Article 50 Extension

Part of Destitution Domestic Violence Concession (Eligibility) – in the House of Commons at 5:57 pm on 20th March 2019.

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Photo of Tom Brake Tom Brake Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (International Trade), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Exiting the European Union) 5:57 pm, 20th March 2019

At Prime Minister’s questions, the Prime Minister accused the House of navel-gazing on the subject of Europe, which is rich from a party that, for the past 30 years or more, has spent all its time navel-gazing—some might say digging around in its navel or, indeed, picking the scabs of Europe. That has left us in the current position. It has always been about the Tory interest in relation to Europe and never the interests of the country.

That is best reflected in the fact that it has required a Standing Order No. 24 application to be granted to enable us to debate something that the Prime Minister should have brought to the House, particularly given the de facto deputy Prime Minister’s comments, which many hon. Members have repeated, about how reckless it would be to seek a short extension.

I am afraid to say that the Prime Minister’s letter immediately fails two basic tests. First, it does not explain the purpose of the extension she seeks. Even worse, as we heard from Mr Paterson, it was not submitted in time. The Government’s incompetence is unparalleled. They did not submit their letter seeking an extension in time for it to be considered at this European Council meeting.

I make it clear to the Minister why the Liberal Democrats and, indeed, other Opposition parties are seeking an extension to article 50. First, the extension should be longer than the three months that the Government are apparently seeking, and it should be for a very simple purpose, which is to allow time for a people’s vote. If that requires European elections to be fought, we will fight them. We could well be, perhaps for the first time in British history, fighting European elections on the values and principles of the EU. We may have Nigel Farage’s Brexit party, funded by who knows whom, from who knows where, fighting that campaign, but the Liberal Democrats, the Scottish National party, the Labour party—one would hope—the Greens and so on may well be fighting the European Parliament elections on the basis of the values of the EU. These are the values that have ensured security and peace, and have ensured that the EU can deal collectively with issues such as climate change in a positive way. If we have those elections, bring them on. We would welcome the opportunity to talk positively about what the EU has done.

There is not very much positive about Brexit, but the one silver lining that I hope Members from nearly all parties—not the Democratic Unionist party but all the other parties in this place—have found is that the issue of Brexit has brought together Members of different parties who often have never worked together before. That has happened in a collegiate way, whereby we are willing to work together. As I understand it, that is how the Danes were able to get themselves out of the hole they had dug for themselves in 1992 with the Maastricht treaty. They resolved that by bringing the parties together and finding a way out of it together. That is not what our Prime Minister has done. Bearing in mind that we are 1,000 days after the vote of 23 June 2016, what she attempted, for a brief flash about 100 days ago, was to organise a series of one-off meetings with party leaders and with other members of those parties. She ticked that box and said, “I have talked to the other parties. It is all dealt with.” I am not sure what is happening today, but I am not sure it will add much to the sum total of her connections with the other parties.