UK’s Withdrawal from the European Union

Part of Business of the House (Today) – in the House of Commons at 3:41 pm on 14th March 2019.

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Photo of Yvette Cooper Yvette Cooper Chair, Home Affairs Committee 3:41 pm, 14th March 2019

Normally it is a pleasure for me to follow Sir John Hayes, and normally he is warm and inclusive, but I must say to him that I think that was a divisive speech that was not the right one to make in these circumstances. I will refrain from asking him whether by the global elite, he meant Eton-educated millionaires at the heart of a European Research Group campaign for no deal who can afford to move their assets around, because that is the kind of discussion we get into when we start those sorts of speeches. I do not actually think is not going to help us to come together, and we are going to have to come together somehow, somewhen.

In fact, it is the failure of the Government to attempt to bring people together since the referendum that is why we are in this mess now. It is the failure of the Government and the Prime Minister to put any deal to this House until 22 of the 24 months of article 50 were already run down. They have been running down the clock, just putting the same deal back to us again without actually listening or ever giving this House and the country the opportunity to properly debate what kind of Brexit we should be pursuing—whether it should be nearly Norway or close to Canada—and what really we should be talking about. We have a responsibility now to find a way through this very difficult situation.

That is why I think it is so important to back amendment (i), tabled by my right hon. Friend Hilary Benn, which is about trying to set forward a process for Parliament to do what the Government, frankly, should have done ages ago. We should have had indicative votes ages ago. It was good to hear the Minister putting forward proposals for indicative votes, but this is way later in the process than it should have been. Also, I do not accept the conditions that he put on us having the indicative votes in the first place, and that is what I want to address.

The Minister seemed to be arguing that to be able to have a proper debate on indicative votes—or whichever kind of approach it is in order for the House to come together on what we should be for—we either have to have a very long extension or we have to have European elections, or we have to do both. I do not accept that we have to do that, because I do not think the Government are credible in their use of time. They make time a political issue, rather than a sensible issue. Time is a weapon that they use to somehow say that they can do everything incredibly quickly when they are using brinksmanship to get a vote through, but then they say the process will take an incredibly long time when they want to get the same meaningful vote through that we have already debated and rejected twice, basically because so many of us on both sides of the House think that it will weaken us for the negotiations ahead. We want an approach that can be a strong one for our country, not a weak one.

I think that it should be possible for us to come to some decisions much more quickly than the Minister suggested. I think that, in the interests of securing consensus on some steps forward, the House should support the amendment to amendment (i) tabled by my hon. Friend Lucy Powell. I also think that we should have an opportunity next week to debate what a sensible process should be. Let us bring some common sense back into this process so that we can get some agreement.

The issue of the European elections is important. It makes no sense for a state that is in the middle of article 50—a departing state—to have to hold European elections. A letter from President Juncker suggested that we would have to hold elections if the extension went beyond 23 May, which is clearly an inappropriate approach. That is why I think that what has been said, and tweeted last night, by Eleanor Sharpston, the Advocate General at the European Court of Justice, is so significant. I urge Members to look at that tweet if they want to see the details. She has said that

“were there to be an extension of the Article 50 period, it would (clearly) be inappropriate for the UK to hold EP

—European parliamentary—

“elections in May”.

However, there are precedents; there are approaches that could be taken. Eleanor Sharpston says that article 50 is the mirror provision of article 49, which was used as a basis for special arrangements for Croatia so that it did not have to hold European elections at the time of its accession. She points to other possible mechanisms as well.

None of this is easy, and I wish that we were not in this position, but the reason we are is the way in which the Prime Minister has handled things up to now. We must find a way forward that respects our constituents and enables us all to come together. I hope that we can do that, rather than just going round in the same circles time and time again.