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

I apologise to the hon. Lady, but I must explain to her that I refer to her and her colleagues as Irish Members of Parliament in the same way that I would refer to myself as an English Member of Parliament, or perhaps to a colleague as a Welsh or Scottish Member of Parliament. [Hon. Members: “Northern Irish.”] She is Northern Irish. I can assure her that not only do I agree entirely with the views she just expressed about what we are seeking here, but I am as keen a Unionist as she is, and I do not wish to see the break-up of the present United Kingdom. I think that she and I are in total agreement.

The other thing I would support, which arises in the context of one of the amendments we are talking about, is that the Government obviously should no longer resist this House having indicative votes. It is absurd that we have been trying to get a debate and a vote on some of the more obvious things for months now, and as time goes on, the Government are still trying to make it difficult to have a vote on them. When we have the votes, no doubt the Government and the Opposition will start imposing three-line Whips on everybody to take a narrow focus, trying to take us all back towards the failed withdrawal agreement or the rather confused Labour party policy and ensuring that we shoot down every other sensible proposition. There are quite a lot of sensible propositions flying around the House that are superior to the policy of the Government so far and certainly superior to the policy of the Leader of the Opposition. Indicative votes enable us in the time available—to shorten delay further—to give an expression of will and an instruction to the Government about the nature of the long-term arrangements that we want.

To go back to where I started, the circumstances at the moment mean that we have to strive to restore confidence in our political system, our political institutions and, above all, this House of Commons and ensure that an outcome of that kind emerges, because if this shambles goes on much longer, I hate to think where populism and extremism will take us next in British democracy.