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European Union (Withdrawal) Act

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 8:55 pm on 25th March 2019.

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Photo of Tom Brake Tom Brake Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (International Trade), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Exiting the European Union) 8:55 pm, 25th March 2019

Sorry seems to be the hardest word for the Prime Minister. After her Mini-Me Trump act last week, it would have been appropriate for her to come to the House today—or indeed last week—to apologise for the words she used. She has chosen not to do so, however, and I really do regret that. I also regret the fact that clarity does not seem to be her strong point. She said in her statement that, unless this House agreed to it, no deal would not happen. That seemed to be a fairly clear statement, but when I intervened on her to ask her whether she could give us a categorical assurance that we would be allowed to pass a binding motion in this House ruling out no deal, she was unable to answer me positively. I am therefore left none the wiser about whether she has or has not ruled out no deal.

Amendments (g) and (e) have been tabled in support of a people’s vote. Amendment (g) was tabled by the Liberal Democrats with the support of the Independent Group; amendment (e) was tabled by the Independent Group with the support of the Liberal Democrats. It is important to continue to maintain the profile of a people’s vote, if only because absolutely nothing is predictable when it comes to what takes place in this House and whether votes will take place at the agreed time. It is also important because the 1 million people who marched on Saturday will be confused that no amendment relating to a people’s vote has been selected this evening. Others have mentioned the passion, enthusiasm and energy represented on the march, which was attended by people from all over the country and all walks of life. They came from Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and England and they were really representative of the United Kingdom as a whole. It was a fantastic occasion. I guess we have to apologise for the fact that a few stickers were left on the Cabinet Office front door, but they had been cleared by the time I attended the no-deal briefing there earlier today.

I am happy to support amendment (a), which has been tabled by Sir Oliver Letwin to facilitate indicative votes. I hope that it will enable the House to find a way forward because the Prime Minister and the Government are clearly incapable of doing so. Once the Prime Minister had set out her red lines, it became impossible for her to come up with an outcome that the House could support. That was made even harder when she blamed the House for her failure to find a way forward. It is regrettable that, when the deputy Prime Minister opened the debate today, he did not simply accept amendment (a). From what he said, it seems to represent what the Government want to do. He will know as well as anyone else that it is perfectly in order for the Government to commandeer an amendment put forward by the Opposition if they find it attractive, and that Governments normally do this. Despite opposition from his own Benches, he had the option today to grab that amendment and put his own name to it. Given that it would deliver what he says he wants to do, that would have been in order. I am also happy to support amendment (f), tabled by Margaret Beckett. It would give the House some certainty about what would happen in a no-deal scenario.

On the indicative votes, we need to ensure that the Prime Minister is not able to claim at the end of the process that Parliament has come no closer to securing a way forward than she has. The process must enable a strong option to emerge. The Liberal Democrats, like the SNP, would like not only an option to revoke article 50, but something that would ensure a people’s vote as a lock—something that would apply in relation to any proposals that come forward.

To conclude—hopefully well within your time constraints, Mr Speaker—the Prime Minister has lost not only legitimacy and credibility, but support both within and outside her party. She clearly cannot lead this process, so Parliament must now grasp the reins and lever the UK out of the quagmire into which we are gradually sliding. We are up to our necks and we will be in over our heads in a matter of days. We are very much in the last-chance saloon tonight, and shortly after the votes at 10 pm we will know whether we have come out of it alive.