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

Let me just deal with this question and then I will give way to the hon. Gentleman if his point is relevant.

The question is, what is the role of this House vis-à-vis the Government and what are our procedures? I must admit that, in the past month or two, I have listened to what I, as a fairly experienced Member here now, have regarded as the most extraordinary nonsense about sweeping away centuries of tradition and distorting our procedures because people have objected to the Speaker selecting amendments where they think they might not be on the winning side. There is a rather fundamental, underlying problem here. This Government did not start this, but Brexit brought it to its head. I think that it started with the Blair Government, because Tony Blair, with the greatest respect, never could quite understand why he had to submit to Parliament so often. He started timetabling all our business and so on, but that is now water under the bridge. I say with respect that, mistakenly, this Government began by saying that they were going to invoke the royal prerogative, and, as it was a treaty, they felt that Parliament would not be involved in invoking article 50 or any of the consequences because the monarch would act solely on the advice of her Prime Minister, trying to take us back several hundred years. That was swept away. Then we had to have defeats inflicted on the Government last summer in order to get a meaningful vote on the outcome of any negotiations. This has gone on all the way through the process. Today’s debate and the votes that we are having tonight are only taking place because the Government actually resisted the whole idea of coming back here with any alternative to the deal that they were telling us was done and fixed and the only way of going forward. That has worried me all the way through.

Now, I did take the Prime Minister today to be taking a totally different approach, and I hope that she will confirm that. It does now seem that, whatever course we decide on today, things are going to come back to this House. No deal of any kind is going to be ratified until we have had a vote in this House, approving whatever we are presented with. One problem is that we have not yet produced a consensus or a majority for any option, but if this House expresses a clear wish about the nature of the deal that it wants to see negotiated, the Government will consider—indeed, I believe that under our constitution, they are bound to follow—the wishes of the House of Commons, because British Governments have never been able to pursue these matters without the consent and support of a majority of the House of Commons.