Duties in connection with Article 50 extension

Part of European Union (Withdrawal) (No. 5) Bill – in the House of Commons at 9:45 pm on 3rd April 2019.

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Photo of Yvette Cooper Yvette Cooper Chair, Home Affairs Committee 9:45 pm, 3rd April 2019

I want to respond briefly to what has been a thoughtful debate on the detailed amendments that have been tabled.

To pick up where the Minister left off, I am happy to follow the Labour Front-Bench recommendation to accept new clause 13, given the tight timetable that the Minister will be operating on. It is not a core part of the Bill.

I believe that we should oppose amendments 20 and 1 and new clauses 5 and 4. They all, in different ways, attempt to restrict the Prime Minister’s flexibility to put a proposal to this House. Once the Prime Minister has put her proposal to the House, it will at that point be up to the House to reject or amend it. All the points made by hon. Members wanting to restrict the primary legislation can be argued when that motion is put forward. That is the proper time to debate those points.

On new clause 7, I understand the concerns about the European elections, because I personally do not think that it makes much sense for departing member states that are part of the article 50 process to be covered in the same way. However, I draw Members’ attention to the legal opinion drawn up by Lord David Anderson, QC, and five other top lawyers, which says:

“The right to participate in EP elections may be derogated from under EU law,” and lists a series of other points. I understand that there will be political debates about that; I also think that all hon. Members will consider that the most important thing is for us to get this right, rather than be constrained by this issue. Therefore, I do not think that it is appropriate to accept new clause 7. Nevertheless, Members and the Government should take seriously that legal opinion, which lists a series of ways in which it is thought possible, short of treaty change, to avert the UK having to participate in European elections.

Let me turn to amendment 21, in the name of George Eustice, and Government amendment 22, which is an important one. The Minister asked me why a similar provision had been included in previous drafts of the Bill. The reason was that in previous attempts we thought that we would be legislating at a much earlier stage and that therefore there might be a period of weeks in which the Prime Minister should not be restricted from seeking an extension of article 50 in advance, if that was thought necessary in order to prepare. We did not want to restrict the Prime Minister’s hand in that way. Our concern about how the provision is framed now is that it appears to undermine the purpose of the Bill, and I am not sure whether that is the Minister’s intention. Therefore, we should perhaps have further discussions if his amendment is not passed. I would resist it tonight, because I do not want to undermine the purpose of the Bill, although it is obviously important to ensure complete clarity about the Prime Minister’s flexibility to take decisions in the European Council, which of course she has.