawal agreement, and we all know what the outcome of the vote will be, so it is irresponsible of the Prime Minister to prolong this uncertainty while not ruling out a no-deal Brexit. Further to the question from my right hon. Friend the Member for Exeter (Mr Bradshaw), I want to ask her again: what is the cost to our country of pressing the button on the no-deal contingency plans, which we know that many businesses and public services across the country, including our NHS, will now have to trigger before Christmas?
I will give the hon. Lady the same answer that I gave to the right hon. Member for Exeter, which is that these are plans that it is sensible for the Government to make as contingency arrangements in the circumstances that we have. If she and other Members wish to ensure that we do not leave the European Union without a deal, the only way to do that is to support a deal.
Twenty-seven Prime Ministers across Europe have agreed unanimously to offer the UK the deepest trade agreement they have ever offered. Five of those Prime Ministers are from sister parties of the British Labour party and seven are from sister parties of the British Liberal Democrat party. Does our Prime Minister agree that the best way for our Opposition parties to avoid a hard Brexit is to look again at the deal that is being offered by Prime Ministers across Europe?
I echo my hon. Friend’s comments; she is absolutely right. I understand that those sister parties have been talking to the parties on our Opposition Benches and encouraging them to see that this deal delivers a far wider and more ambitious trading arrangement than has ever been offered to any other third country.
For weeks now, the Prime Minister has been clear about what her deal is. For weeks now, the European Union has been clear about what deal it will offer. For weeks now, this House has been clear about what it will reject. However, it is not true that nothing has changed, because it is clear that what little support the Prime Minister had left on her own Benches is now ebbing away by the hour—[Interruption.] Well, cheer if you want, gentlemen, but it is not happening, is it? We know that the quicker we take the deal, the longer we will have to prepare for whatever the outcome of that vote is. The British public will not forgive any of us for going away on holiday without having made any progress on this. For goodness sake, Prime Minister, stop wasting our time! Get on and table that vote, and let us prepare for what comes next.
The draft withdrawal agreement is 585 pages long, and while I appreciate, although do not necessary agree with, the case for not producing a full plan for a managed no-deal Brexit, if the withdrawal agreement fails and is rejected in this House, how quickly will the full no-deal preparation be published?
As I am sure my hon. Friend will recall, the formal position is that if the deal is rejected, the Government have a limited number of sitting days in which to bring forward proposals for the next stage and for dealing with that situation, and that is the timetable that we would obviously meet.
It is interesting that the one passage leaked to the press yesterday of the Prime Minister’s lengthy statement today was her antagonism towards the idea of a people’s vote. It is entirely consistent with her approach to this process that she took this House to the Supreme Court to stop us having a say at the beginning and then withdrew the vote last week at the end. If she is going to pause, stop and prevaricate in the next few weeks, I beg her to use that time to start listening to and engaging with people in this House and the anxieties that are felt out there by the public. For the very first time, will she engage and listen?
I have made the point about listening to the House, which is why further discussions are taking place, and as I said in my statement, I am of course happy to speak with people in this House. I have been speaking with quite a few of my colleagues over the past couple of weeks, and I am happy to continue to speak with colleagues about how we can ensure that we deliver on the vote and that we deliver a good Brexit.
The Prime Minister is right to seek further assurances on the backstop, which, after all, is what many right hon. and hon. Members on both sides of the House asked her to do. Is it not the case that most hon. Members who now support a second referendum, most of whom voted to trigger article 50, are doing so working on the heroic assumption that remain is likely to win? Have they stopped for one second to consider the possibility that leave might win or, worst of all, that we would have another very narrow result that would cause uncertainty in this country in the months and years ahead?
My right hon. Friend makes an important point about the uncertainty that would come to this country. As I have said before, a second referendum would be divisive; it would not necessarily be decisive. However, many people who assume that it would result in a remain decision actually underestimate the character of the British people, and the view of many people would be, “We gave a very clear message; we wanted to leave; and we’ll vote in even greater numbers to do so.”
Does the Prime Minister not realise that the reason why the EU is clinging limpet-like to this agreement is that it knows that there are concessions within that will enable it, when it comes to the future trade arrangements, to extract even more concessions from the UK Government? Would it not be far better to walk away now with £39 billion in her pocket and with her hands free and able to do the kind of work that any Government should want to do to make this country prosperous?
Of course, it has been made clear to the Government that it is not the case that we would not have any financial liabilities in a no-deal circumstance. There would be some financial liabilities for this Government. Of course, the £39 billion is the negotiated settlement in relation to the withdrawal agreement, but there would be financial liabilities even in a no-deal situation.
It is not just the backstop that worries colleagues, myself included; for me, it is the lack of legal certainty over what our future trade deals might look like. The political declaration is not legally binding, so any EU country leader, including our own should we have a different leader, could rip it up and we could spiral to a no-deal Brexit at any time. The Prime Minister has said it is not about our view, and I agree with her. That is why she has appealed to the country directly with her deal, and it is why I must represent my constituents. If she really believes in the views of constituents being the most important thing, surely the right thing to do—dare I say the democratic thing to do?—is to be honest and grown up by displaying proper engagement with the people, which means checking with them that they are content with her deal.
The arguments my hon. Friend puts about listening to people could equally be put about listening to people in relation to the first referendum held in 2016. She raises an important point about the nature of the political declaration, and that concern is another issue that I have been raising with the European Union, because I want to ensure that right hon. and hon. Members are able to have full confidence in that future trade agreement.
The Prime Minister made a deal with the EU on Ireland, and Ireland is right to keep her in a cage of her own making to make sure that the UK cannot backslide on its commitments. Last week, the EU27 will have noticed the sleekit way her Government changed the laws and moved the goalposts when dealing with Scotland in the Supreme Court. The reality is that, where once Britannia said it ruled the waves, now the EU’s big fear, as we have seen with Scotland, is that, when given the chance, Britannia will waive the rules and will be away on holiday before voting on any deal.
I think the hon. Gentleman is referring to the Bill that the Scottish Parliament brought forward that challenged the changes made in relation to the withdrawal Act. On the relationship between the withdrawal Act and the decisions of the Scottish Parliament in relation to Scotland, SNP Members and, indeed, the Scottish Government were aware of the position when they brought that Bill before the Scottish Parliament.
Despite assurances from the Prime Minister that the backstop would be temporary, I remain very concerned that if this House approves the deeply flawed withdrawal agreement, we risk being trapped in the backstop indefinitely. Will my right hon. Friend confirm that income tax was introduced in 1799 as a temporary measure to pay for the Napoleonic wars?
I am interested in the historical link my hon. Friend draws on this matter. I recognise that he and others have concerns about the backstop, and I continue to work to provide the assurances that I hope would enable him to accept a deal and make sure that we leave the European Union with a deal.
There is a process set out in the legislation. If the deal is voted down, it is for the Government, within a certain period of time, to bring forward their proposals to Parliament. A motion will be tabled before Parliament and, following the amendment agreed by Parliament a couple of weeks ago, the motion will be amendable.
Judging by the tone and content of today’s statement, it would appear that the Prime Minister is still implacably opposed to what I think is the only democratic solution to this impasse. For the sake of clarity, will she confirm that she is so opposed that she would prefer no deal?
Both the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition know there is no point in kicking this can down the road—nothing is going to happen over Christmas and the new year. May I ask the Prime Minister to bring forward her meaningful vote this week and the Leader of the Opposition to bring forward his motion of no confidence this week, and then this week we can move on to where we know we are going, which is a people’s vote?
I want to commend the Prime Minister’s dogged determination, and so many people on the streets of my constituency this weekend commended her for her attitude. Does she agree that given that this is the only deal on the table, everything must be done to make it acceptable, which means everybody pulling together for the sake of the nation and, in particular, for the sake of our younger generations, who do not seem to be mentioned enough? That was reiterated to me at University Centre Somerset just this weekend, because we do have to leave them with an economy that is fully functioning and viable.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right to say that we need to ensure that we are protecting the economy for the future, and that is what this deal does. Those young people at University Centre Somerset would want to see not just a Government but an Opposition putting their interests and the national interest first, rather than the Opposition putting their party interests first.
The past few weeks have shown that this deal is going nowhere, and today’s statement does not change that. Does the Prime Minister now regret not working cross-party to build a consensus in this House? Why will she not accept that there is a way out of this hopeless situation by extending article 50 and working together, without the political posturing, for a deal that works for everyone?
We have negotiated a deal that works for everyone. I say to the hon. Lady simply this: in June 2016, a vote was held and people voted to leave the European Union. On 29 March 2019, the date set for us to leave the EU, it will be nearly three years since that vote. I think people want us to get on with leaving the EU, and that is what we will do.
Does the Prime Minister realise that when Jean-Claude Juncker called her “nebulous” he fundamentally underestimated the attitude of the British people, who completely disagree with that sentiment? That is what I found in my constituency this weekend, where people praised the Prime Minister’s determination to get a deal that works for my constituency. Can she display that similar determination in ruling out a second referendum, which would be so insulting to my constituents and suggest that they do not know what they voted for the first time round?
My hon. Friend makes a very important point. Many people who voted to leave in the referendum in 2016 would say exactly that: they knew what they were voting for; they voted for what they believed was right for this country; and they want a Government who deliver that.
I have asked the Prime Minister before whether her deal is better than the one we have now and she cannot give a straight answer, because I think she knows the answer is no. What undermines the integrity of our democracy, Prime Minister, is to ask—eventually—Members of this House to knowingly vote for something that will make their constituents poorer; it is not those in this House who want the people to have the final say on whether they actually wanted that to happen in the first place. Prime Minister, is your deal better than the one we have now? If it is, can we have the vote on the meaningful vote this week?
I have set out when the meaningful vote will take place. The hon. Gentleman again referenced people being poorer under this deal than they are today. They are not going to be poorer under this deal than they are today. The economic analysis is very clear about this, and it is clear that the best deal—the best approach that delivers on the referendum and protects jobs and the economy—is the deal.
A number of Opposition Members and, indeed, some Government Members have been talking about people who have changed their minds and how important it is that we respect people’s opportunity to change their minds. Does the Prime Minister agree that although there is no evidence to show that a meaningful number of people have changed their mind in respect of the referendum result, it is clear that a number of Opposition Members have changed their minds, because previously they said they would respect the outcome of the referendum and they clearly now no longer wish to do so? If they want to stop Brexit, they should be honest with this House and their constituents and just say so.
I absolutely agree with my hon. Friend. It is the case that both the Conservative party and the Labour party campaigned in last year’s election on the basis that we would respect the referendum and deliver on its result. I believe that is important, and the Opposition should take that position as well, to reflect their manifesto and the promise that they made to the British people.
Given that the Conservatives have had the opportunity to decide on the Prime Minister’s own position twice in the past two years, in what way is it undemocratic to give the people a second vote on Brexit?
It is important that we recognise when we have a referendum in this country that we do not say to people, “Well, if it comes out with the result that most people in Parliament want, we will accept it, and if not, we won’t.” We accept the results of referendums in this country. Given that the majority of Members of this House stood last year on manifestos that said they would respect the result of the referendum, we should do that.
The certainty of World Trade Organisation terms from 29 March, without even including the opportunity for tariff-free trade under article 24 of the general agreement on tariffs and trade and the immediate opportunity to negotiate and conclude free trade agreements with the EU and the rest of the world, hardly sounds like an outcome to be avoided at all costs, and certainly not like a disaster. The extent of any disruption from a move to WTO terms depends on the policies of our European Union partners. If it becomes clear on Wednesday that their preparations appear to make transition more difficult, not easier, will the Prime Minister make sure that of the £39 billion that we would otherwise pay to the EU, the first charge is for British businesses affected by their policies? Will she show the first flash of steel by making it clear that she will at least consider that the £1.2 billion of sunk costs in the Galileo project might also come into consideration?
The work on the financial settlement that led to the £34 billion to £39 billion—significantly less than the £100 billion that was being talked about at European Union level at one stage—did of course take into account all the aspects of the contributions that the United Kingdom has made into the European Union over the number of years of our membership. As a result of the tough negotiations that the UK undertook, we have seen a significantly smaller sum of money than the one that the European Union initially thought of.
On Friday, I visited the Newcastle West End food bank to drop off a Christmas donation. The food bank is now distributing around 11 tonnes of food a month to people in crisis, half of whom are children. The Prime Minister’s own Government’s analysis shows that we will be worse off under every Brexit scenario, but particularly if we leave without an agreement. Her no-deal threat makes no sense. She will not give the details or the economic analysis of the costs, so will she just take that threat off the table and give the reassurance that this Government—her Government—will not let the poorest in society pay for this Brexit impasse?
When looking at the negotiations for this deal, we wanted to ensure that we could protect jobs and that we would protect our prosperity for the future, and that is exactly what we have done. I repeat what I have said to other hon. Members: it is not possible simply to wish away no deal without having an alternative to no deal. That means either having a deal or not having Brexit at all. I believe that delivering on Brexit is what we should be doing and what this House should be agreeing.
I urge the Government to get off their knees in these negotiations. Will the Prime Minister remind the EU, this House, and perhaps even the Cabinet that we are the United Kingdom, and that we are perfectly capable of standing alone? We are not some kind of small, third-world backwater that is dependent on the benevolence of the European Union. The way that the EU has treated the Prime Minister in these negotiations is embarrassing for her and humiliating for the United Kingdom. If she were to go along to the EU now and tell it, in the face of its intransigence, to get stuffed, the huge proportion of the British people would be absolutely right behind her. In this great battle between Parliament and the people, it is critical that the Prime Minister is on the side of the people.
At the weekend, it was reported that the former Prime Minister, David Cameron, had been taken on board as a backseat driver of this process. I have to say that, given that he was the original architect of this mess, I was slightly concerned about that. What exactly is the former Prime Minister’s role in this, when exactly was the last time she spoke to him and what advice is he giving her?
The former Prime Minister is not giving advice. The last time I spoke to him was when we agreed the withdrawal agreement. It was when I spoke to two former Prime Ministers, as a matter of courtesy, to inform them what had been negotiated with the European Union.
I welcome the guarantees that the Prime Minister has given today about having no second referendum of any kind. I also welcome her standing up to Mr Juncker. May I just say in plain words that she should go to the European Union and say, “You can stick the £39 billion of taxpayers’ money where the sun don’t shine unless we get legal movement on the backstop.”? She would not be called nebulous then; she would be called the iron lady.
As I have said to other Members of this House, it is important for us to remember that, whatever the circumstances of our leaving the European Union, there would be some financial obligations for us. As a country that does meet its legal obligations, it is important for us to continue to do so.
The trouble is that all the time in the world will not make the slightest difference to the arithmetic in this House. The truth is that by delaying holding the meaningful vote by another 28 days from today, the Prime Minister is playing into the hands of the European Union, she is playing into the hands of those who want to undermine our security, she is playing into the hands of those who want to be our economic rivals and she is achieving absolutely nothing for this country. She could invite every single Member of the House round to her gaff for Christmas day, Boxing day and new year’s eve and she would still lose the vote, so why does she not get on with it this week?
I very much hope that the Prime Minister can agree with the EU a legally binding annex to the withdrawal agreement on any intended use of the backstop as that could unite many Members of this House. Given that they too, like us, were elected on a manifesto of respecting the referendum result, should not any further reassurances be the moment for Labour Members to join us in supporting a practical compromise and in ending uncertainty?
I agree that it is important that, when it comes to the vote, Members from across this whole House should put the interests of this country first—the interests of delivering on the referendum and doing it in a way that does protect jobs and our security, which is exactly what this deal does.
Prime Minister, some of your junior Ministers—those on the payroll—have told other MPs that the backstop cannot be changed and that, if it were to be changed, Leo Varadkar would lose the Republic of Ireland election. We do need to have good relations with the Republic of Ireland, but, Prime Minister, you are the Prime Minister and all your responsibilities lie with the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. Will the Prime Minister remind the members of her payroll team that Northern Ireland is part of the United Kingdom and that there is no onus on any Member, or junior Minister, to be a cheerleader for the Taoiseach?
The reasons why we have negotiated what we have and why, as a Government, we are committed to Northern Ireland and to not having a hard border between Northern Ireland and Ireland have nothing to do with the views of the Taoiseach or of the Government of the Republic of Ireland. It is about the commitment that we believe that we should be giving to the people of Northern Ireland.
If the UK sensibly and pragmatically continues to apply the Union customs code after Brexit, given that from the beginning of the new year we will have the new UK customs declaration service and the registered exporter system, which will replace certificates of origin, is it not the case that the European Union would not be acting in good faith if it insisted on its backstop, potentially out to 2099, as is cited in the withdrawal agreement?
I will be very clear with my hon. Friend that the backstop is, as is said in the withdrawal agreement and as was confirmed by the Council conclusions last week, intended to be temporary. Of course, article 50 does not allow for a permanent arrangement to be put in place. The existence of alternative arrangements that would enable us to provide that there is no hard border between Northern Ireland and Ireland would ensure either that the backstop need not be used or, if it was used, that it could be replaced quickly by those arrangements.
Securing the rights of British nationals living in the EU27 and the rights of EU nationals here in the United Kingdom is of the utmost importance for every Member of this House. In the absence of any alternative legal document, will the Prime Minister confirm that only her deal absolutely guarantees in law the rights of fellow Brits in the EU and EU nationals here?
Yes, I am very happy to give that confirmation to my hon. Friend. He is right to raise this issue. It was an issue in the early stages of the negotiations, when many Members of this House raised the question of citizens’ rights. Now we hear a lot about the backstop, but people omit to mention that the crucial issue of citizens’ rights is reflected in the protections and guarantees in the withdrawal agreement.
The Prime Minister continues to put on the pretence that somehow when the people voted, they gave permission only for her deal or no deal. She knows that when we leave the European Union, if we leave with no deal we will lose access to 40-plus international trade agreements covering trade with 70 countries, to EU criminal databases and to the EU single market, with which more than 70% of the UK’s exporting businesses trade. Indeed, there could be a delay of two to three years in new medicines reaching patients in the UK. She knows that there are other legal and political options, so is it not time for her to give herself a much better Christmas by having a vote in the House this week on her deal and then allowing Parliament to start to work together on how we move forward?
It was the vote that took place in 2016 that determined that we should leave the European Union. I believe that we should leave the European Union with a good deal, and this is a good deal. I believe that the alternatives that have been put forward in some cases do not deliver on the referendum and in other cases make the use of a backstop even more likely.
The Prime Minister will recall my question last week about how we can ensure that it is clear that the UK cannot be forced to stay in the backstop indefinitely due to vetoes on extraneous issues. What comfort did she take from the comments of other European leaders, for example the Chancellor of Austria and the Prime Minister of Denmark, that that might be something the UK is able to secure?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Crucially, a number of European Union leaders made very clear their view about the backstop being temporary or not being used at all. They made it clear that they were willing to listen to further proposals in order to give greater clarification on that point. That is exactly why I think it is right that we carry on talking to the European Union about this matter.
A hundred years ago, through the suffragettes, we saw women’s empowerment here in Parliament. Why does the Prime Minister not empower MPs here before Christmas, and why will she not empower the people with a second people’s vote?
When President Juncker is not ruffling the hair of female colleagues—I think the Prime Minister got away lightly there—we know that he follows what is said in this House very carefully. He will have heard her say today, “No revocation of article 50 and no second referendum”, and I suspect that he does get some succour from some of the things said in this Chamber. Can she now state for President Juncker the exact date when the United Kingdom will be leaving the European Union?
The Prime Minister is not interested in the will of the people apart from on one day in 2016, and given that her minority Government were the first ever to be found in contempt and that she pulled the plug on the meaningful vote at the last minute last week, she clearly has little regard for the sovereignty of Parliament either. She has returned from her latest travels empty-handed due to her own red lines, so why will she not allow MPs to vote on her deal this week and consider extending article 50? It is the season of miracles and good will, but no one—no one at all—believes that this is all going to be neatly concluded by the end of March.
I have answered those questions previously. As I said to my hon. Friend the Member for Torbay (Kevin Foster), it is important that we follow up on the opportunity to seek these further political and legal assurances in relation to the concern that people have on the backstop. It is also important, as I indicated to my hon. Friend the Member for South Cambridgeshire (Heidi Allen), that we look at the status of the political declaration, which is another issue that people have raised.
I thank the Prime Minister for reminding the House that 472 now-sitting Members decided to give a people’s vote in 2015; I suspect that if they had decided to keep the vote just to themselves, they would have voted overwhelmingly to remain in the European Union, which means that there is now an in-built bias against delivering Brexit. So please steer a straight course, Prime Minister—the country expects us to deliver Brexit. A people’s vote is simply an opportunity to try to overturn the democratic vote.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. That is exactly what this Government are doing—steering a course to deliver on what people voted for. We gave them the decision, we asked them to make that decision, they made that decision, and we should respect it.
I like to think of myself as a friendly fellow, and I have no particular inclination to fall out with colleagues on either side of the Chamber based on the details of the Brexit deal. The one thing I have learned in politics is that it is perfectly reasonable to look at identical information and come to completely different conclusions—but on values, that is where I disagree. Does the Prime Minister agree that to have a second referendum would fundamentally undermine the principle of democracy?
I believe that there are many people who voted if not for the first time ever, certainly for the first time for a considerable number of years, in that referendum. They did so in the belief that the politicians were going to listen to them. I think that their belief and faith in politics and politicians, and in our democracy, would be shattered if they were asked to think again. We should deliver on the vote that took place.
I listened very carefully to the words that the Prime Minister used. When asked about indicative votes in the House, she said, “We have no plans.” When asked whether she would revoke article 50, she said, “This Government will not do that.” If the House voted to instruct the Government to revoke article 50, would she resign and make way for another Government who would carry out the wishes of the House?
More than three quarters of my constituents voted to leave the European Union. Can the Prime Minister imagine anything more patronising than the idea that they need more democracy—to have another go? Does she agree that their instruction was very clearly that we should be getting on with it?
The Prime Minister says that a further referendum would be divisive. It is not referendums per se that are divisive. The 2016 referendum would not have been divisive if the promises made were deliverable. The divisions in our country today only come from two and a half years of Brexit fantasies now hitting the wall of Brexit reality. Brexiteers see the Prime Minister’s deal as a betrayal, and remainers are furious because the whole Brexit argument was based on lies. Does she agree that, in our democracy, we should never be afraid of a public vote, but we should always oppose fantasies and false promises?
I assure the hon. Lady that no Member of this House is afraid of a public vote. Members put themselves up for public votes on a number of occasions in order to be elected to this House. There were two sides of the argument in the referendum. Arguments were put. People voted on their belief as to whether or not we should stay in the European Union, and I believe we should deliver on the vote that people gave.
Many here, including one or two senior members of the Cabinet, now refer to the “will of MPs”, which is nothing more than a fig leaf to remain. It was the will of the majority of MPs to give the people a vote. They did so, and now we must honour it. If we fall back on WTO terms, so be it. Lead us, Prime Minister—get this country free and end this rancour.
I wanted to support this deal, and I want to support this deal. I thank the Prime Minister sincerely for listening to concerns, in particular about the backstop. Does she agree that it is essential that we give her the time necessary to secure the concessions that this House wants? I guarantee her that if she secures them, I will stand four-square behind her.
I thank my hon. Friend for that, and I thank him for pointing out that, having listened to the House, it is right that I am able to have time to argue that case with the European Union and seek those further assurances that would give confidence to not only him but other Members.
Ahead of the 2016 EU membership referendum, the Government spent more than £9 million of taxpayers’ money on leaflets delivered to every UK home advocating that we remain—but also, crucially, saying that whatever the outcome of the referendum, it would be enacted. Last year, 589 elected Members of this House stood on manifesto pledges to deliver the referendum result. Will my right hon. Friend confirm that we will be leaving the European Union on 29 March next year, deal or no deal?
I am happy to confirm that we will be leaving the European Union on 29 March next year. I am grateful to my hon. Friend for pointing out the significant number of Members who stood on a manifesto commitment to deliver on the vote that people took in 2016.
The Prime Minister repeatedly claims that the Norway plus option would require a backstop, but on 3 December her Attorney General told me from the Dispatch Box that he could see no reason why Norway plus
“would not satisfy the stated objectives of the backstop”.—[Official Report, 3 December 2018; Vol. 650, c. 572.]
Can she confirm that she agrees with her Attorney General on that point?
The issue is partly about whether we have the customs union within the Norway plus model. However, the point about the backstop is that it is there to deal with the period from the end of a transition period to the new relationship—the new relationship being one that will deal with the guarantee to the people of Northern Ireland that there will be no hard border. In any alternative arrangement, it would be necessary to have that negotiation.
Norway-plus is not something that can just happen. This House might want to say it will happen; actually, Norway-plus requires such a negotiation, because we would have to negotiate to be a member of EFTA first in order to get such an arrangement in place. In doing that, there would therefore be a risk that there would be a period of time when no arrangement was in place, and that would require a backstop.
There is growing concern—indeed, growing anger—among my constituents at the prospect of a second vote. They feel that their vote has been stolen from them. Bearing in mind that the advocates of a second vote talk about chaos, confusion and uncertainty, does my right hon. Friend agree with me that that would be the result of a second vote on a smaller turnout?
I agree with my hon. Friend that there is concern—and I think there should be concern—about the divisive nature of a second referendum if that were to take place, and also concern about the fact, as he has said, that his constituents and many other people up and down the country trusted that the politicians were going to deliver on the vote that they gave in 2016. We have a duty to do so.
It is clear that the Prime Minister has refused to rule out a no deal, refused to extend article 50 and refused to allow the option of a people’s vote. Can she now tell the House her plan if her deal does not make it through Parliament?
As I have said to a number of other hon. Members, if the hon. Lady and others want to ensure that there is not a no deal situation, they have to accept that the alternatives are either accepting a deal or no Brexit. I believe we should be delivering on Brexit, and I believe we should be doing it with a good deal for the UK.
May I gently remind the Prime Minister that it is not only MPs in this place who have manifesto commitments to honour? The Scottish Government have manifesto commitments to honour, and it would be utterly undemocratic for anyone to try to stand in their way. Will the Prime Minister tell us how many people in this place stood on a manifesto that supported the chaos of a no deal? Given that the answer is none, surely that should be the first option that is taken off the table. We can then talk about what kind of deal we can get—and if we cannot get a decent deal, then not leaving should be put back on the table. Surely, giving those choices to the people is more democratic than forcing them out with a no-deal Brexit that nobody voted for.
Given that the Prime Minister has been on her feet for two hours, I think we are now convinced that she still agrees with herself but is listening to very few other people. Last week, no less a person than her predecessor Sir John Major called for an extension of article 50, but, stubbornly, she still refuses to listen to any advice on this. Please will the Prime Minister listen for once?
The Prime Minister has said today that she is determined to frustrate another vote of the people, and she has done her level best to frustrate a vote in this Parliament. Does she understand why so many people here think that she is trying to confront and bully this House with a last-minute choice between her deal and no deal, even when she knows the catastrophic cost of no deal for swathes of our industry?
May I ask the Prime Minister to clarify for the House this afternoon the simple fact that, when it comes to a meaningful vote in January, this House will indeed be able to rule out no deal and, if necessary, extend article 50?
The motion will, of course, be amendable when it comes before the House in January. However, I have to say to the right hon. Gentleman that this is about ensuring that we can get the assurances from the European Union—that is what we are working on—and bring them back to this House, having listened to the concerns that have been raised by Members of this House.
The Prime Minister said in her statement that she is working on tackling the spread of deliberate, large-scale and systematic disinformation. Does that include the disinformation of Vote Leave and things printed on the side of buses?
I talked to both sides in my constituency on Saturday. The Prime Minister knows about her Brexit-supporting MPs’ change of heart in her, but my constituents are wondering why she will not ask Bury for its conclusion on her botched deal. Does she regret spending so long appeasing the 1922 instead of building a deal that works for the 48 and the 52?
I know why my constituents voted the way they did. It was 58:42. They blamed Europe for the loss of our jobs in manufacturing as a result of the economy going towards finance. Thirty-four of the 43 local authorities are still 13% behind on wages from 2010 and have not recovered. That is why people voted. They have listened to what has been said, but you are not giving them a chance to vote on this offer. Your deal is terrible. It is not a good deal and we will be worse off. The same goes for no deal. Give us a choice. We should have a choice to vote in the House today on your offer.
Thank you, Mr Speaker.
I say to the hon. Lady that the House will have a choice when the meaningful vote is brought forward on whether or not it accepts the deal that is on the table, and on what it wants in future. That choice will be available, just as the choice was available to her constituents, mine and others up and down the country in 2016 to decide whether or not to stay in the EU.
Sixty-two Members from four parties in the House have today written to the Prime Minister on the mounting concerns being expressed in our great manufacturing industries—automotive, aerospace, shipbuilding, bus building and food. We are walking towards a cliff, and if this uncertainty continues, the bad decisions that are being made for Britain will continue dramatically in the first quarter of next year. We have to have a degree of certainty. Without it, the future for many companies and workers will be catastrophic. Why does the Prime Minister not rule out now any question of a no-deal Brexit?