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May I be the first to congratulate my hon. Friend Simon Hoare on his election to that important Select Committee, at an important time for it?
I want to begin by picking up on a few of the points that Keir Starmer made in his opening remarks. The first passage of his speech covered what the motion does not do. He set out that it does not cover the legislation that it would unlock—it does not cover the substance, and it does not cover the form. So often in our exchanges at the Dispatch Box, he tells me how much he does not like a blind Brexit, and yet what we have before the House is, in essence, a blind motion. He devoted his opening remarks to the extent to which this is a blind motion, for it does not contain the detail on the basis of which the House will decide.
Interestingly, in the context of the Conservative leadership election, the right hon. and learned Gentleman went on to point out that a new Prime Minister would be limited—they would be unable to go to Brussels to secure a change of substance to the backstop—and yet his position is that a Labour Prime Minister would be able to go to Brussels to secure that. Within his remarks, one can see the contradictions inherent in the motion.
Let me deal with the substance of the motion. Section 1(b) gives precedence to any motion from any individual MP over Government business, and section 1(c) states that it is for you, Mr Speaker, to decide whether that motion is brought before the House over other motions. In essence, sections 1(b) and 1(c) say that an individual MP and the Speaker—two Members of the House—can override Government business. That is the effect of the motion. It puts in the hands of just two Members of Parliament the decision on which business takes precedence. That is what the text of 1(b) and 1(c) says.
The current Prime Minister has got stuck in a triangle composed of the Brexit that the Conservative party wants, the constitutional make-up of the United Kingdom, and the successor to the Good Friday/Belfast agreement and all it contains. She has not been able to sort out that triangle. What will be most important to the new Prime Minister when he goes to Brussels: the Brexit he is promising the Tory party, the constitutional make-up of the United Kingdom, or the legacy of the Good Friday/Belfast agreement?
First, the hon. Lady says “he”, but there are a number of female candidates in the leadership election and one should not pre-empt the outcome. Secondly, we do not know who the Prime Minister will be. Thirdly, first let me deal with the text. [Hon. Members: “Answer the question.”] I will happily come on to it, but I thought we were here, as per the direction of Mr Speaker and as Gareth Snell said in an intervention, to debate the motion. [Interruption.] Liz McInnes may chunter, but I am not surprised that she does not want to debate the motion, because it is a flawed motion, for reasons I will come on to. Labour Members do not want to debate the text that is before the House.
I do not think that what I would call motion exegesis is a matter for the Chair. I think it is for the Secretary of State to explain the terms of his comments on the motion. I am saddened if the hon. Gentleman is befuddled. I would not want him to remain in a state of nescience for any length of time, so I hope the Secretary of State will elaborate, and then clarity will descend on the hon. Gentleman and all the people of Huddersfield.
I will happily respond. Mr Sheerman is right: he has been in the House a long time—so long that he was actually a Eurosceptic when he arrived.
There is still time.
Let me return to the text of the Opposition day motion, whose scope is virtually unlimited for business in relation to the UK’s withdrawal from the EU. Almost all aspects of our national life fall within that scope. Potentially, an individual Member could table a motion and it would be Mr Speaker alone who would determine precedence.
If recent election results have shown anything, it is the complete frustration of the British people with a failure to solve Brexit, and with Members of this House constantly saying what they do not support and do not believe in. Did my right hon. Friend hear anything in the 30-minute speech by Keir Starmer, or can he see anything in the motion, that remotely gives a positive or constructive solution or way forward to the Brexit impasse, rather than just more of what Members do not want?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. What we hear repeatedly from Opposition Members is what they are opposed to, not what they are for. That is reflected in the fact that the European Union—[Interruption.] The shadow International Trade Secretary chunters. The European Union has been consistent in stating its view that the withdrawal agreement is the only offer on the table, but Labour Members voted against the withdrawal agreement, just as they voted against the deal each time. Their manifesto said that they would respect the result, yet many Labour Members want a second referendum, which is clearly at odds with their manifesto.
I entirely understand and appreciate my right hon. Friend’s tactics in trying to address procedural and textual points in the motion, rather than addressing the main point, which is rather difficult for the Government. I do not think those procedural and textual points would be raised if, by any sad chance, we were sitting on the Opposition Benches and telling a Government we opposed that the House as a whole wanted a debate and legislation on a particular issue.
Will my right hon. Friend move to the main point? Is he actually prepared to defend a situation where a new Prime Minister wishes to pursue a policy for which he or she knows there is no majority in the House of Commons? Does he believe it should be possible for that Prime Minister to prorogue and send away Parliament until he or she has exercised dictatorial powers to put the policy in place? That, I think, is plainly totally contrary to our constitution, and I do not see how any parliamentarian could possibly defend such a possibility.
I and, I think, the majority of Members absolutely share the belief of the Father of the House that anything that brings Her Majesty into the politics of the House is to be avoided. I have consistently stated that position. However, may I pick up on the specifics? I always listen very closely to the Father of the House, and he said to concentrate not on the procedural and textual points but on the substance, yet the shadow Brexit Secretary said the exact opposite. He said that he did not want to get on to the substance because that is not in the text. Members who support the motion are saying, on the one hand, that we should look at the specifics put forward by the Opposition—[Interruption.] I do not support bringing Her Majesty into it; I have answered that question. But it is incoherent for Members who support the motion to say, on the one hand, “Don’t look at the substance”, and, on the other hand, that the House should consider the substance.
My right hon. Friend is absolutely right to focus on the procedural nature of the motion. There are 10 leadership candidates and they have not yet been whittled down, yet this is an attempt to preserve a slot, through potentially one Member, just in case there is no appetite for whoever may lead the Conservative party. This is a premature business of the House motion. There is no need to secure
My hon. Friend is absolutely correct. A number of senior Members are on the cross-party Procedure Committee, whose job is to advise the House on changes to procedure, but this proposal has not been supplied to it even for cursory consultation. What is the purpose of having a Select Committee to look at the procedures of this House if it is not consulted on such a fundamental change?
Can the Secretary of State be very clear? Is he saying, on behalf of Her Majesty’s Government, that they accept and agree that a new Prime Minister could prorogue Parliament, in the face of this place persistently voting against leaving without a deal, deliberately and specifically in order to impose that very no deal without this Parliament having any say—yes or no?
I speak as a Minister on behalf of this Government, and this Prime Minister has made it clear where she and the Cabinet stand on Prorogation. I have also set out the risk of any deviation from that position, because there is consensus across the House on the need to avoid any suggestion of bringing Her Majesty into a royal prerogative issue. Incidentally, the Opposition day motion does not mention the word “Prorogation”. They propose a fundamental change but do not want to deal with the issue on which the House is voting, which is the motion’s proposal to take over the Order Paper. That would be a fundamental change—Opposition Members who seek to be in government in future need to reflect on this—to the way in which this House operates, and it would happen without any consultation with the Procedure Committee. If people want to support that, what is the purpose of the Procedure Committee?
I am grateful to the Secretary of State, who has never been a member of the Procedure Committee, for giving way. It is not the Procedure Committee’s role to pre-vet Opposition or Government motions that are put before the House. Will he come back to the central point? How would he feel if somebody proposed to prorogue the House to avoid the House having a voice on something about which he was in the majority? On this matter, he is in the minority.
First, I am speaking on behalf of this Government. I do not know who the next Prime Minister will be or what decisions they will take. I have set out the risks of any deviation, and Mr Speaker has made it very clear, in terms of the way in which he would represent the will of the House, that there are a number of avenues. I would not want to interpret a judgment from the Chair, but the hon. Lady knows full well that in her exchange about
Helen Goodman obviously did not want to deal with the text before the House, but let me consider what constitutional experts have said. Philip Cowley, professor at Queen Mary University’s School of Politics, said that taking the Order Paper outside the Government’s control would be
“one of the most fundamental shifts in the relationship between the government and parliament.”
[Interruption.] Opposition Members chunter, “We have already done this.” Yes, but let us look at how effective that was. When it was done by Yvette Cooper, it was justified on the basis of her concern about the imminent risk of no deal. The constitutional advice from people such as Philip Cowley and Vernon Bogdanor, professor at King’s College, London, who warned about the actions at the time, saying that they were “unconstitutional”, was overridden because, we were told, the risk of no deal merited that emergency legislation.
Let me finish this point and I will then take further interventions. We were told that that constitutional change—passed in haste in a day—was required, without the involvement of the Procedure Committee, without due diligence and without proper consultation, to prevent no deal. However, what then happened in the House of Lords?
On a point of order, Mr Speaker. I and many others are concerned about the time. This matter has been listed for an hour of debate. So far, the Front-Bench contributions have taken up 40 of the allotted 60 minutes. Some of us wish to speak, but in any event, we all agree that this is an important motion, properly tabled by Her Majesty’s Opposition and worthy of debate. Can you assist us all, Mr Speaker, about the likely length of this important debate?
I do not want to state an expected length now. I will say that the observation about an hour is something that may have got abroad, but it is mere surmise. This debate could run until 8.33 pm, which I am sure will be more than adequate time for the right hon. Lady to make her contribution. I do not suggest that the debate will run for anything like that time, but the right hon. Lady should not be overly preoccupied with the idea that it will run for only an hour and that therefore the House would be deprived of the opportunity of hearing both the intellectual rigour of her prospective contribution and her mellifluous tones. There is every prospect that several people will be heard.
Of course, if I was not taking so many interventions, I would conclude my remarks with more alacrity. However, I accept the right hon. Lady’s request.
We were told last time that the European Union (Withdrawal) (No. 5) Act 2019 had to be passed in a day in an unprecedented manner to stop no deal. Yet, Lord Pannick, when debating the measure, said that
That was the premise of the amendments tabled by Lord Pannick and others. The ultimate irony is that, first, we had a situation whereby emergency legislation passed in haste had the opposite effect to what was intended, and secondly, we were told that, to stop something unconstitutional, we needed to embrace parliamentary procedure that the constitutional experts said was unconstitutional.
In support of my right hon. Friend’s case, may I return him to the question I posed to the shadow spokesman, to which we did not get an answer? Indeed, the only answer was that if the Government cannot control their business, they should step down. I ask one or two of our Conservative colleagues who are thinking of supporting the motion to reflect on that answer. I will try to get out of my right hon. Friend an answer that we could not get from the Opposition: if we go down this road, does not that set a dangerous precedent? The Government control the business of the House so that they can honour election manifesto promises. If we cannot do that, they turn to dust.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. I pray in aid the remarks of my right hon. Friend Sir Oliver Letwin. I always listen intently to him because he is a very experienced senior Member of the House. When the previous emergency legislation was passed, he said:
“We have been driven to this only in an extreme emergency”.—[Official Report,
Vol. 657, c. 342.]
That related to timing. Yet is difficult to say that there is “an extreme emergency” if the next Prime Minister is the candidate that my right hon. Friend supports.
Does the Secretary of State accept that part of the public’s anger and frustration with Parliament, notwithstanding the back and forth and even individual contributions, is caused by our failure to resolve this matter? The feeling is, “a plague on all your houses”. What message does it send if a power grab means that parliamentarians, who are sent here to make decisions, are instead sent home and excluded?
I have voted for the withdrawal agreement three times; the hon. Gentleman has not. That is why there is frustration. However, that is not the primary issue before the House today. Gareth Snell captured the matter last time we debated the subject. I hope that he does not mind my quoting him. He said:
“If we as a House are going to be asked to hand over day after day, we should know what we will be asked to vote on during those days.”—[Official Report,
Vol. 657, c. 809.]
It is the nature of what the House is being asked to support today that is the issue: the concentration of control in a motion from an individual and the Speaker together; the fact that the scope is potentially so widespread; the fact that it is at odds with the manifestos on which both main parties stood. In essence, the problem is that the motion is an attempt to circumvent some of the internal tension in the Labour party that is best played out in its next conference rather than through a decision of this House. I agree with my hon. Friend Mr Baron. We heard from the right hon. and learned Member for Holborn and St Pancras what this is really about: it is to say that the Government cannot control the Order Paper. It is, therefore, a way to get rid of the Government. I ask my colleagues to be mindful of that when they cast their vote.
It is a pleasure to speak this afternoon for Scotland’s national party in this debate. I congratulate the official Opposition and thank them for giving us this opportunity. I welcome the cross-party consensus that has seen, to my reckoning, every party bar one represented on the list of signatories to the motion. I congratulate the Secretary of State. I have always admired his ability, in best debating society style, to speak at great length without hesitation or repetition. This afternoon, however, he managed to add the achievement of not actually saying anything during the whole time he was on his feet.
Let us forget the cries of democratic and constitutional outrage at the very idea that Parliament should decide what Parliament is going to discuss in the future. As my hon. Friend Neil Gray pointed out, there are very successful and highly regarded Parliaments not too far from this one where Parliament sets the business, and that seems to work perfectly well. The constitutional experts say it is a bad idea. I wonder what the predecessors of those same constitutional experts thought of the “ridiculous” notion that women should be allowed to vote and sit in this Parliament. No doubt they were telling us that that was a dangerous precedent, too.
Does the hon. Gentleman agree with me that the Secretary of State appeared to be telling us that he agreed it would be wrong to drag the Crown into Parliament by having a Prorogation as political as that suggested by some of the Tory leadership candidates? Does he therefore agree that passing this motion merely puts into our Standing Orders for that particular date an insurance policy to prevent the more unscrupulous of those who are currently standing for the Tory leadership from doing precisely what they are threatening in hustings to do?
The hon. Lady makes a very valid point. I think the more important point is that the motion would allow, on one particular day in two weeks’ time, the elected Members of this Parliament to decide what we will discuss. The Secretary of State and others have said that that would prevent the Government from putting their business on the Order Paper. The Government cannae tell us what they want to be discussing on Monday, never mind in two weeks’ time! Given the stuff they have been using to pad out the agenda over the past several weeks, they can hardly claim that there is a backlog. Well, there is a backlog of massively important proposed legislation that needs to come through, but there is absolutely no sign of it.
I will tell you, Mr Speaker, what would be a democratic and constitutional outrage. It would be an outrage for any Government, either through deliberate malice or sheer incompetence, to plunge us into a disastrous no-deal Brexit against the interests of our four nations, against the will of Parliament, and now, since the
All those outrages would pale into nothing, however, compared with the outrage if the first act of a Prime Minister, appointed in an election in which less than one quarter of 1% of the population was allowed to take part, was to abolish this Parliament and reinstate it only when it was too late for us to carry out the duty for which we were elected: the duty of pulling our four nations back from what everyone in this Chamber knows would be an economic and social catastrophe.
Ms Eagle asked my hon. Friend a question about Prorogation. The last two times it has been used constitutionally—for instance, in the Commonwealth nation of Canada—has been to hide the utter incompetence of the elected Government who were about to lose office. Can my hon. Friend remind the House again that what the motion proposes is a constitutional norm of parliamentary procedure and that the only way to do it is to vote for the Opposition’s motion?
Absolutely. I agree entirely. Of course, we were told by Mrs Main that the motion is premature. I wonder if she could tell us on which future allocated Opposition day she would like the official Opposition to bring this motion forward, given that they were told last week that they have had their allocation for this Session and that there will not be another Opposition day.
On a point of order, Mr Speaker. I have just been asked to nominate a day. Mr Speaker, you are always a friend of all the Back Benchers. It seems to me that there is a worry about a particular candidate that Opposition Members may or may not like the Order Paper to reflect. If there is a worry about having a choice of how we wish to leave the European Union, I am sure you, Mr Speaker, would find a way to ensure there was parliamentary time. At the moment, however, we do not know what it is we are voting to have a day for. It is a fear of one or two of the candidates. If their fears were to be recognised, I am absolutely certain you would facilitate a debate.
I always seek to facilitate the House and to ensure that the full range of opinion is expressed. These are matters of debate and, notwithstanding the sedulous efforts to entice me into contributing to it, I feel I must exercise a self-denying ordinance. The hon. Lady has made her own point in her own way, with alacrity.
I say once again that it is not premature for the Opposition to have tabled the motion today. This is the last chance they have, and I, for one, am very grateful they have decided to take that chance. The reason that we need to give Parliament the chance, just once, to set the agenda is because the Government have shown no inclination whatever to do anything to prevent a no-deal Brexit.
“For the automotive sector, no deal is simply not an option. Hearing politicians promote a no deal does not fill any of our companies with confidence nor does it fill international investors with confidence. Our strong desire is that no deal be taken off the table.”
Seamus Nevin, at Make UK—many Members will know it better by its previous name, the Engineering Employers’ Federation—said:
“Our members are quite blunt, they say that a no deal scenario would be nothing short of an act of economic vandalism”.
Tim Rycroft, at the Food and Drink Federation said:
“No deal is something our members are most unanimous about. 45 % say no deal would lead to redundancies.”
Nick Van Westenholz, director of EU exit and international trade at the National Farmers Union, said:
“No Deal would be disastrous for some sectors…It is frankly worrying that that we see it being put forward as a plausible scenario to leave without a deal in October.”
Mr Speaker, those are not choice quotes from selected commentators that I have picked up over the last three or four years. All those things were said today, in this Parliament, in evidence to the Brexit Select Committee just over six hours ago. That is what these major economic drivers are saying right now. It is about time the Government and some of their Back Benchers were prepared to listen.
I realise that the Scottish National party does not like to respect referendum results either north of the border or across the UK, but when those eminent witnesses were giving evidence to the Select Committee today—I have heard from others about that evidence and I share their view; I do not want a no deal, which is why I voted for a deal three times—what did the hon. Gentleman say to them about why he kept voting against the deal? That is what has put us in this position.
I have enormous respect for Hilary Benn, the Chair of the Exiting the European Union Committee, on which I serve, and I know that he would show latitude where possible, but it would be a bit much if Committee members starting taking questions from those giving evidence, as the hon. Gentleman suggested. I say this to him and some of his hon. Friends: if they want to throw out accusations about failing to respect the result of a referendum that meant that Scotland has to keep sending Members of Parliament to sit in the Palace of Westminster, doing that to an SNP MP, or any Scottish MP, while they are delivering a speech in the Palace of Westminster, when we are only here because we do accept the result of that referendum, is not the most credible time for it. I have said often enough that I respect the right of the people to speak in a referendum. I also respect the right of the people to say that they want another go, and I not only expect but demand that the result of the 2016 referendum in my nation of sovereign citizens be respected, rather than simply laughed out of court time and again by the Conservative party.
We already know from previous work done by the Confederation of British Industry and others that the financial cost to Scotland of a no-deal Brexit is more than the entire amount we spend every year on our precious national health service. Up to 100,000 people could lose their jobs, although in this place, some people seem a lot more concerned about who is going to get one job than about who is going to lose the other 100,000.
There was a bit of protest from Conservative Members when I said that a no-deal Brexit was against the clearly expressed will of the people, but it is true. In a democracy, one of the key ways that we find out the will of the people is through the ballot box. For nearly three years we knew that about 17.5 million people wanted to leave the EU, but none of us knew or had any right to assume what kind of Brexit they wanted. I cry shame on all those who had the arrogance to think that they knew what the 17.5 million people wanted.
We still do not know what Brexit they all want, but thanks to the EU elections on
My hon. Friend makes a very valid point. Unfortunately, on that occasion, as on too many occasions, the soon-to-be former Prime Minister was listening to nobody apart from her own reflection in the mirror. It is not even as though the Brexit party can claim that 11.5 million people wanted a no-deal Brexit but did not vote for it because they disagreed with some other aspect of the Brexit party’s policies, because it does not have any other policies for people to disagree with.
I am sure that the hon. Gentleman, like me and the rest of the House, recalls the Prime Minister saying before the general election that she was being obstructed by Parliament in getting her deal. That was put to the public and, as we all know, she got her result from the public: she lost her majority. On another point that he made, like him, we have consulted employers, company owners and so forth and they want a deal, as I am sure he would agree.
If we asked a lot of business leaders just now what their ideal option would be if they had a completely free choice, I think most would say, “Don’t leave.” Those who were pushing for us to accept the Prime Minister’s deal previously made it perfectly clear that that was because they thought it was either the Prime Minister’s deal or no deal. If they were presented with a choice of the Prime Minister’s Brexit or no Brexit, they might give a very different decision.
The people had the chance to vote for no deal and chose not to. We can no longer say that pursuing or being willing to allow a no-deal Brexit is the will of the people. The people spoke on
The purpose of today’s motion is to force the Government to do what any rational, sane and democracy-respecting Government would already have done. We are trying to force the Government to give Parliament a choice and give direction to a Government who are leaderless, rudderless, drifting and utterly lost. The motion is designed to give Parliament a chance to stop a no-deal Brexit, and to stop what would in effect be the non-military coup against Parliament that some would-be Prime Ministers are already openly advocating.
In January, in March and in April 2019, this Parliament voted to take no deal off the table. On
Oh! I had not anticipated the right hon. and learned Gentleman, but I call Mr Kenneth Clarke. May I just say that, notwithstanding the immense celebrity of the right hon. and learned Gentleman, I am hoping for very brief speeches, if possible?
Mr Speaker, I am sorry that I surprised you. I am not sure that I wrote in beforehand, but I shall endeavour to be brief. I intend to be brief because there are not many complicated issues here.
The first issue to which I want to respond is the procedural point that the Secretary of State wisely tried to retreat into, citing a few constitutional experts saying how outrageous it is for the House of Commons to try to take control of the Order Paper. Indeed, that very rarely happens but, with great respect to much more distinguished experts than me, such as Vernon Bogdanor, we have already demonstrated once that procedures already exist, which can be used—as they were by Yvette Cooper—in very exceptional circumstances, for the House as a whole to take command of a day’s business. Of course, the reason it did not happen for many years is that most Governments have had a comfortable majority on every conceivable subject, so there was not the faintest prospect of their losing control of the Order Paper and nobody challenged them. However, we are in exceptional times and the precedent we have already created is a perfectly valuable one.
I will when I have finished my first point.
This cannot bring down the Government. Of course, if the Government are defeated, it will be open to someone to bring a motion of confidence tomorrow. However, at present, the Government would carry a motion of confidence, so all we are doing—the majority of the House, if we do—is insisting that we want to bring some clarity to the present debate, and I would say some sanity. We want to give some reassurance to people in business up and down the country who are very worried, and take the opportunity again to rule out the idea of leaving with no deal. We certainly want to rule out the idea of proroguing Parliament indefinitely, so that the Prime Minister of the day can run a semi-presidential system for a bit and put in place what he or she wants, without any parliamentary majority.
This is not a great threat to the constitutional foundations of the country. This does not actually threaten the future stability of Governments. and I am sure that, if we were in opposition, we would be supporting it without the slightest demur.
I will give way, but I am about to finish the procedural point.
In fact, when we were in opposition, David Cameron asked me to chair a committee to advise him on a lot of constitutional issues—with Sir George Young and Andrew Tyrie, who have now moved on to the upper House, and others—and to make recommendations. We actually advocated, and David Cameron in opposition accepted, that we should give the House more control over the business of the House. We started, eventually, this business of the Backbench Business Committee determining the business of the House for a day.
In office, we took a slightly different perspective. I am afraid that was then reduced to the Backbench Business Committee producing harmless motions and the Government never voting on them, with only one-line Whips. In my opinion, one day, there might be a Government and a Parliament so adventurous as to contemplate giving more control to the House as a whole over its own business. However, this Parliament seems to prefer to get steadily weaker, rather than stronger, and I do not think that day has yet dawned. At this stage, as that is all I am going to say on the procedural point, I will give way.
On that procedural point, the reality is that
Governments pursue policies for which they have a parliamentary majority. I am going to be brief, so I shall not widen what I think is the very important broader constitutional procedural field.
It is now argued by many people that this Parliament has no powers, really, except when it is passing legislation, and I think that that is what is contemplated here. Unless a statute is passed to change the law, the Government can regard motions in Parliament as a mere expression of opinion. I regard that as nonsense, I regard it as dangerous nonsense, and the sooner it is shot down the better. It has emerged in the last two or three years precisely because Parliament is fragmented: both parties are shattered on several policies, so people are trying again to get round the problems.
Parties form a Government when they can command a majority in a vote of confidence. They can then only pursue policies for which they have a majority in the House of Commons, and continue to have a majority in the House of Commons. It is preposterous to start reinterpreting our unwritten constitution on the basis that no one ever intended that the Government should have to abandon a policy on which it is defeated in the House of Commons. That is complete nonsense. The worst thing to do—because one of the candidates at least fears that she would be defeated if she pursued her policy—is to send Parliament away and have no Parliament at all. I think that I have already made clear, in an intervention, my views on the prorogation point. I think that the sooner the House makes this clear, takes a day to make it clear and to make it illegal to contemplate doing that—and gives Parliament a role to stop it—the better.
Leaving with no deal has, as I recall, been ruled out with increasing majorities on the three occasions on which we have voted on it. With this mad debate going on in the country at the moment, it is obviously high time Parliament reasserted the fundamental basis of what is going on—that there is no majority in the House for no deal. Apart from those who defend the desirability of leaving with no deal, which no one has done in today’s debate so far, I cannot see why people are going to such lengths to resist that.
The Government’s policy, for which my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State speaks, is to oppose leaving with no deal. I agree with him that we can say to the Opposition, “Well, we had a deal and you would not let it go through.” I supported the Prime Minister’s latest attempt to surround that deal with suggestions that I think should have been supported by Opposition Members who agree with my hon. Friends and me on a soft Brexit. I have an eccentric view that they would have been supported.
We have all constantly been attending plotting meetings. I have attended meetings at which Labour Members were agreeing to vote for the Second Reading of that Bill. What we were plotting was what amendments we would pass to put in improvements and safeguards. That could have prospered, but I am afraid that the Prime Minister preferred to do all her dealings, all the way through, with the members of the European Research Group. She always made concessions to them and eventually they told her that she had to go, so she said she was resigning. So we are now in this position.
I personally believe—it may be an eccentric belief—that the Prime Minister could have secured a majority for the deal as she had finally modified it, in an attempt to get cross-party support. It is obvious that the deal that we all need will only be achieved by any Prime Minister when we face up to the need for cross-party support to get around the party divisions. Both parties must accept that a minority will rebel against any deal that comes forward, but we could probably get a majority of the House to vote down the Labour left and the Tory right and actually pass something that is in the national interest. That, I think, is the main objective that really lies behind today’s debate. To listen to all these arguments about why, for pedantic procedural and textual reasons, we should reject it is, I am afraid, to take—not for the first time—a rather bizarre perspective on the huge and historic events in which we are involved. The House really has to take some control.
My final point is this. It might even improve the quality of the leadership debate that is going on in my party—and it needs to be improved—if we forced some reality into the exchanges between the extremely distinguished candidates who are vying for the privilege of being the next Prime Minister.
It is a privilege to speak in this debate as one of the signatories to the motion, but I want to start by paying tribute to Sir Oliver Letwin, who has not just signed this motion but anticipated the potential threat to the country, and indeed the sovereignty of the House, from proroguing and has applied his mind to a procedure for stopping it. We should all be very grateful to him. Of course although today is an Opposition day, this motion is supported by seven different parties. I hope and expect that a significant number of Conservatives will support it, not because they share my view that we should be stopping Brexit, but because they are concerned about the sovereignty of Parliament and the consequences of no deal.
Fingers have been pointed at Dominic Raab, who is not present. He is probably not alone in advocating prorogation as a solution to this problem, but actually he has done us a favour and we should be grateful to him for highlighting a risk that might not otherwise have been apparent. I believe the real risk here is that one of the mainstream leadership candidates, having made unqualified commitments to remove Britain from the EU by
It has already been agreed that we do not want an extensive review of all the arguments for and against no deal. They have been endlessly rehearsed and we will get plenty of time to rehearse them again. But in the few minutes I want to take, it is worth drawing attention to a couple of recent developments that underline just how dangerous that concept is.
We have just had a visit from President Trump, who has reminded us about the instability of the world trading system. Those who advocate leaving without a deal place their faith in something called WTO rules. We now know that these WTO rules are worthless. The President of the United States attaches as much value to the WTO as he does to the European Union. He wants to destroy it. He is undermining it. He is failing to provide judges to dispute panels, which no longer work. So WTO rules are not worth the paper they are written on. That is the world into which the extreme advocates of no deal want to plunge the United Kingdom.
The other point, which is highly topical, relates to the leadership competition within the Conservative party and the various fiscal bounties that are being offered to us. I suppose that, as an ageing pensioner on a high income, I should be deeply indebted to Boris Johnson for thinking about me when he formulated his tax policy, but actually he is one of several candidates who threatens to blow a very large hole in the Chancellor’s provisions to deal with a no-deal Brexit.
It could be argued that the Chancellor is excessively conservative. None the less, he is sufficiently prudent to be aware that a no-deal Brexit will do significant harm to the economy and to fiscal receipts and that there has to be some reserve provision. However, we now enter a period of danger in which that reserve could well be blown on promised tax cuts. Among the many adverse consequences of a no-deal Brexit—not just those we are familiar with around the supply of drugs, the shock to trade and the impact on the economy—is a serious fiscal crisis leading in turn to currency devaluation and other economic consequences.
We will no doubt debate many times the consequences of no deal, but the risks are becoming more and more apparent. We should be grateful to those who anticipate those dangers and seek to prevent us from getting anywhere near them.
I am delighted to follow Sir Vince Cable. Much that needed to be said has already been said, so I shall not tediously repeat it. I want to make two points that I do not think have been sufficiently brought out so far in the debate and that might influence hon. Members who are still undecided about how to vote in a few minutes’ time.
First, almost everyone who has spoken has agreed that it would be wrong for the UK to leave the EU without a deal, without Parliament having the chance for a decisive vote. We have no way of telling in advance how that vote would go, or whether Parliament would have an alternative. It has rightly been pointed out that without an alternative we could not prevent no deal from occurring, and it also is questionable whether there would be a majority for any alternative. However, almost everyone has agreed that we need to leave open the option for Parliament to make its mind up in such a decisive vote.
It has been pointed out repeatedly that one possible means of preventing such a vote is a prorogation. I am indeed concerned about that, but I accept that we might be in luck and have a Prime Minister who does not seek to use that route. However, I want to draw hon. Members’ attention to a point that has not come out so far, which is that prorogation is not by any means the only way in which an incoming Prime Minister who was determined to leave with or without a deal—as many have put it—could avoid having a decisive vote. They would not need to go to the lengths of prorogation; in fact, they would not need to do anything. If they introduced nothing to the House of Commons to give us an opportunity for such a vote, the House would not, in the absence of this motion and what follows it, have any such opportunity.
My right hon. Friend has just referred to this motion “and what follows it”. This is a phantom motion about a phantom Bill. Will he illustrate exactly what we are meant to be talking about, as he did before, because a few months ago there were five Bills—we ended up with a No. 5 Bill? Will he please tell us what specific wording he would import into this motion if it were to be carried to the next stage?
My hon. Friend will not need to wait very long. If, but only if, this motion is passed today, it will be proper for those who put it forward to publish a sixth Bill, which it will be the job of the House to inspect and on which the House will take a view. It could be that the Bill will be defeated, but that will be a question for the democracy of our Parliament.
I will not give way. I am sorry.
The point I am trying to make is that it is not necessary to prorogue to prevent a vote. The incoming Prime Minister would simply need to avoid taking any action. In those circumstances, we would leave on
We would then all be forced to vote for that emergency legislation because we could not possibly leave the country exposed to the fact that it had left without a deal and without due legislative preparation. So it is perfectly possible for an incoming Prime Minister to avoid any decisive vote unless we force one, and that is the purpose of reserving the day.
My second point relates to that, and again I do not think it has fully come out in the debate so far. My right hon. Friend the Brexit Secretary has said that there is no reason to act now because there is no emergency—we are not facing immediate withdrawal without a deal, as we were when Yvette Cooper and I put forward measures to prevent that and to ensure that we sought an extension—and of course he is right: we have until
That is well known to incoming Prime Ministers, and all the candidates are filled with sagacity and understanding of Parliament, so they will know perfectly well that they only have to occupy four weeks with doing nothing and we will be out. So, although it is not a fast-burning fuse, it is a bomb, and the fuse is already burning. If we do not put the fuse out now, we will not be able to disassemble the bomb in September or October.
I am terribly sorry, but I will not.
That is why it is wrong to say that this proposal is premature. It may be right or wrong to vote for this motion this evening, but it is the only time we are ever going to get, and I hope that my hon. Friends and Opposition Members who are wavering about whether to support it recognise that they will have to look back if they do not support it now. If we fail, as we may well do this afternoon, they will have to look back on that as the direct cause of, in all likelihood, our leaving on
Order. I will apply at this point an informal limit of eight minutes on Back-Bench speeches, but I say to the next Member to speak that there is no obligation to speak up to that limit.
Two groups of right hon. and hon. Members will be finding today’s vote especially difficult. Many friends on the Conservative Benches will feel torn between their loyalty to their party and their clear understanding of the national interest. I know as well as anyone the great strain that they may be feeling this afternoon. I, too, was an instinctive loyalist—someone who towed the party line, ambitious for high office. I did not see anything wrong in that and, on most questions, I still do not see anything wrong in it, and nor is there anything ignoble about the desire to stay on good terms with the members of one’s local party.
For each of us, however, there comes a moment and an issue that demands that we put such concerns to one side and do the uncomfortable thing, because we know that our constituents’ best interests demand it. I do not believe that any hon. Member with a concern for the welfare of sheep farmers or for people working in car factories will be able to look them in the eye after a no-deal Brexit has led to the decimation of Britain’s lamb exports and the destruction of thousands of highly skilled and well-paid manufacturing jobs. That is surely reason enough to support the motion today.
The other group for whom today’s vote is hard is Labour Members who represent constituencies that voted by a clear majority to leave the European Union. They feel that they are duty bound to ensure that the UK does leave the EU and are worried that a vote for today’s motion will be misrepresented as an attempt to block Brexit. My constituents voted the same way, and I feel the same obligation, but today’s motion does not block Brexit—not even close. Today’s motion would secure an opportunity to debate a Bill on
The hon. Gentleman refers to a Bill, but he does not know what it will contain, or perhaps he does. Will he enlighten us? Does it not really attempt to unwind the repeal of the 1972 Act, in so far as it deals with the question of deal or no deal? That is what the law says.
The right hon. Member for West Dorset answered that question very adequately. The Bill simply provides Parliament with an opportunity in September to vote on the new Prime Minister’s plan for Brexit so that we do not leave with a no-deal Brexit on
If my old friends on the Conservative Benches, the true champions of one nation, and my new friends on the Labour Benches, the representatives of thousands of decent leave voters in the midlands and the north, find a way to support today’s motion, much more than a day of the Order Paper will have been won: this House will have seized the chance to defend its rights and freedoms against an arrogant Executive hellbent on implementing an extreme policy; the British people will have been given the opportunity to slow their leaders’ lemming-like rush towards a no-deal Brexit; and the world will have been given reason to believe that the psychodrama of the Tory party’s leadership contest does not define us as a nation, that Britain has not taken leave of its senses and that the House of Commons is a place in which grown-ups come together to take responsibility for securing the future of our country.
Order. I remind the House of the informal limit of eight minutes. If it were breached, I would have to impose a stricter formal limit, and I hope not to have to do that.
Basically, I have already described this as a phantom motion for a phantom Bill. We do not know what the Bill will contain. We have had various suggestions that it may contain some elements of what has been proposed by some of the so-called leadership candidates. I do not know what they will propose by the end of the process.
What I can say, however, is that this is, as I said earlier, an open-door motion. It opens the door for any Bill, of any kind, to take precedence over Government business, which is inconceivable as a matter of constitutional convention. I put it to Keir Starmer that the reality is that there is not a single constitutional authority he could cite to disprove the proposition I have put not just once over the past six months to a year on this very question, which is that our constitution operates on the basis of parliamentary government and not government by Parliament.
The hon. Gentleman has just said that he has no idea what a future Prime Minister will propose, which is exactly the point of this motion. A future Prime Minister could prorogue Parliament or, as Sir Oliver Letwin pointed out, simply tie us up and do nothing. This motion would simply prevent either of those options.
I have great respect for the hon. Lady—she sits on my Committee, and I am happy that that should be the case—and I understand what she says but, as I said earlier, the reality is that this is a phantom motion for a phantom Bill. The real objective is to unwind the provisions set out in article 50, which is supposed to operate according to our constitutional requirements and, subject only to an extension of exit day, provides for the repeal of the 1972 Act. That Act is a bundle of all the laws, all the treaties and all the provisions, including the Lisbon treaty Act, which is part of our domestic legislation and prescribes that when we get to the end of the two-year period, that is it—subject only to an extension of exit day.
For practical purposes, there is no other way to interpret what may be in the pipeline. We all know that, and I do not know why we need to be coy. It is perfectly clear that this is an attempt by the Labour party to make political capital during a leadership election, and I do not blame it for having a shot at that. However, it is utterly irresponsible to use this procedure in a way that would enable the unwinding of the law of the land, as expressed in an Act agreed on the basis of a referendum that was itself dependent on the authority of a sovereign Act of Parliament to give the people the right to decide whether they were to leave or to remain in the European Union. That was passed in this House by six to one. It was then followed by the European Union (Notification of Withdrawal) Act 2017, which was passed by some 499 to 120.
With great respect to my right hon. and learned Friend Mr Clarke, we now move on to the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018. I very well remember what he said to me as we were coming to the Third Reading of that Bill, and I do not think he would disagree with this fair description of our conversation. He said, “You know, I’ve never actually voted against a provision of this kind before. I’ve never voted in a way that would be against the interests of what I perceive to be the European Union and its objectives.” I understand that, because he has been totally consistent, and I respect him for that. But the reality is that he did vote for that Bill on Third Reading and so did every other Member on the Conservative side.
The phantom Bill is all about attempting to unravel all that, although we have not yet seen the wording. We did see it before when we had Bill Nos. 1, 2, 3, 4 and 5, which ended up with the one that was passed by a minuscule majority. This is an attempt to unravel the process. I understand why people might want to do that, but the question is one of legitimacy. I also add that the role of the House of Lords in this context is completely unacceptable, as it has no legitimacy whatsoever to deal with a matter of this importance, given its unrepresentative character; the House of Lords is not elected, and this is essentially an issue about the election of Members of Parliament and the wishes of the electorate. That is what the referendum Act was about and it was what the manifestos were about.
Is the hon. Gentleman arguing before the House today that it is illegitimate for the House of Commons, if it wishes to pass this motion today, which will happen only if the majority vote for it, and then pass any legislation that is introduced on
I have to disagree with the right hon. Gentleman, for this reason: the decision that was taken as I have just described and the vote that was passed by a significant majority on
I also take the gravest exception to what is being done by some Conservative colleagues who voted in line with the Government’s policy in the manifesto to pass enactments that led to our ending up with the withdrawal Act, which I happen to have drafted in its original form, early in 2016. To have that completely undermined and unwound by their reversing their votes is completely unacceptable. It is unacceptable for people to vote for a vast and important question of this kind and then to unravel it completely by subsequent manoeuvres, including the use of phantom motions and phantom Bills. I believe very strongly that that is unacceptable. It is completely inconsistent with our constitutional role as the mother of Parliaments. It is inconsistent with every single aspect of our constitutional conventions, and therefore as far as I am concerned the motion should not be passed.
It would be unwise—I will go further and say it would be a disgrace—for Members who voted for the withdrawal Act to turn around and say, “But we’re going to try to reverse it” on the basis of a Bill that does not even exist at the moment yet about which they have prattled on right the way through these proceedings.
On the subject of phantom Bills, there is one that has haunted this subject for many years now and he has just had nine minutes of debate time, so I shall try to be brief.
First, I thank my Front-Bench colleagues, my right hon. and learned Friend Keir Starmer and my hon. Friend Jenny Chapman, who has listened with distinction to every complaint I have had about the Labour party’s Brexit process over the past two years and has done so with good grace and a smile on her face, which is difficult when talking to me.
I very much enjoyed the speech by Nick Boles. He said that representatives of constituencies like mine have to be able to look their constituents in the eye when it comes to manufacturing jobs and the viability of the traditional industries, but I fear we have already passed that point. I have been asked time and again by the British Ceramic Confederation and those in the ceramics industries to vote for a deal. They have asked me to vote for a deal so that they can make preparations for the future. Food manufacturers in my constituency have told me that they need me to make a decision so that we can get past stockpiling. They have told me time and again that they need a resolution.
Although I understand exactly what the hon. Gentleman said, I have not done it: on the three occasions when the opportunity presented itself to me, I have not voted for a deal. The most recent time, on
I do not object to the content of the motion, but I will not be voting for it. I shall abstain and withhold my vote, but not because I believe that no deal is something we should play with or that no deal is acceptable. I have voted continually to prevent no deal—I have ruled it out and taken it off the table—but in doing so all I have actually done is make the table longer and put it further away. Delaying Brexit does not stop no deal being the ultimate default endpoint; it just pushes it further into the future.
We do not have a European Commission until
No. I am going to carry on because of the time.
If the answer is to support a deal, I say to members of my own party that we will have been responsible for a no—
No, I am not giving way.
We will be responsible for a no-deal Brexit by default, because of our inability to make a decision. That will not be helped if we allow ourselves today to be drawn down this route, with a two-clause Bill that brings us towards a date in September when something might come forward.
The fact is that there is a deal. It is not a great deal, but it is what we are presented with. We can make decisions only on things that are presented to us. Until we face up to that, instead of messing around on what we want to do, we will make no progress, and my manufacturing constituents may be at the mercy of no deal. That will be the responsibility of everybody in this House who refuses to decide between the deal and revoking.
I listened carefully to Gareth Snell, just as I listened to what my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union said at the Dispatch Box, and to my hon. Friend Sir William Cash. Each of them has picked up an issue and said to the House, “What is proposed is unusual and rather unsatisfactory. Let’s leave it; the House can do something else later,” but anybody who pays any attention to the way our Standing Orders operate ought to realise that there is no other opportunity than this, if the House wishes to assert its collective authority and be guaranteed a say in the event of an incoming Prime Minister wishing to take us out of the EU on a no-deal Brexit. There might be a desire to support that, but my point is that we will have no say. On that point, I am afraid that the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent Central is absolutely, wholly mistaken.
My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State produced a series of obfuscatory facts that entirely glossed over the reality, which is that the Government can control the Order Paper between now and
Throughout this whole unhappy business of Brexit, I have tried to ensure a process that avoids chaos. I say this to my hon. Friends on the Conservative Benches: if we get to a point where a Prime Minister is intent on taking us out of the EU with no deal, the only way of stopping that Prime Minister will be to bring down their Government. I have to say here and now that I will not hesitate to do that, if that is attempted, even if it means resigning the Whip and leaving the party. I will not allow this country to be taken out of the EU on a no-deal Brexit without the approval of this House, and without going back to the country and asking it if that is what it wants.
I desire the best for my party as a loyal member of it, and this is probably the last opportunity for a sensible way of influencing the outcome. Of course it is imperfect. The truth is that we need a hook on which to hang a Bill, so it was inevitable that the wording would be as it is today. There is no other way of doing this. It might be nicer if there were, but there is not. That, quite plainly, is the choice. I was elected Member of Parliament for Beaconsfield to represent my constituents’ interests. No deal is not in their interests, nor is there the smallest shred of evidence that there is a majority for that chaotic and appalling proposal, yet I have to face up to the fact that some people who wish to lead my party appear to believe that it is a viable option—indeed, appear to believe that they cannot become leader of the party if that is an option that they are not prepared to put forward. That is all part of a process, I am afraid, of further deceit, which is slowly swallowing up democracy in this country, and the reputation of this House.
I shall support the motion. I disagree on most things with the Leader of the Opposition, and I disagree fundamentally with every tenet of his philosophical outlook, but this is the only opportunity we have. I will not say to my children and grandchildren, “When it came to it, I just decided to give up.” I will not do that.
It is a great privilege to follow Mr Grieve and the speech he has just given. I fear that the trajectory of the entire Brexit debate since the referendum, with everything that has happened, is pushing us to the extremes of that debate, because we had a Prime Minister who simply did not bring the country back together, or seek to do so. She decided that the way through this conundrum was to appease the unappeasable Brextremists in her own party. It is hard to see whether there will be the kind of consensus and bringing back together of our fragmented country for which my hon. Friend Gareth Snell wishes.
I see us heading towards a final choice between no deal and revocation but, in the absence of that choice being before us today, the modest measure that we are debating gives us a chance as a Parliament to have an insurance policy against careering off into the catastrophe of no deal. A newly elected leader of the Conservative party with no democratic mandate from the country and no majority in Parliament might manipulate the way in which this House works to deny us the chance to express what we have already expressed clearly: there is no majority in this Parliament to take this country out of the European Union without a deal. To me, that is a modest proposal.
The Brexit Secretary studiously avoided questions about the Government’s commitment to the Good Friday agreement. Does the hon. Lady agree with me that taking this country out of Europe without a deal would have very serious consequences for Northern Ireland? Sinn Féin would certainly be incentivised to campaign for a border poll were there any hardening of the border, which would be inevitable with a no-deal Brexit. Heaven help us, but think what dissident republicans might do if there were to be no deal.
I agree with the hon. Lady. She is absolutely right to point out the Irish dimension of the entire debate. That many Conservatives seem willing to cast the Good Friday agreement into the flames has been an astonishing aspect of this debate.
Members of the Conservative party opposed to this modest insurance policy describe it as a constitutional outrage, that this Parliament should seek to ensure that the country is not driven off the cliff of a catastrophic no-deal Brexit. In seeking to put aside one modest day of debate, to try to pass a Bill—which would need a majority in this House and to get through the House of Lords—to prevent that scenario, they suggest that we are somehow upending years of constitutional propriety.
I would listen to such self-serving arguments with far more patience had we not had a Government who have spent the past few years disregarding all sorts of constitutional propriety in how they have run this Parliament: gerrymandering the number of people on Select Committees, wilfully ignoring Opposition motions and finally refusing even to participate in votes, and being quite happy to ride roughshod over centuries of constitutional convention for their own aims. They then get themselves in a lather about the very modest motion that we are debating.
In the interests of the economic prosperity and security of this country, we have to prevent the Government party and any new Prime Minister behaving like a latter-day Charles I, seeking to govern without this Parliament. If we have to do that by using a modest Bill, that is the least we can do. There is no way, for the legitimacy of what we do in the future, that this Parliament must allow a Government without a majority and a new Prime Minister who does not have a direct electoral mandate to cause a no-deal Brexit without referring this back to the people.
There is only one way, in the end, of solving the constitutional issues facing us, and that is through either a general election or another referendum. In any case, it is the people who must decide how we go forward. We are not going to allow any newly elected head of the Conservative party to take that decision away from the British people. That is why I support the very modest change before us today to put that insurance policy on to the statute book.
I will be very brief, Mr Speaker, because, as you know, I am a simple sort chap—I do not preoccupy myself with parliamentary procedure and I do not claim to be an expert on it. All I can say is that in my constituency of Watford people do not come up to me and say, “It’s an outrage to reverse the Order Paper on one day in Parliament.”
All I want in order to be able to oppose this motion today is someone from the Front Bench, or someone else, to tell me when I, as a Member of Parliament, can stop two nonsenses: first, the dishonest and inappropriate method of using proroguing Parliament to stop me having a say on the Brexit situation; and secondly, no deal. If they will give me a time when that can take place between now and the end of October, I would be very delighted to oppose the Opposition motion today.
claimed to move the closure (
Question put forthwith, That the Question be now put.
Question agreed to.
Main Question accordingly put.