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European Union (Withdrawal) Act

Business of the House (Today) – in the House of Commons at 1:59 pm on 12th March 2019.

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Votes in this debate

  • Division number 354
    A majority of MPs voted not to approve the proposed EU withdrawal agreement, the rejected agreement involved the UK leaving the union but generally remaining subject to union laws and rules until the end of 2020.

[Relevant documents: Statement that political agreement has been reached pursuant to section 13 of the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018, including Instrument relating to the Agreement on the withdrawal of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland from the European Union and the European Atomic Energy Authority, Declaration by Her Majesty’s Government of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland concerning the Northern Ireland Protocol, and Joint Statement supplementing the Political Declaration setting out the framework of the future relationship between the European Union and the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland; Political Declaration setting out the framework for the future relationship between the European Union and the United Kingdom pursuant to section 13 of the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018; and Agreement on the withdrawal of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland from the European Union and the European Atomic Energy Community pursuant to section 13 of the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018.]

Photo of Theresa May Theresa May The Prime Minister, Leader of the Conservative Party 2:03 pm, 12th March 2019

I beg to—[Interruption.] You may say that, but you should hear Jean-Claude Juncker’s voice as a result of our conversation. I beg to move,

That this House
approves for the purposes of section 13(1)(b) of the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018 the following documents laid before the House on Monday 11 March 2019:

(1) the negotiated withdrawal agreement titled ‘Agreement on the withdrawal of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland from the European Union and the European Atomic Energy Community’;

(2) the framework for the future relationship titled ‘Political Declaration setting out the framework for the future relationship between the European Union and the United Kingdom’;

(3) the legally binding joint instrument titled ‘Instrument relating to the Agreement on the withdrawal of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland from the European Union and the European Atomic Energy Community’, which reduces the risk the UK could be deliberately held in the Northern Ireland backstop indefinitely and commits the UK and the EU to work to replace the backstop with alternative arrangements by December 2020;

(4) the unilateral declaration by the UK titled ‘Declaration by Her Majesty’s Government of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland concerning the Northern Ireland Protocol’, setting out the sovereign action the UK would take to provide assurance that the backstop would only be applied temporarily; and

(5) the supplement to the framework for the future relationship titled ‘Joint Statement supplementing the Political Declaration setting out the framework for the future relationship between the European Union and the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland’, setting out commitments by the UK and the EU to expedite the negotiation and bringing into force of their future relationship.

It has been eight weeks since this House held the meaningful vote on the Brexit deal. On that day, Parliament sent a message: the deal needed to change. In response, the Government have worked hard to secure an improved deal that responds to the concerns of this House. I took the concerns of this House about the backstop to the EU and sat down with President Juncker and President Tusk. I spoke to every single EU leader, some on multiple occasions, to make clear to them what needed to change. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union worked tirelessly with his opposite number, Michel Barnier. My right hon. and learned Friend the Attorney General engaged in detailed legal discussion with his counterparts in the European Commission. The result of this work is the improved Brexit deal that is before the House today. I will go on to explain in detail what has improved about the deal since January and why I believe it deserves the support of every Member this evening.

Photo of Frank Field Frank Field Chair, Work and Pensions Committee

Is not one of the problems the House faced in the previous session with the Attorney General that we were seeking legal answers to what are essentially political questions, and the political question we now face is that if we do not pass this motion, we stand to lose Brexit in its entirety?

Photo of Theresa May Theresa May The Prime Minister, Leader of the Conservative Party

The right hon. Gentleman makes a very important point. A lot of focus has been put on legal changes, and I will come on to the fact that there are legally binding changes as a result of the discussions since the House’s vote on 29 January, but he is absolutely correct—the danger for those of us who want to keep faith with the British public and deliver on their vote for Brexit is that if this deal is not passed tonight, Brexit could be lost.

Photo of James Cartlidge James Cartlidge Conservative, South Suffolk

My right hon. Friend may have slightly lost her voice, but is it not true that were we to have a second referendum, 17.5 million people would have lost their voice?

Photo of Theresa May Theresa May The Prime Minister, Leader of the Conservative Party

Yes. My hon. Friend will not be surprised, given what he has heard me say from this Dispatch Box, that I entirely agree with him. I believe it is absolutely imperative that this House meets the decision taken by the British people in June 2016, that we deliver on the referendum and that we deliver Brexit for the British people. As I say, there is a danger that with a failure to agree a deal we could end up in a situation where we have no Brexit at all.

Photo of John Woodcock John Woodcock Independent, Barrow and Furness

Jean-Claude Juncker was very clear in his press conference yesterday, sitting beside the Prime Minister, that this is the end of the road for negotiation—there is no further negotiation from here. Do the Government completely accept that, and therefore what happens if the motion is defeated tonight?

Photo of Theresa May Theresa May The Prime Minister, Leader of the Conservative Party

The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right; that is what Jean-Claude Juncker said in his press conference. It is what he had made clear to me and to Ministers. It is what other leaders have made clear as well. Tonight, Members of this House face a very clear choice: vote for and support this deal, in which case we leave the European Union with a deal—I will go on to explain why I think it is a good deal—or risk no deal or no Brexit. These are the options.

Several hon. Members:

rose—

Photo of Theresa May Theresa May The Prime Minister, Leader of the Conservative Party

If Members will bear with me, I will take a further couple of interventions and then try to make some progress, as I am only two pages into my speech.

Photo of Mark Pritchard Mark Pritchard Conservative, The Wrekin

The Prime Minister will know that I did not support the withdrawal agreement at the last vote, and today I will support it unenthusiastically—forgive me, Prime Minister—because I completely agree with her that there is a danger that Brexit will be lost. There do not appear to be the votes in this House for no deal, but there certainly seem to be the votes for an extension of article 50. Neither of those options would deliver Brexit; they would frustrate and delay it and possibly stop it altogether. The main reason I am supporting the Government tonight is that there has been a definitive, material legal change on the backstop, which is that if the European Union acts in bad faith, the UK can permanently or temporarily remove itself.

Photo of Theresa May Theresa May The Prime Minister, Leader of the Conservative Party

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. I will come on to address that point a little later in my speech, but it is very clear. We have already had a vote in this House that said no to no deal, and those who want genuinely to deliver Brexit need to recognise that if this deal does not go through tonight, the House risks no Brexit at all.

Photo of Sylvia Hermon Sylvia Hermon Independent, North Down

The Prime Minister should spell it out to the House that if we do not agree a deal tonight, all the arguments that we have heard, including the Attorney General’s advice on the backstop, become academic. We will not even enter into the implementation period and begin work on the alternative arrangements to deal with the backstop if we do not get a deal. We have to get a deal to go into the implementation period and discuss alternative arrangements until Christmas next year before we even contemplate a backstop. Will she confirm that we need a deal tonight?

Photo of Theresa May Theresa May The Prime Minister, Leader of the Conservative Party

I thank the hon. Lady. She has set it out very clearly for the House, and I am sure every Member of this House will have heard what she has said about that.

Photo of Theresa May Theresa May The Prime Minister, Leader of the Conservative Party

No, I said I would make further progress.

First, I want to remind the House of the core elements of the deal on which these improvements build. The full reciprocal protection of the rights of EU citizens in the United Kingdom and of UK citizens elsewhere in the EU—delivered by the deal. The implementation period, which Lady Hermon has just referred to, to give everyone, especially businesses, the time to adjust and to eliminate a cliff edge when we leave—that implementation period is delivered by the deal. The full control over taxpayers’ money that comes from ending vast annual membership payments to the EU—delivered by the deal. The end of free movement and its replacement with a skills-based immigration system—delivered by the deal. The end of European Court of Justice jurisdiction in the UK, the end of the common agricultural policy for farmers, the end of the common fisheries policy for our coastal communities—all of these are delivered by the deal.

Photo of Theresa May Theresa May The Prime Minister, Leader of the Conservative Party

Yes, in a moment.

The closest possible economic relationship with our nearest neighbours outside the single market and the customs union, with our businesses able to trade freely and without any tariffs, quotas or rules of origin checks; protection for the just-in-time supply chains that provide the livelihoods of millions of families; the ability to strike our own free trade deals around the world—all delivered by the deal. The closest security partnership between the EU and any third country, so our police and security services can keep on keeping us safe in a world that contains many dangers—delivered by the deal.

By doing all of these things, the deal says and does something even more profound: it sends a message to the whole world about the sort of country the United Kingdom will be in the years and decades ahead. To our friends and allies who have long looked up to us as a beacon of pragmatism and decency, and to those who do not share our values and whose interests diverge from ours, it says this: the UK is a country that honours the democratic decisions taken by our people in referendums and in elections.

Photo of Stewart McDonald Stewart McDonald Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Defence)

Before the Prime Minister continues with this Britannic hyperbole, can she tell me what changes to the agreement have come about that were sought by the devolved Governments in Scotland and in Wales, or were there none at all?

Photo of Theresa May Theresa May The Prime Minister, Leader of the Conservative Party

As the hon. Gentleman knows, the devolved Government in Scotland want to ensure that we stay in the European Union. That is not a position that was taken by the British people, and I believe, as I have just said, that we should honour democratic decisions taken by the people.

Photo of John Lamont John Lamont Conservative, Berwickshire, Roxburgh and Selkirk

As the Prime Minister will recall, I voted against the withdrawal agreement in January, but I am very pleased that she and the Attorney General have been able to achieve the concessions to the withdrawal agreement. What my constituents and my businesses want is certainty, and they want the certainty that the Prime Minister will not give in to the Scottish National party’s demand for a second referendum. Does she agree that this deal gives the country the certainty that my businesses and constituents need?

Photo of Theresa May Theresa May The Prime Minister, Leader of the Conservative Party

I am very happy to give my hon. Friend that certainty. As I say, I believe that we should be delivering on the vote of the British people in 2016, but I also believe it is important that we give businesses, as my hon. Friend has said, certainty for their future. There is only one certainty if we do not pass this vote tonight, and that is that uncertainty will continue for our citizens and for our businesses.

Photo of Edward Leigh Edward Leigh Conservative, Gainsborough

May I ask a question of the Prime Minister about the unilateral declaration? I thank her for listening, as I have been trying to make this case for the past two months. There was a question I put to the Attorney General that I think has now been answered. Am I right in saying that the unilateral declaration states that there is nothing to stop the United Kingdom leaving the backstop if talks break down? It is a very clear unilateral statement: if talks break down, am I right in saying that the EU has to prove good faith? It is a unilateral declaration, and we do not have to use the word “conditional” because the EU has not objected, and if we lay this declaration at the time of ratification, it is binding on the EU.

Photo of Theresa May Theresa May The Prime Minister, Leader of the Conservative Party

One of the key elements in relation to what my hon. Friend has said is that this unilateral declaration has not been objected to by the European Union. That is what ensures its legal status and its legal basis. As he says, what we say in there is that, in the circumstances in which it is not possible to agree or arrange the future relationship with the European Union,

“the United Kingdom records its understanding that nothing in the Withdrawal Agreement would prevent it from instigating measures that could ultimately lead to disapplication of obligations” in relation to the protocol.

Several hon. Members:

rose—

Photo of Theresa May Theresa May The Prime Minister, Leader of the Conservative Party

I will make further progress before I give way again.

We are a country where passionately held views do not stop us making compromises to achieve progress. We are a country that values both our national sovereignty and the unbreakable bonds of a shared history and an interdependent future that connect us to our friends and neighbours. A bad deal would be even worse than no deal, but best of all is a good deal, and this is a good deal.

Members acknowledged many of the benefits delivered by the deal, but none the less rejected it in January, so let me now set out what we have added to the deal on the table since the last vote. On the rights of EU citizens, we have waived the application fee, so that now there is no financial barrier for any EU nationals who wish to stay. As I have said before, they are our friends, our neighbours and our colleagues. They have added much to our country, and we want them to stay.

On the rights of workers and on environmental protections, assurances about the Government’s firm intentions were not enough, so we have committed to protecting those rights and standards in law. If the EU expands workers’ rights, we will debate those measures here in this Parliament, and this House will vote on whether we want to follow suit. This Parliament has already set world-leading standards, and after we leave the EU, we will continue to do so.

Photo of Angela Eagle Angela Eagle Labour, Wallasey

I hope that the right hon. Lady’s voice lasts to the end of her speech. The Democratic Unionist party has just announced that it is not supporting her deal, and her own European Research Group has announced that it is not happy with the deal. Does she not now think that she should have reached out across parties from the beginning to seek a proper consensus across this country to give us a chance of moving forwards? Will she now admit that her strategy has comprehensively failed?

Photo of Theresa May Theresa May The Prime Minister, Leader of the Conservative Party

There have been alternative approaches that have been proposed to the deal that is on the table. Some were proposed the other week by the Leader of the Opposition, and that was comprehensively rejected by this House. We have continued to work with Members across this House and we continue to work with Members across this Chamber to understand the issues that need to be addressed, and what we have done on workers’ rights is one example of exactly that work.

Several hon. Members:

rose—

Photo of Theresa May Theresa May The Prime Minister, Leader of the Conservative Party

I am going to make some progress.

I know that, for many Members on this side of the House and also for the DUP, the biggest concern is about a more difficult issue that defies simple solution—the Northern Ireland backstop. It is a complex issue that reflects the complex history of these islands, and the long and difficult road that successive generations of British and Irish people have walked down to reach the peace and stability we have known for the last 20 years.

I have talked in detail about the backstop many times in speeches and statements in this House and in Northern Ireland. I have explained why an insurance policy to guarantee no hard border between Ireland and Northern Ireland is necessary. I know that there are a number of concerns about how it might operate—none greater than the fear that the EU might seek to trap us in it indefinitely.

Along with the Attorney General and the Brexit Secretary, I fought hard and explored every idea and avenue to address these concerns, including a time limit, a unilateral exit mechanism or the replacement of the backstop with alternative arrangements. However, the House knows how complex negotiations work and, ultimately, we have to practise the art of the possible, and I am certain that we have secured the very best changes that were available. As the hon. Member for North Down made clear earlier, it has been absolutely clear that this is the deal.

Photo of Stephen Doughty Stephen Doughty Labour/Co-operative, Cardiff South and Penarth

I thank the Prime Minister for giving way, and she knows why I will not be voting for the deal tonight—because it will make my constituents poorer and less safe. However, on the specific issue of the legal advice from the Attorney General on the complex issue of the Northern Ireland backstop, could she confirm whether she was given preliminary advice on Saturday or Sunday that he was unlikely to be able to change his advice in the way she perhaps wished him to?

Photo of Theresa May Theresa May The Prime Minister, Leader of the Conservative Party

Obviously, the Attorney General has been involved in the discussions that we have been having with the European Union, but at the end of the day it is up to him to make his legal opinion and to give his legal advice to this House, which is exactly what he has done.

Photo of Helen Whately Helen Whately Vice-Chair, Conservative Party

I thank my right hon. Friend for giving way. As she has just said, this is the deal. Is it not the case that if Parliament votes against this deal and then, in the forthcoming days, votes for an extension, that would not only be incredibly bad for businesses, which desperately want an end to this uncertainty, but risk putting the ball in the EU’s court in determining the terms of that extension?

Photo of Theresa May Theresa May The Prime Minister, Leader of the Conservative Party

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. First, all that that would do is extend the uncertainty. Secondly, it is not a guarantee that any extension would be agreed by the European Union or that it would agree an extension in the terms in which the United Kingdom asked for it. An extension has to be agreed by all of the parties, and that includes the 27 members of the European Union.

Photo of Stephen Gethins Stephen Gethins Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Foreign and Commonwealth Office)

I thank the Prime Minister for giving way, and I will give her a moment to get another cough sweet from the Chancellor. It is clear—we can see this from the Conservative Benches—that the Prime Minister is going to lose tonight, and to lose badly, which will drag this place, and jobs and businesses, over the edge, with the threat of a no deal. Is not the responsible thing to do now to seek an extension so that we can have some kind of way out of this calamity?

Photo of Theresa May Theresa May The Prime Minister, Leader of the Conservative Party

The way out of the situation we are in is to have faith with the British people and to vote for the deal this evening, which gives them what they voted for in the referendum.

Photo of David Davis David Davis Conservative, Haltemprice and Howden

I thank the Prime Minister for giving way. As she knows, many of us would have preferred a circumstance where we could unilaterally have withdrawn from this agreement, and that does not apply after what the Attorney General said earlier. That means that we are going into a circumstance where there will be a deal of trust over how we resolve the backstop and, in particular, over whether the alternative arrangements prove acceptable to the European Union and the Republic of Ireland. Some of those alternative arrangements have previously been rejected by the Union and the Republic of Ireland. Has the Prime Minister detected any change in mood on the part of the Union and the Republic with respect to a constructive outcome to dealing with the Northern Ireland border?

Photo of Theresa May Theresa May The Prime Minister, Leader of the Conservative Party

Yes. What has been obvious is a change in willingness from the European Union to be actively working on those alternative arrangements. As my right hon. Friend has heard me say before, it was not possible to complete that work, with the timetable we currently have, pre 29 March. But the firm commitments that have been given in the documents we have negotiated now with the European Union show that willingness on its side to be actively working with us to find those alternative arrangements and to define them in a way that means that the backstop can indeed be replaced.

Several hon. Members:

rose—

Photo of Theresa May Theresa May The Prime Minister, Leader of the Conservative Party

No, I am going to make some progress.

There are three elements to the improved deal on the backstop, and I want to go through all of those. The first is a joint instrument—not a further exchange of letters, but something with comparable legal weight to the withdrawal agreement. It provides a new, concrete, legally binding commitment that the EU cannot act with the intent of applying the backstop indefinitely. Doing so would breach the EU’s obligations under the withdrawal agreement and could be challenged through arbitration. Were the EU to be found in breach, the UK could ultimately choose to suspend the backstop altogether, with that suspension lasting unless and until the EU came into compliance with international law. In these circumstances, we could also take proportionate measures to suspend the payments of the financial settlement.

Just as important, the joint instrument gives a legal commitment that whatever replaces the backstop does not need to replicate it, providing it meets the underlying objectives of no hard border between Northern Ireland and Ireland.

Photo of Angus MacNeil Angus MacNeil Chair, International Trade Committee

I thank the right hon. Lady for giving way. She is talking about the EU and suspending. She talked earlier about bad faith and about the UK being a beacon across the world, and she said that it sticks to its deals. However, does she remember—they will particularly want her to remember this point in Europe—who it was who, when 28 countries went to Salzburg in November and struck a deal, later ratted on the deal, leaving the 27 high and dry? Was it her Government?

Photo of Theresa May Theresa May The Prime Minister, Leader of the Conservative Party

First, the hon. Gentleman’s history is a little wrong. Actually, the withdrawal agreement and the political declaration on the future framework were not agreed in Salzburg; they were agreed later last year, in November, in Brussels. Secondly, he asks, who was it who went back on the deal? Was it the Government? No, the Government voted for the deal. He voted against it. So, on that point, if he wants to look for an example of bad faith—look in the mirror!

Photo of Hilary Benn Hilary Benn Chair, Committee on Exiting the European Union

I am grateful to the Prime Minister for giving way. She referred a moment ago to the possibility of the UK suspending the operation of the Northern Ireland protocol. In his legal advice, which was published today, the Attorney General talks also about measures to disapply the provisions of the protocol. Can she tell the House whether suspension, which has to be temporary under the withdrawal agreement, and disapplication are one and the same thing, or are they different?

Photo of Theresa May Theresa May The Prime Minister, Leader of the Conservative Party

No, they are not one and the same thing. Also, if we look at the arrangements in the withdrawal agreement, as supported by the new instruments that we have negotiated, it is the case that if suspension takes place over a period of time, such that it is then obvious that the arrangements were no longer necessary, they would not have been in place and everything would have been operating without them, then a termination of those arrangements is possible within the arrangements here.

Some colleagues were concerned that the political declaration says that the future relationship will build and improve on these arrangements. We now have a binding commitment that whatever replaces the backstop does not have to replicate them. The instrument also contains commitments on how the UK and the EU intend to deliver the alternative arrangements. Immediately after the ratification of the withdrawal agreement, we will establish a specific negotiating track on alternative arrangements to agree them before the end of December 2020.

The instrument also entrenches in legally binding form the commitments made in January’s exchange of letters between Presidents Tusk and Juncker and myself. These include the specific meaning of best endeavours, the need for negotiations to be taken forward urgently, the ability to provisionally apply any agreement, which reduces the risk of us ever going into the backstop, and a confirmation of the assurances made to the people of Northern Ireland.

Photo of Joanna Cherry Joanna Cherry Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Justice and Home Affairs), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Justice), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

I am grateful to the Prime Minister for giving way. I was puzzled by her claim that the joint instrument is of comparable legal weight to the withdrawal agreement. I am sure she will be aware that, as a matter of international law, the withdrawal agreement is a treaty. The joint instrument is not a treaty; it is merely what is known as a document of reference, which can be used to interpret the withdrawal agreement. Would the Prime Minister therefore care to rephrase her assertion that the joint instrument is of comparable legal weight to the withdrawal agreement, because that is simply wrong as a matter of law?

Photo of Theresa May Theresa May The Prime Minister, Leader of the Conservative Party

Obviously, the withdrawal agreement is an international treaty. This is a joint instrument, which sits alongside that international treaty and which does have the same standing, in that, in any consideration that is given to any aspect of that withdrawal agreement, this will be part of that consideration, so the effect is the same, as I indicated earlier.

Photo of Anna Soubry Anna Soubry Independent, Broxtowe

It does need to be said that most of us, when we are unwell, can take to our beds. It is absolutely noticed by everybody in this House that this Prime Minister simply battles on, and that is appreciated. Having said that, I fear that this agreement is too little, too late. The Prime Minister talked about compromise. Would she agree and confirm that, two years ago, I and others who sit behind her told her that there was a majority—a compromise— across this House for the single market and the customs union that would deliver on the referendum, secure the problem with the border and do the right thing for business? Would she confirm that she rejected all of that and that the difficulty has been her inability to move away from her red lines?

Photo of Theresa May Theresa May The Prime Minister, Leader of the Conservative Party

The point is that we have to look at what it was that the British people were voting for when they voted in the referendum in 2016. We also have to look at the general election manifesto that the right hon. Lady and I both stood on, which was very clear in relation to those matters and to the customs union and the single market. We have put forward proposals that enjoy some of the benefits of a customs union, such as no tariffs and no rules of origin checks, but in a way that delivers an independent trade policy. That is what people want to see and that is what we will be delivering.

Several hon. Members:

rose—

Photo of Theresa May Theresa May The Prime Minister, Leader of the Conservative Party

I will just make a little more progress before I take any more interventions. I have been quite generous already.

I want to say a word about Gibraltar. The documents confirm the understanding reached between the UK and the EU on the interpretation of article 184 of the withdrawal agreement as regards the territorial scope of the future relationship. We will always stand behind British sovereignty for Gibraltar, and the UK Government negotiate for the whole UK family, including Gibraltar.

The second element we have negotiated is a UK-EU joint statement in relation to the political declaration.

Photo of Theresa May Theresa May The Prime Minister, Leader of the Conservative Party

I will give way in a few moments. I will just make a little more progress.

The second element, the statement in relation to the political declaration, sets out a number of commitments to enhance and speed up the process of negotiating and bringing into force the future relationship. There is a new commitment that the negotiating track on alternative arrangements will consider not only existing facilitations and technologies, but also those emerging.

Photo of Kate Hoey Kate Hoey Labour, Vauxhall

I thank the Prime Minister for giving way on that point. She said earlier that she thought there had been a change in attitude on looking at different ways to deal with the Northern Ireland-Irish border. Does she agree with me that if the Irish Taoiseach did what the previous Irish Taoiseach did, which was to allow the civil servants to meet with our civil servants, and there really was good will and intention, the Taoiseach would now say that their civil servants should start that process now and not wait until we have gone much further along the line?

Photo of Theresa May Theresa May The Prime Minister, Leader of the Conservative Party

We are happy at any stage to sit down with the Irish Government and talk to them about the arrangements that could be in place in relation to the Northern Ireland border with Ireland.

Photo of Mike Gapes Mike Gapes Independent, Ilford South

On Gibraltar, can the Prime Minister confirm that well over 90% of the people of Gibraltar voted to remain in the European Union, and that if her deal goes down tonight it will be essential that Gibraltar continues to have as close a relationship as possible with the European Union single market?

Photo of Theresa May Theresa May The Prime Minister, Leader of the Conservative Party

The hon. Gentleman is right about the vote. Significantly, the last time the people of Gibraltar were asked whether they wanted to continue their relationship with the United Kingdom they were very clear, overwhelmingly, that that was what they wanted. That is why we are clear that we negotiate on behalf of our whole UK family. The deal on the table tonight, the deal that Members will be voting for, delivers the close relationship for the future that the hon. Gentleman has been talking about. It delivers on the result of the referendum, but it also recognises the importance of a close relationship for us for the future with the European Union.

Several hon. Members:

rose—

Photo of Theresa May Theresa May The Prime Minister, Leader of the Conservative Party

I am going to make further progress.

Thirdly, alongside the joint instrument on the withdrawal agreement, the United Kingdom Government will make a unilateral declaration relating to the temporary nature of the backstop. Such declarations are commonly used by states alongside the ratification of treaties. The declaration clarifies what the UK could do if it was not possible to conclude an agreement that superseded the protocol because the EU had acted contrary to its obligations. In those circumstances, the UK’s understanding is that nothing in the withdrawal agreement would prevent us from instigating measures that could ultimately lead to the disapplication of our obligations under the protocol. Were we to take such measures, the UK would remain in full compliance with its obligations under the Belfast-Good Friday agreement and to avoid a hard border on the island of Ireland.

Photo of Roberta Blackman-Woods Roberta Blackman-Woods Shadow Minister (Housing, Communities & Local Government) (Planning)

I am very grateful to the Prime Minister for giving way. I really do want to know why she has consistently sought to get a deal that satisfies hardliners on her own side, rather than reaching out across the Chamber to get an agreement that would be a softer Brexit, but which would protect the Good Friday agreement in Northern Ireland more than her current deal does.

Photo of Theresa May Theresa May The Prime Minister, Leader of the Conservative Party

First of all, if as the hon. Lady thought I was placating everybody on my side of the House, I do not think the deal would have been rejected in the first place, so I think she is rather wrong on that. Secondly, I did reach out to the Labour party Front Bench. I had a meeting with the Leader of the Opposition and there was one meeting between the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster and the shadow Secretary of State, Keir Starmer. We offered other meetings and voice came there back none.

Several hon. Members:

rose—

Photo of Theresa May Theresa May The Prime Minister, Leader of the Conservative Party

I will make some further progress.

There are considerable improvements on the deal the House considered eight weeks ago. In particular, there were three key issues raised by my hon. Friend Sir Graham Brady. On the question of giving legal status to the assurances on the backstop, the joint instrument is a legally binding text at the same level as the withdrawal agreement, namely a treaty-level instrument. On alternative arrangements, we have an agreement that they will replace the backstop. This commitment is in the legal instrument, not just the political declaration. On the question of an end date, the core concern of colleagues was that we should not be trapped indefinitely in the backstop. The Attorney General has today changed his legal analysis to note that this risk has been reduced and that if the EU were to act in bad faith, short of its best endeavours, the backstop could be suspended or even terminated, and that this is a materially new legal commitment.

Photo of Caroline Lucas Caroline Lucas Green, Brighton, Pavilion

The Prime Minister’s whole strategy this week depends on the expectation that MPs will have changed their minds in a matter of weeks between votes. At the same time, she will not allow for the fact that the public might have changed their minds in the space of many years—three years, now. Will she accept that the best chance she has of getting her deal through Parliament would be to make it subject to a confirmatory vote of the public?

Photo of Theresa May Theresa May The Prime Minister, Leader of the Conservative Party

As I have said on many occasions before, and as I indicated earlier in my speech, I profoundly believe that when the Parliament of this country says to the British people that the choice as to whether to remain or to leave the European Union is theirs, and when the Government—

Photo of Caroline Lucas Caroline Lucas Green, Brighton, Pavilion

They’ve changed their mind.

Photo of Theresa May Theresa May The Prime Minister, Leader of the Conservative Party

The hon. Lady says that they have changed their mind. There is no actual evidence that the British people have changed their minds. And where would it end? We could have another referendum with a different result, then everybody would say, “Well, let’s have a third one.” Or we could have another referendum with the same result, and the hon. Lady would probably still stand up and say she wanted a third referendum to try to overturn the decision.

Photo of Wes Streeting Wes Streeting Labour, Ilford North

The simple fact is that people in my constituency and others who voted leave did so with the promise and expectation of something better. Does she not agree that the choice we are facing this evening is to vote for a deal that she knows, I know, this House knows, and, I suspect, the majority of the people in the country know—whether on economic co-operation or security co-operation—leaves our country demonstrably worse off? Why on earth is she asking us to countenance that?

Photo of Theresa May Theresa May The Prime Minister, Leader of the Conservative Party

The hon. Gentleman talks about those in his constituency who voted leave. What is absolutely clear from the analysis that the Government published is that if we are going to honour the result of the referendum—I believe we should, and I am sure his leave voters want us to do that—the best deal to deliver for the British people in honouring that referendum is the deal that the Government put forward back in the summer. The deal here tonight is the deal that actually gets us to the point of negotiating that future relationship in the interests of the constituents of everybody across this House.

Several hon. Members:

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Photo of Theresa May Theresa May The Prime Minister, Leader of the Conservative Party

I am going to make some more progress.

I know that some right hon. and hon. Members will still have concerns about the backstop, but real progress has been made. All of us should put out of our minds the idea that going round this again will get us any further forward. Responsible politics is about pragmatism, about balancing risk and reward. So Members across the House should ask themselves whether they want to make the perfect the enemy of the good.

Photo of John Baron John Baron Conservative, Basildon and Billericay

Most of us in this place commend my right hon. Friend and her team for their stamina in these negotiations. We accept that there is a political dimension, but will she clarify one point for those of us who are concerned about the indefinite nature of the backstop? That is that in future, this country could unilaterally decide to walk away from the agreement if there was a fundamental change in circumstances, and we could do that as a United Kingdom, including Northern Ireland, even if that meant Northern Ireland leaving the customs union within the EU.

Photo of Theresa May Theresa May The Prime Minister, Leader of the Conservative Party

I think this was a point that the Attorney General responded to in his statement earlier. Of course, it is open to any sovereign Government to take a decision to disapply something it has entered into. That would have consequences, and I think I am right in saying that my right hon. and learned Friend indicated that that was not a route that he could recommend that Ministers take, but of course my hon. Friend is right that it is always open to a sovereign Government to act in that way.

Photo of Antoinette Sandbach Antoinette Sandbach Conservative, Eddisbury

Will the Prime Minister confirm the element of risk in going into the backstop when this country was told that this would be the easiest trade deal in history?

Photo of Theresa May Theresa May The Prime Minister, Leader of the Conservative Party

Of course, any negotiation of this sort between different parties does take time. Trade deals take time—often a shorter time than many people think—and we have yet to negotiate the trade deal for the future, which we will be doing when we get this withdrawal agreement deal through.

Photo of Theresa May Theresa May The Prime Minister, Leader of the Conservative Party

I am going to continue, because I want to make a very specific point about Northern Ireland, given its unique position and the fact that it will be the only part of the UK to share a border with the EU. I want to set out further commitments today on protections for Northern Ireland and its integral place in the United Kingdom.

First, the Government will legislate to give a restored Northern Ireland Assembly a vote on a cross-community basis on whether the backstop should be brought into force if there are delays in the trade talks. If Stormont does not support that, Ministers will be bound to seek an approach that would achieve cross-community support. That could, for example, be an extension of the implementation period. It has previously been the case that the understanding was that the choice would be between the backstop and the implementation period. The introduction of alternative arrangements, of course, brings another element into that, but there is that key commitment in relation to the Northern Ireland Assembly. If Stormont were to support an implementation period as the alternative, Ministers would be bound to seek an extension of the implementation period, assuming that that had achieved cross-community support.

Secondly, we will maintain the same regulatory standards across the United Kingdom for as long as the backstop is in force. This is a commitment that we have already made, but I can now tell the House that we will legislate to make this legally binding.

Thirdly, the Government will legislate to prohibit any expansion of north-south co-operation through the withdrawal agreement. That will remain a matter for the Northern Ireland Executive and Assembly in line with the Belfast agreement. At every stage of these negotiations, my determination has been to deliver a deal that works for every part of the United Kingdom, and that includes Northern Ireland.

Photo of Liz Kendall Liz Kendall Labour, Leicester West

The Prime Minister has talked a lot about concerns around the backstop, but for many hon. Members, the biggest concern is that her withdrawal agreement provides no legal certainty about any of the fundamental questions on our future relationship with the EU. As a result, we will be back here time and time again, and far from providing certainty for the future, her blindfold Brexit is the most uncertain future of all for our country.

Photo of Theresa May Theresa May The Prime Minister, Leader of the Conservative Party

There is a very simple and basic point that the hon. Lady seems to have forgotten: it is not possible for the European Union to negotiate and sign the legal text of that future trade relationship with the United Kingdom while we are a member of the European Union. We cannot do that until we have left the European Union, so if she wants us to get on to negotiating the future relationship, she should vote for the deal tonight. Let us get on to that next stage.

Important though the backstop is, it was not the only concern that hon. Members had. Another was in regard to the political declaration, because, as the hon. Lady hinted at her in question, it provides for a spectrum of possible outcomes. Members asked how they could be confident about what sort of future relationship the Government would negotiate.

Photo of Theresa May Theresa May The Prime Minister, Leader of the Conservative Party

Can I just continue to make my point?

I am sure we can all learn lessons from how we approached this first phase of the negotiations as we move on to the second. For my part, I have no doubt that the Government do need to build a strong consensus in the House before we go on to negotiate the future relationship, not least to ensure that the process of ratification is smoother than that for the withdrawal agreement. That is why we have committed to giving a much stronger and clearer role for this House and for the other place during the next phase. It is not just about a consensus in Parliament, either; businesses, trade unions and civil society must all play a much bigger part, contributing their expertise in a collective, national effort to secure the very best future relationship with the EU. That new approach—

Several hon. Members:

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Photo of Theresa May Theresa May The Prime Minister, Leader of the Conservative Party

Would hon. Members just wait for a second? That new approach will start with the withdrawal agreement Bill. If the deal passes tonight, notice of presentation will be given tomorrow and the Bill will be introduced on Thursday. As we discuss that Bill, we can debate how exactly we will ensure that this Parliament has the full say that it deserves.

Photo of Robert Syms Robert Syms Conservative, Poole

I thank the Prime Minister for giving way. Given that the clock is ticking, millions of people working in businesses up and down this country want the most certain outcome, and voting for this deal today is the best way of delivering that. Voting the deal down will lead to more uncertainty. None of us knows where we are going to end up, so I, for one, will be supporting the Government and the Prime Minister.

Photo of Theresa May Theresa May The Prime Minister, Leader of the Conservative Party

I thank my hon. Friend. He has made a very important point. The only certain thing about rejecting this deal tonight is that it increases uncertainty. Businesses and individuals want certainty.

Photo of Bill Cash Bill Cash Chair, European Scrutiny Committee

I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for giving way, and I feel for her with the throat condition she has at the moment, I really do. Having said that, she referred to the fact that the backstop is very important. We all know that, and rightly so. The question, however, is also about the withdrawal agreement and implementation Bill, which is to come. First, we have not seen a draft of it, and I hope that we can get that very soon, as my European Scrutiny Committee has just said in its report. Secondly, it is quite clear in the withdrawal agreement that we will not be discharging what she said herself at Lancaster House. We will not truly leave the European Union unless we regain control of our own laws. Under article 4, it is clear that that is not the case. What is her answer to that point?

Photo of Theresa May Theresa May The Prime Minister, Leader of the Conservative Party

First of all, I am pleased to hear that my hon. Friend is keen to see the withdrawal agreement Bill. That Bill, of course, as I have said, will be presented to the House this week, if my hon. Friend and others vote for this deal tonight to get it through. I also say to him that yes, there are provisions in relation to the role of the European Court of Justice during the period of our winding down and winding our way out of the European Union, and that covers the implementation period. But what is absolutely clear is that once we are beyond that point, there is no jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice other than for a limited period of years in relation to citizens’ rights. There is no jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice in this country.

Photo of Kenneth Clarke Kenneth Clarke Father of the House of Commons

My right hon. Friend just said that, if she manages to get her withdrawal agreement approved by this House, she does not want the next stage of serious negotiations about our long-term future to proceed in the same way and that she will give a greater role to Parliament. I strongly endorse that. We cannot have another arrangement where she reaches a perfectly satisfactory agreement on the three points that she had and then we descend into parliamentary farce as different people argue about what changes they like. Is not the best way of proceeding, if she gets her withdrawal agreement through, to have some indicative votes in the House of Commons before the serious negotiations start, so that the Government can go into those negotiations knowing what a broad mass of Parliament is likely to support and to back if she can achieve it?

Photo of Theresa May Theresa May The Prime Minister, Leader of the Conservative Party

I thank my right hon. and learned Friend for that point. Actually, I think that there a number of ways in which we can ascertain what the views of the House would be prior to entering into the next stage of negotiations. Obviously, we have been looking at the details of that and will want to be consulting and talking across the House in relation to that matter, but, as he rightly indicated, the first step in order to get to that stage is to pass the deal tonight.

Several hon. Members:

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Photo of Theresa May Theresa May The Prime Minister, Leader of the Conservative Party

I really am going to try to make a little more progress. I have been extremely generous with interventions. Not everybody in this House is as generous as I am when it comes to interventions. [Hon. Members: “Hear, hear.”]

I set out to the House two weeks ago the specifics of what will happen if the deal is rejected tonight. We will first return tomorrow to consider whether the House supports leaving the European Union on 29 March without a withdrawal agreement and a framework for a future relationship. If the House votes against no deal, it will vote on whether to seek an extension of article 50.

I sincerely hope that the House does not put itself in that invidious position. We can avoid it by supporting what I profoundly believe is a good deal, and a substantially better deal than we had eight weeks ago, but if it comes to it, the choices will be bleak. In the long term, we could ultimately make a success of no deal, but there would be significant economic shock in the short term. Be in no doubt about the impact that would have on businesses and families. We would lose the security co-operation that helps to keep us safe from crime, terrorism and other threats, and we would risk weakening support for our Union.

I note that Ian Blackford tabled an amendment seeking a second Scottish independence referendum. Polling shows that support for both Scottish independence and a united Ireland would be higher if we left without a deal, while, in the absence of institutions in Northern Ireland, a no deal would create a substantial problem of governance there.

Should the House reject leaving on 29 March without a deal and then support the Government’s seeking an extension to article 50, our problems would not be solved. An extension without a plan would prolong the uncertainty, threatening jobs and investment, yet, even as it did so, it would not change the debate or the questions that need to be settled. It would merely pass control to the European Union. They would decide how long an extension to offer, meaning we may not get what we ask for. They could even impose conditions on an extension. That could mean moving to a Brexit that does not meet the expectations of those who voted to leave, or even moving to a second referendum, with all the damage that would do to trust in our democracy. Equally, there is a risk that, having voted for an extension, the House still would not be able to agree a way forward and we would end up leaving without a deal.

Photo of Theresa May Theresa May The Prime Minister, Leader of the Conservative Party

Just one moment, and then I will give way to the hon. Gentleman.

If any of those things were to happen, it would be no good blaming the European Union. Responsibility would lie with this House for our failure to come together in the national interest to deliver on the vote of the British people.

Photo of Peter Kyle Peter Kyle Labour, Hove

I am extremely grateful to the Prime Minister for giving way. The first of her Brexit Secretaries is in his place. Time after time, he stood at that Dispatch Box and promised the House that we would get the exact same benefits after we leave as we currently enjoy with the EU. Does she not accept that raising expectations that high set them at a level that she has absolutely failed to meet? That has damaged trust in her Brexit and caused the situation we are in now. We have to find another way forward.

Photo of Theresa May Theresa May The Prime Minister, Leader of the Conservative Party

In the proposals the Government themselves put forward, we have set out a way of ensuring that we maintain a very close economic partnership and a close security partnership with the European Union in the future, but that we also have the benefit of acting as an independent country, of being a sovereign state and of having our own trade deals with other countries around the world.

Photo of Gareth Snell Gareth Snell Labour/Co-operative, Stoke-on-Trent Central

I welcome the Prime Minister’s commitment to potentially legislating for the political declaration, but doing so in the withdrawal agreement Bill only once we have voted to endorse the political declaration may be slightly convoluted, so may I suggest a third option? If the deal is not passed this evening, the Prime Minister could independently legislate for the political declaration now, setting out in statute what the end point will be and what role Parliament will have before we are asked to vote again on a further deal. That would give people like me the confidence to understand that, by voting for the withdrawal agreement, we would have certainty about the political declaration and where we are going.

Photo of Theresa May Theresa May The Prime Minister, Leader of the Conservative Party

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his proposal. One of the issues is that there are elements of the political declaration that remain to be negotiated and on which there is not the certainty that I think he is searching for with his proposal, but I certainly give him credit for inventiveness and for thinking carefully about these issues.

Several hon. Members:

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Photo of Tom Brake Tom Brake Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (International Trade), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Exiting the European Union)

I thank the Prime Minister, who is being very generous. Does she agree, however, that whatever happens today—whether her withdrawal agreement is passed or not—we will have to have an extension to article 50, because there is not time to complete the business we will need to complete before 29 March?

Photo of Theresa May Theresa May The Prime Minister, Leader of the Conservative Party

I say to the right hon. Gentleman: let us get the deal agreed tonight, and then the usual channels will work to see what is necessary in relation to getting legislation through the House.

Mr Speaker, it was not this House that—

Photo of Theresa May Theresa May The Prime Minister, Leader of the Conservative Party

Thank you, Mr Speaker, but I will take the hon. Gentleman’s intervention.

Photo of Alan Brown Alan Brown Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Transport), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Energy)

I thank the Prime Minister for being so generous with her time. When it comes to the backstop, is it not the case that the new arrangements come nowhere close to the Brady amendment; the Malthouse compromise has been consigned to history—it is a phrase we no longer hear—paragraph 19 of the legal advice says the legal risks remain the same in terms of our being stuck in the backstop; and, given that she has admitted that no technology exists to provide a solution for the Northern Ireland border, Stormont could keep the UK in the implementation period for a long time, until that technological alternative exists?

Photo of Theresa May Theresa May The Prime Minister, Leader of the Conservative Party

I lost count, but I say to the hon. Gentleman that I think he is wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong.

Photo of Stephen Crabb Stephen Crabb Conservative, Preseli Pembrokeshire

On the Prime Minister’s point about any conditions the EU might attach to a request for extension of the article 50 process, does she agree that there is a set of obligations in the withdrawal agreement that the EU will want to talk about whether we seek an extension to the process or we are in a no-deal scenario? As much as we might want to wish them away, voting down the deal tonight would not make those obligations disappear.

Photo of Theresa May Theresa May The Prime Minister, Leader of the Conservative Party

I thank my right hon. Friend for pointing that out. He is absolutely right. Voting against the deal would not mean that those obligations disappear, which is another reason why I believe it is very important for Members of this House to go through the Lobby in favour of the motion tonight.

It was not this House that decided it was time for the United Kingdom to leave the European Union; it was the British people. It falls to us to implement their decision—their desire for change and their demand for a better, more open, more successful future for our country. Today is the day that we can begin to build that future. This is the moment and this is the time—time for us to come together, back this motion and get the deal done. Only then can we get on with what we came here to do—what we were sent here to do.

Each and every one of us came into politics because we have sincerely held views about how to build a better Britain. Some have spent their political careers campaigning against the European Union and in favour of restoring sovereignty to this Parliament. For others, membership of the EU is one of the foundations of their vision of the UK’s place in the world. But we also came here to serve. We cannot serve our country by overturning a democratic decision of the British people, we cannot serve by prolonging a debate the British people now wish to see settled, and we cannot serve by refusing to compromise—by reinforcing instead of healing the painful divisions we see within our society and across our country.

The British people have been clear: they want us to implement the decision that they made nearly three years ago. So let us show what the House can achieve when we come together. Let us demonstrate what politics is for. Let us prove, beyond all doubt, that we believe democracy comes before party, faction, or personal ambition. The time has come to deliver on the instruction that we were given. The time has come to back this deal. I commend the motion to the House.

Photo of Jeremy Corbyn Jeremy Corbyn Leader of Her Majesty's Official Opposition, Leader of the Labour Party 3:00 pm, 12th March 2019

After three months of running down the clock, the Prime Minister has, despite very extensive delays, achieved not a single change to the withdrawal agreement: not one single word has changed. In terms of the substance, literally nothing has changed.

On 29 January, the Prime Minister backed an amendment tabled by Sir Graham Brady, which called for the backstop

“to be replaced with alternative arrangements”.

On 12 February, the Prime Minister said that the Government were seeking three potential changes to the backstop:

“a legally binding time limit… a legally binding unilateral exit clause”, or

“the ideas put forward by the Alternative Arrangements Working Group”.—[Official Report, 12 February 2019;
Vol. 654, c. 731.]

There is no unilateral exit mechanism, there is no time limit, and there are no alternative arrangements.

So let us be clear: the withdrawal agreement is unchanged, the political declaration is unchanged, the joint statement is a legal interpretation of what is in the withdrawal agreement, and the unilateral statement is the UK Government trying to fool their own Back Benchers, because the European Union has not even signed up to it.

Photo of Rachel Maclean Rachel Maclean Conservative, Redditch

Does the right hon. Gentleman not recognise that millions of citizens out there are looking to his party—cross-party—to deliver the certainty that they are crying out for? Can he not compromise, as many colleagues have done, to deliver the result of the referendum?

Photo of Jeremy Corbyn Jeremy Corbyn Leader of Her Majesty's Official Opposition, Leader of the Labour Party

The Labour party has put forward very clear proposals. I shall come to them later in the speech, but, for the avoidance of doubt, they are about a customs union, access to the market, and the protection of rights. We have put those proposals forward, and we continue to put them forward. What the British people are not looking forward to is either the chaos of leaving with no agreement or the problems that are involved in this agreement, which will therefore be strongly opposed by Members tonight.

Photo of Theresa May Theresa May The Prime Minister, Leader of the Conservative Party

The right hon. Gentleman has just said that the Labour party put forward a set of proposals as an alternative to the deal that the Government have negotiated. When the deal that the Government was rejected overwhelmingly by the House, the right hon. Gentleman said that we should listen. We have listened. The other week, his proposals were rejected overwhelmingly by the House. Why is he not listening?

Photo of Jeremy Corbyn Jeremy Corbyn Leader of Her Majesty's Official Opposition, Leader of the Labour Party

I spend a great deal of time listening to people: people working on the shop floor in factories, people in small businesses, people who are worried about the future of their families. They want some degree of certainty. The Prime Minister’s deal does not offer that degree of certainty at all, as she knows very well. Our proposals are a basis for agreement, and a basis for negotiation.

Photo of Dr Caroline Johnson Dr Caroline Johnson Conservative, Sleaford and North Hykeham

The right hon. Gentleman voted for an EU referendum, against his party whip at the time, and he voted for article 50. Why is he now so intent on frustrating Brexit and the will of the people?

Photo of Jeremy Corbyn Jeremy Corbyn Leader of Her Majesty's Official Opposition, Leader of the Labour Party

I am not quite sure what that intervention adds to the debate. There was a referendum in 1975; yes, I voted in that referendum. There was another referendum in 2016; yes, I voted in that referendum as well, and I campaigned to remain in and reform the European Union.

The Government are having real problems, because they are trying to fool the people into believing that, somehow or other, the deal offered by the Prime Minister is the only one that is available. It is not, as they well know.

Let us look closely at the Government’s own motion. It is a case study in weasel words and obfuscation. It states that

“the legally binding joint instrument... reduces the risk the UK could be deliberately held in the Northern Ireland backstop indefinitely”.

There are two key words there, First, the joint instrument only “reduces” the risk rather than eliminating it, so it has completely failed to achieve its goal. I have an ally in believing that to be the case—no less a person than the Attorney General, who told the press at the weekend:

“I will not change my opinion unless we have a text that shows the risk has been eliminated.”

And indeed, his legal opinion today states that

“the legal risk remains unchanged”.

Photo of Paul Sweeney Paul Sweeney Shadow Minister (Scotland)

My right hon. Friend is making a powerful point about the absurdity of the idea that there could be a unilateral exist from the backstop. That would destroy the very function of the backstop. Has not the Prime Minister committed a major strategic blunder for our country by pandering to the European Research Group instead of reaching across the House to build consensus?

Photo of Jeremy Corbyn Jeremy Corbyn Leader of Her Majesty's Official Opposition, Leader of the Labour Party

Indeed. The ERG seems to be slightly missing today, but I am overcome by the excitement and enthusiasm among all the Members sitting behind the Prime Minister.

Several hon. Members:

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Photo of Jeremy Corbyn Jeremy Corbyn Leader of Her Majesty's Official Opposition, Leader of the Labour Party

Secondly, the motion uses the word “deliberately”. The risk of our being held in the backstop indefinitely has not been reduced; all that has been reduced is the risk that we could be deliberately held in the backstop indefinitely.

The Prime Minister has herself said on numerous occasions that the backstop is painful for both the UK and the European Union, and is something that neither side wishes to see applied. There has been no indication from the Prime Minister that there was ever a risk of our being deliberately held in the backstop in the first place.

Photo of Jeremy Corbyn Jeremy Corbyn Leader of Her Majesty's Official Opposition, Leader of the Labour Party

I am going to make some progress, if I may.

Yet in her statement last night, the Prime Minister said that the joint instrument guaranteed that the EU could not act with the intent of applying the backstop indefinitely. The EU has never expressed that intent, and the Prime Minister has never accused them of having it. The Prime Minister has constructed one enormous great big gigantic attractive paper tiger, and then slain it. However, the substance already existed through article 178(5) of the withdrawal agreement, agreed in November. Truly, nothing has changed.

The Prime Minister also claims that the joint instrument entrenches the January exchange of letters in legally binding form. On 14 January, from the Dispatch Box, the Prime Minister told the House that those letters had “legal standing”, and would have

“legal force in international law".—[Official Report, 14 January 2019;
Vol. 652, c. 833.]

We are back with smoke and mirrors—the illusion of change, when the reality is that nothing has changed. It is all is spin and no substance from the Prime Minister.

Photo of Stewart McDonald Stewart McDonald Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Defence)

The right hon. Gentleman adumbrates perfectly the miasma of chaos that is eating away at this place, but does he not agree that, given the chaos that is about to hit the people of Scotland—who voted overwhelmingly to stay in the European Union—should they request an order under section 30 of the Scotland Act 1998 to hold a referendum on Scotland’s independence, it would be undemocratic in the extreme for the Government to refuse it?

Photo of Jeremy Corbyn Jeremy Corbyn Leader of Her Majesty's Official Opposition, Leader of the Labour Party

That intervention has no relevance to the debate that we are having today. This debate is about the Government’s proposals in relation to leaving the European Union.

The statement in the Attorney General’s legal advice still holds. He said that the backstop would endure indefinitely until a superseding agreement took its place. That was the case in January, and it is the case today. I reiterate the view of the Attorney General: despite the theatre of the Prime Minister’s late-night declaration in Strasbourg, nothing has changed.

Photo of Chi Onwurah Chi Onwurah Shadow Minister (Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy) (Industrial Strategy)

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the critical issue here is that the Conservative party cannot countenance a trading arrangement that puts both Northern Ireland and Ireland and the European Union in the same trading arrangements, so whether it is today or next week or the end of this month or May or at any time, that party opposite cannot bring forward a Brexit that people can agree on?

Photo of Jeremy Corbyn Jeremy Corbyn Leader of Her Majesty's Official Opposition, Leader of the Labour Party

It is clear that this Government delayed the vote from 11 December, then were found in contempt of Parliament for refusing to release legal information, then broke the record for losing a vote in Parliament, and now have come back to the scene of previous disasters with exactly the same proposal, and I earnestly hope the House tonight rejects the agreement that the Prime Minister has brought to us.

The Prime Minister has also attempted to convince Labour Members of this House about an equally empty promise on workers’ rights. She said last week in her speech in Grimsby that being aligned with the European Union on workers’ rights would mean that if it lowered its standards, we would have to lower ours. It is simply not true. European Union standards are a floor, not a ceiling: if the EU chose—I hope it never would—to reduce those minimum standards, that would not compel the UK to lower its standards. It is important to clarify that point because I am sure the Prime Minister had no intention of misleading anyone when she made it. However, being aligned to those standards means that if the minimum improved the UK would be compelled to improve, and indeed I would want us to go much further than the EU on many workers’ rights.

Photo of Caroline Flint Caroline Flint Labour, Don Valley

My right hon. Friend and I share concerns about how we protect workers’ rights as we move forward and leave the EU, which I know he respects because he respects the outcome of the referendum of 2017— [Interruption.] The general election of 2017, but also the referendum of 2016: two public votes that came to the same outcome. Does my right hon. Friend agree with me that when we voted on the deal in January we did not have an assurance that, in moving forward, we would have the opportunity in this House in the future, by law, to ensure that if the EU raised standards in health and safety and employment rights, an amendable motion would be brought to this House under which we could vote to support that increase, and not only that but go further than the EU? That is different from what we had in January, isn’t it?

Photo of Jeremy Corbyn Jeremy Corbyn Leader of Her Majesty's Official Opposition, Leader of the Labour Party

Having a vote in Parliament on a potential improvement of rights is obviously a chance we would have to improve those rights, but it is not legally binding so as to defend those rights or to ensure there is dynamic alignment, not only on rights at work but also, very importantly, on environmental protections and consumer standards. So we are very clear that there must be dynamic alignment, and the EU basis is a floor from which I personally would want us to go much higher. A Labour Government would obviously go much further in all those areas.

This was a bad deal in December when Labour decided to vote against it, it was a bad deal in January when it was rejected by the largest margin in parliamentary history, and it is the same bad deal now. We will be voting against this deal tonight for the reasons we set out when replying to the debate in December. It is a bad deal that will damage our economy, undermine our industries, irreparably harm our manufacturing sector, risk our national health service, damage our public services and harm our living standards, because it opens up the possibility of a race to the bottom—a bonfire of rights and protections. It provides no certainty on trade and customs arrangements in the future and risks people’s living standards.

Photo of Mark Pritchard Mark Pritchard Conservative, The Wrekin

The Leader of the Opposition and I get on personally—we have a Shropshire bond, as he knows—but may I just say to him that I think he is making a very unconvincing case, perhaps because for most of his political life, which I respect, he was a Brexiteer, and in his heart of hearts he is still a Brexiteer, but he has mostly a remain party behind him? Is this not the worst example today of pure politics—the pursuit of power and putting his party’s interests and, dare I say it, possibly his self-interests ahead of the national interest?

Photo of Jeremy Corbyn Jeremy Corbyn Leader of Her Majesty's Official Opposition, Leader of the Labour Party

Oh dear, this will be so disappointing to the people of Shropshire, it really will; I can’t believe he just said that.

What we put forward in the referendum campaign was a principle of remain in the European Union and reform. The result did not go that way; it went the other way. We have spoken up for the people of this country, who are frightened of job losses and frightened of the future for their industries and their communities. That is why we put forward what I believe to be a credible, sensible series of alternatives.

For the very reasons we set out in our letter to the Prime Minister of 6 February we believe there should be a permanent and comprehensive UK-EU customs union, close alignment with the single market, and, as I explained to my right hon. Friend Caroline Flint, dynamic alignment on rights and protections, as well as clear commitments on participation in EU agencies and funding programmes and, finally, unambiguous agreements on the detail of future security arrangements. That is because we want a Brexit that protects jobs, the economy and our industries, and those industries are suffering—no doubt about it. Growth is slowing, manufacturing is now mired in recession, investment is drying up, jobs are going, and thousands of workers fear for their future. The stress facing workers—EU nationals in the UK and indeed British nationals in Europe—is real; I met a group in Spain a couple of weeks ago who told me of their concerns, and they were pleased that we supported what is known as the Costa amendment.

We are deciding the future of our country. Each Member has to answer whether they believe this deal is good for their constituents. If this deal narrowly scrapes through tonight—I don’t think it will—we believe the option should be to go back to the people for a confirmatory vote on it. But we do not believe it should go through.

While there have been no calculations of the economic impact of the actual deal in front of us—something that should shame this Government—there is an estimate of the Chequers deal, which included a promise of “frictionless trade”, which the Prime Minister failed to deliver. But still, even with that more favourable outcome, the Government estimate that their own deal would make our economy and the people of this country worse off.

The documents in front of us offer no clarity.

Photo of Geraint Davies Geraint Davies Labour/Co-operative, Swansea West

Does my right hon. Friend agree that people who voted leave in Swansea and elsewhere voted for more money, for more jobs, for more trade and for more control, and they are getting none of them, and they will not even get any guarantees on environmental protections? So how can we vote in good faith on behalf of leavers for this shoddy deal?

Photo of Jeremy Corbyn Jeremy Corbyn Leader of Her Majesty's Official Opposition, Leader of the Labour Party

However people voted in the referendum, they want some certainty of their future: they want some certainty of their jobs, they want some certainty surrounding their trade.

Photo of Kenneth Clarke Kenneth Clarke Father of the House of Commons

As the right hon. Gentleman knows, I rather agree with him on the broad principles he sets out for our final aspirations and long-term goals, and indeed I voted with him in this House the last time he put the principles forward, but earlier he was giving his reasons for voting against the withdrawal agreement tonight, yet actually none of the things he mentioned had anything to do with the withdrawal agreement. Can he explain what his objection is to the deal we have on citizens’ rights, what his objection is to the agreement on the money we owe, and what on earth is his objection to the Irish backstop that leads him to put the whole thing in peril if he actually does carry out his threat to vote against it tonight?

Photo of Jeremy Corbyn Jeremy Corbyn Leader of Her Majesty's Official Opposition, Leader of the Labour Party

I was grateful for the support of the right hon. and learned Gentleman in the last Division that we had on this subject. Indeed, we had a very pleasant chat during that vote. I was pointing out that the Prime Minister had set herself a series of objectives and that she had not met any of them. She has brought back exactly the same deal and expects us to vote on it again. I hope that the House rejects it.

Photo of Helen Grant Helen Grant Vice-Chair, Conservative Party

Will the right hon. Gentleman explain why he has refused to accept repeated offers of meetings with the Prime Minister at such a vital time?

Photo of Jeremy Corbyn Jeremy Corbyn Leader of Her Majesty's Official Opposition, Leader of the Labour Party

I met the Prime Minister in December to discuss the arrangements by which we would have debates on this whole process, and we absolutely agreed that the vote would take place on 11 December. It did not take place, because the Government decided to delay it, which made the situation worse. So we did have a meeting, and I presented the Prime Minister with a copy of my letter along with our proposals. Members of my team have also had meetings with their opposite numbers, so there have been meetings. The reality is that the Prime Minister is stuck in a groove and believes that only her deal is the thing that should be voted on. She was not listening to what we were saying or to what was included in our letter. That is really the problem.

The documents in front of us offer no clarity and no certainty. The political declaration says clearly that this could lead to a spectrum of possible outcomes. The 26 pages of waffle in the political declaration are a direct result of two things: the Prime Minister’s self-imposed, utterly inflexible and contradictory red lines, and the Government’s utter failure to negotiate properly, to engage with Members of this House or to listen to unions and businesses.

Photo of Seema Malhotra Seema Malhotra Labour/Co-operative, Feltham and Heston

Further to the contribution from the Father of the House, may I ask my right hon. Friend to clarify the view expressed in the joint statement that there is an important link between the withdrawal agreement and the political declaration, because although they are of a different nature, they are part of the same negotiated package? Does he agree that there are significant objections, particularly on the side of the House, to the political declaration as well?

Photo of Jeremy Corbyn Jeremy Corbyn Leader of Her Majesty's Official Opposition, Leader of the Labour Party

Indeed, and of course the political declaration is not a legally binding document. It is a declaration, and no more than that. I share my hon. Friend’s concerns about much of it, and about the changes that need to be made to it. This is another reason why we should be rejecting the Prime Minister’s motion this evening. It is simply not good enough to vote for a blindfold Brexit, so we will vote against this deal tonight and I urge all Members to do so.

We only have this vote tonight—just as we only had the same vote on the same deal in January—because Labour Members demanded from the very beginning that Parliament should have a meaningful vote. I want to pay tribute to our shadow Brexit team, our shadow International Trade team, our shadow Attorney General and our shadow Solicitor General, who have done so much to ensure that Parliament has proper scrutiny over this process. The European Union (Withdrawal) Bill started out with Henry VIII powers that would have ridden roughshod over Parliament and over our ability to hold the Executive to account. It was the actions of our Front Bench, our teams and our Back Benchers that forced the situation so that we could have a meaningful vote in Parliament; otherwise, this would not have happened. The right to that scrutiny, to hold the Government to account and to ensure the interests of our constituents is absolutely vital. It is something that I have exercised to the full in my time in this House.

I believe that there is a majority in this House for the sort of sensible, credible and negotiable deal that Labour has set out, and I look forward to Parliament taking back control so that we can succeed where this Government have so blatantly failed. There are people all around this country at the moment who are very concerned about their future, their communities and their jobs. EU nationals are concerned about their very right to remain in this country, as is the case for British nationals living across the European Union. Parliament owes it to all of them to get some degree of certainty by rejecting the Prime Minister’s proposal and bringing forward what we believe to be a credible set of alternatives. Parliament should do its job today and say no to the Prime Minister.

Photo of Bill Cash Bill Cash Chair, European Scrutiny Committee 3:24 pm, 12th March 2019

I referred just now, when I was talking to the Prime Minister, to the issue of control over laws. We have been through the backstop in detail today with the Attorney General, and the legal issues group that I have been convening has come up with some clear answers to that question. The backstop is unacceptable in its present form, and we are profoundly determined to vote against this withdrawal agreement for that reason alone.

I want to say one simple thing. People need to take into account exactly what uncertainty and real problems will come for workers as well as for businesses in the course of the next few years if this transitional period goes through. I speak as the Chairman of the European Scrutiny Committee when I say that there are 200-plus uncleared documents that are deemed not to be in the national interest, and that there will be more in the pipeline, including proposals relating to turning unanimity on tax policy into majority voting, as well as the financial transaction tax.

I strongly urge Members to bear in mind what the Prime Minister so rightly said about this issue at Lancaster House. She knows well enough how much effort I put into ensuring that the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill was drafted as it was, and that, in addition, it was enacted and got Royal Assent on 26 June. At that point, we were completely and totally at one. After that, in the run-up to Chequers and the withdrawal agreement, the first question I put to her was on 9 July, when I asked her how she could reconcile the Chequers proposals with the repeal of the 1972 Act under section 1 of the legislation that had been passed only 10 days before. I am absolutely convinced that that was an accurate assessment of the position.

A further point relates to the manner in which legislation comes through our Committee. Under the 1971 White Paper we were told that we would have a veto, yet it has been whittled away to extinction. The net result is that everything is now more or less done by consensus and/or by qualified majority vote. The European Scrutiny Committee analysis produced a few days ago suggests that the transition period could last until after the next general election—that is, to 1 January 2023—with an extension of the period under article 132 of the withdrawal agreement being highly probable. The worst possible situation is that we would end up being at the mercy of our competitors during that time. They would have no interest in giving us any of the benefits that might come out of the legislative pipeline when they themselves were making the laws and we were receiving them in the most humiliating circumstances in the history of our Parliament.

Never before in our entire history have we been legislated for by other member states. Indeed, it would be worse than that, because it would be done by a number of countries that would have no interest other than to put us at the mercy of our competitors. That would be absolutely catastrophic, and it is a fundamental reason why I am voting against this withdrawal agreement tonight.

When we had a similar situation with the ports regulation, the workers made their views plain by voting against it. The 47 ports employers and all the trade unions were against it, but it went through anyway. That will be the pattern, believe me. I have been on the European Scrutiny Committee for 34 years, and I have seen it. We have never turned down a proposal from the European Union over the entirety of those 34 years. It just does not happen.

Under article 4 of the withdrawal agreement, we are tying ourselves into the assumption that that is what is going to happen. Furthermore, the withdrawal and implementation Bill, which my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has said will be introduced in a couple of days if the withdrawal agreement tragically goes through tonight, will mean that that primary obligation will be in primary legislation. That is what the Bill will say. It will also undermine the repeal of the 1972 Act and enable the Court of Justice of the European Union to disapply Acts of Parliament under article 4. I trust that people understand that when the Court has the right, by Act of Parliament, to disapply inconsistent Acts of Parliament, that will put even the repeal of the 1972 Act under section 1 of the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018 in grave jeopardy, as the European Scrutiny Committee’s report showed just the other day.

I have other concerns about state aid, whereby we will be unable under the backstop arrangements and the withdrawal agreement to incentivise our industries, enterprise zones, freeports and so on. That will lead to a severe denial of this country’s right to determine its own tax policy. Furthermore, the European Commission will be enabled under the withdrawal agreement and the backstop to continue to supervise the Competition and Markets Authority and, as I said, to affect the manner in which we can legislate.

For all those reasons, it is imperative that we do not allow the withdrawal agreement to go through. It undermines the referendum, and it is in denial of the Conservative party’s manifesto commitments and of this House’s right to legislate in line with the wishes of our constituents in general elections. The pragmatism to which my right hon. Friend refers is washed away by the question of principle that I have just mentioned. The truth is that we must vote against the withdrawal agreement, because it will affect defence, agriculture, fisheries and every single area relating to the entire range of EU treaties and laws. That is what we will happen if we push the withdrawal agreement through tonight. We will be at the mercy of our competitors for several years—[Interruption.] I see my right hon. Friend shaking her head, but she knows perfectly well that what I am saying is true. It is clear that we will not be in control of our laws for a period of time.

On that note, I am prepared to say that I will vote against the withdrawal agreement, and I hope that many other Members will do likewise.

Photo of Ian Blackford Ian Blackford SNP Westminster Leader 3:32 pm, 12th March 2019

I wish the Prime Minister well, and I hope she recovers her voice in a speedy manner.

When standing for election for the Highlands and Islands in the European elections, Winifred Ewing said the following:

“This vast area—the largest seat in Europe—really must have a Scottish voice to speak up for it, with no priorities like the London parties and no diktats from London, just simply to speak up for the vast area and all the industries, all of which are under threat”.

Madame Ecosse—our trailblazer for Scotland’s voice being heard in Europe—strengthened our cultural ties and our communities’ opportunities by fighting for a strong voice for Scotland in the European Union. Winnie Ewing used her voice in Europe to attract funding to the highlands and islands that benefited local transport hubs and infrastructure. Winnie also chaired the European Parliament Committee on Culture and Education when the Erasmus programme was established in the late 1980s, which is why Scotland cherishes the opportunities that it brings to our students and to our country. To stand here today, with only 17 days to go until we exit the EU, and know that Scotland’s historical place in Europe is under threat is devastating.

“United in diversity” is the motto of the European Union, and it first came into use in 2000. It signifies how independent states came together in common endeavour to work for peace and prosperity. The beauty of the European project is that it has allowed us to work together while being enriched by the continent’s many different cultures, traditions and languages. We have been enriched by cultural diversity while the single market has granted economic opportunities to our citizens. We have only gained, not lost. In Europe, we learn from each other. Just last month, the Irish Seanad debated following in Scotland’s footsteps by introducing the baby box, which is a progressive policy that is benefiting the lives of citizens in Scotland. That is what the European Union has always been about: partnership to improve the lives of our nations and advance the opportunities for our citizens and our communities. Standing together, we have worked to protect our values of human dignity, freedom, democracy, equality, the rule of law and human rights. Our shared endeavour has been to build a society in which inclusion, tolerance, justice, solidarity and non-discrimination prevail.

Photo of Sylvia Hermon Sylvia Hermon Independent, North Down

I am sorry to interrupt the right hon. Gentleman’s wonderfully poetic prose, but will he look at the wider country of the United Kingdom and explain to this House, before we vote tonight, the consequences of leaving the EU without a deal, particularly for Northern Ireland? The Leader of the Opposition could not take an intervention from me, and we need to spell out the consequences for the people of Northern Ireland, the majority of whom are not represented by the DUP.

The DUP has 10 duly elected Members, but it does not speak for the majority of people in Northern Ireland. Many businesses, many farmers, many fishermen, many people and many community leaders support the Prime Minister’s Brexit deal. What does the right hon. Gentleman think of the consequences not just for Scotland but for Northern Ireland? I respect his views on Scotland, but I need him to spell out the SNP’s thinking on the consequences for Northern Ireland of remaining within the United Kingdom, which I want it to do. I do not want dissident republican violence back on the border.

Photo of Ian Blackford Ian Blackford SNP Westminster Leader

I thank the hon. Lady for her intervention. I must say that the UK is not a country but a state—some would say it is some state. Scotland is a country, and we wish to have our rights as EU citizens protected.

I hope this House overwhelmingly rejects the Prime Minister’s deal tonight, but tomorrow we must take our responsibilities and vote down no deal, which would be catastrophic. The Prime Minister could have done that months ago, and it is regrettable that we have had to wait until just over two weeks before we are supposed to leave before we can vote down no deal.

Photo of Sylvia Hermon Sylvia Hermon Independent, North Down

Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Photo of Ian Blackford Ian Blackford SNP Westminster Leader

No, I must make some progress.

Once again, we listen to Conservative voices argue that we must leave our European destiny behind. I cannot countenance why we would leave behind those shared values and common endeavours. Our countries have come out of conflict and war and have come together. Our communities have thrived in times of peace. Collaboration and co-operation with our neighbours is delivering a new world of opportunity for all our citizens.

Despite the theatre of this place, where we poke and jar at each other, in truth today is painful, and I am deeply sad that we have reached this point of complete crisis. In homes across the United Kingdom our families, friends and communities are watching. In Amsterdam, Brussels, Berlin, Madrid, Dublin and Paris—I could go on—our friends and neighbours are watching. What must they be thinking? The historic achievement of the European project is unravelling, and for what? To replace partnership and stability with isolation and chaos.

Let us not beat about the bush: this battle began in the Tory party, and there it should have stayed. Euro- scepticism festered and consumed Tory Members and their party for decades until David Cameron rolled the dice, and where is he now? After he opened the box and spilled the Tory war on to the streets across the country, he abdicated all responsibility. The historical internal Conservative divisions have now divided the United Kingdom, and today Members must decide whether they will also abdicate responsibility and roll the dice, or whether they will act in the interests of their constituents by stopping the greatest act of self-harm to our economy.

We on the SNP Benches know our responsibilities, and we will not follow those who started the fire into the flames.

Photo of Stewart McDonald Stewart McDonald Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Defence)

The hon. Gentleman shouldn’t be like that—I haven’t even said anything yet!

Will my right hon. Friend go back slightly and reflect, as I have, on the fact that it is five years this year—last month, in fact—since 100 people were gunned down by the then Yanukovych Government of Ukraine because they wished to join the European Union? He reflects on what people must think across the continent, and I can tell him that they are aghast at the way in which the previous speaker talks down the European Union, as the truth is that many aspire to join it because of the very advantages of economic prosperity and peace that my right hon. Friend outlines.

Photo of Ian Blackford Ian Blackford SNP Westminster Leader

My hon. Friend is correct about that. I have some difficulty in reconciling myself with what we are doing. I had the opportunity to work in the continent of Europe, as did my son, and we are taking that automatic right away from my grandchildren. If the Prime Minister gets her way, in just over a couple of weeks that right that we all have to live, work and get an education in 28 EU states will be reduced to applying in only one. Why are we doing that? Simply because of the Eurosceptics in the Tory party, who have driven us to that position. What a disgrace that the opportunities that many people have benefited from are being taken away.

People may not see it on a camera, but while I am saying this the Prime Minister is sitting there laughing. She is laughing while those opportunities are being stolen—that is what is happening—from our future generations. It is an absolute disgrace that the Prime Minister would behave in the way she is. I will give her the opportunity to stand up and perhaps argue why it is right that our young people should be denied those opportunities and that we should act in a way that is taking away—[Interruption.]

Photo of John Bercow John Bercow Speaker of the House of Commons, Chair, Speaker's Committee on the Electoral Commission, Chair, Speaker's Committee for the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority, Chair, Commons Reference Group on Representation and Inclusion Committee

Order. I invite the right hon. Gentleman to resume his seat. The Prime Minister is perfectly capable of defending herself, but I must say that there has not been anything remotely unseemly or untoward, still less unparliamentary, about the Prime Minister’s behaviour, today or indeed on any other day. She is sitting, listening, with a smile on her face, which seems a perfectly reasonable thing to do. The right hon. Gentleman is an old hand and he is whipping it up. I do not knock him, but I say to others: calm. No excessive gesticulation. A man as cerebral as you, Mr Kwarteng, does not need to point in an aggressive manner. You are a cerebral denizen of the House, remember that.

Photo of Ian Blackford Ian Blackford SNP Westminster Leader

Thank you, Mr Speaker. These are serious matters and they deserve to be taken seriously. I am not arguing for one moment that the Prime Minister is behaving in a way that is unparliamentary—I would not seek to do so—but I do say that it is undignified to see the Prime Minister laughing when I am talking about the rights that will be taken away from our young people. That, Mr Speaker, is unforgivable.

Photo of Stephen Kerr Stephen Kerr Conservative, Stirling

Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Photo of Ian Blackford Ian Blackford SNP Westminster Leader

No.

After a late night in Strasbourg and with some careful packaging today, the Prime Minister thinks she can fool us the way she has fooled those on her own Benches. We will not be fooled—nothing has changed. The Attorney General’s legal advice is crystal clear: the Prime Minister has failed to secure a time limit or unilateral exit mechanism from the backstop. The changes secured by the Prime Minister will apply in the highly unlikely situation where the EU has acted in bad faith. That confirms that the Prime Minister’s strategy has been recklessly to run down the clock, attempting to blackmail Parliament to choose either her non-starter deal or a no-deal. This deal is not a new deal; it is the same deal, and it is the same bad deal for Scotland.

The events of the past 24 hours change nothing for Scotland. This is the same deal, the same Prime Minister and the same Tory party treating Scotland with contempt. It is the same disastrous deal that ignores the people of Scotland’s overwhelming vote for remain, and it will cost jobs and hit living standards. Does the Prime Minister have no respect for the Scottish Government, for the Scottish Parliament, for the people of Scotland? That fact is that today, for the Prime Minister, this is about her future and her party’s future—nothing more. This UK Government do not care about Scotland’s future, as they press forward with this Brexit bombshell, inflicting unprecedented socioeconomic and political harm. The supposed concessions are merely a fig leaf for a problem that the UK has created for itself. That fig leaf cannot disguise the fact that it was a bad deal in December and a bad deal in January, and it is still a bad deal today. This chaotic attempt to placate the extreme Tory Brexiteers serves only to prolong the chaos and uncertainty.

Photo of Stephen Kerr Stephen Kerr Conservative, Stirling

I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for giving way. Why does he choose to ignore the votes of 1 million Scots who voted to leave? Why does he choose to ignore the voices of the National Farmers Union of Scotland, the Scottish Chambers of Commerce, the Scotch Whisky Association, Diageo and a number of other business and trade groups that are saying to all Scottish Members of Parliament that they should support the Prime Minister’s deal to deliver an orderly Brexit?

Photo of Ian Blackford Ian Blackford SNP Westminster Leader

I knew that, if I gave way to the hon. Gentleman, he would embarrass himself, and that is exactly what he has done. The reality is that Scotland voted by 62% to 38% to remain. So-called Scottish Conservative Members of Parliament should be standing up for their constituents in Scotland—

Photo of John Bercow John Bercow Speaker of the House of Commons, Chair, Speaker's Committee on the Electoral Commission, Chair, Speaker's Committee for the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority, Chair, Commons Reference Group on Representation and Inclusion Committee

Order. Mr Kerr, I thought you would have satisfied yourself with your contribution, of considerable eloquence and passion, made on your feet. You mustn’t now holler from your seat. I advise you to imitate the parliamentary Buddha, the Father of the House, Mr Clarke, who is repose personified.

Photo of Ian Blackford Ian Blackford SNP Westminster Leader

Thank you, Mr Speaker. We are used to Scottish Conservatives shouting from the sidelines.

This is a blindfold Brexit that will take Scotland out of the single market, which is eight times the size of the UK, and leave people at the mercy of the Tories as they continue to tear themselves apart. This is a rotten deal that will lead our economy down the path of destruction without adequate protections. We know that the Brexit uncertainty is already damaging our economy to the tune of £600 per household per year. The economists have been crystal clear that the Prime Minister’s deal—this deal—is set to hit GDP, the public finances and living standards, and the Government have simply done nothing about it. Well, except for the Chancellor. He did at least have a moment of weakness and tell the truth on BBC Radio 4, when he admitted that this deal would make our economy smaller and that “in pure economic terms” there would be a loss. Like the SNP, even the Chancellor accepted the benefits of remaining in the European Union when he said that

“clearly remaining in the European Union would be a better outcome for the economy”.

Photo of Martin Docherty Martin Docherty Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Industries of the Future and Blockchain Technologies)

Would my right hon. Friend, like me, reflect on history? It was not the European Union, or what came before it, that destroyed the great shipyards on the Clyde. It was not the European Union, or what came before it, that destroyed the coalmining industry in Scotland. As a matter of fact, we clung to the lifeboat of what was then the European Union throughout what we call the Westminster bypass. Tearing us out of the European Union replays history, to the impoverishment of our country, led by the Tory party.

Photo of Ian Blackford Ian Blackford SNP Westminster Leader

My hon. Friend is correct. We can all remember that, pre-2014, when we held our referendum in Scotland, we were promised that a bonanza of orders would come to the shipyards on the Clyde, and we know exactly what happened to that.

Let me come back to the Chancellor. Here he is, ready to trot in behind the Prime Minister to deliver a blindfold Brexit that will send our economy into an unmitigated disaster. It is a shameful act of cowardice from the Chancellor, putting his party before people.

Instead of coming clean with Parliament and with the public, the Prime Minister asks us to vote blindly for this deal today. Despite numerous attempts to ascertain whether the Government have even conducted an economic analysis of the Prime Minister’s deal, they have still not published any analysis. What is the Prime Minister hiding? It is the height of irresponsibility for the Prime Minister to bring her deal to Parliament without providing the analysis of its impact. We know that her deal will cost jobs.

It is ludicrous for MPs to be asked to vote on a deal while completely blind to its economic consequences. Will the Prime Minister not end the shroud of secrecy and come clean with MPs and the whole of the United Kingdom? Analysis published on the London School of Economics website estimates that

“the Brexit deal could reduce UK GDP per capita by between 1.9% and 5.5% in ten years’ time, compared to remaining in the EU.”

The National Institute of Economic and Social Research has warned:

“If the Government’s proposed Brexit deal is implemented, then GDP in the longer term will be around 4% lower than it would have been had the UK stayed in the EU.”

That is the reality. Will Members on opposite Benches vote for a deal without knowing the consequences? Will they sleepwalk into disaster? I appeal to Members: do not do this as the consequences are too grave. What is coming down the line after today is unknown, but what is known points to chaos.

Even in the political declaration, the UK Government confirmed their intention to end free movement of people, which is vital to meet Scotland’s needs for workers in sectors such as health and social care. I met a young trainee vet in Portree in the Isle of Skye a week past Saturday. She is a young woman from Spain who wants to remain in Scotland, but when she qualifies as a vet, she will not meet the earnings threshold that would guarantee her the right to live in Scotland. Prime Minister, that is what leaving the EU is doing. It is denying opportunities to young people who want to make a contribution to our economy. It is shameful to see Stephen Kerr shaking his head, because we will lose those opportunities to benefit our economy, and we will lose the social benefits that come from that in Scotland.

Photo of Stewart McDonald Stewart McDonald Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Defence)

We often talk, and rightly so, about the impact of the salary threshold, but will my right hon. Friend acknowledge that there is a significant community of people across the UK who have retired to this country from the European Union? As a constituent from Italy said to me at the weekend, if the place gets too expensive, she will just go back to the beach.

Photo of Ian Blackford Ian Blackford SNP Westminster Leader

That is absolutely right. I simply say to the Government that they need to reflect on this. There are an estimated 235,000 EU citizens living in Scotland alongside an estimated 142,000 other international migrants. Together they represent 7% of our population and they are welcome. Scottish Government analysis suggests that, without migration, Scotland’s population will decrease by 10,800 by 2040.

This deal will cause untold damage not just for the current generation, but for the next. This deal will make our people poorer, our businesses weaker and our economy smaller. We cannot let that happen. What is democracy if citizens cannot be allowed to change their minds? Members can sneer and jeer from the sidelines, as they have, but beneath their outward aggression, there is, I am sure, their conscience. If Members look to that they will know that no one can act in good conscience against the facts.

Members across the House know that Brexit is bad for Britain. It is bad for families, bad for business, bad for the economy, bad for co-operation and trade and bad for growth. I am in no doubt that the Scottish Tories are well aware of the consequences as they have been well outlined by academics, economists and many others. Brexit is bad for Scotland. Last week, I visited Edinburgh University. Some 26% of its academic community are from the EU. The vice-principal told me that mobility is the key and that the academic community is already expressing concern. The university has still been able to recruit, but the pool of candidates is becoming shallower because, quite simply, people do not want to come to Brexit Britain. That is the reality, Prime Minister, and it is this Government who are responsible for that.

The Prime Minister is playing a game of smoke and mirrors to save her own skin— not the future interests of people across the United Kingdom. She has renegotiated nothing. She promised legal changes to the withdrawal agreement. Nothing even close to that has been achieved. Let me remind the House. On 29 January, the Prime Minister was unequivocal:

“What I am talking about is not a further exchange of letters but a significant and legally binding change to the withdrawal agreement. Negotiating such a change will not be easy. It will involve reopening the withdrawal agreement—a move for which I know there is limited appetite among our European partners.”—[Official Report, 29 January 2019;
Vol. 653, c. 678.]

But the EU27 have refused to reopen the withdrawal agreement. The fact remains that the EU27 have not reached any agreement with the UK in negotiations on changes to the backstop or the withdrawal agreement. The window dressing on the backstop is simply to allow members of the ERG to slide their support behind the Prime Minister and save the blushes of their extreme Brexiteers, but we now know from what has been in the media that even that has not worked.

The Irish Times journalist, Fintan O’Toole, noted last night the ridiculousness of the Government’s actions, when he tweeted:

“Very hard to see what’s really new in all of this. It’s the Withdrawal Agreement served with a side order of ‘this doesn’t mean what it doesn’t mean anyway’.”

Jo Maugham QC also commented in reference to the Prime Minister:

“Not only did she fail to get any changes to the Withdrawal Agreement. But she was also made publicly to agree that there are no changes to the Withdrawal Agreement.”

And a key player in the negotiations, the Irish Taoiseach Leo Varadkar, has noted that the extra layers are complementary to the deal, not a rewrite. Nothing has been changed except the fact that the DUP has been bought a new comfort blanket. Well, the SNP—unlike the DUP—cannot be bought.

The Prime Minister is so desperate that it is clear that she will go to any lengths to undermine the will of the House, which has already voted against this deal. Last week, we saw the Conservative Government offer bribe after bribe to Labour MPs. On Monday 4 March, the Government announced a £1.6 billion Brexit cities fund. The Government have still not confirmed whether any of this will come to Scotland, and I do not hear Scottish Conservative MPs standing up for Scotland on that. On Wednesday 6 March, the Government announced plans to give MPs the right to decide whether to enforce future EU changes on workplace rights and standards after the UK has left the EU. But Frances O’Grady of the TUC dismissed this, saying that the proposals

“come nowhere close to ensuring existing rights are protected. And they won’t stop workers’ rights in the UK from falling behind those in the rest of Europe.

Since January, we have seen the UK Government buying fridges in bulk to stockpile drugs, practising traffic jams on airfields and awarding ferry contracts to companies with no ferries. Let me remind the House that the Prime Minister lost the first meaningful vote by 432 to 202. This is the same deal. Nothing has changed. But this is not a binary choice before us; it is not a deal or no deal. There is still a way to protect our citizens.

I appeal to Members, particularly Scottish MPs, to stand with the SNP; reject the Government’s negotiated withdrawal agreement for the future relationship with the EU; recognise the resolutions of the Scottish Parliament and the Welsh Assembly of 5 March to oppose the UK Government’s exit deal; say that a no-deal outcome to the current negotiations on EU withdrawal would be completely unacceptable on 29 March or at any other time; acknowledge the endorsement of this House of the claim of right for Scotland on 4 July 2018, recognising the sovereign right of the Scottish people to determine the form of government best suited to our needs; recognise that Scotland should not be forced to leave the EU against its will; and ensure that this place, this Prime Minister and this shoddy Tory Government understand that the best future for Scotland lies in becoming, like so many of our neighbours, a full, equal, sovereign, independent member state of the European Union.

The Prime Minister has no mandate from Scotland for her deal. On 15 January, 83% of Scottish MPs voted against it. The Scottish Parliament and Welsh Assembly have voted on a historic joint motion, rejecting the Prime Minister’s deal and rejecting no deal. I remind the House and the Scottish Tories nestling on the Government Benches that 62% of the Scottish voters and every local authority in Scotland voted to remain in June 2016. Scotland’s decision must be respected. I appeal to Members to stand up for the interests of their constituents, and I appeal to Scottish MPs to do the right thing by standing up and fighting for Scotland. Scotland did not vote to leave and we will not be dragged out of the European Union against our will. We will not remain strapped to the sinking ship.

The First Minister has sought compromise at every opportunity. We in the SNP, in government in Edinburgh and here in the Commons, have sought every opportunity to compromise, but we have been dismissed by this Tory Government. Scotland has been treated with contempt—ignored, sidelined and often silenced. The Tories think they can do whatever they want to Scotland, but we will have the chance to vote on independence—to make Scotland a destination in Europe. Our First Minister has been clear. So I say to Members: stand with us. I say to the Prime Minister: give it up; extend article 50 and bring forward a second EU referendum. Her Government have utterly failed to negotiate a deal fit for the country. I say to the Leader of the Opposition: he almost got off the fence; is it not time he got off it properly? We have reached this critical point and still the Labour party is unwilling to act, rather than blow hot smoke. May I remind him that there is still a live motion of no confidence in this Government that has not yet been signed by the Labour Front Bench? We have the opportunity to end this madness and go back to the people. It is long past time that the Leader of the Opposition had some courage. What is he waiting for, or what is he running scared off?

Photo of Heidi Allen Heidi Allen Independent, South Cambridgeshire

This House needs to find a way of compromising to get out of the fix that we are in. I understand that this is a difficult question, but I am going to ask it anyway because I appreciate that the SNP does not like the Prime Minister’s deal, and many of us, for various reasons, do not either. If we were to make it subject to a people’s vote, I suspect that that would get this Parliament, this House and this Prime Minister out of the hole. Would the SNP consider it as a way out of this impasse for the benefit of our country?

Photo of Ian Blackford Ian Blackford SNP Westminster Leader

I thank the hon. Lady for that question. Let me say enthusiastically that the Scottish National party supports a people’s vote, on the basis of the facts that we now know. As we know that there is no such thing as a good Brexit, and that it is going to cost jobs, the right thing to do is to present the facts to the people of the United Kingdom. I implore the House to get behind the people’s vote.

We have an opportunity here today to do the right thing. The people we represent have given us their trust to do what is right for them, for their families and for their communities. Vote Leave was a farce. It pumped lies into the campaign. It sold the public a pup. People must have the right to change their minds, and we must have the courage, as political leaders, to give people the right to change their minds. While the world looks on in wonder at what on earth the UK is about to do, I ask that every Member recalls how much we stand to lose.

Let me say that we on these Benches will not allow our nation to be dragged out of Europe into the abyss. Scotland has a bright future, and that future is as an independent European nation. Mr Davis, the ex-Brexit Secretary, noted at the weekend:

“There is no…treaty in the world…where a sovereign nation…can only leave when the other side says so. So that’s the key point, the ability to get out when we need to.”

The people of Scotland are sovereign under the terms of our constitutional framework, and they too should have the ability to get out of this mess—and, my goodness, we need to. So I ask Members to support the SNP. When we decide to call for action to have a referendum in Scotland, this House should respect that. We will not go down with the sinking ship. As Winnie Ewing famously said:

“Stop the world, Scotland wants to get on.”

I say to the people of Scotland: if we cannot save the United Kingdom from itself, now is the time to save Scotland—an independent Scotland at the heart of Europe.

Several hon. Members:

rose—

Photo of Nicky Morgan Nicky Morgan Chair, Treasury Committee 4:03 pm, 12th March 2019

It is customary to say that it is a pleasure to follow the previous speaker. However, there is an enormous sense of déjà vu about today’s debate. Many of the same faces who have been debating Brexit and our withdrawal from the EU are here in the Chamber today as they have been for the past three years, and, in some cases, before then. What we have just heard from the leader of the SNP is a speech on why Brexit is a bad idea. That is a perfectly honourable position to hold, except for the fact that we had that debate three years ago, and it was lost in terms of wanting to remain. That is the problem with this whole debate and what has become of UK politics since 2016.

My hon. Friend Stephen Kerr was quite right: 1 million people in Scotland voted to leave the European Union. Yes, more people voted to remain, but that is the whole problem with this debate—rather than anybody trying to solve this for the 100%, it has been about the percentage that people in this House identify with. That is why we have ended up in this situation.

Photo of Nicky Morgan Nicky Morgan Chair, Treasury Committee

I am not going to give way.

There are five stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. I firmly believe that the country has, by and large, reached acceptance. Many Members of this House have reached acceptance of the referendum result, but some clearly have not, as we hear time and again. It is time to move on. It is time to draw the withdrawal phase of this EU exit to a conclusion. There are many other political issues that the country desperately needs us to be talking about and focusing on, and yet here we are, time and again debating the same issues. As the Brady amendment showed at the end of January, the issue is around the backstop, but we are all debating and falling out over a backstop that is an insurance policy that everybody hopes is never needed, to solve a problem—a hard border on the island of Ireland—that nobody wants to see.

For me, there are a number of tests of whether this withdrawal agreement should be approved tonight. I have set those tests out in a letter that I will send to my constituents shortly. Does the withdrawal agreement, if passed, lead to greater certainty? I believe the answer is yes. It will at least enable businesses and individuals in our constituencies to plan ahead, certainly with regard to the transition period. Does it deliver on the exit from the EU that the majority of the United Kingdom voted for in 2016? The answer is yes. It gets us closer to leaving the European Union. There are Members on both sides of the House who have campaigned for that for years, and yet they say they will not vote for the deal this evening.

Does the withdrawal agreement enable the governing party to carry on governing after 29 March and pass legislation? Yes, it does. If a stable majority were to pass the withdrawal agreement, would that mean we could pass the withdrawal implementation Bill and all the other legislation? And that is my problem with the challenge laid down by Opposition Members about why the Government do not make an appeal to them. Although I think a compromise and a consensus could be found in the House on a so-called softer Brexit, it will not lead to anything like a stable majority for future legislation. I have heard nothing that promises that from those on the Opposition Benches.

Photo of Alex Sobel Alex Sobel Labour/Co-operative, Leeds North West

If alternative arrangements for the backstop have not been found by December 2020, we will have a Hotel California Brexit where we will have checked out but not be leaving. There is a real danger that passing the withdrawal agreement tonight is just for short-term gain, with pain down the road. Does the right hon. Lady agree?

Photo of Nicky Morgan Nicky Morgan Chair, Treasury Committee

I do not agree. I think there will be a gain. The Treasury Committee has been quite clear that we do not think there is a deal dividend, as the Chancellor has described it, but I think there would be a benefit in terms of stability for businesses and individuals in this country.

Changes have been secured to the withdrawal agreement that was considered in this House in the middle of January. I have been very happy to be part of the alternative arrangements working group, and I thank the Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union for his engagement. I started this process as something of a sceptic, but believing that compromise had to be found to make this work. There are alternative arrangements, on the basis of existing customs checks and processes, that can be put in place to ensure that there is no hard border on the island of Ireland.

Photo of Nicky Morgan Nicky Morgan Chair, Treasury Committee

The hon. Gentleman shakes his head. If he has explored the detail, perhaps he will cover that in his remarks, but it is perfectly possible.

Photo of Luke Graham Luke Graham Conservative, Ochil and South Perthshire

As Chair of the Treasury Committee, has my right hon. Friend seen any alternative proposals from Opposition parties that show a better economic result for the UK outside the European Union, whether in a customs union or the EEA, than the Prime Minister’s deal?

Photo of Nicky Morgan Nicky Morgan Chair, Treasury Committee

One of the difficulties has been actually modelling any of the scenarios and having anything like proper confidence in the figures. What the impact would be on our economy depends on exactly what arrangements are arrived at, including whether we end up in the EEA or in a customs union. As I say, I do not think we need to be in a customs union because there are alternative ways of solving the issue with the border. That is why I would ask hon. Members on this side of the House to vote for the agreement tonight—to give those arrangements a chance to be negotiated and to take root.

There is no doubt that there is a danger in all of this—I say this as Chair of the Treasury Committee and as a former Treasury Minister—of thinking only about the numbers. The economy is of course incredibly important in securing the livelihoods and successful prospects of our constituents, but there are other issues, and the issue of sovereignty, independence and confidence in our democracy should not be underestimated.

I really fear that if this House does not approve the agreement tonight—Members who say, “Oh, I can’t support it for this reason or that reason”, are being very clever with the words and the way they are interpreting the legal advice—the damage done to trust in our democracy and in the power of an individual’s vote will be immense. As somebody who has been subject to abuse and threats because people feel threatened, I say to those who have not yet experienced it that I suspect it will be unleashed on all of us, and I do not see why we would want to put the country through that.

Photo of Tim Loughton Tim Loughton Conservative, East Worthing and Shoreham

I pay great tribute to my right hon. Friend who, as somebody who voted remain, now wants to go forward constructively with a deal. As somebody who voted for leave and voted against the deal before, I am minded to weigh in behind this, because we have got to stop the uncertainty and the conspiracy of chaos that is, I am afraid, promulgated by those on the Opposition Benches below the Gangway who have just rerun and rerun the referendum Bill debate from four years ago and have only offered alternatives that are basically, “Computer says no”. The country is fed up with it, and we need at long last to weigh in behind something with which we can move forward.

Photo of Nicky Morgan Nicky Morgan Chair, Treasury Committee

I entirely agree with my hon. Friend.

Photo of Sam Gyimah Sam Gyimah Conservative, East Surrey

My right hon. Friend is being incredibly generous in giving way. She makes a very powerful point about accountability to the democratic will of the people. If, in delivering on the democratic will of the people, we end up as rule-takers of rules over which we have no say, can she explain to the House in what way we are actually delivering on that will?

Photo of Nicky Morgan Nicky Morgan Chair, Treasury Committee

I think my hon. Friend is anticipating the phase 2 negotiations about the form of the future relationship. The difficulty with that is that, unless we pass this withdrawal agreement today or in the next couple of weeks, we are not going to get on to debating phase 2. If my hon. Friend wants to have that debate, he needs to vote for the agreement tonight and then make sure that we are going to move on to phase 2.

I will be brief because I know that many other right hon. and hon. Members want to speak in this debate. I have said before that it is very easy to remain in our entrenched positions and to keep saying the same things over and over again. However, I challenge hon. Members on both sides of the House to think about whether now is the time—and we have heard that my hon. Friend Tim Loughton could vote for the agreement tonight—to say that we will change our positions.

Actions and votes have consequences, and if this withdrawal agreement is not passed this evening, we may move on tomorrow to a debate about no deal and we may then on to a debate about the extension of article 50. There will be those in this House who want to have those debates, either because they think no deal is a good thing, or because they think they can take it off the table and potentially put the option of remaining on the table.

A short extension of article 50 would be worse than useless, creating more uncertainty and instability in this country, so I urge right hon. and hon. Members, particularly on these Benches, who have said so far today that they have made up their mind or that they might vote against the agreement, “Please think again”, because the beneficial consequences of passing this withdrawal agreement tonight will be enormous, and I think the public will thank us for it.

Photo of Hilary Benn Hilary Benn Chair, Committee on Exiting the European Union 4:14 pm, 12th March 2019

It is a pleasure to follow Nicky Morgan, although I have drawn a different conclusion about the choice we have to make this evening.

I am tempted to say, “Here we go again.” After the flurry of activity and effort—I pay tribute to Ministers who have been working hard over the past couple of months—some people may have had their minds changed by the documents produced last night, but it seems that many others have not.

The one thing I want to say on the documents is this: the withdrawal agreement remains in place, the backstop remains in place, there is no unilateral exit mechanism for the United Kingdom and there is no time limit. While it may be possible to suspend the backstop, in order to do that the United Kingdom has to persuade the arbitration panel that we have a case. If the arbitration panel is then to turn suspension into disapplication, we have to persuade it that the reason for the problem is that there is a lack of good faith on the part of the European Union.

It is pretty safe to say that the EU would say, “No, it’s not a lack of good faith; we just don’t think your alternative arrangements work. We think they would undermine the integrity of the single market and the customs union.” The moment it says that, that engages questions of the application of EU law, at which point the panel has to refer the matter to the Court of Justice of the European Union, whose judgment on these questions will be binding on everyone, including the United Kingdom.

Frankly, proving bad faith, in my view as a non-lawyer, is going to be pretty darn difficult, so we are left with paragraph 19 of the Attorney General’s letter to the Prime Minister today, which says that if we cannot reach agreement because of intractable differences,

“no internationally lawful means of exiting the Protocol’s arrangements” will exist.

If the deal is defeated tonight, tomorrow will be another day. I have little doubt that the House of Commons will vote against leaving the European Union with no deal—we can debate all those matters tomorrow. I still do not know how the Prime Minister is going to vote. Can I just offer her some advice? She used to say that no deal is better than a bad deal, but she now argues that her deal is in fact a good deal. Well, if it is in fact a good deal, it cannot be a bad deal, so, by definition, no deal is now worse than her deal. Therefore, if logic means anything, the Prime Minister ought to come through the Lobby with me and many others tomorrow to vote against no deal. No deal would be the worst possible outcome for the country.

If leaving with no deal is defeated, we will come on to the question of an extension, which will be the subject of Thursday’s debate. However, we have to use an extension for a purpose—that is very clear. For me, the purpose must be, first, to see whether it is possible for the House of Commons to reach agreement on an alternative way of leaving the European Union. Is there support for a customs union? Is there support for a Norway-style arrangement?

Photo of Sylvia Hermon Sylvia Hermon Independent, North Down

I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for giving way. I have enormous regard for him, so I just ask him to confirm whether the Labour party actually supports the backstop. He will know why the Government have argued, and been consistent on the need, for the backstop: to protect the peace process and to protect Northern Ireland and, indeed, the United Kingdom from the consequences of a hard border. Will he therefore confirm that progress has been made? The Prime Minister has been able to get agreement that alternative arrangements will be fast-tracked—my words, not hers—before the end of the transition period.

Photo of Hilary Benn Hilary Benn Chair, Committee on Exiting the European Union

I am happy to confirm that I have heard my right hon. and learned Friend Keir Starmer say that he does not have a problem with the backstop. I do not have a problem with the backstop, because it is an essential insurance policy to protect the integrity of the Good Friday agreement and trade across that border. All that I would say about the alternative arrangements is that all those provisions are already in the withdrawal agreement that the Prime Minister signed up to in November. All that we have had added today is interpretation of what already existed—

Photo of Hilary Benn Hilary Benn Chair, Committee on Exiting the European Union

The Secretary of State is shaking his head, but I take a different view from him as to whether this is in fact a significant or substantial change.

If we are able to reach agreement on an alternative way forward, the second choice the House of Commons will have to make is whether we should go back to the British people to ask them, “Is that what you wanted?”—especially if we did end up approving something like Norway and the customs union. We could argue that that is rather different from what was argued for by the leave campaign during the original referendum. I suppose the central question on that choice, a point which has been made by others today, is whether the electorate have the right to change their mind and, in the same breath, the right not to change their mind. It would be the people’s choice.

The final point I want to make, because time is short, is to say this about sovereignty, which is really at the heart of the referendum, of the decision we have to make as a House of Commons, and of the choice that we as Members wrestle with in trying to decide how to cast our vote. Last week, I met a group of parliamentarians from North Macedonia. We talked about our troubles to do with EU membership. They said to me, “75% of the people of North Macedonia are really keen to join the European Union and NATO.” I asked them why. They replied with three words: stability, opportunity, progress. Whatever else can be said in this debate, Mr Speaker, you cannot apply those words to our country in its current condition.

The Prime Minister, in opening her speech today, said that the deal says something about our country and what it has delivered. I would say to her that it certainly does say something, because her deal has delivered instability, it will entrench a loss of opportunity and it is not progress. It is going backwards. There is further proof of that today. What has Nissan announced? That production of the Infiniti car in Sunderland will end. The long, slow decline of British car manufacturing, which was once the jewel in our manufacturing industry, has, I am very sorry to say, well and truly begun.

This goes to the heart of the mess that we are in, which is not the backstop—we have spent hours on the backstop—but the fact that, after two-and-a-half years of internal argument during which the Government have refused to make choices, the political declaration is so vague that we have no idea where we are going. The Prime Minister also said on the political declaration that we should look at all the things her deal has delivered. I simply say to her: no, it has not. It is not legally binding and there is no certainty. A new Prime Minister could come along in a month, a year or two years and say, “Forget all that. I am now taking the country in a different direction.” That is the reason I will not vote for this deal tonight.

The Prime Minister ended her speech by saying let us demonstrate what politics is for. I would simply say to her that whatever it is for, it is not this agreement.

Several hon. Members:

rose—

Photo of Dominic Grieve Dominic Grieve Conservative, Beaconsfield 4:22 pm, 12th March 2019

It is painful for me to find myself in a position where I cannot agree with my own Front Bench and with my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister on approving this agreement and supporting the Government tonight, but I cannot. I just want to briefly explain why.

We find ourselves in a very unusual circumstance. Unless a country is defeated in war and the Parliament has to meet so that MPs have to surrender provinces that are being annexed by a neighbouring power, it is very unusual for Members of Parliament to be asked, on a fundamental issue, to vote against their own opinion. Yet the evidence has been overwhelming, in the past two and a half years since the Brexit referendum took place, that there is a very substantial majority in this House who consider that there is no form of Brexit that is better than remaining in the European Union. That includes many colleagues on this side of the House who have, for reasons of judgment or loyalty—it does not really matter which—decided that they will support the Government this evening. I talk to them and they tell me that they accept that that is the case.

My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister makes a powerful case when she says that this is necessary because of the decision in the referendum in 2016. She tells us that if we were not to do it, it would diminish faith in the democratic process. I am certainly mindful, as I am the recipient of many emails from angry people, that there are many people who voted in that referendum who did not otherwise normally participate in the electoral processes of this country at all—probably about 10% of the electorate. So one has to recognise their strength of feeling.

If I felt that, by voting for and supporting a deal and a future that I think is going to be completely third rate compared with remaining in the European Union, we could bring closure to this debate because there was some unanimity of purpose—either across the House or even within my party, of which I have been a member now for about 43 years—I would have to seriously consider doing it, despite my own strong judgment that we are about to make a serious and historic mistake.

The problem, however, is that that is simply not the case. There is no unanimity. Take one example from today. In my view, the backstop is a red herring. The point is: what are we going to do with Brexit when we have it? Do we intend to stay aligned roughly within the sort of European regulatory and tariff framework, or do we intend, as some of my right hon. and hon. Friends wish, to strike out for broad horizons? If we do, it does not matter if we do not have the backstop, because actually, the Good Friday agreement precludes us from doing that for Northern Ireland, unless we intend to carve it out and leave it effectively in a European economic area. Such is the price of folly in having allowed a referendum to take place where those advocating leave dealt with it in purely abstract terms. No one—I plead guilty to this as well—was willing to think through, even when we prepared and passed the European Union Referendum Bill, the consequences of what a vote to leave would actually mean and how we could possibly implement it.

Far from bringing closure, we will simply initiate yet another round of very sterile debate against a background where our economy will be damaged, our national security will be impaired and we will find ourselves consistently at a disadvantage. I realise that some of my hon. Friends do not agree with that. They see a bright future ahead if they can just carry out their plans, but I do not see those plans coming to fruition. Indeed, I do not even see at the moment how the withdrawal agreement Bill that will have to follow this approval is likely to get through the House when some of my colleagues, such as my hon. Friend Sir William Cash, start to look at the details. So, with reluctance and sadness, I cannot allow this further ratchet in the destruction of our country to take place.

We are also failing to assess the realities of devolution and the fact that with four nations making up the United Kingdom, there are now four identities that we have essentially disrespected. Even if we were entitled to—[Interruption.] Yes, we have. We have essentially disrespected them in terms of working out the consequences of what the referendum was likely to do. As a Unionist, I worry about the future of my country, because I see the Union as fundamental to our prosperity and collective existence.

I am afraid that I cannot vote for the deal, and we will have to take the consequences of the further difficulties that will follow. I do not look on those with any sense of cheerfulness at all, but I would be utterly, utterly going against my instincts and my judgments if I were to facilitate a process of further self-mutilation for our country, which is what I believe we are currently embarked upon. We should pause, reflect, and above all, I repeat it again—

Photo of Conor Burns Conor Burns Conservative, Bournemouth West

Will my right hon. and learned Friend give way?

Photo of Conor Burns Conor Burns Conservative, Bournemouth West

My right hon. and learned Friend speaks of consequences. He also speaks of those who had hitherto not participated in our democratic process but who participated in the referendum. What does he think the consequences will be outside this House if it tells those people that their voice did not matter and that we will not deliver what they voted for?

Photo of Dominic Grieve Dominic Grieve Conservative, Beaconsfield

I think that we have a duty to say to them that it is perfectly apparent that what we are going to get bears no relation to what was being debated in 2016. I further think that the proper thing to do is to go back to them, point that out honestly, and say that if they wish to leave on these terms, we will, of course, implement it—but that means consulting them. I worry that we appear to be obsessed with avoiding the electorate at every conceivable turn now, because we are fearful that they might come up with an answer that we do not like. Of course it might be to leave. If that is the case, I will keep quiet about the matter forever more, but there is a compelling—[Interruption.] Oh yes I would. If I may say so, I have better things to do. But they may say that they have changed their mind. In a democracy, people are entitled to change their mind. To deny them that choice when we are faced with the current crisis is, in my view, an unacceptable way to proceed. Until we start seeing sense on this, I cannot support the Government.

Photo of Vincent Cable Vincent Cable Leader of the Liberal Democrats 4:30 pm, 12th March 2019

It is a privilege to follow Mr Grieve. I very much agree with what he had to say. Like him, we have no objections to the Irish backstop. It is one of the redeeming features of the Government’s agreement—their having foolishly and unnecessarily drawn red lines around the customs union and the single market, it was an inevitable and necessary measure to protect Ireland from a new, disruptive frontier. Our concern is much more fundamental—the fact that Brexit, as currently devised, will make this country poorer, weaker and less secure.

We have all heard a lot of general rhetoric about this issue, so I want to home in one particular aspect of the economics of it—the nature of the single market and how it originated. Thirty-five years ago, there was an insight in this country around the Prime Minister of the time, Mrs Thatcher. I do not know whether it was her or her advisers who saw that the future of business and trade rested on two s’s—standards and services—and that the traditional preoccupation with tariffs and quotas was of course very relevant, particularly for agriculture and manufacturing, but the future lay in another area.

For three decades, successive Governments—Conservative, coalition and Labour—have beavered away trying to create this structure of a single market, recognising the importance of those key drivers. That has been done on two levels. It was attempted at a global level through the World Trade Organisation, which is often called in aid by Government Members. That achieved virtually nothing, because the World Trade Organisation is essentially a weak organisation that brings together countries with massively divergent standards. It was also pursued through the European Union, with very great success.

One of the central problems of Brexit is that it potentially unravels much of the regulatory framework that has been put in place over those three decades. I have a very simple example, which gives us an indication of what is coming down the track. It actually relates to one of the Government’s success stories. The Government have been trying to roll over the 30 or 40 association agreements we have with the European Union. It would be disastrous if they were not rolled over. Quite a few important countries, including Japan and Korea, are making it very clear that they are not willing to get a move on, as the Foreign Secretary instructed them to, but one of the countries that did is Switzerland.

Switzerland is an interesting case. It is a British success story, with rapid growth in exports of 40% over five years. Britain has a big trade surplus with Switzerland. That is all under the existing arrangements. The Secretary of State for International Trade presented the roll-over agreement as a great success, and indeed it was. It is one of the few things that has actually worked for the Government in this area. But when some of the trade federations affected by the agreement started unpicking it, they noticed that it is not the same agreement that the European Union had.

Central to the European Union agreement was that it brought together about 19 key technical standards across the European Union and Switzerland, which enabled European countries to trade on a common basis. In the revised agreement, there are only five such standards. The companies in the UK that will have to deal with Switzerland in the future will do so at a competitive disadvantage. I have no way of knowing how important that is or how many jobs are at stake, but that small experience will be reproduced on a massive scale as Brexit proceeds, and we should take note of it.

Photo of James Cartlidge James Cartlidge Conservative, South Suffolk

The right hon. Gentleman raises a very good point about Switzerland, but surely the most important point about the Swiss is that they are one of the only examples of a country that has maintained very strong links with the European economy but has been able to go out and get very good trade deals, which have significantly boosted its export penetration around the world. We could achieve that, too.

Photo of Vincent Cable Vincent Cable Leader of the Liberal Democrats

I do not think that Switzerland is a very encouraging example when it comes to external trade deals. Its trade deal with China consisted of opening up the Swiss market to everything and getting virtually nothing in return. Actually, that illustrates a much wider point: one of the things that we sacrifice with Brexit is bargaining. George Eustice has now disappeared from the Chamber, but he pointed out a week or so ago—and he is a hardline Brexiteer—that our bargaining power with the United States over food standards is massively weaker than it would be if we continued to be a member of the European Union, and very poor standards will be inflicted on us. That is the kind of debate that we ought to be having, but we are not.

All the costs associated with the unravelling of the single market will be compounded by the loss of the customs union—I know that the Labour party has given that priority, and it is important, but it is not as important as the single market—and also by uncertainty. Had the Government done what they promised to do, which was to have a clear picture of the endgame before they completed Brexit, all that uncertainty would have gone. British firms with a time horizon of more than two years will now be afflicted by massive uncertainty about whether to invest in this country, and many of them will not do so. The future is wholly uncertain.

The combination of those factors has major economic consequences. I have taught economics for many years and worked in it for many years, and I know that it is not a precise science. However, one of the most fundamental principles of economics, going back to Adam Smith—and, indeed, before—is that if you put up barriers to trade, you make yourself poorer. That will now be compounded many times over.

In addition to all the economic costs, there is the unravelling of the collaborative arrangements. One of the best institutions in my constituency is an organisation called the National Physical Laboratory, which is a centre for key metrology standards. Alan Turing did much of his professional work for it, and I attended and spoke at its annual dinner a few days ago. The people who work there are absolutely horrified at the breaking up of their scientific network, and their inability now to attract European staff. That is being replicated in campuses, universities and scientific institutes across the country.

The European Investment Bank has hardly been discussed here. Crossrail, which has been one of the big innovations in London in recent years, was substantially financed by it, but it is now being dismantled. Those are some examples of the damage that has been done, and that is why the Government must go back to the public and put the deal to them. If they cannot get their deal through Parliament, they must give the people the final say.

Photo of Andrea Jenkyns Andrea Jenkyns Conservative, Morley and Outwood 4:37 pm, 12th March 2019

I shall keep my speech short to allow other Members to speak.

Here we go again. It is groundhog day. We are faced with the same bad deal for our country’s future. In February, we provided the Prime Minister with guidance on what was needed to gain the support of the House. The Malthouse compromise was just that—a compromise to find the middle ground and secure a deal. I respect the Prime Minister’s attempts to improve the deal, but it has been a failure, and since the EU is refusing to improve it, we need to just leave. We need to leave the European Union on 29 March and deliver on the referendum promise.

After weeks of negotiations, all that we have is an agreement that has not changed the working of the backstop, but simply supplements it. These changes only limit the risks posed by the backstop; they do not remove those risks entirely. As a sovereign country, we need the ability to leave the backstop unilaterally. We should not have to ask the EU for permission to forge our own future. The agreement is not about taking back control of our own destiny; it is about surrendering control. As the Attorney General has said,

“the legal risk remains unchanged”, and if the legal risk remains unchanged, the bad deal remains unchanged.

So what next? Where do we go from here? It may seem strange to some, but I propose that we keep our promises and leave the European Union without a bad deal. According to Hansard, the Prime Minister has said more than 120 times that the UK should leave the EU on 29 March. When today’s vote is defeated, the best option left for the UK is to go to WTO rules, just as the Prime Minister has indicated previously.

This deal remains a bad deal for the reasons that I have mentioned, but let us not forget the other issues. If this deal were to pass in its current form, we would still be subject to decisions from the ECJ—decisions that would directly impact on our laws and subsequently our sovereignty. Additionally, we must still pay the European Union the £39 billion just for the right to leave; no, that is not good enough. The Prime Minister has been right all along that no deal is better than a bad deal, and if this place considers her deal to be a bad deal today then we need to leave without a deal.

We need to invest the £39 billion in our own country.

Photo of Andrea Jenkyns Andrea Jenkyns Conservative, Morley and Outwood

I will carry on, thank you.

We need to invest in skills and the new cutting-edge industries of tomorrow. We need to reinvigorate our fishing industries and allow our hard-working fishermen to keep their catch. We need to invest in education and the next generation, invest in policing so that we have safer communities, and invest in our businesses to help them during the transition. It is time we had confidence in our people and in our country and invested in its future, and it is time to deliver what the British people voted for.

Trust takes years to build, seconds to break, and forever to repair. Let us stick to our word: let us keep our promises and deliver on the referendum result. Let us build faith, not tear it down. Let us look beyond the borders of the EU and trade globally. And let us finally take back control.

This withdrawal agreement sets the blueprint for our country’s final deal with the EU. We have given far too many concessions, and it is time to stand up and say “No more.” We must deliver what we promised, and this evening I will be voting against this withdrawal agreement. We need to send a strong message to the EU that Britain deserves better.

Photo of Anna Soubry Anna Soubry Independent, Broxtowe 4:41 pm, 12th March 2019

It is a pleasure to follow Andrea Jenkyns. We do not agree on Brexit, but tonight we will certainly be in the same Lobby voting against this deal—although of course for different reasons, but on this we are absolutely agreed. It is not a deal; it is a withdrawal agreement. It does not provide the certainty and does not deliver the deal that the hon. Lady and unfortunately many others in the leave campaign promised to the Great British people back in 2016 when we had the European referendum.

But the reason why I will not be voting for this deal is not just because of a blindfold Brexit, which is effectively what this is about—the fact that we do not have the certainty that British business is absolutely demanding. What we do know, however, is that the deal as it stands in the political declaration would make my constituents, and indeed all the constituents of every right hon. and hon. Member, less well off, and I did not come into this place to vote for something in the full knowledge that it would make people less well off. [Interruption.] I would be very grateful if the heckling from a Bench near me turned into an intervention, which I would happily take.

Photo of Gareth Snell Gareth Snell Labour/Co-operative, Stoke-on-Trent Central

As the right hon. Lady is talking about voting to make constituents poorer, she may want to remember her time on the Government Benches as a Tory MP, when my constituents suffered at the hands of decisions she supported.

Photo of Anna Soubry Anna Soubry Independent, Broxtowe

Well, that was a really helpful and relevant intervention, wasn’t it? Of course, it is absolute tosh. The most important—[Interruption.] The hon. Gentleman’s heckling is very tedious and could end up with me thwacking him with my Order Paper.

Let us address the real issues that face this House tonight. Let us look at the failings of the withdrawal agreement, and let us look now at a way out of it, as it seems likely that yet again this agreement will fail to pass in this House.

The Independent Group tabled an amendment; I am sorry it was not selected, Mr Speaker, but of course I understand why. However, at least it set out a timetable and provided a coherent alternative, and I believe that is what the people of this country are now crying out for. They want clarity, they want certainty, and they want a way forward.

I also believe that the only way out of this mess is to take the matter back to the British people, as my right hon. and learned Friend Mr Grieve as ever beautifully and eloquently explained in the arguments he advanced. Now we know what Brexit is like, it is perfectly right and acceptable that it should be able to go back to the British people. People are entitled to change their mind, and of course the young people who would bear the heaviest burden of Brexit are entitled, I would argue, to have a say.

What I say to former colleagues on the Government Benches is this: they will be voting—those of them who are doing so—for a withdrawal agreement in absolute knowledge and certainty of the following. As outlined by this Brexit Government—because that is what they are, a Brexit Government—who have done the assessments into all the various ways of delivering Brexit, whatever way we do it will leave this country less prosperous and our constituents less well off. Being a Brexit Government, and the party of Brexit, will not be a badge of honour to be worn next to the blue rosette; it will end up being a badge of shame.

At some stage, people are going to have to make good the huge deficit that will exist. I shall give the House an example. Almost every Saturday, I am proud to go out with the Nottingham people’s vote campaigners, mainly in Nottingham but also in other parts of the county. I recently met a woman who explained why she had voted for Brexit. I understood her complaint about a system that she thought was not working for her when it came to housing. She thought it was the fault of immigrants. I explained that her complaint was nothing to do with immigration, and that immigrants had benefited our country in many ways over many centuries. Nevertheless, in her mind she somehow thought that Brexit was going to make good the problems in her life. If we do leave the European Union—God forbid that we should leave without a deal, the most irresponsible of all the options; the Business Secretary was right to say that it would be “ruinous”—how is that woman going to see her life transformed? She will not be better off economically. How is she going to benefit from the sovereignty that is suddenly going to be recaptured by our country? How is her life going to be improved? And who is going to make good the deficit and disappointment that she will undoubtedly face?

I think that is why so many right hon. and hon. Members on the Labour Benches, especially on the Back Benches, have come round to the view that the only way through this mess is to take it back with honesty and conviction to the people. I pay tribute to Labour Members such as those in Sunderland and Anna Turley who represent leave constituencies but who have had the courage go out and speak to the people they represent, in all weathers, to make their case and to lead them, and to convince them that the best way through this mess is now to go back to the people.

People understand that they were lied to. They were tricked and conned by the leaders of leave, some of whom sit in this place. Those leaders will not lose their jobs. They will not find themselves worse off. They will not bear the burden. The people who will bear the burden are the people in this country who voted leave, and especially those who work in the manufacturing sector. They will see their jobs put at risk. They will see the future of their children and grandchildren blighted. It is the leaders of leave who should take responsibility, yet almost every one of them has walked away from their ministerial position while still scooping up all the benefits that they get outside this House through the articles they write, through their inherited wealth and through their gold-plated pensions. They will never be held responsible, but it should be to their eternal shame that they have caused such damage and deep divisions in this country. They should speak to people, just as I speak to my own constituents whose skin is brown and who find themselves being told to go home and being spat at and abused. That did not happen before this appalling referendum.

When we talk about Brexit, the one thing we now need to do is find a way to heal these terrible divisions. Somebody needs to address that, but it will not be done through more dishonesty. We will do it with honesty and with courage. We must say to the British people, “We have made a mistake. Let us bring this back to you so that you can make good the harm that we have done.”

Photo of Owen Paterson Owen Paterson Conservative, North Shropshire 4:48 pm, 12th March 2019

It is always a great pleasure to follow Anna Soubry. We do not agree.

The element that has not been mentioned at any time so far in this debate is the 17.4 million people who followed a very clear direction. The right hon. Lady and I were part of a party that made this promise in 2015: “If you vote for a Conservative Government, we will give you an in/out referendum. It will be a one-off, with no holds barred. You will decide.” The subsequent European Union Referendum Bill was passed by a very large majority in this House, making it absolutely clear that we the MPs were going to give the people the right to decide. We said, “You will decide, and we will implement whatever you decide.” The 17.4 million people ignored the ludicrous “Project Fear” and the £9 million leaflet dumped in every household that bombarded them with propaganda. They ignored all that. They wanted to “take back control”.

I was in Whitchurch, the town where I was born, and clearly remember people coming off a building site late in the evening saying, “It’s about them. It’s about them, isn’t it?” I said, “What are you talking about?” and they said, “We can get rid of you, Mr Paterson. We can vote you out, but we cannot get rid of them.” They knew exactly what they were voting for. They were voting for the right to remove their rulers. Those who pass bad laws, levy taxes and spend their money badly here can be removed at a general election. That is what this is about.

We hear it time and again that we are up against a constitutional conundrum. We have had referendums on the European Community, Scotland, Northern Ireland, Wales and the alternative vote and, conveniently, the people obediently and politely delivered the result that the establishment wanted each time. This time, however, to the horror of the political establishment represented across all the Benches here, the commercial establishment, including the Confederation of British Industry, and the media establishment, the people have gone against their will. We have a real constitutional conundrum. Everyone in this House must recognise that they have to deliver what the people voted for. I look at the shadow Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union. If he wants to get into power, he must recognise that, of the first 100 marginal seats that Labour has to win, 78 of them are for leave—73 of them strongly for leave. Labour Members had better recognise that they are in this as much as those on the Government Benches.

I am in the ERG. We are called extremists. I have been called a member of Momentum by the Father of the House, who is sadly not in his seat. We were called ultras, I think, on the “Today” programme. However, we are actually loyal Conservatives, because our Prime Minister interpreted the leave vote to mean that we should leave the single market, the customs union and the remit of the European Court of Justice. Sadly, this evening’s proposal does not deliver that.

Photo of Richard Bacon Richard Bacon Conservative, South Norfolk

I am enjoying my right hon. Friend’s speech. Does he agree that it is odd to be called an extremist or a traitor—sometimes by Ministers—for wanting to do no more than implement the manifesto upon which we were all elected?

Photo of Owen Paterson Owen Paterson Conservative, North Shropshire

It is utterly bizarre that Cabinet Ministers have written articles in the popular prints attacking Government policy and the manifesto on which they were elected. There is an issue of reputation and integrity here, and those of us who will regretfully be voting against the Government tonight will be representing the 17.4 million. This argument is not going away. It cannot be put back in the bottle and stuck in the fridge if this agreement goes through.

This is a bad agreement. Laws will be cooked up by 27 nations, and we will not be present. When I was Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, I worked closely with the EU on common agricultural policy reform. We worked closely with allies, whether Germany, Hungary, Italy or whatever, but this time laws will be imposed on us, and if we do not impose those laws to the satisfaction of the European Commission, we can get taken to the ECJ and fined. If the deal goes through and if I come to this House in a year’s time to discuss an issue of great concern to my constituency, such as agriculture or food, and to complain about a law, the Minister will have every right to say, “The right hon. Gentleman voted for that. What is he complaining about?”

Photo of Sylvia Hermon Sylvia Hermon Independent, North Down

The right hon. Gentleman is a former Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, so will he explain to the many businesses, the farmers, the fishermen, the community leaders and the people of Northern Ireland who support the Prime Minister’s deal why their views do not count?

Photo of Owen Paterson Owen Paterson Conservative, North Shropshire

Their views do count. I remember going to an Ulster Farmers Union debate at Balmoral Park during the referendum campaign and leave won that debate. There are varied views in Northern Ireland, as we know from the DUP. The hon. Lady does not have an exclusive right on this. There is a clear role for Members to represent the leave view because this argument will not go away. It would be highly unsatisfactory for this deal to go through. Laws would be imposed on us by 27 nations, and we would not be involved. We would be paying £39 billion for the privilege of having the right to talk about the next phase, which is £64 million per constituency. There is not a single Member listening to this debate who could not spend that money well. It is purely an entry ticket to allow us the right to talk about a trade deal.

The hon. Lady comes from Northern Ireland, and it is extraordinary that we have allowed a section of the UK to be hived off into a new entity called “UK(NI).” The most fundamental principle of the Belfast agreement, as she well knows, is the principle of consent. We have huge admiration for the noble Lord Trimble, one of the co-architects who received the Nobel prize for the extraordinary achievement of getting Unionists to vote for the Belfast agreement, which was very much based on trust that the principle of consent would be respected and that the status of Northern Ireland could never be changed without the consent of the people. At the stroke of a pen, something called “UK(NI)” will be created, which is a clear breach of the Belfast agreement and of the Acts of Union of 1801.

We are promised the right to do trade deals. I was at the Office of the United States Trade Representative in Washington twice in the autumn, and the USTR is clear that we will not be allowed to do trade deals so long as we do not control our tariff regime or our regulatory regime. Under this proposal, we will not have control of either.

There are huge advantages to trading with the outside world. I do not agree with Sir Vince Cable, because the European Union itself says that 90% of world growth will be outside the European Union. We have drawn down from 61% of our trade being with the EU to about 45%, and we are heading to 35%. The future is phenomenal, and it is about trading with the growing economies outside the European Union—we also have the best possible relations with countries inside the European Union—and we can do it by triggering article 24 of the general agreement on tariffs and trade and showing a serious intent to do a free trade deal down the road. If there is a proper exchange of documentation, paragraph 5(c) of article 24 would give us a “reasonable length of time”—that could be up to 10 years—to negotiate.

All the “Project Fear” spookery about tariffs is for the birds. We can go ahead on the basis of article 24. Outside this place, people come up to me time and again to say, “We want to see the vote delivered. Why don’t you just get on with it?” It is now for the Government to deliver rapidly and make sure that we leave on 29 March by using article 24.

Photo of Liz Saville-Roberts Liz Saville-Roberts Shadow PC Spokesperson (Home Affairs), Shadow PC Spokesperson (Women and Equalities) , Plaid Cymru Westminster Leader, Shadow PC Spokesperson (Justice), Shadow PC Spokesperson (Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy) 4:57 pm, 12th March 2019

For the sake of courtesy, I will say it is a pleasure to follow Mr Paterson, although much of what he said sounded aspirational rather than substantial.

Here we are, another fortnight later and another grand finale vote on the Government’s withdrawal agreement, this time with the addition of last-minute semantically creative but significance-light legal documents. We are just 17 days away from the toxic shock of no deal, an outcome that would unconscionably harm the Welsh economy, yet the British Government continue to gamble with the livelihoods of the people of Wales. No one in Wales voted for food and medicine shortages, no one voted to destroy Welsh agriculture and, of course, no one voted to make themselves poorer.

Photo of Angus MacNeil Angus MacNeil Chair, International Trade Committee

The UK is currently deciding whether it wants to damage its own economy by 6% or by 8%—by 6% under the Prime Minister’s deal, or by 8% under no deal. What the UK really needs to do is get its head around revoking article 50, which is the only sovereign decision it has left to take, otherwise there will be trouble in 17 days’ time.

Photo of Liz Saville-Roberts Liz Saville-Roberts Shadow PC Spokesperson (Home Affairs), Shadow PC Spokesperson (Women and Equalities) , Plaid Cymru Westminster Leader, Shadow PC Spokesperson (Justice), Shadow PC Spokesperson (Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy)

We have heard so much aspiration from Conservative Members, who preach to us that a no deal would be beneficial, and now we are coming down to the pragmatics, which all involve article 50, whoever actually brings it about—we will argue for our own approach. If the people of Wales ever needed proof that Westminster fails us, is deaf to our needs and is broken, it is this: while businesses and workers are anxious about their future, there are people here who talk blithely about unleashing the chaos of a no deal on their constituents.

As my Plaid Cymru colleagues and I have said time and again, this withdrawal agreement will be damaging. Plaid Cymru will never support a withdrawal agreement that takes Wales out of the single market and customs union, harming Welsh businesses and workers, as it would do. We will not support any attempt to remove the right of Welsh people to live, work and study in other European countries, as my daughter has done in Paris. In our heart of hearts we know this. Conservative Members and Labour Members all know that we are denying people and we are tying ourselves in knots as to how we justify that. As harmful as the Prime Minister’s deal would be for Wales, leaving without a deal is a worst-case scenario. We cannot countenance it as an option. Indeed, let us remind ourselves that it has already been overwhelmingly rejected by this House, as well as by the National Assembly for Wales.

Photo of Alex Chalk Alex Chalk Conservative, Cheltenham

I do not doubt for a moment the hon. Lady’s sincerity in wanting to avoid no deal, but does she not, like me, see the irony in the fact that she will be joined in the Lobby by people who want to achieve precisely that? If she genuinely wants to avoid that, is not the safe, moderate and proportionate step to vote for this deal?

Photo of Liz Saville-Roberts Liz Saville-Roberts Shadow PC Spokesperson (Home Affairs), Shadow PC Spokesperson (Women and Equalities) , Plaid Cymru Westminster Leader, Shadow PC Spokesperson (Justice), Shadow PC Spokesperson (Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy)

I thank the hon. Gentleman for that intervention, but I ask him: does he not see the deceit of presenting the Prime Minister’s withdrawal agreement as a better result than no deal, given that it will come with the uncertainty of being out of the single market and customs union, damaging the Welsh economy? The no-deal scenario is worse. Many of us can now talk about Brexit almost on auto-pilot, but it is deceitful to tell people who no longer want to discuss this that the Prime Minister’s deal will take Brexit off the table. It is deceitful, it is harmful and it is not the best for Wales’s economy or for many of our economies.

The substance of this debate has never made sense to me. It has centred on a fabricated theoretical concern about a hypothetical backstop never intended to be used. For the extreme right-wing of the Conservative party to be peddling myths about fantastical problems the backstop might, in some blue moon, cause is one thing, but for the official Opposition to be embroiled in the minutiae of that same debate and to be using the same arguments as the Democratic Unionist party is another; it is an unnecessary distraction and a confusion.

What farmers, factory workers and families in Wales need is clarity. For all the withdrawal agreement’s misgivings, what the backstop does offer is, for once, some degree of clarity—it is an insurance policy, after all. But everything else about the withdrawal agreement is a mirage of clarity. Adopt it and the clarity of the political declaration disappears over the horizon as a mirage. The best way to achieve clarity is, of course, to extend article 50, but an extension of three, six or even nine months will do nothing to dissipate the fog of uncertainty. Article 50 must be extended until the end of the transition period, negating the need for this deceitful withdrawal agreement and for any British backstop. A 21-month extension would keep the UK in the EU until the end of the EU’s multi-annual financial framework, give this Government time properly to agree the final relationship with the EU and, crucially, allow time to put this to the people through a referendum.

I have been struck by the irony of people talking about concerns for democracy and about it being an affront to democracy that we would ask for another referendum. The Government took the country to a general election only 25 months after the 2015 general election. It is now 32 months and more since the referendum. Democracy is a resort it suited the Government to use in that short period, so I ask: why is it not suitable to use it now? The people’s vote must of course include an option to remain an EU member state, a position that polls show is supported by more than half the people of Wales—if only it were honest-heartedly supported by the Labour party, too. If we take the scales from our eyes, we will see that the concentration of wealth in London and south-east England got us into this Brexit mess and the concentration of power is trapping us in it. As far as I can see, giving people a final say on our future is the only remaining answer. Democracy is not a one-off event. Nor is it the privilege of only one generation. Democracy, through a people’s vote referendum, will be our salvation.

Photo of Sam Gyimah Sam Gyimah Conservative, East Surrey 5:04 pm, 12th March 2019

In the brief time I have available, I do not wish to re-litigate the 2016 referendum. I take the view that whatever their reasons, people knew why they voted the way they did and that those reasons should be accepted. But there is a difference between where we all were during the referendum campaign and where we are now: today, we all now know what is negotiable. I certainly did not know what was negotiable in 2016, and none of our manifestos talked about the issue of Northern Ireland, which has dominated the negotiations so much. Given that we now know what is negotiable, what is the way forward?

Photo of Sammy Wilson Sammy Wilson Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Treasury), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Work and Pensions), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Brexit)

The hon. Gentleman is quite right that during the referendum campaign the issue of the Northern Ireland border was raised only in so far as the movement of people was concerned, and that issue was dealt with by the common travel area. Is that not an indication that the problems along the Northern Ireland border and the terms of the withdrawal agreement have been manufactured for an unnecessary reason, which is that the EU is using the Northern Ireland border as a way to keep the United Kingdom in both the customs union and the single market?

Photo of Sam Gyimah Sam Gyimah Conservative, East Surrey

I shall come to my comments on the backstop in a moment, but it is definitely clear that although our manifestos committed us to a certain course of action, as all manifestos do, we did not fully appreciate the details of the negotiation in which we were going to be involved.

Photo of Sam Gyimah Sam Gyimah Conservative, East Surrey

Let me just develop this point.

Ordinarily, a manifesto promise is taken through this House, with a Green Paper, a White Paper, First Reading and so on. The manifesto commitment is calibrated and then eventually delivered. The negotiation has been the process through which we have been going with our manifesto commitment.

I could vote for this deal if there was a vision for the future of this country at the heart of it. I could vote for this deal if there was a sense of where we were going at the heart of it. I could vote for this deal if, as many expected, it would improve on the current deal. Reading the newspapers at the moment, I find it depressing how many commentators are saying to us, “The grim reality is that MPs must hold their nose and vote for this.” Someone said today that this is a “grotesquely flawed” deal, but MPs should still vote for it. We are being encouraged to recommend for our constituents something that we blatantly know is not really in the country’s interest. One thing that leavers and remainers all agree on is that had the deal before us been put to us and there had not been a referendum, none of us would recommend it to our constituents as the right path for the future of our country.

Photo of Sarah Wollaston Sarah Wollaston Chair, Health and Social Care Committee, Chair, Liaison Committee (Commons), Chair, Liaison Committee Sub-committee on the effectiveness and influence of the select committee system

Does the hon. Gentleman agree that had our constituents seen the reality of the actual Brexit deal, they too would have rejected it, and that they should have the opportunity to have the final say and a right to vote, not just MPs?

Photo of Sam Gyimah Sam Gyimah Conservative, East Surrey

The hon. Lady makes a powerful point, to which I shall return in a second.

We have this misleading cliché today that we just have to get on with it, as though the result is somehow immaterial so long as we do. That gives me cause for extreme concern about supporting the deal. Let me make two principal points. First, as far as I can understand it, the backstop is there to try to solve an impossible problem: we want to take control of our borders but we want the other side to have an open border. The back- stop exists now because after months and years of negotiation, we have not found a solution to that problem. If those who, like my right hon. Friend Nicky Morgan, say that alternative arrangements could solve the problem genuinely believe that such arrangements could, they need not fear the backstop.

The truth is that dealing with these alternative arrangements on their own will not address the need for the backstop. The side deal that the Prime Minister has come back with improves things to some extent, but the EU has no need to act in bad faith because it knows that, between now and 2020, we will keep going round the same loop, trying to find alternative arrangements. If we are not careful, we may still end up in that backstop, which is why there is such serious concern.

My second point is on the political declaration.

Photo of Sam Gyimah Sam Gyimah Conservative, East Surrey

I would like to develop this point.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Loughborough said that there is no point in discussing the political declaration. She said that all we need to do is vote for the withdrawal agreement, and discussions on the political declaration will come later. We in this House must get real about what the meaningful vote and the withdrawal agreement mean two to three steps down the line.

Photo of Justine Greening Justine Greening Conservative, Putney

My hon. Friend is making a very powerful point. It is easy to forget that when the Prime Minister set out in her Lancaster House speech the many tests and criteria that she felt we needed for a successful Brexit, one of them was to have a future partnership agreed over the course of the two-year article 50 period. As he will know, that was the first time that she mentioned the phrase “No deal is better than a bad deal”, but no deal in that context reflected the future partnership agreement, not just the withdrawal agreement.

Photo of Sam Gyimah Sam Gyimah Conservative, East Surrey

I thank my right hon. Friend for that point. I am running out of time, so I will have to move on very quickly.

The issue with the political declaration is that, after 29 March, we have no idea what happens. We have no strategy and no plan. What the Prime Minister has said is that she will consult this House on a mandate for negotiation, but if her red lines still exist, how will this House agree on a mandate for negotiation as far as the political declaration and our future are concerned? I cannot see how that is possible given that, today, we know that there is no majority for any of those options in this House.

We know that there are some in this House who would rather that we diverge as far from the EU as we can and go cap in hand to an America First President for that free trade deal. Is there a majority for that in this House? We are setting sail, or we are being encouraged to set sail, with no idea about the future. By August, we will have to decide what our negotiating position is for the 21-month period, because another clock starts ticking after 29 March. The longer that we take to work out our negotiating position, the more we eat into our own negotiating time. Very quickly, this House will have to decide whether it wants to get closer to the EU, whether it wants to diverge a bit more, or whether it wants to be somewhere in the middle. Whenever anyone asks this question, they are told, “You are trying to frustrate Brexit.” The truth is that leaving somewhere and going somewhere are not the same thing. We can all leave this Chamber, and two of us could go in completely different directions. We need to understand where we are going, which is why, for me, extending article 50, pausing and reflecting and working that out, is important.

The scene that we have seen over the past few months of Brexit Ministers having to buy a frequent pass on the Eurostar to go to Brussels to secure a concession will be played out time and time again, because we will have left with our hands tied behind our back and everything we want will come at a price. How would we have taken control on behalf of our constituents if that is what happens?

Photo of George Howarth George Howarth Labour, Knowsley 5:13 pm, 12th March 2019

It is a pleasure to follow Mr Gyimah. He made a thoughtful, fluent and principled speech and I commend him for doing so.

Back in January when we were debating this matter, I said that the Government had no majority, no authority, and no longer served any useful purpose. If that was debatable in January, it is now an absolute certainty. I am afraid that the debate we are having only reflects the mess that the Government have got themselves into on this issue.

I want to be brief so I will not repeat a lot of the things that have already been said. I just want to make a couple of remarks about where the public are at and where they were at the beginning of this process, which leads on to the debate about whether a consensus is possible. I do not mean this in any critical way, but Nicky Morgan called for consensus, Andrea Jenkyns called for consensus, and—in a slightly different way—the hon. Member for East Surrey just made a plea for a kind of consensus. The difficulty is that they all mean something entirely different. The right hon. Member for Loughborough means a consensus around the Prime Minister’s deal, the hon. Member for East Surrey wants a pause so that we can think about whether other options could be considered, and the hon. Member for Morley and Outwood basically wants us to come out without a deal. In each case, there is no possible basis for consensus.

When we started this process, I noticed that there were three different strands of opinion in my constituency, and Knowsley is not unique in that. The first strand was made up of people who voted to leave and wanted to leave on any basis it was possible to achieve, including without any kind of a deal. Secondly, there were those who agreed more with me than with anybody else, who felt that we had made a historic mistake in voting to leave in the referendum and were looking for a way to reverse that process. Finally, there was a group of people in the middle who simply wanted to get on with it, although they were not specific about what it was they wanted to get on with, other than the fact that they wanted to leave the European Union—and the Prime Minister has built her entire negotiating strategy around that one group.

The difficulty is that that one group, which is also reflected in this House, cannot definitely be said to be on one side or the other when it comes to any specific deal. Yes, these people want to leave, but they do not necessarily want to leave on any terms put in front of them, and they certainly do not want to be part of a deal that makes them, their families and their communities worse off. The problem is that any solution has to involve a strategy that brings at least two of those three groups along with it, but I am afraid to say that what the Prime Minister is offering at the moment does not bring any one of those groups along fully, as we will see reflected in the Division Lobby tonight.

It would be reasonable to challenge me on what I think should happen. All I can say is that at the beginning of this process, after we triggered article 50, I would have voted for a deal that I thought would not do too much damage to my constituents; that is where I started from. Frankly, I am now at the point where I will vote, if I get the opportunity over the coming days, for no deal because I think that it would be disastrous for my constituency and our country. [Hon. Members: “Against no deal.”] Sorry, I will vote against no deal; that was a Freudian slip. I will also vote for a second referendum if the opportunity arises, and I will certainly vote for the extension of article 50. We have to get somewhere with this. If we do not, the only option left will be to say to the people, “Is this what you really want?” And we are rapidly reaching a point where that is probably the only option left.

Photo of Boris Johnson Boris Johnson Conservative, Uxbridge and South Ruislip 5:18 pm, 12th March 2019

It is a great pleasure to follow Mr Howarth. I have known him for many years and I do not doubt his sincerity in this matter at all. I myself had sincerely hoped that the Government would be able to make the wholly modest changes that this House urged them to make, and that there would be no risk that this country would find itself trapped in the backstop or that we would lose our democratic right to make laws for this country and pass them to a foreign entity for all time, as we are in danger of doing.

But whatever the Government tried to do, they have not, I am afraid, succeeded. Though I congratulate the Prime Minister and the Attorney General on their efforts, the result is that, like Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, they have sewed an apron of fig leaves that does nothing to conceal the embarrassment and indignity of the UK. As the Attorney General confirmed in his admirably honest advice, the backstop does not just divide our country in fundamental ways—it ties our hands for the future and sets us on a path to a subordinate relationship with the EU that is still, despite what we were told yesterday, clearly based on the customs union and on large parts of the single market.

Photo of Sylvia Hermon Sylvia Hermon Independent, North Down

I am very grateful indeed to the right hon. Gentleman for allowing me to intervene, because it gives me an opportunity to remind him of the many opportunities that he took during the EU referendum campaign to assert that this country was going to take back control of its borders. May I just ask him whether he has ever visited South Armagh or Crossmaglen? How, with the greatest respect, does he think he is going to take back control of the border without the backstop arrangement?

Photo of Boris Johnson Boris Johnson Conservative, Uxbridge and South Ruislip

I am most grateful to the hon. Lady for her intervention. I have certainly visited the places that she mentions—indeed, at the times of the troubles—and I can say that nobody wants those types of border controls to come back, least of all the Governments in Dublin or in London, or indeed those in Brussels; and, by the way, nobody thinks it necessary, under any circumstances, for hard border controls to return in Northern Ireland. But what I think her constituents will want is for this country to have the unilateral right of exit from the backstop, and that is not what the British people are getting out of this deal.

Photo of Boris Johnson Boris Johnson Conservative, Uxbridge and South Ruislip

If the hon. Lady will allow me, I will make some progress.

I want to stress this point. I really cannot accept the repeated assertion by the Attorney General in his very powerful speech this afternoon that there is a minimal legal risk of us being trapped in the prison of the backstop, because it is now more than a year since I stood in Downing Street—in No. 10—and was told that there was a minimal legal risk that we would even have to enter the backstop. That is not a view that I believe could now be plausibly defended by the Government.

Photo of Alex Chalk Alex Chalk Conservative, Cheltenham

Of course there is a risk with the backstop —it would be infantile to suggest that there is not—but does my right hon. Friend not agree that there is also a very great, if not much larger, risk in respect of a no-deal outcome? Would he at least recognise that point?

Photo of Boris Johnson Boris Johnson Conservative, Uxbridge and South Ruislip

I will come to that, but I am grateful to my hon. Friend for conceding that it was always infantile to pretend that there was no risk of getting into the backstop, because that was, for a long time, the contention of those who proposed that the backstop should be instituted.

I am afraid that this deal has now reached the end of the road. If it is rejected tonight, I hope that it will be put to bed and we can all face up to the reality of the position and the opportunity that we have. What we need to do then—now—is to behave not timorously but as a great country does. We have broadly two options. We can either decide, if the EU is unwilling to accept the minor changes that we propose, that we will leave without a deal—yes, I accept that that is, in the short term, the more difficult road, but in the end it is the only safe route out of this and the only safe path to self-respect—or we can decide to take a route that will end in humiliation by accepting arrangements with the EU that seem to limit disruption in the short term but will leave us as an EU protectorate with many important rules set elsewhere.

Members have asked, “What’s the worst that could happen?” I will give two examples, but there is any number of rules and regulations. The financial services industry would be subject to laws set by its leading competitors, which is emphatically not what the City wants. The Commission has already made clear that it wants to use the passerelle clause of the existing treaty to bring in qualified majority voting on taxation. We would be subject to that, under a qualified majority vote in which this country would not participate. I urge Members to think hard and to see that that predicament would be democratically intolerable. We would have to tell our constituents that they had no power or influence in setting some of the rules that govern our country.

Photo of James Cartlidge James Cartlidge Conservative, South Suffolk

I have huge respect for my right hon. Friend, but he said that there were two choices. In terms of WTO rules, which he has advocated, there are two choices; that is correct. We can either have tariffs that hit our consumers, or we have no tariffs on imports, which would leave our exporters and industry at a terrible disadvantage. Which of those two options would he go for?

Photo of Boris Johnson Boris Johnson Conservative, Uxbridge and South Ruislip

In any circumstances, we would have the freedom to decide what our tariffs were going to be, and under this—[Interruption.] Under this deal, we would lose the power to decide what tariffs we levied on the perimeter of the UK.

The most powerful argument that has been made this afternoon is the threat that some Members are apparently ready to hijack the long-standing rules of the House in order to take our constitution hostage, with Parliament to direct the Executive in international relations. That upends hundreds of years of constitutional practice and makes a nonsense of relations between Parliament and the Government. I believe it would lead to an even greater gap between people and this place. Let us abandon that project of dismantling our constitution in the name of making this country an effective colony of the EU.

Instead, we should take what now seems to be the more difficult route but is, in the end, the only one that preserves our self-respect, which is to leave as we are required by law on 29 March and to become once again an independent country able to make our own choices. I am not in favour of crashing out, as many call it. The Malthouse compromise indicates the way forward—the UK observes single market rules and customs duties and restrains our right to compete for a period of three years while we negotiate a free trade deal. I believe the EU would be open to that.

As we come to the final stages, it is vital that we retain our freedom of manoeuvre and do not rule out no deal. A delay will achieve nothing except to compound the uncertainty for business. Now is the time to behave as what we are—the fifth biggest economy in the world, the second biggest military power in NATO and, by many counts, the most influential cultural and intellectual force in Europe—and not to accept what I believe would be a humiliation and the subordination of our democracy.

Photo of Joanna Cherry Joanna Cherry Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Justice and Home Affairs), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Justice), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Home Affairs) 5:28 pm, 12th March 2019

It is a pleasure to follow Boris Johnson, although I am puzzled as to why all the wonderful ideas he has about Britain’s glorious future outwith the European Union were not put into play in the two years he spent as one of the most senior people in the Cabinet. One thing that he and I agree on is that this is a rotten deal, although the reasons we will vote against it are very different.

I make no apology for voting against this deal— 62% of people living in Scotland voted against leaving the European Union, and 72% of my constituents in Edinburgh South West voted against leaving the European Union. Quite frankly, if I were to vote for this deal, I would probably be strung up from the nearest lamppost as soon as I got home, because my constituents feel extremely strongly about this. They do not want to be taken out of the European Union, and they are very angry about being taken out of the European Union against their will.

Many of my constituents work in the second biggest financial sector in the United Kingdom. Many of my constituents work in two of the best universities in Scotland—Edinburgh Napier University and Heriot-Watt University—and many work in businesses that are already opening offices abroad. I am aware of at least one significant business in my constituency that is moving out of Edinburgh and the UK completely as a result of Brexit.

I make no apology for voting against the deal because I know—not because it is my opinion, but because the evidence I have heard over the last two years in the Exiting the European Union Committee tells me so—that this deal will make Scotland poorer and that it will make Scotland a less safe place to live. I know that this deal will remove Scotland from a single market of 500 million people and attempt to keep us, in some sort of hostage-like situation, in an internal market of only 60 million, in which we really do not have a proper say in the rules and regulations.

Photo of Joanna Cherry Joanna Cherry Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Justice and Home Affairs), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Justice), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

No, I will not, thank you.

I know that this deal will place Scotland at a potentially serious competitive disadvantage compared with Northern Ireland. I know that this deal and the ending of free movement, combined with this Government’s hostile environment, will mean a fall in the working and tax-paying population of my country, which will adversely affect my country’s future and my country’s economy.

Photo of Carol Monaghan Carol Monaghan Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Armed Forces and Veterans), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Education)

Does my hon. and learned Friend share my surprise, frankly, that Boris Johnson has been to Crossmaglen, and does she share my concerns, as someone whose mother-in-law is from the fair town of Crossmaglen, that any threat to the backstop is indeed a threat to peace?

Photo of Joanna Cherry Joanna Cherry Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Justice and Home Affairs), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Justice), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

Yes. I have been to Crossmaglen. My mother went to school in Carrickmacross, and when I was a wee girl, she taught me the poem:

“From Carrickmacross to Crossmaglen,

There are more rogues than honest men.”

I am not suggesting that that is the case any longer, and I am not suggesting that that is because the right hon. Member for Uxbridge and South Ruislip visited. Joking aside, however, as somebody with an Irish mother and a family who still live in the Republic, albeit very close to the border, and who run businesses close to the border, I am acutely aware of the threat that this deal—this Brexit—poses to the peace process and the threat it poses to the economy on the island of Ireland, so I do not say that I do not understand why the backstop is there.

I said earlier today about what I feel about the measly assurances the Prime Minister spent two months getting from Brussels. I know there are many people in this Chamber who have very good reason to be concerned that there should be a backstop if the deal goes ahead. However, I still make no apology for voting against this deal, because voting against this deal does not mean no deal; it gives us the opportunity to do what we should have done all along when we realised what a disaster this was, which was to hold a second referendum given that the people across the United Kingdom know the reality of Brexit—not the promises made by the right hon. Member for Uxbridge and South Ruislip, which are unable to be fulfilled, but the reality of Brexit. I believe that if people see the reality of Brexit and the reality of remain, they will choose remain.

I am also voting against this deal because I know that, if this deal goes through, what will happen is that we will simply move into another lengthy period of even more difficult negotiations, with no guarantee whatsoever that any trade deal will be reached at the end of the negotiations. Even if there is, I know from the evidence that any trade deal reached will not be advantageous to my country.

The Prime Minister has said:

“I have been clear throughout the process that my aim is to bring the country back together.”— [Official Report, 26 February 2019;
Vol. 655, c. 167.]

I simply do not accept that. This process has not been about the national interest; it has been about keeping the Conservative and Unionist party together and keeping the Prime Minister in power for as long as possible.

Photo of Toby Perkins Toby Perkins Labour, Chesterfield

There is much that the hon. and learned Lady is saying about this deal that I agree with, but I think she slightly over-eggs the point when it comes to the issue of Scotland and what Scotland wanted. She said that 62% of Scottish people voted against, but that is not in fact true. The turnout in Scotland was lower than that of any English region, and in actual fact only 41% of people voting in Scotland voted to remain, which was largely because the SNP made so little effort to get people to go and vote.

Photo of John Bercow John Bercow Speaker of the House of Commons, Chair, Speaker's Committee on the Electoral Commission, Chair, Speaker's Committee for the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority, Chair, Commons Reference Group on Representation and Inclusion Committee

Order. This is a most extraordinary state of affairs. The hon. and learned Lady is seeking to rebut an intervention, but, Ms Gibson, you are literally yelling from beyond the Bar in a most eccentric fashion. Calm yourself and recover your composure.

Photo of Joanna Cherry Joanna Cherry Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Justice and Home Affairs), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Justice), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

I am not going to waste what little time I have dignifying that intervention with a reply, other than simply to say that it shows the great ignorance of many members of the Labour party about the situation in Scotland, and why Labour is nose-diving into third position in Scotland, having once been in the lead.

To return to my point: when the Prime Minister says her aim is to bring the country back together, I do wonder which country she is talking about. The United Kingdom is a union of three nations—Scotland, England and Wales—and the Province of Northern Ireland. It is not one nation; it is a union of three nations and one province. Yet, the Prime Minister has taken no steps whatever—

Photo of Sylvia Hermon Sylvia Hermon Independent, North Down

Will the hon. and learned Lady give way?

Photo of Joanna Cherry Joanna Cherry Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Justice and Home Affairs), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Justice), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

I am not going to take any more interventions, because I do not have much time left, and I will not get any more time for them.

The Prime Minister has taken no steps whatever to try to bring Scotland into the tent in her discussions on Brexit. Instead, she has repeatedly disrespected the will of the Scottish people, as expressed through their Parliament —most recently last week when, together with the Welsh Senedd, it overwhelmingly rejected this deal.

The Prime Minister likes to sit laughing, rolling her eyes, pulling faces and encouraging others to do so when my right hon. Friend Ian Blackford speaks, but she needs to remember that he speaks as the leader of the biggest party in Scotland—the party in this House that has more seats there than all the other parties put together. However, most importantly, when he speaks, he is articulating the majority view in Scotland, which is clear opposition to this deal and a desire to remain. [Interruption.] People can chunter away from a sedentary position as much as they like, but that is the reality.

The other reality is that, two years ago, in March 2017, by a majority of 69 to 59, the Scottish Parliament voted to hold another independence referendum in the event that Scotland was taken out of the EU against her will. I have no doubt that that will happen, and I have no doubt that this time we will win, because now people know the truth: they know that Scotland is not an equal partner in the UK, they know that Scotland is not treated with respect in the UK and they know that this deal is rotten.

Photo of Stephen Crabb Stephen Crabb Conservative, Preseli Pembrokeshire 5:37 pm, 12th March 2019

It is a pleasure to follow Joanna Cherry, my colleague on the Brexit Committee. She and I agree on some things; we disagree profoundly on others.

I will be brief. I rise to say that I will be supporting the deal this evening. I supported the deal the last time we voted on it, and I supported it for a number of reasons. Parts of it represented compromises for me and did not reflect fully what I would have wanted at this stage of the Brexit process. However, overall, it represented a reasonable, pragmatic approach to the article 50 process.

The other reason I supported the deal last time was that I supported the original backstop. I did not support the subsequent vote on the so-called Brady amendment—I did not support the strategy of trying to knock the backstop out of the withdrawal agreement. I actually think that the backstop is there for good and right reasons, which reflect noble purposes. I am sorry, but colleagues on whichever side of the House who say that Brexit has nothing whatever to do with the Good Friday agreement and the peace process in Northern Ireland display an ignorance about what has been achieved in Northern Ireland in the last 20 years. Peace in Northern Ireland is simply the biggest achievement of our politics in the United Kingdom in the last 50 years, and it should be incumbent on all of us to defend it. I am afraid that, back in 2016, the way in which Brexit would affect Northern Ireland and the difficult, complicated border issue there was an afterthought; we did not invest enough time in thinking that through and coming up with a solution. The backstop is there for a very good reason.

I never accepted the narrative that has grown in recent months on the Government side of the House and among some on the Opposition Benches that the backstop is some kind of entrapment mechanism. I regard that as a conspiracy theory. I tested this view with Ministers in Europe when I visited with the Exiting the European Union Committee, as well as on individual visits. I talked to independent trade and legal experts here in the UK who also reject the conspiracy theory that the backstop has been cooked up as an entrapment mechanism between a tricky Irish Government and a malevolent EU Commission to somehow lock the UK long term into an arrangement that we do not want.

Photo of Sylvia Hermon Sylvia Hermon Independent, North Down

I am most grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for taking an intervention. Will he take a moment to reflect on the advice given by the Chief Constable of the Police Service of Northern Ireland, who has asked for over 300 additional police officers? Quite rightly, the Government have acceded to his request. He has also taken off the market three unused border police stations that were up for sale, because he knows the dangers of a hard border in the event that we leave without a deal. Will the right hon. Gentleman reflect on that warning?

Photo of Stephen Crabb Stephen Crabb Conservative, Preseli Pembrokeshire

I agree 100% with the hon. Lady. The Select Committee took evidence from the PSNI and visited the communities affected. Anyone who tries to belittle or downplay these issues has, I am afraid, a completely wrong reading of the very serious and sensitive issues we are discussing.

The proper way of seeing the backstop is as a concession. The backstop in the withdrawal agreement reflected an ask that we made. It did not reflect the original form of the backstop. We wanted it to be a UK-wide backstop, rather than Northern Ireland-specific. We were granted that, and that is how people view it on the other side of the channel: they see it as a concession that they made to us. In effect, it was an achievement of our diplomacy and our negotiating that the final version of the backstop reflected something that we asked for. Rather than being defended as the fruit of our efforts, however, it has been trashed with the conspiracy theory that it was some kind of entrapment mechanism. There are two golden rules when one is a Minister: do not trash your civil servants, and do not trash your own achievements and homework. It does feel that we have rather done that to the withdrawal agreement we negotiated.

I say to my colleagues who have still not been convinced to support the deal that all of us on the Government Benches shared in the joint responsibility of triggering article 50 to begin to the process that would lead to a negotiated outcome. What did we think was going to emerge from that process? An agreement that looks very much like the one that is in front of us. It would not have mattered who else was in Downing Street. With the greatest respect, whether it was my right hon. Friend Boris Johnson or any Opposition Member, it would not have changed the fundamental shape and form of the withdrawal agreement that emerged at the other end of the article 50 process. It is not the personality in Downing Street—whether they are a true believer or not—that has shaped this withdrawal agreement. The withdrawal agreement has been shaped by our red lines, but also by a number of fixed variables that we cannot escape from when discussing Brexit.

The Northern Irish border is one of those fixed variables. Another is the hard choices and compromises that need to be made on trade: the level of market access and whether we have pure frictionless trade, balanced against the extent of the obligations we are willing to take on. One of the failings on our side, collectively, since the referendum is that we have not properly explained to the British public some of those choices and compromises, so there is still fantasy swirling around that Brexit can deliver all the benefits and none of the obligations. But the fantasy is not on offer. What is on offer is just a set of very difficult and unattractive choices. I genuinely believe that the deal in front of us represents the very best of those choices. There are strengths and merit to the deal in front of us. I encourage and implore my colleagues, on the Government Benches and on the Opposition Benches, who genuinely believe in delivering a responsible Brexit to support the deal.

Photo of Richard Graham Richard Graham Conservative, Gloucester

My right hon. Friend is making a series of very good points. The former head of the Legal Services Commission said that the new arrangements give us a legal way of ensuring that we are not locked into a customs union indefinitely if we do not want to be, because the unilateral declaration allows us to suspend obligations. Does he not agree that it cannot be right that both my right hon. Friend the Member for Uxbridge and South Ruislip and Anna Soubry believe that turning down the deal is a good idea—one because they want no deal and the other because they do not want any Brexit? Surely both of them cannot be right.

Photo of Stephen Crabb Stephen Crabb Conservative, Preseli Pembrokeshire

My hon. Friend makes an important point. The fact is that being in the backstop is not a happy or comfortable arrangement either for the EU side or for our side. It is not the long-term objective of the negotiators on the EU side—I genuinely believe that. Again, I return to what I described as the conspiracy theory of entrapment—that somehow we are being lured into an arrangement that we will never be able to get out of. This is just one more stage in a very long process to come.

I recall one particular leaflet that was delivered to every household during the referendum campaign. One of the warnings in it, among some of what many of my colleagues would regard as scaremongering, was a prescient one of the potential of 10 years or more of negotiation and wrangling over what Britain’s future relationship would be with the EU. It feels very much as though here we are in year three, and we are still in the baby steps of quite a long process. If colleagues of mine want to see quicker, more purposeful progress, they will support the deal this evening.

Finally, I do a lot of mountain climbing in Scotland and in Wales. Every year, people set off on a sunny day up mountains wearing a pair of trainers, armed with a slice of Kendal mint cake, thinking that they are going to get to the summit. They get up there, the weather is not as good as they wanted, they do not have a map and they are not equipped properly. They might argue among themselves about what the right direction is, and eventually they need rescuing off the mountain. It feels a bit like that is perhaps where we are heading, but mountain rescue is not going to come for us. The solution to get off the mountain is in our hands, and that solution is to pass the deal tonight.

Photo of Imran Hussain Imran Hussain Shadow Minister (Justice) 5:46 pm, 12th March 2019

I declare straight away that I have never climbed mountains—there is time for me yet to get into it—but it is a pleasure to follow Stephen Crabb. Time is short, so I will try to be brief and will not take any interventions, because many hon. Members are yet to speak and it would be unfair, in such an important debate, for Members to be reduced to a time limit of two to three minutes—so, my apologies.

I echo many of the serious concerns that Opposition Members have raised about the Prime Minister’s deal or no deal, and the hugely negative impact that those scenarios will have on our communities, where a Tory Brexit will be devastating. The Prime Minister’s legal guarantee changes nothing. While we have heard lots of debate and emphasis on that today, quite rightly, I wish to concentrate my contribution on the human impact that is at play.

I will start by looking at my home town and constituency of Bradford, and the destruction that ideological Tory policies and the Government’s austerity cuts have brought upon our communities in Bradford in the last decade. We see rampant poverty gripping the city, with more than half the children living in my constituency in poverty according to the End Child Poverty campaign, and with not a week going by that I do not have a worried parent in my constituency advice surgery telling me how they are struggling even to clothe or feed their children because of the desperate poverty that they live in. We see poor educational attainment, with far too many children leaving school without enough GCSEs and far too many unable to go university. We see abysmally low wages, with people in Bradford paid less than the national average, or even the regional average.

We see insecure jobs and more and more people forced to take on zero-hours contract roles that do not pay the bills and do not offer the protection that they need. We see cuts to local government funding that have crushed advice centres, libraries, community halls and other services that people rely on and that are vital to the fabric of community life. We see an underfunded NHS, with our hospitals creaking as they are forced to do more with less, and staff underappreciated and underpaid. We see uncertain futures, with no hope of tomorrow being better than today and no bright future for our children.

Do I think that the Prime Minister’s deal or no deal is the right choice and that it will offer people in Bradford a better future? Not at all, because let me be clear: it is the Prime Minister and this Tory Government who have left us in such a state, because it is their austerity that is driving Bradford into the ground, not the EU. We were promised by the leave campaign that everything would be fantastic—that there would be millions more for the NHS, that the economy would be fine and that wages would be higher—but the stark reality is that those promises have failed to materialise and that a Tory Brexit will only devastate our communities further.

A Tory Brexit will help the Government to strip away workers’ rights—rights we have fought hard for and depend upon—and allow them to continue their relentless pursuit of deregulation to make it easier for people to lose their jobs, their holidays and their representation. It will grind down our economy in Bradford and Yorkshire, which exported £9.7 billion of goods—goods that create thousands of jobs but depend on free and unhindered access to the continent—to the EU in 2017. It will hit wages and the pockets of working people as the economy shrinks, jobs are lost and even food prices rise. It will allow the Government to continue their ideological austerity drive, with money set aside for the regions by the EU not coming back to the north but being spent in the south and the Tory shires. Ultimately, it will worsen poverty, as rights are watered down, jobs are lost, wages shrink and austerity continues.

People in Bradford have suffered for years under this Tory Government, who have enacted ideologically driven policies and forced poverty on our communities, so why should they trust a Tory Brexit? A Tory Brexit is not the answer for people in Bradford, and nor is a Tory Government, full stop. I cannot support an outcome that would leave people in Bradford worse off. I cannot allow our communities to be dragged further into the spiral of deprivation, social injustice and poverty.

Photo of Nick Herbert Nick Herbert Conservative, Arundel and South Downs 5:51 pm, 12th March 2019

I will support the deal tonight, as I did before. I welcome the further agreement that was struck in Strasbourg in relation to the backstop. We now have far greater legal certainty about our ability to exit it.

The focus of this debate, and of most of the debate in the past 24 hours and previously, has been the legalities of the backstop and of our exiting it. Ultimately, we should care about the real-world risk of being trapped in the backstop, but that has been discussed very little. What are the actual chances that we will be trapped in the backstop, not from a legal point of view but from a political point of view? Is it likely that we will find ourselves in that position? I think it is perfectly possible to argue that it is highly unlikely.

First, I agree with my right hon. Friend Stephen Crabb that our being in the backstop would not benefit the EU at all. The EU would not want us to remain in the backstop because, for instance, while we were in it, we would have many of the benefits of the single market without paying into the EU. The idea that the EU wishes to trap us in the backstop is simply a wrong analysis.

Secondly, we would have several hurdles to jump before we ever got into the backstop. We would only start to consider it as a possibility if a trade deal were not ready. We now have further legal certainty about the efforts to ensure that the trade deal will be ready. It would only start to become a possibility if the implementation period were not extended. That is an alternative. It would only start to become a possibility if alternative arrangements were not completed. Again, we now have more certainty about the preparations for those alternative arrangements. We should stop talking about the backstop as though we are certain to get into it and certain to be trapped.

Photo of Rebecca Pow Rebecca Pow Conservative, Taunton Deane

My right hon. Friend is making such a powerful case. Is this not about degrees of risk? We should weigh the minuscule risk, as I see it, of being trapped in the backstop against the far greater risk of not agreeing this deal, which would throw into jeopardy all the good things it should bring this country.

Photo of Nick Herbert Nick Herbert Conservative, Arundel and South Downs

My hon. Friend quite brilliantly anticipates my very next sentence. Ultimately, we have a political judgment to make, not a legal judgment. Is the theoretical, highly unlikely possibility that we will be trapped in the backstop really enough to risk Brexit altogether?

Let me say first of all that anyone who is clinging to the hope that no deal could still happen, and is intending to vote against this deal to achieve it—it appeared to me that my right hon. Friend Boris Johnson was thinking of doing that—should forget it, because it is clear that the House will not allow no deal. Whether one supports that move or not, it is about to be taken off the table as an option. We therefore face the clear and present danger that, if this deal does not go through, Brexit will be diluted, seriously delayed, or ditched altogether. That may be what Labour Members want—there is a whole cadre of them who want a second referendum, and others who want to cause difficulty for the Government—but one thing is clear: on these Benches, you cannot talk about gaining control and taking back control, only immediately to cede control to the House of Commons and lose any further control we have to shape the kind of Brexit that we would like. If Conservative Members do not like the deal as it is currently constituted, let them spend the next few months discussing, and then voting on, and then being outvoted on, whether they want a Norway arrangement in which we would become a rule taker, or whether they want a permanent customs union rather than the temporary one for which the backstop provides. That is what Labour Members want, and that is what the House of Commons will give us, whether my hon. Friends like it or not. That is the downside. That is the risk that they are now running: Brexit diluted, seriously delayed, or ditched altogether.

The choice is clear. We can have damaging uncertainty as a result of further delay, anger in the country that we have not implemented the decision that the country took, and the risk—of which my hon. Friends should be perfectly well aware—that the impasse will lead to a general election. Conversely, there is a huge upside to getting this deal through. We avert the risk of no deal, although I think that that is about to be averted altogether. We leave, as promised, on 29 March or shortly after. Business confidence and investment return—and we know that businesses are sitting on cash at present—because we have an implementation period and certainty for those businesses. Resources are released for public services. If the deal does not go through tonight, the Chancellor will have to make clear tomorrow that he must hold on to cash in the event of uncertainty and of no deal becoming a possibility. If the deal goes through, that cash could be released for public services, which every Member in the House would like to happen.

There are Members who voted to trigger article 50 and who voted for the referendum. Although they did that within the last two years, they are determined to oppose this deal because, in reality, they have reached a position in which they want to oppose or dilute Brexit.

Let me say to my hon. Friends that this not a moment to choose ideological purity above pragmatism. This is a pragmatic deal, which recognises that while 17.4 million people—the majority—did vote to leave the European Union, 16.1 million voted to remain, and we have to compromise. It will be a compromise not with the European Union, but with the country: a sensible compromise which recognises that in leaving we must carry the public with us, and carry business confidence with us.

I say to Members that they have a second chance now to support this deal, and if they really want to deliver Brexit, they should do so.

Photo of Ivan Lewis Ivan Lewis Independent, Bury South 5:58 pm, 12th March 2019

Public dissatisfaction with this place has never been greater. It is true that, when the country is so divided on Brexit, it was always going to be the toughest of challenges to earn public confidence and respect, but the failure of leadership in both the major political parties, coupled with the rigid ideological dogma of some Members, has made the situation far worse than it needed to be. Party and dogma have sadly been put ahead of country.

I have been consistent throughout. I believe that the result of the referendum has to be respected. A belief in the central importance of democracy and the dire consequences for progressive politics if we were to ignore or attempt to subvert the result mean that we must leave. Holding a second referendum would, irrespective of its result, fuel a dangerous right-wing populism in our politics that would be likely to lead to long-term right-wing Governments in this country. However, the basis on which we leave and engage with the EU in future is all-important. It will shape our destiny for a generation. It must protect our economy, the standard of living of our constituents and our security. We also have a solemn duty to preserve the United Kingdom, which should only ever change through explicit public consent, and to protect the peace in Northern Ireland, which remains fragile—we should never forget that.

The deal we are being asked to support tonight was overwhelmingly rejected back in January largely, but not exclusively, because of the Northern Ireland backstop. The Brady amendment passed by this House gave the Government a clear instruction that the backstop must be replaced in the withdrawal agreement by alternative arrangements; this has not happened. Some propose a time limit; this has not happened. Others wanted us to be able to unilaterally leave the backstop if negotiations fail; again, this has not happened. So none of the conditions laid down by the vast majority of the original deal’s opponents has been met, and this has been starkly underlined by the Attorney General’s legal advice of this morning.

As I have said, I believe we do have a duty to implement the referendum result and leave the EU, and I will only support a minimum extension to article 50 which would ensure that we were not obliged to participate in European elections. Therefore, I will be willing to consider supporting this agreement, for all its perfections, if only the Government were willing to be clear about their aspirations for our future relationship. For the sake of trade, jobs and living standards, that has to include a customs arrangement of some kind with the EU. That could, but need not, be membership of the customs union itself. Not only is that the best way of securing economic stability, but it would guarantee that the backstop is consigned to the dustbin of history. The best means of achieving this is Common Market 2.0, with the UK moving into the EFTA pillar of the EEA and joining a comprehensive arrangement with the EU, maintaining a common external tariff with frictionless trade and no hard border in Ireland. We would seek to maintain the closest possible economic relationship with the EU without the political integration which the majority in this country opposed very clearly in the referendum.

The time has come to put this, along with other potential solutions, to the House so we can indicate where a majority can be secured. We know what the majority are against; the time has come for the majority in this place, free from the constraints of party Whips, to make it clear what they are for. That would truly be acting in the national interest.

Photo of Mary Robinson Mary Robinson Conservative, Cheadle 6:03 pm, 12th March 2019

It is a pleasure to follow Mr Lewis.

Throughout the negotiation process I have always believed that the result of the referendum must be delivered. It is simply not enough to say that we respect the result of the people’s vote on 23 June 2016 and then ignore it. In that referendum the British people instructed the Government to leave the European Union, and the agreement that the Prime Minister has negotiated implements that vote effectively, ending the free movement of people, stopping the vast annual payments from the UK to the EU, and freeing the UK from the common agricultural policy and the common fisheries policy.

I personally voted to remain, and have always been conscious of the fact that a majority of my constituents—57.3%—voted to remain, while recognising and remembering that over 40%, a significant minority, voted to leave. One of the problems with the entire withdrawal process is that without compromising no side—whether leave or remain, for no deal or for a second referendum—would have been entirely and perfectly happy with terms of the deal whatever agreement the Prime Minister had brought back from Brussels. However, the referendum presented voters with an unambiguous choice to remain in the EU or to leave, and the consequences of either decision were conveyed to the electorate extensively.

We rightly place our focus on a strong economy, but the vote was not just about economics. The referendum result brought to the surface of political debate people’s sense of identity as well as their concerns about immigration, free trade and the EU’s democratic deficit. However, events over the past few months have shown that the political discourse is frozen, and that is what we need to deal with. Many of us have been waiting for that decisive moment when we can have clarity on the future direction of travel. In my view, this withdrawal agreement provides the clarity that we need to move to the next stage of the negotiations—the implementation period—and to lay the foundations for a comprehensive free trade agreement with our European partners. The implementation period will provide Governments, businesses and people on both sides of the channel with the time to put in place the new infrastructure that will be integral to the arrangements that the Prime Minister has recently secured.

I am one of the 27. No, not the EU27, but the 27 Members of Parliament representing Greater Manchester constituencies. I am therefore particularly interested in gaining the certainty that we need and in continuing the growth of our northern economy. There is nothing that businesses fear more than uncertainty. They need to know the direction of economic travel so that they can plan for future investments. That is hugely important for my constituency, for Greater Manchester and for the economy of the north of England.

The Government’s commitment to the northern powerhouse is translating into record levels of investment across the region and, most importantly, into jobs. Greater Manchester’s local industrial strategy reinforces the region’s ambition to establish the country’s first Tech Nation hub, and a report from Ernst & Young reveals that Manchester has been ranked as the best performing city outside London for attracting foreign direct investment projects, with a 17% increase in projects since 2017. The digital sector is the leading sector influencing those figures. Many companies are now comparing Manchester to California’s silicon valley, because of the huge expansion of Manchester’s tech hub. Further evidence of the city’s confidence in this sector is Amazon’s decision to open a new office in the centre of Manchester, creating 600 digital jobs.

However, we can continue this success only by laying the foundations for an orderly, smooth Brexit. This agreement provides the basis on which we can leave while giving people and businesses the certainty that they need. I understand that some people in Cheadle and elsewhere in the north, as well as some colleagues here in the House, want to reject this deal in the hope that that will force either a no-deal Brexit or a second referendum leading to the UK remaining in the EU. Both cannot be winners, however; both cannot be right at the same time. For any hon. Member who genuinely does not wish to stop Brexit, this is the best and only deal. The EU has made it clear that it will not change the terms of the agreement. Whatever our views on the nature of the future relationship, that relationship can be negotiated only when a withdrawal agreement has been passed. This is the only withdrawal agreement. If we do not agree to this motion today, we risk having no Brexit at all. I am backing this agreement to take us out of the European Union into a more global future, and I am anticipating a positive, optimistic future for our country.

Photo of Emma Reynolds Emma Reynolds Labour, Wolverhampton North East 6:08 pm, 12th March 2019

It is a pleasure to follow Mary Robinson. We might go through different Division Lobbies tonight, but I share her priority for safeguarding our constituents’ jobs and livelihoods. That is what is driving my decision to vote against the motion tonight, and I want to set out three reasons why I will be doing that. First, for many of us on the Opposition Benches, the package that the Prime Minister has brought back from Strasbourg at the eleventh hour totally misses the point. Our concerns about her deal have nothing to do with the Northern Irish backstop. In these debates about exiting the European Union, right hon. and hon. Members have expressed concerns about the economy and trade three times more often than concerns about the backstop.

This last-minute deal, which really has not changed much, is just the latest chapter in the Tory party’s Brexit divisions and melodrama. When the Prime Minister says that she is listening to Parliament, she is actually listening to hard-line Tory Brexiteers and her confidence and supply partners, the DUP. When she says that she is acting in the national interest, she is actually putting her party’s interests above the prosperity of our constituents. She encourages us to come together, but she has done little to reach out across the House to appeal to Labour Members and other Opposition MPs. When it comes to the deal tonight, this is the first time that I can remember in British history that a PM and Chancellor have recommended a course of action that, according to their own economic analysis, will make people worse off and our economy smaller. The people did not vote in the 2016 referendum to be poorer, and I cannot in all conscience vote for a deal that makes my constituents poorer and the country less safe.

Secondly, as Stephen Crabb said in his eloquent contribution, the Government have not levelled with people about the trade-offs and hard choices that should be made on Brexit. For example, Brexiteers claimed that trade deals with the US, India, Japan, Australia and New Zealand will boost our prosperity, but there is not a shred of evidence that those trade deals—even if agreed quickly and in our favour, on which the International Trade Secretary is not exactly doing a great job—would result in more jobs and investment than we would lose if we loosen our ties with the EU, which is our most important market and the destination of most of our exports. That is why it was so foolish of the Prime Minister to make leaving the customs union and the single market her red lines from the word go. If only she had dropped those red lines, she may have managed to build true cross-party consensus for an alternative deal.

The irony of today’s debate is that it is all about reassuring hard-line Brexiteers that the UK will be able to pull out of the backstop, which is in essence about the UK leaving the customs union. However, just-in-time manufacturers in the food, automotive and aerospace industries, which employ tens of thousands of people across the country and thousands in my constituency, have stressed time and again the importance of frictionless trade and the customs union with the EU and of avoiding no deal. Supermarkets have warned that a no-deal scenario and any delays at the border would put food prices up, and the car and aerospace industries have warned that delays at the border will destroy just-in time manufacturing. Indeed, because of the threat of no deal we have seen companies big and small already taking decisions to put investments on hold. We have had bad news from Nissan in Sunderland and terrible news about Honda, and BMW has said that no deal would lead it to shift production elsewhere. As my right hon. Friend Hilary Benn said, the car industry should be the jewel in the crown of our economy, but the Government’s irresponsible actions are putting that at risk.

Thirdly, I am not prepared to vote for a blindfold Brexit. The political declaration is vague and non-binding. We were told by Tory Brexiteers a couple of years ago that the trade agreement with the EU would be the “easiest in human history” but as Ivan Rogers, the UK’s former permanent representative to the EU, so eloquently put it only the other day:

“We cannot live in glorious isolation. Talk to the Swiss and to the Norwegians—they live in a permanent state of negotiation with the EU.”

To those who say that we should vote for the deal tonight so that we can get things over and done with and move on because people are fed up, I say that boredom is not a good reason for taking an important decision about the future of our country. The negotiations will go for years and years and years.

I hope that the deal is defeated tonight, and I hope that we then vote against no deal tomorrow. It would be the height of irresponsibility. We have heard Boris Johnson and Andrea Jenkyns actually recommending a no-deal Brexit, which would be catastrophic for jobs, livelihoods and the wider economy, but do not take that from me; take it from Jaguar Land Rover and from businesses up and down the country.

Several hon. Members:

rose—

Photo of James Cartlidge James Cartlidge Conservative, South Suffolk 6:14 pm, 12th March 2019

It is a great privilege to be called to speak in this debate. If I had my speech written on a piece of paper, I would now metaphorically tear it up.

I will simply respond to the quite extraordinary comment of my right hon. Friend Boris Johnson, of whom I am a great admirer. He was a very good Mayor of London. However, we have to appreciate that he is the primary spokesman and advocate for the idea that basically we should now leave on WTO terms, and many thousands of people in my party look to him and admire him for that and think he is right, yet I asked him the most basic question about the WTO today and he got it wrong. In my view, he did not understand it.

My point is that when it comes to WTO tariffs, if we go to a WTO no deal, which many Conservative Members who vote against this deal tonight will want, we have to understand there are only two choices. We are not taking back control of other countries, only this one, so we cannot affect the tariffs levied on our exports; we can only control the tariffs on our imports. It is the devil and the deep blue sea. We can either have a policy of WTO most favoured nation tariffs on imports, which could mean inflation of up to 20% on many foodstuffs and other consumer goods, or we can take the approach I understand we will be announcing tomorrow if this deal is defeated, which is to have nil tariffs on most imports. That is described as unilateral free trade but, in my view, it is not unilateral free trade but the unconditional surrender of British industry and British farming.

I want to talk about British farming, because I understand that, within the schedule we are poised to announce tomorrow if we lose this vote, arable farming—wheat—will be set with a nil import tariff. That is not a minor detail in South Suffolk, because there are currently no shipments of wheat booked out of the port of Ipswich after 29 March. That is not “Project Fear” but absolute reality, because the WTO tariff on wheat is €95, or £80, a tonne. The max to be had for milling wheat is £180 a tonne. Nobody is going to buy that. Even if we get quota, it is €12 a tonne, but we will not get it because under the WTO—guess what?—although we may come to deal with the EU on quota, New Zealand, our other friends in the Commonwealth, Australia and the United States are protesting against it in the WTO. People have to understand that the WTO ain’t no panacea.

But there is a way we can influence the tariffs on our exports, which will otherwise be very high, and it is old-fashioned: we make a deal with other countries, because we cannot directly control them. We do not have sovereignty over their tariffs, so we make a deal. Under the deal before the House, the good news is that we will continue tariff-free and quota-free trade with our largest market. Let us be honest, some of my colleagues will vote against the deal because they are getting the same emails I do, which say, “Go for WTO. Go for no deal.” They have to understand that that means that we, as Conservatives, would be saying that within a matter days the desirable outcome is the return of tariffs—and all the red tape that comes with tariffs—and non-tariff barriers across the whole of British industry. Do we think that is a good idea, as the party of enterprise? It is madness, and it will be damaging and destructive.

Here is the good news. People talk about why we voted for Brexit and all the issues around sovereignty, and I profoundly believe, because I am by nature an optimist, that if we get a sensible deal—if this vote passes —we will be successful, and I will briefly explain why. We may be the fifth largest economy, but we are 22nd or 24th in GDP per head according to the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund. We are low ranking because we do not have the sort of sustainable growth in exports that gives the higher GDP per head that our competitors enjoy.

If we take a sensible deal that secures our industrial base so that we have some industry to make those trade deals, then and only then, once we have sorted out the border, can we start making those trade deals. We will become more export-oriented and, if we control immigration sensibly, including from outside the EU, we will eventually see higher GDP per head. To really get that, we need the investment to come with it. That needs certainty, which means voting for this deal, being confident and being optimistic about the negotiations that follow on the FTA. It means backing Britain and saying, “Do you know what? We can do this. We are confident. We don’t fear the backstop. It is a risk, but we don’t fear it. We are confident.”

I believe that if we pass the vote tonight, we will be a very successful country.

Photo of Chris Leslie Chris Leslie Independent, Nottingham East 6:19 pm, 12th March 2019

I salute James Cartlidge for having the guts to speak truth to those in his own party who have got wrapped up in this idea that the WTO and no deal is somehow a great future. He is absolutely right to point out what he did, although I would opt for a different outcome, which is to give the people the chance to stay in the EU. The whole Brexit process has shown the worst of our politics, right from the beginning, with the Vote Leave campaign and its hubristic claims on the side of the red bus, and then tumbling into a series of errors of judgment by the Prime Minister, when she decided to trigger article 50, and accepted the frame that she would do the divorce terms only and kick into the long grass the future relationship between the EU and the UK. It has been a catastrophic negotiating failure right from the beginning. Then of course we had the Prime Minister’s stubborn resistance to move at all on the single market or customs union; there was no sense of reading the room and trying to gauge a solution as we go forward.

So we find ourselves with this deal today, but I have to say that it is not all about the backstop; some of us believe passionately that the Good Friday agreement should be defended and it should not just be left to other leaders across the EU27 to make that case. There are problems with this deal: parting with £50 billion of taxpayers’ money in exchange for no certainty on the future of what will come next; and the £40 billion a year in lost public service revenues that we are going to see for our schools, hospitals and other public services because of the austerity that will be created by that Brexit deal. We have the spring statement from the Chancellor tomorrow, when this will be the elephant in the room. The Chancellor will not talk about the Brexit effect on the public finances and the shadow Chancellor probably will not either—it will all be ignored.

There is a better plan, which is simply for Parliament to grow up, get a grip and decide on what terms of Brexit should be offered to the public in a public vote. We should of course extend article 50 at the European summit on 21 March to facilitate the time and allow us to go back to the public. That was precisely the amendment that the independent group tabled for today, and I hope that at some point this week we will be able to vote on this question of a public vote. After all, a people’s vote was the policy of the Labour party at its conference.

Has there ever been a time in our politics when we have been worse served by the leaderships of our main political parties? I commend those Back Benchers, some with very different views from mine, who have tried their best to navigate towards a solution. Many hon. and learned Members have put their backs into finding a solution, but they have found that the intransigence and tribalism of party politics has stubbornly stood in their way. We know that the Prime Minister is a prisoner of the ERG right wing on her side, but my patience with what was and has been going on in the Labour party has ended. I could no longer stay in the Labour party, standing by with its leadership enabling a Brexit that I know will hurt the livelihoods and jobs of our constituents. I say to my friends—

Photo of Chris Leslie Chris Leslie Independent, Nottingham East

I did not vote for article 50.

Photo of Chris Leslie Chris Leslie Independent, Nottingham East

I did not vote to trigger article 50, but the point about hon. Members who are heckling me is that they do not like to hear that a massive betrayal is going on in the Labour party right now. The conference policy that was passed was to support a public vote, and nobody can explain to me why the Labour party has not got to the stage of supporting a public vote by now. All my hon. Friends in the Labour party know that by now we should have reached the stage of a public vote. So I appeal to Members across the House: now is the time to make a decision, to stand up for our constituents and do the right thing, for their livelihoods and jobs. We must support, this week, a public vote to put this issue back to the public, so that they can decide.

Several hon. Members:

rose—

Photo of Edward Leigh Edward Leigh Conservative, Gainsborough 6:25 pm, 12th March 2019

I voted Brexit, and so did my constituency, by 62% to 38%. It always seemed to many of us that our job was to try to deliver the decision of the people, but we were aware that unfortunately we were in a minority in Parliament and might have to compromise. It became clear to many of us months ago that the EU was unwilling to unpick the agreement. It also become abundantly clear that we could not get the deal through Parliament. So, what was the way forward? It seemed to me that there was some sort of logical way forward, because the two parties themselves had agreed that the backstop should only be temporary. If the backstop proved not to be temporary, could we not, under the Vienna convention or international law, unilaterally escape from it?

I took legal advice—I am grateful to Professor Peter Willetts, the emeritus professor of global politics at City, University of London—and eventually suggested to the Government that they use the device of a conditional unilateral declaration. It was met with some scepticism at first, but the campaign continued, and I am delighted that the Government have now issued a unilateral declaration.

The shadow Brexit Secretary and the Leader of the Opposition made it clear today that they believe the unilateral declaration is not watertight because the EU has not signed up to it. That is simply not true under international law. We are perfectly entitled under international law to interpret the treaty in the way that the parties appear to want to interpret it, which is that the backstop should be temporary. Once one of these conditional interpretative declarations—that is the term of art used—is issued, it can cease to have effect only if the other party to the treaty refuses to ratify that treaty. Not only has the EU not refused to ratify the treaty, but it has not objected to our declaration.

Our declaration makes it absolutely abundantly clear that there is nothing to stop us exiting the backstop if discussions break down. We do not have to prove a lack of good faith by the EU; we have simply stated in our unilateral declaration that there is nothing to stop us exiting the backstop if discussions break down. In paragraph 14 of the Attorney General’s report, he says that this is

“a substantive and binding reinforcement” of our rights.

Now, of course there is a risk, but life is full of risks, and against the minimal risk of our being trapped in the backstop, which I believe to be minimal because we have issued the unilateral declaration and because of the stated desire of the parties, there is a much greater risk for us Brexiteers that tomorrow Parliament will block no deal, and that the next day Parliament will vote to extend article 50. For those of us who believe in Brexit and in delivering the will of the people, that is a far greater risk than the fairly small risk of our being trapped in the backstop forever. I appeal to my fellow Brexiteers: you may not like the deal, and it is not perfect, but it delivers Brexit. Let’s go for it.

Photo of Pat McFadden Pat McFadden Labour, Wolverhampton South East 6:28 pm, 12th March 2019

I wish to address my remarks to what should perhaps happen after tonight’s vote, because it looks as though all the drama of recent days has not persuaded a majority in this House to support the Government tonight. That has happened because they were on too flimsy a ground. The attempt to dress up some bad faith provisions as almost a whole new treaty was never going to work for two reasons. In part, it was because the vast majority of it was already in the withdrawal agreement. There is already an arbitration process and already provisions to suspend temporarily things that that arbitration process judged, so none of that is new. The grounds are so narrow. This happens only if there is a proven accusation of bad faith, as distinct from a political disagreement, and only then if one party—the European Union—acts in defiance of a ruling of the arbitration process. That is highly unlikely to say the least. Otherwise, if there is no agreement on the future relationship reached by the end of the transition period, the backstop kicks in.

For us, it has never been about the backstop, because we understand that this is a necessary consequence of a commitment that the UK Government have made to having no hard border, and we should value that commitment and we should value the Good Friday agreement. For all the energy in the discussions with the European Union since November, those discussions have been about the wrong question. The question should have been about not the backstop, but the future of our relationship with the European Union.

Our main objections to this agreement are that it leaves this country less empowered than we are at the moment, that it leaves us poorer than we would be otherwise, and, most of all, that there is no clarity on the future. The Prime Minister said so today. What is the answer to the car industry or the aerospace industry that says, “What does the future hold for us?” What is the answer to a young person who says, “What will happen to my rights in the future?” The Prime Minister told us today, after three years, that the answer is that there will be a spectrum of different outcomes. That is the answer: a spectrum of different outcomes. That is not good enough.

We have heard plenty about elites and the people in this debate, but there is nothing more elitist than driving through a withdrawal agreement while deliberately keeping from the people the true nature of the future relationship between the European Union and the United Kingdom after that happens, and that is precisely the strategy of the Government. Let me say to Ministers that if they lose the vote tonight and we are in the position of looking at an extension of article 50, let us not have a sterile debate about whether that is for one month, two months or a particular number of weeks. Let it be for a purpose. Let us recast this process so that we can level with the public about the choices that Brexit entails. Let us lay them out, all their pros and cons. We know the pros and cons of remaining; it is time that the choices and the trade-offs of leaving are laid out before the public. That is the opportunity of extending article 50, not simply another few weeks of the same parliamentary merry-go-round.

Photo of Steve Double Steve Double Conservative, St Austell and Newquay 6:32 pm, 12th March 2019

I think it is probably an understatement to say that we are not where we want to be today, and that we are not where we should be. I do not believe that the 17.4 million people who voted to leave the EU expected that, just 17 days before our scheduled leave date, the question of whether we are going to leave on 29 March would still be in the balance.

This House voted to trigger article 50, which gave a two-year notice period for us to leave, and it passed the European Union (Withdrawal) Act, which had the date when we leave in it. It is a failure of our politics and of leadership that we are in this position today where the choice before us tonight is, as far as I am concerned, an impossible choice: a choice between the deal, which is not a deal and does not deliver on our promises to the people of this country, and voting down a deal and risking all sorts of alternatives from those who want to thwart and delay Brexit and prevent it from ever happening.

It will only be when the history books of this period are written and the real truth comes out that we will fully appreciate what happened. All the people who have sought to undermine the Prime Minister in her negotiations, and the hindrance that that has caused, are directly responsible for why we are here today. There are also those who have maintained that no deal should be taken off the table, which has completely undermined our negotiating position, and those who have supported a second referendum, which has sent a message to the EU, saying, “If you give the UK a terrible deal, it will vote it down in another referendum and decide to stay in the EU.” The truth will come out one day, and then we will know exactly what has gone on to undermine these negotiations, but we are where we are tonight.

Here we are, 20 minutes before the vote, and I still do not know how to vote; I am still in a quandary. The choices before us tonight are between two wrongs—two things that I do not want to happen. It is an impossible choice. I will make a decision and vote tonight, but it is a choice that I do not want to make. One option—if you will excuse my language, Mr Speaker—is a turd of a deal, which has now been taken away and polished so that it is a polished turd, but it might be the best turd that we have before us. The alternative would be to stop Brexit all together, as some propose, and the risk of that happening is very real. That would be a complete denial of the people. When this House voted for a referendum, we put the decision in the hands of the people. We said, “You will make this decision and we will implement it.” The fact that we are where we are today is a failure of our politics, and every one of us needs to take responsibility for the British public’s view of this place today.

As I am faced with this impossible choice tonight, I just trust that we will deliver on the referendum and keep our word to the British people, and that—one way or another—we will leave at the end of this month.

Photo of Martin Whitfield Martin Whitfield Labour, East Lothian 6:36 pm, 12th March 2019

It is a pleasure to follow Steve Double, but may I give him a little piece of advice and suggest that he votes against the deal?

We have listened to the debate over the past few months, and can extract many anomalies that go to the heart of the constitutional problem we find ourselves with today. There is a real risk that this Parliament is becoming a hollow Parliament—a Parliament that the Executive hold so low that they will not dare open negotiations with it, and whose votes the Executive choose to follow or choose not to follow. It is a Parliament that some right hon. and hon. Members have, in the very recent past, suggested be adjourned until after Brexit, and one to which the Executive will not grant Opposition days for fear of being forced to follow the will of the people’s elected representatives. It is a Parliament that the people look at and, like so many generations before, are starting to despair at. But I warn the Executive that this Parliament will bite back.

There is no majority for this identical deal, there is no majority for no deal and there is no majority to authorise this Executive to throw us over an economic cliff, to damage our culture, our communities and our future generations, and to lose respect for this country around the world and the respect that this country has for itself. If those who lead cannot act in the best interests of our country on the evidence that lies before us—not some historical prejudice—they should not be surprised if this Chamber bites back.

So here we are, finding ourselves with a meaningful vote in March. Nicky Morgan mentioned the people’s vote, and said that it would risk breaking democracy and our politics. But it is interesting that we do not hear about the fraud, the investment and the attempts to buy votes in the original referendum. Why is that not damaging our democracy and our politics? It begs the question: what intellectual humility is needed to say that what the Government are doing is wrong, and to look at the facts that influence current thinking? I hope that it is not history, because history will judge this folly severely.

My predecessor had the pleasure of sitting in the Chamber for six hours to speak and vote when we went into the forerunner of the European Union—the organisation that we watched being created after world war two not for trade, but to keep the peace. Today we have heard from hon. Members about the Belfast/Good Friday agreement, which is about not trade, but keeping the peace. It is about keeping communities living, working and enjoying each other’s pleasure.

I will vote against the deal tonight not because of the Good Friday agreement, and not because of what was said about the economics during the referendum—that we were all going to be so much better off—but because of the young people in East Lothian whose futures are being damaged by this decision. There are people who say that there are hard Brexiteers and hard remainers, and that the reality lies somewhere in the middle. Well, tonight I declare my interest as a hard remainer, because that is where I think the future of East Lothian, the future of Scotland and the future of the United Kingdom is best suited.

Photo of Keir Starmer Keir Starmer Shadow Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union 6:40 pm, 12th March 2019

This has been a very important debate, and tonight’s vote will be one of the most significant votes this House will ever take. I want to thank all those who have spoken in the debate today, and indeed all those who have spoken in the debates on previous occasions. As we go to vote, I also want to put on record my thanks to the civil service and the UK negotiating team. They are dedicated, committed, and have worked tirelessly for the past two years. They deserve our thanks. Too often, they have received wholly unwonted criticism with no right of reply. The verdict that this House delivers on the deal is a verdict not on their efforts but on the mistakes made and political decisions taken by the Government, so I record my thanks—our thanks—to them for the work that they have done.

The mood in the debate today has been lively at times, but also sombre. Members have clearly been contemplating what is likely to happen tonight. The theme has been clear, and has focused on what the Prime Minister said she could deliver—namely, legally binding changes to the backstop. As has been said many times in the debate, on 12 February the Prime Minister outlined her three options for achieving those legally binding changes to the backstop: either a legally binding time limit, a legally binding unilateral exit clause, or the ideas put forward by the alternative arrangements working group. Those commitments—those promises—have been repeated many times by the Prime Minister and by other Cabinet Ministers, so much so that for many Members of this House, not least Conservative Members, this has become a matter of trust. These were promises made by the Prime Minister to them, to Parliament, and to the country.

I have repeatedly raised the question of expectations—the concern that the Prime Minister was raising expectations that she could not fulfil. When I said that last week and the week before, Conservative Members challenged me, saying that I was not optimistic enough when I said that I did not think there were going to be legally binding changes. It is now obvious that the expectations, having been raised, have not been fulfilled and the promises have not been kept.

Among the problems for the Prime Minister and the Government has been that they have been living day to day, week to week—avoiding defeat today by promising something tomorrow. That was what happened on 10 December when the vote was pulled—the Government avoiding defeat by promising assurances on the backstop. It is what happened on 29 January when the Government voted for the so-called Brady amendment requiring that the backstop be replaced. It happened on 12 February when that promise was made about legally binding changes; and it happened two weeks ago when, facing possible defeat on a crucial motion, the promise was made that we would have the meaningful vote today, a vote on no deal tomorrow, and a vote on extension the day after. They were all promises made to avoid defeat today—promises for tomorrow. But as tonight’s vote is likely to show, today has caught up with tomorrow. There can be no more buying time.

I appreciate that in the last 24 hours, the Prime Minister has valiantly tried to argue that she has delivered on her promises and that there are significant changes, but that claim has been tested in argument in this House. There was always a temporary right to suspend the backstop under the withdrawal Act if the arbitration panel found a breach of good faith. That is not new—it has been there since 25 November. There was always a commitment that the backstop would not have to be replicated. That has been there since 14 January in the letter from Presidents Tusk and Juncker.

The announcement that the letter is legally binding was made last night, but the Prime Minister made it clear that the letter had legal force on 14 January, for the first vote. “Legal force” and “legally binding” are the only difference; it is dancing on the head of a pin. That claim has been tested in this debate, and the Attorney General delivered his opinion earlier, with the key conclusion in paragraph 19 of his advice being that there is “no internationally lawful means” of exiting the backstop, “save by agreement.” He could not have been clearer. The Attorney General made much play of the difference between political and legal issues, but the problem for the Prime Minister is that she promised legal changes.

The Father of the House challenged the Leader of the Opposition on the question of the backstop, and rightly so. I make it clear: we have always accepted the need for a backstop. Nobody likes the backstop, but it is inevitable. However, as the letter from President Tusk and President Juncker makes clear, the withdrawal agreement and the political declaration

“are part of the same negotiated package.”

Photo of Kenneth Clarke Kenneth Clarke Father of the House of Commons

What I put to the Leader of the Opposition was that the only things we are settling today with this vote are the deal we have on citizens’ rights, the money we owe and the Irish backstop. Those are the only things that will be resolved if we pass this withdrawal agreement today. I still cannot understand what the Labour party’s objection is to any of those three.

Photo of Keir Starmer Keir Starmer Shadow Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union

I engaged with that point, because it is important. I have dealt with it a number of times from the Dispatch Box. I have made it clear on a number of occasions that the Labour party recognises the need for the backstop. The problem is in the heart of the letter from President Tusk and President Juncker, where they say:

“the