May I welcome the assurances that the Secretary of State gave in a very clear way from the Dispatch Box at the beginning of this debate? The first is that the Government will stick to the 29 March date for leaving the EU. It is important to do that from the point of view of giving the Prime Minister the leverage that she needs in the negotiations. I know many Members have pooh-poohed this today, but many ordinary people outside wonder what kind of idiots we are here in this House if we think that it is wise to send someone in to negotiate and, at the same time, say to them, “And by the way, you’re not allowed to walk away from those negotiations”. Ordinary people on the street understand the importance of that, and to give the Prime Minister the best chance, we have to stick to that particular date. That also removes the element of uncertainty. If we leave this open-ended, businesses will not get the certainty they require because they do not know what the future will be. Indeed, the shadow spokesman, when he talked about extending article 50, spoke about going to the beginning of July. That is another date. We either decide we have a date, or we do not.
I was also pleased that the Secretary of State said that the Government are seeking an alternative, especially an alternative to the backstop. I know that Mr Clarke said that the backstop is of no consequence, but it is of great consequence. As the EU confirmed this week, the backstop would lead to Northern Ireland having to be regulatory aligned with the rest of the EU and part of the customs union. It has spelt out the consequences of that. It would mean systematic checks on trade between Northern Ireland and Great Britain at ports and airports. For me, that rips up the Union, it hurts the Northern Ireland economy and it is certainly of consequence.