With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:
Lords amendment 128, and Government motion to disagree.
Lords amendment 37, and Government motion to disagree.
Lords amendment 39, and Government motion to disagree.
Lords amendment 125, and Government motion to disagree.
Lords amendment 19, amendment (a) thereto, Government motion to disagree, amendments (i) and (ii) to Government amendment (a) in lieu, and Government amendments (a) and (b) in lieu.
Lords amendment 52, and Government motion to disagree.
Lords amendment 10, and Government motion to disagree.
Lords amendment 43, and Government motion to disagree.
Lords amendment 45, and Government motion to disagree.
Lords amendment 20, and Government motion to disagree.
Lords amendments 11 to 14, 18, 21 to 23, 44, 47, 102 to 107, 112, 113, 115 to 119, 121 to 124, 126, 127, 130 to 134, 136 to 140, 142 to 148, 150, 152, 154, 156 to 158, 171 and 172.
Let me start with the obiter dictum that there is a difference between eating into time and exhausting patience.
Over nine months, across both Houses, we have debated more than 1,000 non-Government amendments and hundreds of Government amendments to the Bill. Before us today are 196 Lords amendments—the outcome of hundreds of hours of debate in the other place. I beg your indulgence, Mr Speaker, in paying tribute to my ministerial team who have brought the Bill this far: my hon. Friends the Members for Wycombe (Mr Baker) and for Worcester (Mr Walker), my hon. and learned Friend Robert Buckland, my hon. Friend Dominic Raab and my right hon. Friend the Member for Aylesbury (Mr Lidington); and, in the other place, Baroness Evans, the Leader of the House of Lords, and her team—Lord Callanan, Lord Keen, Baroness Goldie, Lord Duncan and Lord Bourne. I extend the same thanks to Opposition Front Benchers.
It is worth at this early point remembering that the Bill has a simple, clear purpose: to ensure that the whole United Kingdom has a functioning statute book on the day we leave the European Union. That involves the considerable task of converting 40 years of EU law into United Kingdom law. This is an unprecedented task, carried out under a strict timetable.
The Government respect the constitutional role that the House of Lords has played in scrutinising the Bill and, whenever possible, we have listened to sensible suggestions to improve it. However, when amendments seek to—or inadvertently—undermine the essential purpose of the Bill, which is to provide for a smooth and orderly exit, or the referendum result, we must reject them. For example, on the interpretation of Court of Justice of the European Union case law, we have worked closely with former Law Lords such as Lord Hope, Lord Judge, Lord Browne, Lord Neuberger and Lord Thomas to develop a solution that has genuinely improved the Bill. Our other Lords amendments represent the outcome of similarly productive discussions. The role of the House of Lords is clear: to scrutinise legislation that comes from this House, not to recast it or repurpose it. Of course, it should not undermine decisions that were put before the British people in manifestos or in referendums.
The House of Commons’ improvements to the Bill span a number of areas, ranging from narrowing the types of deficiencies that can be corrected using the delegated powers in the Bill to bolstering the rights of individuals by extending the ability to bring certain challenges under the general principles to three months after exit day. I will address in turn the main issues covered by this group on which the House of Lords has asked this House to think again but where their lordships’ approach has either undermined the essential purpose of the Bill, or attempted to overrule well-considered amendments from this House.
The first such area is the sifting system proposed in this House by my hon. Friend Mr Walker, the Chairman of our Procedure Committee. The proposal was that a committee would consider instruments subject to the negative procedure that were brought forward under the main powers in the Bill, and could recommend that they be subject to the affirmative procedure instead. This unanimous recommendation of the cross-party Procedure Committee was clearly born out of careful and detailed consideration by that Committee, and the Government were happy to accept it. My hon. Friend’s amendments were agreed by this House following an extensive debate.
What we have back from the other place—Lords amendments 110 and 128—is both an imposition on our procedures by the other place, and a threat to the workability of the whole process of correcting the statute book. This is for two important reasons. First, a binding recommendation following the sifting process is not a recommendation at all—it is an instruction to the Government that would mark a significant departure from established procedures for handling secondary legislation. It is equally unacceptable, as the Chair of the Procedure Committee has noted, for the opinion of a Committee of the unelected House to govern procedure in this place. The Commons Procedure Committee’s proposals have teeth. As my hon. Friend the Member for Broxbourne said in December:
“The political cost to my Front-Bench colleagues of going against a sifting committee recommendation would be significant. The committee will have to give a reason why it is in disagreement, the Minister will be summoned to explain his or her Department’s position, and it will be flagged up on the Order Paper if a particular SI has not been agreed between the sifting committee and the Government. That will result in a significant political cost”.—[Official Report,
Vol. 633, c. 266.]
He was right.
Secondly, although I understand concern about the pace at which committees will be required to operate, an extra five sitting days, as the Lords propose, would risk taking the process for a negative statutory instrument into what might well be its fifth or sixth calendar week. That would seriously jeopardise our ability to deliver a functioning statute book in time. For our part, the Government are poised to do everything we can to support the speedy work of the sifting committees. On a slightly wider point, I understand that the House of Lords wants to improve the Bill in various ways. Some of its changes can individually seem sensible and proportionate when seen in isolation, but the cumulative effect of those changes could sometimes make it impossible to deliver the smooth and orderly exit we want.
I turn now to the question of exit day. After considering the issue at length, this House accepted amendments tabled by my right hon. Friend Sir Oliver Letwin that set exit day in the Bill, but allowed that time to be altered in the unlikely event that the exit date under article 50 differed from that written into the Bill. That is a sensible approach. It provides certainty about our exit day, but it also incorporates the terms of article 50. Let us remember that exit day will be determined by international law rather than by this House.
We discussed this issue at length when we considered the Bill that became the European Union (Notification of Withdrawal) Act 2017. Their lordships have suggested that this House abandons the conclusions of the lengthy and considered debates that we have already had on this issue by returning the Bill in broadly the same state in which it was first introduced. I accept the helpful scrutiny of the Lords on many aspects of the Bill, but this House has already reached a sensible position, which commanded a significant majority, and we propose to adhere to this House’s original decision on this matter.
At the heart of the Bill are the delegated powers that are essential for the United Kingdom’s orderly departure from the European Union. Those powers will ensure that the statute book continues to function as we leave the European Union. As we have consistently said, we do not take the powers lightly, which was why, in addition to the changes approved by this House, we made further amendments in the Lords. When using the principal powers in the Bill, Ministers must now give their good reasons for the changes they are making, exactly as the Lords Constitution Committee recommended. We have introduced further safeguards by preventing the powers in the Bill from being used to establish public authorities. We have also removed the international obligations power from the Bill entirely, as it has become clear that there are better and more effective ways to ensure that the Government’s international obligations continue to be met than through the use of that power.
That means that the approach before us is substantially different from what we first introduced, while still protecting the core purpose of the Bill. This reflects the fact that the Government have listened to the views of Parliament throughout the Bill’s passage, but we cannot accept Lords amendments 10, 43 and 45, which replace “appropriate” as a reason for using the powers to “necessary”. This House has accepted the premise of the Government’s approach to delivering a functioning statute book—specifically, that we will preserve and incorporate EU law, and then make the appropriate corrections via secondary legislation. Given the scale of the task and the speed necessary, that could never have been done through primary legislation, but at every turn we have sought to ensure proper parliamentary scrutiny.
Given that that fundamental premise has been supported, there needs to be sufficient flexibility for Ministers to propose changes that might not be strictly considered necessary, but that everyone here would think appropriate. “Necessary” is not a synonym for sensible, logical or proper; it means something that it is essential to do.
Does the Secretary of State recall that on page 21 of the original White Paper on the great repeal Bill, the Government pledged to make changes to retained EU law by delegated legislation only “where necessary”? Does he accept that if this House does not accept the Lords amendments, the Government will be breaking the pledge that they made in their original White Paper?
With great respect, the hon. and learned Lady is a lawyer, and she knows that the words in an Act of Parliament matter, and matter very precisely, rather more than an individual word—[Interruption.] They matter very precisely. Let me explain why.
As I said, “necessary” is not a synonym for sensible, logical or proper. In many cases, changes such as correcting inconsistencies, changing terminology, removing redundant provisions, or improving clarity and accessibility could be left unmade, even if the consequences were perverse. That is not the best outcome for businesses or individuals across the United Kingdom. I do not believe that their lordships intended to constrain our ability to change the names of documents such as European aviation documentation. Nor do I think that they intended to require us to use cumbersome terms such as “national regulatory authorities of member states”, and then to have to designate our national regulators underneath that. That would be an inefficient way of making Ofcom the regulator for our open-access internet legislation, for example. This will be UK law, applied only in the UK. It would be confusing to businesses and individuals to keep laws that suggest otherwise, but such changes, while appropriate, might fail the “necessary” test.
I understand the point that my right hon. Friend is making, but I have to say that I am not sure that I agree with him. I think that all the examples that he has given would meet the necessity test without any difficulty at all. Where the necessity test provides a higher bar is that if it were thought that a Minister was using powers to change legislation in a way that was not necessary, he would be prevented from doing so. My right hon. Friend cites examples, but I just do not think that the test would be a problem for a Minister at all.
My right hon. and learned Friend, as I have known for a long time, is a very good lawyer, but I am afraid that other lawyers disagree quite seriously.
The Lords amendments effectively increase the risk of judicial review. What that does—[Interruption]. This is an incredibly serious point, because that process asks judges to make a policy decision that this House should be making by saying yes or no to a statutory instrument. It really is as simple as that.
I am rather sorry that my right hon. Friend is so distrustful of judges on what are essentially procedural or constitutional matters, but could he define “appropriate” to me? It is one of those vague words that I suspect means “if the Minister feels that he or she wants to, one way or the other”. A decision could almost certainly not be challenged by judicial review, because the word is so wide and vague that there is no conceivable argument that could be raised to challenge the Minister’s opinion. We cannot take powers in that way meaning that the Government are able to legislate on matters that will be important to some individuals entirely at a Minister’s uncontrolled discretion.
I hear my right hon. and learned Friend—and old friend, because we are still capable of having a dinner for two hours and not talking about Europe throughout it; in fact he paid, and it was lunch.
The simple fact is that we are not just leaving this to a single word. As I said earlier, the House of Lords Constitution Committee looked at the matter, in the context of this Bill and the sanctions Bill, and said that we should require the Minister to give “good reasons”—that was the test—which is what we have proposed in our amendment.
If the hon. Lady will forgive me, I will make a little progress, because I am quite sure that my next section will provoke quite a lot more interventions than the last one.
Let me turn to Lords amendment 19 and parliamentary approval of the outcome of the negotiations. This is the Hailsham amendment, which Lord Bilimoria described in the other House as the “no Brexit” amendment. What it amounts to is an unconstitutional shift that risks undermining our negotiations with the European Union. It enables Parliament to dictate to the Government their course of action in international negotiations. [Interruption.] Labour Members ask what is wrong with that. Well, I will read them a quote from Professor Vernon Bogdanor who is not exactly a well-known leaver, but he is a constitutional expert. He described this at the weekend as “a constitutional absurdity” that
“would weaken the position of Britain’s negotiators.”
I agree with him that this is not practical, not desirable, and not appropriate.
I am very grateful to the Secretary of State for giving way. What the Lords amendment seeks to do is to reassert parliamentary sovereignty such that this House approves and gets to vote on every scenario that can be conceived of in terms of the way that we withdraw from the European Union. On the Secretary of State’s amendment, may I ask him a factual question? I am not asking him whether or not he thinks we will be in a situation where there is no deal. I am simply asking him this: is it not the case that his amendment to Lords amendment 19 gives his Government a passport to take this country out of the European Union with no deal, with this House having had no say on it whatsoever?
I start by saying to the hon. Gentleman that I respect his point of view. He has the honesty to say that he would like us to stay in the European Union irrespective of the referendum result. Although I disagree with it, it is honest position to take. But what he describes as giving the Government the right to take us out of the European Union under, frankly, any circumstances was article 50, which was passed by this House and the other House by a very large majority, so I am afraid that he is not right in that respect.
I will give way in a moment.
It is accepted practice that Governments negotiate treaties, and this was the case for the European Communities Act 1972, the Lisbon treaty, the Nice treaty, the Amsterdam treaty and the Maastricht treaty. I do not remember any argument over Parliament undertaking those treaties from people who today argue that this amendment is appropriate.
I hope that our Whip’s Office is kinder than the Government’s Whip’s Office will be in getting this measure through.
Mr Speaker, I hope to catch your eye in a moment to talk about what the effects on the Labour vote will be in those constituencies that voted to leave, but on this crucial issue, is it not true that if we pass what the Lords want us to do, we, as Aneurin Bevan said, will be sending our negotiators back naked into the negotiating room? The European Union will know that the Government are beaten and that it can then impose any terms whatsoever on them.
The right hon. Gentleman makes a very good point. It is certainly the case that the European Commission reads every newspaper in Britain, particularly the Financial Times and The Times. It reads them all, but, more surprisingly, it believes them. The simple truth is that it looks at any option that it thinks the British political system will throw up, which will allow it to get a negotiating advantage. Let us remember, too, that most, if not all, of the 27 would much rather that we did not leave—full stop. If it sees an opportunity to create that outcome, that is what it will do.
I want to make a little progress, and then I will give way again.
Furthermore, the Lords amendment sets deadlines that would simply allow the other side to use time against us, as it has already tried to do. What we have proposed in lieu is an amendment that builds on commitments that I first set out to the House in a statement on
I am very grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for giving way. It is not clear what the choices are on a meaningful vote. Is a meaningful vote going to be between the deal that might be struck with the European Union on the current status quo, or a deal struck with the European Union and the World Trade Organisation? We need to know that.
People keep using the phrase “meaningful vote”. What it conceals in some cases, and I suspect that that is the case for the hon. Gentleman, is that they want to reverse the result of the referendum, and nothing we do will be organised to allow reversal of the result of the referendum.
I will give way in a moment.
The Government have also made provisions to allow the vote to happen in this House before the European Parliament votes on the deal, as long as it is practical. This follows the spirit of the Lords amendment, but our proposal has some significant differences. First, we have attached a deadline to the Lords’ consideration of a motion on the final deal. It is not right that the Lords could have a veto on the deal simply by filibustering or refusing to consider the motion. Anyone who suggests that this is unlikely should consider that it was a concern raised by their Lordships’ themselves in debate.
Not for the moment, no.
Secondly, we have removed Parliament’s power to give binding negotiating directions to the Government. As I have said, this would represent a profound constitutional shift in terms of which branch of the state holds the right to act in the international sphere. I turn again to Vernon Bogdanor, who said:
“Parliament’s role is to scrutinise legislation and policy;
650 MPs, still less 800 peers, cannot themselves negotiate.”
I will give way in a moment.
Instead, we have provided that, in the event that Parliament rejects the deal put to it, the Government will be legally obliged to make a statement on their proposed next steps in relation to article 50 negotiations within 28 days of that rejection. This House would of course then have plenty of tools at its disposal to respond, but I am as confident as ever that we will secure an agreement that this House will want to support.
I think that everybody in this House would accept my right hon. Friend’s proposition that we cannot bind the negotiations, but clearly the point of concern, which he is getting to now, is this: if there were to be no deal, does the amendment in lieu cover that circumstance? If it does not, how does he propose to deal with that?
If there were no deal for some reason other than the House rejecting it—it is incredibly, almost implausibly, unlikely but let us imagine that the Government decided that they would not have a deal at all—we would of course do the same thing and come back and make a statement to the House, and the House would then have the right to respond.
I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for giving way. I recognise some of the problems that he has and why the Government came forward with their amendment in lieu, and some of the deficiencies that can be identified in the Lords amendment. But the simple fact is that the Government have not made provision for no deal, and there is a way of doing it. The amendment that I have tabled provides a mechanism for doing that. One of the key issues for me at the end of this afternoon will be whether we make some progress on having a proper structure to address no deal. I do not think that this Bill can finish its course and get Royal Assent until we have that.
I thank my right hon. and learned Friend for his view on this. He sort of expressed it in an amendment that he tabled late last night, so I only saw it this morning. I have not really had a lot of time—[Interruption.] Well, this is an interesting demonstration of the Labour party’s perception of how easy it is to make constitutional law on the fly. Its own voters will come to a view on that.
Let me say this with respect to my right hon. and learned Friend’s proposed amendment—as he knows, I am always open to have a conversation with him on this although he seems to have fallen foul of my telephone security system—I always want to keep three principles in mind. First, we must never do anything that undermines the Government’s negotiating position, or encourages delays in the negotiations. That is very, very important. Secondly, we cannot change the fundamental constitutional structure, which makes the Government responsible for international relations and international treaties.
In a moment.
We cannot do that. This constitutional structure has stood for hundreds of years and many thousands of treaties. As I said earlier, nobody suggested for a moment that the House of Commons should negotiate the Maastricht treaty, the Lisbon treaty, or one or two other controversial treaties that came before the House. We cannot change that structure now, on this basis.
Not for the moment.
Thirdly, we must—under all circumstances—respect the result of the referendum. That is what this House voted for when it voted on article 50. I am very happy to talk to my right hon. and learned Friend Mr Grieve again in the next day or two, and we can discuss how we can meet his concerns in that time, within those principles.
Is not the kernel of the problem that all the amendments tabled by my right hon. and learned Friend Mr Grieve and others make no deal more likely, because they give every incentive to the European Commission not to agree to a deal? The amendments would bind the Government and we would end up with the worst possible result. Therefore, they should be resisted.
My hon. Friend goes to the heart of the problem, which is that we have to consider that anything passed in this House and the other House will have a very serious effect on the negotiating strategy of the other side. I hope that this House will recognise that the Government have taken a fair and positive approach to the new clause, retaining those elements that are sensible and viable, while removing those elements that are practically and constitutionally untenable. These constitutional and practical concerns also apply to Lords amendment 20, on a mandate for negotiations on the future relationship. The Government cannot demonstrate the flexibility necessary for a successful negotiation if their hands are tied mid-way through that process. That will do nothing but guarantee a bad deal for Britain. It is for the Government to set the direction during the negotiation. That is the key point.
I do not need to remind the House about the importance of this legislation. The purpose of this Bill is to maintain a functioning and effective statute book when leaving the European Union—a statute book that people and business can rely on. That is what our approach will deliver.
May I start by paying tribute to their lordships for the diligent and considered manner in which they so thoroughly scrutinised the Bill? In particular, I pay tribute to Labour colleagues in the other place for the extensive effort they put into securing many of the cross-party amendments that we are debating today.
This Bill began life as a fundamentally flawed piece of legislation. Many of its original flaws stem, I suspect, from the fact that at the time it was being drafted, the Government had yet to fully work through precisely how withdrawal would have to take place. Indeed, some of us still remember the Secretary of State’s glib dismissal of the need for any transitional arrangements after
If anything has vindicated the Opposition’s decision to vote against this legislation on Second Reading, it is the succession of defeats that the Bill has faced in both Houses, as well as the scores of amendments that the Government themselves have had to table. That said, after successive defeats in the other place and the latest round of concessions from Ministers, some of the worst aspects of the Bill have been ameliorated.
As we only have three hours of debate on the first group of amendments, I intend to touch only briefly on most of the Lords amendments towards the end of my remarks, and focus instead on what we believe to be the critical issue in this first group. That is the issue of what form parliamentary approval of the withdrawal agreement should take. Many of the amendments passed in the other place are of great significance in terms of their constitutional implications and how they might shape what is left of the Brexit process. It is deeply disappointing that the programme motion only allocates 12 hours to debate them.
Rather than praising the Lords for the number of amendments they have passed, would it not be more in line with Labour party philosophy and views to say that they have gone way beyond their constitutional remit in trying to overturn not only the decision of the electorate but the decisions of both the Labour party and Conservative party manifestos, which together received 82% to 84% of the vote at the last general election?
I respect my hon. Friend’s argument and his long-held views, but I have to fundamentally disagree. None of their lordships’ amendments seeks to frustrate the Brexit process in any way or to allow this House to overturn the referendum result.
I am very grateful to my hon. Friend for giving way, and pay tribute to the work that our Front-Bench Brexit team in this House and in the Lords have done to improve the Bill. The Secretary of State was not courageous enough to take my intervention, so may I ask my hon. Friend what does more to harm the Prime Minister’s hand at the negotiating table—the principle of parliamentary consent; the Foreign Secretary making damaging, unguarded remarks at a private dinner; the Brexit Secretary playing the hokey cokey about whether he is going to stay in the Government; or the spectacle of Ministers resigning because their own Government are too intransigent to listen to the constructive and sensible direction on Brexit that many of us would like them to pursue?
My hon. Friend makes a good point. There is nothing more damaging. As the Secretary of State himself said, the EU monitors with great interest developments in this House and what is said across the country. It sees the open warfare and disagreement in the Cabinet, and the Foreign Secretary continually undermining the Prime Minister’s approach.
I am just going to make some progress.
Lords amendment 19 is of critical importance. In many ways, it is the most important amendment that we will consider over the 12 hours allotted. Before I explain why and set out the reasons why we agree with Lords amendment 19 and disagree with the Government’s amendment (a) in lieu, it is worth taking a little time to remind the House how we arrived at this point.
As hon. Members may recall, before
Some people in this House have been quite clear that they want to prevent Brexit. Others disguise that fact with the very careful construction of terms. In the Lords, where there are no constituencies to vote Members out—sadly—people have been more honest. Surely my hon. Friend was wrong to say that there was nobody in the Lords who was saying that this was actually a “stop Brexit” vote; we have already heard a quotation. The aim was to prevent Brexit; the Lords have no responsibility to anybody and they said that that was their aim.
I have to disagree with my right hon. Friend’s point. I did not say that there were no lordships that do not intend to block Brexit, just as there are hon. Members in this House for whom that is the intention. But the aim of the Lords amendments, as they are designated, is not to frustrate Brexit. There is no majority in this House for overturning the referendum result, as my right hon. Friend well knows. It is disingenuous to say that that is the aim of this amendment.
Order. I know that the hon. Gentleman is not accusing any individual Member of being disingenuous—[Interruption.] I need it to be clear that that is not the case. Would the hon. Gentleman be good enough just to confirm that he is not making any such suggestion?
That is good enough. The hon. Gentleman may continue.
Thank you, Mr Speaker.
As I was saying, the choice that faces us under the Government’s amendment is between the draft withdrawal agreement, even if it is found wanting, and the hardest of departures—the most disorderly exit. Let us remind ourselves of what that would mean: legal chaos, significant damage to our economy, the erection of a hard border in Northern Ireland, and serious harm to Britain’s standing in the world. That is why at Committee stage we tabled new clause 66, which would have guaranteed both Houses a vote on the motion on the terms of withdrawal—and, just as critically, a vote in the event that no such agreement is reached.
I am going to make a bit of progress.
However, we also recognised at Committee stage that there were other requirements needed to ensure that Parliament has a meaningful vote, one of which is the need for a vote on a statute. That is why we supported amendment 7 in the name of Mr Grieve and other hon. Members—an amendment that ultimately passed in this House by 309 votes to 305. That amendment took a slightly different approach in that it was quite deliberately aimed at restricting the use of, and limiting the potential abuse of, the extensive and wide clause 9 power in the Bill as it then stood.
Would the hon. Gentleman care to reflect on the fact that the decision to transfer the vote to the people was done quite deliberately and voluntarily by this House by six to one, as a sovereign Act of Parliament? Any attempt to reverse that is in defiance of the decision that was taken by Act of Parliament.
The hon. Gentleman makes the same point as many others have done, and I have dealt with it in saying that their lordships’ amendment is not about overturning the referendum result. [Interruption.] No, it is not—not at all. It is about giving Parliament a say in shaping the direction under one scenario that could well occur.
Would it not be one of the most supreme ironies of this entire Brexit debacle if, at the end of it, the European Parliament has a meaningful vote and 27 member states have a meaningful vote, but the state that is leaving—and leaving in a state—does not have a meaningful vote?
My hon. Friend is making the points about a meaningful vote with a great deal of power. Does he agree that if we get to a stage—which I suspect some Eurosceptics want—where we are approaching a disorderly, no-deal, hardest-of-hard Brexits, this House has a right not to be given a fait accompli of a deal that is inadequate, or no deal at all? Is that not what this battle to have a meaningful vote on the deal is actually all about?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. That is the choice that faces every hon. Member in the Chamber today when we come to vote on Lords amendment 19.
I am going to make some progress.
I want to return to amendment 7 in the name of the right hon. and learned Member for Beaconsfield. As I said, that amendment took a very different approach that was about restricting the clause 9 power. That amendment having been passed, the Government cannot now give the final withdrawal agreement domestic legal effect without first gaining parliamentary approval in primary legislation for the planned EU withdrawal and implementation Bill. But what his amendment 7 did not do, consciously and deliberately—I remember him saying so at the time—was deal with a scenario in which Parliament does not approve the draft withdrawal agreement. That scenario, I would argue, cannot be ruled out given how badly this Government are handling the negotiations and the limited time they have left before agreement must be reached.
I am going to make some more progress.
With their new clause, their lordships have developed the right hon. and learned Gentleman’s amendment 7 in its guarantee of a statutory vote and made explicit provision for what would happen if Parliament were not to approve the deal when it is put before us later this year. In those circumstances, under the provisions of their lordships’ amendment, it would be for Parliament, by resolution of this House—the Government having found time for that resolution—and subject to consideration in the other place, to give direction to the Government about how then to proceed. It is not about Parliament taking over the negotiations or about stripping Ministers of their authority to make decisions.
That is entirely transferring responsibility for the aims and the detail of everything we negotiate to Parliament and away from Government. Can he name any precedent for that in the whole history of this nation?
If such a scenario were to occur—this is the important point; I take head on what the hon. Gentleman has said—it would be for Parliament, although we are talking about any unknown number of hypothetical situations at that point, to direct the Government by resolution. Is he saying that Parliament would come forward and support a resolution to overturn the referendum result? There is no way that that could happen. He knows that there is no majority for that in this House.
No, I am going to make some progress.
The aim of this amendment is to establish a clear process, with appropriate deadlines, by which Parliament can approve the outcome of the article 50 negotiations, and to provide clarity on what should happen if a majority of hon. Members in this House come to the conclusion that the final deal the Government return with is not good enough for the country.
I am not giving way; I will make some progress.
The amendment is about ensuring that in a scenario where this House rejects the withdrawal agreement, Parliament does not then simply become a passive spectator to what happens next but instead secures a decisive role in actively shaping how the Executive then proceed.
My hon. Friend has said that supporting this amendment would not necessarily lead to a resolution of this House saying that we wish to maintain membership of the European Union. Can he explain, for the purposes of clarity, what safeguards are in place to prevent such a thing from happening, given that we cannot bind Parliaments and that, as such, if we vote for this amendment, we could resolve to tell the Government that re-entry is the point of the negotiation?
My hon. Friend is dealing in hypotheticals. Under that scenario, it might be the case that an hon. Member tries to bring forward a resolution, and that the Government provide time, but does he believe, realistically, that such a resolution could pass and would command a majority in this House? It would not.
This is not about frustrating Brexit. Ministers know full well that there is no majority for that in this place, and it is disingenuous, as I said, to argue as much. Lords amendment 19 is about trusting this sovereign House of Commons to do what is right for the country.
Does my hon. Friend agree that it is Government’s job to bring forward policy and Parliament’s job—the Commons, in particular—to legislate? It seems to me that far from taking back control or establishing sovereignty, the Government appear to want to deny Parliament its fundamental role as legislator.
I am not going to give way at this point.
Yes, the amendment provides for a statutory guarantee of a vote before the withdrawal agreement is put on the statute book, but it removes from the Bill what their lordships deliberately chose to insert: provision for the legislature to constrain Ministers in deciding to crash us out of the EU without a deal should Parliament choose to reject the deal. What does the Government amendment offer in its place? It offers provision to send a Minister back to the House within 28 days with a statement—a statement!—as to how the Government intend to proceed: a commitment that does not go much beyond what was set out in the written ministerial statement that was hurriedly issued on
I am not giving way; I will make some progress.
It almost beggars belief. The vast majority of Members of this House want the Government to succeed and to return with the best deal possible, but let us be clear about what it would mean were the House to decline to approve the deal they bring back. That would represent a catastrophic failure of the Government’s Brexit policy and their handling of the negotiations. In such a scenario, are hon. Members really content for the sum of their role to be the chance to listen to a ministerial statement and attempt to catch the Speaker’s eye to ask a question? That is what hon. Members will be giving their consent to if they vote for the Government’s amendment in lieu today. It is the same “take it or leave it” vote that the Government offered last year, with a few extra baubles.
Does my hon. Friend understand that Labour voters in the midlands and the north, who voted in large numbers to leave the European Union and who are a little bemused at the arguments even among the Cabinet over how that is delivered, do not wish to see the negotiations carried out by 650 Members of Parliament, and want to see Brexit got on with? If the Lords amendments are agreed to, how will we explain to those Labour voters that the unelected House of Lords can overturn both the Commons and the referendum?
I will tell my hon. Friend how we will explain it to them. We will say that their lordships asked us to consider and vote on whether, in the event that a majority of Members of this House do not approve the deal, we should take control of the situation and shape how the Executive then proceed. I think they would support that.
I am going to make some progress.
There has been a considerable amount of debate over the past 16 months about what is meant by a “meaningful” vote. Any member of the public watching our proceedings today will struggle to understand how a vote on the draft withdrawal agreement that simply takes the form of “take it or leave it” could in any sense be genuinely meaningful. In reality, it would be anything but. It would be meaningless, not meaningful. It would be a Hobson’s choice.
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way. I put it to him gently that his proposition presupposes that the European Union would wish to re-engage in negotiations. Were there to be a meaningful vote and this House were to veto the deal, we would be likely to crash out without a deal and not deliver the pragmatic common-sense Brexit that I think he and I would like to see.
I disagree with the hon. Gentleman. Crashing out of the European Union without a deal is exactly what this amendment is designed to prevent. [Interruption.] Yes, it is.
I said that that was the last intervention; I am not giving way again.
I want to turn briefly to the amendment tabled yesterday evening by the right hon. and learned Member for Beaconsfield. We welcome it as a significant improvement on the Government’s amendment in lieu. His amendment is a clear acknowledgment that the Government’s amendment is deficient, that there is a need to make provision for a scenario in which Parliament does not approve a motion on the withdrawal agreement and that this House may need to insist on a decisive role for Parliament in what we all acknowledge would be an unprecedented situation.
We recognise that the right hon. and learned Gentleman has, throughout this process, been at great pains to secure a consensus around how this complex legislation can be improved in the context of the many challenges that the Government face. In taking such an approach, his and his colleagues’ intent has not been, as many have suggested and as is plastered across the front of many of the tabloids today, to sabotage the will of the people or betray their country. They are simply trying to secure what the vast majority of hon. Members of this House desire: a proper process codified in law that ensures that the right decisions are made at the right time and that Parliament has the tools to hold the Executive to account effectively on some of the most significant decisions any of us will be asked to take.
I am not going to give way; I am going to conclude.
The question of what form parliamentary approval of the withdrawal agreement takes is one of the most significant decisions this House will have to take. To be meaningful, a vote cannot simply take the form of a binary “take it or leave it” choice. It must provide a means by which Parliament can indicate to the Government that it desires a re-examination of particular aspects of the draft withdrawal agreement or even a change of approach. Unless hon. Members insist on it, Parliament will not have a genuinely meaningful vote on the terms of our withdrawal, as this House insisted upon in December. That is why we must insist on it and why I urge hon. Members to agree with Lords amendment 19 when we go through the Division Lobby in a few hours.
I want briefly to turn to some of the other Lords amendments in this group, starting with Lords amendments 37, 39 and 125, with which we agree. We remain of the view that amending the Bill to incorporate a specified exit day and time was an ill-conceived and unnecessary gimmick that unduly fetters the Government. Ministers are well aware, just as they were when they amended the Bill in Committee, that exit day for the purposes of the Bill is a very different matter from the actual date on which the UK will cease to be an EU member state, which is a settled matter and a legal certainty. Common sense dictates that we return to the situation before November in which there was a necessary degree of flexibility around exit day for the purposes of the Bill, although we agree with their lordships that it is Parliament, not Ministers, who would agree the various exit dates.
We agree with amendments 110 and 128, which we believe strengthen parliamentary scrutiny—for example, by ensuring that Ministers cannot overturn decisions made by the triage committee. We also agree with amendments 10, 43 and 45, which rightly circumscribe the scope of the sweeping delegated powers in the Bill. We debated that issue extensively in Committee, and we remain of the view that concerns about the subjectivity inherent in the word “appropriate” must be addressed. Lastly, we agree with amendments 20 and 52.
I know that many Members on both sides of the House wish to speak, so I have sought not to repeat or rebut every argument made about each of the Lords amendments in this group with which we agree, but simply to set out, with particular focus on Lords amendment 19, why we believe they must be retained.
I am not going to give way at this stage.
The amendments in this group are, at their core, about what we, as hon. and right hon. Members, believe the role of Parliament should be in the Brexit process. They are about ensuring that Parliament plays an active role in shaping our country’s future, rather than accepting that the House of Commons is to be little more than a spectator and a passive observer to one of the most important decisions that has faced our country in generations. They are about ensuring that the withdrawal agreement cannot be ratified unless we approve it, and in the event that we do not approve it, that the UK cannot crash out of the EU by ministerial fiat. They are ultimately about reasserting the primacy of the House of Commons, so that this House, should the situation arise, is able to do what is right for our country.
Thank you for calling me, Mr Speaker. I will try to be as brief as I can. Everybody knows that that is an effort for me, but I really will try to be positively terse where I can, and I am afraid that if I give way at all, it will be very briefly. That is only right, because the programme motion we have just passed, which I voted against, allows just three hours for debate on this whole group. I am well aware that hundreds of Members will find it almost impossible to get in, and therefore if I abuse the privilege you have given me, Mr Speaker, I should cause a great deal of damage to the quality of the debate.
First, let me say that I have never known an issue of this importance to be taken in this way. I remember being in debates on the European Communities Bill back in 1972 and in debates all the way through Maastricht, when there were hours and hours of debate and repeated votes before the approval of this House was obtained. Nobody throughout would have dreamt of arguing that as part of the process, the House of Commons could be excluded and the Government could be given an absolute privilege to proceed. Such a suggestion would have been treated as a complete absurdity.
I will not, I am afraid, because had the suggestion been put to my hon. Friend during the Maastricht debates that if the Government got defeated on a resolution, they could take it over on their own and let Parliament know in due course what was going to happen, I do not think he would have welcomed it. I understand that we are in a different position.
Will my right hon. and learned Friend explain whether he believes it is possible, with the meaningful vote, to manage to maintain the Brexit process? Does he not accept that the effect of the meaningful vote is actually to reverse the Brexit process, and furthermore, to use a certain expression, that it is completely failing to understand the nature of the amendments to suggest otherwise?
I am grateful my hon. Friend—he is a genuine personal friend, and always has been—and he has brought me to the point I was moving on to.
This debate is being dominated, as far as the Brexiteers are concerned, by the argument that the amendment on the meaningful vote—Lords amendment 19, as amended by my right hon. and learned Friend Mr Grieve—is really an attempt to get around the referendum. For the past several months, I have found that I am told on practically every subject, when the details get a little difficult and the argument gets a little odd, “Ah, you’re not accepting the will of the people”. I first faced that when I opposed our withdrawal from Euratom, and I still do not believe that the public voted for that.
For the avoidance of doubt, as I have repeatedly made clear, I was on the losing side in the referendum—much as I regret it—but after the majority on article 50, we are going to leave the European Union. I have not joined the campaigns to have a second referendum, and I hope I do not live to see another referendum on such an important subject in my lifetime. The fact is that the key decision was then taken, but I will not go back over the quality of the debate and the arguments put forward by the leading figures on both sides that then dominated the national media.
Once the decision was taken by this House, on invoking article 50, that we are leaving, hundreds and hundreds of detailed questions arose about what new arrangements we are going to have for our relationships with the European Union on a huge range of subjects, some of which we have scarcely looked at at the moment, and for our relationships with the rest of the world, because all our trade agreements are based on the European Union as that is how we have entered into them for the past several decades.
The idea that the yes/no vote—leave or remain—on referendum day actually decided each and every issue that now arises, if I may say so to people for whom I actually have respect, is, frankly, intellectually lazy. It is a refusal to engage with what we are actually talking about. I realise that many of the public are exasperated. The prevailing mood among the public is, “What are they all doing, and why don’t they get it over with?” I am sorry about that, but the fact is that leaving poses a lot of questions. I do not think that most members of the public feel that their vote decided the issues we are talking about today in relation to parliamentary scrutiny and control. I am only guessing, but if we had said, “Of course, if you vote leave, you are giving the Government the absolute right to do what they wish in the negotiations and come to whatever agreements they want”, I do not think it would have been easy for my right hon. and hon. Friends to get a majority for such a proposition.
Let me get on to what we are really talking about, because I have already taken longer than I wished. As I have said, any suggestion that Parliament should hand over absolute discretion to any Government to handle such things would have been treated with absolute outrage, not the usual cheers and counter-cheers, expressed to any Minister who dared to do so. It is said—John Mann is persuaded by this, but I do not agree with him—that the next argument we will face is, “Well, what you’re saying is that the House of Commons should take over the negotiations”. Of course we are not. I quite agree that that is a ridiculous proposition.
The Lords amendment was proposed by my right hon. and learned Friend Lord Hailsham. As we are all aware, he and others gave a lot of thought to putting together a parliamentary process that would be practicable and workable; the drafting might be improved, but the Government could have done that if their lawyers thought it was worthwhile. My right hon and learned Friend had in mind that a further resolution would be required, but this second resolution, after the proposed settlement had been rejected, would of course be moved by a Minister. The amendment tabled by my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Beaconsfield makes that even clearer. The idea that we would have a mass meeting of 650 people to decide what resolution to put forward is not postulated in the Lords amendment, and nobody is suggesting that.
No, I have taken too long already. I apologise to my right hon. Friend.
The Government would of course be in a bit of a dilemma—I imagine we would all be even more excited than we have been for the past few days—but the fact is that they would have to go away and work out what resolution to bring forward that would carry the House of Commons. I assume that would be a continuation of the negotiations, but the House would demand that its approval was sought for the next turn in the negotiations, and the directions in which they would go, to satisfy its objections. I regard that as a perfectly serious proposition.
The public debate on the whole question of Brexit has largely been ridiculous—not just in the Daily Express, but in many other areas—but in this place we actually need to take seriously what we are doing not only for the future prospects of generations of our citizens, but for the constitutional position of this House. We have already given up all kinds of things that I have always taken for granted. I have never known such a weak Parliament for allowing things to get through, ending with the latest timetable resolution, but to take the Government’s amendment would be the ultimate in doing so.
With this amendment, the Government have had to accept the decision of the House when we successfully defeated them before Christmas. They have had to come back and set out a better process of parliamentary approval before ratification. The big question then is: what if the Government reject it and there is no deal? In the House of Lords, the Minister was quite clear in resisting the amendment: “Oh, this meaningful vote is going to be deal or no deal—take it or leave it”.
No, I will not give way.
It would be a yes/no vote. Members may not like the deal, but if they vote against it, all they will get is no deal. The result is that, whatever deal they come forward with, only a handful of my right hon. and hon. Friends would vote against it, because they do not want any deal at all, but there are an absolutely tiny minority in this House of Commons.
What do the Government say in their amendment that the House will be faced with? The amendment says that, within 28 days, a written statement will be produced. It will be one of the piles of written statements we have every day, and—dare I suggest it?—not every Member of Parliament usually bothers to go through those piles of written statements every day. [Interruption.] Well, obviously I am exceptionally negligent in not doing so. What is the written statement going to say? It could say, “Well, in that case, as there’s no deal, we’re leaving”, or, “Well, we’re going to do this, and that’s it—that’s the end of the parliamentary process.” It might as well say, “O House of Commons, get lost!” This is a wholly inadequate response to the votes we will have had in Parliament.
No, I want to make two more points. I will now be very brief, and I will not expound on all the points I would have expounded on.
The argument that we are undermining the Prime Minister’s position in the negotiations is equally ridiculous. It is based on the proposition that, out on the continent, people do not know that there are divisions in the Cabinet or what the situation is in the House of Commons, and were a whisper to get out about some slightly unusual votes in the House of Commons, this would undermine the position of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and the Prime Minister and make that position much weaker.
I suspect that the feeling among those on the continent at the moment is that they are utterly bewildered by the Anglo-Saxons and that they have no idea what we think we are doing. They are not hostile to this country; they are waiting for us to make up our minds about what we wish to negotiate before the negotiations start. All the other Governments have to get the approval of 27 national Parliaments. What they are watching is an attempt by the real zealots in this House to stop this Parliament playing any part in the process, which is totally unacceptable.
The time has come to say that all Government policies on any subject, great or small, depend on the ability to command a majority in the House of Commons on the key principles and the direction in which the country is going. I will certainly vote on that basis and I hope that the Government regret the rather intolerant response and all the pressure they have been applying on my right hon. and learned Friends in trying to resist such an obvious proposition.
I do not often go along with the tradition of spending the first part of a speech being enormously grateful for getting the chance to speak in this place. After all, speaking here on behalf of our constituents is the absolute right of all Members. Today, however, it is appropriate for me to acknowledge that I am one of the privileged few because I will get to speak today and, who knows, perhaps even tomorrow, whereas the vast majority of elected Members in this place will not have a chance to speak at all.
If we all got an equal say over the next couple of days, every MP would speak for about 10 seconds—and no, I am not going to call time on myself just yet. Each of the amendments, many of them vital for the future, would be debated for about three minutes. In reality, most MPs will not be called and we will be asked to vote on amendments that have never been before this House and that will literally not even be mentioned by name, rank or serial number in the debate because there will not be time. Anybody who believes that that is an example of participative democracy at its best needs to get out of here and spend some time reconnecting with the real world.
The programme motion that the Government got through today is an absolute travesty of democracy, following days and days on which the business collapsed and the Government were inventing things to talk about because they did not have the political courage to bring this Bill or umpteen other Brexit-related Bills before the House. The idea that we can give proper consideration to 160 or 170 amendments in effectively nine or 10 hours of debate is utterly laughable. It is an indication of how far the hard Brexiteer propagandists and sloganisers have parted company from any kind of rational logic that they and, indeed, many in the Government, denounced the Lords for approving 15 amendments that the Government did not like, while welcoming the fact that those self-same Lords approved 166 amendments that the Government asked them to approve. One hundred and sixty-six amendments were requested by the Government, and 15 by the rest of the world, and it is the rest of the world who are the villains and the enemies of democracy in this.
It was inevitable but deeply disturbing to see how the battle lines have been drawn on the front pages of some so-called newspapers, and I know that there was a point of order on this exact point earlier today. Their lordships are the “traitors in ermine”, the “enemies of the people”, as, indeed, are judges in the Supreme Court, for daring to do the job that they are there to do. I am not a fan of the unelected House of Lords, but they are there for a purpose and, whether we agree or disagree with the way in which they have discharged their purpose, the abuse that has been heaped on them in the past few weeks is utterly uncalled for and has no place in any kind of civilised debate.
The hon. Gentleman is right to suggest that, rather than deriding the House of Lords, we should be thanking them for introducing 15 sensible amendments, and that the Government should also be thanking them for making hundreds of their own amendments because they made such a Horlicks of the Bill in this place in the first place.
The hon. Gentleman makes a valid point. It seems like the definition of an enemy of the people is not based on where they take the decisions but on whether the decision finds favour or disfavour with Her Majesty’s Government. That is not democracy, Mr Speaker. We are heading to dictatorship if someone’s integrity or patriotism is judged on whether or not they agree with the minority of people who sit on the Government Front Bench.
As I have said, and I shall come back to this later, I am not a fan of the House of Lords. I do not think that it is a democratic institution, but it is not the real threat to our democracy. The real threat to such democracy as we have in these islands does not come from people who disagree with what I say or with what the Government say but from those who use terms such as “traitor” or “enemy” to denounce anybody who holds or expresses a view that differs from their own.
This weekend, we will mark the second anniversary of the murder of one of our colleagues. Possibly the last words she heard in this life were “death to traitors”. Surely in the name of God we should know that, when we allow the language of hatred to become normalised, the actions of hatred will follow. Today, someone has pleaded guilty to planning to murder another of our colleagues. I say to colleagues on all sides that we can disagree passionately and fervently with each other, but please get the language of violence out of the vocabulary of this debate and of all debates, not just in the few days before we remember Jo’s sacrifice but every day thereafter, so that Jo and others did not die in vain.
As I have mentioned, the SNP are not fans of the House of Lords, but when the House of Lords has passed amendments to turn a bad Bill into a slightly less bad Bill, we will seek to retain those amendments. Let us be clear that, even with those amendments, this is still a bad thing. It will be damaging to all our interests, but if we can make it the least bad thing that we possibly can, we will have achieved something.
I am not quite sure how to break this to the right hon. Gentleman, but nothing would please me more than to allow his country to implement the decision that its citizens have taken and for my country to be given the right to implement the decision that the people of my country took.
We support the removal from the Bill of a purely arbitrary and symbolic exit day; it does nothing to improve our chances of getting a less damaging deal and makes the prospect of a cliff-edge no deal more likely. It was agreed to only because the Prime Minister was too weak at the time to stand up to the hard-line minority in her own party, who are a vanishingly small minority across the House of Commons as a whole. Recently, the ubiquitous “sources close to the Prime Minister” have been working very hard to spin the line that she is now prepared to face down some of the extremists in her party. May I suggest that she would make a good start by facing them down by supporting the removal of an unnecessary exit day from the Bill and supporting that Lords amendment?
On the amendments to change “necessary” back to “what the Minister deems appropriate,” I am flummoxed by the idea that it needs to be put into legislation that a Minister only does things that they think are appropriate. Do the Government seriously think that their own Ministers will do things that they think are inappropriate? I know that they do things that I think are inappropriate all the time, but imagine having legally to prohibit them from doing things that they thought were stupid, rather than trying to stop them from doing things that everybody else thinks are stupid.
The Secretary of State, who obviously has much more important things to do than staying to listen to the defence of his legislation, told us twice that “necessary” is not a synonym for logical, sensible or proper. The trouble is that the entire Bill is written on the assumption that Her Majesty’s Government is a synonym for logical, sensible or proper, and, indeed, that the whim of a Minister is a synonym for logical, sensible or proper.
The Government do not have a monopoly on logic, good sense or propriety. A Government who lost their overall majority in this place at the demand of the people of these islands should surely have the humility to accept that sometimes, just sometimes, when the ermine-coated Lords along the corridor disagree with them, they have got it right and the Government have got it wrong.
We will support amendments that seek to guarantee Parliament has a meaningful choice and a meaningful vote on the final deal. This gets presented as somehow usurping the decision of June 2016, but who among us can genuinely claim to have the right to decide whether a final deal, whatever it says, properly delivers the Brexit that people voted for? None of us can because nobody voted for any particular kind of Brexit. They voted for a Brexit. There was not a public vote on membership of the customs union. Nobody voted to leave the single market. Nobody voted to leave Euratom. Nobody voted to damage the United Kingdom economy. People voted for a departure from the European Union. There has been no public vote on the kind of Brexit we should have. The reason there was no referendum on the single market or the customs union is that the Conservative party thought it politically expedient to deny the public that choice.
Certainly not, as currently constituted. If there were a common fisheries policy that actually protected Scotland’s fishing industry, instead of it being used by successive UK Governments as an excuse to sell it out, that might be a different matter.
There has of course been a public vote on the possibility of one of the consequences of a hard Brexit: a hard border across the island of Ireland.
Is my hon. Friend aware that the front page of today’s Financial Times refers to a shortage of doctors? The Tories in Scotland have the cheek to blame the Scottish National party for the lack of doctors, when they are the ones not giving them the visas to get in to the country. The Tories sold out fishing once and then twice. They told us that they would not accept fisheries in the transition agreement and now they are talking as if they are saving the fisheries—the people who have sold out fishermen twice!
Few of us can speak on the fishing industry with such knowledge and authority as my hon. Friend.
The nearest we have had to a public vote anywhere on any of the consequences of a hard Brexit was the public vote against the possibility of a hard border across the island of Ireland. The people of Northern Ireland and the people of the Republic of Ireland overwhelmingly rejected such a notion when they endorsed the Good Friday agreement and, of course, the people of Northern Ireland, the only people in the United Kingdom who would be affected by a hard border, voted to remain in the EU. How can anyone argue that the best way to give effect to those votes is for decisions to be taken by Ministers who represent a party with no MPs in Northern Ireland? The people of Northern Ireland have no way of re-electing or not re-electing those Ministers, based on whether their decisions are in the interests of those people.
Is the hon. Gentleman as outraged as I am that it looks as though we will have no possibility to debate those issues today? Is he as surprised as I am that, unless the Department for Exiting the European Union has not kept its website up to date, we do not even have a Minister from DExEU here listening to the debate?
I can assure the right hon. Gentleman that we are quite used to seeing Government Ministers abandoning their posts as soon as anybody from the third party in Parliament gets up to speak. He will have to take it up with them as to why that might be.
At the end of this entire process, we owe it to ourselves, to each and every one of us, to acknowledge that later this year some Members of Parliament—possibly those on the Conservative Benches, possibly those on the Opposition Benches—may in all conscience want to go back to their constituents and say, “I recognise the way that you voted in June 2016. I respect your right to take part in that vote, but in all conscience I cannot be part of a decision that I believe in my heart of hearts will be deeply damaging to your community and to these islands and nations.” Members of Parliament must have the right to say to their constituents, “On this occasion, what I fundamentally believe to be in your interests differs from what you believe to be your wishes.” Each of us should be given the right to go back to our constituents and face the potential political consequences. I have no qualms whatever about the political consequences of following my own conscience if it is against the wishes, expressed or otherwise, of my constituents. That is a decision all of us have to be prepared to take from time to time.
This is possibly the most important occasion of this Parliament—and of many previous Parliaments. Members of Parliament must be given the opportunity to decide for themselves where they place the balance between what we believe is best and what our constituents have told us they want. If Members of Parliament are not prepared to face up to that very difficult dilemma, there is a question as to whether they should be Members of Parliament at all.
The hon. Gentleman has been very generous in giving way. Surely we cannot ignore a referendum that was voted for by this House. The people made a decision and we cannot go against that decision. To say that perhaps they did not realise what they were doing when they voted to leave the European Union is an insult to the electorate.
I never suggested that, although it is perhaps worth remembering that at least one of the right hon. Gentleman’s own colleagues, a Conservative MP, has admitted that they did not vote in the referendum because the question was too hard for them to understand. I wonder how many other people were in the same position. There is a big, big difference between not fully understanding and being stupid. It is an insult for Conservative Members to suggest that anyone who admits they did not fully understand it, or still do not feel they understand it, is stupid.
My comments were not based on suggesting that people did not understand. My comments were based on the fact that the ultimate responsibility we have is to act on what we believe to be the public’s best interest, not simply to follow what we think will get us re-elected next time around. The fact that so many Brexiteers are horrified at the idea that Members of Parliament should be given the chance to make that statement to their constituents suggests that an awful lot of them think that such a statement may be needed. They think that we will get to the end of the process and a large number of MPs will want to go back to the people and say, “I’m sorry. I supported it this far but I cannot support it any longer because I can see the damage it will cause.” I will leave that for Members to think about. I do not expect anybody to be persuaded just now, but I appeal to Members to think about that over the next wee while. It is fundamental to the nature of the representative democracy we have in this place.
Of course, it goes without saying, on the other amendments the SNP will be supporting, that, in this partnership of equal nations, the elected Parliaments of all the equal nations must have a say on the final deal. They must have a much greater say than they have had up until now. With the contempt shown for the devolved nations through the process so far, it is difficult to believe that the intention has been anything other than inflammatory.
I won’t give way because I know a number of people who did not support the programme motion will struggle to get in.
The mantra of the “most powerful devolved Parliament in the world” has never been true, but it sounds even more hollow if that “most powerful devolved Parliament in the world” can be stripped of its powers by a party that never wanted it to have those powers, never wanted it to exist in the first place and are intent on acting not just against the majority view of the Parliament of Scotland but against the majority view of Opposition Members of the Parliament of Scotland.
In their continued belief that they and only they are the guardians of common sense, the Government are determined to force this place to have a binary decision on whether we accept the final deal. This is the same Government who keep telling us that the customs union is not a binary decision, the single market is not a binary decision and controlling immigration is not a binary decision. The only time it is a binary decision is when they have to make a decision. The Government are determined that the final decision this Parliament will have to take on what the future will be is “take it or leave it”. For some of us, other futures are available. The Government would do well to reflect on that fact before it is too late. If the only choice they offer is take it or leave it, they may find that the people of Scotland, the people of Wales and the people of Northern Ireland will interpret take it or leave it in a very different way from that which the Government intend.
Order. I remind the House of what it knows, namely that the time available for this debate is very limited. I want to accommodate as many right hon. and hon. Members as possible, so we will begin with a limit on Back-Bench speeches of 10 minutes, although it is not obligatory to take the full allocation of time.
I agree with Peter Grant that we should use the language of respect. I, for one—and many of my colleagues, I am sure—would never use words such as “traitor”. We all accept that there are very different views in this place, but this is not the EU negotiating Bill. It is not a Bill designed from its inception to give the Government guidance about what sort of deal we should have. I thought—this has been explained to us many times by the Government—that this Bill was simply to try to transform and transfer, in an orderly way, EU laws into our legal system. That was what I understood the Bill to be; it is not an EU negotiating Bill.
I said earlier that we should use the language of respect. I know that it is not in order to call any Member “disingenuous”, but I think that it is in order to call an argument disingenuous, and I do so now. I respect the House of Lords. I understand that it is not elected. I understand that it should try and improve legislation. I serve on the Procedure Committee, and when the Committee considered these matters, there was a detailed debate on the sifting committee and I could understand how the House of Lords can try to improve how we deal with legislation. That seems entirely sensible and credible, but many of us suspect that these amendments, particularly Lords amendment 19, are designed not to improve the legislation or to improve the sifting process by which we transfer these laws, but to frustrate the whole process.
My hon. Friend will remember that we had many hours of debate and decisive votes before we sent the article 50 letter. That was the point when Parliament made up its mind to back the referendum. We cannot keep chopping and changing.
I agree with that. As I was saying, although it is perfectly in order for the other place to try and improve legislation, when it seeks to frustrate it, I think that Members of the elected House should start to get worried. Lords amendment 19 is very clear in saying:
“Her Majesty’s Government may implement a withdrawal agreement only if Parliament has approved the withdrawal agreement and any transitional measures…Her Majesty’s Government must follow any direction in relation to the negotiations under Article 50” and so on. What would be the result of that amendment? I say to colleagues that we are not just acting in a vacuum. What would be the result if we fail to overturn this amendment from the other place?
No, I do not agree. I talked to my right hon. Friend the Brexit Secretary earlier today. He simply said—he does understand these things—that all the amendment tabled by my right hon. and learned Friend Mr Grieve would do would be to implement what the House of Lords wants to do in fewer words, so I do not accept that, I am afraid. We have to bite this bullet now. We have to support the Government and reject the amendment.
As I was asking, what would be the result—we do not operate in a vacuum—if the House of Lords had its way? Of course it would be a catastrophe for the Government. There would be banner headlines in every single newspaper tomorrow saying that the Government had been defeated and that the whole Brexit momentum was in danger. Much more important than that—this is why I think the argument is disingenuous—is the fact those who support the House of Lords are dressing up their arguments in terms of parliamentary sovereignty. It is in order, is it not, for Parliament to debate and amend a Bill, as the House of Lords can do? That is what we do all the time, but what the Lords really want to do is to create a situation in which the whole process is frustrated.
As has been said again and again, we ourselves voted six to one to transfer this decision from ourselves—uniquely in our history—to the people. They decided to leave. The decision had to be made and Members then voted overwhelmingly. Virtually every single Labour and Conservative Member voted not only to accept the result, but to implement article 50. We have taken the decision. We are a sovereign Parliament. We have made the decision, but we had given that decision to the people.
I go back to my argument about what would happen if the House of Lords had its way and the Government lost this afternoon. Opposition Members are, of course, entitled to cause confusion in the Government ranks. I accept that they may have their own motives, but I appeal to my hon. Friends: what would be the result to our Government if we lost this vote today? It would be a catastrophic blow. I return to the question that I put to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State earlier: what would the European Commission think of that? My right hon. and learned Friend Mr Clarke had a bit of fun about this. He said, “Oh, of course the European Commission knows that there are some arguments and debates.” It would be an open invitation to the European Commission to pave the way for this catastrophic situation in which there is no deal, because it knows that if there is no deal—if there was going to be a disorderly exit—the House of Commons could unpick the whole process, block Brexit and, as Gareth Snell said, reopen the whole process.
These arguments were put—almost as forcefully as my hon. Friend is putting them—when we had our debates before Christmas in Committee. This House then passed an amendment on a meaningful vote, defeating the Government. People had foreseen that that would undermine the Prime Minister, cause an election and represent a crisis, but the next morning, apart from the fact that there was now to be a meaningful vote, nothing stirred. The position of the Prime Minister was not weakened and negotiations have not been hindered. My hon. Friend is putting his arguments with his usual great eloquence but, with great respect, they avoid what we are really talking about, which is the important process of parliamentary accountability.
I am afraid that my right hon. and learned Friend was not listening to his own speech. Was I not listening—was I not two or three feet away from him—when he said that the amendment that we passed earlier was not going to make much difference to the whole process? It was like giving a statement, was it not? What we are talking about is completely different. This really is the ultimate wrecking amendment, and it is not the wrecking of parliamentary sovereignty; it is the wrecking of the will of the people and democracy. There are so many compromises that we all have to make. There are so many things that I do not understand about this negotiating process, and about how we have got stuck on the hook of Ireland, the backstop, “max fac” and all these other things, but the essential thing is this: the people want us to leave the EU. They want to regain control of their borders and they want us to be out of the European Court of Justice. All this Bill does—it is not the EU negotiating Bill—is simply to implement the will of the people. Parliament, do not stand against the people! Implement their will.
Many Members will today be speaking under pressure or while considering different interests. Some will be observing what Chuka Umunna called the pure Churchillian principle of accountability and thinking clearly about our consciences and judgments, while others will be concerned about the will of the people as expressed by their own or other people’s constituents, or by parts of the UK such as Scotland that are distinct. Others will be thinking about their party and, dare I say it, some may even consider the views of their party Whips. People will come to different conclusions and weigh these things differently, and the most vocal people will be those who are not necessarily balancing them with the greatest difficulty. We should respect those on both sides who are struggling to reconcile these different pressures.
We are weighing up a difficult constitutional matter, and two constitutional questions are wrapped up in Lords amendment 19. One is about how we reconcile the rights of a plebiscite with those of Parliament—we have debated that many times, and Sir Edward Leigh was very unambiguous about where he stands—and the other is about how we balance the rights of the Executive with those of the legislature. We have debated that in different contexts. A few weeks ago, we were talking about exactly how to weigh war powers and accountability.
Lords amendment 19 takes us forward in one crucial respect with regard to the so-called meaningful vote. It gives additional clarity. It might be better had we taken the wording proposed by Mr Grieve, but the amendment does give clarity, and it would not have the exaggerated consequences that some have predicted, as was set out very sensibly by Mr Clarke.
No, but stopping Brexit is one option we need to consider.
Although Lords amendment 19 takes us forward, it would not, as the right hon. and learned Member for Rushcliffe just explained, have the damaging consequences anticipated by many exaggerated predictions. It would not necessarily undermine our negotiating position. The EU countries have their own legislation to consider and have already made it clear that their objective is a smooth, quick, clear Brexit. Anything that might cause major disruption—if they were unfair to the UK, for example—and therefore lead to Parliament’s rejecting the deal would not necessarily be in their interests, and they would, I am sure, reject that.
The crucial point, which is made in the article by Professor Bogdanor that the Brexit Secretary has quoted at length, is that whereas the amendment is a necessary step, it is not sufficient, and that is because Parliament cannot overthrow the judgment of the people in a referendum. The article is quite clear about that, and so are the Liberal Democrats, although we approach this from the opposite direction to some of the Brexit supporters on the Government Benches. We believe that when Parliament has considered the final deal or the absence of a deal, the public should have the final say on the matter. This is not an extraordinary observation. Countries that rule by plebiscite, such as Switzerland, regard confirmatory referendums as a matter of course. The people vote and then the legislature and Executive review the matter. At the end, there is a confirmatory referendum to determine whether the people accept the proposal. There is no reason why that should present a problem. It is a matter of fundamental—
I will complete my remarks and then let others contribute.
Our amendment (a) to Lords amendment 19 expresses that thought very clearly. I notice that Dr Lee, who probably more than anyone else is reconciling these different forces today, has accepted that the logic of the position is not simply for the House to have a meaningful vote, but to go back to the people and then accept the result of that vote. Were there to be a vote on the final deal, I would accept it fully, and I would then then work with people who support Brexit to make that work. If we continue on the present path, however, with a definition of Brexit that is narrow and specific, as in the Lancaster House speech—it was supposedly drafted by the Prime Minister’s then adviser—and that many of us would not accept as a proper definition of Brexit, which the Prime Minister has pursued in a stumbling and incoherent way, we will not accept that, and we will not accept the result of the Brexit negotiations even after Brexit has taken place. The public need to have a vote on the final deal at the end of the process.
I think the right hon. Gentleman has completed his speech.
I was amused to discover that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State was a little taken aback by the amendment I tabled late last night. I tabled it with his best interests at heart. Having spent last week understanding that he might imminently be joining me on the Back Benches and realising that Lords amendment 19, if endorsed by the Commons, might precipitate the same thing again, I thought I ought to do what I could to help him. That is why I tabled my amendment, in addition to the one he has tabled, in lieu of the Lords amendment.
I must tell the House that I really am worried: the irrationality of the debate on the detail of Brexit is truly chilling. A person opens their newspaper and discovers they are about to prevent Brexit, when what the House is doing is legitimately looking at the detail of one of the most complex legal and political exercises in which we have ever engaged in peacetime, and, as a result, our ability to have a rational debate entirely evaporates. If we continue in this way, we will make mistakes and not achieve the best possible outcome.
The House of Lords was not acting irrationally when it agreed amendment 19. It had picked up on something that ought to be of great concern to everybody in this House—namely, that although we can make provision for achieving a deal, if we do not achieve a deal at all, we will be facing an immense crisis. It might be that some of my colleagues on the Government Benches are excited at this prospect and think it a wonderful moment, but I am not; I think it will be catastrophic. The question, therefore, is: how do we take sensible steps, in anticipation of this, to try to ensure a coherent process for dealing with it? That is what this is about. It is not about obstructing Brexit.
If we want to obstruct Brexit, there are plenty of other ways to do it. We could replace the Government with one that would like to stop it, although, having already triggered article 50, we would still have to get the consent of our EU partners. There is, then, a complete constitutional incoherence in imagining that the Bill and the way it is presented somehow leads to that dastardly outcome.
My concern about my right hon. and learned Friend’s amendment is that it would change the constitutional balance and separation of powers. There is a perfectly reasonable way of ensuring that the Government do the proper thing, and that is a vote of no confidence. As long as the Government maintain the confidence of this House, they ought to be able to negotiate international treaties, but if they fail in their negotiations, the House has a remedy that has been a remedy for very many years.
I take my hon. Friend’s point, but I would like him to consider for one moment the last part of my amendment, new section 5C, which deals with what happens if, on
I agree entirely with my right hon. Friend. Let me explain. I did take on board the Government’s concerns regarding the Lords amendment, but I could see that the micro-management of their negotiating position after the autumn, if there were no deal, could present difficulties. My amendment sought to avoid that by doing two things. First, it sought to provide a mechanism whereby no deal, if there is no deal, must come to this House. That would provide great reassurance to all Members that there was a system in place to deal with the position. Similarly, there would be a system in place to deal with the rejection of a deal, and finally—and only then would there be a mandatory condition —a system that would operate if by February we were still faced with an impossible position of having no deal at all.
Of course I accept that my right hon. and learned Friend and other colleagues wish to discuss further the role that Parliament will play in all the Brexit scenarios that may present themselves to us. We cannot bind the negotiations, nor can we disrespect the referendum result, but—as my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State said in his speech—we do commit ourselves to meeting to see how we can build on Her Majesty’s Government’s amendment (a) in lieu today, ahead of the Bill’s stages in the House of Lords, and to meeting my right hon. and learned Friend tomorrow in order to make that important progress on what we have achieved today.
I take my hon. and learned Friend’s comments at face value, and I am most grateful to him for making them. He must understand, however, that, as usual when we reach this stage of a process, we face some difficult challenges. There is a Lords amendment, and if we agree to it, that is what will go into the Bill. Alternatively, we may endorse the Government’s approach and support the amendment in lieu. The Government could, I think, adopt my amendment; it is a rather arcane procedure, but they could include it. If they do not want to do that, however, I shall need some pretty cast-iron assurances that when the Bill returns to the Lords, with the Government’s amendment in lieu, we will implement significant parts of what I have put forward, because we cannot allow a situation in which there is no mechanism for dealing with no deal.
Overnight, I read my right hon. and learned Friend’s amendment (ii) to Government amendment (a) very carefully, and I think that there is much merit in the approach that he urges the House to adopt in subsection (5A). I need more time to think about the other parts of the amendment—[Interruption] —but by indicating my position on a key part of it, I am indicating that the Government are willing to engage positively ahead of the Lords stages.
Again, I am very grateful to my hon. and learned Friend, and let me say to the House that I do not think his views should be dismissed. I am conscious that if we are to make progress, we ought to try to do this by consensus. However, my hon. and learned Friend must also understand—as my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State must understand—the difficulty in which the House finds itself when faced with a choice of this kind. I have been through the same process in opposition and now in government. If the House makes the concession of allowing the dialogue to continue—and I can see the merit in that—it must be done in good faith. Let me say to my hon. and learned Friend that without that good faith, the other place will put the amendment back in, and the good will will be gone when the Bill comes back to this House.
I can give my right hon. and learned Friend that assurance. Everything that I do with him and other colleagues is always in good faith, and that will remain the case.
I am grateful to my hon. and learned Friend. I was glad to hear what he said about the principle—which, in my view, is entirely innocuous—that
That is not exactly rocket science. The second principle is that there must be a mechanism providing for a Minister to come to the House of Commons by a suitable date—and I think
I know that subsection (5C) causes my hon. and learned Friend much more difficulty. I understand the constitutional issue, and I will come to that before I finish my speech; but the reality is that without a mechanism whereby the House can properly shape the crisis that will be enfolding us at the end of February if we have no deal, we will do it in an ad hoc way, which is likely to be infinitely more damaging to the wellbeing of the citizens of the United Kingdom than putting together a package that can be looked at now.
As usual, I am listening very carefully to my right hon. and learned Friend’s observations. They will form a clear basis for a formal set of discussions that we can start at the earliest opportunity ahead of the Lords—
Order. I do apologise, but the Solicitor General must address the House. This is not a private conversation with another Member, conducted sotto voce. I want the whole House to hear what the Solicitor General wants to blurt out, preferably briefly.
I am grateful to my hon. and learned Friend. Obviously the House will have to make up its mind about how it wishes to proceed, but, as I have said, there must be a proper understanding of the disquiet that is felt on both sides of the House.
I know that the Solicitor General has spoken in good faith, but would it not be best for those discussions to take place in a forthright way, for us to vote with their lordships for their lordships’ amendment, and for the Government to return to the matter in the House of Lords after the discussions?
Both my right hon. and learned Friend and I accept without hesitation the good will of our hon. and learned Friend the Solicitor General, who is doing his best to resolve the slightly odd situation that we are all in. I think that the majority of Ministers—although I do not know about my hon. and learned Friend—would give my right hon. and learned Friend the undertaking for which he is asking now, and that the majority of our party would be quite happy with an arrangement of the sort proposed in his amendment. However, all we can have is what we had in Committee—offers of good faith, discussions and earnest attempts—because our proposals will be vetoed by the hard-line Brexiteers in the Government.
No. I am sorry.
Let me end by saying this. The idea that it is wrong, in a crisis, for Parliament to direct the Government what to do is plainly fallacious. It cannot be right. We are entitled to do that. Of course, if the Government do not want to do what we direct them to do, that is another matter.
Order. We will have one more speech of up to 10 minutes, but then the limit will have to be cut, because I want to accommodate the maximum number of colleagues.
It is with some hesitation that I involve myself in the negotiation that the Government are clearly attempting to conduct with their own Back Benchers. I simply want to observe that this is the single most important amendment that we will be discussing today and tomorrow in relation to the role that Parliament should and indeed must play in determining what kind of Brexit happens.
I simply do not accept the argument that the Secretary of State and other Conservative Members have advanced in trying to suggest that this proposal is somehow illegitimate or improper, or is intended to overturn the result of the referendum. Is it improper for this House to decide that in leaving the EU, we wish to remain within a customs union with it? Is it improper for this House to decide that we wish to remain in a single market, or to continue to have the European arrest warrant system, or that we want to co-operate in future with our friends and neighbours on foreign policy, defence and security? If the answer to all those questions is no, it is not improper, this Lords amendment is about giving Parliament the ability to ensure it can exercise that judgment when the time comes. It seeks to make it clear who will be in control when we come to the end of the process: the Government can go away and negotiate, but they will have to win the consent of the House when they return.
The Government’s attempts to neuter the Lords amendment will not work for a number of reasons that have been set out already. I say to the Solicitor General that, frankly, we do not have more time, which is why this is the moment when we have to make the choice. Secondly, as has been clearly pointed out, it makes no provision for what happens in the event of there being no deal. The House is aware of what the consequence of no deal would be for the border in Northern Ireland, our trade, the rights of British citizens abroad and EU citizens here, future co-operation on security and many other matters.
Given all that the right hon. Gentleman has been outlining, is it not fascinating that when Brexiteer MPs ask themselves about a vote on Brexit, they fear they will lose it and therefore that Brexit will be reversed? That displays no confidence in their argument at all.
I say to the hon. Gentleman that the British people have made their decision about the fact that we are leaving the institutions of the European Union in March next year, but it is for this House to decide the way in which we leave and the future of our relationship with our friends and neighbours, who will remain our friends and neighbours after we have left.
I will not give way again as many other Members wish to speak.
The question is: who decides what happens next in the circumstances either of there being no deal or of Parliament rejecting the deal the Government bring back in October or November? In the event of a rejection I think it is pretty safe to assume that Parliament will, in moving an amendment to the motion asking for approval of the withdrawal agreement, set out its reasons why. Parliament might say for example that it declines to give approval to the withdrawal agreement because it makes no provision for the UK remaining in a customs union with the EU. In those circumstances, as many Members— including Mr Clarke, the Father of the House—have made clear, it is perfectly reasonable for the House of Commons then to expect the Government of the day to go back to those with whom they have been negotiating. As always happens in negotiations, people come back and say, as the Chief Whip is now experiencing, “I’m really sorry, I have tried, but the Members will not wear it; we need to talk about doing something else.” It is perfectly reasonable for the House to do that; otherwise, as we have heard many times, the notion that we have somehow taken back control has no force whatsoever.
We need a mechanism that can enable the House to have its say both in the event of there being no deal because an agreement cannot be reached and in circumstances where the House of Commons says it does not accept the deal the Government have brought back.
Members have spoken with real passion and concern—and we will no doubt hear from others subsequently—about this means of ensuring that Parliament can have its say. I read in the newspapers over the weekend about people asking, “Is this really the right time to be voting not with the Government and in support of the Lords?” While we could argue that in relation to the big question of whether we should remain in a customs union or the single market, because other opportunities to address that will come before the House in the Trade Bill, that is not true of the question of a meaningful vote, as this is the one opportunity we have before the end of these negotiations in October—
My hon. Friend is correct: it is the only opportunity to make it clear to the Government that we intend to have our say when the negotiations have been concluded. This is the one chance that we have to exercise the sovereignty that all of us believe properly rests with this House, whether we voted leave or remain in the referendum. I hope very much that the House, recognising that this is its one chance, will take that opportunity by voting later today for Lords amendment 19.
Order. I am sorry to disappoint colleagues but do so in the spirit of maximisation: a six-minute limit now applies.
I have never written a speech before and then had it typed out, Mr Speaker, and now I do not know why I bothered: not only have you cut the time, but you can see how the debate has advanced.
I am sorry but I am going to speak, as ever, frankly. This has got to stop; this is unseemly; this is the most important piece of legislation that this House has considered arguably since the second world war, and we sit here and watch a peculiar sort of horse-trading over the perfectly excellent amendment put forward by my right hon. and learned Friend Mr Grieve, who served in the Government for decades—[Interruption.] He served in the Government for a number of years, but he has served this party for decades and he has never rebelled once. I gently say to my hon. Friend Sir Edward Leigh, who in just eight years rebelled 58 times, and to the Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union, who along with my right hon. Friend Mr Duncan Smith rebelled in total 160 times, that we here understand the concept of being loyal to leadership and, indeed, being true and honourable to our principles—and I believe they are men of conscience and principle.
Let us look around us at what is happening. There are good men and women of great ability, and indeed courage, who are, unfortunately, no longer in our Cabinet, such as my right hon. Friends the Members for Ashford (Damian Green), for Putney (Justine Greening) and for Hastings and Rye (Amber Rudd)—all great people who have been lost from our deeply divided Cabinet. Never before have we had a Cabinet that is so divided, and with some of its most senior people, who hold the greatest offices of state, at every twist and turn, when our Prime Minister moves towards securing a Brexit that will serve everybody in our country—the softest, most sensible of Brexits—both publicly and privately undermining her and scuppering her attempts. It simply has to stop, and the moment for it to stop is now.
I know absolutely that the Solicitor General is a man of great honour, whose word will always be true, but I say with the greatest respect to him that he is not the most senior person around today and it is not his decision. He knows that I say that as somebody with great respect and love for him. So where is the Secretary of State? All he has to do is accept the amendment of my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Beaconsfield. If he does not, he will force Members who for decades have never before rebelled to traipse through a Lobby or sit and abstain, just as they did in the Lords—and who I will support in each and every one of those important amendments on the EEA and the customs union and amendment 19.
Those Lords were Members of this place once; they include a former Chief Whip, a former Deputy Prime Minister, more Secretaries of State than we could shake a stick at, a former Leader of the House, and two former party chairmen. For decades they were always loyal to every leader. Meanwhile, there lurk some, I am afraid, who for decades have plotted and connived. They have got rid of leaders and anybody and anything that stood in their way, and they will continue so to do. Even if they are supported by Russian bots and their dirty money, they will do what they have had a lifetime’s ambition to do, which is to take us over the cliff into the hard Brexit that my constituents did not vote for. I will continue to represent my constituents. We reckon that overall 52% voted to leave, but the 48% who voted to remain have been put to one side in this process and ignored. That has to stop. We have to come back together and we have to do the right thing.
I know and understand how difficult it is for many of my colleagues to go through the Lobby and vote against their party, but I say this: I am getting a little tired of the right hon. and hon. Members on the Back Benches, in government and even in the Cabinet who come up to me and others in quiet and dark corridors; of the British businesses that demand private meetings in which they lay bare their despair but refuse to go public; of the commentators who say to me, “You’re doing a great job. Keep on going”, in the face of death threats which have meant that one of our number has had to attend a public engagement with six armed undercover police officers—that is the country that we have created and it has got to stop; and to the journalists who fight nobly for every cause but on this, this most important of issues, are mute. It has got to stop. Everybody now has to stand up and be true to what they believe in.
Finally, Mr Speaker, I hope you will give me time to find and read out some great words:
“The House is made up of 651 robust individuals whose position gives them a powerful say in what the Executive can and cannot do. The powers of the House are sovereign and they have the ability to upset the best-laid plans of Ministers and of Government, which no Minister ever forgets, and nor should any Back Bencher”.
Those words were true then, and they are true now. They were spoken by the Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union. Accept the amendment!
Anna Soubry has spoken with passion and clarity, and above all she has spoken about courage and about putting our country first. I should like to pay particular tribute to Dr Lee, who has done exactly that today. This involved personal sacrifice—and who knows what the electorate might do in the future—but he is using his judgment and making an assessment about what is in the best interests of his constituents, and that is greatly to be respected.
I was fascinated to hear the exchange between Mr Grieve and those on the Government Front Bench a moment ago. It seems to me that the obvious solution would be for the Government to signal that they will accept the amendment in lieu tabled by the right hon. and learned Gentleman—
No, I am not going to give way. There are lots of others who want to speak—[Interruption.] No, sit down.
If the Government were to accept the amendment, and if the House were to approve that—as it would, because this would be done by consensus—that issue would then go to the House of Lords. Through the discussions that would subsequently take place there, it might be amended or tweaked in some way, and there would then be an opportunity for the other place to send it back here for final confirmation. However, if the right hon. and learned Gentleman were simply to take the word of Ministers on this question—I understand that that sometimes happens—the leverage of this House could be lost if those discussions came to naught.
We have to be realistic, and there is an issue here. If the Government wanted to accept the entirety of the amendment, that could probably be done this afternoon and that would be the amendment that went back to the Lords, incorporated in theirs. In fairness to the Government, I have always appreciated that there might be some tweaking to be done. I understand that. Having said that, does the hon. Gentleman agree that there needs to be some certainty that the substance of this amendment will come with the acceptance of the Government in the other place?
That is right, and a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush. I suggest that it is far better to have that amendment in the Bill as it goes to the other place, which may decide to tweak or change it following discussions. That seems to reflect what feels like the majority view in the Chamber today on the need for a sense of certainty that something will be done. This is not just a matter of one Minister, because a Minister’s word can be given and then changed—
No, I will not give way.
Ministers can come and go, but we across this Chamber need that level of certainty. We of course accept the fact that there will be further discussions. The question about taking back control was put to us consistently throughout the referendum. As someone was saying earlier, we obviously cannot call hon. Members hypocrites, but we can point out the hypocrisy in general of the argument of those who might have said in one breath that we should take back control and then had the audacity to come here and say, “Oh well, the UK Parliament clearly has to be cut out of this issue altogether.” I know that we were all elected in 2017 on a mandate drawn up subsequent to the referendum. Our mandate, collectively, has a value, and we should not diminish that and pretend that we should be cut out of this process altogether when there are so many things at stake.
This is not a binary question, and I do not believe that the British people voted to take back control from Brussels only to give that control unilaterally and in its entirety to the Prime Minister and her friends. This is a matter for us, and our constituents would expect nothing less than for us to say, “Hang on a minute, what about our jobs in the manufacturing sector? What about the car industry? What about those who work in the financial services sector?” All the people working in those sectors have the right to expect us to do our job with due diligence.
Mr Clarke has rightly pointed out that we could find ourselves in a situation in which no deal is reached because the discussions and negotiations have collapsed. There is no certainty that the motion would then come forward. When the Secretary of State was intervened on and asked what would happen if no deal were to materialise, he said that the Government would come forward with a statement. When he was asked how the Government were going to prevent us from falling over the cliff, no answer was forthcoming. This is an incredibly important point. We have a duty to safeguard our constituents from harm. That harm could affect not only their livelihoods and their jobs but all the revenues that taxpayers pay towards our public services. So if we care about our NHS, we have to ensure that there is a safeguard in place. If we care about schools and council services, we need this insurance policy in place. We should not go through such a crucially important issue without those particular safeguards.
Does my hon. Friend recall that, during the general election, the Prime Minister said that she was being obstructed in Parliament and needed a big majority? Well, she got her answer at that election. Coming back to another point that my hon. Friend has made, the midlands rely on trade, and we should not be jeopardising hundreds of thousands of jobs in the west midlands.
My hon. Friend says it perfectly. We would be failing in our duty if we were simply to delegate all our decisions to the Prime Minister and say, “That’s it. Everything has been done.” Leaving the customs union or the single market was not on the ballot paper, and those are things on which we have a right to express our view.
I want to conclude. The other problem with the deal is the future relationship, because when that motion comes, my constituents expect that it will be about not just the divorce proceedings, the money and the process of leaving, but what our future relationship will be. It must be. If there is simply a side of A4—a flimsy statement of words—with the famous “fudge” that we are so used to hearing about stapled as an annex to the back of it, that will be unacceptable. We have a duty to press Ministers to do a proper deal that safeguards our constituents’ interests. As MPs, we must ensure that we exercise pressure on Government to do things properly.
The right hon. and learned Member for Beaconsfield clearly now has the majority of the House with him, because we would not see the Government Chief Whip scuttling around so rapidly—I have never seen him move so quickly—trying to find a form of words. I hope that the right hon. and learned Gentleman will take this opportunity to get his amendment in lieu in the Bill now and send it to the House of Lords. The Lords can always amend, change it or look at it again, and we can come back to this next week and do things properly. It is not our fault that only 12 hours were allocated to this whole ridiculous process; we could have had far longer. The Government have made their bed, and they must now lie in in it. They set up this process, and they cannot realistically complain, “Ooh, I didn’t have the chance to read this overnight.” If they want a particular change, they need to accept the will of the House. They can always table amendments in the House of Lords. That seems the best way forward.
Order. With the last speech on the six-minute limit, I call Sir William Cash.
I am somewhat troubled by what Mr Leslie just said, not least because he wants to kick the matter back to the House of Lords. I thought that the whole argument in respect of the amendment tabled by Viscount Hailsham was about the primacy of the House of Commons. Why would we go back to the other House and ask the Lords for an opinion when it is this House that voted 6:1 in favour of having a referendum? Furthermore, this House endorsed the decision taken by the people to leave the European Union. That is what is now being put under pressure, and it is complete nonsense—junk—to suggest that the amendment about the meaningful vote is not in fact an attempt to reverse the decision of the people.
“If no political agreement has been reached”, the Government must come back for
“a resolution in the House of Commons”.
That is exactly the same thing as in proposed new subsection (5) in Lords amendment 19. It is not a compromise; it is a wrecking amendment.
I am most grateful to my hon. Friend, because I have the texts of the two amendments in front of me and was just about to make the point that they are not that different. Both state that the Government
“must follow any direction in relation to the negotiations under Article 50(2)…which has been—
(a) approved by a resolution of the House of Commons”.
What on earth is that supposed to mean? There is no way in which this House of Commons—650 Members of Parliament—can arrive at a motion that would prescribe what the Government will do in the negotiations. It is not simply a question of whether we are somehow or other departing from normal constitutional procedures; it is that the amendment is complete nonsense and makes no sense.
Furthermore, what would such a resolution say? I heard Hilary Benn, who chairs the Exiting the European Union Committee, talk about the customs union and the single market and so forth. However, the amendments talk about approving a resolution of the House of Commons. Who would devise it? What would it say? How on earth would we get 650 people to agree either on what the motion would say or on what the outcome would be?
I have listened to this debate with great interest, and I must say that this is just a cover for a reversal of the decision. That has to be said, and it has to be said clearly. I find it extraordinary that there should be some attempt to throw the matter to the House of Lords so that they can then tell us—we, the people who are elected by the people of this country, who themselves were given the right by the transfer specifically of the responsibility to make the decision on behalf of themselves, their families and future generations—what to do. This is what people fought and died for, which is who governs this country. I say—[Interruption.]
Order. The hon. Gentleman must be heard. I have never known him to be shouted down, and now is not going to be the first time.
Thank you, Mr Speaker. You did quite a good job to shout down the shouter downers.
The reality is that this is about who governs this country. This country is governed ultimately by an Act of Parliament that gave the sovereign right to the people. It was a deliberate and voluntary transfer and—the primacy of the House of Commons rests in this—it was done by 6:1 in this House. Some Opposition Members did not vote for that referendum.
My hon. Friend knows that I am not a remoaner and that I am completely committed to delivering Brexit, but he is not being fair to the thinking behind the amendment. Many of us are committed to delivering Brexit. Our fear is this, and the question for him is this. I do not want to tie the Prime Minister’s hands or to put her negotiations in Europe at the whim of this great colourful Parliament. I want her to be able to go and negotiate, but if we were to vote down a deal or have no deal, is his view that the House would then be locked into accepting no deal, or that this sovereign House at that point should have the ability to say to the Prime Minister, “Go back and push harder”?
I absolutely disagree with the notion that this House has the right to overturn the decision taken by the people. Furthermore, approval on the terms of the amendment is completely unacceptable. I repeat that the amendment states that the Government
That is not acceptable for one simple reason: the decision was taken by the people. We gave them that decision and we have to stand by it.
Order. The hon. Gentleman has concluded his oration, and we are grateful to him. The time limit is now reduced with immediate effect to four minutes.
The most important point is that we should not be complacent about no deal, first of all for security reasons, which was precisely the point the Prime Minister made in her letter to Donald Tusk notifying the European Commission that we were leaving the European Union. She said in terms:
“In security terms, a failure to reach agreement would mean our cooperation in the fight against crime and terrorism would be weakened.”
That was not a threat, but a very simple statement of the truth and of the fact. Consequently, we should not be complacent about the fact that there may be no deal—I do not think the Prime Minister is complacent.
I fear that there is not much overlap in the Venn diagram of what the Chancellor of the Exchequer, the Foreign Secretary, Conservative Members and Parliament will vote for, and what the European Commission will allow, so there is a real possibility that we will end up with no deal. That is why I say to the Government and to the Solicitor General that we have to have a resolution of this matter today, not in future days.
I was wrong when I said earlier to the former Attorney General, Mr Grieve, that we could come back to the Lords amendment if we accepted it. However, what is true is the point made by several hon. Members that, if the Solicitor General accepts the right hon. and learned Gentleman’s amendments, they could go back to the House of Lords, which can tidy up afterwards. I honestly say to the Solicitor General that I believe that that is the view of the majority. If I am honest, I believe it is also his view. For that matter, if the Secretary of State were here, and if he were not the Secretary of State, it would probably be his view as well. It was certainly his view in every previous debate that the fundamental principle is that, of course the Government govern, but in the end, Parliament governs the Government.
We have to have government by consent. My anxiety about the way the Government have conducted this whole process is that they do not seem to think that they have enough power. Surely the processes before us today show that they have phenomenal power. We can vote only on matters that the Government allow us to vote on today. The only way we can move forward on the amendment tabled by the right hon. and learned Member for Beaconsfield is if the Minister allows it. The Government have phenomenal power in our system and this is just a brief moment when I think this House would like to say to them, “Go on, you know that that is what the will of the House is. There is no need to divide the Conservatives Benches. There is no need to divide the House on this. Just accept the amendment from the right hon. and learned Member for Beaconsfield and we can all move forward.”
Resigning ministerial office has been an incredibly difficult decision. I did that in order to support my right hon. and learned Friend Mr Grieve—my trusted friend—in his attempt to amend the Government amendment to Lords amendment 19. I am devastated to have had to take this decision. I owe the House an explanation and there are four points I would make.
For me personally, this is a matter of deep principle. I believe in the Burkean principle that our institutions guarantee our human rights. Most important of all, a Government’s first responsibility is to protect their citizens. That is usually understood in military terms, but I believe it applies more generally. It means that, sometimes, when a majority of our people want something that is against the good of society, the Government and Parliament have a responsibility to protect us. That was the case on the death penalty, when for decades politicians went against the majority view and refused to reinstate it. I believe it now needs to be the case on the Brexit process.
I thank my right hon. Friend for that. I believe there is growing evidence that shows the Brexit policy our Government are currently pursuing to deliver on the 2016 referendum is detrimental to the people we were elected to serve.
I congratulate my hon. Friend on his courageous decision. Does he agree that there is no majority in this House or in the country for a destructive, cliff-edge, no-deal Brexit?
I agree with my hon. Friend on that and would add that I am not convinced there is a majority for such a Brexit in my constituency. It is fundamentally important that Parliament should have a voice so that it can influence the final outcome, in the interests of the people it serves. A fake choice between a potentially bad deal and a cliff-edge no deal—a vote between bad and worse—is not a meaningful choice. It would breach such fundamental principles of human rights and parliamentary sovereignty that we would not recognise it as being valid in other countries, and it is not one that our Parliament should accept. In all conscience, I cannot bring myself to vote for it in this bastion of liberty, freedom and human rights.
The people of Bracknell are my first and most important responsibility, as their Member of Parliament. It now seems inevitable that the people, economy and culture of my constituency will be affected negatively, and I cannot ignore that, as it is to them that I owe my first responsibility, as their Member of Parliament. I must be able to speak out on their behalf on this greatest political issue of our age. It is important at this point to clarify that the Brexit vote in the Bracknell constituency in the 2016 referendum was not clearcut; the Bracknell Forest part of the constituency was marginally in favour of Brexit, whereas the Wokingham part was more strongly in favour of remain. But this is not about whether we Brexit or not. I voted to remain in the 2016 referendum and still believe that, despite the European Union’s manifest flaws, that would have been the better strategic course for our country at the time. In this interconnected world, it is nations with allies that will thrive. But we cannot and should not turn back the clock. The point is that, if Brexit is worth doing, it is worth doing well.
It is a huge sacrifice to give up ministerial office. For the past two years, I have been completely committed to enabling our criminal justice system to serve our society better, in a small way bringing some influence to bear to help to make our society more just and secure. The experience has been deeply humbling. I am incredibly sad that I cannot reconcile continuing in ministerial office with representing my constituents’ best interests or my own integrity.
I fully support the Prime Minister’s leadership and strong Conservative Government. It would be dishonourable, and indeed unprofessional, and it would undermine the leadership that the Prime Minister and our party can give our country, and that it so badly needs at this time, if I were either to keep quiet or to criticise the Government’s approach from within. In politics, as in the medical profession, trust and integrity are fundamental. The principle of collective responsibility is also important. That is why I felt that I had to choose this course. I urge my parliamentary colleagues to follow my lead and vote to give our great institution, this House of Commons, and our constituents and our country the powers it needs to leave our children a legacy of which we can all be proud.
Dr Lee said that if Brexit is worth doing, it is worth doing well. I absolutely agree, and I absolutely agree that people in the country want to see Brexit being done well. That means leaving the European Union properly by getting out of the single market and not being in the customs union. If we stay in either of those, we are not really leaving the EU.
I urge the House to reject Lords amendment 19. I spent a few hours—I was going to say “an interesting few hours”, but it was not particularly interesting—reading the entire House of Lords debate on that amendment, as I am sure most Members in the Chamber have. I regret very much that many leading Lords made it clear that they wanted to stop Brexit. I believe that Lords amendment 19, dressed up as it is in the language of parliamentary democracy, is not right and not true. If that means saying that it is disingenuous—if that is the word we have to use—that is what it is, although I would probably use a stronger word.
No, I will not.
The people of this country will see that Lords amendment 19 is really about trying to go back on Brexit. Their lordships can say what they want, but that amendment is actually about reversing Brexit. We want to take back control, but taking back control was about the people of this country taking back control and our complying with our constitutional duties as a parliamentary democracy.
The European Commission has tried to be as negative and difficult as possible, and I find it absolutely amazing that anyone would think that if, at the end of the day, we did not negotiate a good deal and we said no, we would send that back for renegotiation. Do hon. Members really think that the European Commission would give us a better deal if it knew that the more obstructive it was, the more likely it would be that any deal would be sent back for renegotiation? The reality is that the European Commission does not want us to leave. It does not want to give us a good deal; it wants to punish us.
No, I will not.
If Lords amendment 19 is agreed to, it will be a recipe for the EU to try to get no deal so that we will have to go back from this Parliament, cap in hand, and ask for changes. What it really wants is for those changes to be staying in the single market, staying in the customs union, still having the European Court of Justice looking over us, still paying our money—more and more money—and reversing the decision. Whatever is said today, this is really about whether we believe in giving people the right to have their say. We said in the letter that went to everyone, which that cost a huge amount of money:
“This is your decision. The Government will implement what you decide.”
The hon. Gentleman is right that all the manifestos referred to honouring Brexit by leaving the customs union and the single market. Labour put it in a slightly more nuanced way but, particularly in leave areas, people were told that we would be leaving the single market and the customs union.
This will be very important vote. As we have heard, it is absolutely crucial that we do not allow Lords amendment 19 to be carried. Today we must make a decision. We either support those 17.5 million people who voted to leave, or we say that we will allow people who really want to stop Brexit—by using procedural mechanisms, legal challenges and legal words—to put the whole thing in doubt. I am confident that, in the end, we will not allow the Lords—the unelected House of Lords, which is full of former EU commissioners and people who are funded by the European Union—to decide what we are going to do.
Order. We will now have a three-minute limit.
In the three minutes available, let me just focus on what I think is at the heart of the argument made by my right hon. and learned Friend Mr Grieve. He is trying to deal with a situation in which either we cannot reach agreement, or this House does not support the Government’s policy. His approach is well meaning. He is trying to do the right thing, as the Solicitor General indicated during the debate, but his amendment is flawed for two reasons. I am reasonably attracted to the first two provisions, which would give the Government an opportunity to set out an overall strategy and invite the House to support it. I think that that would strengthen the Government’s hand, but the third provision is deeply flawed because it would set a time period after which the House would give the Government detailed instructions.
We must remember that this is a negotiation. If I were on the other side of the negotiating table looking at that mandate, I would stall and delay until the Government were in a position in which either they were forced to take whatever poor deal was on offer, or they were forced by this House to do so. That, I know, is not the intention of my right hon. and learned Friend.
The Solicitor General, who is a man of great honour, was making an offer on behalf of the Government. The right way forward is for the House to support the amendment proposed by the Secretary of State. The discussion could then take place, and the Government have given a very clear commitment that they will table an amendment in the House of Lords to reflect that discussion. That is the right way to achieve the outcome that we all want.
Some Members who have spoken in support of that course of action advocated leaving the European Union. I, like many colleagues who are nervous about the amendment tabled by the Secretary of State, advocated remain. I accept the decision that the public have made. I want to reach a good deal, but I also want the Prime Minister to have the best possible opportunity—the strongest cards to play—to get us such a deal that the House will find acceptable. That is the course that my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Beaconsfield and those who support him ought to follow. The Solicitor General has set out the right course, and I urge my colleagues to support it.
I was utterly horrified when I saw this morning’s headlines in The Sun and the Daily Express. Those particular tabloids do not own patriotism in this country. When we hear a speech such as that made by Dr Lee, we know that there are patriots on both sides of this House who are willing to vote with their conscience, and with their constituents and the interests of their country at heart. I hope that all hon. Members will examine those three things when they vote today. That is what I intend to do throughout this process. It is what I have been doing, and it is what the hon. Member for Bracknell has made clear that he is going to do.
We have talked a lot about taking back control in this place. Unfortunately, the Government have, on a whole series of occasions, attempted to frustrate this process and Parliament’s ability to get information about their plans, whether by keeping papers in the Treasury or attempting to frustrate the release of others. Even for Members who have a wide range of views on Brexit and how the process should go, the Government are attempting to say that it is their way or the highway. That is not acceptable, which I why I support the Lords amendment on a meaningful vote, and I hope that all others will do so as well.
This week, Alex Kalinik—a constituent of mine who campaigned with me for a remain vote in the referendum—sadly died a week before his wedding, aged only in his 30s. He was an individual of great integrity and passion. He worked in the steel industry, but believed passionately in having a close economic relationship with our European partners. Earlier this year, we lost another good friend, Will Cousins, a young man who campaigned passionately as part of the “stronger in” campaign and as a part of Open Britain. Of course, we also lost our very deeply missed friend, Jo Cox, nearly two years ago. Like me, she was passionate about our relationship with our European neighbours.
We are in this place—indeed, in this life—for a very short time. There are some things on which we will compromise, make amends and move over, but when it comes to the very big and defining issues of our time, of which this is one, we should be voting with our conscience and in the interests of our country, and we should be doing so in the interests of a better future for all our constituents.
When I talk to people on Dover high street about the situation with Europe, they say to me, “Why haven’t we left already?” I tell them, “Well, we are now having debates on things like meaningful votes,” and they reply, “But we had a meaningful vote—we had a meaningful vote in a referendum two years ago, and you guys up in Westminster are just endlessly rediscussing that referendum.” In that referendum, I backed remain. I thought that leaving Europe would be big project that would take up a lot of our capacity as a country, and I urged caution on my constituents, but they were really clear that they wanted to leave the European Union.
We need to respect the result of the referendum. I take a very pragmatic approach that, having had the instructions of my constituents and knowing their clear view, my duty is to discharge the instructions that I have very clearly been democratically given by the people. Those people are my master and I am their servant, so their wishes and requirements ought to be honoured. And that goes for the country as a whole. The country as a whole had a referendum and made a decision. We need to make this work and we need to get the best position for Britain.
That brings me to the next question. When people say, “Parliament should approve this,” what do they really mean? What will they think across the channel? What deal will they want to offer us? The people in the European Commission are not stupid. They can see how the numbers stack up in our Parliament. They can see that, if this provision on a meaningful vote is passed, they could offer us any kind of rubbish deal and the Government would be in a position whereby the Commission would have this country over a barrel. If we want this country to have a really bad deal, measuring the level of this country’s problems in billions of pounds, and if we want to get the worst possible accommodation and the worst possible departure from the European Union, this is how we would achieve it.
That is why, while I have the utmost respect for my right hon. and learned Friend Mr Grieve, I would say to him that his proposal is not the right way to proceed. We cannot micromanage the negotiation but, worse than that, we cannot have a negotiation where we cannot walk away from the table as the other side knows that we will never be able to do so. I urge the House to take the pragmatic approach of supporting the Government’s amendment in lieu, which will enable us to have an effective negotiation and support the national interest.
I want to focus my remarks on Lords amendment 19, which is about the fundamental question of the engagement of Parliament in the process and the outcome of Brexit.
It has been argued that the amendment has been tabled to, in essence, frustrate the Brexit process, but that could not be further from the truth. At its heart, this debate is about what we mean by a meaningful vote. The Prime Minister and other senior Ministers have promised Parliament a meaningful vote. I echo the words of the noble Lord Hailsham, who said that
“in a parliamentary system of government, parliamentarians, and in particular Members of the House of Commons, have a right and a duty to determine what is meant by ‘a meaningful vote’.”—[Official Report, House of Lords,
Vol. 790, c. 1847.]
If the decision of Parliament, on the basis of good argument or after effective scrutiny, is to reject the terms of the deal, then Parliament should have the right to determine and suggest further negotiations or options on how we move forward. There is an important principle that did not get as much of an airing in the Secretary of State’s speech as I would have expected—namely, the role of Parliament. In a parliamentary democracy, is it not right that whatever the outcome, deal or no deal, this country’s future should be determined by Parliament—ultimately, by the House of Commons—and not by Ministers? That is what ought to be meant by a meaningful vote.
It is in the interests of this country for there to be an orderly, stable and predictable Brexit process that enables businesses and families to plan ahead and do all they can to manage the risks of transition—a point often made to me by businesses in my constituency. If the Government are as confident as they make out about getting a good deal, they should have no problem accepting this amendment.
The hon. Lady claims that she is very worried about the fact that we could have a bad deal or no deal, but will she not concede that in advocating amendment 19, she is more or less guaranteeing that the EU will offer us a bad deal to create a constitutional crisis in our country?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for that comment, but I do not agree.
Legislation is passed in this House not just to plan for when things go well but to provide protections and a route map for actions when things do not go well. There may well be an honest intention to reach a deal by October 2018, but there is no guarantee. I am not talking down the Government’s negotiation attempts, but there is a real possibility that that may not happen.
Let me be clear: this is not about an unnecessary extension of, or thwarting of, the process; it is about providing for clarity in this House, in the circumstances that may arise, about what happens in the final months before Brexit. This can only be helpful in managing the risks of Brexit for our country in the event that a deal is well under way but not reached, or that a deal has not been agreed. It would certainly not be against the spirit of the referendum result, and it could be precisely in the national interest at the time.
As a remainer who voted to remain and campaigned heavily to remain, and who would do so again if we ever had another referendum—not that I am advocating that—I think it is fair that Members on both sides of the House raise their concerns about the economy and the effect on jobs and trade. As you know, Mr Speaker, I am still involved in business to this day, so this has a potential personal impact on me. It is quite reasonable that colleagues will want to see the substance of this deal. That is the temptation, but it is not a position I advocate, for a number of reasons.
The Prime Minister has sought to mitigate the effects of leaving, even in difficult circumstances. We have to keep this in perspective and take into account the fact that our exports to the European Union account for around 12% of our trade and of our economy. We also have to remember that the Prime Minister is quite rightly taking a staged approach to withdrawal, which involves staying in the customs union until we have customs processes in place, and maintaining regulatory alignment until we negotiate a reasonable new approach.
Subsection (5) of the new clause proposed in Lords amendment 19 raises the prospect of the Government following “any direction” that Parliament gives. Similarly, new subsection (5C) proposed in amendment (ii) to Government amendment (a) in lieu of Lords amendment 19, tabled by my right hon. and learned Friend Mr Grieve, raises the prospect that Parliament will simply send the Government back to the negotiating table. What will happen if we go back to the negotiating table and the European Union says no? There is no clarity at that point. It opens up and allows the possibility of staying in the EU for an extended time, with no clarity about how long that will be; it may be weeks, months or years. We should remember that those on the other side of the negotiating table do not want the United Kingdom to leave the European Union, and that raises the prospect of their being even more difficult in those negotiations, which are very difficult in the first place.
I have heard a number of times that the meaningful vote might or would enable the European Union to give us a bad deal. I argue that it is the contrary. A UK Government with any wit about it would say to their negotiating opponents, “We’ll never get this through Parliament unless it is improved.” It actually strengthens their hand in the negotiations, rather than weakens it, if they have any wit about them.
I find that assessment of the circumstances very hard to follow. We are not negotiating on our own; we are negotiating with another party, and clearly it is in their interest to put a bad deal on the table in that situation. That would delay the exit process, which is effectively what these amendments seek to do. I am not saying that my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Beaconsfield is looking to frustrate the process of Brexit, but it would delay the process of Brexit and raise the possibility of that process never happening at all. We are handing over the negotiating advantage to the EU.
I thank my hon. Friend for giving way. I want to reiterate the commitment that I have given at the Despatch Box on behalf of the Government to further discuss the matter with my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Beaconsfield and others. I am particularly interested in new subsections (5A) and (5B) of his proposals and want to use that as the basis of a structured discussion as we reach the Lords amendments.
I advise the hon. Member for Thirsk and Malton that others wish to speak.
I would like Members to speak for two minutes each and no more.
I say to the Secretary of State that if he goes naked to the negotiating table—flaunting it all—it is because he and his supporters have conducted their ideological warfare on the airwaves and in our newspapers, not because of any votes we may have today.
The Liberal Democrats have tabled amendment (a) to Lords amendment 19, which would provide people with a final say on the deal. It would be an opportunity to test the will of the people, and I do not quite understand why the Government—and, indeed, the Brexiteers—are so scared by the concept of testing the will of the people.
We have heard a lot about the will of the people, and I must say that it is now the only reason the Government can deploy for supporting Brexit. If we look at the economic grounds, we know from the impact assessments that it will do us damage. On the diplomatic grounds, our friends despair at what we are doing. On the security grounds, we hear threats and counter-threats about not delivering on the security agenda. On savings, we know there will not be any because, among other things, the Government will have to set up a whole series of parallel institutions doing exactly the same thing as the EU ones. On trade, do we really think we are going to get a huge boost from trade with Trump as a protectionist President?
Our amendment (a) to Lords amendment 19 would provide the people with an opportunity to have their views known on this subject, against a background in which much has changed since the referendum vote two years ago. It would give them a say on the final deal, which they are entitled to and deserve, and I think that would put this issue to bed once and for all.
The key difference between Lords amendment 19 and Government amendment (a) is that, in the event of a no deal scenario, the Government amendment simply requires a statement, while the Lords amendment in effect grants Parliament a power to issue negotiating directions. On the face of it, it looks attractive to say that if the Government cannot deliver, the Commons should be able to step in, but on these procedural amendments, I can see the other side of the argument.
Governments negotiate treaties, under the terms of the royal prerogative, and Executives govern, and I am not one who would wish to undermine that concept except in the most extreme circumstances. That is what I have been weighing up in recent days. I also recognise that the proposal in Government amendment (a) concedes the Lords request that Parliament should gain a legal right to a veto on an international agreement. I believe that this would be the first time such a veto had been allowed in law in the UK, and it moves us into line with the European Parliament approvals. It is fair to say that, in the past few days, the Government have gone some way to address the concerns on this issue.
In my considerations, I have been no little influenced by the Prime Minister, who I sincerely believe wants the best deal possible for the UK and who is asking to be able to go to the June EU meeting with the freest possible hand. However, if the Prime Minister gets the deal this country needs, even with the Government concession in their amendment (a), there is still no plan B if Parliament then rejects the deal. That is why I think the new compromise, tabled last night by my right hon. and learned Friend Mr Grieve, moves towards the balance required in retaining both constitutional integrity and practical requirements. I was therefore very pleased to hear the Secretary of State say that this issue will now be looked at again in the Lords, and the Solicitor General reinforced that in his earlier comments.
Two great dramas are being played out. The Father of the House asked how we, as part of a representative system of government, should implement a referendum result. There has also been a drama on this side of the House. Two thirds of Labour constituencies voted to leave—
May I just say to the right hon. Gentleman that with regard to the issues we have been discussing, I and the Government are looking very carefully at amendments that may be tabled in the other place? Such amendments will be the product of any discussions I have with my right hon. and learned Friend Mr Grieve.
For the referendum, it was not four sides, but a small telephone directory of people—they are generally talked about in a disdainful way—who were saying they had nowhere else to go. My real concern is what happens to representing those key Labour interests. I hope that there will be those further discussions and, in the process of coming to a good resolution and ensuring that the majority of the two thirds of the Labour constituencies are well represented, may I be part of any of those private discussions?
I want to say how grateful I am that the Lords have given the consideration they have to the Bill, and they have improved it considerably before sending it back to us. I accept that the Solicitor General has given an important concession today and I would have supported the Lords amendment had that concession not been made.
Order. I am sorry, but time is up— [Interruption.] Order. We are all governed by the programme motion, which the House voted to agree. I have no vote in these matters; the House adopted the programme motion.
Three hours having elapsed since the commencement of proceedings on consideration of Lords amendments, the debate was interrupted (Programme Order, this day).
The House divided:
Ayes 324, Noes 302.