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

I do not agree. Of course, we all recognise that with any of these provisions there is no guarantee that the European Union will grant a further request from the United Kingdom for another extension of article 50. It takes only one member state of the European Union to say, “No, I’m not giving the United Kingdom a further extension” for us to be in even greater difficulty than we are already.

The provision seeks to require the Prime Minister to ask for and agree to an extension, because that is what is required to prevent the current Prime Minister from taking us out of the EU on 31 October without a deal. We did not have to put those provisions in the earlier Bill introduced by my right hon. Friend the Member for Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford because the former Prime Minister readily accepted the decision of the House of Commons, but we are now in different circumstances.

Clause 2 covers what happens if an extension is proposed and agreed. Members have asked, quite rightly, what the extension is for. The immediate answer is, of course, to avoid a no-deal Brexit on 31 October, but clause 2 provides a framework under which the Government will publish a report to the House on 30 November—this comes back to the point that my right hon. Friend Frank Field raised with me earlier—and move a motion to the effect that the House has approved the report. That gives the Government a chance to say, “What are we going to do next?” It is also something that we can point to with the European Union. Members should remember that, last time, Mr Tusk said, “Use the time well,” and it is important that we in this House show that we are not just saying, “Right, we want a further extension, and then we are going to twiddle our thumbs for another three months.”

The Bill suggests a process. If the report is amended or rejected, there must be further reports from the Government on 10 January and every 28 days thereafter, either until an agreement is reached with the EU or until otherwise indicated by a resolution of the House. I think the framework in clause 2 will help to answer the question about what we intend to do with the additional time, and that will be a matter for Parliament.