Sittings of the House (29 March)

Part of Business of the House – in the House of Commons at 5:47 pm on 28th March 2019.

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Photo of Chris Bryant Chris Bryant Chair, Finance Committee (Commons), Chair, Finance Committee (Commons) 5:47 pm, 28th March 2019

Who would have thought that a debate on whether we should sit tomorrow would get everyone so wound up?

In one sense, this is very simple. We are simply deciding, at a moment of national crisis, whether or not we should sit tomorrow, notwithstanding the normal practice of the House, which is that we only sit on Fridays for private Members’ business. I do not think that a single Member of the House would resent the Government’s motion proposing that we should sit tomorrow, because we know that this is a very important moment for our country, and we need to get this right. However, as every good architect will tell you, form must always follow function. My anxiety is that when the Government announced that we were going to sit tomorrow, they should have told us what we were going to sit for. We should have had plenty of prior notice, not the negligible notice that we have had.

I understand, and take in good faith, the difficulties that the Government have had in trying to get to this moment, but I think that the motion that we will debate tomorrow is problematic in many ways, and I think that that gives us reason to ask whether we should really be sitting to consider this matter tomorrow. [Interruption.] No, this is not a point of order. I am taking part in the debate. This is a debate on a motion which is before the House.

I have a problem with the function that we are being asked to address tomorrow. First, the motion expressly does not meet the requirements of our own law, passed in this House, namely section 13 of the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018, which clearly binds together the withdrawal agreement and the political declaration. Indeed the Prime Minister herself had repeatedly said the two things could not be separated out, and for that matter senior members of other Governments elsewhere in Europe have also said the two things go together. Indeed the Prime Minister’s express point was that if they were separated out, we in the UK would be losing the benefits we gained. So I have an anxiety about that element.