European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 4:37 pm on 29th January 2019.

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Photo of Hilary Benn Hilary Benn Chair, Committee on Exiting the European Union 4:37 pm, 29th January 2019

Well, in truth, it is very hard to see what she can come back with if my right hon. Friend is correct in his assessment. It is odd, to put it very gently, that we are spending so much time on the backstop, which is something that the Government signed up to more than a year ago, when we really should be debating the most important issue: the future of our relationship with our European neighbours. The reason why the defeat was so large, certainly in relation to those on the Opposition Benches, is that we are not prepared to sign up to a deal that, far from giving the nation certainty about the future of that relationship, has shrouded it in fog and mist that is entirely of the Government’s own making. My preferred approach, as Members will probably know, is to be part of the European economic area and a customs union. Other Members have different views, which is why I put down the amendment calling for indicative votes as recommended by the Select Committee. Although the Prime Minister today appeared to be unenthusiastic about indicative votes, she spent most of her speech hoovering up indicative suggestions, mainly from those on her own Benches. I gently say to her that, one day, she may find herself climbing into the “little rubber life-raft”—to quote a former Prime Minister—of indicative votes. Until that central issue is addressed and until the Government are honest with the House about the choices that we have to make, we will continue to remain in our current state—businesses will continue to remain uncertain about their future and, frankly, the public will continue to ask us, “What on earth is going on?” That brings me to the amendments that seek to prevent us from leaving the EU without an agreement in just 59 days’ time.