Duties in connection with Article 50 extension

Part of European Union (Withdrawal) (No. 5) Bill – in the House of Commons at 8:30 pm on 3rd April 2019.

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Photo of Tom Brake Tom Brake Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (International Trade), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Exiting the European Union) 8:30 pm, 3rd April 2019

I thank George Eustice, who is not in his place, for tabling amendment 20, because it gives me the opportunity to speak against it. In the amendment, he attempts to set 30 June as a date beyond which the Government cannot seek an extension. As Mike Gapes said in an intervention, it is clear that if the UK wants to secure an extension beyond that date, it will have to embark on a general election or a people’s vote, or go to the EU with a concrete, credible proposal that would enable the EU to give us a longer extension.

Frankly, I do not think the Government can do anything that will enable them to hit the date of 22 May, or even 30 June, so it would be regrettable to preclude that possibility. I imagine that every Member here has been contacted by their local authority returning officer to confirm that they have all been asked to start the process of preparing for European elections. Whether the Government like it or not, preparations are being made for that at this very moment.

The amendment would also preclude the Government from responding to business concerns. I mentioned earlier this evening the contact that I had today with businesses in the retail sector. They were adamant that leaving on 12 April would be catastrophic, leaving on 22 May would be catastrophic and even leaving on 30 June would not allow them to make the preparations that they need. They were talking about an extension until at least March 2020 to enable them to prepare properly. Arbitrarily setting a cut-off date of 30 June would be extremely unhelpful.

I am grateful to Change UK Members for tabling amendment 16, which has cross-party support, about a people’s vote. A cut-off date of 30 June would, of course, preclude a people’s vote as well. People who have looked at the matter estimate that something between 20 and 22 weeks would be required to legislate for and hold a people’s vote, so a cut-off date of 30 June would prevent that from happening.