European Union (Withdrawal) (No. 5) Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 6:50 pm on 3rd April 2019.

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Photo of Paul Blomfield Paul Blomfield Shadow Minister (Exiting the European Union) 6:50 pm, 3rd April 2019

I cannot, and that underlines the importance of this Bill, which provides for the further extension of article 50, which is now inevitable. The Bill offers a legislative framework through which the House can have an effective role in the process of determining that extension.

Clearly, the Bill sits in the new context of the Prime Minister’s statement late last night, in which she said that she was seeking talks with my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition. Those talks have now begun. We welcome what Nick Boles described as a “late conversion to compromise”, although we regret the damage that has been done to the economy and the credibility of this House by the Prime Minister not compromising sooner. It is an approach that she should have adopted long ago.

The Prime Minister could have adopted this approach almost three years ago, after the referendum, when the country decided by a painfully narrow margin to leave the EU, but not to rupture our relations with our closest neighbours, key allies and most important trading partners. She could have done so after the election, when she went to the country saying that Parliament was obstructing her and seeking a mandate for a hard Brexit, but lost her majority and failed to get the mandate. She could also have done so on any of the three occasions when her deal was defeated by the House, but she chose not to. We have consistently called on the Prime Minister to reach out to the sensible majority in the House and to unite the country, recognising that the people of this country include both the 52% and the 48%. But better late than never.

We also welcome the way in which the Prime Minister distanced herself last night from those kamikaze colleagues who, as she said,

“would like to leave with No Deal next week.”

The House has expressed its clear view on leaving without a deal, and this Bill provides the legislative lock to ensure that the will of our sovereign Parliament is not frustrated. It also provides for the flexibility to ensure that we can accommodate whatever comes from the discussions between our parties and across the House over the next few days.

We have set out clearly the framework on which we will be seeking the compromise that the Prime Minister talked about last night: a permanent and comprehensive customs union; close alignment with the single market; dynamic alignment on rights and protections; clear commitments on participation in EU agencies and funding programmes; and unambiguous agreements on future security arrangements. We have also been clear in our support for a confirmatory public vote on any deal that comes about at this very late stage. We look forward to the further discussions on these issues, and we are pleased to give our full backing to this Bill.