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 Robin Walker Robin Walker The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union 9:45 pm, 8th April 2019

The Prime Minister has been very clear that she is seeking the shortest possible extension to make sure that we leave in an orderly fashion with a deal.

My Secretary of State suggested on Second Reading that the House of Lords—the other place—might wish to correct the flaws in the Bill. The combined effect of the Lords amendments is to correct deficiencies in the drafting and to mitigate some of the severe impacts that the Bill could otherwise have triggered. Like Paul Blomfield, I will address each of the amendments in turn.

The amendments tabled to clause 1 in the name of the noble Lord Robertson—Lords amendments 1 to 3 —reduce the chance of an inadvertent no deal. As I pointed out in Committee, the Bill as originally drafted

“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.”—[Official Report, 3 April 2019;
Vol. 657, c. 1189.]

The Bill requires that motion to be moved on the day after Royal Assent. If we run past midnight, that would mean that we were debating the motion on Wednesday, the same day as the Council.

The noble Lord has identified a further flaw in the drafting whereby—at page 1, line 2—it states that only the Prime Minister can move a motion in the House of Commons in the form set out in this Bill. Members of the House will be familiar with the fact that the usual drafting states a “Minister of the Crown”. In seeking to restrict the moving of this motion to just the Prime Minister, it would mean that the Prime Minister could not travel on Wednesday until after 1 pm, when she would be required to move the motion, disrupting discussions with EU leaders ahead of Council. The House will appreciate the importance of the Prime Minister meeting European leaders before the Council and the need to be ready to make the case for an extension. It is difficult to see how frustrating this process would help the UK to obtain a positive outcome. As such, the Government support these amendments.

Lords amendment 4, tabled in the name of the noble Lord Goldsmith, removed clause 1(6) and (7) of the Bill, requiring the Prime Minister to return to Parliament after the European Council to seek agreement to the length of the extension. We did consider a version of this amendment in this House, moved by my hon. Friend George Eustice, but those on the Opposition Benches voted against it. We are now in a situation where Labour peers are once again correcting the errors that were inherent in the original Bill. If subsections (6) and (7) were allowed to stand, we would need to return to the House and seek its approval for an extension on Thursday, even if that extension had already been agreed on Wednesday. That simply does not make sense.