[Relevant documents: Fourteenth Report of the Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee, The Role of Parliament in the UK Constitution; Interim Report, The Status and Effect of Confidence Motions; and the Fixed-term Parliaments Act 2011, HC 1813.]
I beg to move,
That this House has no confidence in Her Majesty’s Government.
Last night, the Government were defeated by 230 votes —the largest defeat in the history of our democracy. They are the first Government to be defeated by more than 200 votes. Indeed, the Government themselves could barely muster more than 200 votes. Last week, they lost a vote on the Finance Bill—that is what is called supply. Yesterday, they lost a vote by the biggest margin ever—that is what is regarded as confidence. By any convention of this House—by any precedent—loss of confidence and supply should mean that they do the right thing and resign.
The Prime Minister has consistently claimed that her deal, which has now been decisively rejected, was good for Britain, workers and businesses. If she is so confident of that—if she genuinely believes it—she should have nothing to fear from going to the people and letting them decide.
In this week in 1910, the British electorate went to the polls. They did so because Herbert Asquith’s Liberal Government had been unable to get Lloyd George’s “People’s Budget” through the House of Lords. They were confident in their arguments, and they went to the people and were returned to office. That is still how our democracy works. When we have a Government that cannot govern, it is those conventions that guide us in the absence of a written constitution. If a Government cannot get their legislation through Parliament, they must go to the country for a new mandate, and that must apply when that situation relates to the key issue of the day.
In 2017, the Prime Minister and her party thought that they could call an election and win it. They thought that they would return with an overall majority, but there was an enormous increase in the Labour vote—the biggest since 1945—during that campaign when people saw what our policies actually were.
When the Prime Minister asked to be given a mandate, she bypassed the Fixed-term Parliaments Act 2011, which, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Islington South and Finsbury (Emily Thornberry), the shadow Foreign Secretary, pointed out, was designed to give some stability to the Tory-Lib Dem coalition Government to ensure that the Lib Dems could not hold the Conservatives to ransom by constantly threatening to collapse the coalition. The 2011 Act was never intended to prop up a zombie Government, and there can be no doubt that this is a zombie Government.
If the right hon. Gentleman’s motion is successful this evening, there may be a general election in a few short weeks. Would the Labour party manifesto state whether it will be a party of Brexit or a party against Brexit? It is a simple question; what is the answer?
We are a democratic party, and our party will decide what policy we fight the election on. In the meantime, however, we are clear that there has to be a customs union, access to European trade and markets and the protection of rights, and there must be a rejection of a no-deal Brexit.
As I was saying, last week this Government became the first for more than 40 years to lose a vote on a Finance Bill. In a shocking first for this Government—a shocking first—they forced a heavily pregnant Member of this House, my hon. Friend the Member for Hampstead and Kilburn (Tulip Siddiq), to delay a scheduled caesarean to come to vote, all because of their cynical breaking of trusted pairing arrangements. We need to examine our procedures to ensure that such a thing can never happen again.
On a point of order, Mr Speaker. Could you please assist the House, because this is an important matter? I say this as a woman. We need to establish once and for all whether the hon. Member for Hampstead and Kilburn (Tulip Siddiq) was offered a pair. I think all of us and the public need to know.
The Clerk reminds me that that is not a point of order. My understanding is that there was a pairing opportunity, but the issue was aired in the chamber on Monday and again yesterday. The Leader of the Opposition is absolutely entitled to highlight his concern about the matter, which I know is widely shared, but it should not now be the subject of further points of order. I hope that that satisfies the right hon. Member for Broxtowe (Anna Soubry).
Thank you, Mr Speaker.
Nothing demonstrates the sheer incompetence of this Government quite like the Brexit negotiations. Yesterday’s historic and humiliating defeat was the result of two years of chaos and failure. It is clear that this Government are not capable of winning support for their core plan on the most vital issue facing this country. The Prime Minister has lost control and the Government have lost the ability to govern. Within two years, they have managed to turn a deal from what was supposed to be—I remember this very well—
“one of the easiest in human history”
into a national embarrassment. In that time, we have seen the Prime Minister’s demands quickly turn into one humiliating climbdown after another. Brexit Ministers have come, and Brexit ministers have gone, but the shambles has remained unchanged, culminating in an agreement that was described by one former Cabinet Minister as
“the worst of all worlds.”
Let me be clear that the deal that the Prime Minister wanted this Parliament to support would have left the UK in a helpless position, facing a choice between seeking and paying for an extended transition period or being trapped in the backstop. The Prime Minister may claim the backstop would never come into force—[Interruption.]
Who has confidence in this Government’s ability to negotiate a future trade deal with the EU by December 2020 after the shambles that we have all witnessed over the past two years? This Frankenstein deal is now officially dead, and the Prime Minister is trying to blame absolutely everybody else.
In modern British history, when faced with a defeat even a fraction of the size of the titanic and calamitous margin that the Prime Minister faced yesterday, Prime Ministers have done the right and honourable thing and have resigned and called a general election. Does my right hon. Friend agree that the Prime Minister, in the pursuit of power and the trappings of office, has now forgotten what is right and honourable?
I thank my hon. Friend for that intervention. As I made clear, all the precedents are that when a Government experiences a defeat like last night’s, it is time to resign and allow the people to elect a new Parliament to deal with the issues facing the country.
Let me be clear that the blame for this mess lies firmly at the feet of the Prime Minister and her Government, who have time after time made hollow demands and given what turned out to be false promises. They say that they want this Parliament to be sovereign. Yet when their plans have come up against scrutiny, they have done all they can to obstruct and evade. The Prime Minister’s original plan was to push through a deal without the appropriate approval of this Parliament, only to be forced into holding a meaningful vote by the courts and by Members of this House, to whom I pay tribute for ensuring that we actually had the meaningful vote last night.
As I understand it, the Leader of the Opposition will allow his party to decide whether he will deliver Brexit should he become Prime Minister. His party has already decided that if he is not successful in getting a general election, he should support a people’s vote. If he does not win the vote tonight, will he then support moves in this House to give us a people’s vote?
I have not had such a call as yet. I have my phone on. [Interruption.]
I think we should proceed with this debate. The Prime Minister’s original plan was to push through a deal without approval, as I pointed out, and she was forced into seeking approval by the courts. Since losing their majority in the 2017 general election, the Government have had numerous opportunities to engage with others and listen to their views, not just here in Westminster, but across the country. Their whole framing of the EU withdrawal Bill was about giving excessive power to the Secretary of State for Brexit at the expense of Parliament. It was a Bill of which Henry VIII would have been very proud.
Yesterday’s decisive defeat is the result of the Prime Minister not listening and ignoring businesses, unions and Members of this House. She has wasted two years recklessly ploughing on with her doomed strategy. Even when it was clear that her botched and damaging deal could not remotely command support here or across the country, she decided to waste even more time by pulling the meaningful vote on 11 December on the empty promise, and it was an absolutely empty promise, of obtaining legal assurances on the backstop—another month wasted before the House could come to its decision last night.
Some on the Government Benches have tried to portray the Prime Minister’s approach as stoical. What we have seen over the past few months is not stoical; what we have witnessed is the Prime Minister acting in her narrow party interest, rather than in the public interest. Her party is fundamentally split on this issue, and fewer than 200 of her own MPs were prepared to support her last night. This constrains the Prime Minister so much that she simply cannot command a majority in this House on the most important issue facing this country without rupturing her party. It is for that reason that the Government can no longer govern.
Yesterday, the Prime Minister shook her head when I said that she had treated Brexit as a matter only for the Conservative party, yet within half an hour of the vote being announced the hon. Member for Grantham and Stamford (Nick Boles) commented:
“She has conducted the argument as if this was a party political matter rather than a question of profound national importance”.
How right he was, and how wrong the Prime Minister was to threaten him before the vote took place.
I know that many people across the country will be frustrated and deeply worried about the insecurity around Brexit, but if this divided Government continue in office, the uncertainty and risks can only grow.
When those cross-party talks start, which of the Scarlet Pimpernels will come? Will it be the Leader of the Opposition who campaigns for remain in London and the south-east, or will it be the Leader of the Opposition who campaigns for Brexit up north? We need to know.
There has been no offer or communication on all-party talks. All the Prime Minister said was that she might talk to some Members of the House. That is not reaching out. That is not discussing it. That is not recognising the scale of the defeat they suffered last night.
It is not just over Brexit that the Government are failing dismally, letting down the people of this country. There has been the Windrush scandal, with the shameful denial of rights and the detention, and even the deportation, of our own citizens. The Government’s flagship welfare policy, universal credit, is causing real and worsening poverty across this country. And just yesterday, under the cover of the Brexit vote, they sneaked out changes that will make some pensioner households thousands of pounds worse off. Those changes build on the scourge of poverty and the measures inflicted on the people of this country, including the bedroom tax, the two-child limit, the abominable rape clause, the outsourced and deeply flawed work capability assessment, the punitive sanctions regime and the deeply repugnant benefits freeze.
People across this country, whether they voted leave or remain, know full well that the system is not working for them. If they are up against it and they voted remain, or if they are up against it and they voted leave, this Government do not speak for them, do not represent them and cannot represent them. Food bank use has increased almost exponentially. More people are sleeping on our streets, and the numbers have shamefully swelled every year. The Conservative party used to call itself the party of home ownership; it is now called the party of homelessness in this country.
Care is being denied to our elderly, with Age UK estimating that 1.2 million older people are not receiving the care they need. Some £7 billion has been cut from adult social care budgets in the past nine years. Our NHS is in crisis, waiting time targets at accident and emergency—[Interruption.] I am talking about waiting times at accident and emergency departments and for cancer patients that have not been met since 2015 and that have never been met under the Government of this Prime Minister.
The NHS has endured the longest funding squeeze in its history, leaving it short-staffed to the tune of 100,000 and leaving NHS trusts and providers over £1 billion in deficit. The human consequences are clear. Life expectancy is now going backwards in the poorest parts of our country and is stagnating overall, which is unprecedented —another shameful first for this Government and another reason why this Government should no longer remain in office. That is why this motion of no confidence is so important.
The Leader of the Opposition is making some powerful arguments—not very well, but he is making them—but could he help us with this? I saw an opinion poll at the weekend. If there is any merit in his arguments, can he explain why the Conservative party is six points ahead in the polls? Could it be because he is the most hopeless Leader of the Opposition we have ever had?
My right hon. Friend is right to put on record the concerns about uncertainty in the country, and he is absolutely right to talk about poverty. Can he confirm that it is the position of the British Labour party to rule out a no-deal Brexit? Can he understand why the party that claims to be the traditional party of business will not do the same?
I can absolutely confirm that. We have voted against a no-deal Brexit, and apparently the Business Secretary thinks that vote is a good idea. The Prime Minister was unable to answer my question on this during Prime Minister’s Question Time. A no-deal Brexit would be very dangerous and very damaging for jobs and industries all across this country.
I thank my right hon. Friend for giving way. He is absolutely right that, under this Government, we see our NHS in crisis and education underfunded. Our communities have been devastated by their austerity agenda. More people are homeless; more people are living in poverty; and more people are using food banks. If the Government disagree, why do they not call a general election? We are ready.
I thank my hon. Friend for that intervention and for his work representing his constituency. On this side of the House, we are determined to force this Government to accept the reality of the defeat last night and to go to the people so that they can decide whether they want a party in office that promotes inequality, poverty and injustice in Britain, or the Labour alternative, which is bringing people together, however they voted in the referendum.
I know that some Members of this House are sceptical, and members of the public could also be described as sceptical, but I truly believe that a general election would be the best outcome for this country. As the Prime Minister pointed out in her speech yesterday, both the Labour party and the Conservative party stood on manifestos that accepted the result of the referendum . Surely any Government would be strengthened in trying to renegotiate Brexit by being given a fresh mandate from the people to follow their chosen course. I know many people at home will say, “Well, we’ve had two general elections and a referendum in the last four years.” For the people of Scotland, it is two UK-wide elections, one Scottish parliamentary election and two referendums in five years So although Brenda from Bristol may gasp “Not another one”, spare a thought for Bernie from Bute. However, the scale of the crisis means we need a Government with a fresh mandate. A general election can bring people together, focusing on all the issues that unite us—the need to solve the crises in our NHS, our children’s schools and the care of our elderly.
We all have a responsibility to call out abuse, which has become too common, whether it is the abuse that Members of this House receive or the abuse that is—[Interruption.]
No. I am sure we can all unite in condemning racist abuse in any form whatsoever within our society. Too many of our constituents have faced that since the toxic debate in the last referendum and, if I may say so, the Government’s hostile environment policies on the Windrush generation.
Many media pundits and Members of this House say there is currently no majority in the House for a general election—let the Members of this House decide. However, it is clear there is no majority for the Government’s Brexit deal and there is no majority either for no deal. I pay tribute to all Members of this House who, like the Labour Front-Bench team, are committed both to opposing the Prime Minister’s bad deal, which we voted down last night, and to ruling out the catastrophe of no deal. But I do believe that following the defeat of the Government’s plan, a general election is the best outcome for the country, as the Labour party conference agreed last September.
A general election would give new impetus to negotiations, with a new Prime Minister, with a new mandate, and not just to break the deadlock on Brexit, but to bring fresh ideas to the many problems facing our constituents, such as very low pay, insecure work and in-work poverty, which is increasing. They face the problems of trying to survive on universal credit and living in deep poverty; and the scandal of inadequate social care, which might not concern the right hon. Member for Rayleigh and Wickford (Mr Francois) but does concern millions of people around this country.
Then we have the crisis facing local authorities, health services and schools, which are starved of resources; and the housing and homelessness crisis, whereby so many of our fellow citizens have no roof over their heads night after night.[Interruption].
On a point of order, Mr Speaker. Is it not—[Interruption.] Well, give me a go! Is it not often the practice in this House that when someone speaking from the Dispatch Box refers to another Member and challenges them, they then normally take an intervention?
Thank you, Mr Speaker.
If the House backs this motion today, I will welcome the wide-ranging debates we will have about the future of our country and the future of our relationship with the European Union, with all the options on the table. As I said before, a Prime Minister confident of what she describes as “a good deal” and committed, as she claims, to tackling burning injustices should have nothing to fear from such an election. If the House does not back this motion today, it is surely incumbent on all of us to keep all the options on the table, to rule out the disastrous no deal and offer a better solution than the Prime Minister’s deal, which was so roundly defeated yesterday.
This Government cannot govern and cannot command the support of Parliament on the most important issue facing our country. Every previous Prime Minister in this situation would have resigned and called an election. It is the duty of this House to show the lead where the Government have failed and to pass a motion of no confidence so that the people of this country can decide who their MPs are, who their Government are and who will deal with the crucial issues facing the people of this country. I commend my motion to the House.
Last night, the House rejected the deal the Government have negotiated with the European Union. Today, it is asked a simpler question: should the next step be a general election? I believe that is the worst thing we could do: it would deepen division when we need unity, it would bring chaos when we need certainty, and it would bring delay when we need to move forward. So I believe the House should reject this motion.
At this crucial moment in our nation’s history, a general election is simply not in the national interest. Parliament decided to put the question of our membership of the European Union to the people. Parliament promised to abide by the result. Parliament invoked article 50 to trigger the process. And now Parliament must finish the job. That is what the British people expect of us and, as I find when speaking to my constituents and to voters right across the country, that is what they demand. But a general election would mean the opposite. Far from helping Parliament finish the job and fulfil our promise to the people of the United Kingdom, it would mean extending article 50 and delaying Brexit, for who knows how long.
The Prime Minister has lost a quarter of her Cabinet and 117 of her Back Benchers want her gone. She has experienced the biggest defeat in parliamentary history. What shred of credibility have her Government got left? For goodness’ sake Prime Minister, won’t you just go?
As someone who was defeated last night by only 230 votes, may I encourage the Prime Minister to KBO and never tire of reminding the country that our good economic and one-nation record will be put at risk by a very extreme left-wing and high-taxation party?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. I shall speak about this later in my speech, but it is over the years since 2010, with Conservatives in government, that we have been able to turn the economy around, ensure that jobs are provided for people and give people a better future.
I totally agree with the Prime Minister that a general election would solve nothing—it is merely a tactical device used by the Opposition to cause chaos—but does she agree with me that we also need to rule out a second referendum on our membership of the EU, which would be highly divisive and would not resolve the issues we currently face?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right that a general election would cause the sort of delay that I have just been talking about. He is also right in that we had a referendum in 2016, and I believe it is incumbent on this Parliament to deliver on the result of that referendum and to deliver Brexit. As regards those issues, the choices we face as a country will not change after four or five weeks of campaigning for a general election, and there is no indication that an election would solve the dilemma that we now face. Not only that, but there is no guarantee that an election would deliver a parliamentary majority for any single course of action.
So is everybody else!
It is possible that the Prime Minister and I will continue to disagree, but I am Conservative first and last, and I know opportunism when I see it, so when the bells ring the whole European Research Group will walk through the Lobby with her to vote this nonsense down.
I thank my right hon. Friend for his intervention. I note what he said and I am happy to carry on discussing with him the different views we have had on the European issue. It is absolutely clear that what the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition is trying to do is not going to help to resolve the issue of ensuring that we deliver on Brexit for the British people.
In 2017, the Prime Minister went to the country and asked for a mandate; she lost her majority. Last night, she asked the House to back her deal; she saw the biggest Government defeat in a vote in the history of this House. She said last night that she wanted to open up dialogue with the whole House, yet she has refused to open up that dialogue with Labour’s Front Benchers. Does she agree that it looks like a strategy more to divide and conquer than to bring this House and the country together and work out how we move forward?
I said last night that we would be having discussions across the House. There are many different opinions in the House on the issue of how to deliver Brexit; indeed, there are some views in the House on how not to deliver Brexit. I believe that we should deliver Brexit for the people. I made it clear that, should the Leader of the Opposition table a motion of no confidence, the first priority would be to debate that motion. I am confident that the Government will retain the confidence of the House. When that happens, I shall set out the further steps that we will take on discussions with Members from across the House.
If Members will just be a little patient, I have taken a number of interventions, so I will make a little progress. I will be generous in taking interventions; I think Members know from the number of hours that I have spent in the House answering questions that I am not afraid to answer questions from Members.
Will the Prime Minister give way?
If my hon. Friend would just allow me one moment.
It is barely 18 months since this country last went to the polls, in an election in which well over 80% of voters—almost 27 million people—backed parties whose manifestos promised to deliver Brexit. That is what the Government intend to do and that is what is in the national interest, not the disruption, delay and expense of a fourth national poll in less than four years.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right, because of course the position that the Leader of the Opposition took was that however good a deal for the United Kingdom the Government brought back, he would vote against it, and however bad a deal the EU offered, he would vote for it. He has no real national interest in getting the right answer for our country.
My right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition is absolutely right to call for a general election today, because it is not only the Government’s record on Brexit that is at stake tonight. Let me ask the Prime Minister a direct question: is she really saying that her record on policing and crime is one that she is willing to stand on? We have seen more than 20,000 police officers cut since 2010; we see rising crime and rising knife crime; and we see money being diverted, instead of paying for police, to paying for a no-deal Brexit that nobody in this House wants to see happen.
I will make a little more progress, then take some more interventions.
Last night, the House spoke clearly, and I heard the message that it sent. I heard the concerns of my colleagues and those from across the House, and I understand them. As I told the House last night and have just repeated, if the Government secure the confidence of this House, my first priority will be to hold meetings with my colleagues, with our confidence and supply partners the Democratic Unionist party and with senior parliamentarians from across the House, but our principles are clear: a deal that delivers a smooth and orderly exit, protecting our Union, giving us control of our borders, laws and money and allowing us to operate an independent trade policy. These are what deliver on the will of the British people.
I tried this with the Prime Minister earlier during Question Time, and I am going to give her one more chance: which of the red lines that she set, which caused her defeat last night, is she willing to compromise on to get the agreement through?
The hon. Gentleman will not be surprised to hear that I will give him the same answer as I have just given in my comments. I point out to him that the key thing that this House and this Parliament need to do is to deliver Brexit for the British people. That is what we need to do. We need to deliver a Brexit that respects and reflects the vote that was taken in the 2016 referendum.
I am trying to be helpful to the Prime Minister, believe it or not, but this is pure robotic fantasy. It is her deal that has to change, and her deal is a product of the red lines, so when she has that meeting with my right hon. Friend the Member for Ross, Skye and Lochaber (Ian Blackford), which of the red lines is she willing to give up on?
I thank my right hon. Friend for giving way, unlike the Leader of the Opposition. Does she share my concerns that too many people in this House are trying to scupper the mandate given to us by the British people? For centuries, this House has taken arbitrary power from kings, queens, peers and grandees and put that power in this House for the public good, but it appears that we are now becoming an arbitrary power that is removing the mandate that we gave to the British people. Will my right hon. Friend fight to deliver on that mandate and to protect and preserve our democracy?
My hon. Friend puts his point very powerfully indeed. This Parliament voted to ask the British people and to say to them, “It is your decision.” It was not to say, “Tell us what you think and we might decide afterwards whether we like it.” It was, “It is your decision, and we will act on that decision.”
I will just make a little more progress.
That is what we want to do: deliver on the will of the British people. As I have said, I will approach the meetings in a constructive spirit, focusing on ideas that are negotiable and have sufficient support in this House. The aim is to identify what would be required to secure the backing of the House.
I will make a little more progress. I have already been generous with interventions.
If those talks bear fruit, as I said earlier in Prime Minister’s questions, then be in no doubt that I will go back to Brussels and communicate them clearly to the European Union, and that is what Members asked for. The leader of the SNP MPs said that we should have talks with all the leaders of the Opposition parties and work together in all our interests. The Chairman of the Brexit Committee said that if the deal was defeated, “I would like to think that she would take a bold step—that she would reach out across the House to look for a consensus.” That is exactly what I propose to do. It would be a little strange for the Opposition to vote against that approach later today and in favour of a general election, as that would make that process of reaching out across Parliament impossible.
I thank the Prime Minister for her generosity in giving way. With all due respect to her she has come to the House today, after suffering a very, very large defeat indeed, with the same lines and she is making the same assertions as she was making before the vote—it is as if the vote never happened. Her Downing Street spokesperson said that any discussions would have to start and proceed from the red lines that she herself established. Does she not realise, in all honesty, that the time has come for her to show some flexibility on those red lines and get us into a genuine discussion rather than just repeating the lines that we have heard for the past five months ad nauseam?
In a moment.
When I became Prime Minister that is what I pledged to do: yes, to deliver Brexit, but also to govern on the side of working people, right across the country, for whom life is harder than it should be and to build on the progress that has been made since 2010.
I thank the Prime Minister for giving way. The problem is that she seems to be talking as if she lost by 30 votes yesterday and not 230. Her refusal even to consider changing any of her red lines, when the EU, the Irish Government and others made it clear that the deal that she got was dependent on those red lines, is making this impossible. May I ask her to clarify this: is she saying that she will rule out, in any circumstances, a customs union?
What I want to see is what the British people voted for—[Interruption.] No, this is very important. They voted for an end to free movement; they voted for an independent trade policy; and they voted to end the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice. It is incumbent on this Parliament to ensure that we deliver on that.
That is the point that I have been making and repeating. When people voted to leave, they voted for certain things. They voted to ensure that we could have that independent trade policy and that we would end free movement, for example, and it is our duty to ensure that we deliver on those things.
I have asked many people throughout this why they voted on one side or the other in the referendum, and I have got a very wide range of replies. I have to say, though, that no one has ever told me that they voted to leave in order that we could leave the customs union, or that they wanted us to erect trade barriers between ourselves and the rest of the Europe. As the Prime Minister is as committed to this as I am, I entirely support her aim of keeping open borders between ourselves and the rest of Europe. Is it not the case that there is nowhere in the world where two developed countries in any populated area are able to have an open border unless they have some form of customs union?
My right hon. and learned Friend refers to the fact that, obviously, there were various reasons why people voted to leave the European Union, but when they were doing so they did vote to ensure that we continue to have a good trading relationship with our nearest neighbours in the European Union and also to improve our trading relationships with others around the world. That is what we were searching for and that is what was in the political declaration for the future. That package was not voted through this House last night. I now will talk to parliamentarians across the House to determine where we can secure the support of the House.
Although delivering Brexit is an important and key element of government, it is also important that we build on the progress made since 2010 and lead this country towards the brighter, fairer, more prosperous future that it deserves.
I will make some progress before I take any further interventions.
I believe that this Government have a record to be proud of—a record that demonstrates that our policies and principles are more than words. In 2010, we inherited the gravest of economic situations: a recession in which almost three quarters of a million jobs were lost; a budget deficit of £1 borrowed for every £4 spent; and a welfare system that did not reward work. But in the nine years since, thanks to the hard work and sacrifice of the British people, we have turned this country around. Our economy is growing; the deficit is down by four fifths; the national debt has begun its first sustained fall for a generation; and the financial burden left for our children and grandchildren is shrinking by the day. That is a record to be proud of.
I thank the Prime Minister for allowing me to intervene. Under her leadership, this Government have become the first in British history to be found in contempt of Parliament and the first in British history to lose by more than 200 votes on a primary policy matter. Homelessness has spiralled out of control; the use of food banks has risen exponentially, and much more besides. Surely it is now time to act with humility and to do the right and honourable thing: resign and call a general election.
May I say again that the whole point of this debate today is to determine whether this House has confidence in the Government or thinks that there should be a general election?
I say that our record is one that we should be proud of, but I know that that is not enough. A strong economy alone is no good, unless we use it to build a fairer society: one where, whoever you are, wherever you live, and at every stage of your life, you know that the Government are on your side; where growing up you will get the best possible education, not because your parents can afford to pay for it but because that is what every local school provides; where your parents have a secure job that pays a decent wage and where they get to keep more of the money they earn each month; where, when you finish school, you know that you can go to university, whether or not your parents went, or you can have an apprenticeship; where, when you want to buy your first home, enough houses are being built so that you can afford to get a foot on the housing ladder; where, when you want to get married, it does not matter whether you fall in love with someone of the same sex or opposite; where, when you have children of your own, you will be able to rely on our world-class NHS; where both parents can share their leave to look after their baby and where, when they are ready to go back to work, the Government will help with the costs of childcare; and where, when you have worked hard all your life, you will get a good pension and security and dignity in your old age. That is what this Government are delivering.
I thank the Prime Minister for giving way. I acknowledge that she wants to paint a good picture of her Government, but is it not true that, precisely because so many people were unhappy, they also voted for Brexit? Is it not the case that we need to clarify with the British people what exactly they voted for? We need to put a precise deal in front of them, and not just make a general assumption about why people voted for Brexit. People also voted for Brexit because they were genuinely unhappy with the state of this country, so is it not the case that we now need to put a precise Brexit deal in front of the people so that everyone can say that, actually, Brexit will make a difference?
The hon. Lady might recall that I made exactly that point when I became Prime Minister—that there were various reasons that people voted for Brexit, but that some people wanted a change in the way in which politics delivered for them. They felt that politicians were not listening to them, which is precisely why it is so important that we listen to and deliver on the result of the referendum for the people of this country—and this Government are delivering in a whole range of ways.
I appreciate the positive, confident and optimistic picture of the future of the UK painted by the Prime Minister. What a contrast with the Leader of the Opposition, who takes every opportunity to talk Britain down. How on earth can somebody claim that they aspire to be Prime Minister if they have such utter lack of confidence in Britain and the British people?
I know that there is so little time to get in all the achievements—[Laughter.] Colleagues may laugh, but it is this Government who are taking the environment more seriously than any other Government. We are putting sustainability first, and that is more important even than Brexit, because if we did not have a healthy environment—our record on this is second to none, including measures on microbeads, ancient woodland protection, the clean air strategy and more—we would be lost.
I thank my hon. Friend, who has set out an area on which this Government have been taking important action. I commend the work that she has done and the work of my right hon. Friend the Environment Secretary in this area. We are leading the way on the environment in a number of ways.
I am very grateful to the Prime Minister; she is giving way considerably more than the Leader of the Opposition did. She has just mentioned the stewardship of the NHS under her leadership. Would she like to remind the Leader of the Opposition that it is this Government who have just pledged, through the NHS long-term plan, 50% per annum more funding than he pledged at the last general election?
The right hon. Member for Exeter (Mr Bradshaw) is encouraging me not to take so many interventions and to get on with my speech.
We are building a country that works for everyone, but there is much more to do, including: investing in our industrial strategy so that we are creating the jobs of the future in all parts of our country, not just London and the south-east; delivering our long-term plan for the NHS, to which my right hon. Friend the Member for Ludlow (Mr Dunne) has just referred, so that our most precious institution is equipped for the future; tackling the lingering injustices that for too long have blighted the lives of too many people, including women being paid less than men, mental health not being treated with the same seriousness and resource as physical health, a criminal justice system that has poorer outcomes if you are black than if you are white, and an education system that has left white working-class boys as less likely to go to university than anyone else. These are issues that we need to tackle, and the mission of this Government will not stop.
This is a Government building a country that is more prosperous, a country that is fairer and a country that works for everyone. With the confidence of this House, we will go on delivering for Britain, driven by a passionate belief in doing what is right for our country and right for our people, acting not in self-interest but in the national interest. That is the simple mission that has underpinned our approach to the Brexit negotiations.
As we enter the next stage of that process, I have made it clear that I want to engage with colleagues across the House. The question now is whether the Labour leadership will rise to the occasion, but I fear the answer is no. As the Labour leader himself has indicated, Brexit is the biggest issue that the House and the country have faced for generations. It demands responsible leadership and pragmatic statesmanship from senior politicians. The Leader of the Opposition, as yet, has shown neither. His failure to set out a clear and consistent alternative solution to the Brexit question is the third reason that this House should comprehensively reject this motion.
The shadow Brexit Secretary has described Labour’s position on Brexit as one of “constructive ambiguity”. I think that the shadow Trade Secretary called it something slightly more succinct but definitely not parliamentary, and I therefore cannot repeat it. I call it not being straight with the British people. For more than two years, the Leader of the Opposition has been either unable or unwilling to share anything other than vague aspirations, empty slogans and ideas with no grounding in reality. When the President of the European Commission said that Labour’s Brexit ambitions would be impossible for the European Commission to agree to, the right hon. Gentleman simply shrugged and said, “That’s his view. I have a different view.”
Last night, just for a moment, I thought the Leader of the Opposition might surprise us all, because he told this House that it was not enough to vote against the withdrawal agreement and that
“we also have to be for something.”—[Official Report, 15 January 2019; Vol. 652, c. 1109.]
Surely that was the moment. That was the point at which, after months of demanding that I stand aside and make way for him, he was going to reveal his alternative. We waited, but nothing came.
The Leader of the Opposition still faces both ways on whether Labour would keep freedom of movement, and he will not even be drawn on the most basic point of all. In PMQs, I referred to the fact that on Sunday, when challenged on whether he would campaign to leave the European Union if there were a general election, he refused to answer that question five times, and he has refused to answer that question in response to Members of this House today. The Government have no doubts about our position. Under this Government, the United Kingdom will leave the European Union and we will respect the decision of the people.
The Prime Minister is quite right to point out the yawning chasm at the heart of Labour’s policy, but the problem is that she also said that we need to come up with a constructive alternative. Speaking to colleagues around the House, it strikes me powerfully that there is one element of the currently proposed deal that, if changed, would make it much more likely to pass: the backstop. Would the Prime Minister therefore consider contacting European Commission officials in the coming days and over the weekend to ask them to make legally binding changes to that backstop, which would mean that the deal would then have a very good chance of passing this House?
I am extremely grateful to the Prime Minister for giving way; she has been generous. She has talked about engagement with this House and yesterday she referred to this House as the “fulcrum of our democracy.” May I gently point out that she is the Prime Minister who went to the Supreme Court to stop her having engagement with this House and that the vote that we had yesterday was on the back of an amendment that she voted against? She talks about engagement with this House, but we have experienced nothing but hostility from the Prime Minister. Going forward, will she put her words into action? If not, she does not deserve to have the job in the first place.
The hon. Gentleman has been present on many occasions when I have come to listen to and answer questions from the House. In fact, from October through to December, that amounted to a whole 24 hours spent answering questions in this House.
Vital though Brexit is, there is much more to being the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom. That is, after all, the job to which the Leader of the Opposition aspires.
If my right hon. Friend will bear with me, I will make some progress, as I understand that a significant number of Members have put in to speak.
By putting forward this motion, the Leader of the Opposition is asking this House to accept that he could be the next Prime Minister. How would he have faced some of the big challenges that I have faced as Prime Minister over the last two and a half years? When Russia launched a chemical attack on the streets of Salisbury, I worked with our allies to degrade Russian intelligence capabilities and hold those responsible to account. His contribution was to suggest that we ask Russia to double-check the findings of our own scientists. When the Syrian regime used chemical weapons to murder innocent men, women and children in Douma, I stood with our allies to uphold the international consensus that the use of chemical weapons should not be tolerated. He wanted to give an effective veto on action to President Putin and the Russian Government—the very Government who were supporting the Syrian regime.
The leader of the party of Attlee called for the dismantling of NATO. The leader of the party of Bevan says that Britain should unilaterally disarm herself and cross our fingers that others follow suit. The leader of the party that helped to deliver the Belfast agreement invited IRA terrorists into this Parliament just weeks after their colleagues had murdered a Member of this House. His leadership of the Labour party has been a betrayal of everything that party has stood for, a betrayal of the vast majority of his MPs and a betrayal of millions of decent and patriotic Labour voters. I look across the House and see Back-Bench Members who have spent years serving their country in office in a Labour Government, but I fear that today, it is simply not the party that many of its own MPs joined.
If we want to see what the Leader of the Opposition would do to our country, we can do no better than look at what he has done to his party. Before he became Labour leader, nobody could have imagined that a party that had fought so hard against discrimination could become the banner under which racists and bigots whose world view is dominated by a hatred of Jews could gather, but that is exactly what has happened under his leadership. British Jewish families who have lived here for generations are asking themselves where they should go if he ever becomes Prime Minister; that is what has happened under his leadership. A Jewish Labour MP had to hire a bodyguard to attend her own party conference, under the leadership of the right hon. Gentleman. What he has done to his party is a national tragedy. What he would do to our country would be a national calamity.
I am grateful to the Prime Minister for being so generous and engaging in a debate. As ever, she could teach a few people lessons on that. The hon. Member for Hove (Peter Kyle) made a very important point. While the Prime Minister has been very generous in coming to this place and answering questions, the complaint is that we have been excluded in a meaningful way at the outset from helping to determine the principles upon which a Brexit deal should be negotiated.
In seeking to be true to our oath and promises to our constituents and voting for things against our own Government, many of us have been threatened with deselection or received threats against our safety and even death threats. I know how seriously the Prime Minister takes that, and I thank her for her kindness in the note she sent me last week. Will she now make it clear to those listening to this that it would be wrong for anybody—this applies also to Opposition Members, given the wise observations she has just made about the state of the Labour party—to be intimidated or bullied in any way simply for coming here and being true to what they believe in and what they believe is in the national interest?
What my right hon. Friend experienced last week was appalling. I understand that she has experienced other incidents more recently. I absolutely agree; everybody in this House holds their opinions and views with passion and commitment, and everybody in this House should be able to express those views with passion and commitment and not feel that they will be subject to intimidation, harassment or bullying. That is very important, and I am sure that that sentiment commands approval across the whole House. Once again, I am sorry for the experiences my right hon. Friend has gone through.
I am grateful to the Prime Minister for giving way. She must recognise that she has built a cage of red lines, which produced a deal that was overwhelmingly rejected by this House. We rejected the deal because we rejected the cage. This afternoon, she has yielded nothing about how any one of those red lines will change. If she is not prepared to change, how on earth can we in this House continue to place a shred of confidence in her?
The point I made last night and have repeatedly made today is that I will be talking to people across this House—to my own colleagues, to the DUP and to other parties, as there are different groups of people in this House who have different views on this issue—to find what will secure the confidence and support of this House for the way in which we deliver Brexit.
It was serendipitous that I allowed the right hon. Gentleman to intervene just at the point at which I was going to say that if the Leader of the Opposition wins his vote tonight, what he would attempt to do is damage our country and wreck our economy. Of course, it was the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Hodge Hill (Liam Byrne) who left that note saying, “There’s no money left” after the last Labour Government.
We did see what was happening in terms of the financial crisis and its impact, but the Labour party in government had failed to take the steps to ensure that the country was in a position to deal with those issues.
What would we see if Labour won the vote tonight? It would wreck our economy, spread division and undermine our national security. As I said earlier, on the biggest question of our times, the Leader of the Opposition provides no answers, no way forward and nothing but evasion, contradiction and political games. This House cannot and must not allow it.
I am about to conclude, so I will not take any more interventions.
We are living through a historic moment in our nation’s history. Following a referendum that divided our nation in half, we dearly need to bring our country back together. Last night’s vote showed that we have a long way to go, but I do not believe that a general election is the path to doing that, and I do not believe that a Government led by the Leader of the Opposition is the path to doing that either. We must find the answer among ourselves in this House, and, with the confidence of the House, this Government will lead that process.
This is the Government who have already delivered record employment, put more money in the pockets of ordinary working people and given the NHS the biggest cash boost it has ever received from any Government of any colour. This is the Government who are fighting the burning injustices of poverty, inequality and discrimination, which for too long have blighted the lives of too many of our people. This is the Government who are building a country that works for everyone.
As we leave the European Union, we must raise our sights to the kind of country we want to be—a nation that can respond to a call from its people for change; a nation that can build a better future for every one of its people; and a nation that knows that moderation and pragmatism are not dirty words, but how we work together to improve people’s lives. That is our mission. That is what we are doing, and, with the backing of the House, it is what we will continue to do. I am proud of what we have achieved so far, and I am determined that the work will go on. In that, I know that we have the confidence of the country. We now ask for the confidence of this House. Reject this motion.
It is a pleasure to follow the Prime Minister. Of course, I wish her no ill will, and if she does choose to resign today, may I wish her all the best for her future career?
In many respects, we should not be having this debate. If we reflect on what happened last night, we see a Government who brought their Brexit deal before Parliament and lost by a majority of 230—something quite unprecedented—with the Prime Minister’s own Back Benchers and the Opposition, in a united manner, voting against this Government. If we go back just a short few weeks to December, there was of course a motion of confidence within the Conservative party and in that situation a majority of Government Back Benchers voted against the Prime Minister. The right hon. Member for Rayleigh and Wickford (Mr Francois) said earlier in an intervention that the members of the ERG would be going through the Lobby to support the Government tonight. That says it all. It is the ERG that has captured the Prime Minister.
The reality of where we stand today is that, when the Prime Minister went to the United Kingdom in an election in 2017, in anticipation of getting a majority, the Conservatives got a bloody nose and she came back as a minority Prime Minister. [Interruption.] Well, you can only—
I will give way in a moment. [Interruption.] I say to those on the Government Benches, if they would just settle down a little, that they would love to be in the position that the Scottish National party is in because we have a majority of seats from the people of Scotland.
I am grateful to the Prime Minister for that intervention. I say to her that there are 59 seats in Scotland, the Scottish National party hold 35 of them—a majority of seats—and we have won every election to the Scottish Parliament since 2007. The Prime Minister could only dream of being a situation where she has a majority.
Let us come back to the fundamentals of this. We have a Prime Minister who is captured by her right-wing Brexiteers. The issue is, when you have a minority, you have to be able to work across party. We have a situation where the Prime Minister is beholden to the DUP, but the DUP will support her only in very certain circumstances.
This is not just about the defeat of the Government on Brexit last night. They are a Government who are stuck and cannot get their legislative programme through. They have no majority support in this House. They are a Government who are past their time. If the Government had any humility or self-respect, they would reflect on the scale of that defeat last night. We should not be having this motion of no confidence. The Government should recognise that they have no moral authority. The Government, quite simply, should go.
I think the right hon. Gentleman’s speech is a little eccentric because he seems to think that the ERG and the DUP control the Prime Minister. Why, then, did 120 of us vote against the Prime Minister yesterday? If we are in such control, we are clearly not doing it very well.
Let me explain. The hon. Gentleman, in supporting a motion of no confidence against the Prime Minister, as he did, clearly expressed that he does not have confidence in the Prime Minister. What the ERG is seeking to do is to make sure that the Government deliver what it wants, which is a hard Brexit—a no-deal Brexit perhaps—against the interests of the majority of the people in the United Kingdom.
Here is the reality. Having listened very carefully to what the Prime Minister has said today, there is no change to the Government’s position. The red lines remain in place. I fear that what is really going on is that we have a Government who are seeking to run down the clock, safe in the knowledge that the withdrawal Act has gone through, and seeking to drive Parliament to the margins and to make sure that we do crash out of the European Union, with no deal as a serious prospect. All of us should recognise the risks of no deal that no sane person in this House would support. The Government should unilaterally take off the table that risk to all of us and all our constituents.
The right hon. Gentleman must agree that the Prime Minister is a record setter—record levels of poverty, record levels of homelessness and now a record defeat: no Government have been defeated by such a majority before. Perhaps not in our lifetime, but does he think that majority will ever be beaten?
I would say to my hon. Friend, because he is my hon. Friend, that we see a record level of lack of humility from this Government. He is absolutely right. We have had 10 years of austerity from this Government and people are hurting. We can see that through the poverty figures and the increase in poverty that is forecast. The harsh reality, as we know from the Government’s own analysis, is that the economy of the United Kingdom would be weaker in any version of Brexit than it would be if we stayed in the European Union. That is the fundamental point.
I say respectfully to the Prime Minister that I understand the issue of respecting the vote in 2016, but when the Government know that the economic circumstances of their citizens are going to be negatively affected, we have a responsibility to say to the people, on the basis of the information that we now have, “We have a duty to go back to you,” because nobody—nobody—irrespective of how they voted in that referendum, voted to make themselves poorer. I say with respect to the Prime Minister that it is shameful that we are not being honest with the people of this country. We need to waken up.
Let us take the announcement from Jaguar Land Rover. I know there are many reasons why Jaguar Land Rover is restructuring—we know it is to do with diesel cars and with China—but, at the same time, Jaguar Land Rover has made it absolutely crystal clear that Brexit is a fundamental issue driving that restructuring. No Government should be in the situation where they want to put unemployment on the table, with unemployment a price worth paying. That is what happened under Thatcher and this Government at their peril will take risks with the economy and the livelihoods of the people in the United Kingdom.
With respect, I know many people want to speak and I have to make progress. I will take interventions later.
We have to be honest with people about what these risks are. I can say to this House that we in Scotland want no part of it. If the Government and the Prime Minister want to drive the bus over the cliff, we will not be in the passenger seat with this Government.
We often hear about the travails of the European Union—the nasty European Union—but I can tell the House, as someone who lives in the islands of Scotland, that the European Union has been fantastic for our region. When I contrast the behaviour of the European Union with this Government, I can see why people in the highlands are right to be angry. The European Union agreed to give convergence uplift funds to our farmers and crofters on the basis of the low level of financial support that was in place. A total of £160 million should be handed over to Scottish crofters. Where is it? It has not been handed over. Where has the Secretary of State for Scotland been in defending the interests of Scottish farmers and Scottish crofters? Scottish farmers and crofters will pay a heavy price for Brexit, and the institution that has been standing up and wanting to support them is not this House or this Government, but the European Union. I know where I will put my—
I first thank the right hon. Gentleman for letting his party give me a seat in this place, but that is not for today. What he says is quite correct, and he touches on a question I put to the Prime Minister yesterday. So many infrastructure projects in my constituency would not have happened had it not been for European money. Those projects were crucial in halting the terrible drain of our brightest and best who left the highlands and never returned home. That issue remains hugely important to me.
I want to make progress; I apologise.
I have talked about Brexit. Let me move on to the record of this Government. The Prime Minister talked about delivering a fairer society. Oh my goodness. Those of us who live in the highlands, which was a pilot area for universal credit, have seen the damage it has done to many people in many of our communities. I look at my hon. Friends the Members for Airdrie and Shotts (Neil Gray), for Glasgow Central (Alison Thewliss) and for Inverness, Nairn, Badenoch and Strathspey (Drew Hendry). Day after day, week after week, they have had to stand up and highlight the issues with universal credit, the issues with the rape clause and the issues with the two-child policy. This Government simply have not listened to the damage that has been done. They are obsessed with imposing a cruel and hostile environment for immigrants, their families and their children, and they continue to deny the rights of 1950s women.
When I first came into the House, I was the SNP pensions spokesperson. I lost count of the number of debates I called and spoke in, highlighting the injustice faced by millions of women—women who had worked all their lives in anticipation that there was a contract between them and the state that they would get their state pension. In some cases, women were given as little as 14 months’ notice that their pensionable age was going to increase by as much as six years. That shows the heartlessness and the cruelty of this Government, who left many of them in poverty by ripping up the contract—that is what it was—between those individuals and the state. I have appealed to the Prime Minister on many occasions to right that wrong. This Government could easily have put their hand into the Treasury coffers; the national insurance fund sits at a surplus.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that it is appalling that this Government have slipped out, among all the Brexit news, the news that they are making further changes to pensions? Pensioners with a partner below the pensionable age will have to claim universal credit instead of pension credit.
My hon. Friend is correct to highlight that this Government have been sneaking out those kinds of announcements. She is a doughty fighter for pensioners, as she is for young people, and we will stand up in this House for those who are affected in that way.
The right hon. Gentleman said earlier that he is worried about economic growth. I share those concerns, but is he also worried that Scottish economic growth is slowing? The Scottish economy is now growing at half the rate of the rest of the UK. What is his party doing about that north of the border?
Oh good grief. I have to say that the hon. Gentleman is mistaken. Over the course of the last year, growth in Scotland has overtaken that of the United Kingdom. But the majority of the controls of the Scottish economy do not sit with the Scottish Government; they sit with the Government here in London. We would dearly love to have full control of our destiny in Scotland. One of the reasons we desire independence is that our economic interests simply have not been looked after by Westminster.
I will give way in a second, but let me just say this. When I look at Scotland in the rear-view mirror over the past 100 years, I see that our population has barely grown. Generations of young people have had to leave Scotland because of a lack of economic opportunity. The Scottish Government are not responsible for that; Westminster is. I am delighted that a report published in the past few days by Highlands and Islands Enterprise shows that, for the first time, the trend has turned around and young people are staying to live in the highlands. That is because of the investment the Scottish Government are making in young people, despite the challenges of the austerity we face from this Conservative Government.
I hope that the motion tabled by the Leader of the Opposition is successful this evening. I was reminded that today is the anniversary of one of the first Home Rule Bills for Ireland, which was agreed by this House in 1913 but defeated in the other place. Yet again—I say this with due deference—the Democratic Unionist party is in control of the Government. Can my right hon. Friend assure me that if the motion succeeds this evening, the Scottish National party will have no truck with any Government funding the Democratic Unionist party and its type of politics?
I have been generous in taking interventions. I need to move on, because I am only on page 2 of my notes. I am sure hon. Members want me to make some progress.
The Prime Minister and the Conservative Government have let us all down. Westminster has proved once again that it can only let Scotland down. The Scottish National party has no confidence in the UK Government. Scotland voted to remain. Let me say that again: Scotland voted to remain. I often hear the Prime Minister and others talking about the national interest. I ask her to reflect on the fact that our nation of Scotland is in a family of nations. We were told in 2014 that if we stayed in the United Kingdom our rights as European citizens would be respected, but this Government have completely ignored the wishes of the Scottish people and want to drag us out of the European Union against our will. They want to take away the rights we have as EU citizens.
It can be no surprise that the contempt shown to Scotland by the Tories over the past couple of years has strengthened and reinforced the case for Scotland to be an independent country. Every reasonable attempt by the Scottish Government to compromise and protect Scotland’s interests has been spurned. The powers of the Scottish Parliament have been eroded. This place has taken back control. [Interruption.] I hear scoffing from the Tory Benches, but SNP membership went up by 10,000 the day after the withdrawal Act went through. The people of Scotland know that the Secretary of State for Scotland sat and did nothing as Scotland’s powers over fishing, farming, agriculture and the environment were taken back, against the wishes of the Scottish Government.
They are a curious bunch, Mr Speaker. I ask my right hon. Friend and Members across the House to reflect on the fact that, sure, in 2014 the Scottish people voted to stay in the UK, but two years later they voted to stay in the EU. Those two things are fundamentally incompatible because of the Prime Minister’s desire to drag us out, so at some point one will have to give. She might be able to delay that, but independence is inevitable, is it not?
It’s coming yet for a’ that. [Interruption.] I hear Tory Members from a sedentary position talking about whether we can demand a referendum. I say to them that the sovereignty of the people of Scotland must be respected. However they dress it up, when the Scottish National party went to the people of Scotland in 2016, we won the election and a mandate such that, if there were a material change of circumstances, we could seek to have a referendum on independence. There is a majority for that in the Scottish Parliament in Edinburgh. In July, this House debated a motion on the claim of right that recognised the sovereignty of the Scottish people. This House accepted that motion. If and when the Scottish Government come to Westminster and ask for a section 30 agreement, this Government should respect the democracy and the sovereignty of the Scottish people and allow it.
Scotland will never forget or forgive the utter contempt shown for our nation by this Prime Minister and this Government. The right hon. Lady and her Government cannot escape the reality that they have caused political collapse in this country. Hamstrung, this Government are completely frozen in their own failure. We have reached a dangerous impasse. With the clock ticking down, we need to remove this shambolic Conservative Government, extend article 50 and, yes, give the people of the United Kingdom a say.
As ever, my right hon. Friend is giving a stunning account of the current situation. Does he agree that the Prime Minister has painted herself into this corner? She will have to give on at least some of her red lines, and it is deeply regrettable that she has waited until the eleventh hour to reach out across the House. History will judge her on her deeds, not her words.
I absolutely agree. I reflect on the fact that we in Scotland have a Parliament elected by proportional representation. We are used to minority government and having to reach consensus. Indeed, the motion on Brexit that was passed by the Scottish Parliament was supported by the Scottish National party, by the Labour party, by the Liberal Democrats and by the Greens. I say to the Prime Minister: that is how you do it. The Prime Minister has simply misunderstood the challenges of reaching a consensus across Parliament. She is working with her own Brexit extremists and failing to work to build a consensus across this Parliament. If the Prime Minister survives today, she must act now to extend article 50 and legislate for a people’s vote.
I must now turn to the Labour party. The Scottish National party was the first to table a motion of no confidence, supported by others—the Liberal Democrats, Plaid Cymru and the Green party—and we asked for it to be debated before Christmas. We knew yesterday that the Government were giving active consideration to allowing a debate and a vote today on that motion. The Labour party has been shamed into tabling the motion before the House now—a motion that we should have discussed before Christmas. I welcome today’s debate, but on the basis of what happens today, I make this appeal to our friends and colleagues in the Labour party: we have to work together to hold this Government to account, and if we are to do that, we have to recognise the harm that Brexit will do to all our constituents. It is time for the Leader of the Opposition to recognise that there is no such thing as a “jobs first” Brexit.
If we want to protect the interests of our citizens, there has to be a people’s vote. We do not have time to delay. The Labour party has to join us in that campaign today. I say to the Leader of the Opposition that all the young people who voted Labour in England in 2017 will pay the price if he does not give that leadership. Get off that fence and come and join us. Take that opportunity today, and tell us once and for all that Labour will back a people’s vote.
I am honoured by the right hon. Gentleman giving way to me, and I am grateful to him. He mentioned the shame of the Labour party. Will he reflect on the shame of the Scottish National party in Edinburgh on a day when college lecturers in Scotland are striking and teachers in Scotland are considering industrial action, when waiting lists are going up and our educational standards are going down? That is the record of the SNP Government in Scotland. Is he ashamed of that as well?
Order. You always have a very amiable disposition, Mr Kerr, but you are becoming a mildly exuberant denizen of the House—dare I say it, in your conduct even a tad eccentric, to deploy the word used by the hon. Member for North East Somerset (Mr Rees-Mogg)? Now, calm, Zen, restraint. Try to cultivate the air of the elder statesman.
Thank you, Mr Speaker. I am proud of the record of investment in public services by my Government in Scotland. The situation we face is that of austerity from Westminster. We have taken the hard decisions to ameliorate Tory austerity, but also to invest in our public services. It is the Tories in the Scottish Parliament who want to cut taxes and harden austerity, which will damage the interests of the people of Scotland.
The people of Scotland wish to remain in the European Union. We want a country of opportunity, a nation free from poverty, a country where immigrants are welcome and refugees are given refuge. We want a Scotland without austerity, a Scotland where pensioners are paid their fair share and workers have fair and equal pay—a real living wage. We want a Scotland where all children are treated equally, where our health service is protected and valued—a nation that will be healthier, wealthier and happier.
The choice is clear. The United Kingdom is on a path to self-destruction. Without a change of course, Brexit will result in our economy being smaller, weaker and poorer. The Bank of England’s Mark Carney said that Brexit had already cost each family £600. That is what has already happened. We know that a hard Brexit will cost each household in Scotland £1,600, pushing struggling families to the brink and, already, poor families into destitution. Without single market and customs union membership, the future relationship can only be a free-trade agreement, introducing barriers to Scottish companies’ ability to trade. That will damage jobs, investment, productivity and earnings, hitting the most disadvantaged in society hardest. As we know, people who choose to live and work in this country, on these islands, are net contributors to our economy. If net migration is reduced by a significant number, we will be poorer economically and fiscally. That would be catastrophic, not just for workers but for our economy.
After a decade of Tory austerity, our economy has already suffered enough. The SNP will not stand by and allow the UK Government to ride roughshod over Scotland’s future. This Government must go, and they must go today. I have said it before, and our First Minister of Scotland has reiterated it today, that the only way for Scotland to protect its interests and for our nation to thrive is once and forever to be rid of this place, and instead be an independent nation in the European Union.
When my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister was winding up the debate yesterday evening, she said that our country could ultimately make a success of no deal—although she of course was emphasising that she did not believe that that was the best outcome. That was before the vote. The outcome of the vote a few minutes later is one to which the Prime Minister certainly must respond.
The feeling in this House—432 Members, of whom I was one—is that the Prime Minister’s deal, however good she thinks it is, is a bad deal, and I have heard nothing from the Prime Minister that implies that she accepts the verdict given by the House last night that her deal is a bad deal. The Prime Minister was right to anticipate such a scenario. In her Lancaster House speech two years ago, she feared that the European Union would only offer us a bad deal—a punishment deal, as she put it. She therefore emphasised that no deal would be better than a bad deal, and she emphasised all the benefits that come from no deal—including our ability to trade freely across the world and our ability to be able to enter into a new economic model—and from being masters of our own destiny as an independent nation. Those were the benefits of no deal that she set out. Obviously she, like everyone else, wanted to get a good deal. As we have not got a good deal, I plead with my right hon. Friend to ensure that she does not close the option of no deal and, indeed, intensifies preparations for no deal. That is the best way of concentrating the minds of those in the European Union that we are serious about an alternative.
If someone goes into a negotiation and says, “The only alternatives are to accept the deal or stay in the European Union,” what will happen? The European Union is holding us to ransom. We need to be saying that we are confident, we believe in ourselves and we can make a great success of no deal. Unfortunately, that has not been the negotiating stance of the Prime Minister and her advisers, and we are suffering as a consequence.
Last Saturday, I had a public meeting in my constituency attended by more than 200 people. A lot of anxiety was expressed about whether the Brexit we have been promised will be delivered. It was great to hear the Prime Minister reasserting her commitment to deliver Brexit, but if she does not deliver that with the deal that was rejected last night, how will she deliver it if she rejects the no-deal alternative? My constituents were worried that they could see the referendum commitment to leaving the European Union somehow being undermined by the Prime Minister and the Government. That in turn was undermining their trust.
My hon. Friend is making a compelling case that we should go back to Europe and renegotiate. He knows that we are at the end of the process and time is running out. He also knows, and I think regrets, that we are not ready for no deal. Is he not actually making a case to extend article 50 to get the right deal that he will support?
No, I am not. Two years ago, we were told by the Prime Minister that nothing was agreed until everything was agreed and that everything was going to be agreed within two years. We now know that effectively nothing has been agreed, certainly as far as the future relationship is concerned. Just trying to buy more time will not solve the problem; we need to leave the European Union on 29 March and then we can have negotiations following on from that where we will be standing on a level playing field and able to stand up for our own interests. We will have called the European Union’s bluff. It is trying to undermine our ability to be able to do what we want.
If someone is unsuccessful in a conflict, we expect the victor to impose conditions on the vanquished. What is happening here is that the European Union is seeking to impose conditions on us because we have the temerity to want to leave the European Union. That is wholly unacceptable and the Government’s negotiating position has been supine throughout.
In terms of imposing conditions, if we go to no deal, we will go immediately to default WTO terms, including tariffs on lamb exporters, for example, of 40%, and we will not have a Trade Bill—it will not pass at the moment—to enable us even to do anything about it. Does my hon. Friend not see that there are serious risks in going down that route?
No, I will not engage in trying to respond to all the scaremongering. My hon. Friend is good at the scaremongering. Let us recall the fact that our Prime Minister has said that no deal is better than a bad deal. The House of Commons has said that this is a bad deal, so why do we not have no deal and get on with it, thereby delivering for the people the result they wanted in the referendum? Certainly, my constituents are looking eagerly towards the prospect of having no deal on 29 March.
No, I am not going to give way anymore. At a sitting of the Exiting the European Union Committee, I asked the Under-Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union, my hon. Friend the Member for Daventry (Chris Heaton-Harris), what would happen on the Irish border on 30 March. It was conceded that on that date there would not be any difference from the current arrangements. That is an example of the scaremongering that is going on about no deal.
I regret that the Government did not prepare more actively and further in advance for the no-deal option, but we must not let them benefit from their incompetence by saying that we do not think we are ready for no deal. We should be ready for no deal on 29 March. That is why we need to accelerate the preparations for it. If I asked my constituents whether they had confidence in the Government, their reply would be, “Not a lot, but a heck of lot more than in the Labour Opposition.” They will have even more confidence in the Government if they are confident that the Government are not ruling out no deal and are stepping up preparations for no deal and if they can confirm unequivocally again that we will be leaving the single market and the customs union and that we will not have to have people coming into our country without any control over our borders.
It is a great pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Christchurch (Sir Christopher Chope), who just demonstrated why the Prime Minister’s offer to reach out to every section of the House and every section of opinion on Brexit will not work. There is nothing that the Prime Minister could do, other than a hard Brexit, that the hon. Gentleman would accept. That encapsulates part of the problem that the Prime Minister has to deal with.
During the Prime Minister’s statement to the House on Monday, I said that the statement she had made did not alter the real problems she had: first, she has no majority; secondly, because she has no majority, she has no authority; and thirdly, because she has no authority, her Government are effectively of no use to the country as a whole. I did not quite use those words, but that was what it amounted to.
I have listened carefully to the Prime Minister in the intervening periods, and she has offered nothing that anyone can work with. Had she been in the mode she was in following last night’s vote two years or even 18 months ago, reaching out across the Chamber to different parties and different strands of opinion, it might have produced something different that would have been acceptable to the vast majority of people. Like many others, I voted for article 50 in the hope that we would come up with a Brexit that would meet the expectations and hopes of my constituents. The problem is that the Prime Minister’s deal did not do that. That is why we are now in this position.
There has been a lot of comment about historical precedents in Parliament and how long it has been since a Government were defeated by such a margin. I decided in a conversation I had last night that I would look for other historical precedents that did not relate to Parliament, but to treaties, deals or bilateral agreements. I came across the treaty of Tordesillas of 1494. Even the hon. Member for North East Somerset (Mr Rees-Mogg) would probably struggle with that one. It was a treaty, effectively, between Spain and Portugal that tried to carve up the rest of Europe and decide who got which colonies. And guess what? The rest of Europe did not agree with it, and it eventually became defunct and was never implemented. I think the Prime Minister’s deal rather resembles that treaty.
The Prime Minister fought the last general election on the slogan that Britain needed a strong and stable Government. We have not had a strong and stable Government since the election, but, after last night’s events, it certainly is not strong, and, given all the speculation about what is going to happen over the next few weeks, it certainly is not stable. That is why this motion of no confidence is timely and necessary.
I want to take issue with something the Prime Minister said in her speech. I am sure she meant it sincerely, but it does not represent the reality of life on the ground and in my constituency. Justifying why the Government wanted to go on, she said she was fighting against poverty and inequality. It simply is not true. My right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition went through a long list of problems with policy and the delivery of public services to demonstrate why that was not true, and I will not repeat those. In my constituency—
Order. I am extremely grateful to the right hon. Gentleman and I apologise for interrupting him. The Opposition are very considerably disadvantaged by the malfunction of the time-keeping facility. [Interruption.] Yes, I am well aware of that. [Interruption.] Order. There is no need for hon. Members to stand. It is very unsatisfactory. Unfortunately, as I said to the House—yesterday, I think—those who put it right cannot do so while the House is sitting, but it is disadvantageous. I can appeal to the Whips to try to keep Members informed, and in deference to the seniority of the right hon. Gentleman, and in the expectation that he is approaching his peroration, I will happily allow him a further sentence.
Mr Speaker, you know I always try to satisfy the demands you place on me, and I will do so now.
The Prime Minister said the Government were fighting poverty and inequality. She might try telling that to the over 8,000 people in my constituency who had to resort to food banks last year. Some 3,000 of the parcels distributed were for children. Does that sound like a Government fighting poverty and inequality? I think not. The Government have run out of ideas and run out of time.
It is a great pleasure to speak in this debate.
I have full confidence in the Government and shall vote against the motion tonight. I have recently been surveying and canvassing in Axminster, Seaton, Tiverton, Cullompton and many of my other towns, and I am amazed at the true support for the Prime Minister out there on the street. It is quite amazing. They recognise that she has taken on an almost impossible job—to actually fulfil the referendum result. There was a people’s vote, and it took place in 2016. It was the largest vote in a generation, and there was a clear majority to leave the EU, and that is precisely what we must do.
Let us analyse this wonderful vote last night and how we got to this massive 230 majority. On one side, we have people on the Labour Benches who have not come clean about wanting to stop Brexit altogether. I must pay tribute to the Liberal Democrats and the Scottish nationalists. I disagree with them fundamentally, but the one thing they have done is come out in the open and say they are in favour of remaining in the EU. To those who want to deliver Brexit, however, I must say it is the Prime Minister who can do it.
On the one side, then, we had Opposition Members voting to thwart Brexit. On my own side, we had people who wanted to make sure it was the toughest Brexit ever. Those two lots of people have absolutely nothing in common.
I will give way in a minute.
When the Leader of the Opposition stood up at the end and said, “We now need to stay in the customs union,” immediately there were huge groans from my own side, because that is precisely what they did not want.
The Prime Minister has to get this deal through. I very much support the Democratic Unionists over the border in Northern Ireland. We must make sure that the whole UK is treated the same, and so there is work to be done, but would a hard Brexit help the Northern Ireland-Ireland situation? Would it help food processing and agriculture? It certainly would not, because of the huge potential tariffs and problems at the border. I know very well that on the island of Ireland there is a huge mix of processing, from the pigs in the north to the lambs in the south, and with the milk going all the way around the island of Ireland. Let us be sensible and have Brexit, not a people’s vote. I give way to the hon. Member for Weaver Vale (Mike Amesbury).
It is an honour to give my hon. Friend the opportunity to reflect on the next part of his speech by intervening on him. Does he agree, in the light of the parliamentary arithmetic last night and the vote today, that it would be infinitely better for this country to have the continued leadership of a Prime Minister who has the experience of negotiating so far, because it is only somebody with that experience and knowledge of the detail who can reach out successfully across the House to find a solution to this intractable problem?
My right hon. Friend is absolutely right. We have a Prime Minister with the experience. We also have a Prime Minister who has stuck to her guns. In fact, she is hugely criticised for having done so. We have a Leader of the Opposition, however, who cannot work out if he is in favour of another referendum, who is not quite sure how he would vote if there was one, and who does not know, if there were to be a general election, whether the Labour party would take Britain out of the EU or keep it in. Is this a leader who could negotiate with the EU? Certainly not. It could never happen.
We need to deliver. When I talk to people in my constituency, as everyone across the House does, whatever their party, most say, “What on earth are you getting so worked up about?”, “Why haven’t you done it?” and, “For goodness’ sake, get on and do it!” Why is the Prime Minister wrong and the House right? I voted and campaigned to remain, but I accept the result of the referendum. This House is not representative in any shape or form of the opinion of the people of this country. People might have changed a little. We might have a second referendum, and the result might be 48% to leave and 52% to stay. What would that cure? Absolutely nothing. Let us have a third referendum or a fourth! We have had a referendum, and we need to deliver on that.
I disagree entirely with the Opposition on bringing forward this motion, but I also say, in all sincerity, to my own side: we are the party of government. We were elected to govern this country and so we have to make a decision. We cannot sit contemplating our navels forever instead of making a decision. The idea seems to be just to drive us and drive us to secure the hardest Brexit possible, and it will just about destroy British agriculture. I know that the Brexit Ministers and others are just waiting to pour cheap food into this country: they will want cheap food to be delivered under Brexit, and that will hugely affect our farmers.
For goodness’ sake, let us come together. Let us all, as a party, govern the country properly. Let us get a deal, and get out of the European Union.
We have adequate justification for this no-confidence motion in the form of the numbers yesterday night. However, I want to address not the numbers, which speak for themselves, but the arrogance that lies behind them. We are in this position because when the referendum was conducted and concluded, this was treated as entirely a matter for the Conservative party, and the 48%—now, naturally, a majority—who voted the other way were totally disregarded. Unfortunately, the Prime Minister’s response today featured the same arrogance and unwillingness to listen that has brought us to this point.
We have a very badly divided country, but we need to ask why it is divided. Who divided it? The people were promised—not by the Prime Minister herself, but by her colleagues who, for the most part, have departed from the responsibility of government—things that cannot now be delivered. There are a lot of very angry and frustrated people out there, and whether we have Brexit or no Brexit, whether we have a referendum or no referendum, they will remain very angry.
My view, which I think many colleagues share, is that the mature and British way of dealing with this is to go back and reason with those people, to put the Government’s case and to accept the verdict that they are willing to pass on what the Government have negotiated, possibly with variations. However, the no-confidence motion gives us another route, and, I think, a welcome one. We could have a general election that would help to resolve this issue. If the Leader of the Opposition were willing to say clearly, “I lead my party on the basis that we will have a people’s vote, and/or that Brexit will stop,” that would provide a clear dividing line which we could debate as a country, rather than engaging in a completely spurious debate about whether we should have a semi-permanent customs union or a permanent one.
My concern in respect of no confidence, however, is not simply about the handling of the Brexit negotiation. The simple truth is that the country has ground to a halt. Government is not functioning. As I have reminded the House, I was part of a Government that did work. It may have done unpopular things, but it worked. Decisions were made, and they are now not being made. Hundreds of civil servants have been taken away from the work that they should be doing to make Brexit preparations. Crises are simmering in the background in housing, the funding of local government, social care, the prisons and much else, and they are not being dealt with. The big mistakes that the Government have made on universal credit and the apprenticeship levy are not being rectified. No effective government is taking place.
However, the problem is not just that there is no government; we are seeing a horrendous waste of public money. I spent five years with my former colleague the present Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, the right hon. Member for Surrey Heath (Michael Gove)—who is sitting opposite me—scrimping to make savings of £1 million. The same people are now spending £4 billion on an exercise that has no purpose. Half the members of the Cabinet are saying publicly that no deal will not happen, and we will not use this money. It is a complete and utter waste. I spent five years in government, and I do not think that a single Minister was censured with a ministerial directive. Within the last few weeks, civil servants have started refusing to authorise Government spending because of the recklessness involved in it. We have had confirmation from the Department for Transport, and I believe that there are other cases.
We are seeing reckless financing, and we are seeing damage to the economy. When I left government, we had been through a very difficult time, but ours was the most rapidly growing country in the G7. It is now the slowest. Even the Government now acknowledge that Brexit, however it is done, will damage the economy. So what must happen now? I think that two things must happen.
First, we must have absolute clarity about stopping no deal. Half the Cabinet are going around telling businesses and others that it will not happen, and they are right to do so, but the Prime Minister herself must say that it is a ludicrous, damaging proposition. As for the glib idea that it would somehow be possible to have World Trade Organisation rules, I wrote an article yesterday in my favourite Liberal newspaper, The Daily Telegraph, explaining why it is so absolutely absurd.
No deal must be stopped, and we must then move on to the fundamental question of how we can secure the endorsement of the public for how we move forward.
I will support the Government today. This is absolutely no time for a self-serving general election called by the Labour party. What the British public now need the House to do is focus our efforts on finding a route to follow on Brexit.
The challenge of Brexit is not about whether it is Labour or Conservative; the challenge is precisely that Brexit is above party politics, and that is one of the principal reasons why the House has faced so many difficulties in trying to find a route on which people can coalesce. The British electorate have grown steadily more and more tired of some of the dysfunctional party politics that they see in our country, which too often prioritises short-term, press-release politics playing to its core base, irrespective of whether that reflects the position of the British public. Politicians should be able to work across parties if necessary to make the long-term decisions and deliver on the ground for the future generations of the British people.
I may have had my criticisms of my own Government and their strategy on Brexit. I think it was wrong to disenfranchise the 48%, and tactically inept then to disenfranchise the 52% by not delivering the Brexit for which they clearly felt that they were voting. However, all that we have seen from the Opposition is, as one of their own said yesterday, dither and delay. I think that many people, when they look back on this time in our history, will feel that both Front-Bench teams failed to rise to the challenge of delivering Brexit and a route forward.
The reality that we must all understand is that party politics will not solve Brexit. Every single minute that we spend in the Chamber today debating whether or not we should have a party-political general election is a minute lost, when we could have been talking about what kind of consensus there is in the House for some sort of route forward on Brexit—and all the time the clock is ticking down. The big question that we must all ask, and answer, is “How do we, as a Parliament, chart a route?” What I would say to Ministers, and to the Prime Minister in particular, is that this is not her Brexit process. The process on Brexit belongs to all of us. It belongs to our communities, and we must now work together to find a path forward.
That has two clear implications. First, it is now imperative for the Prime Minister not just to talk to the House and to parties, but to listen to what MPs are saying. Secondly, however, she needs to go beyond that and allow the House to vote on the different and clear options that lie ahead, just as we were able to have a meaningful vote last night on her deal. That, ultimately, is how we find out whether there is a consensus on anything.
Many Members clearly feel that delivering on Brexit now means that, if necessary, we should depart with no deal. We should have a proper vote on that to test the will of the House. Others feel that a different version of a soft Brexit—they may call it Norway, Common Market or 2.0—is now the route on which we could find consensus. The House should be allowed to vote on that. Talks will not ultimately clarify the position, but they will risk wasting time that we simply do not have.
I believe that in the end, if it turns out that there is gridlock in this place and that, very much like the British public, we find it hard to coalesce on a single route for which we can vote, we have to go back to people and ask them—not through a party-political election that will not fundamentally deliver—the question to which we need an answer: which of these three routes forward do they want? Do they want the Prime Minister’s deal? The House might have got it wrong and the people want that deal, in which case they should be able to vote it through. Do they want a hard Brexit—getting on with it, leaving on WTO terms? If that is what they want, they should be able to have that. Or do they think the existing deal is the best one we have got? We do not know. This House will not find a route forward, and therefore we should have the confidence to allow the people their say.
I rise to support this motion of no confidence because at this critical time in our history I believe we have a Government who are incapable of governing, let alone doing so in the national interest. Never have I witnessed in all my 27 years in Parliament a Government as inadequate and incompetent as this one. I have never witnessed a Prime Minister so inept that she has squandered all personal authority and goodwill, yet like a broken record she continues to insist on her right to carry on regardless.
This is a Government becalmed in a sea of their own troubles and neglecting the country: presiding over increasing levels of poverty, homelessness and inequality, and ducking crucial reforms on social care, leaving millions relying on charity to eat. The deep splits in the Conservative party consume all of its energies, and Brexit is like a black hole that devours all light, out of which literally nothing can emerge.
This is a Government who have failed badly even on their own terms. They have failed catastrophically on Brexit. They have failed to unite a country that their obsession with the EU divided in the first place. They have failed to deliver on the Prime Minister’s personal promise to deal with “burning injustices”, instead providing us with a parade of incompetent Ministers, unparalleled in any Administration since the second world war.
My hon. Friend makes a telling point. While the Government dither over Brexit, meanwhile back home we face the range of issues she has just talked about: food banks, unemployment and problems with the health service, education and so forth. One of the reasons why we want a general election is to deal with those things.
I agree with my hon. Friend. This Government are paralysed, dealing with their own obsessions, not with the real need and crucial policy issues in the country.
Yesterday’s defeat on the draft withdrawal agreement was a catastrophic loss of the Prime Minister’s own personal plan to engineer a hard Brexit in the UK, and it was entirely deserved. The Prime Minister has been humiliated by losing the vote on a plan she devised after little or no consultation with her own Cabinet. She finds herself in this position because of a series of colossal misjudgments that were entirely her own and for which she must now take personal responsibility.