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 Robin Walker Robin Walker The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union 9:30 pm, 3rd April 2019

I shall be brief, as this briefest of Committee stages demands. The Government continue to oppose the Bill, but given that it has reached Committee, I will speak to the Government amendments.

As the Secretary of State set out earlier, the Government have no choice but to improve the Bill and limit its most damaging effects. Our amendment 22 addresses the dangerous and perhaps unintended constitutional precedent that could be set by the Bill, which calls into question the Government’s ability to seek and agree an extension with the European Union using the royal prerogative. It is a well-established constitutional principle that Heads of Government are able to enter into international agreements without preconditions set by the House that constrain their ability to negotiate in the national interest. The Government’s authority in this matter must not be undermined, as the Secretary of State and my hon. Friend George Eustice said.

Exit day in international and domestic law is 12 April. The Bill creates a real risk that we could be timed out and be unable to agree an extension with our European partners and implement it in domestic law. The Bill as drafted actually increases the likelihood of an accidental no deal—an outcome that the House has repeatedly voted against. The new process created by the Bill could mean that we are timed out and no extension could be agreed. For example, on 10 April, the EU could propose an extension of an alternative length. Under the Bill, the Prime Minister must then return to the House to put forward that proposal, but by 11 April—by the time the House has had time to consider that—the Council would be over. We would need to confirm UK agreement to the EU proposal and get an EU Council decision before 11 pm on 12 April, and I struggle to see how we could carry out such a negotiation through correspondence in the 24 hours before we leave. The Bill therefore increases the likelihood of an accidental no deal. We seek to avoid that through amendment 22, which would ensure that the Government can agree an extension, regardless of the process set out in the Bill, in the national interest.

Amendment 22 protects the Government’s ability to reach agreement with the EU on the extension of article 50, and I must remind the House that any extension must be agreed jointly between the UK and the EU. I am concerned about the restrictions that the Bill as currently drafted seeks to impose. I understand that earlier drafts of the Bill contained a provision very similar to the one that the Government are putting forward in this amendment. In her summing up, could Yvette Cooper address the reasons why that was taken out?

The Government amendment simply seeks to clarify the position on the royal prerogative, ensuring that nothing in the Bill could prevent the Government from being able to seek and agree an extension of article 50, which I believe is what supporters of the Bill actually want. It is also the hoped-for outcome of the process of talks that have been taking place between the Government and the Opposition, so that we can agree the shortest possible extension to leave with a deal. For those reasons, I urge hon. Members across the House to support the amendment.

To move on to Government new clause 13, I repeat that we have tabled our amendments not because we support the Bill, but because we feel it is important, given that we are in Committee, to improve the Bill and to limit its most damaging effects. Again, the new process created in the Bill means that we could be timed out and that no extension could be agreed. As I think Paul Blomfield accepted, the logic of the new clause is to remove the risks of an accidental no-deal situation.