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European Union (Withdrawal) Act

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 6:31 pm on 25th March 2019.

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Photo of Keir Starmer Keir Starmer Shadow Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union 6:31 pm, 25th March 2019

The Prime Minister has got herself and the Government into a hopeless position. Having disregarded views from across this House for the best part of two years, the Government now find themselves with a deal that they just cannot get through this House, and time has almost run out. Today, we see that they sort of agree with an initiative to break the impasse, but they also do not agree with it.

All that must be seen in the context of the Prime Minister losing control of the meaningful vote. In truth, we have no idea when or if it will be put again or whether it is winnable. I listened carefully to the Prime Minister’s statement this afternoon, and she said that she had gauged that there was “still not sufficient support” for the deal, but she would continue discussions so that she could bring forward a vote this week. We have been in that loop since 10 December. She says, “I don’t think there’s enough support. I am going to have further discussions, and I am going to put the vote again.” She has lost control of that process.

The Prime Minister has also lost control of the negotiations. That much is clear from the European Council’s decision last Thursday. When the Government were asked, “What happens if the meaningful vote fails?” there was no answer. That created a real anxiety that we could crash out this Friday without a deal. It was in those circumstances that the EU acted as it did in putting forward the dates of 12 April and 22 May, so the Government have lost control of the very negotiations.

The Prime Minister also appears to have lost control of the Conservative party. There have already been too many jokes about whether the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster is the Deputy Prime Minister or the putative Prime Minister, so I will scratch them from my speech, but it is clear that control of the party is gone. Tonight, it is likely that the Prime Minister and the Government are going to lose control of Parliament and of the process in circumstances in which, arguably, they do not need to, because they could have acted last week. The sense that we have to move forward was in the debate last week. It is not new today, because it was clear that many Members want to find a way forward and feel a duty to break the deadlock. That was the subject matter of last week’s debate, but instead of a constructive discussion about how we do it, we will probably divide on this motion.