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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

Without the statutory instrument, there would be a clash in domestic law because contradictory provisions would apply both EU rules and new domestic rules simultaneously. It is therefore important that the instrument be approved by Parliament so that we can ensure that our statute book accurately reflects the fact that the UK will now remain a member state until at least 11 pm on 12 April.

I should like to turn briefly to the amendments that you have selected, Mr Speaker, other than amendment (a), which we have already debated at some length. Turning to amendment (d), the Prime Minister and I have had constructive meetings with hon. Members from the main Opposition party in recent days, and the Prime Minister met the Leader of the Opposition earlier this afternoon. On that basis, I would say to Keir Starmer that the amendment is not necessary. I would also say that the official Opposition’s amendment demonstrates one thing very clearly—namely, that none of the changes that it seeks to secure are changes to the withdrawal agreement. The inference I draw from that is that the official Opposition now support the withdrawal agreement, and I hope that when the right hon. and learned Gentleman comes to speak, he will be able to confirm that he and his party accept that all possible deals with the European Union should include this withdrawal agreement and that that is also the clear will of the European Council.

I understand completely the motive behind amendment (f), tabled in the name of Margaret Beckett. It instructs the Government to report by 9 April on how we would ensure that the United Kingdom did not leave without a deal if the deal had not been approved by that point. Consistently throughout this process, the Government have accepted that we would need to come back to the Dispatch Box if the House had not supported the withdrawal agreement by the end of this week.

I recognise that the House has now voted twice against leaving the European Union without a deal. However, I have to say to the right hon. Lady and her co-sponsors there would be only two options before the House in the circumstances envisaged in her amendment. There would be the option, called for earlier by Pete Wishart, of the revocation of article 50, but that is not a temporary measure; it would not result in a mere stay in the proceedings. The Court of Justice of the European Union has made it clear that revocation would have to be permanent and a decision taken in good faith. The other option would be for us to ask for a long extension, but that would mean running elections for the European Parliament nearly three years after the vote of the British public to leave. Of course, it would also rely on the EU agreeing to such a long extension, which would by no means be assured.

Unless the House were prepared to support one of those two options, the legal default under European law would be that the treaties would cease to apply, whatever the right hon. Member for Derby South might wish, and we would have to leave without a deal. The way forward is for the House to accept the deal, particularly this week, to approve the withdrawal agreement and to secure the extension to 22 May.

If Parliament comes together and backs the Brexit deal, we will leave the European Union by 22 May. We can then end three years of divisive debate and uncertainty, allow the country to move on towards a new future outside the European Union and devote ourselves to the important work of negotiating a deep and special partnership with our European friends and neighbours, which the Conservative party promised in our election manifesto. The Government will make every effort to ensure that we are able to leave with a deal and move our country forward to allow those who voted leave and those who voted remain to come together in looking to the future. It is in that spirit that I commend this motion to the House.