Article 50 Extension

Part of Destitution Domestic Violence Concession (Eligibility) – in the House of Commons at 4:33 pm on 20th March 2019.

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Photo of Justine Greening Justine Greening Conservative, Putney 4:33 pm, 20th March 2019

Like many in the House, I find it impossible to overstate my concern for our country today. We are nine days away from Brexit and, as things stand, we have no agreed strategy for the country to follow. Instead, we have a Government who continue to put their head in the sand about a deal that has simply not been accepted by this Parliament. There will be many books written about why we have ended up in this position, but the reality is that this situation was clear months ago. It was clear from the Chequers agreement and the subsequent White Paper that the strategy would not command consensus in this House, and that has proved the case ever since. I will briefly talk about the damage it has done to his place, before finishing by returning to the fact that, even if the Government were to get a deal through, it would be a pyrrhic victory that serves no one, including themselves.

This Government have delayed. We are debating the extension today because they have not been prepared to confront the fact that their deal has not been accepted by this House. The reality is that, in doing all this, they have undermined the procedures of this House, which are there to help this democracy and those of us privileged enough to be elected to represent our communities. They have damaged the fabric of this place, because Parliament is meant to work by us coming here to represent our communities with our votes and, on the back of our decisions, the House moves on to the consequences. Instead, on Brexit and on this deal, the Government have refused to allow that to happen.

First, the Government refused to have a vote and wasted precious time this country does not have by simply delaying because they did not want to confront the fact that their deal, which had been unpopular in the summer, was still unpopular at Christmas. We finally had a chance to vote before Christmas—I had made my speech—before the vote was cancelled and the debate was suddenly cut short. The deal was not just narrowly defeated; it was significantly defeated. If ever there was a vote that expressed the House’s will, it was that one. If ever there was a time when a Government clearly should have seen the writing on the wall, it was that moment.

The Government could have chosen at that stage to listen to what Members across the House and across parties were saying. Members were representing their communities, and they were not trying to be awkward, which is the impression Ministers have given to Parliament. The simple fact is that very few people were writing to tell us that they wanted their representatives to support the deal. Had the Government recognised that, we could have spent time, even since mid-January, debating, discussing and trying to conclude whether Britain could take another route forward that commands consensus in this House.

I listened to the approach of the Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union to this debate and, yet again, it is about party politics. This could have been a three-hour debate to test the House and see whether there is any consensus on what kind of extension the Government should be seeking. Again, the approach has not been to do that. The approach has simply been to brush off the points raised by other Members and to argue as if this is some kind of debating society, rather than a House in which decisions need to be taken at the 11th hour to save jobs and investment in our country.

That approach has massively undermined this place because, fundamentally, we take decisions by voting on motions and legislation. If our votes do not count, it strikes at the fabric of how this democracy works. I have heard Members say today that the vote against a second referendum was very big, but that is not the point. We all know that we might have another vote on a second referendum. We know that we might have a second vote or a third vote on lots of things, because the Government’s approach to Brexit has undermined the very basis on which this House debates: to have one vote on an issue. If a Member supports the motion, they should vote for it—and they should not expect it to come back to the House for another vote at a later time.

Those rules are there not only to protect Members but to make sure that this democracy works, and we have seen those rules fundamentally undermined when it comes to Brexit. We are not meant to have three votes on a deal, and the rules are meant to protect Members from being bullied by the Whips. They are meant to protect our democracy from becoming a “pork barrel” democracy in which billion-pound funds are launched purely to get Members on side for the next round of voting. That is not how the UK Parliament is meant to run. It is totally unacceptable.