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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

I am grateful for the right hon. Lady’s intervention. I listened carefully to what the Minister for the Cabinet Office said in relation to the withdrawal agreement. This is no disrespect to him, because I do respect him, but trust in the Government is not where it should be. This is not to disrespect anyone sitting on the Government Front Bench, but when we voted to take a no deal off the table, and when we voted on an extension, we were voting on the basis of what he said from that Dispatch Box about a short extension, in the event that the meaningful vote failed, being reckless.

When the letter to President Tusk was written last week, some of us were therefore taken aback and did not think it reflected what this House had decided. That is now one of the problems in relation to this exercise, because there is a lack of trust. If amendment (a) is not passed this evening, we may find that we are not where we thought we would be when we get to Wednesday, Thursday and Friday—it would not be the first time.

The decision of the European Council to grant an extension to article 50 was a necessity and, in truth, the only way to prevent our leaving without a deal on 29 March, but, as I have said, any extension must be for a purpose, which is why we need to come together to decide that purpose. The Minister for the Cabinet Office said two weeks ago, and he elaborated on it today, that the Government would consult the other parties through the usual channels and work to provide a process by which the House could form a majority to take things forward. It seems that the Government agree with what amendment (a) intends to achieve. If it is passed, MPs will decide the options, which is right. The Government say that would give too much control to MPs, but then they say, “If it doesn’t go through, we will provide the time. As for the options, that should be for MPs.” If the Government are true to what they say, MPs will decide the options in any event, so the easiest thing would be for the Government simply to signal that they accept the amendment. We could then foreshorten the debate, move forward and start the discussion on how the process will actually work.

Amendment (d), in the name of the Opposition, seeks to achieve that purpose, and amendment (a), in the name of Sir Oliver Letwin and others, does so, too. We will be supporting both amendments this evening.