“(1) Where a Minister of the Crown proposes to conclude an agreement with the European Union setting out the arrangements for the withdrawal of the United Kingdom from the European Union—
(a) the Secretary of State must lay before Parliament a statement of the proposed terms of the agreement, and
(b) no Minister of the Crown may conclude any such agreement unless the proposed terms have been approved by resolution of both Houses.
(2) The requirements of subsection (1) also apply where a Minister of the Crown proposes to conclude an agreement with the European Union for the future relationship of the United Kingdom with the European Union.
(3) In the case of a proposed agreement setting out the arrangements for the withdrawal of the United Kingdom from the European Union, the statement under subsection (1)(a) must be laid before the proposed terms are agreed with the Commission with a view to their approval by the European Parliament or the Council.”—(Keir Starmer.)
This new clause requires Ministers to seek the approval of Parliament of any proposed Withdrawal Agreement before final terms are agreed with the Commission and prior to endorsement by the European Parliament and Council.
Brought up, and read the First time.
With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:
New clause 18—New Treaties with the European Union—
“So far as any of the provisions of any new treaty with the European Union may depend for ratification solely upon the exercise of prerogative, they shall not be ratified except with the express approval of Parliament.”
This new clause would ensure that any future treaties made with the European Union must be ratified with the express approval of Parliament.
New clause 19—Future relationship with the European Union—
“(1) Following the exercise of the power in section 1, any new treaty or relationship with the European Union must be subject to the express approval of Parliament.
(2) It shall be the policy of Her Majesty’s Government that, in the event of Parliament declining to approve such a new treaty or relationship, further time to continue negotiations with the European Union shall be sought.”
This new clause seeks to ensure that, if Parliament declines to give approval to any new deal or treaty following the negotiations in respect of the triggering of Article 50(2), that Her Majesty’s Government shall endeavour to seek further time to continue negotiations for an alternative relationship with the European Union.
New clause 28—Parliamentary sovereignty—
“Before exercising the power under section 1, the Prime Minister must undertake that a vote on the proposed agreement setting out—
(a) the arrangements for withdrawal, and
(b) the future relationship with the European Union will take place in the House of Commons before any vote in the European Parliament.”
This new clause puts a requirement on the Prime Minister to ensure a vote on final terms takes place in the House of Commons before the European Parliament votes on the deal.
New clause 54—Negotiating timeframe—
“Before exercising the power under section 1, the Prime Minister must undertake that if Parliament does not approve the terms for withdrawal and the future relationship within 24 months of notifying the United Kingdom’s intention to withdraw from the EU, she will request that the European Council extends the time period for negotiations.”
This new clause makes provision for a situation in which negotiations have not been concluded or in which Parliament has not approved the deal either because of time constraints or because it has declined to give approval. In any of these situations the Prime Minister would seek extra time to continue negotiations with the EU.
New clause 99—Parliamentary approval of the final terms of withdrawal from the EU—
“The United Kingdom shall withdraw from the EU once either—
(i) the arrangements for withdrawal, and
(ii) the future relationship between the United Kingdom and the EU as agreed to between the United Kingdom and EU, or
(b) Royal Assent is granted to an Act of Parliament that approves the United Kingdom’s withdrawal without an agreement being reached between the United Kingdom and the EU.”
This new clause aims to embed parliamentary sovereignty throughout the process and requires primary legislation to give effect to any agreement on withdrawal or for withdrawal without such an agreement.
New clause 110—Future relationship with the European Union—
“(1) Following the exercise of the power in section 1, any new Treaty or relationship with the European Union must not be concluded unless the proposed terms have been subject to approval by resolution of each House of Parliament.
(2) In the case of any new Treaty or relationship with the European Union, the proposed terms must be approved by resolution of each House of Parliament before they are agreed with the European Commission, with a view to their approval by the European Parliament or the European Council.”
This new clause seeks to ensure that Parliament must give approval to any new deal or Treaty following the negotiations in respect of the triggering of Article 50(2), and that any new Treaty or relationship must be approved by Parliament in advance of final agreement with the European Commission, European Parliament or European Council.
New clause 137—Future relationship with the European Union—
“(1) Following the exercise of the power in Section 1, any new treaty or relationship with the European Union must be subject to the express approval of Parliament.
(2) In the event of Parliament declining to approve the new treaty or relationship set out in subsection (1), Her Majesty’s Government shall seek to negotiate an alternative new agreement with the European Union.”
The Prime Minister has guaranteed that Parliament will have a vote on the final deal between the UK and the EU. This new clause is intended to make that vote meaningful by ensuring that if Parliament votes against the terms of such a deal, the Government shall try to negotiate an alternative future trading agreement and shall not default without agreement to the World Trade Organisation rules.
New clause 175—Request for Suspension of Authorisation—
“If Parliament has not approved terms on which the UK will leave the European Union within the two years specified in Clause 3 of Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty, or any extension of the negotiation period agreed in accordance with that clause, then the Government must request the European Council to consider the notification authorised by this Act as suspended.”
This new clause would require that Her Majesty’s Government request the European Council to suspend the notification of the United Kingdom’s intention to leave the European Union if Parliament does not approve the terms of departure.
New clause 180—UK—EU membership: reset (No.2)—
“The Prime Minister may not exercise the power under section 1(1) until she has sought an undertaking from the European Council that failure by the Parliament of the United Kingdom to approve the terms of exit for the UK will result in the maintenance of UK membership on existing terms.”
New clause 182—Parliamentary approval for agreements with the Union—
“(1) Where a Minister of the Crown proposes to conclude an agreement with the European Union setting out the arrangements for the withdrawal of the United Kingdom from the European Union—
(a) the Secretary of State must lay before Parliament a statement of the proposed terms of the agreement, and
(b) no Minister of the Crown may conclude any such agreement unless the proposed terms have been approved by resolution of both Houses.
(2) The requirements of subsection (1) also apply where a Minister of the Crown proposes to conclude an agreement with the European Union for the future relationship of the United Kingdom with the European Union.
(3) In the case of a proposed agreement setting out the arrangements for the withdrawal of the United Kingdom from the European Union, the statement under subsection (1)(a) must be laid before the proposed terms are agreed with the Commission with a view to their approval by the European Parliament or the Council.
(4) In laying a statement before Parliament under subsection (1)(a), Her Majesty’s Government shall have regard to the requirements of Parliament for adequate time to consider the statement before the proposed terms are put to each House for approval under subsection (1)(b).”
This new clause is an alternative version of NC1 which provides for additional time being allowed for consideration by Parliament of the proposed terms of the agreement before the vote.
Amendment 50, in clause 1, page 1, line 3, at end insert—
“(1A) The Prime Minister may not notify under subsection (1) until a Minister of the Crown has published an assessment on whether such a notification can later be revoked, and laid a copy of the assessment before Parliament.”
Amendment 20, page 1, line 5, at end insert—
“(3) If the power is exercised under subsection (1), the Prime Minister’s commitment to hold a vote in both Houses of Parliament on the outcome of the negotiations with the European Union shall include the option to retain membership of the EU.”
Recognising that the Government wishes to begin negotiations on a deal to leave the EU, and recognising the Supreme Court ruling on the sovereignty of Parliament, this amendment provides a safety net, ensuring that there is a real vote on the outcome deal that provides the option of the UK staying in a reformed EU should the final terms of the deal be detrimental to the UK’s national interest.
Amendment 43, page 1, line 5, at end insert—
“(3) Before exercising the power under section 1, the Prime Minister must prepare and publish a report on the process for ratifying the United Kingdom’s new relationship with the European Union through a public referendum.”
In speaking to new clause 1, I will touch on other new clauses in the bucket. As we go through the debate on these amendments, which is probably the most important debate that we have had thus far and are going to have, it is important that we remind ourselves of the context. The negotiations that will take place under article 50 will be the most difficult, complex and important for decades—arguably, since the second world war. Among other things, it is important that we ensure the best outcome for our economy and jobs, and the trading agreements. As I have said on a number of occasions, what that entails is very clear; we must have tariff-free and barrier-free access to the single market, regulatory alignment, and full access for services and goods. In the White Paper published last Thursday, the Government accept the strength of those arguments about the trading agreements.
It is important that we have the right ongoing future relationship with our EU partners. Labour has been forceful in arguing for maintaining close collaboration with our partners in the fields of medicine, science, research, education, culture, security, policing and counter-terrorism. Although the Prime Minister and the Secretary of State maintain the idea that all this can be agreed within two years, leaving just an implementation stage, the reality is that we will have two deals: the article 50 agreement and a new UK-EU treaty setting out the new arrangements, along with transitional arrangements.
To be clear, we all have a vested interest, on behalf of all our constituents, in getting the right outcome, and that raises the proper role of Parliament in this process. That is why I have consistently argued for three elements of scrutiny and accountability, and this is a debate that, in a sense, has been going on for the last three months. The first element, which I started the argument for last October, was that, at the start, we should have a plan or White Paper—a formal document setting out the negotiating objectives. We should then have a system for reporting back during the negotiations, and we should have a vote at the end of the exercise. Those are the three elements of scrutiny and accountability that I have argued for.
Is it the case that if all the hon. and learned Gentleman’s proposals are rejected by the Government, the Labour party will simply endorse Third Reading and support the Government? What is the point, therefore, of making all this case for these proposals if he is just supinely going to cave in to what the Government want on article 50?
I am not sure how helpful interventions like that are to a debate, which is actually really important, about scrutiny and accountability. Just to be clear, nagging away, pushing votes and making the argument over three months, we have got a White Paper, and it is important. Nagging away and making the arguments, we have got commitments about reporting back. Nagging away and making the arguments, we have got a commitment to the vote at the end of the exercise. So when the charge is levelled at the Opposition that they have not made the case, and are not succeeding on the case, for scrutiny and accountability, that simply does not match what has happened over the last three months.
My hon. and learned Friend is right to point out that progress has been made, but does he agree that to make a vote at the end of the process meaningful, we have to have meaningful scrutiny as the process goes on, and as a Parliament we have to have the chance to say to the Government, “You must go back and try to do better”? Having an all-or-nothing vote at the end, when all the discussions and negotiations are over, is not, in my definition, meaningful scrutiny. Does he agree?
I am grateful for that intervention, and I will come to that, but the central theme of the case I will seek to make this afternoon is that a vote in this House must be before the deal is concluded; that is the dividing line that makes the real difference here.
I am grateful to the Secretary of State, and I think that this may be helpful—[Interruption.] Forgive me, the shadow Secretary of State. I hope that this will be helpful to him. He has mentioned the fact that the Government have made a commitment to a vote at the end of the procedure. Later, when I address the House, I will be outlining what I intend that vote shall be, but it may be of assistance to him now to know what is proposed. First of all, we intend that the vote will cover not only the withdrawal arrangements but also the future relationship with the European Union. Furthermore, I can confirm that the Government will bring forward a motion on the final agreement, to be approved by both Houses of Parliament before it is concluded. We expect and intend that this will happen before the European Parliament debates and votes on the final agreement. I hope that is of assistance.
Minister, I am very grateful for that intervention. That is a huge and very important concession about the process that we are to embark on. The argument I have made about a vote over the last three months is that the vote must cover both the article 50 deal and any future relationship—I know that, for my colleagues, that is very important—and that that vote must take place before the deal is concluded, and I take that from what has just been said.
Would the hon. and learned Gentleman—I nearly said “Friend”; I will have to be careful—agree that it is really important that, as a nation and a House, we now come together, putting aside all the party political differences, to do the right thing by our country? But most importantly perhaps, on the very point he makes, does he share my concern that, in the event of no deal being reached, this House must also decide what happens next?
I am dealing with this intervention, if you don’t mind.
What is significant about what has just been said is that it covers the article 50 agreement and it covers any future relationship. That is the first time we have heard this. It is a very significant position by the Government, and I am grateful that it has been made. It is very important that it has been made, because, on both sides of the House, there has been real anxiety that it should cover both bases.
Whether it goes far enough for the fall-back position, I will reflect on. Ideally, of course, one would want that covered, but I do not want to underplay the significance of what has just been said about the two deals, because this is the first time that clarity has been given; it is the first time the point has been conceded. It is an argument I have been making for three months, and it is very important that it has now been conceded: it is important for my colleagues, and I am sure it is important for people across the House.
Equally important is the timing—that the vote should be before the deal is concluded. The great fear was that there would be a concluded deal, which would make any vote in this House meaningless.
What I hope can now happen on the back of that concession is what I anticipate will happen in the European Parliament: by regularly reporting, updating the House and setting out the direction of travel, there can be agreement about progress, and what happens at the end will not come as a surprise to any of us in this House. But what has been said by the Minister is a very significant statement of the position, which meets in large part everything I have been driving at in new clause 1.
I welcome, as my hon. and learned Friend does, the concession from the Government Benches, but does he agree that, as well as the timing, it is the scope of that vote that will be absolutely vital? As Anna Soubry says, if we are faced with a choice between a hard Brexit and World Trade Organisation rules, that is no choice—the Government will have to go back and renegotiate.
At the moment, I agree that we should have as big a say as possible on all of this, but I do not want to understate what has been conceded in the last 10 minutes. I do take the point, but where we have made significant progress on scrutiny and accountability, we should recognise where we have got to.
While I echo what the hon. and learned Gentleman has said, would he agree that instantly leaping on a concession may be a little unwise until we are quite clear what it amounts to? I recall that a concession on a plan led to a speech in Lancaster House, which did not take us very much further. I would like to be persuaded that a major concession has been made. Does he agree that it would be helpful, as we will not know quite what we are debating if we continue now, if the Minister tried to catch the Chairman’s eye after the hon. and learned Gentleman has sat down, so that he can explain in more detail what he is proposing? The substance of the debate on this group of proposals will then be altogether better informed.
I am grateful for the intervention, and I accept that point. Far be it from me to say what the procedure should be, but that would be helpful because some of what has been said has been heard for the first time today, and we need to reflect on it.
If this is indeed a significant concession, should it not be added to the Bill so that it can be properly examined and analysed and so that by Report every Member has been able to look at it?
I recognise the strength of that point. There are of course other opportunities to examine what has been conceded, and to ensure that it might find its way into the Bill. I think it would be sensible to recognise the significance of what has been said, hear a little more detail if we can, and reflect on that during the course of the afternoon. Of course, the Bill does not complete its passage today, or in this House.
The hon. and learned Gentleman is making a fair point. I think he and I would accept, as advocates, that if somebody says something to us in good faith, we take it on board, bank it, and sometimes do not push too hard—we take a valuable concession and recognise it for what it is.
I am grateful for that intervention. When an assurance is given in a debate such as this, it is a significant assurance. That said, of course having something in statute at some later point would be even better.
I came into the Chamber with the full intention of supporting new clause 1, and I still feel that we need to press it to a vote. I hear what my hon. and learned Friend is saying—that he wants to trust and believe the Government. However, if we saw a manuscript amendment before the end of the afternoon, I would find it much easier not to have a vote on new clause 1. Does he agree that a manuscript amendment would be helpful?
That is in the hands of the Minister, but I certainly take the point.
Let me make some progress, because we have not got very far. [Interruption.] Well, I have not got very far. Looking again at the big picture, there is a commitment in paragraph 7.1 of the White Paper—this is important for trade unions, for working people and for constituents who have repeatedly raised these points—to convert all EU-derived rights, including workers’ rights, into domestic law. I do not think that commitment has been heard loudly enough. We certainly intend to hold the Government to that at every step of the way, along with other EU rights such as environmental and consumer rights.
I have consistently argued that the Prime Minister cannot, in the article 50 negotiations, negotiate to change domestic law or policy—that will require primary legislation. Paragraph 1.8 of the White Paper makes it clear that the Government do not accept that the Prime Minister would have that authority, and expressly refers to separate Bills on immigration and on customs. I highlight that because there is huge concern among my colleagues about the threat made by the Prime Minister to alter our social and economic model and turn the UK into a tax haven. That cannot happen without primary legislation. It is important that we note that.
I rather agree with Anna Soubry and my right hon. Friend Mr Bradshaw. Given the Government’s position, which has just been outlined, does my hon. and learned Friend agree that the only substantive reason now for the Government not to agree to our new clause 1 is to deny the other House a vote on a resolution, and that the Minister should explain why that is the position?
I hear what my hon. Friend says. I think we will have to wait to hear from the Minister.
So far as the vote is concerned, there has been a change of position, and it is important that I set that out. Initially, the Secretary of State for Brexit said back in October that he would observe the requirements of treaty ratification. Then in December, at the Dispatch Box, he almost said that we would get a vote—he said that it was “inconceivable” that we would not. Then, just before Christmas at the Liaison Committee, the Prime Minister appeared to back away from that altogether under questioning from the Chairman of the Brexit Committee, and the fact of a vote was only conceded after Christmas. Then in paragraph 1.12 of the White Paper, there was a commitment to a vote on the final deal. Today has taken us a lot further forward. That demonstrates how, by chipping away and arguing away, we are making progress on accountability and scrutiny.
My hon. and learned Friend may have heard what the Minister said in more detail than I did. Was it clear whether we would get a vote in this House if there was no deal? If the Government failed to get a deal with the EU—none of us wants that to happen, but if it did—was it clear to him from what the Minister said whether we would still get a vote in Parliament?
The hon. and learned Gentleman has ably outlined the Government’s position to date. He has ably shown all of us that the Government have made quite a major change in their position today. That change in position appears to have taken place when we are debating many differently nuanced amendments about the circumstances surrounding a final vote, so does he agree that it is important for the Government to commit to exactly what their concession is in writing, and to do so in the appropriate way, which would be by way of a manuscript amendment?
I am grateful for the intervention by the hon. and learned Lady. It would be helpful if we had both clarification and, if possible, a written form of the concession that has been made so that we can all see what it is.
On a point of order, Ms Engel. Given that, as Joanna Cherry said, we require some sort of information as to what the Government are putting forward, is there any way in which you can require the Government to put before us a manuscript amendment so that we actually know what we are debating for the rest of the afternoon?
I am sure that the Minister hears what is being said. What has been said, today is significant—there has been a concession, and it now needs to be put in writing. A great deal of this debate should now be spent probing the concession that has been made.
I am going to make some progress, because I barely got through two or three sentences before taking interventions. I do not think anybody could accuse me of not giving way.
In the end, there is stark choice for the House. If we are to have a vote, it will be either before the deal is concluded, or afterwards, in which case it will be a fait accompli. This concession appears to suggest that it will be before it is concluded. I recognise that there are other issues that flow off the back of that timing, but that is critical, because the sequence of events at the end of the exercise is extremely important to what the House can meaningfully say or do about the agreement that is put to us for a vote.
Does my hon. and learned Friend agree that we must consider not just the timing of the vote but what happens if the House declines to accept the deal that the Government have put forward? The Prime Minister said on
“If this Parliament is not willing to accept a deal that has been decided on…with the European Union, then, as I have said, we will have to fall back on other arrangements.”—[Official Report,
Vol. 620, c. 295.]
That does not guarantee that this House will have the final decision on our future relationship with the EU.
I am grateful for that intervention. I think the exchange that my hon. Friend has referred to is the cause of the concern about the vote being held before the deal is concluded. We will need greater clarification about the extent of the vote.
I am going to press on, because I am not sure that my trying to explain what the Minister is going to tell us is working particularly well.
I have made the case for accountability and scrutiny, I have made the case for a White Paper, I have made the case for reporting back and I have made the case for a vote. We have got this concession, and I think the most helpful thing, in the circumstances, would be for hon. Members to be given the opportunity to test what the Minister has said.
I had hoped to speak at the end of the debate, but it may be of assistance to the Committee if I deal with some of the matters that the shadow Secretary of State touched on. However, I do not want to go into the details of the various amendments that other hon. Members will no doubt wish to speak to. With your consent, Ms Engel, I will address them briefly at the end of the debate.
May I first repeat what I said to the shadow Secretary of State when I intervened on him a few moments ago? The Government have repeatedly committed from the Dispatch Box to a vote in both Houses on the final deal before it comes into force. That, I repeat and confirm, will cover not only the withdrawal agreement but the future arrangement that we propose with the European Union. I confirm again that the Government will bring forward a motion on the final agreement—
I will just finish the sentence, because it is rather important. The Government will bring forward a motion on the final agreement to be approved by both Houses of Parliament before it is concluded, and we expect and intend that that will happen before the European Parliament debates and votes on the final agreement.
Will the Minister stress to the Committee again that that applies to both the withdrawal agreement and a final agreement on the future relationship between the UK and the EU? It is my view, which is shared by many others, that the former is feasible within two years but the latter is highly unlikely. What will happen if a withdrawal agreement is reached but not a new agreement between the UK and the EU?
I must preface what I am about to say by saying that we do not expect that we will not achieve such an agreement, but my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has already made it clear that if we cannot come to an agreement, we will have to fall back on other arrangements. The Government have consistently been clear about that.
This point goes back to the conversation we had yesterday about the importance of transitional arrangements. The Minister cannot guarantee that the new trade agreement will be concluded within two years. If we do not have a transitional agreement, it will be like jumping out of an aeroplane without a parachute. Why will he not agree to negotiate that transitional arrangement now in case we need it?
What the hon. Lady says is, of course, true. An agreement has to be negotiated by two sides, and it is always possible that we will not be able to achieve such an agreement, but I believe that we will. We have also made it clear that we see it as important that during the negotiations for the new arrangements, whatever they are, we consider what implementation period may be necessary following the agreements.
I am grateful to the Minister for speaking at this stage and enabling us to have the process that he is talking about, and I congratulate him on that. He says that Parliament will have a vote before the agreement is concluded. Does that mean before agreement has been reached with the other 27 countries, or after agreement has been reached but before it has been put into effect?
I believe that parliamentary sovereignty requires that Parliament should have the ability to influence the Government’s position before they conclude the deal, so that those with whom the Government are dealing—the other parties to the negotiations—know that the British Government have to produce an agreement that will get the support of Parliament. If the Government wait until hands have been shaken with all the other Europeans before coming here, Parliament will be told, “If you reject the agreement, you will have nothing and it will be a WTO disaster.” That would give the Government a majority, but not a very satisfactory conclusion.
I fully appreciate the points that my right hon. and learned Friend is making. This is clearly going to be a complex, lengthy and difficult—
May I first deal with the point that my right hon. and learned Friend has made? After I have done so, I will come back to Geraint Davies.
This will be a difficult and complex agreement, and the negotiation will, from time to time, be subject to reports to the House, to the Exiting the European Union Committee and so on. What we are proposing, and what I am committing to from the Dispatch Box, is that before the final agreement is concluded—the final draft agreement, if you like—it will be put to a vote of this House and a vote of the other place. That, we intend, will be before it is put to the European Parliament. That is as clear as I can make it.
After we trigger article 50, the EU27 will decide a deal in their interests. If that deal comes to this House and we vote it down, and subsequently the Commission and the European Parliament agree it and say, “Like it or lump it,” what will we do then?
I would have thought that, in the circumstance that this House had voted down the agreement, it would be highly unlikely that it would ever be put to the European Parliament. Of course, there are all sorts of scenarios to be considered.
Just for clarification, I think the Minister said that there would be a vote on, as it were, the final draft agreement. I just wanted to check that I had heard him correctly.
I want to come back to the point made by Mr Clegg about the timing of the two deals that are being negotiated in parallel: the exit deal and the framework for our future relationship. I think we can be a little more optimistic than he is. In article 50, it is envisaged that the negotiation for the exit agreement can only be done taking into account the framework for the future relationship. Article 50 envisages those two agreements being negotiated in parallel, so I think that what the Minister has set out has every prospect of coming to fruition.
I implore Members to keep interventions shorter. They are very, very long—they are little speeches—and we have got very little time. I implore Members to keep them a bit briefer.
My right hon. Friend is right. Article 50 states that the negotiations for the withdrawal agreement should be set against the framework of the continuing relationship. On the face of it, a twin-track approach is envisaged in article 50.
The Minister raised our hopes for a second, and then I felt myself deflate as he said that if things did not work out, we would
“fall back on other arrangements.”—[Official Report,
Vol. 620, c. 295.]
Can he be absolutely clear about what he meant by falling back on other arrangements?
It would depend on precisely what was agreed, but if there were no agreement at all, which I think is an extremely unlikely scenario, ultimately we would be falling back on World Trade Organisation arrangements. That is nothing new. It has been made very clear previously, including by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister.
Can the Minister clarify a point that was raised by the shadow Secretary of State and that is important to us all? An agreement at the end of the process might be an agreement that there is no agreement at all, and that we will go to the default position. I believe that what the Minister has announced will give the House a vote if there is a deal, or indeed if there is no deal. Can he confirm that the House would get a vote in those circumstances, which is what I understand the assurance to be?
It is very hard to see what meaningful vote could be given if there had been no deal at all. Having said that, I have no doubt at all that in the absence of any agreement whatever, that absence of agreement would be the subject of statements to this House.
The Minister is inflating and deflating people as he goes along. May we get back to the manuscript amendment? If the concession is as significant as the Minister is leading us to believe, it is really important that it comes forward as an amendment. If the Government are not prepared to make that happen, surely the message to the other place is that what the Minister has said should be encapsulated in an amendment that can be properly re-debated here.
We are debating the issue at considerable length now. I have, on behalf of the Government, made what I believe is a serious commitment and it should be accepted as such. Frankly, in those circumstances, I see no need for a further amendment.
Is not the problem that the Government and the House have the fact that we do not know at what stage the negotiations will be concluded? They could be concluded, with months to go, within the two-year timeframe. In those circumstances, I would expect the House to be able to consider the agreement—even, perhaps, before it was provisionally agreed with the Commission, because there would be no time pressure.
Equally, however, we could end up in a situation where the agreement is made at one minute to midnight at the end of the two-year period. If the Government do not then conclude an agreement to bring it to the House after that, but before it goes to the European Parliament, we could end up with no deal at all. The Minister may agree that the Government have a real dilemma. It is important that the House should understand those limitations, because they go fundamentally to the question of whether an amendment can be reasonably crafted to meet that situation.
My right hon. and learned Friend makes a very fair point. As we proceed, we have to keep reminding ourselves that we are where we are because the United Kingdom has voted to leave the European Union. What we are seeking to achieve is a departure from the European Union on the best possible terms. I strongly believe that what the Government are proposing is as much as possible in terms of a meaningful vote at the end of the process.
I think that I have already answered that extremely clearly. There will be a meaningful vote. The vote will be either to accept the deal that the Government will have achieved—I repeat that the process of negotiation will not be without frequent reports to the House—or for there to be no deal. Frankly, that is the choice that the House will have to make. That will be the most meaningful vote that one could imagine.
The point is that if this is to be a meaningful concession, the House needs the opportunity to send the Government back to our EU partners to negotiate a deal if one has not been reached. Going to World Trade Organisation rules will be deeply damaging for our economy and wholly unacceptable.
I hear what the hon. Gentleman says, but frankly I cannot think of a greater signal of weakness than for the House to send the Government back to the European Union saying that we want to negotiate further. That would be seized on as a sign of weakness and therefore I cannot agree with it at all.
I would like to make further progress. I have taken a large number of interventions and I am sure that other hon. Members wish to speak.
Let me say this. It will be a meaningful vote. As I have said, it will be the choice between leaving the European Union with a negotiated deal or not. To send the Government back to the negotiating table would be the surest way of undermining our negotiating position and delivering a worse deal. In any case, we cannot unilaterally extend—
When the Minister first revealed his concession to the shadow Secretary of State, there was a bit, which he has not read out in the speech that he has just been giving, that referred to timing, intention and the position of the European Parliament. Will he please repeat what he said the first time round? I think it important that the House should be able to hear that.
I will, if that will be of assistance to the right hon. Gentleman, although I did, in fact, read out the same words twice. I will read them again so that he fully understands the commitment that the Government have made. The Government have committed to a vote on the final deal in both Houses before it comes into force. This will cover both the withdrawal agreement and our future relationship with the European Union. I can confirm that the Government will bring forward a motion on the final agreement, to be approved by both Houses of Parliament before it is concluded. We expect and intend that that will happen before the European Parliament debates and votes on the final agreement.
I will not take any further interventions; I have already been more than generous.
I turn to the amendments. The shadow Secretary of State has referred to his new clauses 1, 18, 19, 28, 54, 110, 137, 175 and 182, which all seek, in one way or another, to ensure that Parliament will have a vote on the final deal that we agree with the European Union. Let me assure Members again, as I have said in answer to interventions, that the House will be involved throughout the entire process of withdrawal. Again, I remind the House of the extent of the Secretary of State’s engagement.
I have a very brief question for the Minister. If the European Parliament votes down the deal, Europe will carry on negotiating. He is saying that if the British Parliament votes down the deal, that will be the end of the negotiations. We pride ourselves on our sovereignty in this House; the Minister’s position seems to be a denial of that sovereignty.
With huge respect, I am not entirely sure that the right hon. Gentleman understands the process. At the end of the day, the role of the European Parliament will be to grant or withhold consent to the deal agreed by the European Council, and there can be no assurance that there would be further negotiations. May I say that we are some considerable way away from that position. As I have said, as the negotiations proceed, there will be very many more opportunities—many, many more—for this House and the other place to consider the negotiations.
I am afraid not; I have already been very generous.
I was reminding the House of what the Secretary of State has already done in terms of engagement. He has made six oral statements and there have been more than 10 debates—four in Government time. More than 30 Select Committee inquiries are going on at the moment. Furthermore, there will be many more votes on primary legislation between now and departure from the European Union.
I suggest that the amendments that I have referred to are unnecessary. I reiterate that both Houses will get a vote on the final deal before it comes into force and I can confirm, once again, that it will cover both the withdrawal agreement and our future relationship. However, we are confident that we will bring back a deal that Parliament will want to support. The choice will be meaningful: whether to accept that deal or to move ahead without a deal.
I rise to speak to new clause 180 and amendment 50, in my name and those of my hon. Friends. I also want to speak very favourably about new clause 110, which is in the name of Chris Leslie. It is the strongest of the other amendments, although I should say that any amendments from this group that are put to the vote will have our support as they are all trying to increase parliamentary supervision of the process.
Before the Minister led us through the dance of the seven veils, I was going to question him on the irrevocability or revocability of article 50. I still think that that goes to the heart of what we are debating. However, I say directly to the Minister, with regard to what he described as a “serious announcement”, that if one makes a serious announcement in the course of the Committee stage of a Bill of this importance, it should be followed by an amendment. If we were here debating the Dangerous Dogs Bill, which I remember debating some time ago, and a serious announcement was made, that serious announcement would be followed by an amendment to the Bill. If that is good enough for a Bill of that description, how much more important is it to have such an amendment when we are debating the biggest constitutional change facing this country for half a century.
Not just now.
We thank the Minister for his announcement and the apparent concession. We do not doubt for a second the seriousness with which he makes his serious announcement, but I think that most of us—including the Minister himself—would think that such an announcement should be followed by an amendment to the Bill so that it could go through the proper processes, with hon. Members being able and willing properly to debate an announcement of such seriousness.
I assure the right hon. Gentleman that I am very content being able to speak in the House on these important matters. The reason it might not be sensible to have a detailed amendment is that, as is clear from the range of interventions from colleagues, a large number of scenarios may arise, which will have to be dealt with politically. I do not want detailed legislation that means that this matter goes back to the courts. I want it to be debated in this House, not by a judge.
At least the right hon. Gentleman is consistent: when he was Chief Whip he did not want detailed amendments either, in case democracy prevailed in these matters. Most people, on hearing a serious announcement from the Front Bench, would expect it to be followed by an amendment, so that it could be properly debated and tested.
In a minute or two.
The hon. Lady’s point goes to the heart of the dilemma the House will find itself in, unless we take action to the contrary. It strikes at the question of whether article 50, once invoked, is irrevocable or not. In my point of order earlier, I tried to give a flavour of the Government’s confusion, but it was a brief point of order and I want to give the full flavour of the Government’s confusion.
“one of the virtues of the article 50 process is that it sets you on way. It is very difficult to see it being revoked. We do not intend to revoke it. It may not be revocable—I don’t know.”
That is the basis on which we are being asked to take this fundamental decision that will affect the future of this country. We have to know these things, because they will determine the position the House finds itself in.
If article 50 is irrevocable—if after the two years, unless there is a unanimous agreement from the other 27 members of the European Union, the negotiations stop, the guillotine comes down and we are left with a bad deal or no deal—any vote in the House against that sword of Damocles hanging over the House will not be a proper, informed judgment.
Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that triggering article 50 on the basis of its possible revocability is like walking down the M4 in the middle of the night and hoping you will not get killed—you might not, but it is better not to walk down there in the first place?
The hon. Gentleman promised me that he would change the motorway when he next made that point, but the analogy is there.
Of course, the noble Lord Kerr of Kinlochard, who drafted article 50, believes it to be revocable. Presumably, he had that in mind when he drafted the article in the first place.
I am very grateful. Perhaps I can clarify the matter by saying that the Attorney General was very clear in his submission to the Supreme Court, as was the lawyer on the other side of the case, that article 50 is irrevocable, and the judgment was based on that proposition. Does the right hon. Gentleman therefore agree that it is irrevocable?
The concession of the Government in the Supreme Court was merely for the purpose of those proceedings. I say to my right hon. Friend John Redwood that we can derive nothing from that as to whether article 50 is revocable or not. Indeed, there is powerful legal argument that it is capable of being revoked.
The two Members should talk among themselves before they come to the House with an agreed position. However, both those amazingly talented people are on the Back Benches, so it does not really matter if they have an informed and learned debate after proceeding to agreement. What matters is the confusion on the Front Bench. Whatever they think, the Brexit Secretary did not know whether it was revocable or not.
The right hon. Gentleman is pursuing this matter relentlessly. Will he explain why he is doing so? I suggest that it is because he knows that the answer to the question he is putting depends on whether the European Court of Justice gets its hands on this matter. That is what it is about, as I am sure he will accept.
To be told I am pursuing something relentlessly by the hon. Gentleman is a compliment that I shall treasure. This is not about the European Court of Justice; it is about this House having a genuine choice at some stage. It must be able to look at what the Government have negotiated and say yes or no, without the sword of Damocles of a bad deal or no deal, which was the threat from the Prime Minister, hanging over it.
Is not one of the problems with the concession that has just been made that it tacks together in one votable motion the withdrawal agreement and the potential trade agreement? If Members do not like the trade agreement, they will face the unpalatable option of voting down the withdrawal agreement, thereby bringing us back to where we are now with the outcome of the referendum.
The hon. Lady makes a very astute point, but I think the issue is even more fundamental: we have to know what happens when we say no before we go ahead at the present moment.
Not just now.
We make an effort to solve the problem in new clause 180, which we call the reset amendment. It asks the Prime Minister to seek from the European Council an agreement that if this House and the other place refuse to agree the terms negotiated, we will reset to our existing membership of the European Union on the current terms and try again. We would then approve a deal only once we believed its terms were in the interests of this country. The Prime Minister should be prepared to present us not with a bad deal or no deal—not a bad deal or World Trade Organisation terms—but a deal that we know is in the interests of our constituents and the country. That is fundamental to this debate.
I know and understand the exigencies of political leadership, but the date of the end of March came about at the Tory conference because Brexiteers were beginning to get a bit flappy about whether the Prime Minister was a born-again Brexiteer or still a secret submarine remainer. I cannot understand why people think—even on the Brexiteer side, because presumably the Brexiteers want success for this country and its economy—that it is a good idea to invoke article 50 before we know what the destination will be. Similarly, I cannot believe that it is a good idea to leave the European economic area, which is governed by different agreements and instruments, until we know what the alternative is. Instead of giving these points away and putting all the negotiating power in the hands of those we are negotiating with—they are our partners now, but in any negotiation there is a tension between two parties—any negotiation depends on the cards in your hand. If the other side know that after two years the sword of Damocles comes down, it puts them in a much more powerful position in the negotiation.
The hon. Gentleman makes an astute point. There is a lot to be learned about a negotiating position. The prime point is not to put yourself in a position of weakness with the European Union. On the whole, they are honourable people who want what is in the interests of the continent of Europe. Certainly, it is not a good idea for the Government to put themselves in a position of weakness with the new President of the United States, who will take every possible advantage from an opponent he senses—as he will sense—is negotiating from a position of weakness.
I argue strongly for the new clause and the amendments we have tabled, which aim to secure the position at the end of the negotiations before we embark on something that will leave this House not just with a bad deal or no deal, but with a metaphorical gun pointed at our head when we address these serious questions. We have to know the end position before we embark on that fundamentally dangerous course.
I agree fully with Alex Salmond that we should not wish to do anything that weakens or undermines the British bargaining position. All the efforts of this House, as we try to knit together remain and leave voters, should be designed to maximise our leverage, as a newly independent nation, in securing the best possible future relationship with our partners in the European Union. That is why I find myself in disagreement with many of the well-intentioned amendments before us today. I think they are all, perhaps inadvertently, trying to undermine or damage the UK’s negotiation—[Interruption.] One of my hon. Friends says, “Nonsense,” but let me explain why it would be dangerous to adopt the amendments.
We are being invited to believe that if the House of Commons decided that it did not like the deal the Government negotiated for our future relationship with the EU and voted it down, the rest of the EU would immediately say sorry and offer us a better deal. I just do not think that that is practical politics. I do not understand how Members believe that that is going to happen. What could happen, however, is that those in the rest of the EU who want to keep the UK and our contributions in the EU might think that it would be a rather good idea to offer a very poor deal to try to tempt Parliament into voting the deal down, meaning that there would then be no deal at all. That might suit their particular agenda.
I support the Government offering this House a vote. They cannot deny the House a vote—if the House wants to vote, the House will vote—but it is very important that those who want to go further and press the Government even more should understand that this approach could be deeply damaging to the United Kingdom’s negotiating position. It is based on a completely unreal view of how multinational negotiations go when a country is leaving the European Union. I find it very disappointing that passionate advocates of the European Union in this House, who have many fine contacts and networks across our continent, as well as access to the counsel and the wisdom of our European partners, give no explanation in these debates of the attitudes of the other member states, the weaknesses of their negotiation position and what their aims might be. If they did so, they could better inform the Government’s position, meaning that we could do better for them and for us.
The right hon. Gentleman is, as ever, making an articulate case from his point of view about the dangers of a vote at the end of the process. Can he explain why, on
“Do you want to accept the new negotiated relationship with the EU or not?”?
How on earth and why on earth has he changed his mind since then?
I do not disagree with that at all. I am very happy for the House to have a vote on whether the new deal is worth accepting, but that would be in the context of leaving the EU. I agree with my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister that no deal is better than a bad deal. If the best the Government can do is a bad deal, I might well want to vote against that deal in favour of leaving without a deal. That is exactly the choice that Government Ministers are offering this House. It is a realistic choice and a democratic choice. It is no choice to pretend that the House can re-run the referendum in this cockpit and vote to stay in the EU. We will have sent the article 50 letter. The public have voted to leave. If this House then votes to stay in, what significance would that have and why should the other member states suddenly turn around and agree?
If the right hon. Gentleman wants to maximise negotiating leverage, would it not be better to delay article 50 until after the elections of the new German Government in October and the new French Government in May? We will have only two years, so that would give us the power of having more time to negotiate while we are member, instead of giving that up. If we were to offer a referendum to the people before we trigger article 50, European countries might think that we could stay in, so they might come to the table before article 50 was triggered.
I do not think we should have two referendums on whether or not we leave. The issue is our future relationship. The House is perfectly capable of dealing with whether we accept the future relationship that the Government negotiate.
The point that Opposition Members and their amendments miss is that once we send the article 50 letter, we have notified our intention to leave. If there is no agreement after two years, we are out of the European Union. Alex Salmond rightly asked whether the notification is irrevocable, but he did not give his own answer to that. I found it very disappointing that the SNP, which takes such a strong interest in these proceedings, has no party view on whether it is irrevocable. Personally, I accept the testimony of both the Attorney General and the noble Lord who was the advocate for the remain side in the Supreme Court case that it is irrevocable. The House has to make its decision in light of that.
As far as I am concerned, this is irrevocable for another democratic reason: the public were told they were making the decision about whether we stayed in or left the EU. Some 52% of the public, if not the others, expect this House to deliver their wishes. That was what the Minister told this House when we passed the European Referendum Act 2015. Every voter in the country was told by a leaflet sent at our expense by the Government: “You, the people, are making the decision”. Rightly, this House, when under the Supreme Court’s guidance it was given the opportunity to have a specific vote on whether to send the letter to leave the European Union, voted to do so by a majority of 384, with just the SNP and a few others in disagreement. It fully understood that the British people had taken the decision and fully understood that it has to do their bidding.
Is the right hon. Gentleman not assuming that, as we walk into the room, all the people we are negotiating with are our adversaries? Is that perhaps not the wrong standpoint to take? Is it not the case that a meaningful vote on the substance of any deal might equally focus the Government’s mind on what they can sell to this House to unite it, as well as the people we represent, in a very divided country?
The hon. Gentleman has won that argument. We will have a vote in this House on whether we accept the deal and I hope that that works out well. My criticism is not of the Government’s decision to make that offer. I think it is was a very good offer to make in the circumstances. My criticism was and is of those Members who do not understand that constantly seeking to undermine and expose alleged weaknesses damages the United Kingdom’s case. It is not at all helpful. As many of them have talent and expertise through their many links with the EU, it would be helpful if they did rather more talking about how we can meet the reasonable objectives of the EU and deal with the unreasonable objectives held by some in the Commission and a number of member states.
Despite the right hon. Gentleman’s certainty about irrevocability, the person who drafted the clause, Lord Kerr, thinks that notification is revocable. Mr Grieve, the former Attorney General, who is sitting to the right hon. Gentleman’s right, is not absolutely sure but does not agree with him, and the Brexit Minister does not know. Does this not remind us of a certain question in European history, where of those who knew the answer one was mad, one was dead and the other had forgotten? Is this the basis on which he wants to take us over the cliff edge?
I have attempted to give the House a clear definition and to show that there is good legal precedent for my argument, based on senior lawyers and the Supreme Court. I note that the SNP does not have a clue and does not want to specify whether the notification is irrevocable.
It clearly did rule on the matter. It found against the Government because it deemed article 50 to be irrevocable. It would not have found against the Government if it had thought it revocable.
I thank my hon. Friend for that helpful intervention, although there is this legal wrangle. It is fascinating how those who wish to resist, delay or cancel our departure from the EU are now flipping their legal arguments from three or four weeks ago, when they were quite clear that this was irrevocable.
My right hon. Friend is a man of courage with a long, fine history of supporting the sovereignty of this place. He says that the Government will give us a vote in the event of a deal, but why does he not agree with those of us, on both sides of the House, who want the same vote, so that we ensure the sovereignty of this place, in the event that the Government cannot strike a deal, despite their finest efforts?
May I take the right hon. Gentleman back to his comments on his blogpost in November 2012, when he argued in favour of a referendum at the beginning and at the end of the process? He has just said that he does not think that there should be a referendum on whether we leave the EU—we can disagree on that—but he did not exclude a referendum on the terms of the deal. Will he clarify whether he thinks that the people should have the final say on the terms of the deal?
No, not on this occasion, because 2012 was 2012, and we were trying all sorts of things to get us out of the EU—we found one that worked, and I am grateful for that. However, now is now, and we have to speak to the current conditions and the state of the argument.
On a referendum, it depends what the options are. Tim Farron is clear that his two choices are that we accept the deal or we stay in the EU. I was on the remain side of the argument, but the question on the ballot paper was unconditional: leave or remain. I accept that my side lost and we are leaving. He wants to rerun the referendum all over again, but that is not acceptable.
I agree with that.
People are trying to make these negotiations far more complicated and longwinded than they need be. Because of the Prime Minister’s admirable clarity in her 12 points, we do not need to negotiate borders, money, taking back control, sorting out our own laws, getting rid of ECJ jurisdiction and so on. Those are matters of Government policy mandated by the British people—they are things we will just do. We will be negotiating just two things. First, will we have a bill to pay when we leave? My answer is simply: no, of course not. There is no legal power in the treaties to charge Britain any bill, and there is no legal power for any Minister to make an ex gratia payment to the EU over and above the legal payments in our contributions up to the date of our exit.
Secondly, the Government need, primarily, to sort out our future trading relationship with the EU. We will make the generous offer of carrying on as we are at the moment and registering it as a free trade agreement. If the EU does not like that, “most favoured nation” terms under WTO rules will be fine. That is how we trade with the rest of the world—very successfully and at a profit.
Members should relax and understand that things can be much easier. There will be no economic damage. The Government have taken an admirable position and made wonderful concessions to the other side, so I hope that those on the other side will accept them gratefully and gracefully, in the knowledge that they have had an impact on this debate.
I rise to speak to new clauses 28, 54 and 99, standing in my name and those of other right hon. and hon. Members. New clause 28 deals with the sequencing of votes on the final terms—the issue on which we have had a concession this afternoon from the Minister; new clause 54 is about how to secure extra time if we need it in our negotiations with the EU; and new clause 99 embeds parliamentary sovereignty in the process.
I am pleased to follow John Redwood, but I am disappointed that he has not come clean to the Committee on the fact that he has identified an alternative process he hopes to use to secure the kind of Brexit he wants. He did not refer to another blog he wrote recently, in which he said:
“Being in the EU is a bit like being a student in a College. All the time you belong to the College you have to pay fees... When you depart you have no further financial obligations”.
This is a somewhat outmoded view of the way student finances work, but putting that to one side, he evidently has not read the excellent paper by Alex Barker of the Financial Times pointing out that the obligations on us will fall into three categories: legally binding budget commitments; pension promises to EU officials; and contingent liabilities, which indeed are arguable.
I will make a little more progress, if the right hon. Gentleman does not mind.
The right hon. Member for Wokingham has also pointed out that Ministers can only authorise spending and sign cheques with parliamentary approval. He is right about that, and it is right that we have that say, but he is hoping to use that moment to veto the withdrawal arrangements and scupper the chances of a more constructive and productive future relationship. On Second Reading, Mr Osborne said—this was astute if somewhat tasteless—that it
“will be a trade-off, as all divorces are, between access and money.”—[Official Report,
Vol. 620, c. 1035.]
For the right hon. Member for Wokingham and his friends, there is no trade-off—he does not want access or money.
New clause 54 calls for extra time. Hon. Members have already raised the need for extra time if Parliament declines to approve the final terms. The new clause adds a scenario in which the Government have not managed to complete the negotiations within the 24 months specified in article 50. This is more likely than not. Almost everyone who has looked at the matter in detail is incredulous that we can complete these negotiations in 24 months. The record on completing trade deals is not good, and there are many more strands to this negotiation. It would be patently absurd to flip to a damaging situation without an agreement, if we can see, once we are in the negotiations and have the detailed work schedule, that a further six or 12 months would bring us to a successful conclusion. Similarly, it is possible that the Minister’s optimism is well founded but that, while the negotiations have been completed, the parliamentary process has not. In that instance, too, we ought to have extra time.
New clause 99 addresses a different matter. It would embed parliamentary sovereignty in the process of approving the final terms of withdrawal and ensure that the UK withdrew on terms approved by Parliament. Bringing back control and restoring parliamentary sovereignty were a major plank of the Brexit campaign. The new clause is the fulfilment of that promise—the working out in practice of what was promised. The Prime Minister has already said that Parliament should have a vote at the end of the process, and new clause 99 strengthens that promise by requiring primary legislation to give effect to any agreement on arrangements for withdrawal and, even more importantly, on the future relationship. This is important, so that Parliament does not have to give only a metaphorical thumbs-up, which could, as my hon. and learned Friend Keir Starmer has said, be meaningless. Instead, Parliament can undertake line-by-line scrutiny. Brexit has major constitutional, political, economic and social consequences. It is right for Parliament to approve the way in which it is done. This new clause will improve the dynamic of the negotiations and strengthen the Prime Minister’s hands. She can say to the EU, “Parliament won’t agree to that.”
Paragraph 1 of article 50 states:
“Any Member State may decide to withdraw from the Union in accordance with its own constitutional requirements.”
The Supreme Court said in its judgment:
“Withdrawal makes a fundamental change to the UK’s constitutional arrangements…The UK constitution requires such changes to be effected by Parliamentary legislation”.
In line with the Supreme Court judgment, new clause 99 embeds parliamentary approval as a constitutional requirement, which the EU must respect.
The new clause deals with the issue raised at the beginning of the debate by Anna Soubry: what to do in the absence of any agreement. Either the Prime Minister’s negotiations will succeed in reaching a satisfactory conclusion or they will not. New clause 99 provides for both scenarios— legislation in the second as well as the first instance—so that Parliament is in control and is able to decide the basis for leaving. The new clause does not block Brexit; it does not slow down the negotiations. I voted to give the Bill a Second Reading, and my constituents are leave voters. This is about Parliament having sovereign control over the process.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for tabling and speaking to this new clause, which I think is important in view of the concerns expressed on all sides of the Committee about the so-called concession offered earlier by the Government Front-Bench team. Will my hon. Friend confirm that she will press her new clause to a vote?
The hon. Lady said a moment ago that new clause 99 did not seek to delay or derail the leaving process. In the event of paragraph (b) of the new clause coming about—namely, no deal—if Parliament voted against it, would the effect not clearly be that we would stop the process of leaving, thereby denying the effect of the referendum?
I do not think it does mean that. It would depend on whether or not extra time had been agreed with the European Union. If the right hon. Gentleman referred back to article 50, he would see that we might get an extension if the other member states agree to provide us with it unanimously. They may; they may not. As we stand here today, it is quite difficult to project ourselves forward into the situation we will find in two years’ time.
I am doubly grateful to the hon. Lady. Does she not agree that in the event that we are not given extra time by mutual agreement, and in the event that Parliament has rejected withdrawal without an agreement, the effect of paragraph (b) of the new clause would clearly be the negation of the result of the referendum by Parliament? Does that not go against what she has voted for?
I do not think it does, because it leaves open the possibility of the Government’s going back to the drawing board and making a further new arrangement. As I say, for us now, when we have not yet embarked on the process and we do not know what the deals will be and what is going to be offered, it is extremely difficult for us to foresee.
Does my hon. Friend agree that many of the other 27 countries will be going to their Parliaments for approval with respect to their approach to these negotiations, so that it would surely strengthen our Government’s hands if they involved themselves in a process that could through this Parliament maximise the support coming on all sides for our Government’s approach? Why is that not seen as a strength?
I could not agree more with my hon. Friend. We know that Angela Merkel has to get a parliamentary mandate for how she conducts herself in all her negotiations in the European Union. Some of us have tried over the years to improve the quality of our European scrutiny, but it seems that we are focusing it now only on the moment when we are about to leave.
Assuming that the Committee agrees to this amendment, that we trigger article 50 on
My hon. Friend is arguing along the same lines as the right hon. Member for Wokingham—that article 50 is irrevocable. It is the same point as was raised by Alex Salmond as well. As I have said, paragraph 3 of article 50 includes the words
That can happen, and it will depend on how the negotiations are undertaken, on where we have got to, and on their tone.
The treaty of Lisbon clearly sets out the two-year term. Whether or not article 50 is irrevocable comes down to the weakness of the treaty of Lisbon itself, not the legal interpretation. Does the hon. Lady not agree that some of the best deals reached with the EU have been at the 11th hour, and that the one thing that will concentrate the minds of all involved in these negotiations is the fact that they have to happen by March 2019—otherwise, it will go on and on and on?
I do not think that the threat of the cliff edge is a positive in these negotiations. I note that the Chancellor of the Exchequer has described this as a second-best option and that the White Paper also says that crashing out is a second-best option. Actually, I think it is the worst option, and new clause 99 levels the playing field so that as well as having the vote on the terms of withdrawal and the money, this House will be able to have detailed scrutiny of the future relationship.
I have consulted my constituents on the kind of Brexit they want: they do not want the cliff-edge option, and there are all sorts of things about Europe that they like, even though the majority voted to leave. They like the customs union; they like the social chapter; they like co-operation and collaboration; and they particularly like the European arrest warrant.
The hon. Lady says that she would like collaboration to support the Government’s negotiations. Does she think that in a negotiating situation it is a good idea to say, “We think we owe you lot some money; tell us how much?”; or does she think it would be better to say, “I do not think that we owe you anything”?
In my experience of negotiation, one of the most important things is to understand what the people on the other side of the table think, and I believe that that is fundamental to our success in this negotiation. It is not to say that we are going to give the people on the other side of the table everything they want, but we need to be willing to listen to what they want as the negotiation proceeds.
May I return the hon. Lady to what she said about the different approaches that European states adopt to negotiation? I am not a lawyer, and I hesitate to express an opinion in the face of such eminent legal presence in the Chamber, but my understanding is that treaties made in countries such as Germany, which has a monist legal culture, are directly applicable without further legislation, whereas because ours is a dualist system, we have to legislate to put them into effect. Do not those countries take a tougher approach to their negotiation before authorising it because once their Governments are signed up to a treaty, it becomes law automatically?
I do not see this as an opportunity for a seminar on the political institutions of the Federal Republic. New clause 99 is about embedding what is basic to the British constitution, as found by the Supreme Court, which is parliamentary sovereignty throughout the process. In the end, the referendum was about trust. It was about the kind of settlement that most voters wanted. I know what kind of Brexit deal my voters want, and I think that new clause 99 provides the best way of giving it to them.
I hope the Committee will allow me to mention that today,
At the time, I tabled some 150 amendments, and I voted against the treaty 47 or 50 times. I have to say that I will not vote against this Bill in any circumstances whatsoever. Indeed, this will be the first occasion on which I shall not have voted against European legislation since 1986. The legislation passed during that year included the Single European Act. When I tabled the sovereignty amendment to that legislation, I was not even allowed to speak to it because it was not selected for debate, which I found difficult to accept at the time. However, we have now moved well ahead. We have had a referendum, the proposal for which was accepted by six to one in the House. We have also had a vote on the principle of this very Bill, which was passed by 498— 500 if we include the tellers—to 114.
In deference to the other Members who wish to speak, I shall not go through the intricacies of this vast number of new clauses. I do not think that that would help us much, for a very simple reason—the bottom line is that they would effectively provide for a veto to override the result of the referendum. It is as simple as that.
My hon. Friend said that he had tabled 150 amendments off his own bat. Surely he is contradicting his own argument. The whole point of this place is to challenge what we do not believe in, on the basis of principle. That is what we are trying to do, and my hon. Friend should be supporting us.
I am so glad that my hon. Friend has made that point. The difference between what I was doing in those days and what is happening now is that we were arguing against the Government’s policy of implementing European government, which is what the Maastricht treaty was about—incidentally, the electorate made clear in the referendum that they now accept that. Moreover, we were arguing in favour of a referendum, which we have now had. My amendments were moving in the right direction, in line with what the Government have now agreed following the referendum and in line with what the people themselves agreed.
The hon. Gentleman—my next-door neighbour from Stone—is clearly enjoying his days in the sun. Like Mr Clarke, I did not vote for the referendum legislation. Will the hon. Gentleman tell us what regard he has had, over his 40 years of campaigning, for the two thirds of people who, at the time when he started his campaign, voted for the UK to remain in the European Union?
I can only say that, in our democratic system, six Members to one in the House of Commons, and indeed the House of Lords, voted in favour of a referendum, by means of a sovereign Act of Parliament, to give the people a say in the hon. Gentleman’s constituency as well as mine next door to it—not to mention in Stoke-on-Trent Central, where quite an interesting test will take place in a few days’ time. The fact is that the decision was given to the people by an Act of Parliament, and they made the decision to leave. That is definitive. I see no purpose in wasting time on the intricate arguments we have heard so far, many of which go around in circles. The real question is: do we implement the decision of the United Kingdom or not? The answer is that we do, and we must. That was conceded by this House, and by almost everybody—I say, with great respect, to my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Rushcliffe that he did not, but the bottom line is that we are giving effect to the decision of the United Kingdom electorate.
Unless my memory betrays me, the hon. Gentleman himself was one of the two thirds back in 1975 when he voted for the European Community, so all these years he was campaigning against the sovereignty of that decision; indeed, he was campaigning against his own sovereignty and his own decision.
That is politics, as the right hon. Gentleman knows only too well, because he has a similar experience in his position with regard to Scotland.
The bottom line is that we are faced with a simple decision, which is going to be decided in a vote later today, I imagine—it might be in part tomorrow as well, and then there will be Third Reading. I hope that all these attempts to, in my judgment, produce different versions of delay will effectively be overridden by the vote taken by the House as a whole, in line with the decision taken by the British people. That is the right way to proceed.
I would like to add one further point, with respect to the Bill itself. I am in no way criticising the selection of amendments, because I think it is entirely right that we should have an opportunity to look at a variety of permutations before the main vote is cast. But I have to remind the Committee that the Bill, which was passed by 498 to 114, simply says that it will
“to withdraw from the EU.”
Clause 1 simply says this, and no more:
“The Prime Minister may notify, under Article 50(2) of the Treaty on European Union, the United Kingdom’s intention to withdraw from the EU.”
I am glad to see that it goes on to say—just to put this matter to bed, in case anybody tries to argue that, somehow or other, this could be overridden by some other European Union gambit— that “This section”, which we have already passed in principle,
“has effect despite any provision made by or under the European Communities Act 1972 or any other enactment.”
In other words, nothing that emanates from the European Union is to stand in its way. That is a very simple proposition. The Bill is short because it should be short.
I would just like to make one last point, looking back at what the Supreme Court said. The Supreme Court made a judgment on one simple question: should we express the intention to withdraw and notify under article 50 by prerogative or by Bill? There was a big battle, and many people took differing views. We respect the Supreme Court decision, and that is why we have this Bill. The fact is that that is final.
In paragraphs 2 and 3 of the judgment, the court itself made it clear what the judgment was meant to be about, which was whether this should be done by Bill or prerogative. The court said it should be done by Bill. It added—these are my last words on the subject for the moment—that it was about one particular issue, which was the one I have mentioned. The court then said the judgment had nothing to do with the terms of withdrawal, nothing to do with the method, nothing to do with the timing and nothing to do with the relationship between ourselves and the European Union. Yet new clause 1 spends its entire verbiage going into the very questions that the Supreme Court said the decision was not about. So that new clause and the others are all inconsistent both with the Supreme Court decision and with the decisions taken on Second Reading.
I am sure that it is in order. The problem is whether we vote for it, and there are extremely good reasons for not doing so. New clause 1 and the other amendments have been tabled by honourable people—hon. Members on both sides of the House, and some right hon. Members—but they know perfectly well what they are doing. They are trying to delay, to obstruct and to prevent the Bill from going through, and I say, “Shame on you!”
It is an honour to follow Sir William Cash, who has fought his corner for 40-odd years. I intend to fight mine, but hopefully not for as long as that. I rise to speak to amendment 43, which is in my name and those of my right hon. and hon. Friends. It concerns the issue of democracy at the end of this process as well as at the beginning, and it would require the Prime Minister to look at the overwhelming case for a people’s vote on the final exit package that the Government negotiate with Brussels after triggering article 50.
As it stands, the Government intend it to be once-in-a-generation opportunity. As the hon. Member for Stone has proved, however, we sometimes have to fight for two generations for the thing that we believe in. If we have the courage of our convictions, we keep going.
I want to quote the Brexit Secretary directly. I do not want to paraphrase him or risk misquoting him in any way. Describing the strategy of having two referendums—a mandate referendum and a decision referendum—he said:
“The aim of this strategy is to give the British people the final say, but it is also to massively reinforce the legitimacy and negotiating power of the British negotiating team.”
I shall not say this often during this process, but I completely and utterly agree with the Brexit Secretary on that. As we have learned, his words were endorsed the following day by John Redwood on his blog, although we have now discovered that he did not really mean it; he was just saying that as a ruse.
The hon. Gentleman and I were on the same side in the referendum, but I want to tell him why he is completely wrong on this matter. If we were to place a second referendum in the Bill at this stage, it would tie the hands of our negotiators. We could only be offered a bad deal, and it would be in the hands of the people we were negotiating with to drive the British people to reject it. It would be a failed policy from the start.
If we follow the logic of the hon. Gentleman’s argument, the Minister should not have made his offer for the House to have a say at the end of the deal. If someone is about to go over a cliff, not giving themselves the opportunity to do otherwise is the ultimate negotiating weakness, as the Brexit Secretary rightly pointed out four and a bit years ago.
The hon. Gentleman really must correct the record. I did not make the offer in 2012 flippantly or without intending to see it through; it was a fair offer that was not taken up. My colleagues and I then made a different offer in 2015, which was accepted and we are pursuing it.
In no way do I wish to impugn the right hon. Gentleman’s integrity—I am sure that he meant that offer. What I think he said earlier on when I intervened on him was that that was effectively a ruse, plot, method or attempt at that point to try to get a certain outcome. I suppose he is therefore the hard Brexit equivalent of Malcolm X—“by any means necessary.”
If I can make a little progress, I will be grateful.
It is true that this argument began with democracy, but it cannot now end with a stitch-up. That is especially true given that the leave campaign offered no plan, no instructions, no prospectus and no vision of what “out” would look like. At no point did it produce any credible or unified position on what the UK would look like outside the European Union.
We are dealing with many fundamental problems in any event.
Forgive me if I am being pedantic, but the reality is that we are not talking about a second referendum. One could argue that the referendum on
The hon. Gentleman says that we would reach a cliff edge, but his offer of a referendum involves no choice. People would either have to vote for it or against it. If they vote against it, what would that leave? There would be that cliff edge that people are trying to avoid.
We are offering the British people an opportunity not only to have the final say on the terms of the deal, but to say, having looked over the cliff edge, “No thanks,” and to remain in the European Union. That is a perfectly legitimate democratic offer for a party to make. While it is thoroughly legitimate to have an alternative point of view, that is fully democratic.
I want to make a clear point and a little progress.
A few of them are here now, so I want to give a little credit to our SNP colleagues. During the Scottish independence referendum, they were able to produce a 670-page White Paper on exactly what leaving the United Kingdom would look like. Of course, I did not agree with them, but at least the people of Scotland knew what they were voting for or what they would be rejecting. If that vote in 2014 had gone the other way, there would have been no need for a second vote on the independence deal.
This Government are going to take some monumental decisions over the next two years. I still believe that it will be impossible for them to negotiate a deal that is better than the one we currently have inside the European Union, but the negotiations will happen and a deal will be reached. When all is said and done, someone will have to decide whether the deal is good enough for the people of Britain. Surely the only right and logical step is to allow the people—not politicians in Whitehall, Brussels or even this House—to decide whether it is the right deal for them, their families, their jobs and our country. No one in this Government, House or country has any idea of what deal the Prime Minister will negotiate with Europe. It is completely unknown.
Does the hon. Gentleman share my surprise at the resistance to his perfectly sensible suggestion of a ratification referendum? The hallmark of the leave campaign was “taking back control” but surely that means control for the British people, not just for the MPs in charge.
Once again, the hon. Lady makes an excellent point. It seems utterly bizarre that having claimed that we were “taking back control”—that effective slogan—they now want to cede control to those occupying the smoke-filled rooms of Brussels and Whitehall in the 21st century and to have a stitch-up imposed upon the British people. Tim Loughton has been very persistent, so I will give way to him.
The hon. Gentleman will remember that his predecessor produced a leaflet that said only the Liberal Democrats would offer a “real referendum.” I presume that the Liberal Democrats had absolutely no idea of the implications if the people had actually voted to come out at that stage. The hon. Gentleman said that this is a once-in-a-generation vote, and he is now saying that we should have a mandate referendum and a terms referendum. If those two referendums go through, when will he be asking for an “Are you really sure about that?” referendum?
The hon. Gentleman seems to be under the impression that democracy is a one-hit game and that, somehow, a person who believes passionately in what they believe in has to give in. He and I both sat on the Opposition Benches during the last five years of the Labour Administration. When the Labour party won its big majorities in 1997, 2001 and 2005, did he give in and say that, somehow, it would be frustrating the will of the people to carry on fighting the Conservative cause? No, he did not. The reality is simply this: it is right to respect the will of the people, but it is to disrespect democracy to cave in and give up when we passionately believe in something.
I have said before that the hon. Gentleman’s approach is like Hotel California: you can check out but you can never leave. He is like the SNP, because he just wants people to vote, vote and vote again until he gets the result he agrees with. The British people have voted. We have to leave the European Union and implement the will of the British people.
I will come on to that in a moment, but it is not in any way enacting the will of the British people consistently to refuse the British people the right to have a say on a deal that will affect generations to come and that none of us here knows what it will look like.
I support the position that the hon. Gentleman articulates with amendment 43 but, in light of the concession we heard from the Government today, does he share my concern that, at the end of the negotiation, the choice that this Parliament will have will be between accepting the deal that the Government offer—possibly a bad deal—or falling out of the European Union on WTO terms at a cost of £45 billion to our gross domestic product? Does he not think the British people might be worried about that and might want to have a say?
The hon. Gentleman continues to make a strong case, and he is bold in putting it across, and not just today. There is no doubt that, whatever the British people voted for on
The hon. Gentleman’s argument would have force if the question on
The right hon. Gentleman is quite wrong, because undoubtedly—I have said this very clearly—the majority of people voted on
The wording on the ballot paper would be up for discussion, but our vision is that the United Kingdom would either accept the terms negotiated by the Government or remain in the European Union.
The hon. Gentleman makes a strong point. It troubles me that those who argued for the sovereignty of Parliament, for the sovereignty of this country and for the enforcement of the will of the people, and all of that, are now so scared of the people. It makes me worry that they do not have the courage of their convictions.
I will make some progress because other Members need to get in. The deal must be put to the British people so that they can have their say, because that is the only way to hold the Government to account. We already know that, in all likelihood, 48% of the British people will not like the outcome of the deal. We now know the kind of Brexit that this Prime Minister intends to pursue, and we can pretty much bet that perhaps half of the 52% will not like it, either. They will feel betrayed and ignored, and the only way to achieve democracy and closure for both leave and remain voters is for there to be a vote at the end.
The Government claim to be enforcing the will of the people, but that is nonsense. If I was being very generous, the best I could say is that the Government are interpreting the will of the people; some would say they are taking the result and twisting it to mean something quite different. The Conservatives won a mandate in the May 2015 general election, having made two promises on this in their manifesto. The first was to hold a referendum on Britain’s membership of the European Union. The second was to keep Britain in the European single market. That second pledge was not caveated, time-limited or contingent on the outcome of any referendum. It was a clear pledge and the Government are now breaking it.
I have given way an awful lot.
The Government are making a choice, one that the British people have not given them permission to make. This choice is not just damaging to our country, but divisive. The Prime Minister had the opportunity to pursue a form of Brexit that united our country, achieved consensus, reflected the closeness of the vote, and sought to deal with and heal the divisions between leave and remain. Instead, she chose to pursue the hardest, and most divisive and destructive form of Brexit. She is tearing us out of the single market and leaving us isolated against the might of world superpowers.
I passionately believe that ending our membership of the world’s biggest free market will do untold damage to this country and to prospects and opportunities, especially for young people, who voted so heavily to remain. This market is vital for our economy, which is why my party refuses to stop making the case that this deal must include membership of the single market. Those who settle for access to the single market rather than membership are, I respectfully suggest, waving the white flag to this assault on British business and on the cost of living for every family in the country.
Given that the Government are making a set of extreme and arbitrary choices that were not on the ballot paper last June, the only thing a democrat can do is to give the people the final say. If the Prime Minister is so confident that what she is planning is what people voted for, why would she not give them a vote on the final deal?
I am not going to give way, as I have given way many times and I want to bring my remarks to an end, for everybody else’s sake. [Hon. Members: “Hear, hear.”] I thought Members would like that.
The final deal will not be legitimate, it will not be consented to and our country will not achieve closure if it is imposed on the British people through a stitch-up in the corridors of power in Brussels and Whitehall. Democracy means accepting the will of the people at the beginning of the process and at the end of the process. Democracy means respecting the majority and it also means not giving up on one’s beliefs, rolling over and conceding when the going gets tough. You keep fighting for what you believe to be right and that is what Liberal Democrats will do. So we agree with the Brexit Secretary: let us let the people have their say. Let us let them take back control.
Let me start by correcting the record. I had something to do with the production of our manifesto, which clearly Tim Farron was unable to read in the time available to him. It made no assertion such as he suggests. It was perfectly clear that what it said about the single market would be superseded were there a referendum with the unanticipated result of the British people taking us out of the EU as a whole. I regret that decision—I voted and campaigned to remain—but the British people voted to leave.
The interesting thing about this interesting debate is that it is one of those moments when the cloak of obscurity is lifted from an issue and the dynamic that is actually going on becomes clear. We have reached the crunch issue. We have reached the point at which we are discussing whether the effect of the Supreme Court judgment should be that Parliament has the option at some future date of overruling the British people and cancelling the leaving of the EU, or whether it should not have that ability.
My right hon. Friend the Minister made it perfectly clear that there will be a vote, but he also made it perfectly clear that that vote will be between the option of accepting a particular set of arrangements that have been negotiated by Her Majesty’s Government, and not accepting those arrangements and thereby leaving the EU without either a withdrawal agreement or an arrangement for the future. He is right to be optimistic that we can reach such agreements, but neither of us can possibly know whether we will. It is therefore right, if one is trying to follow the logic of the referendum decision, that the judgment of this House should simply be about whether the deal is good enough to warrant doing or, on the contrary, we should leave without a deal.
That is a completely different proposition from the one which, in various guises, some on the Opposition Benches—I exempt entirely from this the Opposition Front-Bench team—are putting, which is that Parliament should instead be given, by one means or another, the ability to countermand the British people’s decision to leave the EU by having a vote either on whether we should or should not leave or, in the proposition of the leader of the Liberal Democrats, on whether the people should have a second referendum on whether we should leave. In both of those propositions is a clear determination to undo the effect of the referendum, and we have now reached the point at which that has come out into the open.
The alternative is just to instruct the Government to negotiate a better deal. The phrase in the Conservative manifesto, which the right hon. Gentleman did not write, was:
“We say: yes to the Single Market.”
That sounds pretty unequivocal.
Not at all; at that moment we were a member of the EU and we said yes to the single market. I campaigned for the single market and I campaigned to remain part of the EU. That was the Government’s position in the referendum. But we also committed to a referendum, and the point of committing to a referendum, which we made perfectly clear not only in the manifesto but in a range of speeches around it, was that if the British people voted to leave, we would leave. It seems to me perfectly clear that the word leave means leave. It does not mean remain. The right hon. Gentleman is an expert parliamentarian, and he has been arguing in many ways, over a long time—the leader of the Liberal Democrats has been arguing it more explicitly—that leave ought to be translated as remain. I deny that that is a translation to which the English language is susceptible.
It seems to me to be perfectly clear that those of us who campaigned to leave and those of us who campaigned to remain have a choice: we can either accept the referendum result or reject it. I accept it, and some Opposition Members also take that view. It may be that some take the view that we should reject the referendum result, and that is a perfectly honourable view. The leader of the Liberal Democrats was effectively arguing, more openly, that we should reject the referendum result. I do not in any way decry his ability to argue that, but everybody who is arguing that should come out openly to that effect, as he did, and not pretend that they are trying to invent some method of parliamentary scrutiny. They are doing nothing of the kind; they are trying to invent a means of undoing the result of the referendum. This House has voted conclusively not to undo the result of the referendum. I think the House was right to do that, but whether it was right or not, it should do that with its eyes open and should not be gulled by anybody into passing amendments that have an effect that it has not signed up to openly.
I want to clarify that from my point of view it is absolutely clear that this place, Parliament as a whole and, indeed, the courts have no right whatsoever to bar the will of the people. It would be absolutely wrong to overturn the outcome of the referendum last June. I am merely asking for the British people to have the final say on the deal, and that if they reject it, we should stay in the EU. I should also point out that voting to say we leave the EU means leaving the EU; it does not mean leaving the single market—it does not mean that for Norway and Switzerland.
There are two points at issue. First is the question of whether leaving the EU means leaving the single market. As I argued throughout the referendum to those I was seeking to persuade to remain, it does inevitably mean leaving the single market. I have always taken and continue to take the view that leaving the EU does entail leaving the single market. I regret that, but that is what it entails, in my view.
Leaving that aside, however, I accept that the Liberal Democrat proposition is that it should be not this House directly that countermands the referendum, but a second referendum. The proposition of Tim Farron, which is perfectly decent and honourable, is that however many times it takes, the British people should go on being asked to reverse their original decision, and that one should never give up trying to do so because the right answer is to remain. That is a perfectly respectable proposition, but it is not the proposition of a democrat. It is the proposition of a clerisy that knows the answer and believes that people who vote otherwise are misguided and need to be led, time after time, to revise their opinion by whatever means until at last they give the answer that is required.
Unfortunately, that is the very dynamic that has given rise to this whole problem. We are at this juncture today, because our Government passed the Maastricht treaty against the will of the British people and without consulting them, and took us into a form of the European Union to which the people had never consented. That eventually produced the democratic result that the hon. Gentleman and I both dislike. His answer to that is to go on with that logic until at last the British people totally lose faith in any semblance of democracy in this country. Personally, I cannot accept that proposition. In the end, much as I would have preferred to remain, I would rather be in a country that is run as a democracy and that has faith in its governance. We can only achieve that today by fulfilling the terms of the referendum.
I want to turn briefly to the new clauses; by comparison it is a minor point. New clause 1 is fairly innocuous. I am delighted that my right hon. Friend the Minister has indicated that we will not accept it, because there is a scintilla of doubt about whether it is itself justiciable. It says that the statement of the proposed terms of the agreement must be accepted. If that is written into the law, a very clever lawyer—Lord Pannick and others are very clever lawyers—might be able to mount some kind of judicial review of the question of whether the Government had in fact brought forward a statement of the proposed terms of the agreement that was adequate to the intent of the Bill, or the Act. I doubt that that would occur, so, personally, I do not have any very strong feelings about the new clause.
New clauses 99 and 110, about which some Opposition Members have spoken, are entirely different in character. Each of them makes it clear in two different ways that the House of Commons would be called on to make a set of decisions that are justiciable and potentially undermine the leaving of the EU.
In the case of new clause 99, notwithstanding my exchange with Helen Goodman, it is perfectly clear in paragraph (b) that if Parliament found itself in a position in which it had not approved the withdrawal without agreement then it would have created an appalling conflict of laws. Article 50 is very explicit. It says:
“The Treaties shall cease to apply to the State in question from the date of entry into force of the withdrawal agreement or, failing that, two years after the notification”.
If the EU had agreed unanimously not to extend the period, the treaties would cease to apply, but Parliament would have, prospectively, voted not to leave. If Parliament has voted not to leave and the treaties do not apply, who in this House could possibly say which of these two laws is superior to the other? We would be in a position of intolerable legal conflict. Clearly, new clause 99 is deficient as a piece of legislation. I hope therefore that those who propose it will take that point and not press it.
New clause 110 is not as bad as new clause 99, although it is very odd because it says:
“any new Treaty or relationship with the European Union must not be concluded unless the proposed terms have been subject to approval by resolution of each House of Parliament.”
Now, it is possible to be subject to approval without being approved, and it is entirely unclear whether new clause 110 refers to approval or to the process that might have led to approval. That, itself, would be justiciable.
Quite apart from that bad drafting, the new clause creates a legal minefield, because it makes clear that
“any new Treaty or relationship with the European Union must not be concluded”.
Now, one possible relationship that “must not be concluded” without parliamentary approval would be the relationship of not being in the EU, so the new clause, arguably at least—this could be contested in court—would be an opportunity for Parliament to reverse the intent of the referendum and deny leaving.
New clauses 99 and 110 look as innocuous as new clause 1. In fact, they are neither innocuous nor well drafted, but poorly drafted and highly noxious. They fulfil the purposes to which I referred in the earlier part of my remarks: to gull Parliament, if it were to accept either new clause, into putting itself in the position of potentially reversing the decision of the British people. I very much hope that even if the Minister is at any time remotely tempted to accept new clause 1, he will never accept new clauses 99 or 110 at any rate, and that we will steadfastly resist such amendments should they appear here or in the other place.
I have two concerns about new clause 1. The first is that it is already clear that the Government mean to involve Parliament throughout the whole process, with frequent statements, updates and discussions. The second is that we cannot know all the permutations around which the agreement and exit may be affected. To legislate for that now, before we know how it will all end up, is premature and would risk us binding the hands of the Government and negotiators.
I share my hon. Friend’s preference for not legislating in that respect. In fact, one can go wider. There are good reasons why, over a very long historical evolution, the House of Commons has always resisted legislation that governs its own proceedings. A number of authorities on our constitution have written that the nearest approximation to the constitution of the United Kingdom are the Standing Orders of the House of Commons. That is not a frivolous remark by those authorities; it is true.
Such a situation has arisen because we have resisted having legislation that governs the House of Commons in order to avoid the judges becoming the judges of what should happen in the House of Commons. We have invented, over a very long period, the principle of comity—that the judges do not intervene in the legislature, and the legislature does not intervene in the decisions of the judiciary. To legislate for how the House of Commons proceeds would move over a dangerous line. I am therefore with my hon. Friend Charlie Elphicke in hoping that we will not accept new clause 1. I am just saying that if we were tempted at all to introduce any piece of new legislation at any stage, it should certainly look like new clause 1, not new clauses 99 and 110. Those new clauses would subvert the referendum, and we cannot allow that.
I have some respect for Sir Oliver Letwin, but I have been in enough Bill Committees over my short time in Parliament to have heard some of those arguments. When I hear hon. Members resorting to mentioning the drafting of a particular phrase—particularly when the right hon. Gentleman came to the phrase “subject to approval” of both Houses, as if it were somehow an alien concept to be resisted in all circumstances—I hear the last refuge of the parliamentary barrel scraper. If he has substantive arguments against new clause 110, which I advocate as it is in my name, it is better to engage with those, rather than dancing around trying to find second or third order arguments against.
It has been an interesting debate so far. There was a moment of frisson and excitement—well, excitement in parliamentary terms—at the beginning when the Brexit Minister, Mr Jones, who is still in his place, stood up and breathlessly said, “Let me give you a concession. I’ll indicate that something here is substantively different.” At the Dispatch Box, he clarified a little further—not much further—than the Prime Minister did in her speech at Lancaster House the timing of the vote that Parliament will have, but Mr Clarke quickly spotted that, in the definitions of when a negotiation is concluded and when it is signed off, there is still a grey area as to what the timing would be.
I suppose it is some small mercy that many hon. Members might say that this is some level of progress, but having been marched up to the top of the hill in the expectation that this was a great concession, I am afraid that, as the minutes have ticked by, we have marched back down the hill again. Through the probing of many hon. Members on both sides of the House, we have discovered a number of things about the vote, and we should not forget that we are trying in this section of the debate to secure a properly meaningful vote at the end so that parliamentary sovereignty can come first, as the Supreme Court emphasised in its judgment.
When pressed, the Minister had to admit that if we ended up with no deal, the House would not get a vote on that circumstance. That is deeply regrettable because new clause 110 deliberately talks about a “new Treaty or relationship”. A relationship, of course, involves the connection between two entities. That connection can be a positive new one, but it can also be one with a disjoint within it. We should have a vote if that relationship includes no deal.
The Minister said we would not be having a vote if there was no deal. That is extremely disappointing; it is not in the spirit of the concession being sought. We were looking for a concession on not just the timing of the parliamentary vote but the scope—in other words, the circumstances in which, having gone through the negotiations, we would be able to vote.
It is a little like travelling for two years down that road of negotiation, getting to the edge of the canyon and having a point of decision: are we going to have that bridge across the chasm—that might be the new treaty, which might take us to that new future—or are we going to decide to jump off into the unknown and into the abyss? Parliament should have the right to decide that. That is the concession I think many hon. Members were seeking, and it is not the concession we received.
The hon. Gentleman has given an extraordinarily important clarification of his new clause. As I suspected and speculated, “relationship” includes the potential for no relationship. Therefore, he is advancing the proposition that Parliament should be able to reverse the effect of the referendum and prevent the United Kingdom from being able to leave the EU.
No. As we saw on Second Reading, it is quite clear to all concerned that we will be leaving the European Union. That was the judgment in the referendum, that was the question on the ballot paper and the House came to that point of view. But it is important that Parliament reserves the right, as the Prime Minister has sort of indicated, to have a say on the final deal. This is our opportunity—potentially our final opportunity— to set out on the face of the Bill precisely what the circumstances would be.
No, I will not give way, because a lot of hon. Members want to get in.
What was particularly disappointing and deflating in the Minister’s so-called concession, which now feels quite hollow, was that he went on to say that if Parliament did decide to vote against a draft deal, he would not go back into negotiations—that the Government would feel that this was somehow “a sign of weakness”. I think that is entirely wrong; if Parliament says, “With respect to the Government, this is not quite good enough. Please go back and seek further points of clarification and further concessions in the negotiation,” that should be a source of strength for the Government. Quite frankly, I believe it strengthens the arm of the Government for them to be able to say, “You know, we would like to do this, but Parliament is really keen for a better deal.” It is quite useful for the Prime Minister to have that. New clause 110 is helpful to the Prime Minister. It is disappointing that the Minister did not just say this in response to pressure from hon. Members but had it in his script. He had pre-prepared the circumstances where he was going to say that he was not prepared to go back into negotiations if Parliament declined to give support to the new arrangements. We can see that the concession is not quite all that it was meant to be.
One of the things that is troubling me is the principle of equivalence. As I understand it, the European Parliament has the opportunity to vote on the deal before it is presented to the European Council, and so, in effect, has a right of veto. I interpret that to mean that the deal is therefore then sent back to the negotiating team for further negotiation. Does the hon. Gentleman agree that one of the strong points that we have to ensure is that those who voted to leave the EU, whose decisions we respect, have at least equivalence in terms of what their Parliament can do as compared with the European Parliament?
I commend the hon. Lady for making an incredibly important point in defence of the sovereignty of our Parliament. This is about putting Britain first, making sure that we defend and safeguard the rights of our constituents, and ensuring that the European Parliament does not have an advantage that we would not. If the European Parliament has the opportunity to reject the new arrangements, then so should we: it is a very simple point.
The Minister could make that verbal concession. He is a very able Minister, but Ministers can be here today and gone tomorrow; they come and they go. Having such clarity enshrined in the Bill is really important for hon. Members. This is a question that transcends party political issues. The Minister should hear the voice of Members in all parts of the Committee. We recognise that we are going to be leaving the European Union, but we want the best possible deal for Britain, and Parliament is sovereign here. Yes, we have Ministers who lead on the negotiations, but they cannot cut Parliament out of this altogether. That should be a source of strength for them.
There is something I do not understand— I have been thinking about it since it was raised by Yvette Cooper. The hon. Gentleman asks whether we could have a vote in a situation of not having a deal. The leader of the Liberal Democrats has been clear in his view that if we said no to the deal, we would remain in the European Union. In a vote in a no deal situation, what are the two choices? Would one of them be remaining in the European Union?
My understanding is that we remain in the European Union until such time as the article 50 two-year period expires, after which, potentially, there is the famous cliff edge.
Now that we have had partial acceptance from the Government that the vote needs to take place in Parliament sufficiently early on the draft arrangements, I hope that Parliament would then have a sufficient period of time to say to Ministers, for example, “We like 90% of the deal that you’ve done, but we’d like you to go back again, within the time that remains, to get a slightly better deal.” This is simply the role that Parliament should have. Taking Parliament out of that process altogether would be a great shame.
I would like to move on because other hon. Members want to get into this discussion.
The wording of new clause 110 is very deliberate in talking about the new relationship as well as a new treaty. It is important that we take the opportunity that the Supreme Court has given us. Not only that, but we should listen to the entreaties of the Prime Minister herself in her own White Paper, where the 12th of her 12 points said that we would not aspire to a cliff edge—that we would try to get a deal. This new clause simply seeks to facilitate, in many ways, the role that Parliament could have in achieving the very thing that the Prime Minister has said that she wants.
I am afraid to say to the Minister that Hobson’s choice, take-it-or-leave-it style votes are not acceptable and not good enough for Parliament. We must have a continued say in this. I urge members of the Committee, across the parties, to consider the role that new clause 110 could play in making the vote meaningful.
It is a pleasure to participate in the debate. I agree with one comment that Chris Leslie made when he spoke to new clause 110: the problem that bedevils this debate is that we are in a grey and murky environment when it comes to ascertaining how the process will or should unfold. As somebody who campaigned to remain, that was one of the things that worried me at the time, but I have to accept that the electorate have spoken. For me, the key issue is how I can help the Government to navigate some of the reefs that seem to be present so that we can achieve a satisfactory outcome and try to give effect to the expressed will of the electorate.
Our problem is that we cannot predict what the situation will be in two years’ time. We have no idea what the political landscape will be in this country. We do not know what the economic conditions will be, and we do not know whether we will be doing very well in the run-up to Brexit or very badly. We cannot predict the political landscape on the European continent or the state of the European Union, and how that might affect the negotiations. Nor can we predict the wider security situation on our continent.
That is why the idea that the House in some way forgoes its responsibility to safeguard the electorate’s interests because a referendum has taken place is simply not a view to which I am prepared to subscribe. In such circumstances, we need to have regard to the situation and to the difficulties that the Government face because of its unpredictability, but we must rule nothing out.
To pick up a point that has been made—I repeat it, because it is my position and I shall hold to it until the end—public opinion on this matter may change radically, and the House would be entitled to take that into account. Equally, I accept that at the moment there is no such evidence, and it is our duty to get on with the business of trying to operate Brexit.
How do we introduce safeguards into the process? Of course there is an ultimate safeguard, as the House has the power to stop the Government in their tracks, but that tends to be a rather chaotic process that leads, usually, to Governments falling from office. It is an option that one can never entirely rule out in one’s career in politics, but it is not one that I particularly want to visit on my Front-Bench colleagues. However, this is an important matter, and one of the risks that they undoubtedly run in this process is that it could happen to them. We cannot exclude that possibility.
It is very much better that we should have some process by which Parliament can provide input and influence the matter in such a way as to facilitate debate and enable us collectively to reach outcomes that we can, at least, accept and that may be in the national interest.
New clause 110 is certainly very well meaning, but I happen to think that there are some problems with it, and I will explain what they are in a moment.
One point that should be made is that it is usual for Government to bring important treaties to the House for approval before signing them. That is a common phenomenon; it is not unusual. There is a long history of doing that with important treaties, so we cannot simply say, “Normally, we ratify them after they are signed.” The obvious course of action, sequentially, is for the Government to publish the White Paper—I am delighted that we succeeded in securing one, because it sets out a plan—and then to get on with the treaty negotiations. In an ideal world, I would like the Government to come back before anything is concluded to ask the House for its approval and to indicate what they have succeeded in achieving. The House will have to make judgments at that time in relation to the overall situation.
I am grateful to the right hon. and learned Gentleman for giving way while he is taking us through this sequence. The Minister indicated at the beginning of the debate that the Government were bringing forward a concession that would make the process more meaningful. I do not expect him to comment, but it appears that No. 10 is now briefing that it is exactly the same as what the Prime Minister offered in her Lancaster House speech, meaning that nothing has changed.
I do not think I agree with that. I do not know what No. 10 may or may not be doing, but I had a role in trying to secure the concession read out by the Minister. It is by no means a perfect concession as far as I am concerned, and in a moment I shall come to some of the difficulties that I think the House has.
It is absolutely right that the Government have indicated on a number of previous occasions that they would allow the House to have a say. Looking at the matter logically, I have to say that depriving us of a say would be a “light blue touchpaper and retire” moment, frankly. If a Government do not wish to bring themselves down, denying Parliament a say on a really important issue is just not feasible.
I had a role in trying to see how the Government could provide some assurance about the process. It is not perfect—the Minister has read out what he has—but I say to Angela Smith that, as the shadow Secretary of State said, it is a very significant step forward from what had been said previously. To my mind, it has provided helpful clarification.
The right hon. and learned Gentleman is being generous. No.10 is briefing that there is no real change and that the concession is not a concession. That is No.10 itself.
The House will have its say; the question is about the circumstances in which it has that say and the default position if it does not agree. May we adjudicate between the Daily Mirror, No.10, the Minister and the interpretation of the right hon. and learned Gentleman by having something on paper in the Bill? In that way, all our interpretations can be crystallised around an essential truth.
With characteristic sagacity, the right hon. Gentleman goes to the heart and nub of the problem. Is it readily possible to put into the Bill the intention read out at the Dispatch Box by the Minister? In fairness to the Minister and the Government, there are, I am afraid, some really good reasons why that presents difficulties.
The most obvious difficulty is the finite nature of the negotiating period under article 50. One of the things I was interested in was whether we could secure from the Government an undertaking that we would have a vote at the end of the process—before, in fact, the signing of the deal with the Commission. Contrary to what is set out in new clause 110, the Council of Ministers and the Commission are not two separate processes. The Commission will sign the initial agreement when the Council of Ministers gives it the authority to do so, and it then goes to the European Parliament for ratification or approval—call it what you will. Those are not two separate things.
Our problem is that if the negotiation follows the pattern that we have often come across in the course of EU negotiations—running to the 11th hour, 59th minute and 59th second—and we are about to drop off the edge, I confess that I do not particularly wish to fetter the Government’s discretion by insisting that at that precise moment they have to say, “We’re terribly sorry, but we can’t give you a decision until 48 hours after we have dropped off because we have to go back and get approval from both Houses of Parliament.” That is a real problem inherent in what to my point of view is the ghastly labyrinth into which, I am afraid, we have been plunged. We have to try to work our way through it with common sense.
Was it the right hon. and learned Gentleman’s understanding that the Minister said that the deal would be presented to Parliament after it had been agreed by the Commission and the Council, but before it had been agreed by the European Parliament? If so, that sounds like a really late stage in the process. Does he think it is a problem if the European Parliament can send the deal back for negotiation, but the UK Parliament cannot?
There are bound to be difficulties because the whole process of negotiations under article 50, as the right hon. Lady will be aware, is rather one-sided. That is an inherent difficulty. Let us suppose for a moment that the negotiations are concluded in 18 months. I would rather hope in those circumstances that the Minister would say, “Thank you very much, but we will not even make the first agreement. We want to go back to the both Houses of Parliament even before we agree with the Commission because we have time to do so.” However, if it is the 11th hour, 59th minute and 59th second, I accept that the Government have a problem that is not taken into account by new clause 110.
My right hon. and learned Friend’s preference is obviously for Parliament to be asked its opinion before any agreement has been signed with the Commission, on the authority of the Council. Does he accept that the 11th hour problem can easily be got around? In the tortuous process of European negotiations, stopping the clock is hardly unknown. If all the member states agreed that the British Government had to be given time to get the approval of Parliament, they would allow two or three weeks to elapse.
Does my right hon. and learned Friend also agree that we need something on paper to clarify these highly important points? Does he join me in inviting the Minister to table an amendment in the House of Lords to give precise effect to whatever the concession is meant to mean? If we pass either new clause 99 or new clause 110, it could be replaced by that Government amendment, if Ministers were to come up with a better clarification. What we cannot do is leave the debate to continue for the next two years on what the Minister did or did not mean when he made his statement to the Committee today.
I am delighted to hear from my right hon. and learned Friend. I do not think it would necessarily be unhelpful—in fact, it would be very helpful—if the Government were in a position to amplify the Minister’s brief statement. However, I acknowledge—I think my right hon. and learned Friend knows this—that doing that by means of an amendment would be rather difficult. I know that Government draftsmen have extreme ingenuity and, indeed, that this issue might be taken up in the other place, but there are difficulties because there is a whole series of conditionalities. I certainly do not wish to fetter the Government in their ability to carry out the negotiation. It has always seemed to me that it would be a great error to do that, because we might undermine the ultimate outcome, to our own detriment. That has worried me throughout the process.
I do not want to take up more of the Committee’s time. Although I have had great difficulty over this matter today and in the days leading up to this debate, my inclination, for the reasons I have given, is to accept the assurance given by my right hon. Friend the Minister, which seems to me to be a constructive step forward. However, he has to face up to the fact that this issue will not go away. Even when we have enacted this Bill and triggered article 50, this will be a recurrent theme throughout the negotiating process that will come back much, much harder as we get closer to the outcome and as it becomes clearer, from all the leaks that will come from Brussels, what sort of deal or non-deal we will have, so the Government had better have a strategy. If their strategy is to avoid this House, I have to say to the Minister that they will fail miserably. I do not want that to happen. I want to guide this process as best I can, as a former Law Officer, towards a satisfactory conclusion.
My right hon. and learned Friend has played a considerable part in this process. Does he agree that the remarks of the Minister put the onus on the Government to ensure that the reporting process for the negotiations is meaningful? We cannot have a vote at the end of the process after 18 months of radio silence. The reporting process must be sensible and relevant. It must give the House a feel of what will happen because, if that is not the case, the vote at the end will mean very little.
I agree entirely with my right hon. Friend. I hope that the Government will listen because, as I say, this issue will not go away. It will keep coming back to dominate our politics until we have resolved it satisfactorily. That said, I would be being curmudgeonly towards the Minister if I did not thank him for having listened on this issue, for which I am grateful.
The right hon. and learned Gentleman’s whole speech seems to be predicated on the idea that the Government can go to and fro, and somehow finesse and negotiate something that Parliament might be happy with. Is it not the case, however, that it will be the EU27 that decide what we get? They will say, “You’ve triggered article 50, so here’s what you’re getting,” so is not this whole discussion cloud cuckoo land?
I have to say to the hon. Gentleman that I do not know. I actually think that none of us know. We can make some broad assumptions that there appears to be some goodwill to try to reach a sensible agreement, and we can see how that could be easily derailed by political pressures and considerations within other EU states. We can also see that the United Kingdom is at a disadvantage in the negotiations for reasons that are plainly obvious. Having embarked on this course, however, we have to try collectively to apply common sense. I regret to say that I often do not hear common sense on this issue. Frequently, I do not hear it from some Conservative Members who seem fixated on ideological considerations that will reduce this country to beggary if we continue with them. We have to be rational in trying to respond to the clearly stated wishes of the electorate until such time as they show—they might, just as they showed between 1975 and last year—that they have changed their mind on the subject. Even then, the view might be of a completely different future and not a return to the past.
I will do my best to support the Government and I welcome the Minister’s comments. In the circumstances, having looked at the amendments, those comments are the best solution we have this evening. However, that does not mean that the Government will not have to continue thinking about how they involve the House. Otherwise, this House will simply involve itself.
It is a genuine pleasure to follow the excellent and characteristically shrewd speech by Mr Grieve. I agree wholeheartedly with one point he made towards the beginning of his speech: we cannot allow the fact that there has been a referendum to absolve this House of its duty to scrutinise the Government’s progress in the negotiations, and to act in the national interest. I wholeheartedly agree with him on that. That view is conditioning my entire approach to this debate.
I disagreed with the right hon. and learned Gentleman, however, on the substantive point he made in respect of the concession made by the Brexit Minister. I disagree that the Government have made a substantive concession today. I confess that I am far less sanguine than some of my right hon. and hon. Friends about that. It does not feel to me that we have moved much beyond where we were in the Lancaster House speech. What is being offered to the House is a debate right at the end of the process, at a point—we do not know when exactly—seemingly in the dog days of the process. A choice at that point will be between the deal on offer, which in my view is likely to be a bad deal—one predicated on our leaving the single market and the customs union; the rock hard Brexit we all feared—and no deal. If there is no deal, the Minister confirmed today that the country will face exiting the European Union on WTO terms. What does that mean for the country? According to the director general of the WTO, it would mean a reduction in trade of around £9 billion per annum to the UK. Before the referendum, the Treasury thought it would mean an annual reduction in receipts of £45 billion per year. That was the reduction in GDP it foresaw. It is an eye-watering sum, equivalent to putting 10p on the basic rate of income tax. That is why, above all else, we have to consider where we are going incredibly carefully. If we end up there, it will be a disaster for Britain.
I said earlier that I wanted to speak in favour of amendment 43, tabled in the name of Tim Farron, but I would have liked to speak to my new clause 52, or even new clause 131, tabled by the Liberal Democrats, which would both have gone further and insisted on there being a second referendum. Apparently we cannot consider those amendments, however, because they would require a money commitment that the Bill does not have. That is ironic, given that the potential cost of falling out of the EU is £45 billion. Spending £100 million to make sure we do not do that seems like a pretty good deal.
Amendment 44, to be voted on tomorrow, makes provision for a referendum and valuation that does not need to be costed and therefore is in order, so those who want a second referendum on the final deal can vote for that amendment.
I am pleased with that, and I hope that we will vote on it tomorrow.
I am insisting that we consider a second referendum—a confirmatory or ratificatory referendum, or whatever we want to call it—because I sincerely believe that Brexit will be a disaster for our country, and one that will cost us and future generations in lost trade, revenues and opportunities. I equally believe that it is a disaster for us to be dividing the country on this issue, as we have been, in respect of our values and the other crucial things we hold in concert.
I will not. The right hon. Gentleman has spoken a lot already.
It was deeply destructive for us to have engaged in Brexit and unleashed a catalytic force of destructive politics, not just in this country but across the west. It is to my eternal regret that Parliament launched down this route without being sufficiently vigilant or diligent with regard to the risks we faced in the referendum or the nature of the referendum we were offering to the country. It was a profoundly flawed referendum in many ways, and one that many across the House feel could have been dramatically improved with greater scrutiny and care. Why did we not offer that scrutiny? I do not think that many Members on either side of the debate seriously thought we would lose. There was a widespread view that the referendum was agreed for ideological reasons—to solve the culture wars that have raged in the Tory party for 30-odd years—and it was not considered carefully enough.
The House has an opportunity to make amends for the mistake that we—not the people—made. The people voted on the terms and the question we offered them, with the information we provided and on the basis of the 50%-plus-1 margin we put into statute. We have an opportunity to rectify some of those mistakes, and I feel that we should. We should follow the view of the Brexit Secretary when he was on the Back Benches, and, as the hon. Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale said, we should have a final confirmatory referendum.
We had a mandate referendum, the result of which was that we should leave the EU, but we do not know what the terms of that leaving will be. It is perfectly legitimate for us to consider what they might be. It would not be to deny democracy to do that; it would be to double down on it. The problem with simply pushing for a vote in this place on the terms of the deal is that we run the risk of leaving the people doubly dissatisfied. It is perfectly possible for this House to reject the prospect of our falling out of the European Union on WTO terms, because of the costs that will become apparent when we see the extra costs for our car production, for chemicals, for financial services and for all the other things that would see their tariff price rise for export out of this country. It is perfectly possible, as the right hon. and learned Member for Beaconsfield said, that we start to see a change in the country’s views in respect of Brexit when those things happen.
Let me be clear. Why do I ask for this? I do so because I hope the country does change its mind. I am not shy about saying that. I feel Brexit is a mistake that will damage the future of our children, and that it is not in our national interests. Although the people have voted for it, I think we have a duty to scrutinise the Government’s management of this process and to give clarity to the people about what it is really going to mean for them. I do not mean the projections, the promises, the £350 million lies scrawled on a bus or some of the so-called threats from “Project Fear”, but the reality of what Brexit is going to mean in pounds, shillings and pence for my children and for all our children. At that point, we will be doing our duty if we not only scrutinise and vote in this place, but use that vote to give the people the final say on the final terms of the deal.
Let me say from the outset that it is really important that we all step back from the way we have done politics arguably for too long and to the detriment of British politics. I mean the idea that there are “concessions” to be made, that the people have bottled things, that briefings from No. 10 say that no concessions have been made, that concessions have been given and that they are this or that, that it is wonderful that one viewpoint has been triumphant over another or that the hard-line Brexiteers or the remoaners have been seen off. I find that not only tedious and inaccurate but something that does none of us any favours. Most of all, it does not do our constituents any favours, either. I, for one, am sick and tired of it.
I think it was back in September or October when a number of people on these Benches said that what now happens, as we leave the EU—for the referendum result has been accepted—transcends normal party political divides because it is so important. It is important, frankly, not for my generation but for my children and the grandchildren to come. As others have said—possibly on the Opposition side; I do not care, and I will give credit to whoever said it—this is the most important set of negotiations that we have entered for decades, and it is critical that we get them right because of the consequences for generations to come.
Can we, in effect, stop the sort of—I nearly said willy-waving, Mr Howarth, but that might not be a parliamentary term. However, that is actually what it is, and it is not acceptable any more. Let us try to come together to heal the divide. This needs to be said. Let me extrapolate from the vote, not just in my constituency but in Nottingham and with a look to Ashfield. The borough is bigger than my constituency and excludes Eastwood and Brinsley—wonderful places well worth a visit, but I will not go into the demography. In short, I think that the vote for leave in my constituency was about the national average—perhaps 51%, possibly as much as 52%. Some of my constituents voted to leave the European Union, as indeed did people across the country, because they wanted, and were adamant about this place having, true sovereignty, or true parliamentary sovereignty.
The awful irony is that, since the vote—I am going to be very honest about this—many people feel that Parliament has been completely excluded. The Government had to be brought here. This Bill is before us because some brave citizens—and they were brave—went to court to say that parliamentary sovereignty must mean that: it must be sovereign and it must exceed the powers of the Government and the Executive. It has felt, as I say, as though this place has been excluded at all stages. And so it has come about that we are leaving the single market, and we have abandoned free movement. We have abandoned long-held beliefs in all parts of the House, with no cross-party divide. In some instances, we have voted against everything that we have believed in for decades.
Last week, when we voted to translate the result of the referendum into action, we did not vote according to our consciences or our long-held beliefs. I did not vote with my conscience, and if I am truthful about it, I am not sure that I voted in the best interests of my constituents. That upsets me, because I did not come here for the sake of a career; I came here because I wanted to represent my constituents and do the very best for them. I genuinely do not know whether I did that last week. However, I was true to the promise that I had made to my constituents. I had promised them that if they voted leave, they would get leave, and that is what drove me through the Lobbies last week with a heavy heart and against my conscience.
I do believe that I did the right thing, and I can look myself in the mirror every morning believing that I have been true to the promise that I made to my constituents; but I am jiggered if I am not now going to be true to my belief in parliamentary sovereignty. I do not want to vote against my Government. I have never been disloyal to my Government, even though at times—well, we won’t go into that. I have always been true and loyal to them. In this instance, however, I think that new clause 110 embodies admirable objectives. Goodness me, anyone would think that the new clause was revolutionary. All it would do is ensure that whatever happens—be it a deal or something else—Parliament must approve it, and I certainly support my Government and my Prime Minister in all their efforts to secure that deal.
I thank the Minister for the concession that he has made. If Members do not like the word “concession”, I will abandon it, but what the Minister has said has been the right thing to say. I completely agreed with the excellent speech made by my right hon. and learned Friend Mr Grieve. This is progress, and it is the right thing to do. What concerns me is what will happen if, despite their best efforts, the Government fail, through no fault of their own, and we have no deal. How revolutionary is it to say, in the event of no deal, and at the right and meaningful time as we proceed to that new relationship, “Please could we have a say—not on behalf of Parliament, but on behalf of all our constituents?” That is why we come to this place.
The right hon. Lady has got to the nub of the issue. I, too, would like new clause 110 to be pushed to a vote. Throughout this process, my constituents have seen Parliament sidelined and presented with a “deal or no deal” option. We face the horror of ending up on WTO terms, or, even worse, in some sort of limbo. Given the difficulties of negotiating even WTO terms, our country would be in a bigger mess than the one it is in already. That is what my constituents fear, and that is why they want Parliament to have a say.
I agree with much of what the hon. Gentleman says, but I am also reminded of what was said by my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Beaconsfield. As he rightly asked, who knows where we may be in two years’ time? No one seems to have thought about the issue in those terms. God forbid, but we may not have our Prime Minister then: we may have another Prime Minister, for whatever reasons. We may not have the same Secretary of State, or, indeed, the same Minister of State. Those circumstances could change, and other circumstances could change, such as the economy or the mood in Europe.
There may indeed be circumstances—and the hardline Brexiteers have surely missed this point—from which they may want to protect themselves. They may then want that debate. It is also possible that WTO tariffs and the other developments that the hon. Gentleman and I fear would be in our best interests. That is the whole point: we do not know where we shall be in two years’ time. It is right for us to keep our options open, and it is right for us to have a debate and a vote.
The right hon. Lady is making her points with her usual eloquence. Does she agree that another context that has clearly changed since
The right hon. Lady is making a very honest speech, and I commend her for n her honesty and decency.
We have just heard three excellent, calm, rational speeches explaining the things that are tearing this country apart. Is it not now time for us all to understand that not only are we talking to our own constituents, but that this House is being listened to across the world, that the people who will be deciding on Brexit are also listening, and that those who are ever more triumphalist, aggressive and bellicose will be the worst enemies when it comes to our getting to where we will need to be?
I completely agree with the hon. Lady, and this is part of the bringing together, the forming and building of a consensus not just in this place—I do not know why we should be so frightened of that here—but across the country at large. Families, friends and communities remain divided and we must now come together.
People have put their trust, as I have, in my Prime Minister and my Government. I have said to them, as somebody who has always believed in our continuing membership of the EU, that we lost that debate, and I now trust the Prime Minister and the Government when it comes to the abandoning of the single market and freedom of movement, and even, goodness forbid that this happens, leaving the customs union. I will continue to fight for all those things, because I believe in them, but I trust my Prime Minister and Government to get the best deal for our country. I think this Bill is a good vehicle to deliver the result and in many ways should not be amended, but all we are asking is that this place, in the event of no deal, actually has a voice and a vote.
If the Government cannot see the profound logic and sense of that, it will leave people like me with no alternative but to make my voice clear and heard on behalf of all my constituents and to support Chris Leslie in this amendment. It is reasonable and fair, and it encompasses, in what it seeks to achieve, the right thing.
In the case of there being a deal, the Minister has given a clear commitment that the House will vote on it. In the case of there not being a deal, I do not know whether my right hon. Friend can answer the question as to what exactly the House will be voting on any better than Chris Leslie did, but my reading of new clause 110 is that it only deals with cases where a new treaty or relationship is being proposed; it does not deal with the case of there not being a deal.
I am grateful for that intervention as it gives me the opportunity to make it clear—I am sure the hon. Member for Nottingham East could explain this if it needs any further clarity—that I take the term “relationship” to be describing exactly that. If we do not have a deal, we then accordingly have a new deal— a new relationship, in other words—with the EU. I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on putting the word “relationship” into that new clause, because it perfectly encompasses the eventuality of there being no deal—it encompasses all eventualities. It is not rocket science; it is not revolutionary; it is the right thing to do.
I want to abandon this language of failure and success, and I say, with great respect to the hon. Gentleman, that I am not going to be playing that game.
I want us to come together and to get the best deal, and in the even that we do not get a deal, I want to make sure that this place absolutely gets that say and that vote. On that basis, I will continue to listen to the debate, but I have to say that I am minded to vote in favour of this amendment and make that clear not for any design to cause trouble or anything else, but to stand up for what is right for all my constituents.
I commend Anna Soubry for her speech, much of which I agreed with. Like her, I voted to trigger article 50 on Second Reading because I think we should respect the referendum result, but like her, I campaigned for us to remain. I also agree that we have a responsibility across Parliament to get the best possible Brexit deal, and that we should all be involved in the process because so much has yet to be decided about the kind of deal we will get and the terms on which we will leave the EU. That is why I support new clauses 1, 99 and 110.
Everyone has agreed today that a parliamentary vote should be meaningful, but what the Minister has said does not provide any assurance on that. So far, the Government are not prepared to put the Minister’s offer in the Bill, and as the right hon. Lady said, if the Government were to change, we would have no reassurance that the vote would happen at the right time or that its outcome would be respected in the right way.
Also, if there is no deal, there will be no vote. That matters, because it would be possible for the Executive, with power concentrated in their hands, to decide to reject a deal from the EU that Parliament might have accepted. The Executive would have the power to decide simply to go down the WTO route rather than going for any of the many alternatives, without giving Parliament a say in the matter. There would be no opportunity for Parliament to say, “Actually, there is a better deal on offer and the Government should be working with the EU to get that deal, which would be in the interest of all our constituents.” We should not give the Executive that concentration of power to choose the WTO route without a debate or a vote. There should be a vote on an alternative.
To be fair to the right hon. Lady, I think she has gone some way towards answering this question. I think she said that if the Government judged that the best available terms were not good—if it was, by the Government’s definition, a “bad deal”—she would like them to put that in front of Parliament and ask us to decide whether it was indeed a bad deal. Can she confirm that that is what she is saying?
That would indeed be one way of doing it, with the Government giving Parliament a substantive vote rather than simply heading directly for the WTO alternative without giving us an option.
The second challenge in the Government’s approach is that, if there were a deal, the timing of any vote would still make it difficult for Parliament. A vote would take place after the deal had been agreed with the 27 countries and with the Commission, but before it went to the European Parliament. Again, this Parliament would only get a choice between the Executive’s deal and the WTO terms, even if we knew that a better or fairer deal was on offer.
I hope that there will be agreement across the House on this point. I hope that the Government will come up with the best possible Brexit deal and that such a deal will have Parliament’s strong support and endorsement. If that does not happen, however, and if things unravel along the way, what opportunity will there be for Parliament to have its say and to try to bring things back together? That brings me back to the timing of the vote. Leaving it to the very end of the process would make that very hard to do.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that the Government could request an extension to the article 50 process if we have not been able to conclude a positive deal? Does she also agree that a request for such an extension would be greatly enhanced and strengthened if it had a mandate from Parliament behind it? That should involve a partnership, with the legislature and the Executive working together to strengthen the national interest vis-à-vis our European partners.
Again, that would certainly be one option. My understanding is that if the European Parliament voted down the deal, it would get the opportunity to say that the negotiations should be extended, but the UK Parliament would currently not get that opportunity. The purpose of the new clause is not to extend the negotiations—we should be trying implement the referendum decision—but if Parliament judges that there is a better offer on the table that would give us a better Brexit deal, we need safeguards to prevent the Government from running hell for leather towards an option that is bad for Britain.
The right hon. Lady is passionate on this subject. If at the end of the article 50 process—the two-year, winding-down clock—Parliament rejected the deal and nothing happened, we would leave. That would be an undesirable result, so my concern is that binding the Government’s hands with these new clauses is not in the country’s interests.
I do not think that the new clauses would bind the Government’s hands. I agree that there is a concern that we could end up toppling off the edge of the negotiations without having a deal in place, which means that there is an incentive for all of us in Parliament to want a deal to be in place for Brexit, for future trade arrangements and for the transitional arrangements. Given how the Government have set out the arrangements, however, my concern is that there is no incentive for the Executive to try to get a deal that Parliament can support. If the Executive can simply go down the WTO route and reject alternatives without Parliament having any say, they will not have the right incentives to get the best possible deal.
Does the right hon. Lady agree that practically everyone in the House and in the Government would like tariff-free trade on the same basis as we have today? We entirely agree on that. The only issue is with what we can do individually and together to make it more likely that the other 27 member states will agree, because they will make that decision.
I actually do agree with the right hon. Gentleman. We do want tariff-free trade, but he and I will probably differ on the customs union, for example. There would be huge advantages in staying in the customs union, but that does not affect the decisions that we might make on free movement or other aspects of the single market. I know that he would like us to be outside the customs union, but that may be a crunch question for the deal. The Executive might reject alternative options or better deals on matters such as the customs union on their own rather than give Parliament the opportunity to have its say.
Some of this comes down to timing. I accept that there is an article 50 timescale of two years and that it will be for the EU to decide what happens at the end if no deal is in place, but that also matters for the timing of the vote. At the moment, based on what the Minister said earlier, the vote will come at the very end of the process and could end up being at the end of the two years. The strength of new clause 110 is that it would require the vote to be held before the deal went to the European Commission, the European Council or the European Parliament. The advantage of that is that we would have a parliamentary debate and a vote earlier in the process, and that if there were no agreement, there would still be the opportunity for further negotiations and debates before we reached the article 50 cliff edge.
I hesitate to say this, but the House sometimes fails to realise its own powers. If it becomes clear during the course of the two years of negotiations that the Government are rejecting a negotiating opportunity that the House thinks is better than the one they are pursuing, there is nothing to prevent the House from asserting its authority in order to make the Government change direction; it is a question of whether we have the will to do it. The problem with the right hon. Lady’s point is that if we were right up against the wire, it could tip the Government into losing an agreement and there would be nothing to replace it.
Were that the case, it would be Parliament’s responsibility to behave with the common sense that the right hon. and learned Gentleman advocated earlier. I would trust Parliament to have common sense and not push Britain towards an unnecessary cliff edge in those circumstances. That is not what Parliament wants to do. It has already shown that it wants to respect the decision that was made in the referendum, which is important, but it also wants to get the best deal for Britain and will be pragmatic about the options at that time.
The right hon. and learned Gentleman suggests that there might be an alternative way for Parliament to exercise its sovereignty, but what might that be in practice? We could have a Backbench Business Committee motion or an Opposition day motion that the Government could then ignore. We could have a no confidence motion, but that would not be the appropriate response when we should be considering the alternatives in order to get a better deal out of the negotiations.
If the right hon. and learned Gentleman were to come up with an alternative way for Parliament to exercise its sovereignty that I have not thought of, there might be an alternative to a vote today. If we want legislation that ensures that there is recourse to Parliament on these important issues, which will affect us for so many years to come, the right thing to do is to get something in the Bill.
I will make some progress, because other Members want to speak.
There are many ways in which the Government could provide recourse to Parliament. They could table a manuscript amendment that simply puts into practice what they have said today, which would be immensely helpful and might provide the reassurance that many hon. Members need.
New clause 99 would mean that withdrawal would have to be through an Act of Parliament. On such a serious matter, there is a strong case for decisions to be made through Acts of Parliament—that would happen on other similarly weighty matters. To be honest, much of what new clause 110 would do would simply be to include in the Bill what the Minister has already said he will do. However, it would provide reassurance, with the added benefit of clarity that there will be a vote if there is no deal and we go down the WTO route. Also, the vote would be earlier in the process, which would give Parliament the opportunity to have a say before we get to the final crunch at the end of the negotiations.
The honest truth is that new clause 110 is not that radical. It would simply put into practice and embed in legislation the things that some Government Members have said they would like to achieve, so why do we not simply include it in the Bill so that we have that reassurance? Ultimately, there is a reason why all of this is important. Both sides in the referendum debate talked about parliamentary sovereignty, and with that comes parliamentary responsibility. We have already shown that responsibility by deciding to respect the result of the referendum on Second Reading, but with that comes the responsibility to recognise that we have to get the best possible Brexit deal for our whole country, rather than just walking away from the process of debating the deal. If we end up walking away, power will be concentrated in the hands of the Executive. I have never supported such concentrations of power, and every one of us should be part of making sure that we get the best possible Brexit deal.
I agree with the principle that Parliament should vote on the final deal. I argued for that during the referendum, and I certainly have not changed my mind. On top of that, as people talk about Parliament being stripped of its role, it is worth pointing out that any domestic implementing legislation as a result of any deals reached at international level will, of course, require parliamentary approval in the usual way. The legal effects of Brexit at home will be dealt with through enactment of legislation in advance of the ratification of the international treaties.
On the international element, it is useful to distinguish between two key components of the diplomacy: the terms of exit and the terms of any new relationship agreement on trade, security and the other areas of co-operation that we all agree we want to preserve. With that in mind, I welcome again the White Paper and the Lancaster House speech that, as we talk about all the process and procedure, set out a positive vision for Britain, post-Brexit, as a self-governing democracy, a strong European neighbour and a global leader on free trade.
I will make a little progress because other Members want to speak and we are quite far advanced in this debate.
I confess that, as a former Foreign Office lawyer who spent six years advising on both EU law and treaty interpretation, I find article 50 palpably clear on the surface. It disapplies the EU treaties two years after article 50 is triggered. The language is mandatory as a matter of treaty law, so if Parliament refuses to approve the terms of any exit agreement, the UK drops out without one.
Before there is general hysteria across the House, including among Government Members, let me say that there is a general principle of customary international law, which is also true of common law, that where there is a general rule, there can be exceptions, but those must be interpreted narrowly. There are exceptions on this. There is an exception if the EU unanimously agrees to extend the period under article 50(3). If we look at the clear language used, we can see that it is conceivable to imagine that happening only in very exceptional circumstances—if at all—for a limited period and in relation to the exit terms. That is what the provision says. The agreement on our post-Brexit relationship with the EU could be prolonged as long as both sides wish, but that will not delay the exit, and it is extremely doubtful that article 50(3) could be used to delay departure on those grounds. That means many of the amendments we are considering are, in practice, unlawful, as well as unwise.
My hon. Friend is providing a careful and interesting analysis, but is not the crux of the matter this: if at the end of the day there is no deal and we are forced to leave, perhaps on WTO terms, which many of us believe will be deeply damaging, it will be a scandal if this House does not have the chance to have a say on it? It will be a betrayal. Those who might not support new clause 110 today hope that perhaps the Lords will look more carefully at this, as the Government are on very borrowed time as far as many of us are concerned.
I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Chair of the Justice Committee and I agree that there should be a vote. The challenge is that I have not really heard anyone explain an alternative negotiation strategy to the one advanced by the Government, other than staying indefinitely in some limbo within the EU. That would create more uncertainty for business and greater frustration for the public, and it would devastate, paralyse and eviscerate our negotiating hand.
I am going to make a little progress, to be fair to other hon. Members.
There is a second exception, and it is not true to say that triggering article 50 is irreversible. It can be reversed but, as I explained earlier, we would have to follow the specific exception envisaged in article 50(5), which offers a means to reverse the process of departure: we leave and then apply to rejoin. That is the clear language in article 50, which of course is binding as a matter of UK law. It was a previous Labour Government, with Liberal Democrat support, who signed us up not only to the Lisbon treaty, but explicitly to the fetters we now face. That is why I suffer a little when I hear some of the railing against the difficult legal confines the Government find themselves in not just as a matter of their own policy, but as a matter of law.
I will not give way, as I am going to make some progress.
The choice on the final deal is clear: the British Parliament can veto the exit agreement and/or the terms of the new relationship agreement, but in that case Britain would leave the EU without agreeing terms. On the new relationship agreement, the UK Government would of course be free to revert for further negotiations, but that could not delay or stop Brexit from happening under the terms of article 50. Those facts will rightly and understandably focus our minds, as they are doing here today, and with a sense of trepidation. They will also focus minds—this is why it was crafted in the way it was—on the other side of the channel, among our European friends. So, on the assumption that it would take at least 18 months to agree all the terms of any new relationship agreement, the idea that Parliament voting down any deal would send the UK back to a further round of meaningful negotiations, before Britain formally leaves, is at odds with the procedure in the Lisbon treaty, and I find it neither feasible nor credible.
My hon. Friend mentioned article 50(3), which does provide for transitional arrangements. It provides for a country to negotiate for the same arrangements to continue indefinitely until a subsequent date is provided at the end of the negotiating process for their implementation. Does he not agree that that should create a window for exactly the circumstances that he is so concerned about?
My right hon. Friend is right in what he says, but if he reads article 50(3), he will see that it is explicitly referring to the withdrawal component of the diplomacy. But he is also right to say that there is scope for transitional arrangements or phased implementation to deal with some of the so-called “cliff edge” concerns that hon. Members are rightly worried about.
I am going to make a bit of progress, to be fair to other Members.
In fairness to the previous Government, the ostensible aim of article 50 was to facilitate certainty, to focus the minds of the negotiating parties and to avoid withdrawal leaving a lingering shadow over not only the EU—although that was probably foremost in its consideration—but the departing nation. Many of the amendments and new clauses we are considering are counterproductive precisely because in seeking to fetter the Government in the negotiations they would weaken our flexibility and negotiating position and, critically, make the risk of no deal more likely. Members who support the amendments and new clauses must face up to the fact that they are courting the very scenario that they and we say we so dearly seek to avoid.
For my part, I could not countenance voting for attempts to put the negotiating aims in binding legislation and give them statutory force, because that would set the Government up to face a blizzard of legal challenges on the final deal. That would be deeply irresponsible because, whether unintentionally or otherwise, it would seem to me to amount to poison-pill tactics.
Does the hon. Gentleman agree that the Prime Minister’s approach so far, in pandering not to those who want immigration reduced to the tens of thousands but to the nones-of-thousands lobby, risks our approaching the scenario he just outlined? That approach is nonsensical, because we need immigration, whether the people are crop-pickers or gene splicers. There are deals to be done and the Prime Minister needs to admit it.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his intervention, but say gently to him that between open-door immigration and closed-door immigration there seems to me to be quite wide scope for sensible reciprocal arrangements that allow us to retain control over the volume of immigration and things such as residency and welfare requirements, and to make sure that the people who come here are self-sufficient and that we have the security checks and deportation powers we need. I am not sure that he and I disagree on that. Between cutting off all immigration and having open-door immigration, there is enormous scope for some sensible diplomacy.
I turn specifically to the amendments and new clauses. The Government’s assurances ought to be enough to satisfy those who might be tempted by new clauses 1, 18 or 99. The Government have rightly promised to give Parliament a vote on the final deal, and I pay tribute to the shadow Minister, Keir Starmer, who approached that matter in a sensible, sober and responsible way.
The other cluster of new clauses that have attracted attention are new clauses 19, 54 and 137, which would require that a parliamentary vote against the deal would send the UK Government back to renegotiate with the EU. As someone who has negotiated treaties—mainly bilateral treaties, but some multilateral—I can entirely understand why that is attractive. The truth is that if Parliament does not agree the exit terms, it is theoretically possible that the UK Government could revert to meaningful negotiations with the EU, if the draft agreement is concluded within around a year or, exceptionally, if the EU agreed a short extension. In practice, that is utterly inconceivable. It is total fantasy. Why would the EU give us better divorce terms just because Parliament did not like them? In reality, we would not even get the extension or better terms, and would leave without an agreement.
If Parliament does not approve the agreement on the new relationship, there is no express provision for the extension of negotiations and no clear basis for withdrawal to be delayed. We would exit on two years, but could revert back to revived negotiations on the future relationship. As my right hon. Friend Mr Tyrie pointed out, the question of whether implementation would be phased and of transitional arrangements would become far more salient. Besides those legal considerations, any delay to the timetable would inject an additional dose of uncertainty into the entire process, which would be bad for business and frustrating for the public, and which would harm rather than reinforce our negotiating position.
New clause 28, which deals with parliamentary approval before the European Parliament has its say, has been dealt with by the reassurances given by the Minister, which I certainly welcome. I am not convinced by new clauses 110 or 182, on parliamentary approval happening before the Commission concludes the new relationship agreement, because we would not know the date on which it would approve such an agreement and could not know the terms of the deal until it had done so. That reinforces in my mind the concern that exists about Members who, in good faith, are trying to dictate what will inevitably be a fluid diplomatic process through the entirely inappropriate vehicle of binding legislation. That cannot hope to cater for all the potential eventualities that we need to be ready to adapt to as a matter of multilateral diplomacy.
Finally, let me turn to amendment 43, which has been tabled by the Liberal Democrats and Tim Farron in particular. In a competitive field, this is certainly the clear winner for the worst amendment that has been tabled. It is probably illegal because there is no scope for a departing member, which has triggered article 50, to reverse its decision. That is clear from article 50(5).
The amendment is clearly designed to reverse Brexit, despite Members passing the 2015 referendum legislation by six to one on the very clear understanding that we would respect the result. The amendment is probably beyond undemocratic and illegal; it is just plain tricksy. It was open to any Member to table amendments and then to stipulate that there would be a second referendum —why not have the best of three?—to give the British people a chance to do the hokey cokey. However, there is a very clear reason why no one tabled such an amendment: the public would have shuddered at the prospect. No one proposed such an amendment and we did not hold the referendum on that basis.
I support a final vote on the deal, and welcome the fact that the Government are striving to reassure all Members about the Bill, but this House should be under no illusion that such a vote cannot and would not frustrate the verdict of the people. In fairness, I think that most Members from all parts of the House recognise that. Many amendments on which we are deliberating in this group are legally flawed. Above all, these new clauses would attempt to tie up the Government in procedural knots at the crucial moment in the two years of Brexit negotiations. The public expect all of us to be focused on securing the very best deal for the whole country and not, either intentionally or inadvertently, to be laying elephant traps that can only make striving for that deal harder. For that reason, I hope that the Committee will vote down all the amendments and new clauses this evening.
Order. There are four hon. Members who still want to contribute and who have given their names to amendments. However, the Government are likely to come back at 6 o’clock. If everyone takes less than five minutes, I might be able to squeeze in at least four more speakers. It is a gentle reminder; there is no time limit. I call David Lammy.
I will try to be brief.
I am now entering my 17th year in the House. In that time, it is usual to strike up relationships across the House. I want to make a confession: I have a relationship with Mr Duncan Smith—I am sorry that he is not in his place—who has the unusual honour of also being a fan of Tottenham Hotspur. There have been occasions when we have been at White Hart Lane together, talking about his favourite subject: the sovereignty of this Parliament and the European Union. There have been occasions when my eyes have glazed over, because I do not see the issue in the same way.
In the past few months, as I have grown increasingly depressed about the direction of travel on which we are now set, I have looked for a silver lining. The silver lining is, of course that, in the 17 years that I have been an MP, we have been in the European Union—effectively, we had decided to pool some of our sovereignty with Europe, which meant that I had less power. Well, the power is now coming back, and, as a result of all the work of the right hon. Gentleman, Sir William Cash and others, I will be a powerful Member of Parliament. Yet we are now in a situation, in this important time, in which we need that sovereignty, and the very same people who were asking for it now stand up to argue that we should put that power somewhere else.
Many hon. Members who have been Back Benchers for some years argue that we should put the power with the Executive, and that the Prime Minister and her Cabinet should make all the huge decisions about our economy and direction of travel. They argue, perversely, that the power should solely be with the 27 other countries of the European Union, and that they should determine our direction alongside the European Commission, the Council and, ultimately, the European Parliament—power everywhere else except here. And who will suffer as a consequence of this Parliament not acting? Our constituents. That is why this is not the time to play party politics and why I was happy to vote against my party last week. This is absolutely the time to stand up for our constituents.
We must scrutinise the Executive during the very detailed negotiations. We hear, “We’ll strike a deal within two years.” Well, it took Greenland three years to leave the old European Economic Community; and that was Greenland, fighting over fish. It will not take us just two years. As has been said, we must get a say on the terms of our withdrawal, but the matters of our new trading relationships must also come back to this place. If we do not get an agreement, it must be a decision on which we must speak long before.
If we were to exit without a proper deal, this great country would be in the bizarre situation of having no trading relations with the rest of the world, which is a situation we will not have been in since some time before King Henry VIII and the beginning of empire— ridiculous. It would be madness. World Trade Organisation rules? Insane. Of course power must rest here, which is why I have put my name to a number of new clauses and why I stand with my hon. Friend Chris Leslie, who tabled new clause 110. We must give this place power or we will regret it hugely.
I find myself in rather a strange place because it is very difficult for somebody in my position to countenance voting for an Opposition amendment. I have always respected the pragmatism and politics behind most decisions, but I have always had a sneaking admiration for colleagues who flouted the Government Whip with impunity, which was not, of course, what I told them when I was in the Whips Office. I heard in so many cases that their decision was a point of principle. Indeed, the Secretary of State for Brexit was among the most principled politicians in the last Parliament, rebelling dozens of times.
To me, this is very much a point of principle, and three principles have exercised me and many colleagues. The first is the thorny question of what parliamentary sovereignty means. Far be it from me to take exception with that very learned gentleman, my hon. Friend Mr Raab, but my understanding is that article 50 was effectively drafted on the back of a fag packet by negotiators, specifically at the request of UK participants in the treaty, on the expectation that it would never be triggered; such a situation was inconceivable. Therefore, it seems not inconceivable to set out what we believe our sovereign parliamentary process should be against that rather poorly drafted aspect of the treaty.
So many leave campaigners told me that they were campaigning to restore our sovereignty. That sovereignty has now been confirmed by the Supreme Court. It is absolutely right that we have had confirmation today that Parliament will have a vote on the terms of the deal. The timing of that vote is crucial. It will not be a done deal that is then brought back to us. There will be an opportunity to influence, shape, negotiate and do what we have done so well over the past four days—days, by the way, that we were not intended to have. We have had the opportunity to get into the nitty-gritty of what it means to trigger article 50, and what a vote would look like. I, for one, feel far better informed than I did at the start of the process. This is exactly what we are sent here to do.
I agree with my hon. Friend about Parliament’s vital role in scrutinising the Bill. For me, it is about the only way that we will bring the 48% with us, because they are feeling very left behind at the moment. In practical terms, how can we achieve that scrutiny? If the deal is not good enough, what can we actually do to change it?
We can probe, we can ask questions, and we can bring our collective knowledge and wisdom, of which there is an enormous amount on these Benches, and our understanding of what alternatives there might be. If there is no alternative, or there is no process, then at least we know that, but we have bought today, with the concession given by the Minister, an option that was not on the table at the start of this process and. when you are negotiating in an uncertain environment, optionality is hugely valuable.
My second point of principle, which I referenced earlier, relates to equivalence. If we look at the negotiation for exit, it is bizarre that while the European Parliament has a number of go/no-go decision points where it effectively has a right of veto, we have been scared to give the same to this Parliament. That does not sit well with me as somebody who wants to stand up for this sovereign Parliament; it is a very perverse thing, and I am glad we are trying to correct it.
The third point of principle relates to representation. I am still mystified that there are those who think they should be scared of Parliament. How many more votes do we need to have to demonstrate the overwhelming support in this place for executing the will of the British people? They gave us a mandate, and we are not going to replay the arguments. We have a mandate, and we know we need to get on with this. We have now had two votes suggesting that right hon. and hon. Members on both sides of the House—possibly with the exception of those from north of the border—accept the view of the Union. We should not be scared of bringing these things to Parliament.
Ultimately, are we not here to represent our constituents? We do not want a second referendum, and I completely agree with my neighbour, my hon. Friend Richard Benyon, that it would be absurd to go back. However, we are the next best thing: we are the opportunity to bring up what our constituents are saying, and many of them still have lots of questions about what this process looks like. We can put those questions to each other and to Ministers, and we can represent our constituents. The principle of representation is absolutely vital.
I have to say that the tone of these debates—we have heard a little of this today, although things are starting to calm down—sometimes borders on the hysterical. I feel sometimes that I am sitting with colleagues who are like jihadis in their support for a hard Brexit. No Brexit is hard enough—“Begone you evil Europeans. We never want you to darken our doors again!”[Interruption.] People say, “Steady on, Claire,” but I am afraid I heard speeches last week making exactly that point. The point is that the more we get these things out in the open, the more we will not be led by some of the more hysterical tabloid newspapers out there, but actually have an open and frank conversation with each other about what we want to do better.
On the issues of scrutiny, representation and parliamentary sovereignty, I am very interested in the proposals made by the Opposition. I am pleased to say I have heard some very substantial concessions today on the timing and the detail, although there is an equivocality about the ending, which still does not sit well with me. While it might not be the Government’s and the Prime Minister’s intention to bring forward a bad deal, we still have not allowed ourselves to put that to the test. So before I decide which way to vote, I am going to listen very carefully to what the Minister has to say. I am hoping to get his assurance that, if there is no deal, that can be put within the bounds of what I think should happen, which is a parliamentary decision on this vital step for our country.
There are two issues at the heart of today’s debate, which is about the role of Parliament in judging the final deal. The first issue is the timing of any such vote, and the second is how to make that vote meaningful. I want to speak to new clause 137, which is in my name and those of my hon. and right hon. Friends.
A significant part of the argument for leaving the European Union was about restoring parliamentary sovereignty so that this House could take decisions about the country’s future, yet attempts to assert that sovereignty have been constantly dismissed as undermining the Government, if not the country. The cry over and over again has been, “Blank cheque, blank cheque, blank cheque.” We should not give a blank cheque; there is a legitimate role for us.
The new clause seeks to do two things: first, to enshrine in the legislation the Prime Minister’s promise of a parliamentary vote on a final deal; and, secondly, to assert what can happen if Parliament declines to approve the final deal.
“the freest possible trade in goods and services between the UK and the EU.”
The Secretary of State for Brexit said that this would be
“a comprehensive free trade agreement and a comprehensive customs agreement that will deliver the exact same benefits as we have”.—[Official Report,
Vol. 620, c. 169.]
That is the test the Government have set themselves. I wish them well in ensuring that we do get the exact same benefits as we have.
This new clause does not seek to tie the Government’s hands in the negotiations. It does not seek to influence the content; it focuses on what happens if Parliament declines to approve the final deal. The choice that we do not want to be presented with, I am afraid, is the one that the Minister set out at the beginning, which is defining as success whatever the Government negotiate or falling back on the WTO. I do not want to go through the WTO rules in detail, but let me give just one example: a 10% tariff on car exports. Take the Nissan Qashqai, proudly made in the north-east of England. That tariff would mean a surcharge of over £2,000 on each car made in the north-east, compared with a competitor vehicle made in a plant in the European Union, or even another Nissan model made in the EU. On food and drink, the tariffs are 20%, and on some agricultural products they are even higher. That is before one even gets to the weakness of enforcement mechanisms within the WTO, where businesses cannot even take enforcement cases and only Governments can do so.
The Government themselves say that they do not want this option. They set out 12 points in their White Paper, the 12th of which says that they want
“a smooth, mutually beneficial exit”.
Paragraph 12.2 says:
“It is…in no one’s interests for there to be a cliff-edge for business or a threat to stability…Instead, we want to have reached an agreement about our future partnership by the time the two year Article 50 process has concluded.”
This new clause empowers Parliament to avoid the very outcome that the Government themselves say in the White Paper that they want to avoid. For that reason, it is not, as too many Members have asserted, some attempt to undermine the Government. We should be using the power of Parliament to influence these negotiations.
Let me deal with the “five minutes to midnight” point made by Mr Grieve. It is hardly unknown for the European Union to schedule another round of talks—it happens very frequently. In these circumstances, we would be entirely within our rights to strengthen our Government’s hand by saying, “Go back and renegotiate on this point or that point.”
I do not disagree with the right hon. Gentleman, but I want to emphasise this point. All sorts of things are possible—the Commission and the Council may decide to extend the period of negotiation—but we have to look at the legal implications of what we pass into law by amendments. If the new clause is prescriptive in a way that could allow the problem to occur that has been identified—dropping off because one has lost time and cannot come back to this House—we cannot just ignore that. We have to find a way round it or accept the assurances that the Government give.
I do not have much time so I am going to conclude.
The point of all of this is to avoid the choice between being told that we have to define as success, on the first account of it, whatever the Government have managed to negotiate, or default to the WTO. To be honest, a concession on timing that does not allow us to ask the Government to go back and negotiate a better agreement is simply holding a gun to Parliament’s head a few months earlier than would otherwise have been the case. This new clause is about taking all the claims made for decades about parliamentary sovereignty and making them real, rather than giving us a choice between deal or no deal, take it or leave it, my way or the highway. Frankly, Parliament and the country deserve better than that.
I will limit my contribution to a couple of minutes and confine it to a few questions for the Minister. The concession that he gave at the start is significant; the question is: how significant? What did he mean when he said that the Government “will bring forward a motion on the final agreement”? He must mean the proposed agreement. I noticed that he changed the wording to “final draft agreement”. Is he talking about the draft agreement, or a final agreement, at a point at which it is too late to change it?
Secondly, the Minister says that he expects and intends that this place will get a say before the European Parliament. In what circumstances is it practically possible for us not to have that if the Government want us to have it? Thirdly, will he answer the equivalence point that has been made by my hon. Friend Claire Perry? We must be able to have at least as much say as the European Parliament.
Fourthly, will the Minister clarify that the WTO cliff-edge issue needs to be subsumed into the issue of transitional arrangements? If the Government put the need to negotiate transitional arrangements as their No. 1 priority and they succeed at least in getting a deal on that, that deal can trigger article 50(3) to enable an extended period of further discussion, should all other aspects of the deal fail. Does he accept that that is a reasonable and sensible approach to take the debate forward? If he does, I might consider not voting against the Government, as I am minded, uncharacteristically, to do. I will listen carefully to what he has to say.
Thank you very much indeed, Ms Engel, for giving me a second bite of the cherry.
May I deal first with the points made by my right hon. Friend Mr Tyrie, the Chair of the Treasury Committee? He asked direct questions that had been raised during the debate. I thought that I had answered them with some clarity, but I am happy to clarify further. First, he asked what this honourable House would be asked to approve. It would be the final agreed draft of the agreement before it was submitted to the European Parliament. He mentioned that we had indicated that we expected and intended that that would happen before the European Parliament debated the agreement. The reason why that formulation is used is that what the Commission does with the information it sends to the European Parliament it is out of our hands. Although we would do our very best to ensure that the House voted first, we cannot control what the Commission does.
My right hon. Friend raised the issue of equivalence. Of course, the difference is that the European Parliament has a role prescribed for it in article 50, but this House does not. In practical terms, I suggest that a vote of this House would be a matter of significance. Finally, he raised transitional arrangements, which have been mentioned by a number of hon. Members. As the Prime Minister has already made clear, it is our intention, if necessary, to look to a period of implementation for whatever arrangement we arrive at with the European Union.
I will be brief, for a change. My right hon. Friend has confirmed that the vote will be put to Parliament after the deal has been done with the Commission and the Council. It is therefore a done deal, and the European Parliament and this House can either take it or leave it. The alternative is the WTO. Will he confirm that that is exactly what was offered in the White Paper a few days ago?
What we have sought to do today is to provide clarity, and I hope that, through my previous contribution and now, I am providing that clarity. It would indeed be the final draft agreement that we would contemplate being put before the House.
As I was saying, this has been an important debate and the quality of the contributions has been extremely high. As my right hon. Friend Anna Soubry said, we have to remember that this will be the most important negotiation that this country has entered into for at least half a century. It is therefore entirely right that the House should play an important part in the process of the negotiation of the agreement.
I have heard the words “rubber stamp” being used, but that is far from what the Government have in mind. We have every intention that, throughout the process of negotiation, the House will be kept fully informed, consistent with the need to ensure that confidentiality is maintained. I do not think that anyone would regard that as an unreasonable way forward. My right hon. and learned Friend Mr Grieve highlighted the need for reporting, and the Government intend to do that.
I should like to speak about a number of other measures that I have not dealt with previously, but which have attracted attention in the debate. New clause 18 would specify that any new treaty with the EU should not be ratified except with the express approval of Parliament. I can only repeat the commitment that I have made several times this afternoon at the Dispatch Box: there will be a vote on the final deal.
Many of us welcome the progress that has been made and my right hon. Friend’s assurances. It is clear from what he has said that there will be every opportunity for debate, discussion, questions and votes, as is proper in this House.
That is absolutely right. The suggestion that the Government would not keep the House informed is really unworthy, given that we have been scrupulous in doing so thus far.
New clause 110 is similar to new clause 18, but it also specifies that any new relationship would be subject to approval by a resolution of Parliament. I believe that the measure is unnecessary. It asks for a vote of each House on a new treaty or any new agreement reached with the EU, but I repeat again that there will be a vote on the final draft treaty and any other agreement. In any event, as my hon. Friend Mr Raab pointed out, it calls for a vote before terms are agreed, leaving it open to the Commission to change its mind or position without any apparent recourse for this place.
I will not give way as I have very little time.
New clause 137 would require the Government to seek to negotiate a new agreement with the EU if Parliament rejects a deal. Again, I reject the measure. Although we are confident that we will achieve a deal acceptable to Parliament, if Parliament were to reject that deal, it would be a sure sign of weakness, as I have said, to return to the EU and ask for other terms. We would be likely to achieve only a worse deal. Furthermore, there is no obligation on the EU to continue negotiating with us beyond the two-year period specified in article 50.
New clause 175 would effectively require the Government to request that we remain a member of the EU if the terms were not approved by Parliament. Frankly, to do so would be to betray the outcome of the referendum, and the Government are not prepared to accept that. I must make it absolutely clear that the Government want Parliament to be engaged throughout this process.
That is absolutely ludicrous. The European Parliament’s role comes at the end of the process; it has oversight to the extent that it rubber-stamps the agreement or not.
New clauses 18 and 19 would require any new treaties agreed with the EU to be subject to the ratification of Parliament. We have always said that we will observe the constitutional and legal obligations that apply to the final deal, and that remains the case. As we have confirmed, the final agreement will be subject to a vote of this House before it is concluded.
Will the Minister abide by the recommendation in the report of the Exiting the European Union Committee that when the Government bring the deal to Parliament, they should have regard to the requirement that Parliament has adequate time to consider any statement before the proposed terms are put to each House for approval?
We will, of course, consider all the recommendations of the Select Committee and respond formally to its report in due course.
We approach the negotiations not expecting failure, but anticipating success. Let me remind Members that we are seeking in the Bill to do one simple, straightforward thing: to follow the instructions we received from the British people in the referendum. Remaining a member of the European Union is not an option. The process for leaving the EU is set out in article 50, and it is not within our power unilaterally to extend the negotiations.
New clause 99 envisages yet another Act of Parliament to approve the arrangements for our withdrawal and our future relationship with the EU. It would require yet another Act of Parliament for us to withdraw from the EU in the absence of a negotiated deal. The new clause is wholly otiose. While we are ready for any outcome, an exit without a trade agreement is emphatically not what we seek. However, let me be clear that keeping open the prospect of staying in the EU, as is envisaged by new clause 99, would only encourage the EU to give us the worst possible deal in the hope that we would change our mind.
This has been an important debate. We have considered the new clauses and amendments very carefully but, for all the reasons I have given, we reject them and invite Members not to press them to a Division.
I have listened carefully to the debate. There are inevitable problems with an 11th-hour concession, and there have been claims and counter-claims about the nature of the concession made. Whatever No. 10 may or may not be briefing, until today there was never a commitment to a vote on both the article 50 deal and the future agreement with the EU; there was never a commitment to a vote, before the agreement was concluded, on a final agreed draft—it is simply rewriting history to suggest that there was—and there was never a commitment to a vote in this House that is intended and expected to take place before the vote of the European Parliament. Those three things have never been said before, and I have gone through all the records before making that assertion. For anybody to suggest that this is not a significant concession is to be blind to these developments.
I recognise that that leaves a number of unanswered questions, most importantly about the consequences and precise timing of the vote. As Mr Grieve says, to some extent we just do not know. From the various work I have done in Brussels, it is quite clear that the plan there is to have a deal that is capable of being put to the European Parliament in October 2018. That should be the ambition, because if a deal were put to this House in October 2018, there would be a number of consequences for the House to consider. I accept that there are questions. It is important that others reflect on the concessions that have been made and consider what kind of amendment might capture them.
In the circumstances, I will not press new clause 1 to a Division in the hope—although this is not my decision—that it will allow space for other new clauses to be put to the vote. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the motion.
Clause, by leave, withdrawn.
New Clause 110