UK’s Withdrawal from the European Union

Part of Business of the House (Today) – in the House of Commons at 1:38 pm on 14th March 2019.

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Photo of Keir Starmer Keir Starmer Shadow Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union 1:38 pm, 14th March 2019

I am going to make some progress.

Here we are, with 15 days to go, and the extension of article 50 is a necessity, not a choice. It is the only way in which we can try to prevent ourselves from leaving without a deal on 29 March, and that is what our amendment seeks to achieve.

It is important for us to identify a purpose, and the first purpose is to remove the 29 March cliff edge. We cannot simply vote against no deal, as we did last night, and then take no further action. I have said repeatedly that this should have been done weeks ago rather than being left to the last minute, and that the sooner it is done, the better. Parliament must act today, and instruct the Government to seek an extension of article 50. However, we do need to begin the debate about the wider issues. The extension should be as short as possible, but it needs to be long enough to achieve the agreed purpose.

I listened to the earlier exchanges about EU elections. Let me make it clear that the Labour party does not want to be involved in those elections. There are at least three different views, both here and in Brussels: I know that, because I have been discussing this issue in Brussels for six months. One view is that we cannot get past May without participating in the elections. Another is that we cannot get past June without doing so. Another is that it might be possible to add a protocol or agreement to the treaty that would allow a long extension without EU elections. All three opinions are circulating here and in Brussels, and lawyers are putting their names to them.

We must decide, as a House, what we are requesting extra time for. The Government must then go to Brussels and seek an extension for the agreed purpose, and engage in discussion and negotiation about how long it should be. The one thing that we should not do is just set the clock running and say that that will dictate everything that happens from here on.