Business of the House

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 3:44 pm on 3rd April 2019.

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Photo of John Redwood John Redwood Conservative, Wokingham 3:44 pm, 3rd April 2019

I am pleased the Government have made that representation, as it adds force to the case I was making.

On this Crown prerogative point, the EU position and the internationally agreed position is that only the Government can formally represent and negotiate on behalf of the UK. So one of my problems, which I raised directly with my right hon. Friend Sir Oliver Letwin, is how far can this House go in instructing and controlling the negotiation? He gave me a sensible answer, saying that the House was not going to try to say that there had to be a delay, because he fully understood my point that that is ultimately in the EU’s gift. As I pointed out, it is in this House’s gift to insist on a Minister seeking a delay. He rightly added that it is in this House’s gift to decide whether to accept any delay should the EU grant it, but the central point is that, assuming this House wanted a delay, most of the power rests with the EU. As we saw the last time a needless delay was sought and granted, quite a long delay—to 30 June—was requested, but the effective delay turned out to be only until 12 April.

The point I am making is that we do not want to take time debating something that misleads people. A lot of people outside this House think that today we are debating a Bill that will require and achieve a delay, whereas it cannot possibly guarantee to do that. People must also understand that even if this House reaches an agreement with my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, she may not end up with anything like that which the House was seeking.

Wera Hobhouse, who has disappeared, said that she had discovered that we could do anything. I have to disabuse her of that notion in two ways. First, even this House and all Members of Parliament—sometimes the public do not understand this—have to obey the law. Our advantage is that we can change the law if enough of us wish to do so.

Secondly, the hon. Lady also has to understand that great though this House can be once we are out of the European Union, and powerful though it is even still within the European Union, there are a lot of things for which it cannot sensibly legislate. Let us suppose that all working people would like it to rain on Mondays and Tuesdays, and be sunny on Saturdays and Sundays. That would be very convenient and an extremely popular law to pass, but there is no point in passing such a law, because even this House does not control the weather. I feel the same about the European Union.

There is absolutely no point in this House legislating for how the EU should respond, what its conduct should be or what laws it should pass—although they are a matter of great interest to me and many others—because we have absolutely no power over it. Indeed, that was at heart of the referendum campaign. What the SNP never accepts when it uses our phrase, “take back control”, is that the control that we wish to take back is all those mighty powers granted to the European Union, which the SNP is relaxed about. As soon as the Executive here wants any power to behave as a normal Government, however, the SNP says that that is unacceptable and Parliament needs to take it back.

I hope that the House will consider the business motion carefully, that more will come to my view—this is too little time to discuss such fundamental issues—and that they will agree with me that the big issues are to do with our future procedures and with the balance between the Executive and Parliament. I am one who often criticises the Executive, but I do not want to go too far this afternoon so that all government is in effect impossible. They must retain control of the agenda and of the money.