European Union (Withdrawal) Act

Part of Business of the House (Today) – in the House of Commons at 6:28 pm on 12th March 2019.

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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.