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First, Mr Speaker, may I thank you for allowing this urgent question to be placed before the House today?
It is rather strange that the Prime Minister is not here and that only two of his Cabinet colleagues appear to be in attendance. The Prime Minister—I should be pleased about this, I suppose—seems to think that he should be in Chippenham, paying homage to the town where I was born, making a speech about negotiations with the European Union, rather than first, as is his duty, reporting to this House, to which he is accountable as Prime Minister.
The Minister says that the Prime Minister does not wish to give a running commentary on the negotiations, but that is exactly what he is doing. He has gone to a selected audience in Chippenham this morning to give a commentary on the negotiations but cannot come here to report to this House. He is trumpeting the sovereignty of national Parliaments as part of the renegotiations, but does not seem to respect the sovereignty of this Parliament in coming here today to make the statement he should have done. Also conspicuous by his absence is the Chancellor of the Exchequer. Where is he this morning? He is across the road making a speech there, but cannot come here to this House—to this Parliament.
Additionally, it appears that journalists were given a very heavy briefing and copies of the document earlier this morning, if not yesterday. No Member of this House received it before them; they were given the briefing. Once again: no process of coming to Parliament, and every process about engagement with the media rather than this House.
If the Prime Minister has an unbreakable commitment in Chippenham—it is a wonderful town and I hope he enjoys his visit there—he could get back to London in about an hour by train and give a statement here later on today. Why cannot he do that?
The truth of the matter is that this whole process conducted by the Prime Minister is not about engaging with Parliament and not about engaging with the necessary questioning by MPs—it is about managing the problems within the Conservative party. I believe, Mr Speaker, that this indicates a lack of respect for the democratic process and this House. I hope that the Minister will be able to assure us that the Prime Minister will come here tomorrow, will take questions, and will in future come to this House first rather than going to selected audiences to say what people want to hear.