UK’s Withdrawal from the European Union

Part of Business of the House (Today) – in the House of Commons at 3:13 pm on 14th March 2019.

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Photo of Hilary Benn Hilary Benn Chair, Committee on Exiting the European Union 3:13 pm, 14th March 2019

I will indeed be happy to accept that amendment, which I understand is going to be voted on separately. I say that because, if the House does not reach an agreement and still does not want to leave without a deal, it may, at some point, ask for a further extension.

The reason we need to do this today is the way that section 13 of European Union (Withdrawal) Act is structured. The Government’s draft withdrawal agreement and political declaration were of course defeated on Tuesday. Under section 13(4) of the Act, the Government are required to make a statement on how they propose to proceed and then to propose a motion in neutral terms that can be amended. The problem, particularly because the Government have not yet specified when they propose to bring that forward, is that the Act gives the Government 21 days from the day on which the House of Commons decided not to approve the deal, which was this Tuesday, and then a further seven Commons sitting days from the date of the statement to lay a motion in neutral terms. What that means, very simply, is that the Government will not be obliged to give the House a chance to amend any proposals on a way forward until after 29 March. Clearly, given the crisis we face, that will not do. I hope that Members will feel able to support this amendment, not least given the cross-party support that it has attracted.

I turn now to the extension of article 50. It is of course essential that we achieve that, because without it, the House would be faced with only one choice if it wishes to avoid a no-deal Brexit on 29 March. That would be to revoke article 50, unless between now and then the political declaration can be amended in a way that commands the support of the House. Given that, for more than two and a half years, the House has not really been given the opportunity to express its view on what it would support, that is very unlikely to happen in the two weeks that are left. That is why this amendment is needed.

We must be honest about the difficulty that we face. The leaders of the EU are paying close attention to our deliberations. They want to see a purpose. We have a credibility problem. There are different views about the length of any extension, but the amendment tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Manchester Central would be helpful, and I am happy to support it.

The House is being watched by the British people. They see chaos and uncertainty. Businesses have no idea what is going to happen next. EU citizens do not know what is going to happen. We have a responsibility to demonstrate that this Parliament can and will do its job.