I beg to move,
That the draft European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018 (Exit Day) (Amendment) Regulations 2019, which were laid before this House on 25 March, be approved.
First, I express my gratitude to the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments for its report today. I do of course regret the necessity to have to introduce this instrument and would prefer that we were leaving the EU with a deal at the end of this week. I have voted on two occasions for that outcome, but the House has not. The Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster made it clear in the debate on 14 March that the Government would accept the will of the House and seek an extension if that was what Parliament voted for. Parliament then voted by 412 to 202 to approve a motion to seek to extend article 50. An extension has therefore been agreed with the EU and the Government are now committed to implementing it in domestic law.
I want to ask the Minister about a technical point. The operative paragraph of the explanatory notes that accompany the SI says that, if the House of Commons does not approve the withdrawal agreement by 11 pm on 29 March 2019—the so-called relevant time—the treaties will instead cease to apply at the earlier date of 11 pm on 12 April 2019.
Thank you, that is very kind. I do my best, Ed. Thanks mate.
You are doing well.
Great. I will carry on then.
The Government were meant to lay a commencement order to allow us to leave. As I understand it, they never laid such an order—I do not know whether they were ever going to. Does this SI now have the effect that the commencement order would have had? In other words, if we approve the SI and have not approved the meaningful vote, would we then leave at 11 pm on 11 April, without the need for a separate commencement order? I think the Minister understands the question.
I do understand my right hon. Friend’s question. The answer is that a commencement order would have to be laid before the point at which we left, whatever that leaving date was. I do not think it is necessarily directly relevant to the debate on this SI, because this SI does not set the date on which we leave the European Union but reflects the date agreed in international law.
As the House will be aware, the decision adopted by the European Council, agreed to by the UK, provides for two possible durations, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Rayleigh and Wickford (Mr Francois) just pointed out: should the House approve the negotiated withdrawal agreement this week, the extension will last until 22 May; if the House does not approve the withdrawal agreement, the extension will last until 12 April.
What would be the effect if the House rejected the SI tonight? We are constantly told that international law always trumps domestic law, so what would be the effect? Is there any point in voting for or against the motion, because it really has no effect at all? International law will always trump what we do, and in that sense parliamentary democracy is inferior to international law. Is that correct?
My right hon. Friend makes an important point, but there would be a profound effect as a result of the rejection of this SI, and I shall come to that later in my speech. It is important to state that, were we to reject this SI, it would leave the UK statute book in a mess, so I do not think that is a good course of action.
The Minister referred a moment ago to the House passing the withdrawal agreement by this week. We obviously heard Mr Speaker’s ruling earlier and rumours abound that the Government intend to introduce the withdrawal and implementation Bill on Friday. Could he confirm whether that is correct and whether it would have any provisions to alter section 13 of the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018, which is of course intimately tied up with this statutory instrument?
It will be a matter for the Leader of the House to announce business, not for me. I heard, as I am sure the whole Government heard, the Speaker’s ruling. We take careful note of what the Speaker says and of course we will act with due respect to that. However, I hope that the House has the opportunity to consider the only withdrawal agreement that has been negotiated and agreed to by the EU.
I will make a bit of progress. The regulations cater for an extension in either scenario by redefining exit day to ensure the date and time specified in the definition is 11 pm on 22 May or 11 pm on 12 April, depending on whether the House approves the withdrawal agreement. In either of those extension scenarios, we will not be required to participate in European parliamentary elections. This vital instrument has the simple but crucial purpose of making sure that our domestic statute book reflects the extension of article 50 agreed with the EU on Friday 22 March.
Could the Minister explain this? I think the UK Government wanted 30 June but that was scaled back to 12 April. Could he explain why the EU thought that it was much better to have a short period? As someone who does not want such a period at all, I obviously find myself on the EU’s side, rather than the Government’s.
I suspect that my right hon. Friend may well welcome the chance of that shorter period, but I think the answer is simply that that was the decision reached by the European Council and agreed by the Council and the UK.
Put simply, the instrument does not set the date of our departure, which has already been agreed. It reflects that in domestic law. While the instrument itself is straightforward, its effect will apply across the domestic statute book, so it is important that I set out the details of what it will do—this comes to the point of my right hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough (Sir Edward Leigh). I have explained this to my ministerial counterparts in the Scottish Government and the Welsh Assembly, setting out why the UK Government are taking the instrument forward.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Wokingham (John Redwood) did not ask the Minister to restate the position. He asked why the European Council went for the earlier date, rather than 30 June. Why did it do that?
My understanding is that that was the Council’s view of when we would have to give notice that we would be holding European elections, if we were staying in for longer, and that is why it set that date as the date by which we would have to have made our mind up as to whether we are leaving. But that is for the European Council to determine. I am not a spokesman for it.
Currently, major changes to our domestic statute book reflecting our exit from the European Union are due to take effect on exit day, which is defined in the EU withdrawal Act as 11 pm on 29 March, despite the extension terms that have been agreed at international level. These changes apply across a huge number of policy areas, from emissions trading to Europol. All these changes are designed to ensure that our statute book works when we leave the European Union, and all are due to take place on exit day. This definition has effect across the whole UK statute book. Now that an extension to article 50 has been agreed in EU and international law, we need to amend that date to reflect the new point at which the EU treaties cease to apply.
Has the Minister learned any lessons about putting exact times and dates on the statute book in primary legislation just so that his Prime Minister can blackmail her own party?
The hon. Lady makes a political point, which is not particularly appropriate for a debate on technical legislation. The instrument has been laid under the EU withdrawal Act to do just what I said. Section 20(4) of the Act contains a power to amend exit day through a statutory instrument.
The Minister mentioned that the European Council agreed an extension. There was a resolution of this House to seek to agree an extension, which I suggest amounts to an authority to negotiate. Has he been advised that that also amounted to an authority to conclude an extension? Did he get legal advice on that point?
I know that my right hon. Friend is a keen legal eagle, as well as an experienced former Minister in this Department, but of course the Government are confident of their legal position in the decisions that they have taken.
The power was specifically included in the EU withdrawal Act because parliamentarians envisaged a situation in which extension could be required. As the then Under- Secretary said, the Government had had discussions with Back Benchers and were grateful that they tabled their amendments, which
“provide the Government with the technical ability to amend the date, but only if the UK and the EU unanimously decide to change the date at which treaties cease to apply to the UK, as set out in article 50.”—[Official Report, 20 December 2017; Vol. 633, c. 1155.]
Will the Minister report to the House the outcome of this afternoon’s meeting of the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments? Did the Committee consider the question of vires, as is within its Standing Orders?
I did not catch the whole of my hon. Friend’s question, but I am confident that the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments has had a chance to look at the matter, and I welcomed its report at the beginning of my speech.
Let me be clear with the House that the power in the EU withdrawal Act can only be used to redefine exit day to the new day and times that the treaties will cease to apply in the UK. To specify any other day would not be a legal use of that power. It is critical that the House approves this instrument for the simple reason that the extension of article 50 has been agreed and is therefore legally binding in international law.
I understand that some Members have been of the view that we are still set to leave the EU on 29 March, but that is not legally the case. Owing to the agreement between the UK and the EU to extend article 50, the UK will remain a member state of the EU until at least 11 pm on 12 April as a matter of international law. If this instrument were not to pass, therefore, it would not change that fact, but it would lead to confusion across our statute book from 29 March.
I have this wonderful machine that says we are now two days, four hours, 17 minutes and 12 seconds away from coming out of the EU; this is a pretty good machine, actually. Is not the truth of the matter that, if we reject this SI tonight—I hope we do by a big margin—we will have come out in domestic law and we will be in breach of an international treaty for about two weeks, and that is why the Minister needs to get this through?
I simply do not share my hon. Friend’s understanding or view of the matter. I respect his point of view, but I am afraid that he is not right on the legal facts.
A large volume of EU exit legislation, preparing the statute book for the moment EU law ceases to apply, is due to enter into force automatically on exit day. Without this instrument in place, there would be a clash in our domestic law whereby contradictory provisions would apply—both EU rules and the new UK rules simultaneously. In some cases, new UK rules would replace EU rules prematurely.
We estimate that tens of thousands of amendments to our domestic legislation will be made in the light of EU exit. These include changes that relate to the sharing of information, reporting requirements placed on businesses and public institutions, and the role of the European Commission in issuing licences and certificates. For example, let us take the amendments relating to the rights of lawyers to practise in the UK. If these regulations come into force on 29 March, EU lawyers who are not registered European lawyers immediately before exit day are at risk of committing a criminal offence if they continue to provide particular legal services in the UK. Other examples include UK operators being unable to comply with the EU emissions trading scheme and having to surrender their emissions allowances early, and the risk that firms stop trading to avoid legal breaches given their uncertainty about when new customs, excise and VAT regimes would kick in.
There are examples from across the statute book, but it is clear that without this instrument there would be significant confusion and uncertainty for businesses and individuals on 29 March.
My hon. Friend is making the strongest possible case that this statutory instrument is important to ensure that our reputation across the world for being a country that is reliable to deal with, and whose obligations in international law are the same as our domestic legislation, remains intact.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. He and I have always agreed that we need to do this process properly and that is what this SI is all about.
Is not the reality of the situation that, while we affectionately refer to the withdrawal deal as the Prime Minister’s deal, it has been signed by 27 other EU member states? It is signed and it is not going to be unsigned: the deal is done. There is only one deal and that is the Prime Minister’s deal. The extension that we need to vote for tonight is very short. We absolutely have to get behind this Brexit deal, get it through, get the implementation period and move on. The deal is not going to be reopened by the other 27.
As I often find, I wholeheartedly agree with the hon. Lady. That is not the sole point of this SI, of course, because it allows for two specific scenarios, but—
I wonder whether my hon. Friend can explain why, when his junior Minister, the hon. Member for Spelthorne (Kwasi Kwarteng), was asked in the House on Friday whether
“the article 50 period will only be extended if the House votes for a statutory instrument to give effect to such an extension”,
“The Government would have to lay a statutory instrument and the House would have to debate and vote on it.”—[Official Report, 22 March 2019; Vol. 656, c. 1377.]
It now seems as though that was totally inaccurate.
I did not see what my hon. Friend said in that debate, but I am very grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch (Sir Christopher Chope) for promoting me so that I have junior Ministers underneath me.
The question before us is not whether the extension to article 50 happens, but the separate question of whether the domestic statute book reflects this extension, without which there could be a confusing and unclear statute book with clashing provisions. If we are to resolve that, it is essential that this instrument is passed before 11 pm on 29 March so that it can come into force ahead of that time. This will align exit day in UK law with the new day and time on which the EU treaties cease to apply to the United Kingdom in both EU and international law.
This Executive decision was approved by a Minister without proper reference to Parliament, bringing back to this House not just international law but law that is binding in our own law and binding on this Parliament. May I put it to my hon. Friend that it is exactly this kind of decision making and law making that people voted against in the referendum?
My hon. Friend makes an important point on which many of us could agree—that this process reflects some of the issues that caused people to vote in the way that they did. However, the House voted for an extension and it was in respecting the vote of this House that the Government sought to negotiate one.
I am acutely aware of the huge amount of work undertaken by Members across this House to scrutinise—
On a point of order, Mr Speaker. The Minister made light of my intervention, in which I expressly drew the attention of the House to what we had been told on Friday during an urgent question by a Minister of the Crown from his Department. If what was said then is wrong, when are we going to get an official correction and apology from the Government, because those of us who were in the House on Friday were certainly gravely misled by what was said?
I am very grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his point of order. Obviously I well remember the exchanges, and I am aware of the particular interaction to which he is referring. The normal principle applies: every Member is responsible for the veracity of what he or she says in this Chamber. If a Member inadvertently errs, it is incumbent upon that Member to correct the record. The Minister, perfectly reasonably, said that he had not seen what was said. However, it is not beyond the wit and sagacity of the hon. Member for Christchurch (Sir Christopher Chope) to arrange for a copy of the extract from the Official Report to wing its way to the Dispatch Box during the course of this consideration, and the Minister might then be in a position further to respond to him.
On a point of order, Mr Speaker. Could you advise me on whether what Conservative Members are objecting to is the use of the royal prerogative, which allows us to sign up to international treaties using that power? If so, the logic of what they are arguing is actually that we should get rid of the Queen.
I simply say to the hon. Lady that it is not for me to offer an exegesis of what individuals might think about our constitutional arrangements, including the use or otherwise of the royal prerogative, but she has made her own point in her own way, with some panache, and it will be studied in the record.
Further to that point of order, Mr Speaker. There are some people in this House who want to get rid of Her Majesty, but they are on the Opposition Benches, not the Government Benches.
I am extraordinarily grateful to the right hon. Gentleman, but I wonder if we now might return to the relatively narrow ambit of the statutory instrument.
Thank you, Mr Speaker. I shall be brief.
I am acutely aware of the huge amount of work undertaken by Members across the House to scrutinise the near 550 statutory instruments brought forward to prepare for exit and provide legal certainty. If this instrument were not to pass, that work would be undermined by the legal uncertainty created. If, on the other hand, we passed today’s instrument, the only thing that would change across all those SIs is the moment at which they come into force, aligning with the time of our exit so that they work properly.
I remain hopeful that the House will support the Prime Minister’s deal and that we will leave the EU on 22 May, with a short technical extension to ensure that we can pass the necessary implementing legislation. This instrument is, however, without prejudice to whether that is the case. I hope the House can agree on the necessity of this instrument and approve it, so that it can come into force and we can avoid serious confusion and uncertainty for businesses and individuals.
I rise on behalf of the Opposition to support the motion. As the Minister made clear, this statutory instrument is a necessary one, and it should be entirely uncontroversial. As the House knows, in response to the Prime Minister’s letter of 20 March to the President of the European Council, the Council agreed to an extension of the article 50 process until 22 May, provided that the withdrawal agreement is approved by the House this week. The Council further agreed that if the withdrawal agreement is not approved this week, an extension until 12 April will take place to allow for the UK to “indicate a way forward” for its consideration, to which we hope the preceding debate and votes will contribute.
On 22 March, the UK’s permanent representative to the EU, Sir Tim Barrow, wrote to the President of the European Council to confirm agreement of the proposed extension arrangement under article 50(3) of the treaty on European Union. As such, the extension of the article 50 process until at least 12 April will now happen as a matter of European law, and as the Minister said, it is legally binding in international law. This statutory instrument merely aligns “exit day” as it is defined for the purposes of the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018 with the new dates that have been agreed. It is entirely correct that it comes after agreement on extension was reached between the two parties.
Indeed, the withdrawal Act makes clear that this sequencing—that is to say, that any new agreement between the parties as to when the treaties cease to apply to the UK must precede any change to exit day for the purposes of the Act—is precisely what is required. Section 20(4) of the Act provides that a Minister of the Crown may by regulations amend the definition of “exit day” to
“ensure that the day and time specified in the definition are the day and time that the Treaties are to cease to apply to the United Kingdom”—
the operative word being “are”, not the day and time that the Government hope the EU Council would agree to. As such, logically, the Act makes clear that the Government could not propose a statutory instrument that would stipulate a date or dates for exit day different from the date on which the treaties would cease to apply, as agreed at the time. In short, the power to redefine exit day as set out in the 2018 Act passed by this House arises only if the date has already been changed.
The Act refers to a date. Does the hon. Gentleman agree that it would therefore be more logical for this statutory instrument to state 12 April, and if that date needs to be changed, it should be changed subsequently? I do not understand how we can have two dates in the statutory instrument.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for raising that point, as he has in recent days. I think that it can be done either day—that is the short answer. There are different legal opinions on which creates the least amount of confusion and potential for legal challenge, but the Government have decided to do it this way, and we support the statutory instrument as a means to do so.
Those who take issue with the sequencing or the mere fact that this statutory instrument is before us at all today do so because they oppose in principle an extension to the Brexit process beyond Friday 29 March, presumably because they are either relaxed about leaving without a deal or positively wish for such an outcome.
I am grateful for the Opposition’s support. Is not the bottom line that we are extending article 50 via this SI tonight to avoid the damaging no-deal exit that my constituents in Winchester, and I am sure the hon. Gentleman’s constituents, do not want to see, and that this House has now expressly said on several occasions—I predict it will do so again this evening—it does not want to see?
I agree with the hon. Gentleman to the extent that we have to do everything possible to avoid a disastrous no-deal exit. This SI does not do that; the extension agreed by the European Council and the UK does it. This SI ensures that our domestic legislation aligns with what has already been agreed and that we do not create legal confusion.
It is certainly the case that no one, including those who have no problem with the extension, expected that this Government would fail so miserably that an extension of any kind would be required, but it was always a possibility. That is precisely why the EU withdrawal Bill, at least in its original form, was drafted to provide for circumstances in which a withdrawal agreement came into force later than 29 March, following an extension. As the Government themselves put it at the time in their delegated powers memorandum:
“Exit day will be dependent on the withdrawal negotiations with the EU.”
As my hon. Friend the Member for Wallasey (Ms Eagle) has commented, it was the Government’s decision to play politics with the issue of exit day for the purposes of our domestic legislation—constraining the flexibility provided for in the original drafting of the Bill by putting in a fixed exit date and time in a vain attempt to curry favour with the hardliners on their own Benches—that means we require a statutory instrument in the form before us. That said, it remains the case that it is simply not reasonable to question the legitimacy of the Government’s actions in agreeing to an extension to the article 50 process or the fact that these regulations have sequentially followed that agreement.
I want to correct the hon. Gentleman’s account of recent history. In fact, the Government agreed to put in the date voluntarily, and then were blackmailed by the remain faction in our party to provide flexibility on the date. That is actually what happened.
I think the hon. Gentleman would agree with me that the original draft of the Bill did not include the date. The reasons why the Government put it in and the actions of the right hon. Member for West Dorset (Sir Oliver Letwin) in again helpfully coming to the rescue, I will leave to the hon. Gentleman and his view of what happened at the time.
It follows that, if the House votes against this statutory instrument, it cannot prevent an extension of the article 50 process until at least one of the two proposed dates. In short, and much to my delight, there is nothing that right hon. and hon. Members on the Conservative Benches can do today to force the UK out of the EU in two days’ time. All that would be achieved by voting against these regulations would be immense legal confusion, with two parallel sets of regulations in place—those deriving specifically and directly from EU law, and those made under the 2018 Act, which would diverge from it. As the Minister put it, our statute book would be in a complete mess. That is why this statutory instrument should self-evidently be supported, and why the Opposition will be doing so when we divide on it.
The first point I would like to raise is about the ministerial code and the actions of the Prime Minister. It is quite clear under the ministerial code—I am glad to see the Attorney General sitting on the Front Bench—that the Law Officers must be consulted in good time before the Government are committed to critical decisions involving legal considerations. Even if I was prepared to concede, which I am not, that the Law Officers do not necessarily have to divulge their opinions—actually, the Attorney General was obliged to do so by a resolution of the House on 4 December 2018—the question is whether, as a matter of fact, the Prime Minister, who today and two days ago resolutely refused to answer me, had consulted the Law Officers. I asked her that, but she twice refused to tell me, and the inference is that she did not do so. Is this not misleading the House? That question worries me intensely.
Having dealt with that serious issue, I also have to say that I take the strongest possible exception, as do many other distinguished lawyers, QCs and former judges, to the Government’s action in entering into a binding agreement in international law, which purportedly alters the UK’s exit date from the European Union in advance of the votes in each House on the draft regulations, the effect of which would alter exit day in the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018.
It has been suggested that the Act provides that the draft regulations can only be submitted to each House for affirmative resolution once the date of exit has been altered at international level. That is simply not correct. The provision for approval by affirmative resolution is free-standing in paragraph 14 of schedule 7, under which a draft instrument is to be submitted to both Houses. It was incumbent on the Government to respect the normal practice of allowing Parliament to approve any legislative changes before entering into a binding international obligation.
I was the shadow Attorney General during the Iraq debacle. On that occasion, it became apparent that there should have been consultation with Parliament on a matter of the gravest national importance. If I may say so, I obliged, or created the circumstances in which the then Attorney General submitted his opinion to the House. More recently, we had a similar situation with regard of the bombing of Syria. The idea that Parliament is not required to postpone approval of any legislative changes until we enter into a binding international obligation is well established in recent precedent.
The course that the Government have taken seeks to present Parliament with a fait accompli whereby Parliament is pressured to approve the draft regulations because, the Minister alleges, failure to do so would cause disconformity between the UK’s international obligations and domestic law.
Under our constitutional law, the power of the UK Government to conclude binding agreements with states and other international actors such as the European Union exists under the royal prerogative. It is a basic principle of our constitutional law that the royal prerogative may only be exercised consistently with the intention of Parliament. Any purported exercise of the royal prerogative that is inconsistent with the intention of Parliament is unlawful and of no effect in our internal legal order.
I am troubled by what could be the outcome of the meeting of the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments today. That is why I intervened on the Minister. I asked whether there was proper consideration of whether the matters before it were intra vires or ultra vires. I do not know the answer because I have not been given the information. I ask the Minister to check whether the Committee considered the question of vires in relation to the issues before it today.
The intention of Parliament is to be found solely in Acts of Parliament. It is not shown by resolutions of the House of Commons. Unless an Act of Parliament says otherwise, such resolutions do not have effect. Under the principles of public international law, in article 46 of the Vienna convention, a state is entitled to invoke the fact that its apparent consent to be bound by an international agreement has been expressed in violation of a provision of its internal law, if that violation is manifest, which is defined as “objectively evident”, and concerns a rule of internal law of fundamental importance. Those criteria are clearly satisfied, so there is manifest violation of our internal constitutional law. The Government’s actions are completely unlawful.
It is abominable that we should be faced with having to vote on the specious ground of so-called uniformity, which the Minister has presented. I do not blame him personally. I ask him to forgive me for suggesting that he is taking advice from other persons who purport to be learned in the law. I am afraid that they are entirely wrong.
Only yesterday, Lord Pannick himself raised those very questions. Lord Pannick, of course, is a most distinguished lawyer. In fact, he was the lawyer for the plaintiff Gina Miller in the case that resulted in the requirement for the European Union (Notification of Withdrawal) Act 2017. Lord Pannick knows what he is doing. In fact, I and others instructed him in relation to the Rees-Mogg case back in 1993, so I know a little bit about the brilliance of Lord Pannick. He said:
“The legal concern which some lawyers have expressed is that a power to specify the day and time when the treaties are to cease to apply is not satisfied by identifying two possibilities; it is not possible, if this SI is enacted, to identify exit day simply by reading it.”—[Official Report, House of Lords, 26 March 2019; Vol. 796, c. 1721.]
It is worth considering the fact that Lord Pannick is not to be taken for granted and that he has raised serious doubts about the matter.
But I think the House will be relieved to know that it is to be spared a dilation on the matter of Lord Pannick’s involvement in the Rees-Mogg case—of which sparing I think I can be comfortably reassured by the hon. Gentleman.
Absolutely. I do not need to dilate on that question at all; I am simply using it as a point of reference. The draft regulations contain unlawful sub-delegation.
If what my hon. Friend says turns out to be the case and the Government did take the decision unlawfully or outwith the scope of this place, what would be the consequences?
The regulations are not binding and they are invalid in law—it is as simple as that. This is a serious matter. Let us view the question from the point of view of people listening to this debate outside Parliament. This is not just a question of process. It is about the fact that as I speak, under the provisions of the European Union (Withdrawal) Act, we intend to repeal the European Communities Act 1972 on exit day, which is 29 March. That is the law of the land, subject only to this rather esoteric question about the commencement order, which can be resolved in 30 seconds by a Minister coming to the Dispatch Box and saying, “This commencement order is now in force.” It is as simple as that. It does not require anything more than that.
We are talking about something that goes to the heart of the referendum decision itself—the democratic decision of the British people—which was that they wanted to leave the European Union. By the way, the House of Commons voted by 499 to about 120 for the European Union (Notification of Withdrawal) Act. It also voted for the European Union Referendum Act 2015 and gave the British people the right to make that decision. Contrary to the rubbish I hear all over certain parts of the House—that somehow or other remainers in Parliament have a right to take back that decision from the people—it was given to them and 17.4 million made it. This Parliament has no right to take it back from them.
I never knew we were going to have such a treat this evening, so it is a great pleasure to have the opportunity to ask my hon. Friend a question. It so happens that I have a copy of the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018 with me. It does say in schedule 7—[Interruption.] Actually, Mr Speaker, it was completely by chance, because I had no idea that my hon. Friend was going to dilate on this matter. I heard the hon. Member for Brent North (Barry Gardiner) saying, first of all, the word “deviation” as if this were some sort of BBC panel show. Then I heard him, from a sedentary position, saying that he had no idea what my hon. Friend was talking about. It turns out that schedule 7(14) states very clearly:
“A statutory instrument containing regulations under section 20(4)”—
for the benefit of the hon. Member for Brent North, that is the section of the Act by which exit day is changed, so it is hardly a deviation—
“may not be made unless a draft of the instrument has been laid before, and approved by a resolution of, each House of Parliament.”
It occurs to me—I invite my hon. Friend to agree with me—that my hon. Friend is doing an enormous service to this House.
I am extremely indebted to my very good and very close hon. Friend. I am so glad that he has made that point, because I am simply trying to do what I have always tried to do, which is to get past all the fog and ask the central question, which bears on the issue of the sovereignty of this House in relation to that European Union (Referendum) Act 2015, which gave the right to the British people.
The 2018 Act, to which my hon. Friend refers, is the moment in time when we made that decision in this House. Even my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Rushcliffe (Mr Clarke) voted for the Third Reading of that Act. This was, therefore, a decision taken by this Parliament. So forget the fact that these indicative votes going on at the moment, which I regard as a parliamentary bag of liquorice allsorts, are an obfuscation of the fundamental issues. The draft regulations published a few days ago are not in accordance with the 2018 Act, since they do not change exit day to a particular date. Instead, they purport to change exit day to two different dates—the point Lord Pannick referred to—depending on whether the House does or does not pass a resolution that satisfies the European Council decision. I emphasise the words “does not satisfy the European Council decision”, Mr Speaker.
I have raised this matter repeatedly. We have been supplicating the EU. We have given in to the EU. My European Scrutiny Committee last March published a very good report in which we pointed out that we should not accept the terms of reference dictated to us by the European Union. That is where it all went wrong. It went wrong when the European Union (Withdrawal) Act was overtaken by the Chequers agreement, in a pre-planned operation inside No. 10 driven by the Prime Minister and her advisers, the effect of which was to undermine the repeal of the 1972 Act. I say “pre-planned” because the 2018 Act received Royal Assent on 26 June and within 10 days the Chequers proposals had come forward, which morphed into the withdrawal agreement and article 4, the effect of which is to make us subjugated to the rule making of the European Union. That is what went on and it was done deliberately. It was going on while we were actually passing the withdrawal Act itself. I would describe it as a monstrous deceit on the British people.
I will go further. The course taken by the Government in seeking to pre-empt the affirmative resolution has definitely contaminated the lawfulness of their actions. It has, at a minimum, created serious doubts about the legal situation. I draw attention, for those who would be interested, to the views of the retired Lord Justice of Appeal, Sir Richard Aikens, who is entirely clear on this question.
I wrote a letter to the Prime Minister yesterday. I have not yet had a reply. She has not, in fact, answered my question about the ministerial code, which I have asked twice. As far as I am concerned, this statutory instrument should be voted down. I invite the Attorney General to explain whether, as a matter of fact—irrespective of whether he is prepared to disclose his advice, which I think he should publish—the Prime Minister did consult him, as required under the ministerial code.
It seems that we are not to leave the European Union on 29 March after all. Let me begin by offering my commiserations to the right hon. Member for Rayleigh and Wickford (Mr Francois) and his associates in the European Research Group; I appreciate that this must be a difficult time. I fear that commemorative memorabilia may need to be scrapped, the champagne orders may need to be cancelled, and indeed, the bunting will have to be put back in the attic as freedom day celebrations are cancelled throughout the land. It seems to me that the inconvenience and disappointment of the hard-right faction in this Parliament is a small price to pay, to see if we can save the country from catastrophe.
The gravity of the situation means that this is not a moment for schadenfreude, so I shall refrain from seeking any pleasure in the disappointment of others, but we need to point out that the fact that we are discussing this statutory instrument tonight can only be seen as nothing other than the abject humiliation of the British Government in this process—not only because on more than 100 occasions, they have foolishly come to the Dispatch Box and reassured us that we would be leaving the European Union on 29 March, but because, that having proven impossible, they now come and offer us a timetable that is not of their design but is one that is imposed on them. If that is not humiliation, I do not know what is.
As so many Members have said in recent debates on this matter, the Government have only themselves to blame. The fact that this SI seeking an extension to the process is before us tonight is entirely a consequence of how the Government have conducted the process. From the word go, they were not interested in anyone’s opinion but their own. The dialogue about how to implement the 2016 referendum result was constrained only to the voices within the minority Conservative Government and their allies in the Democratic Unionist party, who I see are absent from our proceedings tonight. That is shocking, because what they should have done was to try to reach some sort of national consensus on how to proceed in this most divided of countries. However, that is what they did, and of course, in the middle of it, they called a general election and the Prime Minister asked the British people for a mandate to support the manner in which she was discharging the referendum result, and the British people refused to give it to her. Anyone might have thought that that point would be the time to change tack, take stock and perhaps readjust—but no. They simply circled the wagons closer, bunkered down and spent the past two years negotiating with the European Union without reference to or a mandate from this Parliament. That is why we are in this situation today.
What happens next is the real question. If we have the delay granted that the statutory instrument suggests, what will we do with the time that is afforded to us? To my mind, that entirely depends on whether the Government wish to go forward with this Parliament in good faith or in bad faith.
A bad faith way to go forward would be to regard the debates that we have had today, and may well have in future, as some sort of inconvenient sideshow—an irritation to be dispensed with—before the Government come back yet again with a failed agreement, unaltered, to put before the House. That would be bad faith, and I think we saw some of that earlier on today when they tried to prevent us from having the debates that we had this afternoon in the first place. It was not a good look, and it is interesting that Parliament rejected the Government’s position today by an even bigger majority than we did on Monday. I would caution the Government to have some humility now in how they proceed. A good faith way to proceed would be to try to reach out and agree a new political consensus with other voices in this Parliament and in this country, including, in particular, other political parties and the devolved Administrations within the United Kingdom. That would be good faith.
This is a little surreal, because we are discussing what to do with the timetable before we know the outcome of the votes that we had earlier on, so I do not know yet what the mood of Parliament is on the various options that were put before it. That said, I am concerned that, when the Government have talked about how they might respond to those decisions and debates, they have suggested that they could not contemplate supporting anything they regarded as undeliverable. We can all accept that everything has practical consequences and that we have to come up with proposals that are practical and can be implemented, but I rather fear that “undeliverable” in this context means anything that conflicts with the draft withdrawal agreement. If so, it is another conceit to deny the will of Parliament.
The whole purpose of this exercise is that, having voted down the draft withdrawal agreement by such large majorities, we are genuinely engaged in a process to find a route to a majority by some other means.
Does the hon. Gentleman agree that the one thing that is genuinely undeliverable is a no-deal Brexit? We do not have the trading mechanisms to make it possible to deliver a no-deal Brexit and retain the stability of the country.
That is self-evidently true.
What is deliverable is to go back to the EU, remove the red lines and seek a new set of discussions with a new objective. My belief is that the EU would respond warmly to any such approach. To those concerned about being caught up in a process where the EU is placing constraints on what we can do, I say that our salvation is in our own hands, because we need only revoke the notice we served under article 50, pause the situation and take control of the process, without constraint or qualification or conditions being set by the EU or anyone else. That is a sensible move that the Government ought to consider. It was, of course, an unpardonable folly to trigger article 50 in the first place, without having the first clue where we were going, which is why I and my colleagues at the time voted against it.
Doing that will take time. Unfortunately, what we have before us tonight is only an interim measure, because it does not get rid of the cliff edge; it just pushes it a few weeks into the future. I am sure that we will have to come back to debate further statutory instruments and legislation to allow us properly to change direction and negotiate a better agreement with the EU, but that will take time; it will not be done by 22 May. We might as well acclimatise ourselves to the fact that to get a better outcome we will need a long and significant delay, which means preparing to fight European elections on 23 May 2019.
I am becoming increasingly alarmed. It seems to be the people who wish to deny the people of the UK any say on the outcome of the negotiations who are terrified at the prospect of facing the electorate on 23 May and asking them who they want to represent them in the EU. I do not understand how the Government negotiated an agreement that provided for this country not to be represented in the power structures of the EU during a transitional period of up to two years. That is ridiculous. We might stay, or we might leave the EU, but for as long as we are there, people in the UK have an equal right to be represented in those structures as people in any of the other 27 member states. We should acclimatise ourselves now to the idea of fighting those elections.
That would be a good thing. It would be embarrassing for some people who thought we would have it all done and dusted by now, but it is taking a little longer than people thought, so, as we take whatever time is required, we should be represented. I would predict two things if we have these elections on 23 May. The first is that the turnout would be considerably greater than the 35% in 2014. The second—I hope to be judged on it—is that the main loser will be the UK Independence party, which fluked the result last time.
Whether or not people respond to those elections will depend on how this Parliament approaches them. If we are seen to be dragged kicking and screaming to the ballot boxes, that will not be a good look, but if we embrace the opportunity for people in this country to have their democratic say, we may be able to change completely the narrative on how this matter is being addressed. We may be able to get rid of much of the ill-tempered debate that has taken place and begin the process of political healing. That is why we will offer no objection to the statutory instrument, but let me also say that it is only one small step along a much longer road that we now need to take.
The mood outside the House is overwhelmingly that we should get on with it. The nation heard the Prime Minister and the Government promise on countless occasions that we would be leaving on 29 March 2019, with or without a deal. It is true that the Prime Minister always said that she wanted a deal and expected to get a deal, but she never ruled out leaving without a deal, and she was right not to do so. Indeed, for many months she used to say, “No deal is better than a bad deal,” leaving open the possibility that what was on offer would be so bad that it would be better just to leave.
I am not someone who thinks that we should just leave. I think that we should leave with a series of deals, and I am pleased that the Government have put place the essential deals that we need in order to leave. Of course we needed an aviation deal, a haulage deal, a Government procurement deal and all the rest of it, and those things have been sorted out, I am told, over the long two years and eight months that have elapsed since the original vote. I am also pleased that the Government, in parallel with constantly telling us that they would get an agreement and an agreement that we would like, continued their so-called no-deal planning, which, as I have said, is actually many-deal planning—that is, planning a series of lesser deals to ensure that things worked smoothly and that we were in a good position and had options.
Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?
I wish to develop my argument a little.
The Government put us in that position. What we have not heard, either from the Minister or, more importantly, from the Prime Minister, who is responsible for this, is the case for the delay that we are now being asked to approve in United Kingdom legislation. It seems to be mainly geared to the idea that the House will accept the withdrawal agreement after we should have left, rather than before we were going to leave, but we now learn that the deal that was actually offered did not allow the Government until May or early June to put the thing through. The EU was very tough on the Government, saying, “You must get the withdrawal agreement through before the official leaving date of 29 March, under the previous understanding,” which leaves the Government with only a couple of days in which to do so.
The question to the Government must be, “Why has it taken so long to get this agreement into a shape that the House would pass, and why have you been so dilatory about presenting, or re-presenting the agreement?” or, even better, “Why did you not renegotiate it to get it into a form in which it might be worth considering again?” The question that you have rightly posed to the Government, Mr Speaker, is whether there is any point in constantly bringing the same thing back time and again when the answer continues to be negative. The Government have not really explained today, in the context of their wish for a delay, why the outcome would suddenly be different after they have left it for so long and why they left it so long if it was so time-critical. They have had plenty of months between the original Chequers disaster, when they first adumbrated this policy and there were mass resignations from the Government and the Conservative party and today, when—many more resignations later—there is still a considerable reluctance on the part of sections of the governing party to vote for the withdrawal agreement.
I fear that I am not free to support this proposal. I do not think that a good case has been made for delay, and I do not think that the Government have made a case to the public for why we have to be let down when such a clear promise was embedded in the law—in the withdrawal Act that this Parliament passed. I suggest to the Government that they should think again about how they wish to use the time that they are trying to buy.
I have a lot of sympathy with my hon. Friend the Member for Stone (Sir William Cash) over the crowning irony of the position the Government have placed us in. They are claiming superior European law to do something the leave majority in this country does not want them to do, but they are not so sure of their legal ground that they want this House to actually endorse it, because they know otherwise there might be legal difficulties, but to do it on the very piece of legislation that is taking back control. It is almost unbelievable.
This House has rightly decided to back the vote of the British people and by a solemn statute say that we are taking back control and from the day that that comes into effect all laws and matters relating to Government and public business will be settled in this House of Commons and not by the EU. And we are now told that the Prime Minister can have a conversation in an evening Council meeting in Brussels and be pushed off her request and given something completely different from her request, and we are told that trumps anything the UK Parliament does. Well, if we wanted to sum up why 17.4 million people voted the way they did, we could not do better than take that example. We do not want this House sidelined or presumed upon; this House should decide when we leave the European Union and that should not have been settled in that way.
I call Sir Bernard—oh, I do beg the pardon of the hon. Member for Wallasey (Ms Eagle): I call Angela Eagle, and then other colleagues. I remind the House that there are fewer than 25 minutes to go.
Thank you, Mr Speaker.
We have seen today elements of the Conservative party in high dungeon, or dudgeon—[Interruption.] Maybe they should be in the high dungeon. We have seen them in high dudgeon about the fact that the Minister has brought a statutory instrument before us today to take away the cliff edge they were relying on plunging this country over in order to get the kind of clean break, catastrophe Brexit that many of them secretly want. I never thought in this House that I would sit here and see considerable numbers of Members of a Government party—the party opposite—planning on that basis to cause such damage to our economic prospects and the prospects for prosperity of all of my constituents and everybody else’s constituents; it is a period of history that I hoped I would never see.
The Prime Minister is entirely responsible for getting all of us into the mess we have seen develop over the last few months as she has repeatedly, after putting a definite leaving date on the face of the original withdrawal Act, put off the vote and put off the vote on her withdrawal agreement because she wanted, I believe, to face this House with an unpalatable choice between her deal, which many from all parts of the House have serious problems with, and the catastrophe of no deal. In a modern, mature Parliament I believe that that kind of process and choice should never be allowed to face us. Whether we voted leave or remain—whichever side of the argument we were on in 2016—we should not have been put in that position, and it was the date on the face of what is now the withdrawal Act that allowed the Prime Minister to have the leverage that she somehow thought would work to her advantage.
The Prime Minister has now been forced to resort to the leverage that we hear happened at the 1922 committee tonight, where she basically said “Back me so you can then sack me,” and gave another date, 22 May, for when she would announce her departure. So now, while the country’s future is still in the air and not decided, we have the horrible, self-regarding spectacle of the next runners and riders in the Conservative party seeing who will inherit the poisoned chalice that the Tory psychodrama of Brexit has injected into the body politic in this country.
The Minister’s statutory instrument is an inevitable consequence of creating a false cliff edge. That cliff edge was created for blackmail purposes, but there remain many sensible, responsible people on both sides of the House, and we have expressed our wish not to allow the country to plunge over it. The Minister was correct to bring forward the statutory instrument, and to surmise that this Parliament will not allow a choice involving the catastrophe Brexit of leaving with no deal. We will not allow this or any future Prime Minister to blackmail this country with such appalling, disrespectful and dangerous tactics.
I will support the Minister’s statutory instrument tonight. I hope that in due course we will be able to have a much longer delay, to start the process again and to do it properly with some of the respect that we have seen developing in today’s indicative votes debate and with the responsible, cross-party debate that is beginning to develop and which should have happened in this country when the Prime Minister crossed the threshold of Downing Street two years ago. She has got the process exactly the wrong way round. Permanent damage has been done to our economy, our prospects, our prosperity and, more than anything else, our reputation in the world, because this Prime Minister has got this so disastrously wrong. Whoever her successor is, I hope that they will not take this to be a place that can be blackmailed, as she has done, and that they will not play Russian roulette with the prosperity and future of this country. Anyone who decides that that is a reasonable way to behave does not deserve the honour of being our Prime Minister.
The hon. Member for Wallasey (Ms Eagle) gave the game away when, amid all her hyperbole and rhetoric, she betrayed her desire for a “much longer delay”. That is what the remain majority in this House really want. I was rather shocked to hear the hon. Member for Greenwich and Woolwich (Matthew Pennycook) say that this measure should be entirely uncontroversial. He might not have been listening, but millions of our voters certainly have been listening and they were expecting to leave the EU on 29 March. For them, this debate comes as a very great disappointment, because this order cancels exit day on 29 March. The way in which the Council decision was agreed illustrates exactly why people voted to leave the EU, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Wokingham (John Redwood) set out.
History will mark this day as the moment when this House decided to start to turn against the decision to leave the EU and against the mandate upon which most MPs in this House were elected—[Interruption.] Oh yes, there are exceptions, but I am talking about the 85% of votes that were cast for pro-Brexit parties. So far, the EU’s withdrawal agreement has been rejected for good reasons, not least because it is so far from taking back control over our laws, borders and trade. That is one point on which I agree with the hon. Member for Edinburgh East (Tommy Sheppard). In fact, if this statutory instrument goes through, the next time the Minister brings an order to this House to implement an EU directive, decision or regulation, there will probably have been no UK Minister sitting at the table in Brussels to agree that decision, or even to be there to be outvoted. That decision will just have been handed down through the withdrawal agreement.
I have never considered myself a populist or a man of the people, but it is only those like me, who will vote against this decision to cancel leaving the EU on 29 March, who are truly representing what the British people decided in the referendum. We are the real majority in this House, but we are sorely under-represented by its Members.
I am going to press on.
This House has now embarked upon an unprincipled constitutional experiment. The Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee, which I chair, recently heard from a retired Lord Chief Justice that nothing like this experiment has occurred since the recasting of the role of Parliament in 1688, which shows just how radical it is. I recognise the sincerity of many right hon. and hon. Members involved in the experiment, but they have resorted to the most questionable constitutional methods, which leave no Government or anyone else accountable for what is being decided. Who will the voters now hold to account for the outcome of the Brexit question?
Moreover, the process has been supported by those either embarking upon embellishing the discredited withdrawal agreement with ever greater restrictions on our right of national democratic self-determination or seeking to disrupt Brexit or stop it altogether in defiance of the manifesto promises upon which most of us were elected. I therefore regret to conclude on these matters, including these regulations, that this House is left with questionable democratic legitimacy.
I absolutely endorse what my hon. Friend has said. I remind Members, including those on the Conservative Benches, that they voted consistently for the Acts of Parliament, including the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018, that will give effect to all the enactments and that to pursue such an objective is effectively to reverse their decisions on specious and unacceptable grounds.
I agree with my hon. Friend. I will vote against these regulations, and let me say something about the mess that we are now in. I can fairly claim to be one of the minority in this House who were the authors of the voters’ referendum decision, and I am proud of that. Most of us who voted leave have stuck with what we believe, one way or another. We are not the authors of what the remain majority in this House, with the Government, have made of Brexit, nor of what they continue to inflict upon our sad and disillusioned voters.
I cannot promise that I will speak without hesitation, repetition or deviation, and I probably will not limit myself to a minute, but I will do my best on all those counts. An extension to the exit day is a good thing for several reasons, but the extension that has been asked for, which we are discussing tonight, is not the one that we should be faced with, and I want to look back at how we got into this mess.
Several Members have mentioned the fact that people are expecting us to leave on 29 March. However, when people voted in the June 2016 referendum, not one person mentioned 29 March 2019 as exit day, nor did they mention 12 April or 22 May. The people voted either to remain in or leave the EU. That was the proposition, and there was no discussion of the actual exit day. While I am on the subject, nobody during the referendum expected that the right hon. Member for Maidenhead (Mrs May) would now be the Prime Minister. No one expected this deal to be the deal before Parliament, because that was not discussed during the course of the referendum, and it is absolutely wrong for anyone to say that it represents the settled will of the UK people.
I remind the hon. Lady that David Cameron said that if the referendum resulted in the UK leaving, he would trigger article 50 the day after. He did not do that, and he resigned.
The article 50 process is a two-year period with the possibility of extension. Triggering article 50 does not mean we leave exactly two years afterwards. There is a negotiation period, and anybody with an ounce of sense, for a start, would not have triggered article 50 until they were in a position to negotiate something with which Parliament and the people would agree, and they would have negotiated extensions so we do not leave before we are ready.
I am not aware of David Cameron ever having said that he would trigger article 50 the day after the referendum.
I just said I am not aware of it, but I am certainly aware of the Leader of the Opposition saying it.
I am sure the hon. Member for Aberdeen North (Kirsty Blackman) paid a lot of attention to the leave campaign. Does she remember the leave campaign making it very clear to the British people that we would not be leaving the European Union before a deal on our future relationship had been secured? That absolutely has not been done by this Government.
The right hon. Lady, as ever, is absolutely correct. People were promised a number of unicorns, and a number of Conservative Members still believe those unicorns exist—they are wandering around and waiting in vain for those unicorns to emerge. The problem is that the unicorns do not exist and have never existed. Promises were made to the people of these islands that could never have been met.
One of our biggest issues in this whole situation is that the red lines have been adhered to with some kind of iron grip. The red lines created the Chequers agreement. If anyone sensible had been in the Prime Minister’s shoes, they would have said that the most important thing for our economy is to have a deal that protects services, because services are 80% of the UK economy. Instead, the Prime Minister said, “The most important thing for me is to crack down on freedom of movement, so I will do everything I can to ensure that freedom of movement is cracked down on, rather than to ensure that the economy is protected.” That red line was ridiculous from the beginning.
The reason we are in this situation on the exit date—it would be great if the Minister could make this clear in his summing up, if he does sum up—is because of the Prime Minister’s ridiculous red line on the European elections. It is ridiculous that it should be laid down that we refuse to take part in the European elections. My party is ready, willing and able to take part in the elections, and I think we would do rather well. I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh East (Tommy Sheppard) that UKIP would see its number of votes and its number of seats reduced. I was shocked to hear the hon. Member for Vauxhall (Kate Hoey) suggest that the Labour party should be courting those UKIP voters and trying to get people who used to vote UKIP but who now vote Labour to stay on board. Frankly, I would rather not have those votes if I were given the option.
The Government lack preparedness. The Secretary of State for Scotland suggested this morning that the Scottish Government “have not embraced Brexit” and are therefore not prepared for the Prime Minister’s deal to happen in the event of Brexit. The UK Government are also not prepared for Brexit. That is why they are having to ask for an extension. Even if the Prime Minister’s deal had been approved, or were to be approved this week, they are still not prepared for Brexit to happen.
I sit on the European Statutory Instruments Committee, which did not meet this Tuesday because there were no proposed negative instruments for it to discuss, and the Committee does not propose to sit next Tuesday because there are no proposed negative instruments for it to discuss. I have been asking whether that means there are no proposed negative instruments left, but apparently it means we are not getting a recess and the Committee will sit the week after next to discuss them.
The UK Government have failed at every opportunity to prepare adequately, and they have set absolutely unreasonable red lines. What they should be doing now is going to the EU and saying, “We need a longer extension so we can adequately prepare, and we are happy to take part in the EU elections as a result.” My preferred position is that we should have a people’s vote, with the people given a clear choice between remaining in the EU and whatever deal this House would like to put to them.
My hon. Friend is making an excellent speech, summing up brilliantly the exact guddle that this Conservative Government have got themselves into. Is it not the worst kind of loser who blames their opposition or opponent for their own mess? Not only are this Government completely screwing up the Brexit negotiations and the whole of the UK, but they are asleep at the wheel in government and cannot even replace their disability Minister, thus offending and not properly representing people with disabilities across the UK. It is utterly shameful.
My hon. Friend is absolutely correct: this is a complete mess, and not only over things such as not being able to replace the disability Minister. I understand that the Prime Minister has lost 28 Ministers; the previous three Prime Ministers reached a combined total of losing that many Ministers.
The last issue I wish to raise is the fact that EU settled status is not sorted out. People’s jobs, livelihoods and living standards—people’s lives—are being put at risk by the decisions and lack of preparedness of this Government. But we will be supporting this SI and supporting the extension, although it should be a longer one.
I will try to be brief, so that my right hon. Friend the Member for Wantage (Mr Vaizey) can get in, too.
The hon. Gentleman also wishes to contribute, so I know that the right hon. Gentleman will exercise an enormous self-denying ordinance.
Thank you, Mr Speaker. Tonight, we are debating whether or not to extend article 50. The thing I would like to touch on briefly is whether the EU would ever countenance a further extension. I say that because from 2007 to 2010, when we were on the Opposition Benches, I was my party’s shadow Europe Minister. I did the Lisbon treaty, working with William Hague, and that was my epiphany; we had 14 days’ debate in this place and we could not change a single punctuation mark. That was when I realised that we had to leave. I hope the Minister will accept that in those three years I spent a lot of time visiting the institutions of the European Union, because that was my job. I came to realise that for many people in the EU, particularly, though not exclusively, in the Commission, what is often referred to as the “European project” has the status almost of a religious act of faith. People passionately believe in it, it transcends almost all other considerations and it must be promoted and protected almost at all costs. Very many people in the EU were utterly shocked when the UK voted to leave. They were absolutely stunned, because in their world what we had done was an act of heresy—it was apostasy to leave.
Many people in the EU believe we should be punished, not least pour encourager les autres. But what they are even more worried about is the UK taking part in European elections, which would bring 73 UK MEPs into the Parliament, many of whom, though not all, would be likely to be Eurosceptic. That would completely upset the calculations that they have made to reconfigure the new Parliament in order to keep out what they call the “populists” from eastern Europe and, for instance, the Lega Nord from Italy. That is why they would not accept the extension to 30 June. They insisted either on 22 May or 12 April, which is the drop-dead date for when we would have to begin European election preparation in the UK.
So my argument simply is this: I believe that for the EU protecting the integrity of the Parliament, which under the co-decision procedure under the Lisbon treaty has much greater power now relative to the other institutions, would be even more important to those who really believe in the project than trying to keep the UK in the EU, although many would like that. Therefore, if I am right, they would not countenance any further extension beyond the dates that have been given, because it would muck up the European Parliament and that would spoil Macron’s plans to federalise the EU. So my argument is that we should not be worried about a long extension, because I believe, although I cannot prove it in the House tonight, that they will never grant it. They do not want, in any circumstances, to go beyond 12 April because it means European elections that they simply cannot stomach, because there would be 35 to 40 Eurosceptic British MEPs who completely rip up their plan for the Parliament.
I am going to finish.
I believe, on that basis, that the threat of a long extension has always been a false one and that if we get to 12 April, we can leave, because I believe that those who believe in the project would not allow the extension.
Finally, the Government spent £9 million on sending a document to every household in this country, before the referendum, that said, “This is a once-in-a-generation decision. This is your decision and we will implement what you decide.” If the people in this House overturn that decision, the people will be extremely angry. Do not say you were not warned.
Is the right hon. Member for Rayleigh and Wickford (Mr Francois) giving way, or has he completed his speech?
I have finished to leave time for my right hon. Friend the Member for Wantage (Mr Vaizey).
It is very good of the right hon. Gentleman to advise me, but I was going to call Mr Double, and then Mr Vaizey.
You can divide it between you.
Many good speeches have been made this evening about the validity of the instrument we are being asked to vote on, but I wish to talk briefly about what I believe what is taking place tonight looks like to the British people, particularly the 17.4 million people who voted to leave the EU. Many of the British people have put their trust in this place and we told them that we would be leaving the EU on 29 March, in just two days. The passage of this statutory instrument to delay that date is a breach of trust with the British people, who trusted us and took us at our word when we said we would be leaving at the end of this month. Many people are concerned that Brexit is being stolen by the establishment in this place, and the passage of this instrument is another step towards that taking place.
Many people will feel that this change is wrong for the very reason that has been mentioned many times: we have been told that we do not have a choice tonight, that the EU has already made this decision for us and that the date on which we leave is going to be delayed. We have been told that what we do tonight is irrelevant because the decision has already been made, so we should just pass it through. If we want an example of why many of the 17.4 million people voted to leave, that is it. Is there any pretence that this House has sovereignty over our own rules? We cannot even decide for ourselves the date on which we are going to leave. We have been told it by the EU. We could not even get the date that we wanted, which was negotiated away. I shall therefore keep trust with the word that we gave the British people when we said we would leave on 29 March and will not support this statutory instrument tonight.
I call Mr Ed Vaizey.
Everyone on the Government Back Benches has spoken against this statutory instrument; I just have time to say that I fully support it. I cede my place to my hon. Friend the Member for South Norfolk (Mr Bacon).
This Government have had half the time it took to fight the second world war, two thirds of the time it took to fight the first world war, and the entire length of the Kennedy Administration, during which time the groundwork was laid for a successful moonshot. The idea that we need more time is nonsense. The Government have had plenty of time, they have not used it well enough, and we should just leave.
Further to that excellent speech, I point out that it took seven years to organise the two-week London Olympics. Extracting ourselves from the most sophisticated political and economic alliance in the history of the world will probably take a bit longer.
That the draft European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018 (Exit Day) (Amendment) Regulations 2019, which were laid before this House on 25 March, be approved.
I will now suspend the House until the outcome of votes on motions—[Hon. Members: “Oh!”] Let me advise the House that it was very much the hope of our extremely dedicated and professional staff that they would be able to provide the results of the indicative votes to be announced immediately after the result of this Division, but that has not proved possible. I do not expect the suspension to be very long, but I will suspend the House until the outcome of votes on motions relating to the United Kingdom’s withdrawal from and future relationship with the European Union is available. The Division bell will be rung two minutes before the House resumes.
On a point of order, Mr Speaker.