Power to notify withdrawal from the EU

Part of European Union (Notification of Withdrawal) Bill – in the House of Commons at 5:45 pm on 13th March 2017.

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Photo of Hilary Benn Hilary Benn Chair, Committee on Exiting the European Union 5:45 pm, 13th March 2017

I agree with my hon. Friend entirely. The whole House knows that that course of action cannot be contemplated, so the Government should follow the advice of the Select Committee.

On Lords amendment 2, I listened carefully to the arguments that the Secretary of State advanced, but I say to him gently that I do not think they would have persuaded him in his previous incarnation, before he became Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union. Let us just pause for a moment on the point that Mr Clegg raised about the incentive to offer a bad deal. If that argument holds any sway, it held sway when Ministers said at the Dispatch Box, “Yes, we will give you a vote on a draft deal.” It cannot be the case that if the Government offer a vote on a draft deal, it does not raise the possibility of a bad deal being offered, whereas if we in this House vote to put that vote on a deal on the statute book, it does raise the possibility of a bad deal being offered. The two arguments are wholly inconsistent, and the House is not persuaded.

I also listened carefully to the language used by the Secretary of State, who I see is engaged in earnest conversation. He talked about our being able to act without our hands being tied, and to pass the Bill “without any strings attached”. We in this House are not strings; we are part of our democracy, and we are very attached to that democracy. Lords amendment 2 is not about seeking to reverse the decision of the referendum. Like Anna Soubry, I and many others voted for this legislation because we respect the outcome of the referendum, but it is about Parliament deciding, in either eventuality, on how we leave the European Union. There is a terrible irony here. We are hearing the voices of those who, in the course of the referendum, used the restoration of parliamentary sovereignty as one of their principal arguments for voting to leave the EU, but whose enthusiasm for that sovereignty disappears in a puff of smoke when the House is asked to put that sovereignty on the statute book.

Finally, I say to the right hon. Gentleman that it is now time to put behind us the matter of who voted leave or remain in the referendum. We should come together and put aside division, including the division that is being urged on us by others in this Chamber. I say to him that having Parliament behind him in these negotiations and knowing that, in the end, the Government must account to Parliament for what they are able to achieve in those negotiations is not a weakness for this country, but a strength, and the sooner the Government recognise that, the better.