[5th Allotted Day]

Part of European Union (Withdrawal) Act – in the House of Commons at 3:21 pm on 9th January 2019.

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Photo of Keir Starmer Keir Starmer Shadow Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union 3:21 pm, 9th January 2019

It is a pleasure finally to be able to resume this debate.

Thirty days ago, on 10 December, the Prime Minister told the House that the meaningful vote would be deferred. She did, of course, do so without consulting the House on the issue. The ground that she laid out on 10 December was that if the Government

“went ahead and held the vote”,

which was due to take place the next day,

“the deal would be rejected by a significant margin.” —[Official Report, 10 December 2018;
Vol. 651, c. 23.]

That was her judgment call. She said that she would do everything possible “to secure further assurances”, particularly over the issue of the Northern Ireland backstop.

The Leader of the House went further, saying:

“going back to the EU and seeking reassurances, in the form of legally binding reassurances” was

“absolutely doing the right thing”.

The implication was that this was a pause to allow further assurances—legally binding reassurances, according to the Leader of the House. The International Trade Secretary, with his usual foresight, said:

“It is very difficult to support the deal if we don’t get changes to the backstop.

I am not even sure the Cabinet will agree for it to be put to the House of Commons.”

That was his assessment.

Those were senior members of the Cabinet, indicating to Parliament and to the country that the deal, the proposition before the House, needed to be changed if it were to be voted on and not defeated by a substantial majority. They were, of course, challenged. They were challenged on the basis that this was just a way of delaying and avoiding a humiliating defeat, and they were running down the clock. Now, 30 days on, those rebuttals ring hollow.

The Prime Minister is often mocked for saying that nothing has changed, but this time nothing has changed. The proposition before the House today is the same proposition as the one that the Prime Minister put before the House on 5 December, when she opened the initial debate. I have my own copies of these two documents, but the two copies that I have here were laid on the Table at the beginning of the debate. They are the proposition that is before the House, and, as everyone in the House knows, they are precisely the same two documents that were put before the House on 5 December. When we go through the Lobby next Tuesday, we will be voting for or against these two unchanged documents.