European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 3:13 pm on 29th January 2019.

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Photo of Kenneth Clarke Kenneth Clarke Father of the House of Commons 3:13 pm, 29th January 2019

None of us taking part in this debate is in any doubt that we are actually discussing an almost unique political crisis—one of a kind that has not happened for very many years. The crisis takes two forms: one is that we are trying to break a political deadlock over exactly what changes we will make to the great bulk of our political, security, intelligence, crime-fighting, trade and investment, and environmental relationships with the rest of the world, having turned away from the ones that we have put together over the past 47 years; the second is that we are also facing a constitutional crisis over the credibility of Government and Parliament in their ability to resolve these matters. I rather agree with what Frank Field said. I enjoy as much as any veteran parliamentarian the rowdiness of the House of Commons; it is a way of testing the arguments. However, we should also be aware that, at the moment, the public are looking on our political system with something rather near to contempt, as it seems to them that neither the Government nor the political parties, parliamentarians and politicians in general seem able to resolve a question that was first raised by a referendum. Referendums are designed by those who support them to bypass parliamentary decision making, parliamentary majorities and political parties deciding things. We really do need to settle down, and, perhaps if the Government get their way, we can do that in the next few weeks. We have fewer than 60 days to decide how we will come to conclusions about the way forward.

I want to concentrate on just a few issues. I have put forward most of my views on these amendments in the many debates that we have had already, and many other people want to speak. I suspect that a high proportion of this House can guess which way I will vote on the amendments that Mr Speaker has chosen. Probably far too many of them have had to listen to my arguments. To take some encouragement from this debate—