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European Union (Withdrawal) Act

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 5:42 pm on 25th March 2019.

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Photo of David Lidington David Lidington Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, Minister of State (Cabinet Office) 5:42 pm, 25th March 2019

I am always over-tempted to give way to interventions, and I am deeply conscious that on the last two occasions that I came to this Dispatch Box I spoke for over an hour in total because of the number of interventions I permitted, so I will try to make some progress as I am sure many Members in all parts of the House want to catch your eye, Mr Speaker, and contribute to the debate.

Whatever options are put forward—this starts to address the issue raised by Anna Soubry—will need to be negotiable with the EU, and in particular any deal will require the withdrawal agreement that not only we but the 27 other Governments of the EU member states have negotiated. The conclusions of the European Council last week could not have been clearer: EU member states are not prepared to consider any reopening of the terms of the withdrawal agreement which for them, as well as for us, represented the outcome of a lengthy period of negotiation and compromise on both sides. And this is one of the reasons why my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister was clear earlier this afternoon that the Government cannot simply pre-commit to accepting whatever might come out of this process. It is entirely possible that this House votes for something that is neither realistic nor negotiable; for example, it could vote to seek further changes to the withdrawal agreement, which the EU has been clear is simply not possible. Equally, the House could vote to maintain all the benefits of the single market without agreeing to the obligations, such as alignment with state aid rules or the free movement of people, but the EU has been clear that the four freedoms are indivisible.

Of course we will engage constructively with Members across the House on whatever the outcome of this process is, but we continue to believe that the amendment tabled in the name of my right hon. Friend the Member for West Dorset would be an unwelcome precedent to set, in that it would overturn the balance between Parliament and the Government. In the event that his amendment were carried tonight, we would obviously want to have a dialogue with him and his co-sponsors about how he proposed to take those measures forward.

I want to add a few words to what the Prime Minister said about the statutory instrument that has been published today on the extension of article 50. Now that the United Kingdom and the European Union have agreed an extension to article 50 and it has been embodied in a legal decision of the European Council, the date needs to be amended to reflect in our domestic law the new point at which the EU treaties will cease to apply in the United Kingdom. The Government have therefore tabled today a draft statutory instrument under the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018 that provides for both of the possible extensions: 12 March and 22 May.