European Council

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 3:31 pm on 17th December 2018.

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Photo of Theresa May Theresa May The Prime Minister, Leader of the Conservative Party 3:31 pm, 17th December 2018

We are looking at new ways of empowering the House of Commons to ensure that any provision for a backstop has democratic legitimacy and enabling the House to place its own obligations on the Government to ensure that the backstop cannot be in place indefinitely. But it is now only just over 14 weeks until the UK leaves the EU, and I know many Members of this House are concerned that we need to take a decision soon. My right hon. Friend the Leader of the House will set out business on Thursday in the usual way, but I can confirm today that we intend to return to the meaningful vote debate in the week commencing 7 January and hold the vote the following week.

When we have the vote, Members will need to reflect carefully on what is in the best interests of our country. I know that there are a range of very strongly held personal views on this issue across the House, and I respect all of them. But expressing our personal views is not what we are here to do. We asked the British people to take this decision; 472 current Members of this House voted for the referendum in June 2015, with just 32 voting against. The British people responded by instructing us to leave the European Union. Similarly, 438 current Members of this House voted to trigger article 50, to set the process of our departure in motion, with only 85 of today’s Members voting against. Now we must honour our duty to finish the job.

I know this is not everyone’s perfect deal—it is a compromise—but if we let the perfect be the enemy of the good, we risk leaving the EU with no deal. Of course, we have prepared for no deal, and tomorrow the Cabinet will be discussing the next phase in ensuring we are ready for that scenario. But let us not risk the jobs, services and security of the people we serve by turning our backs on an agreement with our neighbours that honours the referendum, and provides for a smooth and orderly exit. Avoiding no deal is only possible if we can reach an agreement or if we abandon Brexit entirely.

As I said in the debate earlier this month, do not imagine that if we vote this down, a different deal is going to miraculously appear. If you want proof, look at the conclusions of this Council. As President Juncker said, it is the “best deal possible” and the “only deal possible”. Any proposal for the future relationship—whether Norway, Canada, or any other variety that has been mentioned—would require agreeing this withdrawal agreement. The Leader of the Opposition and some others are trying to pretend that they could do otherwise. This is a fiction.

Finally, let us not break faith with the British people by trying to stage another referendum—another vote that would do irreparable damage to the integrity our politics, because it—[Interruption.]