Section 1 of the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2019

Part of Exiting the European Union (Sanctions) – in the House of Commons at 4:54 pm on 9th April 2019.

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Photo of Hilary Benn Hilary Benn Chair, Committee on Exiting the European Union 4:54 pm, 9th April 2019

I begin by acknowledging that the Prime Minister, for the second time now, has decided to put the national interest before taking this country over the cliff of a no-deal Brexit. I say to Conservative Members who have argued for a no deal that at no point did the leave campaign suggest that it was proposing to the British people that we should leave without a deal.

I pay tribute to my right hon. Friend Yvette Cooper, Sir Oliver Letwin and others for their role in encouraging the Prime Minister to act in the national interest because of this Act.

I will vote for the Government’s motion seeking an extension to 30 June. We will not know until the end of tomorrow whether that date or a different date is granted, but there seem to be two truths here. First, the Prime Minister will have to take whatever date is offered to her. Secondly, having been granted a date—I hope we are granted a date—we will have to decide what on earth we are going to do with the additional time.

I welcome the fact that the Government have reached out to the Opposition and that the talks are taking place, but I gently say to the Government that the talks will require some flexibility and a willingness to compromise if we are to make progress, and I think that that should include a compromise on how we finally take the decision.

Why are we in this state today? The House has been very clear that it will not accept leaving without an agreement. We are also here because it has become clear that the promise that we could somehow, on the one hand, bring back and retain all our sovereignty and, on the other hand, keep all the economic benefits of European Union membership was not true. The Prime Minister’s deal lays that bare, which is why some Conservative Members cannot bring themselves to vote for her deal, because it confronts them with a choice that they are not prepared to make. We have heard their criticism, but the irony is that if all the Conservative Members who campaigned most passionately for leaving the European Union had voted for the deal, we would be out by now. But this is not a choice that the nation can continue to avoid. We must confront it.

The Attorney General spoke wisely when he told Nick Robinson the other day that, on Brexit

“we have underestimated its complexity. We are unpicking 45 years of in-depth integration. This needed to be done with very great care…It needs a hard-headed understanding of realities.”

That is why I would argue that the situation today is different from the situation in June 2016.