Section 1 of the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2019

Part of Exiting the European Union (Sanctions) – in the House of Commons at 4:47 pm on 9th April 2019.

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Photo of Anne Main Anne Main Conservative, St Albans 4:47 pm, 9th April 2019

As my hon. Friend Tim Loughton admirably said, the can has been kicked down into the cul-de-sac and it is now being kicked around the cul-de-sac.

My point is that there is no sense of purpose from the Labour party. Labour does not even want to get past first base of the withdrawal agreement, which would be absolutely necessary, and whatever political declaration it wishes to try to bind our Government’s hands with. Our Prime Minister cannot go and seek any extension in the knowledge that she can give the European Union any form of assurances.

I would rather the Prime Minister did not seek an extension. We are becoming a laughing stock because we cannot stick by our words, by our manifestos, by undertakings that have been given in this House or by our vote to trigger article 50. I do not know why anyone would turn out for any future referendum, or even election, when they cannot believe a word of what goes on in here.

Labour Members need to look at themselves. They cannot get past first base. They need to say what a flextension would be for. The withdrawal agreement would certainly be part of it. There is real unhappiness among the public that people say, “We need to be consensual,” but only five Opposition Members reached across to be consensual with the Prime Minister. That says a lot.

I changed my position and voted for the withdrawal agreement, not because it is perfect but because I can see where the House is going. The House is doing its level best to bind the hands of the Prime Minister and potentially of any MEPs who are elected. It is trying to get them to play nice and to remove any scrutiny of the EU budget. Taxpayers in this country have a right to expect their MEPs to conduct scrutiny, not to go and play nice because we happen to be leaving the club at some unspecified point.

I am against this extension, because I am not sure what conditions will be extracted for it and I am not sure that Labour will ever be prepared to withdraw from anything. They could not even agree to the withdrawal agreement. From what I can see, the whole point of this extension is to ensure that we are bound in our agreements with the EU and stymied by staying in, and that the can is kicked so far down the road that people argue, “Well, probably half the people who voted in that referendum are dead, so we need to bring it all back again.” That is no way to treat the British public.

To those who say they want certainty, I say there is no certainty in a flextension. There is no certainty in an open-ended agreement in which we say, “Let’s keep chatting about it.” This is the worst of all worlds, and I sincerely hope that all those Members who could not even bring themselves to support the withdrawal agreement, forgetting all the other things they were unhappy about, because they did not trust the Prime Minister, ask themselves how consensual that was. The right hon. Member for Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford is busy on her phone, but I say to her that consensus works both ways. Five Labour Members, and no Independent Group Members, voted for the withdrawal agreement. That is how consensual the Opposition are. They are holding our Prime Minister, our country and this Brexit to ransom, and it is time they worked out that they will rue the day they did so.