United Kingdom’S Withdrawal from the European Union

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 10:02 am on 29th March 2019.

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Photo of Nick Thomas-Symonds Nick Thomas-Symonds Shadow Solicitor General, Shadow Minister (Home Office) (Security) 10:02 am, 29th March 2019

I am going to make some progress; I have given way a number of times.

The Prime Minister signed off the withdrawal agreement and the political declaration in November. She was originally supposed to hold the meaningful vote on 11 December. Since the day she took the decision to abandon that vote—the day before it was due to take place—109 days have passed. She knew then that the deal was going to be defeated by a substantial margin, but she ploughed on. On 15 January, the Government suffered the biggest defeat in parliamentary history, by a margin of 230 votes, on the first meaningful vote. Two weeks later, on 29 January, the Prime Minister promised the House that she would change the withdrawal agreement:

“What I am talking about is not a further exchange of letters but a significant and legally binding change to the withdrawal agreement. Negotiating such a change will not be easy. It will involve reopening the withdrawal agreement”.—[Official Report, 29 January 2019;
Vol. 653, c. 678.]

At this late stage in negotiations, any withdrawal agreement would have required the backstop. It was always totally unrealistic for the Prime Minister to pretend that she could drop the backstop entirely or make substantive changes to the withdrawal agreement, yet she wasted weeks and weeks on this fruitless pursuit, including voting for the amendment in the name of Sir Graham Brady, which required the Northern Ireland backstop to be replaced by “alternative arrangements”. Those arrangements have not been secured and they could never have been secured.

On 12 March, the Government suffered the fourth largest defeat in parliamentary history, by a margin of 149 votes, on the second meaningful vote. And now the Government are trying to carve out the withdrawal agreement, in a last-ditch attempt to save a botched deal that has failed to even come close to commanding the support of a majority of this House. This Prime Minister has recklessly run down the clock. She knows that her deal is unacceptable and she has failed time and time again to listen and to change course.

Too often this Government have ignored motions of this House. It took Parliament to fight for a meaningful vote on the two documents, the withdrawal agreement and the political declaration, to be considered together. To suggest that they should be considered separately now is to go back on what the Government have been saying about the importance of the link between them for months and months.