European Council: Article 50 Extension

– in the House of Commons at 11:01 am on 22nd March 2019.

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Photo of Matthew Pennycook Matthew Pennycook Shadow Minister (Exiting the European Union) 11:01 am, 22nd March 2019

(Urgent Question): To ask the Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union to make a statement on the extension to the article 50 process agreed at the European Council summit on 21 March.

Photo of Kwasi Kwarteng Kwasi Kwarteng The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union

Last night, the Prime Minister met Donald Tusk, following the EU Council’s discussion on the UK’s request for the approval of the Strasbourg supplementary documents and for a short extension to the article 50 process. The Council agreed, subject to this House approving the withdrawal agreement next week, an extension of the article 50 period to 22 May. This provides Parliament with time to pass the necessary implementing legislation and to complete ratification. If Parliament does not approve the withdrawal agreement next week, article 50 will be extended until 12 April. As my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister said in Brussels last night, at that point we would either leave without a deal or we would need to put forward an alternative plan.

The House should be aware that the European Council has clarified that any extension beyond 22 May will require the UK to participate in European parliamentary elections. The Prime Minister has made clear her view: that it would be quite wrong to hold these elections three years after this country voted to leave the European Union. The House should also recognise, as my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister said last night, that we are now at the moment of decision. She, and the whole of this Government, will continue to make every effort to get a deal agreed so that we can leave the EU in an orderly manner and move the country forward.

Photo of Matthew Pennycook Matthew Pennycook Shadow Minister (Exiting the European Union)

I thank you, Mr Speaker, for granting this urgent question? However, given the significance of what was agreed in Brussels yesterday evening, the Government should have made a statement to the House this morning, instead of requiring us, once again, to drag Ministers to the Chamber. On Wednesday evening, the Prime Minister made a divisive speech from Downing Street, in which she chastised right hon. and hon. Members for not making a decision on Brexit. But we have made a decision, voting down her deal twice by historic margins. It is just that it is a decision the Prime Minister is clearly incapable of accepting. It is her intransigence, her pandering to the hardliners in her own party and her refusal to compromise that has brought us to this point. Now that the article 50 process has been extended, I trust that responsible Ministers are urging their colleagues to change course.

Let me turn to the substance of the EU Council’s communiqué. It makes it clear that, provided the withdrawal agreement is approved by this House next week, an extension will be granted to 22 May. Can the Minister therefore confirm that the Government will give us a third meaningful vote next week and, if so, on what day? Can he explain how the Government intend to comply with the terms of the statement that you, Mr Speaker, made on Monday to the effect that to have a chance of being put the motion would have to be “substantially” different? Can he commit now publicly to publishing the necessary secondary legislation and giving the House the opportunity to approve it at the earliest possible opportunity?

The Minister will know that it is highly likely that if the deal is brought back next week, it will once again be voted down. The Council’s communiqué makes it clear that if it is, the article 50 process will be extended to 12 April, in the expectation that the UK will “indicate a way forward” before that date. As such, can the Minister state categorically that in the event of such a scenario it would not be the Government’s policy to take us out of the EU without a deal, on or after 12 April? If that is the case—this is the crucial question—could the Minister set out the process by which the Government will provide this House with an opportunity to properly debate the range of alternative options available to us and to facilitate attempts to secure a majority for one of them?

Ministers have constantly told us that a responsible Government prepare for all eventualities. With that in mind, can the Minister tell us what contingency plans are being made for the distinct possibility that an extension beyond 12 April will be required? Over recent months, we have repeatedly argued that an extension to the article 50 process was inevitable and we have made it clear that its length must be determined by its purpose. After next week, it must be for Parliament to finally determine what that purpose is, so that we in this House can do what is right for businesses, communities and people in every region and nation of the UK. In short, it is time that we took back control.

Photo of Kwasi Kwarteng Kwasi Kwarteng The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union

The hon. Gentleman asks a number of questions and makes a number of assertions, some of which are simply not true, frankly. The idea that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has refused to compromise is an exaggeration; I do not think that is an accurate reflection of what has happened. With respect to his remarks about the meaningful vote, the Leader of the House set out clearly in her business statement yesterday that she will make a further business statement next week, which would be appropriate—[Interruption.]

Photo of Matt Rodda Matt Rodda Shadow Minister (Transport) (Buses)

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. I believe that the Minister may have used unparliamentary language in what he has just said. Can you guide me and offer me some advice on this matter?

Photo of John Bercow John Bercow Speaker of the House of Commons, Chair, Speaker's Committee on the Electoral Commission, Chair, Speaker's Committee for the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority, Chair, Commons Reference Group on Representation and Inclusion Committee

I do not think it was unparliamentary language. Whether it was altogether tactful is a matter for speculation and conjecture, and people will have their own view on that. I am inclined charitably to interpret what the Minister said from the Bench; when he said that the Opposition spokesman had made statements that were “not true”, I have to assume that he was asserting that the shadow Minister was incorrect—that he was erroneous. I cannot believe for one moment that the Minister was accusing the shadow Minister of lying, because that would be disorderly.

Photo of John Bercow John Bercow Speaker of the House of Commons, Chair, Speaker's Committee on the Electoral Commission, Chair, Speaker's Committee for the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority, Chair, Commons Reference Group on Representation and Inclusion Committee

Indeed, the shake of the head from the Minister on the Treasury Bench, which will be recorded in the Official Report, testifies to the correctness of my interpretation. May I gently suggest to the Minister, who has had a difficult time at the Box this week, that a felicitous use of phrase would probably be to his advantage?

Photo of Kwasi Kwarteng Kwasi Kwarteng The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union

Thank you very much for your guidance, Mr Speaker. I would also like to stress that I was not making any assertions as to the hon. Gentleman’s moral character; I was just making a statement about my view of certain things that he said.

On the hon. Gentleman’s question about the meaningful vote, it is the Government’s full intention to bring this meaningful vote to the House. We have to have a decision, and the House has to decide whether it will vote for a deal and commit to an orderly exit from the EU or whether it seeks to maintain a stance of indecision and to continue the uncertainty.

Photo of Edward Leigh Edward Leigh Conservative, Gainsborough

I am not sure the Minister has answered the crucial question put to him. In order to comply with the Speaker’s ruling and have a chance of getting meaningful vote 3 through the House, there has to be a substantial change in the offer. The EU will not carry on negotiating, so the only way to do that is to do so unilaterally by way of declaration. Will the Minister comment on that? Will he make it absolutely clear today, on behalf of the whole Government, not just the Prime Minister, that three years after the referendum it would be utterly intolerable were we still to be in the EU during the European elections? I want him to give an absolute commitment today that the Government would rather resign than be privy to such an appalling betrayal of the people’s trust.

Photo of Kwasi Kwarteng Kwasi Kwarteng The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union

I am pleased that my right hon. Friend asked that question. Obviously, I cannot comment from the Dispatch Box as to what the Government will or will not do in the event of a European parliamentary election, because we are talking about hypotheticals, as my right hon. Friend always likes to do. I can only reiterate the words of the Prime Minister on this: it would be intolerable to have European elections, given that we would have had three years since the country voted to leave the EU.

Photo of Hilary Benn Hilary Benn Chair, Committee on Exiting the European Union

We will not now be leaving the EU on 29 March, but this is crisis delayed, not crisis avoided. Will the Government now support the cross-party amendment for Monday tabled by Sir Oliver Letwin and supported by many others, which would enable the House to hold a series of indicative votes? If the House does agree on a way forward, will the Government support it? Because continuing to say “My deal or no deal” will simply see the country continue to hurtle towards the edge of a cliff.

Photo of Kwasi Kwarteng Kwasi Kwarteng The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union

The right hon. Gentleman makes an assumption about when the meaningful vote may take place. At the moment, the Government’s focus is to make sure that we can potentially get a meaningful vote and secure the deal on the table. That is what I have always maintained, not only since I have been in office but before. We want to pass the meaningful vote and introduce the withdrawal Bill. If the meaningful vote does not get through, we will have to look at alternatives.

Photo of Mark Francois Mark Francois Conservative, Rayleigh and Wickford

My I remind the Minister of Denis Healey’s first rule of politics? When you are in a hole, stop digging.

Whenever the meaningful vote is tabled—if you allow it, Mr Speaker—I believe that the House will vote it down, not least because of the rather hubristic speech that the Prime Minister made when she, in effect, attacked Members of this House for having the temerity to vote with their consciences. I think it will not go through. Will the Minister confirm that if that is the case, as I very much hope and believe it will be, we cannot extend again beyond 12 April, even if the EU Council wants us to, unless the United Kingdom agrees?

Photo of Kwasi Kwarteng Kwasi Kwarteng The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union

Of course, that is absolutely the case. If my right hon. Friend is right and the meaningful vote comes to the House and is voted down, the European Council will not be able to impose, necessarily, any exit terms on this House. We would have to have some consent in this House on the way forward.

Photo of Stella Creasy Stella Creasy Labour/Co-operative, Walthamstow

The Minister says the House is in a state of indecision; it is not. The House has repeatedly decided: it decided on 15 January, on 12 March and on 13 March. In fact, it has decided repeatedly, every single week for the past few weeks, to say no to the Prime Minister. The House also wants to get on and make decisions. My right hon. Friend Hilary Benn talked about the cross-party amendment; if the House votes for that amendment and gets the opportunity to move things on, will the Government honour the will of the House—yes or no?

Photo of Kwasi Kwarteng Kwasi Kwarteng The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union

The hon. Lady suggests that the House has actually decided; the House has decided to say no many times, but it has not decided to have a course of action or a plan that will take us out of the EU. All I would ask for from Members of this House is a degree of patience. Let us see what happens in the meaningful vote, and we will then have to take forward the necessary actions. I do not want to prejudge that vote now.

Photo of Kevin Foster Kevin Foster Conservative, Torbay

It was interesting to see the outcome of the Council last night. Will the Minister reassure me that we remain committed to delivering the result of the 2016 referendum, and that next week the House faces the only three choices that we can take unilaterally: no deal, revocation of article 50, or support the deal on the table? There is nothing else.

Photo of Kwasi Kwarteng Kwasi Kwarteng The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union

As usual, my hon. Friend, with customary clarity, gets straight to the point. There are three choices facing the House. We sincerely hope, even at this stage, that we can get the deal through and leave in an orderly fashion. That is exactly what Her Majesty’s Government want to do.

Photo of Chris Bryant Chris Bryant Chair, Finance Committee (Commons)

I detect from the smile on the Minister’s face when he answers some of these questions that he knows perfectly well that he has been sent out on to some very thin ice and a very sticky wicket—if the House does not mind me mixing my metaphors. There are so many things to which he does not know the answer that there is no point in even asking, because the Prime Minister does not even know, but let me ask a simple question to which he might know the answer. Will we be sitting next Friday and will we be sitting in the week commencing 8 April, which will lead up to 12 April?

Photo of Kwasi Kwarteng Kwasi Kwarteng The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union

The hon. Gentleman will know that Friday sittings are a matter for the House—[Interruption.] Absolutely, they are, in terms of procedure. We do not even know whether the meaningful vote will take place or get through. The hon. Gentleman will know that that is a matter of procedure.

Photo of Vicky Ford Vicky Ford Conservative, Chelmsford

My diary is definitely clear, should we need to have more discussions.

Many Members of this House want to deliver on the referendum result in an orderly manner, and I will support the withdrawal agreement, when it comes back to the House, as the best way to do that, but if it does not go through and there are indicative votes, will they be free votes, so that everybody outside the Chamber can see that we truly are acting to try to find the best way forward, although the circumstances are difficult?

Photo of Kwasi Kwarteng Kwasi Kwarteng The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union

Obviously, if the House is asked to decide a way forward, it would be surprising if those votes were not free votes. Again, though, my hon. Friend will understand that the ultimate decision is for the business managers and will be taken as and when the debate takes place. [Interruption.] I said it would be a matter of surprise to me.

Photo of Owen Smith Owen Smith Labour, Pontypridd

Reports state that yesterday evening the Prime Minister left European leaders deeply unimpressed with her performance. That described a familiar situation for those of us in the House who are used to questioning the Government. Did the Minister really say a moment ago, from the Dispatch Box, that he anticipates that the Government will have a free vote on the withdrawal agreement when it comes back?

Photo of Kwasi Kwarteng Kwasi Kwarteng The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union

With respect, the hon. Gentleman utterly misheard, or certainly misunderstood, what I said. I was not referring to the meaningful vote; I was referring to the indicative votes suggested by my hon. Friend Vicky Ford in her question.

Photo of Roger Gale Roger Gale Conservative, North Thanet

The extension agreed by the EU last night was clearly a significant alteration in the circumstances, which I hope will mean you feel able to allow the meaningful vote to be put to the House again next week, Mr Speaker. I am saddened that the Opposition Front Bencher, Matthew Pennycook, found it necessary to criticise the Downing Street speech. It was not a statement of opinion; it was a statement of fact. The fact is that hon. Members on both sides of the House have been very good at finding things they cannot agree with and not very good at finding things or a particular solution they can agree with. Does my hon. Friend agree that the Prime Minister is offering not a grievance but a solution, and one that we should now support?

Photo of Kwasi Kwarteng Kwasi Kwarteng The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union

I cannot agree with my right hon. Friend strongly enough. The Prime Minister has set out her deal. I strongly believe it is the best way out of the EU and will continue to make that case, along with other members of the Government.

Photo of Thangam Debbonaire Thangam Debbonaire Opposition Whip (Commons)

I am heartily sick of being told by Ministers and other Members that the House has not said what it wants. We keep having that option ruled out. If the Minister is cross with us for not saying what we want, will he now commit the Government to supporting the amendment that would provide for indicative votes on what we do want? Some of us would really like the opportunity to say what we want.

Photo of Kwasi Kwarteng Kwasi Kwarteng The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union

I can reassure the hon. Lady that I am not cross at all. [Interruption.] Well, I am not; I am perfectly happy to take questions and to engage with the House. If we lose the meaningful vote, we will proceed to face the question the EU has set out in terms of 12 April, as the Prime Minister and Donald Tusk made very clear yesterday.

Photo of Julian Lewis Julian Lewis Chair, Defence Committee

If indicative votes take place, whether whipped or free, and if they contradict the outcome of the referendum of 2016, which will the Government feel obliged to obey?

Photo of Kwasi Kwarteng Kwasi Kwarteng The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union

As my right hon. Friend knows, the Government have always been committed to honouring the result of the referendum, and we fully intend to leave the EU in an orderly manner, which is why at this late stage I continue to urge Members to back the deal.

Photo of Richard Burden Richard Burden Labour, Birmingham, Northfield

The Minister has urged the House to move beyond “indecision” and to adopt a “course of action” or “plan”. Does he not accept that the amendment tabled by Sir Oliver Letwin would achieve precisely that, and why does he have such difficulty saying that the Government would support it and honour it if it was passed?

Photo of Kwasi Kwarteng Kwasi Kwarteng The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union

As the hon. Gentleman knows, that amendment—it is not clear whether it has even been accepted—has been rejected twice, and there is no reason the Government should back an amendment that has been rejected twice.

Photo of John Howell John Howell Conservative, Henley

I say to the House gently that I am less and less interested in hypothetical solutions to this problem. I voted for the deal and will do so again. The issue of no deal is not about trading on WTO terms; it is about ending the enormous uncertainty that will continue for companies if we go out in a no-deal scenario.

Photo of Kwasi Kwarteng Kwasi Kwarteng The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union

My hon. Friend puts it extremely well. These hypothetical discussions do not alleviate the uncertainty or address the problem. There is huge uncertainty, and the sooner we end it by backing a deal, the better it will be for this country.

Photo of Andrew Slaughter Andrew Slaughter Labour, Hammersmith

I am tempted to ask the Minister what he had for breakfast this morning, as that might be a question he can answer. His performance is emblematic of the shambolic lack of preparedness over this whole issue. I will try a few very simple questions. Is the meaningful vote coming forward next week? If so, on which day? And if, as seems almost inevitable, it is voted down again, what happens then?

Photo of Kwasi Kwarteng Kwasi Kwarteng The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union

As with my hon. Friend John Howell, I am not getting into hypo- theticals. I have said that we hope to have a meaningful vote—let us see, Mr Speaker, if you decide that it is in order—and then we can test the will of the House.

Photo of Mike Wood Mike Wood Conservative, Dudley South

Can the Minister confirm that, notwithstanding last night’s agreement, the article 50 period will only be extended if the House votes for a statutory instrument to give effect to such an extension?

Photo of Kwasi Kwarteng Kwasi Kwarteng The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union

My hon. Friend is quite right. The Government would have to lay a statutory instrument and the House would have to debate and vote on it.

Photo of Jo Stevens Jo Stevens Labour, Cardiff Central

Does the Minister not accept the irony—some would say hypocrisy—of the Government saying the public can have a vote neither on whether to agree the Prime Minister’s deal or remain nor in the European elections but that the House can vote three times on her deal?

Photo of Kwasi Kwarteng Kwasi Kwarteng The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union

And Labour Members are urging the Cooper-Boles amendment. It has been rejected twice, yet they still seek to bring it back to the House. That is how the House of Commons is operating these days.

Photo of Greg Hands Greg Hands Conservative, Chelsea and Fulham

Since last night’s European Council meeting, would the Minister say that his Department’s preparations for no deal have been stepped up or stepped down?

Photo of Kwasi Kwarteng Kwasi Kwarteng The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union

My right hon. Friend will know that the Department has been engaged in no-deal preparation for about two years now, although it has been ramped up in the last few months, and we fully expect to be absolutely ready if this country leaves the EU without a deal.

Photo of David Hanson David Hanson Labour, Delyn

With due respect to the Minister, I am still not clear about the process from here. The world outside this Chamber would like to know on what day we will have a meaningful vote, whether the motion will be different from the one taken twice before and when the Government will lay the statutory instrument to extend article 50 beyond 29 March. People with businesses want to know the answers to those questions, and the Minister, on behalf of the Government, has a responsibility to answer them in this Chamber.

Photo of Kwasi Kwarteng Kwasi Kwarteng The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union

We all have a responsibility. As I and other members of the Government have been saying for many months, the most orderly way to leave is by backing the deal, but other Members have taken a different view. The Government fully intend to have a meaningful vote next week, and, as a consequence of a vote either way, I am sure that a statutory instrument will be introduced to the House early next week. That is the timeframe I have been led to believe. I think that is where we are.

Photo of Christopher Chope Christopher Chope Conservative, Christchurch

So the statutory instrument will be issued on Monday or Tuesday? It has taken a long time to get even that information out of my hon. Friend. Can he expand upon whether the SI will be issued in draft before or after the Government’s next—and likely failed—attempt to get this ludicrous deal through?

Photo of Kwasi Kwarteng Kwasi Kwarteng The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union

I am not going to say today—Friday—the exact hour and time the meaningful vote will take place or the SI will be tabled. I have set out the path and the process very clearly. My hon. Friend should refer to my earlier remarks.

Photo of Paul Sweeney Paul Sweeney Shadow Minister (Scotland)

This is not so much a crisis of the constitution as a crisis of leadership on the part of the Government. Parliament is not the problem; Parliament has not had the opportunity to find a way forward and establish a majority for anything because the Government have prevented it from doing so. That is the reality. I do not think that the Minister will be able to table the motion next week unless he substantially changes it, because you have ruled it would be out of order, Mr Speaker. Will he confirm that he does not intend to substantially change the withdrawal agreement and political declaration prior to subjecting them to another meaningful vote, and if the motion is ruled out of order, will he accept the need to establish a majority to amend it for it to proceed?

Photo of Kwasi Kwarteng Kwasi Kwarteng The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union

I am not going to second-guess your decision on the meaningful vote, Mr Speaker, but there is a body of opinion, which I happen to share, that the circumstances will have changed—we will have had EU input on the timetable—and that it may well be argued that those changed circumstances allow another meaningful vote.

Photo of Tom Pursglove Tom Pursglove Conservative, Corby

I am afraid that I fundamentally disagree with this business of extension in the first place, but will my hon. Friend confirm whether there are any additional financial commitments associated with the proposed extension?

Photo of Kwasi Kwarteng Kwasi Kwarteng The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union

As far as I am aware, we have not discussed any more financial commitments outside those detailed in part 5 of the withdrawal agreement.

Photo of Danielle Rowley Danielle Rowley Labour, Midlothian

I absolutely despair at what this whole charade is doing to public trust in this place. That was not helped by the Prime Minister pitting the people against Parliament in an absolutely shocking speech. My constituents, who have been contacting me in their hundreds, say that they do not want a no-deal exit and that they do not want the Prime Minister’s deal, and that is what Parliament has also ruled. The Minister is talking about hypotheticals, but, given that it is almost Friday afternoon, next week’s business is not hypothetical. What will he say to reassure people outside of this place that this is not just an absolute farce?

Photo of Philip Davies Philip Davies Conservative, Shipley

There are millions of people outside this House who are absolutely seething. They are largely seething with people who stood on a promise to deliver the result of the referendum and who, once elected, try to frustrate, or in some cases even overturn, the result that they promised to honour when they stood at the general election. If those people do not think that there will be a backlash, they are in cloud cuckoo land. The Government could, and should, leave on 29 March, as they promised all the way along. Why are they not doing that, and will the Minister give an absolute assurance that the two dates mentioned—the one in May and the one in April—will not, in any circumstances, be superseded by pushing it to a later date, because to do so would be the most appalling betrayal of trust to the British people?

Photo of Kwasi Kwarteng Kwasi Kwarteng The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union

I cannot recommend the words of my hon. Friend enough. We all stood on manifestos in this place that committed to honour the 2016 referendum result. Some Members of this House have essentially sought to flout that and turn their backs on the strong commitments that they made and they will have to answer for that. The Government are still committed to honouring the referendum and leaving the EU in an orderly way.

Photo of Anna McMorrin Anna McMorrin Labour, Cardiff North

The country is facing a national emergency, and this Government are taking us to the brink. We have seen a petition to revoke reaching nearly 3 million signatures in less than 48 hours. That is unprecedented. Will the Government seek another way forward by asking Parliament and then put that back to the people, or by revoking article 50?

Photo of Kwasi Kwarteng Kwasi Kwarteng The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union

It is not Government policy, and never has been, to flout the 2016 referendum result, going back on what the people voted for, or to revoke article 50.

Photo of Hugh Gaffney Hugh Gaffney Labour, Coatbridge, Chryston and Bellshill

Can the Minister suggest to the Prime Minister that her deal is dead and that MV3 is dead? May I also suggest that she watches the “Monty Python” sketch on the dead parrot to see that her deal is dead? If she is not willing to listen, perhaps she is willing to watch and then bring back a statement that will unite us rather than divide us.

Photo of Kwasi Kwarteng Kwasi Kwarteng The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union

As I have said, I would be very surprised if the Prime Minister does not make a statement on Monday. Downing Street is, I think, committed to that. What I say is that a deal is the best way forward. That is the best way to leave the EU in an orderly way.

Photo of Tanmanjeet Singh Dhesi Tanmanjeet Singh Dhesi Labour, Slough

I found the statement by the Prime Minister sickening and revolting because she pitted our constituents—the British public—directly against us. It has made our job a lot, lot harder simply because she is trying to place her complacency and her ineptitude and inabilities to strike a deal on to us. Will the Minister respond by saying that, along with bringing back a meaningful vote next week, the Prime Minister will also come to the Dispatch Box to offer a full and unreserved apology to us all as parliamentarians?

Photo of Kwasi Kwarteng Kwasi Kwarteng The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union

I am sure the Prime Minister will be coming to the Dispatch Box to give an account of what happened in the various conversations that she has had with EU27 leaders. In her statement, I think she was essentially reflecting a feeling among constituents—certainly among my constituents—that the House of Commons needs to get round a decision and move this thing forward.

Photo of Gareth Snell Gareth Snell Labour/Co-operative, Stoke-on-Trent Central

I am sure the Minister and the whole House will agree that, when a motion is defeated by a majority of almost 250 Members of this place and when Members such as me vote against that motion knowing that it will mean that that motion may not come back, we do not expect it to be hawked around for a second, third or fourth time. I voted against the people’s vote motion last week, and I presumed that the same would apply, given that the majority was almost the same. May I suggest to the Minister that one way through this would be to bring forward parts of the withdrawal amendment Bill and place in it, on statute, the roll that this House will play in the next phase of negotiations? We are in this mess, frankly, because the Prime Minister went to Europe and cut a deal that she supported without checking with us first. If she repeats that mistake, this process will go on for far longer than the European elections.

Photo of Kwasi Kwarteng Kwasi Kwarteng The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union

The hon. Gentleman will understand that the Bill will only be introduced subject to the House voting through the meaningful vote. That is, I am afraid, standard process in these matters.

Photo of Karen Buck Karen Buck Labour, Westminster North

The Minister keeps saying that he will not engage in hypotheticals, but on 14 March the Deputy Prime Minister said that the Government would, if a meaningful vote is not approved,

“facilitate a process in the two weeks after the March European Council to allow ​the House to seek a majority on the way forward.”—[Official Report, 14 March 2019;
Vol. 656, c. 563.]

Does he agree with the Deputy Prime Minister? If he does, can he tell us exactly when, and by what process, he would take forward the means of this Parliament reaching an agreement?

Photo of Kwasi Kwarteng Kwasi Kwarteng The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union

I agree with the hon. Lady to a point. If the meaningful vote is voted down, it would be reasonable to have a wide debate in the House, as the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster suggested two weeks ago, to find what the House would tolerate and how it sees things going forward. I agree with that.

Photo of Glyn Davies Glyn Davies Conservative, Montgomeryshire

I voted leave in 1975 and I voted leave again in 2016. It is crucial that we respect the vote of the referendum. Does my hon. Friend the Minister agree that the best way to achieve that, and indeed to retain good, solid working relationships with our current European partners, is by supporting the withdrawal agreement and voting for it in the meaningful vote?

Photo of Kwasi Kwarteng Kwasi Kwarteng The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union

In all this noise and debate, the course outlined by my hon. Friend is the most secure one. It is the best one for delivering on certainty for our businesses. I, along with him, will continue to support the deal.

Photo of Mike Kane Mike Kane Shadow Minister (Education) (Schools)

In an age of polemics, I like to think of myself as a meek politician, but, in the biblical sense, meekness is a continuum from outright rage to outright apathy. As I listened to the Prime Minister’s statement on Wednesday night, I was filled with nothing but wrath for it. This is a person who holds an office that technically has an immense power and who has promised to leave the European Union on 108 occasions in this House yet has failed to deliver. Does the Minister think that the Prime Minister helped her cause in any way whatever with that statement on Wednesday night?

Photo of Kwasi Kwarteng Kwasi Kwarteng The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union

My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister expressed the frustration that millions of people across this country feel at the inability of this House to move the debate forward and to honour its commitments to leave the EU and to honour the referendum of 2016.

Photo of Bill Esterson Bill Esterson Shadow Minister (Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy), Shadow Minister (International Trade)

The Prime Minister said at her press conference last night that she would honour the commitments made by the Minister for the Cabinet Office to hold indicative votes if the withdrawal agreement was defeated again. I think that the Minister just confirmed that he agrees with her on that point. So when he confirms again in answer to this question that that is what he has just said, will he also confirm that the Government will be bound by the results of those indicative votes as a way out of the crisis that this country is currently in?

Photo of Kwasi Kwarteng Kwasi Kwarteng The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union

All I said—I want to repeat it—is that, in the event of the House voting down the meaningful vote, it would not be unreasonable to have subsequent votes to find out what the House actually supported.

Photo of Cat Smith Cat Smith Shadow Minister for Voter Engagement and Youth Affairs

The Minister has said an awful lot about what he thinks, but not so much about what he knows. Does he think the Prime Minister even wants to get her deal through? She has to convince Members of this House to vote for it, but her irresponsible speech in Downing Street on Wednesday evening has seen increased hostility and threats, including death threats, towards Members of this House from members of the public, who she pitted against us.

Photo of Kwasi Kwarteng Kwasi Kwarteng The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union

I know that the Prime Minister has worked tirelessly to get the deal across the line, as have other members of her Government. We still maintain that this deal is the best way in which to leave the EU in an orderly and timely fashion.

Photo of Chris Elmore Chris Elmore Opposition Whip (Commons)

Before I ask my question, let me say that the Minister should join his Chief Whip in saying that he is appalled by the Prime Minister’s language. I have been standing up to bullies all my adult life and I will not be bullied by the Prime Minister, and neither will any Opposition Member. Will the Minister tell us what the new exit date will be after the SI has been tabled—12 April or 22 May?

Photo of Kwasi Kwarteng Kwasi Kwarteng The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union

The hon. Gentleman very ably sets out the alternative that the EU has suggested, but he will understand that it is conditional on what happens in the meaningful vote. If the meaningful vote goes through, we are leaving on 22 May. If it does not, 12 April is in play.

Photo of Ruth Smeeth Ruth Smeeth Labour, Stoke-on-Trent North

I just want to confirm what we have heard from the Minister today: we do not know when the meaningful vote will be; we do not know what will be in it; we do not know whether the Government will whip it; we do not know when the SI will be tabled; and now we do not even know what will be in the SI. How can we have any faith that this Government can deliver anything, never mind Brexit?

Photo of Kwasi Kwarteng Kwasi Kwarteng The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union

I have said that we are committed to having the meaningful vote next week, and that once the meaningful vote is decided one way or the other, we will be looking to introduce an SI to change the exit day.

Photo of Jim McMahon Jim McMahon Shadow Minister (Housing, Communities and Local Government) (Devolution)

The last few years have been extremely difficult for parliamentarians. The referendum divided the country, but we have desperately tried to respect the result and find a way through, after being put in a really uncompromising position by the Prime Minister. In that time, we have faced harassment and targeted threats. When we come down here, our families are fearful for our safety; when we are here, we fear for our families’ safety. And the Prime Minister—the Head of our Government—playing on that to try to bully and harass us even further will not work.

Good faith in this House is at a bare minimum now, and the Prime Minister has lost any good faith that I had in trying to work with her, but we still have to find time and find a deal, and that can be achieved only if the Government accept that we have to depart from the current withdrawal agreement to find a compromise that can win support across the House. The Minister must surely now accept that there has to be a change of direction.

Photo of Kwasi Kwarteng Kwasi Kwarteng The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union

I commend the hon. Gentleman for his remarks about the increased violence and threats faced by all Members of this House; it is right to observe this issue, particularly as we commemorate two years since people lost their lives in an attack on this place. With respect to the process, we still have to have the meaningful vote. The hon. Gentleman predicts that it will be voted down. If it is, we will table an SI in the manner that I have described. There may well be debates in the House to find a solution—a way forward. That is what I can commit to.

Photo of Jeff Smith Jeff Smith Opposition Whip (Commons)

My hon. Friend Matthew Pennycook was being rather generous and polite when he described the Prime Minister’s speech as divisive; it would have been better described as shamelessly arrogant and dangerous. The Prime Minister is continuing to display that arrogance in every forum, and it really cannot go on. With respect, other Ministers are displaying the same arrogance in failing to face up to the situation that we are in. The Minister says that there will be a meaningful vote early next week, followed by an SI that will be published early next week and which clearly has to be voted on before next Friday. Presumably, that can be voted on only after the meaningful vote, so I imagine that that will happen on Thursday or Friday. Can the Minister give us some clarity about what we are doing next week, because Members of this House need to know?

Photo of Kwasi Kwarteng Kwasi Kwarteng The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union

The technicalities of the business of the House are a matter for the Leader of the House. The hon. Gentleman says he is confused, but he ably set out the path for next week. We want to have a debate and a meaningful vote. In either eventuality after the meaningful vote, we will be looking to introduce an SI to amend the exit date. That is a very clear path.

Photo of Chi Onwurah Chi Onwurah Shadow Minister (Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy) (Industrial Strategy)

The Prime Minister has succeeded in alienating this House and inflaming the divisions in our country. She is bringing the House into disrepute with her inability to recognise that the House and the country might hold an opinion different from her own. She is like a child who will not share her Brexit toy. But this is about all our futures, so will the Minister set out how the Government will give the House or the people of this country the opportunity to find a different way, because the Prime Minister is not going to get her own way on Brexit?

Photo of Kwasi Kwarteng Kwasi Kwarteng The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union

I assure the House that the Prime Minister has been absolutely committed to delivering on the result of the referendum—on the fact that we have to leave the EU. I believe, as does the Prime Minister, that the best way to do so is with a deal, and I will continue to argue passionately for that.

Photo of Matt Rodda Matt Rodda Shadow Minister (Transport) (Buses)

The Minister has come here and given a series of confused and contradictory replies to colleagues this morning. Once again, this shows the state of complete and utter disarray in which Ministers find themselves. When will the Government finally—at this late hour—look again at the whole issue of Brexit, and find an alternative way forward?

Photo of Kwasi Kwarteng Kwasi Kwarteng The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union

I would say that the confusion and contradiction sit on the Opposition Front Bench. Labour Front Benchers do not know whether they want to revoke article 50, do not know whether they want to honour the referendum and their commitment to leave, and do not know whether they want to be in a customs union or not. They give totally contradictory and confused answers. The Government have been incredibly consistent that the withdrawal agreement marks the best and most orderly way to leave the EU.

Photo of Chris Matheson Chris Matheson Shadow Minister (Cabinet Office)

Further to the question asked by my hon. Friend Jeff Smith, while the Minister has been on his feet The Times journalist Francis Elliott has tweeted his information that the SI will be tabled and debated on either Monday or Tuesday, which rather throws us into further confusion, as my hon. Friend said, because that suggests that the meaningful vote would have to be taken before Monday or Tuesday. Can we have some clarity, or is it simply the case that the Minister is having to take one for the team?

Photo of Kwasi Kwarteng Kwasi Kwarteng The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union

I am very pleased that the tweet confirms what I have been saying. I have consistently said that the SI would be introduced early next week, and Monday or Tuesday conforms to what I said earlier from this Dispatch Box.

Photo of Chris Bryant Chris Bryant Chair, Finance Committee (Commons)

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. The Minister said that whether we sit next Friday, or when we sit, is entirely up to the House. Well, the House can make those decisions only if the Government have tabled something to that effect. It seems perfectly likely that we will be sitting next Friday for the reasons that several hon. Members have already mentioned. However, the Easter recess dates have already been announced—I do not think that we have voted on them as there has not yet been a motion before the House, but I may be wrong on that—and people are making plans. As it stands, the Easter recess means that we would not be sitting on 12 April, which is one of the next dates that is meant to be important. Would it not be really helpful if the Leader of the House were to make a statement before the end of today as to the future plans for when we are going to be sitting?

Photo of John Bercow John Bercow Speaker of the House of Commons, Chair, Speaker's Committee on the Electoral Commission, Chair, Speaker's Committee for the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority, Chair, Commons Reference Group on Representation and Inclusion Committee

It would. Whether such will be forthcoming, I do not know, but the hon. Gentleman’s point of order contained three propositions—or at any rate, two assertions and a proposition. He was right in every particular. We will leave it there for now. I cannot add anything at this hour, but my not being able to add anything at this hour does not put me into a position markedly different from that of the Minister on the Treasury Bench.