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European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 5:00 pm on 29th January 2019.

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Photo of Graham Brady Graham Brady Chair, Conservative Party 1922 Committee 5:00 pm, 29th January 2019

My right hon. and learned Friend Mr Grieve made it very clear that he welcomed some of the changes that have taken place, as well as the debate that we are having, but that was not a dramatic procedural change; I am talking about things that go right to the heart of how this place is run. As Mr Speaker will recall, many years ago I had the pleasure of serving on the Select Committee on Reform of the House of Commons, which became known as the Wright Committee, and I have a long history of interest in reform of Parliament. I am very proud of changes that we achieved, and we sought to achieve others as well. However, I warn colleagues of the danger of doing these things without considerable forethought and consideration; we are often stuck with changes for many years or decades, and they can have unintended consequences.

I shall speak briefly to my amendment (n). I tabled it having seen the agreement reached at Chequers, and the progress made towards a withdrawal agreement that clearly not all of us could embrace with great enthusiasm. It became obvious to me, for a variety of reasons, including the fact that we do not have an overall majority in the House of Commons and the complexity of the arrangements, that it would be necessary to compromise. As we worked towards the withdrawal agreement, I thought we might reach a point at which there was a compromise that we could embrace, if only with a lack of huge enthusiasm. However, there was in the withdrawal agreement one compromise too far. It was not, it is important to say, the whole concept of a backstop. The compromise too far was the possibility that, as brought forward, the backstop arrangement, which was explicitly never intended to be other than temporary, could become a permanent arrangement, and so lock in a situation in which Northern Ireland was treated differently from the rest of the United Kingdom perpetually, and in which the whole United Kingdom was locked in the customs union in perpetuity. That is why I could not support the withdrawal agreement when we voted two weeks ago, and I know it was the most important, but not the only, reason why so many Conservative colleagues—and, I think, Democratic Unionist colleagues—were unable to bring themselves to support the agreement.

After the defeat of the agreement by such a big majority, the fashionable idea took hold that there was simply nothing that the House could agree—no majority for any arrangement that could possibly deliver the result of the referendum and take us out of the European Union in an orderly fashion. I do not believe that that is true. I hope to demonstrate with amendment (n) that there is an agreement that can win majority support in the House of Commons. By voting for the amendment, we can send the Prime Minister back to Brussels to negotiate, having strengthened her hand.