Duties in connection with Article 50 extension

Part of European Union (Withdrawal) (No. 5) Bill – in the House of Commons at 9:30 pm on 3rd April 2019.

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Photo of Peter Grant Peter Grant Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Europe), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Exiting the European Union) 9:30 pm, 3rd April 2019

Well, how do I sum that up in 10 minutes or so? I think that “a pile of mince” would do it, in a handful of words.

I want to address some of the absolute nonsense that we have heard from the no dealers across the Chamber, but let me first welcome the fact that they are finally coming out for who they really are. These are the people who campaigned for the various leave campaigns, promising us that we would leave with a good deal—that we would still remain part of the customs union and the single market. That is what the leave campaign was saying. As for the story that there has been no leave campaigning recently, has Sir Bernard Jenkin not seen the revelations in the media in the last couple of days about intensive, targeted social media campaigning, funded from who knows where? SNP Members do not know, but I wonder how many people on the Conservative Benches know where that money is coming from.

As for those who complain that we have not had enough time to debate the big issues of Brexit, these are the people who did not want Parliament to have any say at all. They went to court to prevent Parliament from being allowed to see the Prime Minister’s deal before it was too late to change it, and now they come along and complain that there has not been enough time to scrutinise it. These are the people who allowed 19 minutes of debate before the biggest power grab from Scotland ever seen since the introduction of the Scottish Office—19 minutes of listening to one Conservative Minister droning on, and then the measures were pushed through. How many Conservative Members complained about the lack of time then?

I am disappointed—although I obviously accept the decision—that the amendments that would have given some kind of firm reason for extending article 50 have not been selected. The House will need to come back to that in due course. I hope that at some point the House will agree not only that article 50 needs to be extended, but that whatever deal the United Kingdom intends to leave under is put to the people, so that they can confirm whether it is what they thought was meant by Brexit. I can tell the House what most of them did not think was meant by Brexit: they did not think that Brexit meant no deal, because even the leave campaign never said it was campaigning for that.

I will not go through all the individual amendments, but we will oppose anything that says that the extension can only be for a matter of days or weeks, because it is nonsensical to think that the Prime Minister’s bad deal will get significantly better in a matter of weeks. If there is going to be an improvement to the deal, it can come only if we get a longer extension and reset the whole process. The Prime Minister can then do what she should have done almost three years ago, as soon as she became the leader of a minority Government. She can act like a leader of a minority Government, and talk to politicians and parties across the House to find areas of agreement and consensus, before she starts to draw her red lines and paint herself into a corner. Let us remember that the EU has never said that the current agreement is the only one possible; it has said that it is the only one possible given the Prime Minister’s red lines.

Sir William Cash was so enthusiastic about his amendment 6 that he spoke to it for over half an hour—and it felt like just as long again when he intervened or raised points of order—but he forgot to mention that its real purpose is not to give Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland a chance. If he was that bothered about giving the devolved nations a chance, he would have moved similar amendments to all the legislation that is leading to us being dragged out of the European Union in the first place.

The crux of amendment 6 comes right at the end, when it proposes that, consent having been given by the devolved Assemblies—including the one that does not exist at the moment—the Act will come into force on such a day as a Minister of the Crown may decide. Even if Parliament imposes its will on the Government, the Government could completely ignore the Act simply by not bothering to bring it into force. The amendment has some sugar coating to try to fool the Scots, the Welsh and the Northern Irish, but we are not going to be conned by that. We will not support the amendment.

I also have a big problem with new clause 13, which would effectively allow the Government to change the date unilaterally. I hope that the Minister can offer some kind of assurance on the circumstances in which that power would be used. We know that instruments have previously been prayed against by hundreds of right hon. and hon. Members, yet their objections have been ignored and the instruments have been implemented anyway. Can we therefore have an assurance that if the instruments are prayed against by any of the major Opposition parties, or by a given number of individual Members of Parliament, the Minister will guarantee, on his honour and that of the Government, that they will not be proceeded with? We need something as firm as that. It is one thing to get promises from this Prime Minister, but we do not know who will be Prime Minister when the provisions will be considered.

One amendment is intended specifically to ensure that we cannot take part in European parliamentary elections, which have been described as a waste of time. Who on earth is scared of taking part in elections? Who would want the entire nature of our future relationship with the European Union to be defined purely by the fact that we had to get out before—horror of horrors—we gave our people a chance to participate in its democratic processes? Brexiteers have been telling us for 10 years that those democratic processes do not exist, because they deny that the European Union is a democratic institution.