Progress reports

Part of Northern Ireland (Executive Formation) Bill – in the House of Commons at 1:15 pm on 18th July 2019.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of John Penrose John Penrose The Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office 1:15 pm, 18th July 2019

I am sorry, but I do not have time.

This amendment attempts to bind the UK Parliament for a UK-wide issue. That breaches a pretty important precedent: that we try, at least, to work on a cross-community consensual basis when it comes to Northern Ireland because the sensitivities and the risks are so great, so significant, that it would be irresponsible and dangerous to play political games in such a charged arena.

Furthermore, in this case the Bill stands a decent chance of never becoming law, if the Stormont Assembly restarts before Royal Assent; I am delighted to report that the talks were ongoing yesterday and I believe that they are continuing today. I am sure that everybody here wishes them every success. If the Stormont Assembly restarts before Royal Assent, not only is the amendment dangerously partisan—weaponising a Northern Ireland Bill for Brexit in a way that we usually, rightly, try to avoid—but it could easily put us through all that grief for no good reason at all if it fails to become law. The change would set a constitutional precedent that could last for centuries whether we intend it to or not. We should not do it like this—not in this Bill, and not in this way.

I have directly opposed the specifics of the amendment; I now come to a broader point about the politics behind it, which should inform all of us as we decide how we will vote in a minute. I am sure that we are all democrats here: first, last and always. Even though I and many others originally voted remain in the EU referendum three years ago, I have since become, like many others, a strong and doughty backer of the democratic decision to leave. Many of us would far prefer to leave with a sensible deal, but if that is not possible and it comes down to a choice between no deal and no Brexit, then, reluctantly but firmly, I choose no deal. [Interruption.] I do not have time to give way; I am down to my last 90 seconds.

Many colleagues on both sides of the House, including a couple of signatories to the amendment, now feel the same way. We have been going at this for three years. The country sent us all a very clear message at the polls in May that they want this done. We have reached a narrowing funnel where our choices are getting fewer and fewer, and we are running out of road. The time, and voters’ tolerance for our failing to address that central issue, is running out. For many of us, the problem with the amendment is not about more or less democracy; it is that it is pretending to be democratic but in reality it is trying to prevent the democratic referendum decision from ever happening at all.

I have a challenge for the backers of this amendment; it will be hugely reassuring to moderate, former remainer Brexiteers such as myself. If it finally comes down, this autumn, to the stark and simple choice between no deal and no Brexit, which will you choose? Will you promise to honour the democratic decision or will you not? If you cannot make that commitment and that pledge, I am afraid that voters will conclude that this is a stitch-up—[Interruption.]