United Kingdom’S Withdrawal from the European Union

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 11:47 am on 29th March 2019.

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Photo of Dominic Grieve Dominic Grieve Conservative, Beaconsfield 11:47 am, 29th March 2019

In a moment.

The issue that we have to consider today is whether the offer that the Attorney General and the Government have made to this House goes any way towards resolving the problem. In my view, it cannot and does not. The origin of the problem lies, as has been so rightly said—and here I find myself in agreement with my hon. Friend Sir William Cash and my right hon. Friend John Redwood—in the fact that the Government set out on an enterprise and said that at the end of it this House would be able to vote not only on a withdrawal agreement but on a future relationship. Indeed, page 36 of the Conservative party manifesto, which I am sometimes accused of not following, said:

“We believe it is necessary to agree the terms of our future partnership alongside our withdrawal, reaching agreement on both within the two years allowed by Article 50 of the Treaty on European Union.”

The Government’s problems started to multiply when it became clear that that was not happening.

Whatever the motivation of different Members of this House in rejecting the Government’s deal, the truth is that at its kernel was the fact that we did not have any ability to make that assessment. That is why the Government lost twice on section 13 motions, and in truth I suspect that even if a section 13 motion could be brought back, it would again be rejected for the same reason.

Now, the Attorney General and the Government say to us that there is a way out of this, by which we can agree the withdrawal agreement, get a technical extension until 22 May—I will come back to that in a moment—and expect, in the intervening period, to resolve the outstanding issues to the satisfaction of this House.

In the past week this House, in its frustration, finally took control of the Order Paper, because it wanted to debate the alternatives that the Government did not want us to debate. One thing is clear from that debate: the alternatives need time to be agreed, time to be worked up, and time to be negotiated with our EU partners. How can that be done in the context of a technical extension that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister stated at the Dispatch Box would be there if we reached an agreement merely to implement it?

At an earlier date, I explained to my right hon. Friend the Chief Whip that if this House reached an agreement, I would not, even if I did not like it, seek to use the passage of the withdrawal agreement Act for the purpose of wrecking it. That is a self-denying ordinance on my part. I am afraid, however, that it is perfectly obvious that some of my hon. Friends and other hon. Members intend to use the withdrawal agreement Act to wreck the passage of any agreement. I have to say, speaking personally, that if I cannot vote on a clean motion to approve a deal, I will be constrained on the passage of the EU withdrawal Act to be much freer in my opposition.

The truth is that it is most unlikely that between now and 22 May we have any possibility of reaching that sort of consensus. That is why I have been of the view for some time that we ought to seek to extend article 50 further if we cannot come to an agreement by 12 April, and I believe that our European Union partners have understood that and would be willing for us to do it.