United Kingdom’S Withdrawal from the European Union

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 9:35 am on 29th March 2019.

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Photo of Geoffrey Cox Geoffrey Cox The Attorney-General 9:35 am, 29th March 2019

I will take interventions. I did not refuse the hon. Gentleman’s; I was just asking whether he would be patient. Let me deal with his point now. The Government were considering asking that the indicative votes process continue this morning, so that we could have brought a motion this afternoon or this evening. That is exactly what the thinking was. There is no desire on the part of this Government to interfere with the process that the House is currently undergoing—on the contrary, the motion acknowledges it and notes it. I will come to it, if I may, in due course.

The minimum necessary to secure our legal right to an extension, therefore, is that this withdrawal agreement is approved. All negotiated exits that any Member of this House might conjecture or dream of will require this withdrawal agreement. Therefore the House has before it a clear choice this morning: it can either approve this withdrawal agreement, knowing that by doing so it secures its right to an extension; or it can decline to do so and know, in doing that, that by next week there will be no right to an extension, that any extension applied for will require some clear indication of the pathway forward and a stable majority behind it, and, thirdly, that it will be subject to the veto of those 27 member states.

That brings me to the motion before the House. This motion sets out clearly that it is not a meaningful vote pursuant to section 13(1)(b) of the Act. It is designed solely to give the opportunity to this House of taking advantage of the right that we have in international law. Indeed, it could not be a vote under section 13(1)(b) precisely because, Mr Speaker, you have ruled—a ruling that the Government fully respect—that a meaningful vote cannot be brought back while it poses the same or substantially the same question to this House.

Therefore, this motion has been designed to comply with your ruling, Mr Speaker, and in complying with that ruling, it cannot comply with the requirements of section 13 of the withdrawal Act. We put before the House the choice that the House faces today. What this choice will bring is certainty to thousands of businesses and millions of individual citizens throughout this country and to 1 million citizens of our country residing in the European Union. That is a not inconsiderable benefit. That certainty will be because, by taking the step of approving the withdrawal agreement today, the House will set out a clear and certain pathway to our departure from the European Union.

Let me come now to the political declaration.