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 8th April 2019.

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Photo of Peter Grant Peter Grant Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Europe), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Exiting the European Union) 9:45 pm, 8th April 2019

Thanks to the hon. Gentleman’s friends, I have little time to speak and I do not want to take up time that the Minister will want towards the end.

Sir William Cash, whom I have a great deal of respect for, for the length of service that he has given to this House, simply got his facts wrong. He spoke about when Oliver Cromwell addressed this Parliament. Oliver Cromwell had been dead for 50 years before this Parliament existed. That is even if “this Parliament” means the Parliament of Great Britain, because the Parliament of the United Kingdom did not come along for another 100 years after that. Even with the protection of the Almighty, Oliver Cromwell would not have smelt too nice if he had come here 150 years later.

As for the nonsense that because an Act of Parliament was passed in a previous Parliament, this Parliament does not like to do anything about it, what happened to the sacred principle that no Parliament can bind a successor? If that principle did not exist, we would not need elections at all, but some people on the Conservative Benches think that having elections is some kind of democratic outrage—“They shouldn’t be allowed”, or, “People don’t need the chance to change their minds.”

The same people also say that in the 2017 election, over 80% of people voted for the two major UK parties whose manifestos said they would respect the result of the referendum—I think that was a mistake by Labour, but it cannot be changed now. In 2015, however, 85% of people voted for parties that said they wanted to stay in the European Union. How can it be that between 2015 and 2017, 80% of the people were allowed to change their minds, but between 2016 and 2019, 3% are not allowed to change their minds?

As for that idea that everyone knew what they were doing in 2016, no less a person than the Attorney General admitted this weekend that he had misunderstood and that the Government had underestimated just how complicated it was going to be. If the Government’s chief legal adviser did not realise how complicated it was going to be, what chance did 33 million other people have in casting their votes?

It is right that Labour supported article 50 at the time, but Labour made a lot of mistakes at the start of the process—serious tactical mistakes—and I am pleased that a lot of them are coming around to understand and to make good those mistakes. I am a bit worried that their leader might be about to make the biggest tactical mistake on Brexit of the whole lot, but I hope he can be pulled back from that.

The single biggest difficulty, as has been said, is that the Prime Minister has made a mess of the negotiations from day one. Conservative Members complain about the number of times that she promised, “We’re leaving on 29 March”, as if that was some kind of day handed down on tablets of stone from Mount Sinai, but it is just another example of the Prime Minister creating utterly impossible expectations. I am sorry, but if the Prime Minister’s impossible expectations cause problems for the Conservative party, that is not my problem, and I want to see the day when it is no longer Scotland’s problem.

Far too much of the debate about Brexit has not been about what is in the best interests of this generation; it has paid no regard at all the interests of future generations—it has been all about what is in the best interests of the Conservative party. It might be best for us all if the Conservative party’s existential crisis came to its natural conclusion and the rest of us could get on with building a better nation, a better set of nations and a better society for us and our descendants.