Exiting the European Union

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 10:00 pm on 11th March 2019.

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Photo of Keir Starmer Keir Starmer Shadow Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union 10:00 pm, 11th March 2019

I do not complain for not having had advance notice of the Minister’s statement. I am not sure that he has got advance notice of it. [Laughter.]

What an absurd situation the Prime Minister has got herself into. Having lost the meaningful vote on 15 January by an historic majority, on 29 January the Prime Minister stood at the Dispatch Box and told this House that she would seek legally binding changes to the backstop. Her precise words, standing at the Dispatch Box, were this:

“What I am talking about is not a further exchange of letters but a significant and legally binding change to the withdrawal agreement.”

Let us see what document is put on the Table tomorrow. I did not hear the words from the Dispatch Box that the withdrawal agreement is being changed. She said:

“It will involve reopening the withdrawal agreement…I can secure such a change in advance of our departure from the EU.”—[Official Report, 29 January 2019;
Vol. 653, c. 678-9.]

She then voted for an amendment in the name of Sir Graham Brady, which called for the backstop

“to be replaced with alternative arrangements”.

It sounds as if none of that has happened, nor is likely to happen.

Turning the joint letter from President Tusk and President Juncker of 14 January into an interpretation tool—a legal interpretation tool it may be—adds nothing. The statement that there is no duty to replicate what is in the backstop is here in the letter of 14 January. That is not new. That is not today; that was in the letter. If all that is happening is to turn this letter into an interpretation tool for legal purposes, I remind the House what the Prime Minister said on 14 January about the letter. She said that she had been advised that this letter would have “legal force in international law”. To stand here today and say that this is a significant change, when she is repeating what she said on 14 January, is not going to take anyone very far.

We will look at the detail. We will look at whether the withdrawal agreement has been changed. [Interruption.] I am looking forward to the reaction tomorrow when the withdrawal agreement, unchanged, will be on the Table. [Interruption.]