European Union (Withdrawal) (No. 6) Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 3:13 pm on 4th September 2019.

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Photo of Hilary Benn Hilary Benn Chair, Committee on Exiting the European Union 3:13 pm, 4th September 2019

They absolutely do.

Having now, in a sense, concluded a discussion and reflection on the economic and other consequences of no deal, I want to turn to what the Bill actually does. It intends to stop this happening by seeking an extension to article 50 in certain very specific circumstances.

It is very important to understand that the Bill allows the Prime Minister the opportunity to reach a new agreement with the European Union at the European Council and to seek Parliament’s consent to any such agreement. That is condition No. 1. It also allows the Government to bring a motion to the House of Commons to seek our consent for leaving without a deal—for example, if discussions at the European Council prove unsuccessful. I think that the Government would find it rather difficult to get such a motion through the House of Commons, but the Bill allows them to seek to do that. Clause 1 specifically provides for both those eventualities, and if either of the conditions is met there can be no further extension. If, however, neither of those conditions has been met by 19 October, which was chosen very deliberately as it is the day after the conclusion of the European Council, the Prime Minister must ask the EU for a further extension until 31 January 2020 in the form of the letter set out in the schedule to the Bill.

Clause 3 deals with what happens next. If the European Council accedes to that request, the Prime Minister must agree to it. If, however, the Council proposes an extension to a different date, the Prime Minister must agree to that as well, unless the House of Commons decides not to pass a motion agreeing to it. That is what clause 3(3) does.

It has been wrongly claimed in some commentaries that the EU could propose an extension of any length—six months, 20 years, a millennium—and the Prime Minister would be required to accept it, but that is not so. In those circumstances, the House could decide. Furthermore, if a deal is reached after the Prime Minister has asked for an extension, that would override any extension, so it also allows him, if he can, to reach a deal after the European Council concludes on 18 October.