Considered in Committee (Order, this day)
[Sir Lindsay Hoyle in the Chair]
I must inform the Committee that I have selected the amendments and new clauses as grouped with clauses stand part on the selection paper available in the Vote Office. My provisional grouping and selection of amendments is now available. There will be one group with votes at the end, by 10 pm at the latest, on the lead amendment on which the question has been proposed from the Chair; other amendments to clause 1 selected for separate decision; clause 1 stand part; any amendments to clause 2 selected for separate decision; clause 2 stand part; and any new clauses selected for separate decision.
I am not going to enter into a debate about my reasons for selecting or not selecting amendments and new clauses to this very narrow, single-topic Bill. We start with amendment 13, with which it will be convenient to discuss amendments to clause 1, clause 1 stand part, amendments to clause 2, clause 2 stand part and new clauses.
Duties in connection with Article 50 extension
Amendment proposed: 13, page 1, line 6, leave out “section 2” and insert “section 1”.—(Sir Oliver Letwin.)
This corrects a drafting error in the Bill as published.
On a point of order, Sir Lindsay. Unfortunately, with the noise of people entering and leaving the Chamber, I did not catch which amendments had been selected, and I wonder whether you could clarify that for the Committee.
They are amendment 13, amendment 20, amendment 21, Government amendment 22, amendment 1, clause 1 stand part, amendment 14, amendment 6, clause 2 stand part, new clause 4, new clause 5, new clause 7 and Government new clause 13. I hope that that helps the Committee. [Interruption.] Somebody just won the bingo call.
On a point of order, Sir Lindsay. Thank you for repeating the list of amendments that have been selected. Could I ask you to repeat them again a little bit more slowly, because we could not get through the amendment paper fast enough?
I am just trying to see if we can get an indication of where we are up to with the printing and duplication, and why the lists have not been handed out. Nothing is yet forthcoming. Rather than suspend, I will repeat the list and see whether we can make progress with the numbers. The amendments that have been selected are 13, 20—
We have already had that joke, Mr Linden. Repeat jokes do not count. The other items on the selection list are amendment 21, Government amendment 22, amendment 1, clause 1 stand part, amendment 14, amendment 6, clause 2 stand part, new clause 4, new clause 5, new clause 7 and Government new clause 13. For the benefit of the Committee, I will run through it once more: amendment 13, amendment 20, amendment 21, Government amendment 22, amendment 1, clause 1 stand part, amendment 14, amendment 6, clause 2 stand part, new clause 4, new clause 5, new clause 7 and Government new clause 13. Does that help Members?
On a point of order, Sir Lindsay. Thank you for clarifying which amendments you have selected. Will you just be absolutely clear on how they have been grouped? Are we debating them all as one large group or in separate groups?
Yes, we are trying to get the lists as quickly as possible, and we are playing a bit of catch-up. We know where we need to start and we could make a start while the documents are being distributed. We are up against it a bit with time. I want to see who wishes to speak, so I am looking around the Chamber to see who will stand.
On a point of order, Sir Lindsay. In the spirit of the new regime of bringing the whole House together on these difficult matters, and while you are waiting to get these amendments circulated, I thought it would be helpful if I was to let the House know that the Grand National will be won by a horse called Tiger Roll. [Laughter.]
On a point of order, Sir Lindsay. To be helpful and while we are awaiting the formal written list, could you advise us at what stage you will take Third Reading before 10 o’clock? It would be interesting to know how long we have to discuss the amendments, which will be forthcoming shortly.
Just to help the House, on my sheet of paper, which we are working to, amendment 13 is in the name of Yvette Cooper.
With amendment 13 it will be convenient to consider:
Amendment 20, page 1, line 11, at end add
“, and that date shall be no later than 30 June 2019.”
Amendment 21, page 1, line 21, leave out subsections (6) and (7).
Amendment 22, page 2, line 3, at end insert—
“() Nothing in this section prevents a Minister of the Crown from seeking, or agreeing to, an extension of the period specified in Article 50(3) of the Treaty on European Union otherwise than in accordance with this section.”
This amendment ensures that the Bill does not limit the powers that a Minister of the Crown would otherwise have to seek, or agree to, an extension of the Article 50(3) period.
Amendment 1, page 2, line 3, at end insert—
“(8) But the Prime Minister may not agree to any extension of the Article 50 period proposed by the European Council which is later than 22 May 2019.”
Clause stand part.
Amendment 14, in clause 2, page 2, line 5, leave out “2018 Act” and insert
“the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018”.
This clarifies the title of the previous Act being referred to.
Amendment 6, page 2, line 7, leave out from “force” to end of line 7 and insert
“subject to the approval of the Northern Ireland Assembly, the Scottish Parliament and the National Assembly of Wales, on such day as a Minister of the Crown may by regulations appoint.”
Clause 2 stand part.
New clause 4—Amendability of motions—
‘Any motion brought forward under section 1(1) in the form set out in section 1(2) may be amended in line with section 1(3) only to include a date.’
This new Clause would prevent further amendments to standing orders etc.
New clause 5—Amendability of motions (No. 2)—
‘Any motion brought forward under section 1(1) in the form set out in section 1(2) may be amended in line with section 1(3) only to include a date no later than 22 May 2019.’
This new Clause would prevent further amendments to standing orders or business of the House of Commons etc and impose a maximum duration of the extension period.
New clause 7—European Elections—
‘No extension of the period under Article 50(3) of the Treaty on European Union may be agreed by the Prime Minister if as a result the United Kingdom would be required to prepare for or to hold elections to the European Parliament.’
New clause 13—Procedure for ensuring domestic legislation matches Article 50 extension—
‘In paragraph 14 of Schedule 7 to the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018 (regulations amending the definition of “exit day” to be subject to approval by each House of Parliament) for the words from “may” to “each” substitute “is subject to annulment in pursuance of a resolution of either”.’
This new clause changes the procedure for regulations, under section 20(4) of the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018, altering the definition of “exit day” from affirmative to negative procedure.
If I may, I will briefly speak to the drafting amendments in my name and that of the right hon. Member for West Dorset (Sir Oliver Letwin). I will respond to the other amendments at a later stage in the debate, once other hon. Members have had an opportunity to speak to their amendments.
These are two minor drafting amendments. The first simply corrects something in clause 1, page 1, line 6—instead of referring to “section 2”, it should refer to “section 1”. The second amendment—amendment 14—would ensure that rather than referring to the “2018 Act”, the Bill would properly refer to
“the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018”.
These are simply for clarification.
I looked through the right hon. Lady’s Bill last night and at the drafting of clause 1(2). I had not seen her proposed amendment, but is this not the difficulty of trying to make law on the hoof? We have had only 55 minutes for Second Reading and there is a most obvious drafting error in her original Bill. There was a simple mistake, getting the section wrong, and reading through it I simply did not understand at all which Bill she was referring to. Does this not show the danger, with such an important constitutional change, of trying to make law on the hoof?
Sadly, this is the consequence of us being nine days away from Brexit day. That is not a situation that any of us wanted to be in—to have the clock run down this far—with no agreement in place. The Prime Minister did not put any withdrawal agreement to Parliament until January, and it has been put back several times since then, so we have not had a clear plan. That is the situation we are in.
On a point of order, Sir Lindsay. It may help the House. I have just inquired in the Vote Office, and the correct amendment paper, the one that we should be looking at, is the one with 15 printed pages. There has been some confusion, which would explain the point of order from my hon. Friend the Member for Stone (Sir William Cash).
I entirely agree with what my right hon. Friend was saying before the point of order. Have we not all been in Committees dealing with Government legislation when the Government have tabled at every stage, every day, tens or even hundreds of amendments, even before that legislation goes to the other place? Does she agree that the couple of minor things that have been spotted and are being addressed on this occasion are nothing in comparison with what the Government normally do?
I do agree, and I would add that the intent and provisions of this Bill are extremely simple. We understand that, because of the timescale, the Government will ask us to make decisions on some very big things in the next couple of days before the European Council.
Not only is the numbering of the amendments wrong, but I am afraid that the amendment to which the right hon. Lady seems to be referring now—her amendment 13—is itself rubbish. It reads:
“leave out ‘section 2’ and insert ‘section 1’”.
Unfortunately, that does not help anyone, for a very simple reason. The Bill refers to section 2. If the amendment is passed, that will be referred to as section 1
“of the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2019”.
What is that Act? I thought that the European Union (Withdrawal) Act was passed in 2018.
The right hon. Gentleman is exactly right. Let me clarify the position. There are two references to two different Acts. There is one reference in clause 1(2) to the 2019 Act that this Bill will become, and another reference in clause 2(1), to the Act passed last year.
In a way, I rise to speak to all the amendments, which are supposed to relate to the duties to be exercised under the Bill. However, one duty in particular has been omitted from both the Bill and all the selected amendments.
I know that the views that I shall express are supported by the right hon. Member for Twickenham (Sir Vince Cable), the hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Caroline Lucas), the right hon. Member for Ross, Skye and Lochaber (Ian Blackford), the right hon. Member for Dwyfor Meirionnydd (Liz Saville Roberts), and others. We argue that there should be attached to the intention of the Bill the purpose for which it is sought. The European Council has made it absolutely clear that the UK will not necessarily be granted an extension for a general purpose, and that we shall need to specify what we wish to have the extension for. On a number of occasions, senior officials of the various EU institutions have made it clear that they would grant an extension for the purpose of a people’s vote, but no such purpose is referred to in any of the amendments that have been selected, or in the Bill itself.
It is all well and good to argue against no deal—and that, we have been told, lies behind the Bill—but it is clear that if Members wish to be sure of securing the extension to stop no deal, particularly those who will not entertain revocation of article 50, there needs to be a duty not only to request an extension, but to request it for the purpose of what will lead to our being granted the extension that we require, namely a people’s vote.
I completely agree with my hon. Friend. This is so important and we have been brought to this point because our democracy is deadlocked. We are faced with a perfect storm created by a clash of mandates: we are trying to work our way through dealing with a clash of mandates between views expressed by a majority of people who participated in a referendum in 2016 and views expressed in a general election which has led to a hung Parliament and the chaos in this House of Commons.
The hon. Gentleman is correct in saying that we would have to produce a reason for wanting an extension, but does he agree that the reason that would command wide support here is so that we could clarify the political declaration and develop the ideas of some sort of customs arrangement and some sort of regulatory alignment mapping out our future relationship? Does he agree that most of the European nations would welcome that development, and probably a very long extension to the end of 2021 would be quite readily available?
I do not disagree at all with the Father of the House. I think a long extension would be preferable. I do not think there is anything for us to fear in terms of European elections. After all that is called democracy and at least it means more of our constituents can get involved in this process. In terms of the different elements of this Bill and the duties we are seeking to impose on the Government, it has been said that to find a way forward through all of this requires compromise. As I have said, I believe there should be a duty in this Bill for the Government to seek an extension in order to provide for a people’s vote. Why do those of us who argue for a people’s vote want a people’s vote? We do so because we want to give the British people the ability to take a different course, and in so doing there is compromise. The easy thing to do if we wanted to stop Brexit from happening would be to simply ignore the 2016 result.
Order. Obviously the scope of this debate is quite tight and I am going to allow some flexibility in the discussion, but we do not want to concentrate on something that is not even down on the Order Paper tonight. So by all means I will allow some freedom, but we should not open up the debate too far.
My hon. Friend’s points are particularly relevant to new clauses 4 and 5 in the name of the hon. Member for Stone (Sir William Cash) which seek, I believe artificially, to restrict the nature of amendments that could be placed in relation to any motion on an extension. It is very relevant to new clauses 4 and 5 for us on this side of the House to say “No, there should be greater latitude for the sort of issues to come into that.”
Order. I think in fairness that it is my judgment that we will take. Thank you for your advice, but actually it will be the opposite way, not the way the hon. Gentleman is trying to open up. I have said I will allow flexibility, but I am not going to allow discussion on matters that are not part of tonight’s debate.
I wonder if the hon. Gentleman realises something about his amendment: I would be very happy to see it inserted because I think it would immediately mean a money resolution would be needed, so I give him good encouragement.
I wish my amendment had been selected, but my point is that the purpose for which the extension is sought is not stated as being necessary in the duties of this Bill.
I apologise, Sir Lindsay, if you do not believe I am speaking strictly to the amendments. Part of the challenge raised is the way we are conducting this debate given the fact that we are trying to do justice to the Committee stage of this Bill having only discovered your selection shortly before.
Absolutely; I was just making an observation.
Ultimately, there is a need for compromise, and we are at that stage in the process where I think that that is what the public expects. Introducing a provision within the duties in the Bill for the Government to seek an extension for the purpose of a people’s vote is, I would argue, a compromise, in part because there are ways of carrying out a people’s vote that would take account of all the different views in this House. That would involve compromise. For example, we do not like the Prime Minister’s withdrawal agreement or the framework for the future relationship, but we would be prepared not to stand in the way of them if they were put to a confirmatory vote.
I shall finish by explaining why I was so keen to crowbar these points into the debate. If we do not address these points, and if, through a backroom deal, we ignore the fact that a people’s vote is not provided for in the duties of the Bill, what are we saying to the 1 million people who marched on the streets of this city? What are we saying to the 2 million young people who now have a say on this whole issue but did not have a say three years ago? What are we saying to the 6 million people who signed a parliamentary petition arguing for a revocation, in frustration that a people’s vote might not happen? And what are we saying to the majority of people in this country who certainly did not vote for this mess? That is why it is important, if we are going to seek an extension, that we make it clear that we want to do so primarily to give those people a voice so that they get a final say on whether we go ahead with this disaster or whether we seek to change our country in a different fashion.
I thank the House of Commons Clerks for the immense amount of work they have put in to ensure that we have these amendments in order and ready to be debated. This is clearly a rather unprecedented type of Bill to bring before Parliament. In common with my right hon. Friend the Member for Newbury (Richard Benyon), I have been somewhat supportive of the attempts by my right hon. Friend the Member for West Dorset (Sir Oliver Letwin) to create space on the House’s agenda to discuss indicative votes. Indeed, I have tabled amendments of my own during the debates on those votes, and I abstained on a business of the House motion to enable those votes to take place. I did not do that today, however, because like my right hon. Friend the Member for Newbury, I believe that this is a very different reason for taking control of the House.
I rise to speak to my two amendments: amendments 20 and 21. Amendment 20 seeks to add to subsection (3) of clause 1 a maximum date of 30 June 2019 to that elected by the Government. Amendment 21 would delete altogether subsections (6) and (7) of clause 1, which make provision for how the House would deal with a situation in which the European Union had rejected an approach by the Government to seek an extension and had instead made a counter-offer. My reason for tabling both those amendments is that, as a number of hon. Members have pointed out, this legislation is indeed rushed. We all have our views on the reason for that, and we are indeed at the eleventh hour of the process of leaving the European Union. That means that this is an unusual Bill, in that it seeks to bind the hands of the Government on a decision that would normally be a matter of prerogative power and a matter for the Executive to take to negotiations in international forums. Both amendments recognise the fact that the Bill has now had its Second Reading and is therefore in play, but they nevertheless seek to place a restriction on its scope and power.
While any date can be placed in a motion under clause 1(2), amendment 20 seeks a maximum of 30 June 2019, making it impossible for the Government, or someone else by amendment, to set a date beyond that. That is an important principle given the rushed nature of this legislation. It would enable both this House or the Government to seek a short extension, as the Prime Minister has already indicated she would, but it would prevent this House or the Government from electing for a long extension, which might effectively lead to the revocation of article 50.
I want to pick up on a comment the hon. Gentleman made a moment ago. As I understand it, amendment 21 would delete subsections (6) and (7) and amendment 20 seeks a maximum extension length of 30 June 2019, but subsection (5) would remain. On my reading of the Bill, that would allow the House to amend the 30 June date that he seeks to insist is the latest date that the Prime Minister could put in any motion provided for under subsection (2). Will he just clarify whether that would be the result of his amendments?
Well, we have all had a little time to look at the Bill, but my understanding is that amendment 20 would insert a maximum time limit and that subsection (5) would then be subject to it. Subsection (3) makes explicit reference to subsection (2), which relates to the motion that would be before the House. I think the consequence of amendment 20 would be to include a limit of the 30 June, notwithstanding what the right hon. Gentleman says about subsection (5).
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way again. That would not be my interpretation, because subsection (5) states:
“If the motion in the form set out in subsection (2) for the purposes of subsection(1) is agreed to with an amendment”,
meaning an amendment to the date that the Prime Minister has asked for, which clearly shows that the motion that the Prime Minister would move is amendable. Therefore, if the House decided to include a date different from 30 June 2019, that is what the Prime Minister would have to seek in her discussions with the European Union.
I do not agree, because subsection (3), as amended by amendment 20, would mean that it would not be possible to have a date in a motion under subsection (2) that went beyond 30 June, because subsection (3) would make it explicit that the date could be no later.
Without wishing to cause a row with my right hon. Friend the Member for Leeds Central (Hilary Benn), I agree with the interpretation of the hon. Member for Camborne and Redruth (George Eustice). It has always been the case in this place that a motion cannot trump legislation, so the Bill would have primacy if the motion included a date that was later than that on the face of the Bill. While I understand my right hon. Friend’s misinterpretation, I would interpret the Bill in the same way as the hon. Gentleman.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his intervention. Subsection (3) would have to not exist for the point of the right hon. Member for Leeds Central (Hilary Benn) to be valid. Amendment 20 would amend subsection (3) and therefore change the terms under which subsection (2) could be exercised, which would in turn have a direct impact on the reading of subsection (5).
My hon. Friend makes an important point. I think I chose that date primarily because the Prime Minister initially suggested that she may seek a short extension until, say, June. We all recognise the issues with the European elections and that if we were to go for a long extension, we would have to consider whether to fight those elections and start fielding candidates. My own view is that, by selecting 30 June as a maximum, the amendment would not preclude the Government from choosing a date of, say, 22 May, but if, for instance, it were thought necessary to go slightly longer, to go to 30 June, it would be open to all parties, both the UK Government and the European Union, to have a conversation about whether it is indeed necessary to hold European elections in this country, given it would be only a short extension for another month.
I am aware that the British civil service has considered whether, in a short-term, interim arrangement, it might be possible to send delegates from this House to represent the UK in the European Parliament.
Is it not a fact that the European Union has made it absolutely clear that the maximum extension available—an extension has to be agreed, unlike a revocation—is to 22 May, unless there is a long extension of potentially 21 months or more? In those circumstances, we would have to fight the European elections. If the hon. Gentleman’s proposal were agreed, it is unlikely to be accepted by the European Union, which could lead to us crashing out with no deal.
I simply say to the hon. Gentleman that amendment 20 is generous to the Government and would give them the option, should they believe it necessary under EU law, to set a date of 22 May under subsection (2), but if it were felt necessary by all parties, including the European Union, that—in order to get a withdrawal agreement over the line—an extra month would be needed beyond May, it is not beyond the wit of man to do so and to put arrangements in place so it would not be necessary for us to hold European elections in this country.
I would further contend that one of the biggest problems we have had throughout this negotiation is a tendency to get over-obsessed with the intricacies of so-called European law. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs recently told me of a meeting he had had with Ministers from other European countries, at which they made the point that, if the politics require it, it is always possible to amend or disapply European law for the short term, should it be necessary and expedient for all parties, to get a sensible resolution to a difficult crisis.
With respect, I think the hon. Gentleman will find that in treaty, in international law, EU citizens are entitled to vote in European elections and to be represented in the European Parliament. Although I agree that, often, where there’s a will there’s a way, especially with the European Union, my understanding is that a change to an international treaty would be required to extend the date to 30 June without holding those elections. That is why the EU is very keen that, if the date is extended, the extension should be much longer.
I understand the right hon. Lady’s point. I simply say that Sweden, unlike Denmark and the UK, never had an opt-out from joining the euro, but it held a referendum that decided it should not join the euro. As a result, technically speaking, Sweden has been in breach of international law and European law ever since.
It is simply the case that if it were felt necessary to find a way of extending our membership to get the withdrawal agreement through—for a period of one month under amendment 20—I cannot believe it is beyond the wit of man for that to be accommodated, notwithstanding what might be said in some treaty or other. It would not be the first time that the European Union has done this.
As I pointed out earlier, if the Government believe that the treaties are, indeed, inviolable and cannot be changed, even for a period of four weeks, it would be open to them to select a date of 22 May. My amendment is generous in giving them the option, should it be possible to get agreement with the European Union and other parties, to go for a slightly later date.
Let me assist my hon. Friend. This question of the date has been a vexed one. Obviously, we are not in favour of any extension, but the Commission tends to think that 22 May is a key date. I had a meeting with Guy Verhofstadt in Brussels and he tends to recognise the 30th as a cut-off date, so I think we are into a period of ambiguity and my hon. Friend is right to give this sort of latitude.
I thank my hon. Friend for all that. One problem with this whole negotiation is getting hung up over some clause or other in some EU treaty when we all—we or the EU—face a much bigger dilemma: how do we settle this political crisis? We have to consider how we find a resolution to this dispute, and achieve a reconciliation in our country and an outcome to this debate that can settle the Brexit argument and deliver the referendum result from 2016.
Does the Bill, as drafted, not give the Prime Minister—I am surprised at myself for saying this—the flexibility to discuss with Opposition parties and come to a conclusion as to the best date, in the interests of achieving the very objectives the hon. Gentleman has set?
Yes, but it does so through a Bill and it gives the Prime Minister the opportunity to make her case to Parliament, but without any constraint on that at all. Given that this is a very novel legal approach—a rushed piece of legislation, with a Bill being driven through the House in one day—we should be cautious about the scope we attach to that Bill. Attaching an ability to go for a very long extension of several years—potentially five years if Parliament decided that is what it wanted—is worthy of further deliberation.
I understand the hon. Gentleman’s perspective on the politics of this and the policy outcome, which would be a limit of 30 June in terms of what this Bill could achieve. I want to clarify something with him, because my interpretation of his amendment is more in line with that of my right hon. Friend the Member for Leeds Central (Hilary Benn). Amendment 20 would put a date of
“no later than 30 June 2019”
in clause 1(3). It seems to me that that is superseded by subsection (5), and if the hon. Gentleman wanted to achieve his intended outcome he should have tabled a further amendment, proposing another date in subsection (5). He has not done that, so it would override and be able to amend a date in a motion tabled under subsection (2).
I strongly disagree with the hon. Lady’s reading, as subsection (3) sets out the terms in which anything can be offered under subsection (2) and amendment 20 places a clear limit in subsection (3) of 30 June. Subsection (5) then says:
“If the motion in the form set out in subsection (2) for the purposes of subsection (1) is agreed to with an amendment to change the date”
and so on. The issue I have is that subsection (3) says that the date has a time limit, so it would not be legally possibly under subsection (2) to have a date that contradicted the requirements set out in subsection (3). That is my contention and I disagree with the hon. Lady. If she and the right hon. Member for Leeds Central were right, they would not have had subsection (3) at all.
My hon. Friend made a remark that goes to the issue of the money resolution that I raised earlier. He said, and I am going to take his word for it, because no doubt as a recent former Minister he has followed this carefully, that the extension in question could be as long as five years. Let us think about that. If we multiply five by £18 billion of taxpayers’ money, which is the amount we pay every year in gross contributions to the EU, we find that it works out at £90 billion. That is his assessment, and I am simply asking him to ask the Minister vicariously whether he is aware that this Bill could cost £90 billion of taxpayers’ money? I think—I hope—the media will pick up on that.
My hon. Friend makes an important point. It is why, given the rushed nature of the Bill—we all understand the reasons for that—it is necessary to place constraints on the scope of its operation, to limit precisely the kind of financial liabilities to which he alludes.
My contention is that any suggestion of a longer extension beyond 30 June, perhaps to 21 months, two years or even longer, should surely be the subject of another Bill. After all, we have demonstrated today that we can introduce Bills of this sort in short order. If the future of this House is to be that any decisions of this sort require a Bill, and that one can be delivered with a day’s debate on the Floor of the House, surely it is right to constrain and restrict the scope of this Bill to delivering us through this immediate crisis—without doubt, this is a crisis—but nevertheless to keep open the option for the House to consider a longer extension if it wished to do so.
The hon. Gentleman is being generous in accepting interventions. I fear that the interpretation of his amendment is not what he intends. This is not about the rights or wrongs of the date, but what his amendment seems to do, which is to put a cap and an end date on what the Prime Minister may put to the House, but not on an amendment to her motion that the House could seek. That is the difference between subsections (3) and (5).
Nothing in this Bill prevents the Prime Minister from still exercising royal prerogative powers outside the Bill. Were the Government to recommend to the House a decision to go for a longer extension, and they had a clear rationale for doing so, I still think that they would be able to do so outside the scope of the Bill. What the Bill does not do is say that the prerogative powers of the Executive are vanquished in all areas for all time. Instead, it seeks to establish an ability for the House, on this particular narrow issue, to table a motion. Nothing in the Bill constrains the Government’s ability still to exercise prerogative powers; it clearly requires them to exercise those prerogative powers in accordance with the Bill, if they are indeed exercised in response to motions passed by this House, so I do not accept the hon. Lady’s point.
I have been wondering about that. My hon. Friend says that the motion in effect will mandate, but does he agree with my reading, which is that under subsection (2) the House simply agrees that the Prime Minister is seeking an extension? It does not mandate or order it. Does that not again make nonsense of swift drafting on such an important issue?
There will always be issues when legislation of this sort is drafted. This is unorthodox legislation, an unusual type of Bill, and that is why the two amendments I tabled seek to place some restrictions on the scope in which the powers may be exercised.
Amendment 21 would simply delete subsections (6) and (7) altogether.
Am I to understand that that was a point of order?
I am looking for an answer to my question. After all, the House authorities are responsible for bringing forward Bills. We have had nothing but trouble—on the amendments and on other things—since these proceedings began. I am not criticising; I know that things were done at tremendous speed, which is why the Bill is so inappropriate. The question really is what we are trying to legislate for; that is what these Committee proceedings allow us to ask. I am beginning to observe that this Bill is complete rubbish. It is therefore important for us to know who drafted it.
I put on record my enormous respect for my right hon. Friend the Member for West Dorset. I appreciate that through all the measures that he has tabled, he is trying to deal with the incredibly difficult and complex situation that the country faces. From the time I was first involved with the party, I have worked with him closely. He has been the anchor-man for several leaderships in the Conservative party. Whatever differences Members may have on this issue, he deserves the respect of all Conservative Members.
Amendment 21 would delete subsections (6) and (7) of clause 1, which provide for the House to consider a counter-offer from the European Union. If the Prime Minister were to seek an extension until 30 June 2019 and the European Union made a counter-offer, the question would arise of what should happen next. My contention is that at that point, the Government should bring their own proposals to the House. If the House then felt that it wanted to bind the Government’s hands on what should happen next, that would surely be a matter for a future Bill, given that we have today demonstrated our ability to pass legislation in a speedy and efficient fashion.
I am grateful for my hon. Friend’s kind remarks, but I wonder whether he means to remove subsections (6) and (7). If we did not pass the Bill and the Prime Minister went to the European Council, as my hon. Friend envisages, with a request for something less than 30 June, and it said, which I think would not suit him, and might well not suit me, that there should be a 21-month extension, there would be nothing to prevent the Prime Minister accepting that, using the prerogative power. It would of course be necessary, as things stand, for the House to agree a statutory instrument changing the exit date in the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018 to reconcile UK law with the position in international law, but the House would not have much choice about that, because we would be out of kilter with international law if we did not make the change, as we discovered when the original SI was made.
Of course, when the Prime Minister made the original application, she did not seek the approval of the House; she was able to make it, perfectly properly, under the prerogative power. If my hon. Friend removes subsections (6) and (7), the effect is not, as he might imagine, to stop the Prime Minister doing something that he would regard as a mischief—namely accepting then and there a very long extension—but to continue to enable her to do that.
I am sure that my right hon. Friend is aware of the reason that I resigned from the Government, which is that I genuinely believe it is right that the Executive should, as a general rule, retain control of these types of decisions. If we got into a position where 650 or so MPs here were trying to participate in a negotiation with the European Union, I would say we were in quite a bit of trouble.
This is a question of the balance of risk. My view is that, confronted with an unpalatable decision—a demand for, say, a two-year extension from the European Union as the only deal on offer—I would still rather take my chances with the Cabinet to show some backbone than take the risk with this House, and I say that having resigned from the Government. That is as simple and as honest as I can be.
In that case, I withdraw what I was saying in the sense that my hon. Friend would be achieving exactly what he wants; he would be leaving the Prime Minister with untrammelled prerogative power, and of course that is a perfectly possible choice to make.
It is very good that my right hon. Friend and I agree on something. If we are not careful, I fear that what will actually happen is that the European Union will make appalling demands for financial contributions and a long extension, and, when it came down to it, this House would not have the courage to resist, having already indicated that it lacks the courage to leave without a deal, which I believe was a mistake. I did not want to leave with no deal—I would like there to be an orderly withdrawal with an agreement—but I believe that taking no deal off the table would fundamentally undermine our position.
Following on from the intervention by my constituency neighbour, my right hon. Friend the Member for West Dorset (Sir Oliver Letwin), is it not the case that in any event, notwithstanding whatever is in the Bill, the Prime Minister would still retain the prerogative power? The Bill may seek that the Prime Minister asks for a certain date, but in fact there is nothing preventing her from adopting a parallel track or making a third request. Even if this Bill is passed unamended, which my right hon. Friend clearly does not want to happen, the Prime Minister could still chart her own course.
My hon. Friend makes a good point, but the way in which this Bill is crafted—linking back to the European Union (Withdrawal) Act, as it does in clause 1(2)—means that it does have legal force. Therefore, it does bind the House and constrain the ability of the Government to exercise those prerogative powers. That is why the two amendments that I have tabled would accept that the Bill has passed Second Reading—and, therefore, that this House has voted to constrain those prerogative powers—but would nevertheless place constraints on the scope within which the House can exercise those powers. My hon. Friend is absolutely right that, were amendments 20 and 21 agreed to, it would still be open to the Government to use their prerogative powers to make agreements beyond that scope.
I apologise for continuing a triangular discussion through my hon. Friend, but in response to the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Mid Dorset and North Poole (Michael Tomlinson), I think that the answer is actually no. The prerogative power is subject to statutory limitation. This Bill would limit statutorily the prerogative power in that respect. We can know that for sure because that is the view of the Government lawyers. Government amendment 22 seeks to reintroduce the prerogative power because the Government recognise—this is the discussion that I have been having with the Government during the course of the day—that the Bill currently limits the prerogative power.
There is a choice for the House. We may obviously take different views about how to make that choice, but just as a matter of plain fact, there is a choice to be made. One option is the position advocated by my hon. Friend the Member for Camborne and Redruth (George Eustice), which is one of reinstating the full prerogative power. That could otherwise be achieved by Government amendment 22, so there are two ways to do that. The other option, which I would prefer, is to limit that prerogative power by statute so that the House has the ability to constrain, to some degree, what the Prime Minister accepts by way of an extension from the EU.
I think my right hon. Friend’s comments were directed at my hon. Friend the Member for Mid Dorset and North Poole (Michael Tomlinson), rather than directly at me, so I will not become engaged in this discussion.
Regarding the provisions for subsections (6) and (7), the question still remains of what would happen if there were a counter-offer from the European Union. My contention is that that should then be a matter for the Government to bring before the House in a statement, to be challenged in the usual way. If at that point the House was unsatisfied with the Government’s proposal, it would still be open to it, through an initiative of the sort we have seen today, to introduce a Bill placing a further constraint on the Government, perhaps by requiring them to accept a counter-offer, for instance of a two-year extension, so that we could have a fuller, longer and perhaps more considered debate on what in my view would be a really big decision, because we would have gone five years since the first referendum and achieved nothing. The risk of not leaving the European Union at all and ending up arguing about a second referendum would grow. I believe that opting for such a lengthy extension would a very big decision, and one that would warrant a separate Bill with a separate, much longer and much more detailed discussion.
I hope that the Committee will bear with me, because the amendments were tabled only very recently. However, I think that they deserve exploration. I support the drafting amendments tabled my right hon. Friend the Member for Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford (Yvette Cooper) and the right hon. Member for West Dorset (Sir Oliver Letwin). Having served on nearly 50 Public Bill Committees during my time in the House, I know that Governments bring forward amendments to correct drafting errors during the course of proceedings, and there will be an opportunity for further such amendments when the Bill is considered in the Lords. What my right hon. Friend and the right hon. Gentleman are seeking to do, in principle, is to rule out a no-deal scenario, and that is vital for the House.
The Bill, as currently drafted—in clause 1(2)—leaves open the date for leaving until the Prime Minister brings back a measure. The amendments that I wish to speak against tonight are those indicating that there should be definitive dates for the closure of that discussion by the Prime Minister. As I said when I intervened on the hon. Member for Camborne and Redruth (George Eustice), I find myself in a strange position tonight, in the sense that I want to give the Prime Minister maximum flexibility to join together the House and the British people by achieving a deal that satisfies the British people, the Government and Opposition Members. My constituency voted to leave and I voted to remain. There is a settlement to be made, and the Prime Minister needs maximum flexibility to achieve that settlement. What the House has been very clear about is that no deal should not be an option, and that is what the Bill seeks to rule out.
The amendment tabled by the hon. Member for Camborne and Redruth would set a date of 30 June, and the amendment tabled by the hon. Member for St Albans (Mrs Main) would set a date of 22 May. Amendment 6, tabled by the hon. Member for Stone (Sir William Cash), seeks the agreement of the Northern Ireland Assembly prior to any settlement being agreed, despite the fact that currently, for reasons I find disappointing, the Northern Ireland Assembly does not meet. There is no definitive date in the hon. Gentleman’s proposal. All those amendments would restrict the Prime Minister’s opportunity to make a difference and achieve a deal in this House.
My right hon. Friend is making an excellent speech. Is it not also true that the Prime Minister has invited the Leader of the Opposition to discuss the political declaration and the withdrawal agreement? The amendments tabled by the hon. Member for Stone (Sir William Cash) would effectively curtail those discussions. Should we not pass the Bill cleanly in order to maximise the opportunities for that process?
I accept fully what my hon. Friend says. The Leader of the Opposition has this very afternoon met the Prime Minister in Downing Street, at her request, along with my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Holborn and St Pancras (Keir Starmer), to set out positions on a customs union and a single market, and potentially even a confirmatory vote, for the Prime Minister to consider. The Bill does not fix a particular date, which provides the flexibility needed to give time for that process. The amendments, which I have only had a cursory look at, fix dates of 30 June and 22 May.
I recognise that there is a problem: the European elections are the elephant in the room. When I was the Minister of State for Northern Ireland, we regularly passed legislation to establish or not establish elections in the Northern Ireland Assembly within a day or two days. The Prime Minister is going to the European Council on 10 April to discuss what the House has decided. The House may well decide that this Bill should have an open date, or we can fetter that discussion by putting a date in place. I want to give the Prime Minister the maximum flexibility.
I will be speaking to my amendment, but I do not think that the right hon. Gentleman desires flexibility to deny Brexit altogether, given that he represents a leave constituency. The point of my amendment, which I hope he will look at a little more closely, is to stop the Prime Minister agreeing anything that may be unacceptable to the House. The date I have picked is the one currently being discussed by the European Union. Therefore, should the Prime Minister agree a date that the House finds unacceptable, she would have to come back to the House to suggest it, rather than being able to do what she can at the moment, which is to pick a date that this House may find unacceptable. That is the point of my amendment.
That is an interesting point. The amendments are fresh, but the key thing for me is that the House has shown in the last three months—certainly in the last two to three weeks—that it will not accept unilaterally what the Prime Minister wants to bring back to the House, and this House has many ways in which it can check the Executive’s decisions.
The simple point I make is that, in my constituency in north Wales, the manufacturing businesses that make cars have said that no deal would cost them £10 million per day; the farmers who produce lamb would not be able to export in a no-deal scenario; and Airbus, which makes the best planes in the world, would have difficulty exporting in a no-deal scenario. The Cabinet Office has said that prices would rise—it is not me saying that, it is the Government’s own estimation.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford mentioned the European arrest warrant and the SIS II agreement on sharing information. We do not know whether those would exist in their current form in a no-deal scenario. In the Select Committee on Justice, on which I sit, neither the Secretary of State for Justice this morning nor the Solicitor General yesterday could give assurances about the future relationship on important matters of security and justice in a no-deal scenario.
The right hon. Gentleman makes a compelling case on people’s concerns about what may happen in a Brexit without a withdrawal agreement, but the European Union has explained to us on many occasions that the withdrawal agreement is now basically a hermetically sealed box, and many of the things he discusses in relation to the future relationship, such as trading, are encompassed in the political declaration, which cannot be binding—we have been told that many times. I genuinely fail to understand why, if he is so concerned about our leaving without an agreement, he does not just vote for the withdrawal agreement and then set about making his case for what should be in the political declaration, which cannot be binding until we have formally left the European Union.
With due respect to the hon. Gentleman, we have had that argument over the last three or four weeks, and the House of Commons has spoken. That is why his party leader has invited my party leader to discuss the next steps. I will wait to hear what the Under-Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union, the hon. Member for Worcester (Mr Walker), says about the Government’s amendments, because we need to be clear about those. However, the fettering of the process by the dates stated in the amendments would cause great difficulty for the objective of my right hon. Friend the Member for Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford, which is to ensure that next week, whatever happens with our discussions, we have a date determined by the Prime Minister for when we will leave with a deal, rather than crash out without a deal in the future.
The right hon. Gentleman has been saying that he would like to have certainty—I completely accept the worries about a possible no deal and not knowing what is going on, which is crucial for businesses—but, in relation to the amendments restricting exactly how long the Prime Minister can agree to on her own, how will he feel if the Prime Minister comes back and says, “I have accepted, because I am able to, a two-year extension”, and all the uncertainty for his constituents about what will happen is magnified for two years?
Let me say to the hon. Lady that we have to have some trust in this process now. This House has to compromise and have some trust. The Prime Minister has made a genuine offer to my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition—much to my surprise—to get herself and indeed, with due respect to the hon. Lady, the Conservative party out of a giant hole. Let us leave the Prime Minister unfettered in determining the date, because that is the important matter in discussing our objectives today.
On the points the right hon. Gentleman has made about amendment 6, does he not agree with me that, as opposed to representing a sincere interest in and respect for the devolved Administrations, it is a very clever way of preventing the quick and effective enactment of this Bill?
The hon. Gentleman will know that I want the Welsh Assembly and the Welsh Government—and the Scottish Parliament—to be consulted, to have a say and, I hope, to join in with the settlement, in whatever form it takes that can make the situation for my constituents and the country as a whole much calmer and better. He will know, and the hon. Member for North Down (Lady Hermon) will know—I am pleased to see her in her place—that the amendment would be a block in the event of the Northern Ireland Assembly not being restored. It is not even a block simply in relation to the Northern Ireland Government; it is a block even if direct rule is restored, for example, because the amendment refers to the Northern Ireland Assembly. We have no definitive date for that restoration, and while I would want it to happen tomorrow—it has been 12 years since I was the last direct rule Minister in Northern Ireland, and I would like to see the Assembly restored—ultimately, that is not going to happen.
The right hon. Gentleman has made the point that the Northern Ireland Assembly has not been sitting. It has not been sitting since January 2017, and there is no expectation that the Assembly will be sitting any day soon. Further to that point, the right hon. Gentleman, as a former direct rule Minister in Northern Ireland, will know that it would be an unmitigated disaster for Northern Ireland if this country were to leave without a deal. It would be an unmitigated disaster in terms of security—he will know all about the threat from dissident republicans, and he will also know that Sinn Féin would use a no-deal Brexit to campaign for a border poll to take Northern Ireland out of the United Kingdom and into a united Ireland.
The hon. Lady speaks much more sense about this matter than I could possibly do, because she is up to date on the situation, but that is clear to me. Let me take the example mentioned by my right hon. Friend the Member for Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford—the European arrest warrant. We use the arrest warrant on numerous occasions to bring people who have committed crimes in the Republic into Northern Ireland and vice versa. If that is not in place, and in a no-deal scenario it would not be in place, the situation would be poorer, and we have no clarity on that whatsoever. The security of Northern Ireland would be in a worse place than it is now, and I am not prepared to vote for that.
The right hon. Gentleman has referred to the arrest warrant, and I have to say to him that I am well aware of a case in the county of Staffordshire. A person under an arrest warrant was convicted in his absence of murder, but it in fact transpired that he was working in Staffordshire, and he was then found not guilty because he was actually working in a restaurant in England at the time when he was supposed to have committed the murder in Italy.
Well, the hon. Gentleman cannot get away with that, because people are found innocent or guilty on different occasions, but, ultimately, if someone has done something, they are convicted. At the moment, if an arrest warrant goes out to a country in the European Union, an individual will speedily be brought back to face justice and a trial, and may face conviction and imprisonment. Any change in the arrest warrant procedure will ensure that the procedure is slower, more cumbersome and clunkier.
If the hon. Gentleman wants to see that, he should listen to what the Deputy Chief Constable of Northern Ireland said only this weekend. He said that not having the arrest warrant would be clunkier, more difficult, more bureaucratic and slower, and would lead to a worse position. With due respect to the hon. Gentleman, I will take no lessons on the arrest warrant, which is about protecting my constituents and all citizens in this country, and ensuring that criminals are brought to justice. If we have a no-deal scenario, which this Bill is trying to stop, that will become more difficult.
I have said my piece; I hope that Government Members will reflect on the position. This Bill is about protecting us against no deal and ensuring a positive future on the range of issues involved—agriculture, business, transport, crime and security. Any fettering of the Prime Minister’s discretion on that will make it more difficult to achieve the consensus that I understand she is trying to achieve with my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition, to ensure that we achieve a better settlement in this House than we have managed in the last few weeks and months.
I would like to speak to amendment 1, standing in my name, which addresses similar themes to the proposal of my hon. Friend the Member for Camborne and Redruth (George Eustice), who spoke earlier.
I was quite horrified when I read this brief Bill, because it mandates the Prime Minister to seek an extension, but there is no date associated with that extension, as other Members have mentioned. On top of that, as we know, article 50 enshrined the date on which we would be leaving: 29 March. The Prime Minister, as was quite within her rights—my right hon. Friend the Member for West Dorset (Sir Oliver Letwin) said it was her untrammelled prerogative—decided, when she went into her negotiations, that she would accept a new date, which was offered to her by the European Union, having been agreed in a room, in a debate in which she did not participate. She accepted a date that was not of her choosing.
My concern is that, whatever date this House considers to give the right amount of time, if the Prime Minister is not fettered, as the right hon. Member for Delyn (David Hanson) mentioned, she is quite within her rights—nobody here is seeking in any way, shape or form to curtail those rights—to accept another date that is offered to her and which might be the only date on offer. Whatever date this House might choose, for whatever associated reasons or purposes, the Prime Minister is quite within her rights to accept—or reject—the date on offer from the European Union.
I find that incredibly worrying. Depending on which side of the argument hon. Members find themselves, they could have the Prime Minister seeking a date in line with the House’s instructions, but not having to agree the date, even if the EU says that she can have it. That would be a rather bizarre scenario, but the Bill would not stop it, so whatever date the House fixed on could, in theory, only be asked for, but then be rejected.
The other side, which worries me far more, is that the Prime Minister could go along with a date—as yet unspecified by this House and with no associated justification—and be offered a date, let us say, two years in the future. I would suggest that at that point most hon. Members would have severe concerns about the legitimacy of whatever was being agreed by the Prime Minister—or any of us in this House—with the date set so far in the future.
Amendment 1, which stands in my name and that of 21 other hon. Members, simply proposes a date that has already been accepted by the European Union—I know that Guy Verhofstadt has talked about the end of June, but the European Union has suggested this date on many occasions—as a date that it would be comfortable extending to. It is also a date that would not oblige us, by default, to fight in the European elections. It would mean that the Prime Minister could accept the date offered to her—to the 22nd—but could not arbitrarily accept any other date offered without bringing it back and discussing with the House whether it met what the House wishes to achieve.
The right hon. Member for Delyn talked about not tying the Prime Minister’s hands, but if the House truly wishes to shape the next phase—I really do not like this process, but I am trying to look at it constructively—it is incredibly important that she does not have carte blanche to sit in a room in Brussels, meekly accept a date that is fixed, and then come back to the House, which will not be able to alter that date. I picked the 22 May date, because she can agree anything up until that point. After that date, with which we are all familiar, we will not have the Prime Minister accepting a date that may end up coming to this House and not finding favour. We are then back in the long grass. We are back to arguing about the date. We are back to arguing ad infinitum, to the great uncertainty for the many businesses who feel that what is going on here today is beyond a farce.
Other Members who have a better legal brain than mine—I have no such qualifications whatever—are looking at the Bill line by line and saying it is shoddily and poorly drafted, and that it does not stand up to scrutiny. The argument that comes back—I have heard it a few times this afternoon—is that, “Well, we haven’t had a lot of time and this is to stop no deal.” My amendment does not do anything to harm the Bill’s objectives. It gives the Bill belt and braces to ensure that the Prime Minister, to whom everyone says, “Let’s give her some latitude and trust”, is not able to accept something that is certainly beyond the wishes and scope of this House or the people who voted to leave the European Union.
I hope my amendment is given serious consideration, since we are now supposed to be engaging constructively with the process in a cross-party consensual way to try to get something through. I would be far more comfortable if the Prime Minister was not allowed free rein, or untrammelled prerogative, as my right hon. Friend the Member for West Dorset said. As the House may have observed, we have already tried that and it has not got us terribly far. I therefore ask Members please to consider this amendment. It is very small. It does not stop anything. It simply might stop what some Members have maybe not thought through too well, which is the date.
I applaud my hon. Friend’s ingenuity. I am minded to support her amendment this evening and I hope she presses it to a Division. May I ask her about another extension? Clause 1(2), as drafted, does not mandate or order the Prime Minister to do anything—that comes later on in the Bill—but no timeframe is given either. My hon. Friend mentions a timeframe up to 22 May, but, as drafted, the Bill effectively gives no specified time period within which the Prime Minister needs to seek any extension in any event.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. The Clerks were very helpful when I was trying to draft my amendment. I said, “Surely we can’t have this open-ended situation?” Very helpfully, the Clerks said to me that the Bill can say what it likes, but at the moment the Prime Minister, in the untrammelled way that my right hon. Friend the Member for West Dorset said, can do what she likes. That is the situation. We are in fact sending off a Prime Minister who will be reluctant to deliver this proposal.
The Bill is supposed to be incredibly flawed, but what I do not want it to be, as we discovered from the Gina Miller challenge, is a nightmare going through the courts. Our businesses deserve better than to have a piece of cobbled together legislation that is rammed through—I gather it will be rammed through the other place, too—just to make sure we avoid no deal. Have hon. Members not done any adding up recently? This House is the tail that is now wagging the dog. There is no pretence on the Government Benches that this is going to be an easy ride—not for this stage, the next stage or any other stages coming down the road. There might be fears from Opposition Members, but they seem to be able to exercise an awful lot more muscle on the political agreement than we can on the Government side of the House; they in effect have the whip hand over the Government. The true nature of the House is that it does not really desire to leave. The House will have masses of opportunities over the coming months to ensure that the political agreement is shaped in a fashion that they would like. That is the one thing about which the European Union has said, “We can open that, no trouble.” What the EU will not open is the withdrawal agreement, and a withdrawal agreement will be required to achieve many of the things that the House wants to achieve. That is why I reluctantly agreed to support the withdrawal agreement when it was separated from the political arrangements.
The Bill that we are considering is poor, and badly drafted. I accept the reasons why, and I accept that we are all scrabbling around to try to improve it, but I am disappointed that the Lords may not have much time to consider any amendments that are made tonight. I hope that the other end of the building does not function like a rubber-stamp machine and say, “It doesn’t matter; this Bill is going through regardless.”
The Bill will come back to haunt the House. If the procedure that we have followed today ends up creating a lawyers’ charter and a nightmare in the courts, it will do huge damage to our industries. Believe me, for every Gina Miller out there launching challenges to make sure that a public vote is listened to in a proper legal fashion, there will be lawyers picking over the Bill and saying that it does not stand up, so can we please ensure that sensible amendments are made tonight?
I would like to think that my amendment is sensible because, as the hon. Member for Streatham (Chuka Umunna) has pointed out, the only date that the European Union will accept is 22 May. I believe that if we put that date in the Bill, we would be picking a date that the European Union was comfortable with. The House would have the security of knowing that the Prime Minister could not unilaterally accept any other date that the EU came up with, but would have to bring it back for Members’ consideration. If the House chooses to adopt it, fine, and if the House says, “Go back and try harder”, fine, but there will be certainty. I hope that Members on both sides of the argument will support this amendment, because it would give them the certainty of knowing there will be no jiggery-pokery and no clever shifting of dates or times. My amendment would oblige the Prime Minister to come back to the House with any new date, and she would not be allowed to accept a date that did not reflect the will of the House. Surely, that is what the House wishes to achieve.
I thank the hon. Member for Camborne and Redruth (George Eustice), who is not in his place, for tabling amendment 20, because it gives me the opportunity to speak against it. In the amendment, he attempts to set 30 June as a date beyond which the Government cannot seek an extension. As the hon. Member for Ilford South (Mike Gapes) said in an intervention, it is clear that if the UK wants to secure an extension beyond that date, it will have to embark on a general election or a people’s vote, or go to the EU with a concrete, credible proposal that would enable the EU to give us a longer extension.
Frankly, I do not think the Government can do anything that will enable them to hit the date of 22 May, or even 30 June, so it would be regrettable to preclude that possibility. I imagine that every Member here has been contacted by their local authority returning officer to confirm that they have all been asked to start the process of preparing for European elections. Whether the Government like it or not, preparations are being made for that at this very moment.
The amendment would also preclude the Government from responding to business concerns. I mentioned earlier this evening the contact that I had today with businesses in the retail sector. They were adamant that leaving on 12 April would be catastrophic, leaving on 22 May would be catastrophic and even leaving on 30 June would not allow them to make the preparations that they need. They were talking about an extension until at least March 2020 to enable them to prepare properly. Arbitrarily setting a cut-off date of 30 June would be extremely unhelpful.
I am grateful to Change UK Members for tabling amendment 16, which has cross-party support, about a people’s vote. A cut-off date of 30 June would, of course, preclude a people’s vote as well. People who have looked at the matter estimate that something between 20 and 22 weeks would be required to legislate for and hold a people’s vote, so a cut-off date of 30 June would prevent that from happening.
Even if these amendments were passed, the issue surely is that the Government would have to take them to the European Council next week. If the proposal is for 30 June, we know that that will not be acceptable, because the EU made that absolutely clear. Therefore, instead of resolving this issue before the European Council, if we adopted that amendment, we would have to come back next week and vote on 11 or 12 April on the same matters yet again.
Can the right hon. Gentleman not see the merit in what I am saying, whereby that very scenario would not happen? It is just that the Prime Minister cannot agree the date. I am sure—given that he has just mentioned 20 weeks or so to get together a people’s vote or whatever—each person’s agenda has a timescale associated with it. Therefore, if the Prime Minister is offered a date, surely she ought to bring that date back here and ensure that it meets whatever it is that people wish the date to achieve. We are doing this the other way around in the Bill. We are sending her off with a date and mandating her to seek it. I do not see why—that seems ridiculous.
The Bill specifically does not include a date, but it enables the Prime Minister to go with a date that she has in effect inserted in the “[…]”, so it is within her control.
I will draw my remarks to a conclusion by saying that I am not sure whether the hon. Member for Camborne and Redruth—he is not here, so I would not want to cast aspersions—intended the amendment as a means perhaps of ending up with no deal. We know that seeking an extension until 30 June would not be well received by the EU, because it does not enable anything to happen in the time that is left. I hope that that was not his intention, but if this amendment is pushed to a vote today, I and the Liberal Democrats will oppose it on the basis that it would preclude a people’s vote. It is very clear around the country now that there is a very strong appetite for such a vote to take place.
They say that those whom the gods wish to destroy they first turn mad. I have to say, I have never seen a Bill that is more likely to drive everybody mad than this one, particularly if it is enacted and it then has to be construed by the courts. I really am astonished at what rubbish it is. Remember that we were told that no deal is better than a bad deal. Just to offer an alternative, no Bill is better than a bad Bill. This is a classic case of hubris—of overvaulting ambition in the hands of some amateur draftsmen, producing consequences of vast import to the people of this country. Having had an exchange with my hon. Friend the Member for Camborne and Redruth (George Eustice), I make the point that if he is right that the Bill could create an extension of five years, it would cost the British taxpayer not less than £90 billion. That is an awful lot of money for a private Member’s Bill, an awful lot of money for hubris, and an awful lot of madness that the gods will want to destroy.
I certainly have. The Speaker has ruled on the matter, and I take the view that if the Speaker has ruled, even if I am unhappy with the ruling, that means that I need not go into all the details. I could spend the next 20 minutes giving all the reasons that I believe that there should be a money resolution, but I will resist the temptation because I want to get on to the meat of the Bill. The fact that it is known that it could cost as much as £90 billion is, I should have thought, enough to alert a great many people and make them seriously worried about whether they should vote for it, and I hope that they will not.
Clause 1(1) is mandatory, and gives rise to the important constitutional question whether Parliament can direct a Prime Minister to move a motion. That is constitutionally ridiculous. In clause 1(2), to which my new clause 4 refers, the “form of the motion” is not mandatory, stating that the House
“agrees for the purposes of section 2 of the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2019 to the Prime Minister seeking an extension”.
If passed, the provision would permit the Prime Minister to seek an extension, but that in itself would not force her to ask for it. However, neither clause 1(4) nor clause 1(5) sets any time limit relating to when the Prime Minister must seek the extension, or explains how that would be achieved. Is enough time available for all this to be done? The answer is clearly no.
I assume that Royal Assent would be given after the Bill had been to the House of Lords. God knows what the House of Lords is going to make of it. The House of Lords has a Standing Order, Standing Order No. 72. What have the Government done, no doubt with the connivance—if that is not an inappropriate expression—of my right hon. Friend the Member for West Dorset (Sir Oliver Letwin)? They have simply knocked out Standing Order No. 72, which is an outrageous and completely unconstitutional act.
My hon. Friend has questioned the ability of the Act to be enforced. My Select Committee, the Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee, put that question to Lord Judge, the former Lord Chief Justice. I asked:
“How would this be enforced?”
“I think it could only be enforced politically by the House of Commons. Please do not think for one moment that anybody should be able to seek a judicial review. Not only would it be ludicrous for the judiciary to be involved in deciding a political question, but they would have a way out if anybody took that step, by saying that there is an alternative remedy—to go back to the House of Commons. That is the only way it could possibly be enforced, in my view. It would be up to the House.”
Is this not a completely useless piece of legislation?
It is not only completely useless, but it is rubbish. I see that my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Beaconsfield (Mr Grieve) has just come into the Chamber. Let me ask him, if I may, whether he drafted this Bill. He drafted a great many amendments during the passage of the withdrawal Bill itself back in 2017-18, and I noticed that quite a lot of them were so bad that they had to be junked.
I have to tell my hon. Friend that I did not draft the Bill, but I think that it is quite fit for purpose. I also note that there are some Government amendments that relate to “exit day”, and which exactly echo the points that I made in the House last summer about the folly of putting “exit day” on the face of the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018.
The motion cannot be carried until 12 April at the earliest. That means that the Prime Minister is obliged at some stage to seek an extension, but she is not obliged to do so immediately. Unless she does so on 12 April and it is agreed before 11 pm that day, the United Kingdom is out. It will be “Leave, leave, leave, leave.”
Clause 1(6) and (7) are I suppose intended to deal with a situation where the European Council meets on 10 April and seems to volunteer to offer an extension to a certain date. I mentioned earlier—perhaps in a point of order—the role of the European Council in all this. The reality is that the procedure being followed puts the ball back in the European Council’s court. It is possible that nobody will be sensible enough to veto this extension, although they have the power to do so and I trust that one or other of them, or perhaps several, will.
My objection to this arrangement is contained in the European Scrutiny Committee report we put forward last March—a whole year and one month ago. We raised grave concern because the European Council, which is driving a lot of the negotiations, set out the terms of reference and the guidelines and the sequencing. The fact is that the Government gave in on all that and supplicated and went along on bended knee to the European Council and asked, “How much can you possibly let us get away with? What can we be allowed to do that you will agree with?” There were also all the monstrous negotiations conducted by Olly Robbins, who appeared in front of my Committee, and Tim Barrow and others. The reality is that submitting ourselves under this Bill to the decision-making processes and the cosh of the European Council is not only completely humiliating to this country, but has put us in an impossible situation under the withdrawal agreement.
Article 4 of the agreement—which is directly relevant to everything we are discussing here because it is about the governance of the European Union in relation to the UK on leaving—stipulates in terms of the UK that we will be subjugated to the decision making of the Council of Ministers.
I hope somebody on the Opposition Front Bench will take this on board. The Council of Ministers will be making laws for probably up to four years, when this House, as I said the other day, will be politically castrated in relation to the European treaties, which will have entire competence over us and all laws. We will not be able to pass a single law in contravention of them, and our courts will not be able to defend our voters—our taxpayers—from any of the decisions taken while we are put at the mercy of our competitors during the transitional period, however long that may be.
I have already made the point that the transitional period could cost £90 billion; I do not know the sum, because we do not know what date will be settled on yet. What I do know is that this House will be subjugated—completely neutralised—in the transitional period. I see that the Minister is shaking his head. I invite him to appear in front of my Select Committee and answer on that; I would like to cross-examine him on the question of who will be governing this country during that period, because it certainly will not be this Parliament, I can tell him that.
Does my hon. Friend share my concern, which is why I tabled my amendment, that the House seems to happily think it can put a date on this Bill and the Prime Minister will go off and secure the date, but the House seems to have lost sight of the fact that we will probably have to take what we are offered—or maybe not be offered anything at all? This Bill seems to me to assume that the European Parliament will take notice of what we wish to happen.
Absolutely; the idea of our subjecting ourselves to the European Council as well as to the European Parliament is about as humiliating as anybody could imagine. I suppose we are not supposed to say this but it happens to be true: we saved Europe twice in the last 100 years, yet we are now, as a result of this withdrawal agreement and these provisions, subjugating ourselves to the decisions taken by 27 other member states by majority vote.
I see that the Opposition Front-Bench spokesman is chuntering. Perhaps he would like to come to the Dispatch Box and make his point. No, he is not going to, because he cannot understand what I am talking about, because he has not actually got the competence to do so. That is the problem. He does not understand what I am saying and therefore cannot tell his constituents about the “control over laws” issue or the fact that qualified majority voting on the law-making in this country is going to be conducted for a significant number of years without our being able to do anything at all about it. There is no veto power in this arrangement; we are entirely subject to it. That might be a reason the Front Benchers of the official Opposition are voting against this, among other things. Maybe they realise how dangerous it is. It is certainly dangerous for a lot of workers and trade unionists, as we found out in the ports regulation, which went through even though every single trade union in every port objected to it. This is going to mean continuous activity in the Council of Ministers into the indefinite future, or certainly for the next few years.
What will the Prime Minister do, given that clause 1(6) seems to assume that a resolution will already have been passed or at least proposed? As that cannot happen before 12 April, there will then be a motion, after which we have to ask what the Prime Minister is going to do and what the European Council is going to insist on. But that is not what the Bill proposes that she should do. Frankly, I cannot see how she can do this without getting parliamentary approval. The Bill merely talks about the Prime Minister having to seek an extension, not having to agree to one that is gratuitously offered by the European Council. This is complete madness. In short, the Bill is a complete and total rubbish dump. If it is enacted tomorrow, I will be fascinated to know what the Government will be able to do about it. It will become the law of the land, and I cannot imagine what will happen. I think it was Alice, in “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland”, who said, when asked about things being possible or impossible:
“Why, sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.”
This is a perfect example of that.
Then there is the issue of UK law and exit day. At the moment, exit day has been redefined in the statutory instrument that went through—I believe unlawfully, but we will park that one for the moment—and it is now 12 April unless the House of Commons approves the withdrawal agreement. This Bill assumes that that will not happen, so exit day has to be 12 April under UK law. The Bill says nothing about changing that, and as I read sections 20(3) and (4) of the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018, a Minister cannot propose a change to exit day by laying a statutory instrument until the proposed extension date has been agreed with the EU. So unless all this is tied up on 11 April—which seems impossible, as I have just said—how is the UK law to be changed? It must be changed by UK law in those circumstances, of course.
I thought it might be productive to intervene on my hon. Friend’s remarks, with literally all of which I disagree profoundly. On this one point, I think it might be productive because there is a fact about this that he will see if he looks at the amendment paper. The Government have tabled new clause 13, which many of us feel is a very sensible proposal and whose acceptance we therefore recommend. It specifically provides for a negative resolution statutory instrument to be substituted for an affirmative resolution SI, in order that it could be made immediately upon being deposited, rather than awaiting the approval of the House. That could obviously be subject to revision later under the negative resolution prayer procedure, but we would all have to be a gang of lunatics not to keep the exit day in line with international law if, as a matter of fact and for better or worse, the Prime Minister had agreed a given date of exit.
My right hon. Friend says that I have made one serious point, but he is in serious trouble. Every time he gets up and starts interpreting his Bill, that is likely to be taken into account if there is any judicial review of any of the provisions, as enacted. As all Ministers ought to know—he is the Minister in charge of this day and the various other things that he seemed to have assumed—every time he opines on the question of interpretation, the interpretations that he is making in in a rather fulsome manner could be used as a means of interpreting what is meant by the Bill. He ought to be a little more cautious, but I have waited until this point to say so, because he has said quite enough to put himself in serious difficulty on that account.
Having said that, with regard to new clause 4, any motion brought forward under clause 1(1) in the form set out in clause 1(2) may be amended in line with clause 1(3) only to include a date. In a nutshell, new clause 4 would prevent further amendments to Standing Orders and so on.
Moving on to new clause 5, because I want to get my points on the record—
Order. Just before the hon. Gentleman moves on to new clause 5, I know that he has a lot to say about the amendments and new clauses, which the House must hear, but I hope that he may do so in an expedited fashion. We do not have a lot of time left, and I am sure that the hon. Gentleman wants to hear what the Minister and others have to say.
No. When Third Reading is likely to occur is not up to the Chair, but to the House. Based on how things are going at present, my estimate is that a Third Reading debate will not occur, because the Committee stage is likely to take up all the available time. However, that is entirely up to the House. If the people who still wish to speak do so for a short time, we will have a Third Reading debate. If they speak for a long time, we will not.
With respect to you, Dame Eleanor, the Bill’s stages have been truncated. You know what I am talking about. It has been rushed through. Not only is the Bill an abomination in its own right, but it is gravely unconstitutional and offends Standing Order No. 14 and so many other conventions, so I am not going to fail make the points that need to be made. I am so sorry, but I these points must be made. It is only 9.8 pm and we have until 10 o’clock, so although I have great respect for you, Dame Eleanor, I am going to make my points. Furthermore, they are matters that are germane to trying to sort out the rubbish that this Bill is generating for the British public. That is my point.
New clause 5 relates to the amendability of motions. Any motion brought forward under clause 1(1) in the form set out in clause 1(2) may be amended in line with clause 1(3) only to include a date no later than 22 May 2019. The new clause would prevent further amendments to the Standing Orders or to the business of the House of Commons and would impose a maximum duration on the extension period. Given what I said earlier to my hon. Friend the Member for Camborne and Redruth about how this Bill would otherwise cost £90 billion, I think we would be doing a great service not just to the House, which is pretty chaotic these days, but to the taxpayer and our constituents by restricting the length of the extension period. If the extension went to five years, according to the potentiality of this Bill, it would cost £90 billion—that is just a statement of fact—which is a very good reason for voting against the Bill.
New clause 5 would place a maximum duration on the extension period, which would be an enormous step in the right direction. In fact, it would be a fundamentally vital provision in the context of this Bill.
New clause 7 deals with the question of European elections, another hot potato:
“No extension of the period under Article 50(3) of the Treaty on European Union may be agreed by the Prime Minister if as a result the United Kingdom would be required to prepare for or to hold elections to the European Parliament.”
I would have thought that many Members would be delighted to support this new clause. I am doing the Government’s job for them by seeking to impose a restriction. I see the Minister slightly nodding his head, which I think means he might quite like this amendment. The bottom line is that, yesterday, I heard the Prime Minister say that we would not want to have European elections.
As my hon. Friend rightly recollects, the Prime Minister herself made this very point. Would it not be a catastrophic failure of our politics if, three years after the vote to leave, we held elections to the very institution we voted to leave? Is that not why this amendment must be pressed and made?
It is axiomatic, and it goes to the very heart of what we are leaving and how we are leaving. The idea that we would hold European elections, which, but for my proposed amendment, are liable to take place, makes me think that this House really ought to vote for new clause 7. I therefore urge the House to consider it as an important, sensible amendment. [Interruption.] I see that my right hon. Friend the Member for West Dorset has left the Chamber. Perhaps my remarks are too unpalatable for him.
My hon. Friend has ably set out the cost of a potential long extension as being £90 billion, or whatever it might be. Has he considered the cost to the public purse of running European parliamentary elections for what might be a very short time in office for those so elected?
I have heard it mentioned that the elections would cost £100 million, which is quite a lot of money for nothing. In some constituencies, as it happens, there have been turnouts of about 19%. European elections are a complete farce anyway. In fact, I think the European Parliament is a complete farce. Frankly, getting rid of the elections altogether would be a massive step in the right direction, and this Bill is the opportunity to do that.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right about that. I could enlarge on the reasons why we would not want to have any European parliamentary elections and why we would not want to have any MEPs—they cost a fortune as well. Furthermore, a lot of them are, by all accounts, engaged in activities that are either useless or very expensive. I will not dilate on that, but it is a matter of fact.
The European Parliament is a body that has to make decisions about whether or not we leave. I hear Mr Guy Verhofstadt opining and pontificating a lot. I do not know quite what they are going to do about this all when it comes to the decision that has been conferred upon them. There is another thing I find offensive: if we want to leave, we should be allowed to leave without having the sanction of the European Parliament or of the European Council. If one thinks about it, one sees that article 50 prescribes an arrangement where one leaves the EU under the law. It so happens that this is under the European law but it is also under our own domestic law, because the Lisbon treaty Act, as I call it, is itself a domestic enactment that binds us. So for practical purposes the European elections will be taking place within the framework of our leaving the EU under our own domestic law. Why on earth we should imagine that we are going to be caught up in them or even remotely accept the idea that we would be completely escapes me.
When we entered into the article 50 revocation, we did so as a country that was an equal party to the other 27. Yes, there are 27 of them, but in law, because we are the country that is leaving, we are on an exactly equal footing to them, which is why we should never have allowed ourselves to be trapped into the arrangements of the guidelines, terms of reference and sequencing laid down by the EU. As far as I am concerned, it is very simple: we cannot possibly be part of the European elections.
My last proposal, amendment 6, relates to Northern Ireland, Wales and Scotland. I think it would appeal to the Scots nationalists quite a lot, as well as to the Members of the Northern Ireland Assembly and the Assembly of Wales. It proposes to leave out from “force” in clause 2, page 2, line 7 and insert
“subject to the approval of the Northern Ireland Assembly, the Scottish Parliament and the National Assembly of Wales, on such day as a Minister of the Crown may by regulations appoint.”
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for being so clear about what is in Scotland’s best interest. Will he remind us as to whether he supported the need for a legislative consent motion or for the consent of the Scottish Parliament before the European Union Referendum Bill was passed, before the article 50 Act was passed or before last year’s great repeal Bill, all of which he supported? It seems to me that he supported an awful lot of EU-related legislation that has been extremely damaging to Scotland, not caring a jot as to what the Scottish Parliament or the other devolved institutions thought about it. Why is it that he now suddenly wants to invoke the right of the Scottish Parliament to be consulted, given that he and his party have trampled over that right ever since the Brexit referendum was thought of?
I want to make some trouble. The people of Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland might well have strong interest in the extent to which they are involved in this process. My amendment is a means to provide them with that opportunity. I will not contradict what the hon. Gentleman says. Under our constitutional settlement, there is a Scottish Parliament, a Northern Ireland Assembly and a National Assembly for Wales, so I would have thought that they will be extremely interested to know whether they were being cut out of the process prescribed in the Bill. It is not my fault that the Government made proposals and had all the joint committees that the various leaders of the devolved Assemblies complained that they had not been properly involved in. I am giving them a chance to be involved. He may be right about the legislative consent point, but I am right to think that in relation to this crazy Bill it would at least be useful for the people of Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales to be able to make their contributions in their devolved legislatures. I think that point is worth making, and I therefore intend to press amendment 6 to a vote. Of all the amendments I tabled, that is the one that I want to move most.
I will be as brief as I can. I want to speak against clause 1 stand part. The clause is the heart and strategic intent of the Bill. It is trying to put this House in a position to stop the United Kingdom leaving the EU on the date on which the Government might want us to leave. There is no question about that.
I very much agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Camborne and Redruth (George Eustice) who made the point that the process of attrition in this House to limit the Government’s negotiating freedom in the end very much undermined their ability to get a better deal and to negotiate from a position of strength. If people cannot walk away from a negotiation they are in, and they have to agree something at the end of it, the other party simply calls the shots. That certainly strengthened the hand of those who want us to have a bad deal. I have made some points in the debate on one of the earlier business motions about the constitutional impropriety of this whole process.
I also invite the Committee to reflect on what this House looks like tonight as we discuss such highly technical issues. The British people expect us to be discussing the big principles of whether we should leave without a deal on WTO terms or sign up to the withdrawal agreement. This particular debate, however, seems particularly obscure and unavailable to voters. It will make this House look particularly out of touch, especially because the Bill is somewhat otiose.
I have argued for some time with colleagues on the Conservative Benches that the Prime Minister has demonstrated little intention of ever leaving without a withdrawal agreement. The fact that the Government have spewed out a whole raft of information basically about why they do not want to leave without a deal underlines that point. I therefore think that the Bill is unnecessary.
In my comments to my hon. Friend the Member for Stone (Sir William Cash), Chair of the European Scrutiny Committee, I pointed out that the Bill is also unenforceable. Just look at the wording of subsection (4), which is that
“the Prime Minister must seek an extension of the period specified in Article 50(3) of the Treaty on European Union”.
What does “seek” mean in the circumstances? What happens if the Prime Minister makes a telephone call asking for an extension, says “Thank you very much” to what is offered, and puts the phone down again? How will that process be scrutinised and made accountable? How do we judge what is a serious seeking in good faith, and what is a mere technical seeking? That underlines the total futility of the House attempting to legislate in this way. Our system of government is not set up for Parliament to legislate for detailed instructions on how Ministers should carry out their duties. We tend to make laws on a much more general basis than that. That is why the system just does not work.
My hon. Friend makes a really important point that builds on other points made during Committee. Has not a further defect been pointed out? There is no timeframe. The Prime Minister is not mandated to “seek” in any manner, or within any particular timeframe, so she could do nothing until 13 April and still intend to comply fully with the Bill.
My hon. Friend—a good friend—is making very good points. This also gives rise to the question of scrutiny, which he mentioned. My Committee will undoubtedly have to try to work out how to deal with these scrambled eggs; and how will the House of Lords deal with this, given that it has disallowed Standing Order No. 72? Will it truncate its business to such an extent that it will not be able to get this right? Who will get this right?
I will not attempt to answer that question, because it answers itself. Nobody will be held accountable for what goes wrong as a result of the Bill.
If the Prime Minister goes to the European Council for an extension—I have long been reconciled to the expectation that she will—what really matters are the conditions that come with it. Where is the accountability for the conditions that will apply? Or will she simply accept an enforceable agreement with conditions, and bring it back to the House as a fait accompli, as she did originally?
I will press on, if my hon. Friend will allow me.
I have addressed the enforcement point, but let me come back to the question of legitimacy. The issue is not just the illegitimacy of the whole process, and the concept of the House legislating to instruct Ministers in a way that is outside the control of Ministers. As I said, there has been a huge Government campaign—some might call it a fear campaign—supported by the second referendum campaign and other very well funded lobby groups and business interests. The arguments in favour of leaving without agreement have pretty well been disposed of by default. They do not get a hearing. One can think of one or two broadcast outlets that delight in ridiculing perfectly respectable arguments.
I have a document here called “30 Truths about Leaving on WTO Terms”. It goes through all the canards, and it sets out how leaving without an agreement would leave us with an extra £39 billion to spend on our priorities, which over a couple of years would increase the GDP of this country by about 2%; how it would end uncertainty much more quickly; and how every party involved with the Irish border has said that there will be no infrastructure there in the event of a no-deal Brexit. So it goes on. I shall not detain the Committee with those arguments now, because this is not the time to make them; I just make the point that these arguments have simply not been made. Despite that, a very recent poll conducted by YouGov shows that where an extension is an option, 40% would support no deal. Only 11% would support an extension, though 36% would still support remain. The point is that the most popular option in the polls at the moment is leaving without a deal, so who does the Bill represent? This is despite the deluge of propaganda that has been emptied—[Laughter.] Opposition Members laugh, but no effective leave campaign has been conducted in favour of no deal, and the Government, who pretended to say they agreed that no deal is better than a bad deal, have not conducted a campaign to reassure voters that leaving without a deal is a sensible option. Despite that, the British people want to leave.
Who in this House was elected to put this Bill through Parliament? Who is this House was elected by saying, “When I am elected, I am going to put a Bill through the House to delay article 50”? The right hon. Member for Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford (Yvette Cooper), who is promoting this Bill, was not elected by saying that. She was elected on a manifesto to leave, and she is now defying that manifesto and voters in her own constituency, who voted to leave. When the extension option is removed in the YouGov poll, the percentage of people in favour of the no-deal option goes up to 44%, against 42% who are in favour of remaining. No leave campaign has been conducted in this country for the past two or three years, yet that is what the British people think.
Just imagine if this country had a Government who were really enthusiastic about leaving the European Union and had conducted their policy positively, explaining the benefits of leaving the European Union, if necessary, on WTO terms. Such a Government would be by far the most popular option in the polls today. I believe that if the Government took us out of the European Union on WTO terms, even at this late stage, our party would enjoy a huge leap in credibility with the British people. [Laughter.] Oh, not in this House, because this House is full of people who voted to remain and who want to stop Brexit, despite the vote of the British people in the referendum.
Well, how do I sum that up in 10 minutes or so? I think that “a pile of mince” would do it, in a handful of words.
I want to address some of the absolute nonsense that we have heard from the no dealers across the Chamber, but let me first welcome the fact that they are finally coming out for who they really are. These are the people who campaigned for the various leave campaigns, promising us that we would leave with a good deal—that we would still remain part of the customs union and the single market. That is what the leave campaign was saying. As for the story that there has been no leave campaigning recently, has the hon. Member for Harwich and North Essex (Sir Bernard Jenkin) not seen the revelations in the media in the last couple of days about intensive, targeted social media campaigning, funded from who knows where? SNP Members do not know, but I wonder how many people on the Conservative Benches know where that money is coming from.
As for those who complain that we have not had enough time to debate the big issues of Brexit, these are the people who did not want Parliament to have any say at all. They went to court to prevent Parliament from being allowed to see the Prime Minister’s deal before it was too late to change it, and now they come along and complain that there has not been enough time to scrutinise it. These are the people who allowed 19 minutes of debate before the biggest power grab from Scotland ever seen since the introduction of the Scottish Office—19 minutes of listening to one Conservative Minister droning on, and then the measures were pushed through. How many Conservative Members complained about the lack of time then?
I am disappointed—although I obviously accept the decision—that the amendments that would have given some kind of firm reason for extending article 50 have not been selected. The House will need to come back to that in due course. I hope that at some point the House will agree not only that article 50 needs to be extended, but that whatever deal the United Kingdom intends to leave under is put to the people, so that they can confirm whether it is what they thought was meant by Brexit. I can tell the House what most of them did not think was meant by Brexit: they did not think that Brexit meant no deal, because even the leave campaign never said it was campaigning for that.
I will not go through all the individual amendments, but we will oppose anything that says that the extension can only be for a matter of days or weeks, because it is nonsensical to think that the Prime Minister’s bad deal will get significantly better in a matter of weeks. If there is going to be an improvement to the deal, it can come only if we get a longer extension and reset the whole process. The Prime Minister can then do what she should have done almost three years ago, as soon as she became the leader of a minority Government. She can act like a leader of a minority Government, and talk to politicians and parties across the House to find areas of agreement and consensus, before she starts to draw her red lines and paint herself into a corner. Let us remember that the EU has never said that the current agreement is the only one possible; it has said that it is the only one possible given the Prime Minister’s red lines.
The hon. Member for Stone (Sir William Cash) was so enthusiastic about his amendment 6 that he spoke to it for over half an hour—and it felt like just as long again when he intervened or raised points of order—but he forgot to mention that its real purpose is not to give Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland a chance. If he was that bothered about giving the devolved nations a chance, he would have moved similar amendments to all the legislation that is leading to us being dragged out of the European Union in the first place.
The crux of amendment 6 comes right at the end, when it proposes that, consent having been given by the devolved Assemblies—including the one that does not exist at the moment—the Act will come into force on such a day as a Minister of the Crown may decide. Even if Parliament imposes its will on the Government, the Government could completely ignore the Act simply by not bothering to bring it into force. The amendment has some sugar coating to try to fool the Scots, the Welsh and the Northern Irish, but we are not going to be conned by that. We will not support the amendment.
I also have a big problem with new clause 13, which would effectively allow the Government to change the date unilaterally. I hope that the Minister can offer some kind of assurance on the circumstances in which that power would be used. We know that instruments have previously been prayed against by hundreds of right hon. and hon. Members, yet their objections have been ignored and the instruments have been implemented anyway. Can we therefore have an assurance that if the instruments are prayed against by any of the major Opposition parties, or by a given number of individual Members of Parliament, the Minister will guarantee, on his honour and that of the Government, that they will not be proceeded with? We need something as firm as that. It is one thing to get promises from this Prime Minister, but we do not know who will be Prime Minister when the provisions will be considered.
One amendment is intended specifically to ensure that we cannot take part in European parliamentary elections, which have been described as a waste of time. Who on earth is scared of taking part in elections? Who would want the entire nature of our future relationship with the European Union to be defined purely by the fact that we had to get out before—horror of horrors—we gave our people a chance to participate in its democratic processes? Brexiteers have been telling us for 10 years that those democratic processes do not exist, because they deny that the European Union is a democratic institution.
Absolutely. As for the idea that we should not take part in the elections because we do not know how long our MEPs will be there, let us remember that some of them are never there anyway. I remember the Scottish regional elections in 1994, which we knew were for councils that would exist for a very limited time, but they actually had a higher turnout than was previously the case, because people were energised and motivated and understood what they were about. If the hard-line Conservatives do not want to take part in European parliamentary elections, that is entirely up to them, but I do not want my constituents to be denied an opportunity to vote for their representatives in Europe, whether that is for two days, two years or a full parliamentary term.
We will certainly support the drafting amendments tabled by the right hon. Members who introduced the Bill—given how many Lords amendments are often required to sort out the mistakes in Government legislation, despite all the resources that the Government have at their disposal, it is a bit much to be nitpicking about the fact that there were a couple of drafting errors in this Bill. It would have been nice not to have to rush the Bill through the House in such a hurry. It would have been nice if the Government had actually listened to what Parliament has been saying, in Back-Bench business debates and Opposition day debates, for the past three years. They have refused to listen, which is why the only way to make them listen is by Act of Parliament. That is why we will support the two amendments I have mentioned, and I hope to see the Bill go through to Third Reading.
I will not repeat the general points I made on Second Reading, but I want to briefly outline the Opposition’s views on the amendments.
We will obviously support amendments 13 and 14, which are helpful drafting amendments, and will vote for clauses 1 and 2 to stand part of the Bill. We will support the Government’s new clause 13 with a clarification from the Minister. Normally we would support the affirmative procedure, but we accept the Government’s reasoning in this case, given the fast-moving situation and the need to ensure consistency between EU and UK law. We will support the new clause subject to an assurance from the Minister now that if one of the principal Opposition parties prays against the statutory instrument, the Government will urgently facilitate a debate on the Floor of the House.
We will oppose all the other amendments. Let me explain briefly why. Amendments 20 and 1 and new clause 5 seek to impose different dates. We should have learned from the withdrawal Act that putting exit dates in statute denies the flexibility we might need, and those amendments are clearly designed to frustrate the Bill’s objectives. We oppose amendment 21 because we believe it is right for the Government to come back to the House if the EU offers a different date. We oppose Government amendment 22 because it undermines the purpose of the Bill in relation to parliamentary approval to seek or agree an extension.
We oppose amendment 6 because it is designed to frustrate the process and, as Members have pointed, the Northern Ireland Assembly is not sitting. We oppose new clause 4 because it would limit Parliament’s opportunity to shape decisions. I am surprised that, after his lengthy contribution, the hon. Member for Stone (Sir William Cash) is not here to hear our views on these points.
We oppose new clause 7 because it seeks to put a date in the Bill without saying so. It puts the cart before the horse. We should determine what extension we need and then deal with the consequences—even if that means elections, although that is not ideal—and not limit ourselves in that way. If we need a longer extension, we will presumably want the UK to have a voice in EU institutions—not simply the Parliament, but the Council and the Commission—and a judge in the Court of Justice. On that basis, we oppose that new clause and the other amendments that I have identified.
I shall be brief, as this briefest of Committee stages demands. The Government continue to oppose the Bill, but given that it has reached Committee, I will speak to the Government amendments.
As the Secretary of State set out earlier, the Government have no choice but to improve the Bill and limit its most damaging effects. Our amendment 22 addresses the dangerous and perhaps unintended constitutional precedent that could be set by the Bill, which calls into question the Government’s ability to seek and agree an extension with the European Union using the royal prerogative. It is a well-established constitutional principle that Heads of Government are able to enter into international agreements without preconditions set by the House that constrain their ability to negotiate in the national interest. The Government’s authority in this matter must not be undermined, as the Secretary of State and my hon. Friend the Member for Camborne and Redruth (George Eustice) said.
Exit day in international and domestic law is 12 April. The Bill creates a real risk that we could be timed out and be unable to agree an extension with our European partners and implement it in domestic law. The Bill as drafted actually increases the likelihood of an accidental no deal—an outcome that the House has repeatedly voted against. The new process created by the Bill could mean that we are timed out and no extension could be agreed. For example, on 10 April, the EU could propose an extension of an alternative length. Under the Bill, the Prime Minister must then return to the House to put forward that proposal, but by 11 April—by the time the House has had time to consider that—the Council would be over. We would need to confirm UK agreement to the EU proposal and get an EU Council decision before 11 pm on 12 April, and I struggle to see how we could carry out such a negotiation through correspondence in the 24 hours before we leave. The Bill therefore increases the likelihood of an accidental no deal. We seek to avoid that through amendment 22, which would ensure that the Government can agree an extension, regardless of the process set out in the Bill, in the national interest.
Amendment 22 protects the Government’s ability to reach agreement with the EU on the extension of article 50, and I must remind the House that any extension must be agreed jointly between the UK and the EU. I am concerned about the restrictions that the Bill as currently drafted seeks to impose. I understand that earlier drafts of the Bill contained a provision very similar to the one that the Government are putting forward in this amendment. In her summing up, could the right hon. Member for Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford (Yvette Cooper) address the reasons why that was taken out?
The Government amendment simply seeks to clarify the position on the royal prerogative, ensuring that nothing in the Bill could prevent the Government from being able to seek and agree an extension of article 50, which I believe is what supporters of the Bill actually want. It is also the hoped-for outcome of the process of talks that have been taking place between the Government and the Opposition, so that we can agree the shortest possible extension to leave with a deal. For those reasons, I urge hon. Members across the House to support the amendment.
To move on to Government new clause 13, I repeat that we have tabled our amendments not because we support the Bill, but because we feel it is important, given that we are in Committee, to improve the Bill and to limit its most damaging effects. Again, the new process created in the Bill means that we could be timed out and that no extension could be agreed. As I think the hon. Member for Sheffield Central (Paul Blomfield) accepted, the logic of the new clause is to remove the risks of an accidental no-deal situation.
Will the Minister clarify how he intends to use the power under new clause 13? By my reading of it, the Government could negotiate a very long extension, put it through using the negative procedure and then cut it very short indeed using the negative procedure. What reassurances can he give us that this will not become a power that either this Government or some future Government could abuse to undermine the will of the House and force us into a no-deal Brexit?
I think the hon. Gentleman misunderstands the nature of the power, which is simply to reflect in the UK the agreement that would by this stage have been reached with the EU on any extension. It is not about setting a completely different date; it is about reflecting that agreement.
To come to the assurances sought by both the SNP and the Opposition Front Benchers, if a statutory instrument under the negative procedure was prayed against, we would of course facilitate an urgent debate in that context. However, we have to bear in mind the reason why we are seeking this change of moving from the affirmative to the negative procedure, which is simply to provide the speed that I think this House would want in the context of a deal having being agreed.
I do not intend to detain the Committee much longer on this issue, but it is worth bearing in mind that the current arrangements require an SI to be debated and approved in both Houses under the draft affirmative procedure, the time for which could put at risk the critical process of approval. New clause 13 therefore seeks to amend the parliamentary scrutiny procedures applying to the power in the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018 that can be used to amend the definition of exit day. The scrutiny will be changed from the draft affirmative to the draft negative procedure. It is only prudent that we are able to make the SI under the negative procedure to ensure that our statute book reflects what is agreed in international law, avoiding a crash-out exit. For those reasons, I urge right hon. and hon. Members across the House to support the new clause.
However, I continue to urge Members to reject this Bill, which is not needed to avoid no deal because the Government have already undertaken to seek an extension to ensure that we avoid no deal. Like many colleagues who have spoken today, I want that extension to be a technical one to ensure that we leave with a deal. With that, I am keen to hear from the right hon. Member for Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford.
I want to respond briefly to what has been a thoughtful debate on the detailed amendments that have been tabled.
To pick up where the Minister left off, I am happy to follow the Labour Front-Bench recommendation to accept new clause 13, given the tight timetable that the Minister will be operating on. It is not a core part of the Bill.
I believe that we should oppose amendments 20 and 1 and new clauses 5 and 4. They all, in different ways, attempt to restrict the Prime Minister’s flexibility to put a proposal to this House. Once the Prime Minister has put her proposal to the House, it will at that point be up to the House to reject or amend it. All the points made by hon. Members wanting to restrict the primary legislation can be argued when that motion is put forward. That is the proper time to debate those points.
On new clause 7, I understand the concerns about the European elections, because I personally do not think that it makes much sense for departing member states that are part of the article 50 process to be covered in the same way. However, I draw Members’ attention to the legal opinion drawn up by Lord David Anderson, QC, and five other top lawyers, which says:
“The right to participate in EP elections may be derogated from under EU law,”
and lists a series of other points. I understand that there will be political debates about that; I also think that all hon. Members will consider that the most important thing is for us to get this right, rather than be constrained by this issue. Therefore, I do not think that it is appropriate to accept new clause 7. Nevertheless, Members and the Government should take seriously that legal opinion, which lists a series of ways in which it is thought possible, short of treaty change, to avert the UK having to participate in European elections.
Let me turn to amendment 21, in the name of the hon. Member for Camborne and Redruth (George Eustice), and Government amendment 22, which is an important one. The Minister asked me why a similar provision had been included in previous drafts of the Bill. The reason was that in previous attempts we thought that we would be legislating at a much earlier stage and that therefore there might be a period of weeks in which the Prime Minister should not be restricted from seeking an extension of article 50 in advance, if that was thought necessary in order to prepare. We did not want to restrict the Prime Minister’s hand in that way. Our concern about how the provision is framed now is that it appears to undermine the purpose of the Bill, and I am not sure whether that is the Minister’s intention. Therefore, we should perhaps have further discussions if his amendment is not passed. I would resist it tonight, because I do not want to undermine the purpose of the Bill, although it is obviously important to ensure complete clarity about the Prime Minister’s flexibility to take decisions in the European Council, which of course she has.
I am grateful to the right hon. Lady for that clarification. The Government will still press amendment 22, and we feel it right to do so to protect the powers under the royal prerogative. I can assure her that it is about providing that flexibility. Of course, the process that those on her party’s Front Bench and our Front Bench are engaged with might require that flexibility, whatever the House chooses to do on this legislation. We obviously continue to oppose the Bill, and I should also mention, as I did not mention it in my speech, that we encourage colleagues to support amendment 21.
I would argue that Government amendment 22 and amendment 21 should both be opposed at this stage, but if they do not pass and the Bill passes to the other place, I would be keen to have further discussions with the Minister about how we can ensure appropriate clarity for something that I think we all want to see and ensure that the Government can do this in an orderly way.
On that basis, I hope that we can support the drafting amendments to which I have referred. I will personally support new clause 13, but would urge the Committee to resist the other amendments and hope that there can be further constructive discussions to ensure that the Bill does what we want it to do, which is simply to support the Prime Minister’s work to avert no deal and to ensure that we do not end up putting our constituents at risk during the important process that the Prime Minister has instigated, which we hope can successfully achieve agreement on a way forward.
Amendment 13 agreed to.
Amendment proposed: 21, page 1, line 21, leave out subsections (6) and (7)—(George Eustice.)
Proceedings interrupted, (Programme Order, this day).
The Chair put forthwith the Questions necessary for the disposal of the business to be concluded at that time (Standing Order No. 83D).
Amendment proposed: No. 22, page 2, line 3, at end insert—
“() Nothing in this section prevents a Minister of the Crown from seeking, or agreeing to, an extension of the period specified in Article 50(3) of the Treaty on European Union otherwise than in accordance with this section.”—(Stephen Barclay.)
This amendment ensures that the Bill does not limit the powers that a Minister of the Crown would otherwise have to seek, or agree to, an extension of the Article 50(3) period.
Question put, That the amendment be made.
Amendment proposed: 1, page 2, line 3, at end insert—
“(8) But the Prime Minister may not agree to any extension of the Article 50 period proposed by the European Council which is later than 22 May 2019.”—(Mrs Main.)
Question put, That the amendment be made.
The Committee proceeded to a Division.
I ask the Serjeant at Arms to investigate the delay in the Aye Lobby.
Clause 1, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.
Interpretation, commencement, extent and short title
Amendment made: 14, page 2, line 5, leave out “2018 Act” and insert
“the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018”.—(Yvette Cooper.)
This clarifies the title of the previous Act being referred to.
Clause 2, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.
New Clause 4
Amendability of motions
‘Any motion brought forward under section 1(1) in the form set out in section 1(2) may be amended in line with section 1(3) only to include a date.’—(Sir William Cash.)
This new Clause would prevent further amendments to standing orders etc.
Brought up, and read the First time.
Question put, That the clause be read a Second time.
New clause 13
Procedure for ensuring domestic legislation matches Article 50 extension
‘In paragraph 14 of Schedule 7 to the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018 (regulations amending the definition of “exit day” to be subject to approval by each House of Parliament) for the words from “may” to “each” substitute “is subject to annulment in pursuance of a resolution of either”.’—(Mr Robin Walker.)
This new clause changes the procedure for regulations, under section 20(4) of the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018, altering the definition of “exit day” from affirmative to negative procedure.
Brought up, and added to the Bill.
The Speaker resumed the Chair.
Bill, as amended, reported.
On a point of order, Mr Speaker. The House of Commons is about to pass a major piece of legislation without a Report stage or a substantive Third Reading. If the Government did this, the House would rightly be deeply irritated with them, so the House should find no virtue in its actions this evening.
The hon. Gentleman invests me with powers that I do not possess. I do not know whether I should be grateful to him. If he were right, perhaps I would be, but he isn’t, so I can’t. I fear we will have to leave it there, but I have heard his dulcet tones, and they will ring in my ears for some considerable time to come. I thank him for what he has said.
Bill, as amended in the Committee, considered.
Question put forthwith (Order, this day), That the Bill be now read the Third time.
Bill read the Third time and passed.
On a point of order, Mr Speaker. Given the strong feelings that there are on this issue and the tightness of the vote, it is important to say how welcome it is that this has been a very considered and thoughtful debate throughout today. I am sure that that is the way that we want all the debates on this to take place.
The House has tonight voted again to make clear the real concern that there would be about a chaotic and damaging no deal and to support the Prime Minister’s commitment to ensure that we do not end up with no deal on 12 April. I am sure that we will be very keen to work with the Government to make sure that this legislation progresses in a way that is sensible and works in the national interest.
Finally, I thank the right hon. Member for West Dorset (Sir Oliver Letwin) and the hon. Member for Grantham and Sleaford for their work on this Bill and on previous Bills to make sure that we could get this far, and, I hope, to help the Prime Minister to persuade her Cabinet and others how important this is.
On a point of order, Mr Speaker. I have heard what the right hon. Lady has said, but it is difficult to argue that we have had an extremely considered debate when the Bill has been rammed through the House of Commons in barely four hours. That is not a considered debate; that is a constitutional outrage. It went through in the end by one vote. That, to me, does not represent the long-term, settled will of the House of Commons. [Interruption.] Someone shouts from a sedentary position “52:48”. There is a difference between a majority of 1.4 million and one. All I would say to hon. Members opposite is that the public will not be impressed by this. Forgive them, Father, for they know not what they do.
I note what the right hon. Gentleman has said. He speaks for himself and conceivably for others as well, and there are people who take a different view, but he has put it in a perfectly orderly way. There is, however, nothing disorderly about these proceedings. I absolutely understand his point of view, shared by his hon. Friend the Member for Stone (Sir William Cash) and many others, that this is not a procedure that should be followed, but it is not a disorderly procedure.
On a point of order, Mr Speaker. Of course this has been a quality debate, but an altogether too brief one. I know how their Lordships feel about ill-considered and briskly prepared legislation going up to their Lordships’ House in an inadequate state, as I am sure this Bill is, so I place on the record my fervent hope that their Lordships will examine this Bill line by line and explore every possibility for amendment of this legislation for as long as they think is necessary.
On a point of order, Mr Speaker. We started the process of voting at 9.54 pm, and it has taken us until nearly half-past 11 to complete it. I am, of course, making my usual point about electronic voting and how much more efficient the process could be, but there is also a serious aspect in that the catering staff, the Clerks and all the other staff of the House have been dragged here and have had to stay until half-past 11. Surely all Members who are present agree that we need to move into the 21st century and introduce electronic voting.
The hon. Gentleman is nothing if not persistent in making that point. He knows, because I have indicated it on other occasions elsewhere, that I happen to have great sympathy for his point of view: I have said so many times in speeches and lectures around the country. However, I am fully aware of, and very respectful towards, the fact that the judgment would have to be made by the House of Commons as a whole. Each of us can have our own opinion, and the matter may come to be considered in due course. We shall see.
On a point of order, Mr Speaker. I wonder if I can invite the right hon. Member for Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford (Yvette Cooper) to correct what I believe that I just heard her say. She thanked those who had supported the passing of her Bill, mentioning my right hon. Friend the Member for West Dorset (Sir Oliver Letwin) and “the hon. Member for Grantham and Sleaford”. I am the hon. Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham, and I do not support the Bill.
That is a perfectly fair point. The constituency is, in fact, Grantham and Stamford, and the hon. Lady represents Sleaford and North Hykeham. It is a perfectly fair correction, which I am sure the right hon. Member for Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford (Yvette Cooper) will happily accept.
On a point of order, Mr Speaker. I wonder whether it would be in order to place on record the House’s thanks to, in particular, the Clerks and the staff of the Vote Office for the way in which they have received, marshalled, typed up, printed and distributed the papers that enabled us to consider the Bill this evening.
That is typically courteous of the right hon. Gentleman, and perhaps enables us to conclude the proceedings on a note of some amity. I entirely endorse what he has said, and I think that that other colleagues will do so as well. Extreme professionalism has been required, and it has been provided. I thank all the Clerks at the Table, and many others who are not currently in the Chamber, for the work that they have done.