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 will wait to see the detail, but as I understand it the withdrawal agreement is being placed on the Table tonight for a vote tomorrow—this agreement unchanged. If I am wrong about that and the document has been changed, I am sure I will be corrected in just a minute.

That cannot be described as legally binding changes to the backstop. Nor could the steps outlined—we will have to see what they are in full—allow the Attorney General to change his opinion that under international law the backstop would endure indefinitely until a superseding agreement took its place in whole or in part. Members of the House will recall that in the Attorney General’s advice last time, he focused on the fact that the only remedy under the withdrawal agreement for breach of the good faith or best endeavours obligations is a temporary suspension of obligations unless and until the parties return to the negotiating table in good faith. That was announced just now as part of the breakthrough new agreement. It is there in article 178(5) on page 292, and has been since the document was signed off on 25 November. So that is not new either.

It sounds again as if nothing has changed, and if that is right, the Prime Minister is left with a pile of broken promises. It is as much a matter of trust as of substance. I am sure that many tomorrow on the Government Benches will be disappointed when they look at the detail. They should be disappointed, but not surprised. We have repeatedly raised questions about the Prime Minister raising expectations that she could not meet. The whole approach has been misguided and the fault lies squarely at the Prime Minister’s door, so can the Minister now please confirm: does the whole Cabinet support the position as it now is? When will the House receive the Attorney General’s updated legal advice? And I ask for a straightforward answer to the question: is a single word of the withdrawal agreement different now from the document that was agreed on 25 November?

This has been a wholly unsatisfactory 24 hours, but symptomatic of the last two years. Tomorrow, the House will express its view. These Benches will reject it. We expect the House to reject it and then we can move on and break the impasse.