Section 1 of the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2019

Part of Exiting the European Union (Sanctions) – in the House of Commons at 4:36 pm on 9th April 2019.

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Photo of Yvette Cooper Yvette Cooper Chair, Home Affairs Committee, Chair, Home Affairs Committee 4:36 pm, 9th April 2019

The idea of a flextension is a very interesting proposal. As I understand it, it would allow us to conclude the article 50 process at any point, if agreement is reached but, equally, we could take longer if we needed to. I hope that the Prime Minister will seriously consider that approach, because one of the reasons we are now in this situation is the focus on the date, whether 29 March or 12 April, and it is a situation of her making. None of those dates was in the original referendum in 2016; they are dates that she created. It reminds me of the debate we had on the Government’s net migration target. The Prime Minister chose to make the net migration target a big focus, even though everybody knew that she had no plan to deliver it. However, that focus on the target ended up creating more anger, more confusion and a greater sense of betrayal. It is my fear now that again, in suggesting that it will be a betrayal if everything is not solved by a particular date, the Government and particularly the Prime Minister have made it harder for us to reach consensus. They have created more alarm and anger across the country instead of adopting a practical focus on the way forward.

The proof of that is the fact that we are here again without having reached agreement. The Prime Minister has tried to focus minds by using brinkmanship and creating dates and deadlines, but it simply has not worked. That is why we have to try to do this in a different way. We have to try to bring people together. We now have a process of indicative votes and cross-party talks—which, to be honest, should have started some time ago—but we also have to recognise that we do not have the same consensual political and parliamentary traditions that other European countries have been able to draw upon. I understand that, from the other member states’ point of view, we can look very adversarial. We are having to do something that we have no tradition of doing in this House, but I hope that our attempts to do it now will be effective and will lead to a conclusion. I certainly hope that the cross-party working that we have managed to achieve to get this Bill in place and to get this motion to go forward will be an indicator that it is possible for us to draw on more consensual traditions when it comes to this kind of constitutional change.