Article 50 Extension

Part of Destitution Domestic Violence Concession (Eligibility) – in the House of Commons at 4:47 pm on 20th March 2019.

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Photo of Hilary Benn Hilary Benn Chair, Committee on Exiting the European Union 4:47 pm, 20th March 2019

It is a genuine privilege and pleasure to follow Justine Greening, who just made an outstanding speech about the state we are in. Let me just add that for sheer chaos, the past 24 hours will take some beating when the annals of Brexit finally come to be written. Should we be entirely surprised, as a House? I do not think so, because it is consistent with a pattern of behaviour that dates right back to the first days after the referendum result. We know that the House has had to persuade, cajole and push the Government, at every single stage, to listen to our views and votes as Members of the House of Commons. One consequence of their refusal to do so is that there is a terrible lack of trust in the Government and their intentions and processes. We need trust if we are going to make progress, because at the moment we have absolutely no idea where we are heading.

I wish to say three things about the priorities for the House of Commons and for the country. Priority No. 1 is that we must achieve an extension to article 50, which is why we voted against leaving with no deal on Wednesday last week, and why we voted in favour of requiring the Government to make an application for an extension to article 50 on Thursday last week. If we do not get an extension, we will leave with no deal in nine days. We can move whatever statutory instruments we like in this place, but we prevent a no-deal Brexit only if, on the one hand, we have changed the law in the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018, and on the other hand the EU agrees to grant an extension. In other words, the two have to come together at the right moment to guarantee an extension. We will all have paid careful attention to what we have read on our phones about what Donald Tusk had to say about a short extension being dependent on a positive vote on the withdrawal agreement next week. I only hope that what he did not say about an alternative extension being available is in his mind if the House decides that it will not vote for the deal if it comes back.