Article 50 Extension

Part of Destitution Domestic Violence Concession (Eligibility) – in the House of Commons at 5:43 pm on 20th March 2019.

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Photo of Kevin Foster Kevin Foster Conservative, Torbay 5:43 pm, 20th March 2019

It is a pleasure to be called to speak in the debate, although again I have a sense of déjà vu. Here we are again, discussing this issue. It is the most important issue that faces us, but I did seek not election to the House to spend my time talking about just one issue.

I think there is a real sense that next week has to be different. Many people may be thinking that when we have another vote on Monday, it will be the same as those that we have had before. Everyone can vote against what they do not like and put up various ideas, some realistic and some not, and the Whips’ Offices will be telephoning over the weekend. I see some of my favourite Whips in the Chamber now, Nic Dakin and my hon. Friend Jo Churchill. There will be a ring-round, we will come back on Monday, and we will all stand on our pedestals, vote for various options and agree on none.

The comments of Donald Tusk today make very clear what the options actually are. Just kicking the can down the road—a further extension—is not a solution in itself. It is a delay, not a decision. It is a question of what we actually want it for, and which of those options we are actually seeking to implement. For me there remain three clear choices. The first is not one I agree with, as I think the referendum itself has ruled it out, but I accept that some Members—those in the Scottish National party, the Liberal Democrats, probably the Independent Group—would go for it: the revocation of article 50. I do not think that would be the right thing to do—I do not think it would be appropriate—but at least that is a coherent choice.

The second—I listened with interest to the speech of my right hon. Friend Mr Paterson—would be that we chose to leave without a deal either next Friday or at the end of another extension, although I think it is becoming clear that the EU’s patience in us just wanting to carry on debating is understandably coming to an end, as is most of the public’s. I do not think leaving without a deal would be the disaster some make out, but the votes last week show the likelihood of this House agreeing that outcome.

That brings us back to the final unilateral option we can choose: to vote for the proposed withdrawal agreement. We have to be clear that that would not be the end of the process. There are various options, from Canada to Norway to any other idea someone might want to come up—we might almost think every one of us could put our name to a new Brexit idea for all the ones that have been brought out over the last year—but this is the one option that we can actually agree and take forward knowing that the EU will agree to it and that we can convert it into our own law. I am not going to say that it is perfect or the best thing I have ever read, but then again it was never going to be. There are clearly challenging issues; we are unravelling a 45-year relationship with many other economies. We would probably have ended up doing some of the things anyway as a sovereign state but they have become wrapped up as part of our membership of the EU.

These are the three realistic and fairly stark choices that now face Members as we consider what will happen and what we do next week. Just saying, “I want no to no-deal” is nonsense. Saying that is a soundbite; it isn’t a solution. We actually have to agree to a solution—to one of the two remaining alternatives. The same applies to just holding out in the hope that we might get no deal, when it is pretty obvious where the votes will go on that. I voted last week against extension; I am happy to have done that as I thought it was the right thing to do, but the way that vote would go again if we had it next week is fairly predictable.

Now is the time for Members; there has been a real and fundamental change with what has been said by the President of the European Council. We need to accept that the idea that there are all sorts of wonderful types of deals that we can do is not there; there are three simple choices available next week. Therefore, Members need to think carefully about which one of them they wish to take, or conversely wish to risk. If people want to revoke article 50, that is a principled position, but it is not one I will be voting for. We could manage no deal, but I do not see it getting through the House. So as I said back in December when I was concluding on why I would be voting for the deal at that time, it is the one way that guarantees that we actually get to Brexit. We can get some of the advantages that people voted for and leave, honour the pledges we made and respect the referendum. That is what I hope this House will do next week.