EU Withdrawal Agreement

Part of Bill Presented – in the House of Commons at 3:09 pm on 18th December 2018.

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Photo of Keir Starmer Keir Starmer Shadow Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union 3:09 pm, 18th December 2018

I thank the SNP for securing this debate and the Speaker’s Office for granting it.

It is obvious that we have reached an impasse. The Prime Minister spent two years negotiating a deal that she now knows cannot command the support of this House. I am not trying to make a point against the Secretary of State, but I think he acknowledged just a moment ago that he accepts that the deal currently before the House is not going to get the support of the House. That is therefore the position of the Prime Minister and the Secretary of State.

But rather than confront that reality, the Prime Minister refuses to put her deal forward for a vote this week, instead kicking it into the new year. The problem for the Prime Minister and the Secretary of State is that it is accepted that this deal cannot command the support of the House, but abundantly clear from last week’s EU Council that the Government cannot renegotiate the withdrawal agreement. So the one thing the Prime Minister and the Secretary of State know needs to happen for the position to change was rebuffed last week, and, at most, only non-binding “clarifications” could be possible. That is the impasse.

The President of the EU Commission said that there is “no room whatsoever” for renegotiation. The Commission spokesperson said:

“The European Council has given the clarifications that were possible at this stage, so no further meetings with the United Kingdom are foreseen.”

I do not suppose that informal meetings cannot go on, but there will be no formal meetings. I think some of us thought that there might just be the chance, coming out of last week’s summit, that there would be a further round, or a few days, of further negotiations by the teams, but that is not going to happen. The EU Council statement made it clear that the withdrawal agreement is “not open for renegotiation”.

However much the Prime Minister or the Secretary of State—for understandable reasons, perhaps—pretend otherwise, that is now the reality that we face, and that is why the vote needs to come back to this House this week. This deal cannot be changed by the Prime Minister, new negotiations are not even taking place, and we have only three months before the 29 March deadline. The Government’s response—to delay, to play for time, and to hope somehow that the deal will look more appetising in the new year—is not going to work. The reality is that the Government are running down the clock, but running down the clock is not governing, and it is certainly not governing in the national interest. Observers sometimes say to me that the Prime Minister is resilient, but this is not resilience—it is recklessness.