Power to notify withdrawal from the EU

Part of European Union (Notification of Withdrawal) Bill – in the House of Commons at 6:00 pm on 13th March 2017.

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Photo of Chris Leslie Chris Leslie Labour/Co-operative, Nottingham East 6:00 pm, 13th March 2017

I commend Mr Grieve for his speech. Notwithstanding my obvious support for the Lords amendment on EU nationals, I urge Government Members to think carefully about what they are being asked to do by Ministers today. The Lords have already inserted into the Bill the amendment to give Parliament a meaningful vote, and Ministers are asking hon. Members tonight to wrench that out of the Bill and delete it. As the Bill stands, it provides that parliamentary scrutiny and authority. Government Members should ask themselves whether they really want actively to go through the Lobby and delete that from the text of the Bill.

Ministers have asked hon. Members to do a number of things. They say, “Don’t tie the hands of the Prime Minister. Whatever you do, give her unfettered power to negotiate in whatever way she likes.” I say to those Ministers and to hon. Members that we should not be putting power entirely in the hands of one person—the Prime Minister—without any insurance policy whatever. With the greatest respect to Ministers, the Prime Minister decides who is on her Front Bench, and parliamentary democracy is the insurance policy that we need throughout the process. We should not be frightened or shy of that. We should welcome it because it is a strength and it is a part of the process.

The Government say, “Take back control.” Yet at the same time they are asking us to muzzle Parliament for the next two-year period by saying, “Well, whatever happens, Parliament may not have a say on that.” We could find ourselves in circumstances where the European Union offers a really good deal but the Prime Minister, singularly, on her own—or his own, of course, because it depends on who the Prime Minister is in two years’ time—could say, “Absolutely no deal.” This Parliament would have no choice but to accept that. We would have no say on the matter.

Ministers ask us to accept their verbal assurances. Well, Ministers are here today, but could be gone tomorrow. May I speculate that we could have a different Prime Minister by the time we get to spring 2019? Who knows? It is possible that Boris Johnson—the Foreign Secretary, no less—could be Prime Minister one day. He said at the weekend that it would be

“perfectly okay if we weren’t able to get an agreement.”

He could be Prime Minister—Government Members do not know—and that would be the situation we would have to face, with no votes and no rights for Parliament. Verbal assurances are not sufficient.