Duties in connection with Article 50 extension

Part of European Union (Withdrawal) (No. 5) Bill – in the House of Commons at 7:30 pm on 3rd April 2019.

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Photo of George Eustice George Eustice Conservative, Camborne and Redruth 7:30 pm, 3rd April 2019

I thank the House of Commons Clerks for the immense amount of work they have put in to ensure that we have these amendments in order and ready to be debated. This is clearly a rather unprecedented type of Bill to bring before Parliament. In common with my right hon. Friend Richard Benyon, I have been somewhat supportive of the attempts by my right hon. Friend Sir Oliver Letwin to create space on the House’s agenda to discuss indicative votes. Indeed, I have tabled amendments of my own during the debates on those votes, and I abstained on a business of the House motion to enable those votes to take place. I did not do that today, however, because like my right hon. Friend the Member for Newbury, I believe that this is a very different reason for taking control of the House.

I rise to speak to my two amendments: amendments 20 and 21. Amendment 20 seeks to add to subsection (3) of clause 1 a maximum date of 30 June 2019 to that elected by the Government. Amendment 21 would delete altogether subsections (6) and (7) of clause 1, which make provision for how the House would deal with a situation in which the European Union had rejected an approach by the Government to seek an extension and had instead made a counter-offer. My reason for tabling both those amendments is that, as a number of hon. Members have pointed out, this legislation is indeed rushed. We all have our views on the reason for that, and we are indeed at the eleventh hour of the process of leaving the European Union. That means that this is an unusual Bill, in that it seeks to bind the hands of the Government on a decision that would normally be a matter of prerogative power and a matter for the Executive to take to negotiations in international forums. Both amendments recognise the fact that the Bill has now had its Second Reading and is therefore in play, but they nevertheless seek to place a restriction on its scope and power.

While any date can be placed in a motion under clause 1(2), amendment 20 seeks a maximum of 30 June 2019, making it impossible for the Government, or someone else by amendment, to set a date beyond that. That is an important principle given the rushed nature of this legislation. It would enable both this House or the Government to seek a short extension, as the Prime Minister has already indicated she would, but it would prevent this House or the Government from electing for a long extension, which might effectively lead to the revocation of article 50.