Mr Speaker, with the leave of the House and further to my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister’s announcement, I should like to make a short business statement regarding the business for tomorrow and the remainder of this week:
Wednesday 13 March—My right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer will deliver his spring statement, followed by a debate on a motion relating to the UK’s withdrawal from the European Union without a withdrawal agreement and a framework for the future relationship.
Thursday 14 March—Debate on a motion relating to the NICE appraisal process for treatments for rare diseases. The subject for this debate was determined by the Backbench Business Committee.
Friday 15 March—Private Members’ Bills.
I will make a short business statement on Wednesday should it be necessary, and I shall make a further business statement in the usual way on Thursday.
I thank the Leader of the House for that, but I am astonished at this business statement. We still have no idea on this, despite the Prime Minister setting out the next steps. We have had a vote and, as the Prime Minister herself said, we are now into an emergency business statement. This is callous and it is incompetence from the Government, and it is a discourtesy to the House and to the country.
I think what the Leader of the House is saying is that there would be a further business statement tomorrow—presumably she means after tomorrow’s debate and vote. Those points have been put on the record and I note what the shadow Leader of the House has said. I am happy to hear other points of order at this stage.
I thank the Leader of the House for that very brief business statement. There was no question whatsoever that the Government could possibly renege on the Prime Minister’s commitment to have these consecutive votes, so we very much welcome that. I was a bit more concerned about what the Prime Minister said about the motion tomorrow, as I detected that there seemed to be that little bit of wriggle room, whereby the Government would still hope to proceed with a no-deal Brexit in the event of this House voting to stop it. I need to hear from the Leader of the House tonight that the Government will bring forward legislation, in good time, for no deal to be taken off the table and that there will be no question but that if this is what the House decides, this is what the House will get. Too often we have had these debates and these votes, only for this Government to casually ignore them. They have said that tomorrow there will be a free vote, and I hope that that will be extended to the vote on article 50.
We need to have protected time so that this can be properly considered by the House, with no question of the two votes being bundled into one, as was rumoured today. So can we have these rock-solid commitments, because today this has been an absolute disaster? The chaotic cluelessness of this Government’s Brexit has been played out to the very end of these proceedings. We now need to get through the next 17 days with as much order and as much respect given to this House as possible, and that means respecting decisions. Will the Leader of the House do that in the next two days?
What I can say to the hon. Gentleman is really just to repeat what my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister said, which is that if the House votes to leave without a deal on 29 March, it will be the policy of the Government to implement that decision. If the House declines to approve leaving without a deal on 29 March, the Government will, following that vote, bring forward a motion on Thursday on whether Parliament wants to seek an extension to article 50.
If it is helpful, I can inform the House that I understand that the Government’s motion for tomorrow’s debate has now been tabled. Colleagues who are thinking of tabling amendments, or who simply want to study the motion in the Table Office, have the opportunity to do so if they wish.
For the benefit of everyone in the Chamber, it really would be extremely helpful if the Leader of the House would confirm whether protected time will be available for the debate tomorrow. We do not want it to be scrunched into a very short period of time. There may be urgent questions and statements and we may be left with perhaps a matter of minutes. We do not want a repeat of last night, when the Minister for the Cabinet Office came to make a key statement at 10 o’clock at night, and then to be left with very little time to assess the implications before the following morning. May we have a guarantee that protected time will be available? It is not an unreasonable demand.
Given that a meaningful vote has been defeated tonight, will the Leader of the House confirm that that means that the Government will table a motion under section 13(4) of the European Union (Withdrawal) Act? When will that motion be tabled? Will she confirm that it will be tabled next week and before the European Council?
The Leader of the House has chosen to give an emergency business statement merely about tomorrow’s business, when we know that there are sequential changes to Thursday’s business as well. She has not made it quite clear to the House—I hope she will be able to do so this evening—that should we vote to take no deal off the agenda in the vote on the motion tomorrow, there will be a change to the legislation, which is obviously not superseded by a motion passed by the House. We would have to change the legislation that contains the 29 March leaving date. Will she take this opportunity to reassure us all by getting to the Dispatch Box and telling us that if we vote to take no deal off the table tomorrow, she will immediately facilitate a change to legislation to ensure that that happens?
I appreciate that that is not the answer the hon. Lady wants, but it is the answer she is getting tonight. I understand entirely where she is coming from, but these matters can all be explored in the days ahead, and I am absolutely certain that they will be.
I guess that if the Government have tabled the main motion, they have also tabled the Business of the House motion governing tomorrow, so I do not understand why the Leader of the House cannot just tell us what time the votes will be tomorrow. It would be for the convenience of Members who have families and so on to know, because we are substantially changing the business for one of the most important matters affecting the House. Will it be at 7 o’clock tomorrow evening? Will it be 5 o’clock or 7 o’clock on Thursday?
As I understand it at the moment, the Business of the House motion, I think, is proposing a 7 o’clock finish. A 7 o’clock finish is proposed, though, as the Leader of the House says, that is an amendable proposition. If colleagues want to propose amendments to that, they can.
Surely if the House votes against no deal tomorrow and for an extension, the simple and straightforward way for the Government to facilitate this under the EU (Withdrawal) Act is to bring forward a statutory instrument, which is something that they could do in 24 hours.
As my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister said, I think, two weeks ago now, if the House votes for an extension, she will seek to agree that extension approved by the House with the EU and will bring forward the necessary legislation to change the exit date commensurate with that extension. But as she also said this evening, it is not within her gift, or within this Government’s gift, to insist on an extension. That will be a matter for agreement with the European Union and potentially subject to conditions imposed by it, but it would come back to this House, finally, to Parliament, and would need to be approved by Parliament.
Given that we are just over a fortnight away from Brexit day and the Prime Minister’s deal has again been resoundingly rejected by this House, it is absolutely necessary that the spring statement tomorrow is upgraded to an emergency Budget. Will the Leader of the House ensure that that happens?
I do not want to get into hypotheticals. At the moment, we have set out the debate for tomorrow, and the Prime Minister has been clear that should the House decline to leave the European Union without a withdrawal agreement and political declaration, then we will table a further motion that invites the House to consider if it wants to extend article 50. That will be an amendable motion, so it will be for the House to agree the length of such an extension, but that would be tabled only tomorrow should that be necessary.
This evening’s defeat was entirely foreseeable and foreseen and yet in spite of that the Leader of the House is standing at the Dispatch Box and will not tell us what the limits are on the timing of the debate tomorrow. She still will not tell us what the proposed wording for a motion on Thursday would be or the conditions for the debate. I am afraid that it is no good talking about hypotheticals because this is the story of Brexit all along: poor planning, poor preparation and treating Parliament with contempt. The Leader of the House owes it to every Member of the House, so that we can consider these things properly, to stand up and tell us what the motion will be on Thursday so that people can think about amendments they want to table. That is within her gift. She is right that it is the House that decides, but the Government must come up with the proposition, and there is no reason why she should not offer that proposition now.
May I say to the hon. Gentleman that I always treat the House with the utmost respect? I have tried very hard to explain these propositions for tomorrow, and if tomorrow the House declines to leave the European Union without the withdrawal agreement and future declaration then and only then will we table a motion for the following day whereby the House can consider whether it wants to extend article 50. These are sequential. These are not a package that the House is voting on together. I can confirm to the hon. Gentleman that the motion for tomorrow has been tabled and that the Business of the House motion proposes that votes take place at 7 pm, but it is a fact—and it is not in any sense controversial to say this—that these matters must be agreed by the House. These motions are amendable, and therefore can be amended and voted on by Members.
Following the points made by the hon. Members for Gedling (Vernon Coaker) and for Ilford North (Wes Streeting), the Leader of the House knows, I know and the dogs in the street know that there is no majority in this House to leave the European Union without a deal. That is what is going to happen tomorrow, so even if she cannot give us the full motion, is there is a reason why she cannot at least tell the House what the extension on offer from the Government will be? Surely she can see that that is in her gift, and that it does not look good that she is keeping it to herself and not being open with the House this evening. Giving the House this information would also help the substance of tomorrow’s debate, depending on exactly which way the Government want it to go. Why can she not be open, up front and honest at the Dispatch Box, and tell us what the extension on offer might be?
I am always up front, honest and open with the House. Should the House decline to leave the European Union without a future declaration and withdrawal agreement, then and only then will I come forward with a motion for the following day, which will be amendable; it will be for the House to determine what the proposed extension period should be. [Interruption.]
I do not know whether the hon. Member for Glasgow South (Stewart Malcolm McDonald) is genuinely indignant or flummoxed. I hope that he is neither, although he certainly seems to be the former. To be fair, the Leader of the House has repeatedly said—[Interruption.] Order. The hon. Gentleman should not chunter and witter away to no obvious benefit or purpose from a sedentary position when I am trying to assist him. The Leader of the House has repeatedly said that the Government would table a motion for Thursday, and that it would be amendable. As I indicated some several minutes ago in response to the right hon. Member for Leeds Central (Hilary Benn) who inquired about my thinking in respect of amendments on Thursday, I would apply the same logic as I shall apply to tomorrow’s deliberations. There will be ample opportunity for Members to table amendments with what are, in effect, their own propositions and ideas for an extension, so I assure the hon. Member for Glasgow South that he will not be disadvantaged.
Will my right hon. Friend confirm that, if we get to Thursday and this House is asked to apply to the European Union for an agreement on extending article 50, the extension has to be in agreement with the European Union and we cannot make the decision unilaterally?
My hon. Friend is absolutely correct. The date of our exit is set out in law and further legislation would be required to change it. The consent of the House would be required for any extension, including for the length of that extension. Very importantly, the consent of the remaining 27 EU member states would also be required.
The Leader of the House said in answer to an earlier question that she always seeks to assist the House. It is difficult with all the drama going on in the Government at present, but I wonder if she recalls that she is the champion of the Back Benchers in this place within Government. Will she use her best endeavours to ensure that, no matter what chaos is going on within the Government at present, they bear in mind that hon. Members need to understand and see the nature of the motions that are being promised as soon as possible in order to facilitate the will of the House in deciding the way forward?
We are in this mess for a variety of reasons, but chiefly because the Government had no coherent plans when they triggered article 50, and because the Prime Minister, in a blinkered way, carried on at full steam with her red lines, thinking that she could run down the clock. So here we are—the clock has nearly run down, Parliament has rejected the deal yet again and tomorrow there will be a motion with which the Government are again trying to say, “But remember, the clock is still ticking and the default is to leave on 29 March.” Following on from earlier points, when are the Government going to start thinking strategically, being open with the House, letting us see the plans and looking ahead, instead of continuing to run down the clock one day at a time?
The hon. Gentleman will know that there has been a steady desire on the part of the Government to seek agreement to the withdrawal agreement and future political declaration and to seek legally binding changes that would enable parliamentarians to support it. The Prime Minister indicated her extreme sadness at the fact that the House has declined to support the deal. She set out two weeks ago the next steps should that be the case. So we are following the process that the Prime Minister set out a couple of weeks ago. It is still our intention, if at all possible, to leave the European Union on 29 March with a good deal.
Will the Government lay out on Thursday, alongside the motion, their considerations on what will no doubt be a proposed period of extension, which could obviously be amended? Through the work of the Public Accounts Committee, we see the real challenges of being prepared to leave, even with a deal, by 29 March. Even a short extension would give little comfort to people out there. So will the Leader of the House give us, either now or then, an indication of the length of time that the Government would be proposing on Thursday for an extension to article 50?
The Government will always endeavour to table motions swiftly so that parliamentarians have sight of them. As I have said to a number of hon. Members, the motion tomorrow is about whether the House wishes to leave without a withdrawal agreement and political declaration on 29 March. Tomorrow evening, should the House decline to leave without a deal, I will then table a motion that sets out the Government’s proposal, but, as I have said, it will be amendable, so it will be for all Members to consider whether they prefer a different sort of extension. But very importantly, again, it will then be for the EU unanimously to agree to that extension proposal. To be very clear about that, there may well be conditions imposed that this House would not wish to accept, and we all need to be open-eyed about that fact.
Forgive me if I stress this point again, but this is of course a Government who have been found in contempt of Parliament, and when the Leader of the House is not fully clear on what the consequence of voting for no deal tomorrow is, it is worth pushing. Why will she not confirm to us that the Government will bring legislation, secondary or primary, to this House straight after no deal being voted down to ensure that the default is no longer leaving the European Union if no deal is achieved? That is all she needs to do. Why cannot she offer to come to the House with what the Government are proposing on Thursday? We understand how the system works, we understand that things are amendable, and we understand that it has all got to be agreed by the European Union—all we asking for is the Government’s proposal. If they are unable to provide proposals, maybe they are unfit to be in government.
As I have now said a number of times, we have come forward with the proposal that the Prime Minister set out two weeks ago that in the event that the meaningful vote is declined today, we will set out tomorrow a motion enabling the House to decline to leave the European Union without a deal and without a future political declaration, and should the House decline to leave the EU without a deal, then on the following day we will bring forward a motion asking the House whether it wishes to have a short extension. That is the process that the Prime Minister set out, and that is what we will be doing.
If, on Thursday, the House were to determine an extension past 26 May, then, according to the letters exchanged between Mr Juncker and Michel Barnier, there would have to be participation in European elections, which I for one would not support. If the House were to choose that, would a funding contingency be put in place, since there would be a large cost to the public purse for elections that I do not think we should be participating in?
The hon. Gentleman makes a good point. As the Prime Minister has said on numerous occasions, the only way to truly take no deal off the table is to agree a deal or to revoke article 50. The House has consistently rejected the former, and the latter would overturn the result of the referendum. However, if the House votes for an extension, the Prime Minister will seek to agree the extension that the House has requested with the European Union, and she will then bring forward the necessary legislation to change the exit date, commensurate with that extension. But the hon. Gentleman is exactly right; that may have significant costs associated with it and conditions put upon it by other members of the European Union. These are all imponderables as we stand here today.
The Government have just taken another pasting on their deal, and instead of coming forward with proposals for how to mitigate the risks we face, the Leader of the House is ramping up the jeopardy by saying that if the House accepts tomorrow that no deal is the way forward, that will become Government policy, when the reverse should be the case as well—if the House votes against no deal, the Government should introduce legislation to ensure that that is ruled out. Why has she steadfastly refused to make that the Government’s position tonight?
If the hon. Gentleman thinks about it logically, he will see that the only way to take no deal off the table is either to revoke article 50 or to agree a deal that changes the outcome. The Prime Minister has set out that we will come back to the House to see whether the House wants to extend article 50. It is not our policy to revoke article 50.
I spent some time in the No Lobby tonight, which was even busier than usual. You will recall, Mr Speaker, that you had to ask the Serjeant at Arms to check the Lobby during the Division. The place was packed. Given that we will have another vote of significance tomorrow, and a vast majority of Members will probably vote to take no deal off the table, has the Leader of the House had any thoughts about introducing electronic voting and dragging us into the 21st century tomorrow night?
It is a tad ambitious for the hon. Gentleman to expect the Leader of the House to facilitate that tomorrow, but he never loses an opportunity. I understand his enthusiasm on that matter, which I rather share, but it is a matter of hot dispute within the House. The Leader of the House can respond if she wants, but she is not under any obligation to do so.
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for making me think of every Thursday morning. He raises that issue with me frequently, and I have always said that if the Procedure Committee wants to come forward with an appraisal of electronic voting, with huge support from around the House, I will always be delighted to consider it.
On a point of order, Mr Speaker. During our earlier exchange, you asked whether I was indignant or flummoxed. The phrase I would prefer to use is that I am bent out of shape with what has gone on here this evening. My question to the Leader of the House was nothing to do with procedure, which you tried to help me with. My question was whether there is anything to prevent her from telling the House what extension the Government have on offer in advance of publication of the motion, which you tell us is amendable, and rightly so. You know, I know, she knows and we all know that no deal will be ruled out substantially tomorrow night, and this motion will have to come forward.
The Leader of the House is probably sat there with this information in her substantial notes. I do not think she is that much out of the loop in the Government just yet; she will know what the extension might be. How can Members find that out, so that we are best prepared and furnished for tomorrow and Thursday’s debates? How can we prevent a situation where we are running around with amendments to a Government motion scribbled on napkins to hand in to you by half-past 10 o’clock or whatever time it might be on Thursday morning, and ensure that the Government are open with us?
That is a point of order for the Chair. To be fair to the hon. Gentleman—I hope this can be dealt with in a genial spirit—he is not one who suffers from a concern that, having made a point once, it would be excessive to repeat it. On the contrary, he is an experienced campaigner. I was taught by the right hon. Member for New Forest East (Dr Lewis) 30 years ago that quantity, persistence and, above all, repetition are as important as the quality of your arguments. Your arguments have to pass muster, but it is a great mistake to think you can just make a point once, persuade someone that you are right and he or she is wrong, and that is the end of it. In fact, you have to keep going over and over again.
The hon. Gentleman made his point in the form of an inquiry once, was not satisfied with the perfectly procedurally legitimate reply that he got from the Leader of the House and therefore waited several minutes before repeating, in a slightly fuller and extremely eloquent form, his own preoccupation. He has done that, but to be fair, I do not think he is going to get any further answer tonight. The Leader of the House has said what she said, and I think we will have to leave it there for tonight, but do I expect the hon. Gentleman to be in his place tomorrow, eager to favour the House with his views and leaping to his feet with alacrity? That is as predictable as the passage of the seasons.
Further to that point of order, Mr Speaker. I am most flattered by all of that, but it does not actually answer my question, which was to you this time. Is there anything to prevent the Leader of the House, in advance of the motion being published, from telling us what its contents might be?
Quite possibly, there is the fact that the right hon. Lady does not wish, at this stage, to do so. I can think of another reason, which is that the precise terms of the motion for Thursday, particularly as it is contingent on what happens tomorrow, will not yet have been crafted. The Leader of the House does not need my help, but I am saving her the hassle of getting up at the Dispatch Box.
On a point of order, Mr Speaker. The Leader of the House has continually and consistently said that the default position with the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018 is to leave with no deal. That is the position, and I think everybody in the House agrees with that. If there is a vote tomorrow and the House votes overwhelmingly to take no deal off the table, the way to overturn that is for legislation to be introduced. Am I right in my understanding that legislation will be required in order to overturn the requirements of the withdrawal Act, and is there any indication that that legislation will be forthcoming if the House votes to take no deal off the table?
The hon. Gentleman is getting into hypotheticals, which were deprecated—or, at any rate, resisted—by the Leader of the House. The answer is that I do not dissent from what the hon. Gentleman says about the legal position, but we are not at that point yet, and therefore I am reluctant to introduce new words into this exchange that are not required at this time. I am not disagreeing with him and I entirely understand the logic of what he is saying, but we are not at that point yet. The hon. Gentleman will be in his place on subsequent days, and I am sure he will give full voice to his conviction on this matter. I dare say others will, too, on either side of that argument.
I think it would be seemly if we now drew points of order to a close.