Eu: Withdrawal and Future Relationship (Motions)

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 4:35 pm on 1st April 2019.

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Photo of John Bercow John Bercow Speaker of the House of Commons, Chair, Speaker's Committee on the Electoral Commission, Chair, Speaker's Committee for the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority, Chair, Commons Reference Group on Representation and Inclusion Committee 4:35 pm, 1st April 2019

I am extremely grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his point of order and for the very reasonable tones in which, as usual, he expresses it. He and I have known each other for a long time, and I have the highest regard for the integrity of the hon. Gentleman. I am happy, although not obliged, to provide an answer to each of his two points. I say I am not obliged not in my interests, but because the House has long understood and asserted the obligation of the Chair to make these judgments and expected that the Chair would not provide an explanation, but that the House—having vested in the Chair the responsibility—would accept the judgment. However, I am happy in this case to respond to his two points.

First, in relation to the hon. Gentleman’s motion appertaining to the backstop, he makes his own point in his own way. I have to make a judgment about what I think is reasonable going forward. In this debate, colleagues, we are not acting alone; we are acting in a negotiation with the European Union. The point that the hon. Gentleman feels strongly about is expressed in this motion for the first time, but it has been aired repeatedly—I do not say that critically, but as a matter of fact—since the publication in November of the withdrawal agreement. Repeated commitments have been made to seek a re-examination of that point by the Union, and it has become clear over a period of months that that re-examination is not offered by the Union. It may or may not feature in the future, but in terms of trying to broker progress now I did not think it would be the most sensible motion to choose at this time. I put it no more strongly than that.

Secondly, in relation to the so-called no-deal motion, if the hon. Gentleman will forgive me—and, frankly, even if he will not—I am going to replay to him his own point in my support rather than his. Somewhat exasperated—well, quizzical—that I had not selected his motion, he said, “But Mr Speaker, leaving without a deal on 12 April is the legal default.” He is right: it is precisely because it is the default position in law that having it on the Order Paper is, in my view, a rhetorical assertion. It is a statement of fact, and it does not in my judgment require debate. The second point on that motion is that in looking at it—[Interruption.] Kevin Foster can chunter from a sedentary position in evident disapproval of the thrust of the argument that I am developing if he so wishes, but it does not detract from the fact that I am making the point I am making. He does not like it: I do, and we will have to leave it there.

The simple fact of the matter is that that motion, voted on last week, as the beady eye of Mr Baron testifies he realises, was rejected by 400 votes to 160. A significant number of Members did not vote, but even if every Member who did not vote on that motion last week were to vote in favour of it this week, it still would not pass. I see my duty as being to try to advance matters. Whatever people think about this issue and whatever side of the argument they sit, they all think, “Can we not make some progress?” It is in pursuit of progress that I have made the disinterested—I use that old-fashioned but valid term—judgment that I have made to try to serve the House.

I totally understand that it will not please everyone, but it happens to be my view, it is an honest one, and it is my best judgment.