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
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
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
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
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.”