European Council: Article 50 Extension

Part of the debate – 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

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.