Uk’S Withdrawal from the EU

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 4:45 pm on 27th February 2019.

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Photo of Hilary Benn Hilary Benn Chair, Committee on Exiting the European Union 4:45 pm, 27th February 2019

My right hon. Friend is absolutely right. This is a challenge the House will face the moment it has voted for an extension, because I am sure that is what the European Union will say to us.

I am setting out what I think are the three alternatives that would be available to the House at that point. The first requires agreement. I do not think the Prime Minister is prepared to give that; that is what the evidence shows. The second would require the European Union to change its approach to the negotiations completely. It would be the sensible thing to do, but the EU may not agree. The third—the one we will be left with if we cannot agree—will be to go back to the people and ask them what they think.

I simply want to say that I welcome the decision that my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition announced on Monday. It cannot have been an easy decision to make, and I do not at all underestimate the difficulties of holding a second referendum. However, it would in those circumstances answer the question from the European Union about what the extension is for. When it comes to the question in such a referendum, to me it is clear: the only deal that has been negotiated to leave—the Prime Minister’s—even though it would have been rejected by Parliament, and the alternative of remain, because there is not an alternative leave on the table. Let me say to those who might want to jump up and say, “What about no deal?”: first, if we go back to the referendum of 2016, nobody on the leave side argued for leaving with no deal—nobody; secondly, we know how damaging it would be; and, thirdly, why should an option that was never before the British people in 2016 suddenly appear on a ballot paper in 2019, if we have a referendum?