Article 50 Extension

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

Alert me about debates like this

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

I agree about that.

In a sense, there are two issues here: the substance of the decision we need to take, which I was just talking about; and the manner in which the decision is taken in a way that makes it a sustainable one. The substance is that there are only so many routes forward on Brexit. This House just needs to decide whether it can find a consensus on any of them. If we cannot, we need to confront what that means for finding a decision for the country as a whole.

I have been clear that I felt back in July that it was obvious that this place was gridlocked. I take no pleasure in the fact that that has been proved absolutely correct. It has not served this country well that the Government have sought simply to avoid that fact, putting their head in the sand, and that therefore we are days away from Brexit with no decisions having been taken. There is no point in saying that a referendum will waste time, given that the Government have wasted far more time than a referendum would have ever taken. For this extension debate to have any quality or meaning, we should be debating whether we want to delay until the end of the calendar year, the end of a fiscal year, or beyond that. We should be talking about the rationale for the different strategies on Brexit—there are only so many. I do not think that the way this debate has been approached or how it reflects the broader Brexit process has served our democracy well—it has been hugely counterproductive.

I wish to finish my comments this afternoon by talking about what happens even if the Government win a vote on their deal next week—if they are allowed to have one; I listened to your ruling and felt you were right to make it, Mr Speaker. Even if somehow a third meaningful vote on a motion not substantially different was allowed to be put to the House and it was won, the Government would not have not won the argument. Brexit is not a moment and a vote in this House; it is about a process—a journey on which we will take Britain over the coming years—so just cobbling together a majority at one moment does not fix anything. It does not take the decision for those of my colleagues who genuinely feel that this version of Brexit is not what 17 million people voted for; it does not address their concerns. Quite rightly, they are simply not going to accept this version of Brexit when they feel so passionately that the thing for which they have campaigned for so many years is not being delivered. Such a vote will resolve nothing. It will end up feeling like the Government have simply tried to get something over the line for the sake of ticking a box, when this process should have been about so much more than that. It will not work and it will not be sustainable, so it not only serves our democracy badly but serves our country badly, too. I predict that we will have to revisit these issues anyway.

I know that what I am saying will not be welcome to Ministers’ ears. They have set their face for years—certainly for months—against listening to comments in this Chamber that are contrary to Government policy, but the time has now come when they need to face facts and face reality. It seems the one thing this House cannot do is take decisions per se for the Prime Minister and make her follow them. We need Government Ministers to wake up, smell the coffee and start acting responsibly on behalf of this country. This House rejects the Government’s deal. We want an alternative. We must allow the House to have the debate that can find the alternative, and if we cannot do that, allow it to take a decision about what we need to do as a Parliament. We cannot just steadily get to the 29 March cliff edge and simply ignore the fact that this is a grave crisis for this country that will affect people’s livelihoods and jobs. Having grown up in a place where there was unemployment, I find that totally unacceptable.