European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 4:15 pm on 29th January 2019.

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Photo of Yvette Cooper Yvette Cooper Chair, Home Affairs Committee 4:15 pm, 29th January 2019

My hon. Friend is right. We should be able to have a calm and measured debate, not all this shouting.

There have been different ways to do this at every stage. Two years ago, the whole House came together when both remain and leave voters voted to trigger article 50. I voted to do so and called at the time for a cross-party commission to oversee the options and negotiations. I called repeatedly on the Prime Minister to consult and to build consent. I went to see Ministers about it, and I went to see them again a few weeks ago to see if progress could be made and to urge them to reconsider the red lines. I made customs union-related proposals to Select Committees and, through the Select Committee on Home Affairs, suggested reforms to security co-operation and immigration as part of the Brexit process. Many of us have called repeatedly on the Government to simply pin down what they think the future of our country and of our relationship will be, instead of this blindfold Brexit in which nothing is resolved.

We have also called on the Government to build consensus. As I said after the general election, if we want a sustainable deal that does not unravel in a year or two and does not end up being undermined because there is so much disagreement, not just in this House but across the country, efforts must be made to build consensus on a deal. None of that has happened, and none of it is happening now either. Instead, we feel more divided and our country feels angrier and more confused than ever. People are sick of all the chaos, and the problem we face is that if we end up with no deal in just two months’ time, that chaos and that division will get worse.

The Prime Minister’s repeated delays mean that there is a real risk that the issue will not be resolved on time. There were 24 months to negotiate under article 50: five of them were used for a general election and another 16 were run down before the Government even came forward with the Chequers plan. It was left until 22 months had gone before we even had a vote in Parliament on the Prime Minister’s deal. There was no consultation on her red lines and Parliament was not given a vote on the mandate.

Those delays and failings are why we are here now. Unless the Prime Minister changes direction and her approach, I fear we will reach the brink. Saying the same things again and again will simply make it more important to have in place my amendment and my Bill, to ensure there is a safety net to prevent no deal on 29 March. I have always believed that the Prime Minister would not let that happen, and that she would flinch when it came to the crunch; that she is not the sort of person who would want to make other people suffer because of her delays and mistakes. However, when I look into her eyes now, I am worried that that has changed because she is trapped.

Every time the Prime Minister has had the chance to pull back and reach out, she has done the opposite. Every time she has had the chance to think about the country, she has instead turned to the party. Every time she has had the chance to build bridges, she has instead turned to the hardliners who simply want to set those bridges on fire. That is why I and a group of other, cross-party MPs and Committee Chairs have put forward amendment (b) and this Bill—to try to get the Prime Minister to think again and to make sure that Parliament has a safety net.

The amendment makes time to pass a Bill. It would give the Prime Minister and the Government until the end of February to sort things out. If they have not done so by then, MPs would get a binding vote at the end of February on whether to seek a bit more time and to extend article 50. We should bear it in mind that that would be just one month before the UK could crash out with no deal at all.

Neither the amendment nor the Bill block Brexit or revoke article 50—nor should they. They simply give Parliament the right to vote on whether to extend article 50 if time has run out.