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Article 50 Extension

Part of Destitution Domestic Violence Concession (Eligibility) – in the House of Commons at 5:28 pm on 20th March 2019.

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Photo of Liz Kendall Liz Kendall Labour, Leicester West 5:28 pm, 20th March 2019

Probably not, because I really want to let others come in. I am so sorry.

Extension has to be for a purpose, so it is about facing up to the choices that Brexit inevitably brings. Either we remain as close to the EU as possible, to protect jobs and prevent a hard border in Northern Ireland, but give up our say over the rules—or we cut all ties, with all the risks and uncertainty that that brings. We have never been straight with the British public about those choices, but doing that will require time. It will take time for this House to agree, if it can, on which option we should look at. It will take time to negotiate any other alternative with the EU, whether that is a customs union, a common market or whatever else. My view is that this must not simply be about what this House decides about our future relationship, but about what the public thinks. That is the only way to get a sustainable solution.

One reason that many people are concerned about a longer extension is that they are worried that it would mean our having to take part in the European Parliament elections, but I do not think that that is a foregone conclusion. Eleanor Sharpston, an advocate-general of the Court of Justice of the European Union, has called that view

“an oversimplified and ultimately fallacious presentation of the situation.”

She says that, just as the article 49 rules have changed for countries acceding to the EU, the article 50 rules could change for the UK. For example, the mandates of UK MEPs who have already been democratically elected could be extended so that they remain in place for months to come. It is not a foregone conclusion; it is about the political will to find a way forward.

Just as I believe that the Prime Minister should change course, I think that the EU should, too. The EU has insisted that we cannot discuss our future relationship until we have agreed on the withdrawal agreement with respect to money, EU citizens and the border in Northern Ireland, but the truth is that we cannot solve the issue of the border in Northern Ireland unless we know where we are going in the long term. Our very failure to agree how close we will remain to the EU has inevitably led to the requirement for a backstop, so the EU has to change course if we are to solve this.

I conclude by echoing my hon. Friend Alison McGovern. Let me give a warning to the Prime Minister and others about pitting this Parliament against the public and about criticising and castigating us for not bending to the will of the people—as if there were one single will of the people that is clear and always the same. We are representatives, not delegates; we are here to exercise our judgment. It is our job to question, to scrutinise and to stand up for what we believe in. It is dangerous to try to pit this Parliament against the people, instead of defending our parliamentary democracy—one long-term challenge among many others that the Prime Minister has simply failed to live up to.