EU Withdrawal Agreement: Legal Changes

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 3:39 pm on 11th March 2019.

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Photo of Jeremy Corbyn Jeremy Corbyn Leader of Her Majesty's Official Opposition, Leader of the Labour Party 3:39 pm, 11th March 2019

This is a Government in chaos and a country in chaos because of this mess. I left my office at 20 past 3. At that time, Downing Street was unable to confirm who would be responding to my urgent question. It seems that the WhatsApp group, a lottery or something has chosen Mr Walker to reply to the House, when my question was to the Prime Minister.

We find out from journalists and the Irish Government that the Prime Minister is apparently heading to Strasbourg this evening, or not heading to Strasbourg this evening, hours before a meaningful vote is due. The Prime Minister was clear and categorical on 26 February. She said:

“I want to reassure the House by making three further commitments. First, we will hold a second meaningful vote by Tuesday 12 March at the latest”— there are still 24 hours to go, so who knows? She also committed to a vote on no deal by 13 March and a vote on whether to extend article 50 by 14 March. She then concluded:

“They are commitments I am making as Prime Minister, and I will stick by them”—[Official Report, 26 February 2019;
Vol. 655, c. 166-7.]

This is a matter of trust. Time and again, the Prime Minister has failed to negotiate, failed to compromise and delayed and delayed. After three months, she has not achieved one single change to her deal. As we have often said, she has simply run down the clock, leaving us with a choice between her deal and the chaos of leaving the EU without any agreement. It was a bad deal in December, when it was first tabled; it was a bad deal in January, when it was rejected by the largest parliamentary margin by which any Government has ever been defeated; and it is still a bad deal today, 11 March.

These shambolic negotiations and endless delays are having real-life consequences in workplaces across the country: businesses are holding back on investment, jobs have been lost, workplaces are closing, workers fear for their jobs and the national health service and public services are having to spend millions of pounds preparing for a no-deal outcome, which the House has already clearly rejected.

Can the Prime Minister, I mean the Minister—I am sorry that the Prime Minister cannot be here, apparently—tell us what changes the Government have got to the backstop and when the Attorney General will publish his apparently new legal advice, or is it that, after three months of delay, nothing has changed? Given that they whipped their MPs to vote for the amendment in the name of Sir Graham Brady, which said the deal could only be supported with changes to the backstop, will the Prime Minister be voting against her own deal if no changes have been secured?

Will the Minister confirm that we will, absolutely, have the meaningful vote tomorrow, and that it will not be delayed yet again? Will we also have the vote to rule out no deal on 13 March, and the vote on extending article 50 on 15 March, as promised? If the deal is rejected again tomorrow, will the Prime Minister shift her red lines, and show that she is not just willing to meet Members, but willing to compromise with them as well?

This chaos cannot go on for much longer. The fate of people’s workplaces, jobs and businesses is at stake as the Government fail to negotiate and there is simply dither after dither, and then further delay. It is time for answers.