It should be clear to all Members of the House that asking the public to participate in elections for an organisation that we are meant to have left would damage trust in politics. However, there is no guarantee that the UK will not participate in European parliamentary elections if the House refuses to support a deal.
So no real plans then. Participation in the EU elections will be the death knell for the British public’s waning faith in our democracy. The fact that this week councils were advised by the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster and Minister for the Cabinet Office, Mr Lidington to prepare for EU elections is yet another example of the dire consequences of the Prime Minister and the Government’s failure to secure a deal that commands the majority of the House. Is that not true?
With respect to the hon. Lady, that is a rather confused question, given that she—as I understand it—voted against the withdrawal agreement, which gave us a legal right to leave on
The Conservative party national convention—the meeting of all local party chairmen—made it clear in February that were Brexit to be delayed so that we took part in the European elections, it would be a betrayal of the referendum result and inflict untold damage on the reputation of the Conservative party. Is that not right and does the Secretary of State agree?
I agree with my hon. Friend that to have European parliamentary elections three years after the country voted to leave would be damaging for our politics as a whole, but he will also have seen the vote in the House last night, which sought to take the option of leaving without a deal off the table. He will also be aware that the House has today refused to back any of the options for a deal that have been put to it.
Whether we participate or not depends on the progress of the talks currently taking place between the Prime Minister and my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition. If those talks do not succeed, the Government have committed to giving the House the opportunity to hold a series of indicative votes. Can the Secretary of State clarify whether the propositions before the House will be drafted and presented solely by the Government, or will Members on that occasion have an opportunity to submit their own motions for discussion and vote?
The right hon. Gentleman, as Chair of the Select Committee, is usually an expert on these matters, but I must, with respect, take issue with the statement within his question. It is not subject to the discussions with the Leader of the Opposition. The vote last Friday in which the right hon. Gentleman and his colleagues opposed the withdrawal agreement means that it is no longer the sovereign right of this Parliament whether we leave: it will be a matter to be agreed at the European Council, because the right is affixed to the withdrawal agreement, not to whatever the House decides in votes in the coming days.
Is it not simply the case that for as long as we are members of the European Union we have rights and responsibilities that go with that, and participating in democratic institutions such as the European Parliament is crucial? Can the Secretary of State confirm exactly what process is needed to trigger the elections? Will there be a debate on a statutory instrument, in the House or in Committee, or is it simply a stroke of the pen by the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster?
The hon. Gentleman is right in terms of the legal position. If we are a member of the European Union, under treaty law we will be required to have European parliamentary elections. Again, there has been some confusion in the House previously, with ideas such as rolling over the existing Members of the European Parliament or having them on a ratio similar to the composition of the House. If we were to still be a member of the European Union, which is not the Government’s intention, we would need to have European parliamentary elections.