Business of the House

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 4:54 pm on 3rd April 2019.

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Photo of Robert Syms Robert Syms Conservative, Poole 4:54 pm, 3rd April 2019

I am not against constitutional innovation—as somebody who came from local government where we controlled the money in the local council, I have always felt this Chamber ought to do more of that on money—but I am unhappy about what is happening today because of the rushed way it is being put through. I have always wondered how we would end Brexit, and it always seemed to me that it would be on a wet Wednesday when somebody worrying about a no-deal Brexit in a few days’ time would in the most moderate and reasonable terms—I respect my right hon. Friend Sir Oliver Letwin, who is one of the most reasonable, articulate people in this House—put forward the idea that for a brief moment of time, Parliament has to take control in some way to stop us leaving.

However, the Bill does not have a back date on it, and we need to debate that. The reason is that once that Bill goes on to the statute book and becomes a device, it can be used at any time to extend the exit date. I do not think this Parliament would ever vote to revoke article 50, but I do think it might, out of indecision, extend and extend and extend. That is why we need a full debate, because eventually the salience of the referendum could drop and people start to say, “We can’t make up our mind; let’s stay.”

That is why at some point we have to make a decision, and that time is fast coming, but I do not agree with my right hon. Friend. My fear is that this is an enabling Act and a device, and it needs full debate of more than one day so that we can bottom out what the impact is. We have had days and months of debate—massive debate on article 50 and withdrawal Bills—but this small device could well keep us in the EU for month after month after month after year. That is my fear.

I respect my right hon. Friend—he wants to leave the EU; he does not want to leave as quickly as I do, but he wants to leave the EU. However, a lot of the people voting for this device do not want to leave the EU; they want to stay. I respect them using this device, but I think it would be a grave mistake if we passed it today.

So the House taking control is fine—well done—but my concern is that putting this Bill through may well have the unintended consequence of allowing the exercise whereby 33.5 million people went out to vote to be set aside because we will start to worry about how it will bottom out. That is wrong. It is fundamentally wrong in principle, and if we are going to do this we need to do it with full debate over days so that we can bottom out what the impact of this enabling legislation will be.