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Business of the House (Saturday 19 October)

– in the House of Commons at 11:18 am on 17th October 2019.

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Votes in this debate

  • Division number 2
    A majority of MPs voted to permit amendments, if selected by the Speaker, to be moved and voted on during a planned sitting of MPs on Saturday 19 October.

Photo of Jacob Rees-Mogg Jacob Rees-Mogg Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons 12:44 pm, 17th October 2019

I beg to move,

That this House
shall sit at 9.30am on Saturday 19 October and at that sitting:

(1) the first business shall be any statements to be made by Ministers; and

(2) the provisions of Standing Order No. 11 (Friday sittings), with the exception of paragraph (4), shall apply as if that day were a Friday.

The good news is that I do not intend to detain the House for long. [Interruption.] Angus Brendan MacNeil seems delighted that I will be brief.

As Members will be aware, 19 October is a day of jubilee and song, because it is the anniversary of the birth of my hon. Friend Mr Bone, who, on a very rare occasion, is not in his place. Other than wishing him a happy birthday, we have to deal with the European Union (Withdrawal) (No. 2) Act 2019, in which Parliament has given the day additional meaning. It has set down a series of requirements that, if we are to leave the EU on 31 October, need to be fulfilled by this House and can only be fulfilled on Saturday, because the European Council will not have finished until the day before. I am sure that many Members can think of other things to be doing on a Saturday rather than coming here, but I admire their diligence in accepting that the basic principle is right. As I have said before, to meet three times in 70 years on a Saturday is not unduly onerous.

Photo of Greg Knight Greg Knight Conservative, East Yorkshire

Will my right hon. Friend confirm that, if this motion is passed, facilities in the Palace of Westminster that are normally open when the House of Commons is sitting will also be open on Saturday?

Photo of Jacob Rees-Mogg Jacob Rees-Mogg Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons

Not all the facilities will be open, but there will be sufficient facilities to ensure the culinary comfort of Members if they get a little bit peckish during the course of the day.

The Government have made quite remarkable progress in these negotiations, which will be reported to the House. This is a really inspiring negotiating triumph that the Prime Minister has achieved. The papers have been made available as early as possible, to be as courteous and helpful to the House as possible. The debate date is set by the European Union (Withdrawal) (No. 2) Act.

It is remarkable how far we have come, when everybody said it was impossible. In 85 days, the undemocratic backstop has been removed. At the end of the transition period—that is to say, on 31 December 2020—we will no longer be under the imperial yoke of the European Union. We will be able to implement our own free trade deals. We will be able to set our own regulations. We will be in charge of our own laws. It is an incredible achievement and so much better than where we were at Easter.

Photo of Liz Saville-Roberts Liz Saville-Roberts Shadow PC Spokesperson (Home Affairs), Shadow PC Spokesperson (Women and Equalities) , Plaid Cymru Westminster Leader, Shadow PC Spokesperson (Justice), Shadow PC Spokesperson (Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy)

Surely the right hon. Gentleman agrees with me that, as elected representatives, we would be failing in our duty to our constituents if we were to vote on a deal that would impact on their futures and the futures of their children without foresight of that likely impact. Can he therefore commit that he we will do everything in his power to ensure that impact assessments are published and available for Members to see before Saturday?

Photo of Jacob Rees-Mogg Jacob Rees-Mogg Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons

The right hon. Lady raises an interesting question. There are any number of impact assessments that people have made, but let me give her my assessment of what will happen when we leave the European Union: it will be a golden age for the United Kingdom when we are free of the heavy yoke of the European Union, which has bowed us down for generations and made us less competitive, less efficient and higher-cost. All of that will be gone, and we will be singing hallelujahs.

Photo of Angus MacNeil Angus MacNeil Chair, International Trade Committee

The right hon. Gentleman boasts that the backstop has gone. Of course, there is no need for the backstop now, given that the UK Government have capitulated on the customs union and the single market. Will they do the same for Scotland and keep us in the customs union and the single market? If it is good enough for Northern Ireland, it is good enough for Scotland.

Photo of Jacob Rees-Mogg Jacob Rees-Mogg Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons

I am astonished that the hon. Gentleman, who I thought was a feisty highlander, calls for capitulation. [Interruption.] All right, Jamie Stone is even higher. Her Majesty’s Government have not capitulated, in the same way as the hon. Member for Na h-Eileanan an Iar would be the last person to capitulate. The Government have, in fact, succeeded. We will be out of the customs union and out of the single market, and Northern Ireland will be in a single customs union area with the United Kingdom as a whole. This is fantastically exciting and a very important development.

Photo of David Linden David Linden SNP Whip

Over the course of yesterday, we saw media appearances by the Leader of the House’s former pals in the European Research Group, and the Democratic Unionist party going in and out of No. 10. While all of that was going on, how much were the Scottish Government and the Welsh Government kept up to date?

Photo of Jacob Rees-Mogg Jacob Rees-Mogg Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons

It was my pleasure and honour to brief the Scottish and Welsh Governments about the Queen’s Speech on Monday, so I happen to know—[Interruption.] Well, the Queen’s Speech’s first point was that we would make sure that Brexit was delivered and legislated for. There are constant communications between the devolved authorities and the Government, and that is quite right.

Photo of Anne Main Anne Main Conservative, St Albans

Does my right hon. Friend share my surprise that so many people are already commenting on the deal in the media and indeed rejecting it out of hand, without giving it the thoughtful consideration that the 33 million people who engaged in the biggest democratic process ever would expect us to give to it? We should listen to this new deal, and actually take a thoughtful approach—not a tribal, but a thoughtful approach—to whether it has our support.

Photo of Jacob Rees-Mogg Jacob Rees-Mogg Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons

Absolutely. My hon. Friend is completely right that we want to respect democracy.

Photo of Barry Sheerman Barry Sheerman Labour/Co-operative, Huddersfield

I know I gave the Leader of the House some advice earlier, but this is a very serious and sombre occasion—a historic moment for this House—and I believe that we should all talk very seriously. I beg him, please will he resist talking about “capitulation” and using words like “surrender”? It is a serious time for our country. Let us take it seriously.

Photo of Jacob Rees-Mogg Jacob Rees-Mogg Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons

I am very grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his well-intentioned advice. I know it is intended to be helpful, but may I give him advice in return? Had he listened to the hon. Member for Na h-Eileanan an Iar, he would have understood that he was suggesting a capitulation, to which I responded. This is the normal course of debate and it is traditional in this House, although I know Mr Sheerman has been here a good deal longer than I have.

Photo of Jim Cunningham Jim Cunningham Labour, Coventry South

A trade deal is very important to my constituency in the west midlands. I was on the Trade and Industry Committee when we negotiated with the World Trade Organisation, and such a negotiation takes a very long time. What is the right hon. Gentleman’s estimate of the time factor involved here?

Photo of Jacob Rees-Mogg Jacob Rees-Mogg Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons

The hon. Gentleman is an astute negotiator, and it may be in the interests of the Government to get some tips from him about how to negotiate. The plan is to negotiate the free trade arrangement within the next year so that we can leave on 31 December 2020. That is the target.

Photo of Sylvia Hermon Sylvia Hermon Independent, North Down

The Leader of the House has boasted on a number of occasions that the “undemocratic backstop”, as he described it, has been got rid of. Will the Leader of the House take a few moments to explain in some considerable detail how exactly the new proposals in this document about “Democratic consent in Northern Ireland”—it has now been made available to us, thank goodness—are going to operate?

Photo of Jacob Rees-Mogg Jacob Rees-Mogg Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons

I do not want to go too much into the details—[Interruption]—hold on, patience; because this will be the topic for Saturday. The Prime Minister will make a statement and answer no doubt many questions before we move on to the debate. What I would say is that the undemocratic backstop has been replaced by an arrangement that will be subject to the consent of the people of Northern Ireland, which seems only reasonable.

Photo of Patrick McLoughlin Patrick McLoughlin Chair, European Statutory Instruments Committee

May I ask my right hon. Friend to think about something he has just said and possibly reconsider it? He has said that the Prime Minister will make a statement. Would it be possible, rather than making a statement, for him to open the debate? That would give more opportunity for Members to speak, rather than just making a statement.

Photo of Jacob Rees-Mogg Jacob Rees-Mogg Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons

The wisdom of a former Chief Whip is very considerable, and I shall ensure that that point is passed on to the Prime Minister’s adviser.

Photo of Hilary Benn Hilary Benn Chair, Committee on Exiting the European Union

A moment ago, the right hon. Gentleman expressed confidence that the free trade agreement that is now the centrepiece of the political declaration could be negotiated between now and December 2020. Can he confirm to the House that if that proves not to be possible, it would be a no-deal Brexit—in effect, a hard Brexit—from 1 January 2021? We would be leaving the EU at that point on WTO terms, which the House has explicitly rejected in passing the European Union (Withdrawal) (No. 2) Act.

Photo of Jacob Rees-Mogg Jacob Rees-Mogg Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons

These are the matters that will be discussed if we pass the motion to sit on Saturday, so I think we are getting slightly ahead of ourselves in trying to go into the details of the debate. Much though I should like to be the one dealing with that debate, that will belong to higher authorities than me, who will I am sure welcome questions from the right hon. Gentleman.

Photo of Stewart Hosie Stewart Hosie Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Trade)

May I seek some clarification before we decide whether to sit and have this debate on Saturday? The Government have published a declaration, a political declaration and a substantial protocol. However, the actual changes to the withdrawal agreement—in articles 184 and 185—are contained on a single page, which is the last page of the protocol. Those are the substantial—if one could call it that—changes. Can the Leader of the House confirm that, should we sit and debate this on Saturday, what we will actually be debating is fundamentally the same withdrawal agreement that has already failed to pass this House on a number of occasions?

Photo of Jacob Rees-Mogg Jacob Rees-Mogg Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons

I am sorry to be distracted down this route, Mr Speaker, but I hope you will allow me a little leeway, because that point is so fundamentally wrong. The new agreement is of the greatest significance and the greatest change. The backstop, which has been excised, meant that we could be tied into the rules and regulations and the customs union of the European Union forever. It was harder to leave the backstop than to leave the European Union itself. Under article 4 of the previous treaty, that would then have been our senior law, in exactly the same way as EU law takes direct effect under the European Communities Act 1972.

That was not leaving the European Union; the change that has been made means that we will leave the European Union, and we will be in charge of our own destiny and of our own future. It does surprise me that the nationalist party wants independence yet wants to be under the yoke of Brussels, but we want to be free to make our own way because we have confidence in our ability to make our own way successfully, without being told what to do by others.

Photo of Jacob Rees-Mogg Jacob Rees-Mogg Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons

I do not wish to be ungracious, because I am an admirer of the hon. and learned Lady, who is a very impressive inquisitor—[Interruption]. The hon. Member for Na h-Eileanan an Iar is also an impressive inquisitor. But I am not going to take further interventions, because the Queen’s Speech debate is pressing and I have a few more words to say about the details of Saturday. I apologise to right hon. and hon. Members, but I think I have taken enough interventions.

I recognise that changes to the sittings of the House agreed at short notice can create inconvenience to Members, staff of the House and civil servants, but I am sure hon. Members will agree that it is important to continue to take these matters at greater pace at this important time. Her Majesty’s Government did not choose the date of 19 October to hold this important debate, but it will provide the opportunity for this House to live up to the commitment made by all parties to deliver on the will of the people and to honour the result of the referendum.

If the House agrees to the motion, the arrangement for Saturday will be for the House to sit at 9.30 am. The day will begin with ministerial statements, and I can confirm that, as I have already mentioned, the Prime Minister will make a statement updating the House on the outcome of the negotiations at the European Union Council. The debate that follows will be either on a motion to approve a deal or on a motion to approve a no-deal exit. The debate on one or other of those motions would run for up to 90 minutes under the existing rules of this House. In the event of a motion to approve a deal, that motion, if passed, will meet the terms both of the European Union (Withdrawal) (No. 2) Act and of section 13 of the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018.

Photo of Jacob Rees-Mogg Jacob Rees-Mogg Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons

I do apologise, but other people want to speak, there is an amendment to be moved and there is serious business to be discussed.

If I may, I will turn briefly to amendment (a) in the name of my right hon. Friend Sir Oliver Letwin. It would provide for a debate on a statutory motion until 2.30 pm, rather than for 90 minutes. There is a risk that that might shorten the time for debate, because the Prime Minister will make a statement, and some of the statements in this House have been very long and I would guess that many people may want to question him. The 90 minutes is protected time, regardless of when the debate starts. As I have made clear, when the Prime Minister speaks there will be the opportunity to raise any number of questions on this issue.

Dare I say to my right hon. Friend the Member for West Dorset that there is an eccentricity to his proposal? We have an Act of Parliament that requires us to vote on certain motions. That Act was supported by my right hon. Friend, yet he now does not want us to stick to the motion that he supported in the Bill that he voted for, before it became the law of the land. He wants us to vote on something else, which will simply cause confusion and delay. We want a yes or no answer from the House. Does it like the deal, or not? [Interruption.] There are catcalls from across the Chamber, but that is the point of the debate. People will be able to say, “no”, or “yes”, but it will be clear and simple. The amendment will confuse the issue and make it harder for the House to make its opinion known.

Her Majesty’s Government would not have chosen to meet on a Saturday. That date is directly because of the European Union (Withdrawal) (No. 2) Act 2019. [Interruption.] I hear Members saying that is not true, but such catcalls are themselves false.

Photo of Jacob Rees-Mogg Jacob Rees-Mogg Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons

No, I will finish what I am saying. Other Members will have the chance to speak if they wish. These motions are required because the Benn Act inserted a deadline of 19 October—otherwise we had to ask for an extension to article 50. In what sort of fantasy world does someone ask for an extension when they already have a deal? If the deal is done, let us vote on it, let us get it through, and let us talk about other things.

Photo of Valerie Vaz Valerie Vaz Shadow Leader of the House of Commons 1:01 pm, 17th October 2019

I thank the Leader of the House—he initially said that he would not take long, but in fact he took quite a lengthy time to move a short motion. It is common convention and courtesy in this House to let hon. Members see the text of a draft agreement, and although the Leader of the House is polite when he speaks, many of his actions appear somewhat rude. Waving a piece of paper—the draft agreement—in front of Members and taunting them is not an appropriate way to behave. He is a great student of history, so he knows what happened the last time someone waved a white piece of paper around.

The Leader of the House said that there was a draft agreement. Will he confirm when that is likely to be agreed by the EU27? We have heard rumours that it has already been agreed—I am not sure whether he knows, as we have all been sitting in the House. When will the motion that he has just presented to the House be tabled? Will he confirm—he said this in business questions, but I am asking him again—whether it will be compliant with the legislation on the meaningful vote that was passed by the House?

Photo of Oliver Letwin Oliver Letwin Independent, West Dorset 1:03 pm, 17th October 2019

I beg to move an amendment, at end add:

‘(3) paragraph (1) of Standing Order No. 16 (Proceedings under an Act or on European Union documents) shall not apply to any motion on that day;
and

(4) if an amendment to any motion has been disposed of (including at or after the moment of interruption), any further amendments selected by the Speaker may be moved, and the questions shall be put forthwith.’

For the avoidance of doubt, I agree with the Leader of the House that the deal, of which we have—admittedly very briefly—seen the text, looks admirable, and I shall support it and vote for its implementation in legislation, all the way to completion. That is not a very great concession on my part, as I have said for 18 months that I will vote for any deal, but I also think that this is rather a good deal, so there is nothing between me and the Leader of the House on that issue.

However, when we sit on Saturday 19 October—if we sit; ultimately it is up to the Government whether we sit, and they have moved this motion to ensure that—it is important that we can proceed in a way that leads to the result I am talking about: the final implementing legislation and the ratification of the deal. I do not doubt for a second that the Leader of the House and the Prime Minister, who, under the inspiration of the Benn Act, have taken huge steps to achieve a great deal with the EU, wish to complete that process, get to the end of the legislative process in both Houses of Parliament, and ratify the deal. I am absolutely persuaded that that is what Her Majesty’s Government want to do, and I applaud them. I know that many colleagues in the House who take a different view will vote differently, but that is my view.

There is a problem, however. Neither I, the Leader of the House nor any of the rest of us can possibly know at this stage what strategies or tactics will be employed by some Members on Saturday. I make no accusations at all, as it is perfectly legitimate for Members of the House with a particular aim to deploy a set of strategies and vote accordingly—there is nothing dishonourable in that at all. One thing that could enter some people’s heads—I do not mean any particular Member as I do not know whether this has happened, but it could enter several people’s heads, and perhaps enough to make a difference to the voting—would be to vote in favour of a motion under section 13(1) of the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018, thereby relieving the Government of the need to apply for an extension under the Benn Act, but then perhaps not follow through the following week by not voting in favour of the subsequent Bill’s Second or Third Reading.

Photo of Oliver Letwin Oliver Letwin Independent, West Dorset

My hon. Friend says that, and I make no allegation that anybody in the House at the moment intends to do so. In any case, doing so would not be in any way dishonourable. It would be a perfectly reputable strategy, but it would not be a strategy to which I or anyone who has put their name to the amendment could subscribe. I hope that, through its vote today, it will be a strategy to which the House will not subscribe.

The purpose of the amendment is simple: it would permit amendments—if selected by you, Mr Speaker— to be moved on Saturday and be voted on. That would enable those Members, such as me, who wish to support, carry through and eventually see the ratification of the deal to allow the Government off the Benn Act hook not on Saturday, but only once the relevant Bill has gone through both Houses of Parliament.

In his otherwise admirable summary, the Leader of the House missed one point. The scope for Members to debate this crucial matter during the 90 minutes will not be limited. That is because it is at your discretion, Mr Speaker, to decide how long to allow for statements and to protect the business for 90 minutes. The House ought to be confident that you will want to do that, Mr Speaker, so I do not think that this is a problem with the amendment.

Photo of Mike Wood Mike Wood Conservative, Dudley South

I understand what my right hon. Friend is saying, but those who drafted the Benn Act could easily have required the passing of legislation to implement any agreement, yet they chose not to. They merely said that a motion supporting a deal had to be agreed by Saturday. That is the law, and this is our best chance of complying with that requirement.

Photo of Oliver Letwin Oliver Letwin Independent, West Dorset

My hon. Friend makes a perfectly reasonable point. If we were endowed with the gift of foresight and omniscience, no doubt we would have ensured that all possible loopholes were blocked. I observe that the Government’s tax legislation—not just this Government’s, but that of every Government I have come across—is full of loopholes, because even the awesome might of parliamentary counsel and Her Majesty’s Treasury fail to spot things that people might be able to do. As one of those involved in the drafting of the Benn Act, I admit it was an oversight not to do as my hon. Friend describes, and I apologise to the House for that. We must ensure that the process operates in a proper fashion, as intended, and that we get to the point of ratification before there is any question of not having an extension to article 50.

The last point I ever need to make about this otherwise rather dull procedural motion is that the terms of the letter in what is now popularly known as the Benn Act mean—if one reads the second paragraph which, of course, the Leader of the House will have done minutely—that the Government will be applying for a flexible extension that could be curtailed and evidently should come to an end the moment the deal is ratified. Evidently, nobody who is in favour of extension is in favour of an extension beyond the point of ratification. I am perfectly sure that if the letter gets written because this House does not end up letting the Government off the hook of the Benn Act, but does in spirit indicate its willingness to approve the deal, and then votes in favour of the legislation, after which there is ratification, the European Union, when responding to the request in the letter, will ensure that any extension is flexible and that it comes to an end the moment that we are out. I have to say to the Leader of the House that on this he and I will be together, and I shall sigh a great sigh of relief if that occurs.

Several hon. Members:

rose—

Photo of John Bercow John Bercow Speaker of the House of Commons, Chair, Speaker's Committee on the Electoral Commission, Chair, Speaker's Committee for the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority, Chair, Commons Reference Group on Representation and Inclusion Committee

Order. Before I call Pete Wishart, perhaps I should just say this for the elucidation of the House. The House will take its own view of the Government’s motion and indeed of the amendment from Sir Oliver Letwin, but it is important that colleagues do so with open eyes. The only point I want to make—it is a very simple procedural point—is that although theoretically, as the Leader of the House quite rightly said, the debate could end up being shorter if the amendment tabled by the right hon. Member for West Dorset were passed because a lengthy exchange on a prime ministerial statement could truncate such a debate, that would be the result of a decision from the Chair, because the Chair has discretion. There is no way on earth that I would allow that to happen, manifestly because I am looking to serve the interests of the House. The debate would not be shorter—absolutely would not be shorter. Whether people want to support that amendment or not is another matter, but it is important that people are clear about what the implications are. I am best placed to say what the implications are and I have just said it.

Photo of Pete Wishart Pete Wishart Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Constitution), Shadow SNP Leader of the House of Commons, Chair, Scottish Affairs Committee 1:11 pm, 17th October 2019

Thank you very much, Mr Speaker. I think that the whole House is grateful for that ruling clarifying the issues relating to Saturday morning. I think that benefits us all and we now have a better idea of how events will transpire.

The Scottish National party has no issue with the motion and we will not be opposing it. It is worth noting that this will be the first time the House will have sat on a Saturday since 1982, when this House was recalled at the height of the Falklands crisis. I had a look at what other auspicious events have happened on 19 October. As an aficionado of political history, the Leader of the House may like to note that on 19 October, British forces under General Cornwallis surrendered to George Washington, ending the US revolutionary wars. The Leader of the House has a penchant for retreats, surrender and capitulation, so I know he will find that of great interest. He may find this interesting, too: it was also the day on which Napoleon’s forces began their retreat from Moscow. Perhaps we will hear his views on those two issues, as he always entertains the House on these little notes of history.

The key issue—I think we are all grateful that the Leader of the House touched on it—relates to the arrangements that have to be put in place for staff who give up their weekend to come here to work. It should also be noted—the Leader of the House glibly accepted this—that the arrangements present a number of difficulties for Members from Scotland. I do not know how we are expected to get here for 9.30 in the morning. It seems like we will have to be here for the whole week to ensure we are in our place for that 9.30 am start.

On the specific arrangements, and I am glad that you clarified this, Mr Speaker, a 90-minute debate is clearly insufficient, given the issue and the whole range of matters we will have to consider—at least we have a deal to debate. We will support fully the amendment tabled by Sir Oliver Letwin. It is right that we have the opportunity to debate all the issues relating to this matter and that we have an amendable motion. The SNP will table an amendment, and we will encourage right hon. and hon. Members to support us.

We will need to have all the relevant documents, and the Leader of the House has given us his commitment on that. I listened very carefully to his response regarding economic impacts and consequences. I think that the House would like to see them in advance, but I do not think the Government will be in a position where that will be considered. Scottish Members would like to see what the impact on Scotland will be, but again we have no commitment on whether that will be delivered.

As we come to consider this matter on Saturday, it is worth noting that Scotland wanted absolutely nothing to do with this chaotic Brexit project. We returned one Member of Parliament with a mandate to deliver on the EU referendum—one Member of Parliament. Every single one of Scotland’s Members of Parliament bar one voted against the EU referendum Bill. Every single Member of Parliament from Scotland bar one voted against triggering article 50. When we tried to get a special arrangement for Scotland to meet Scotland’s interests, it was totally ignored and rejected before the ink was even dry. Throughout this whole process, the SNP and the vast majority of Members of Parliament have opposed this arrangement and the whole project. We are not going to start supporting it with the deal that will be presented today. The deal is, in fact, worse than the May deal that was rejected three times. It will leave Scotland at a particular disadvantage in relation to Northern Ireland. Northern Ireland will have access to the single market and the benefits of the arrangements that will be put in place. Scotland voted overwhelmingly to remain, so why can we not be included in those arrangements? On that basis, we will oppose the deal again on Saturday.

Scotland is being taken out of the European Union against its national collective will. Scotland will lose access to the customs union, the single market and freedom of movement, which is so important to the growth of our economy and to the many sectors in it. Scotland will never accept this Brexit deal. We refuse to accept that the Brexit Britain concocted by this deal is the best that Scotland could be or could aspire to be. We will oppose it on Saturday. We look forward to having the opportunity to express and explain Scotland’s view.

Photo of Mark Harper Mark Harper Conservative, Forest of Dean 1:16 pm, 17th October 2019

I will keep my remarks brief because I am conscious that the House wishes to make a decision and the Leader of the House made such a comprehensive speech. I first want to reflect briefly on the timings for Saturday. I heard what Anna Soubry said. It is very clear under what is known as the Benn Act—I will give it that term, given that Hilary Benn is in the Chamber—that a decision has to be made by the House before the close of business on Saturday if an extension request is to be avoided. The reason why the drafting of the Act is so important is that now that the Prime Minister has secured a deal that has been recommended for approval by the Presidents of the Commission and the Council, an extension secured under the Act would be particularly perverse, because it would specifically require the Prime Minister to seek an extension not in order to pass the deal he has just achieved, but to go back and try to pass the deal rejected three times by this House. That seems to me to be remarkably foolish. I see the right hon. Member for Leeds Central looking at me quizzically, but that is what section 1(4) of his Act says, and it seems to me that that would be ridiculous. Avoiding that foolish eventuality does necessitate a sitting on Saturday.

My second point, in response to the amendment moved by my right hon. Friend Sir Oliver Letwin, is that the Benn Act requires the House to make a clear decision on whether it approves the deal. The cluttering up of a motion with lots of qualifications may not comply with the terms of the Act and it will be confusing. It may be that if my right hon. Friend’s amendment were passed, Members might be tempted to try to frustrate reaching a deal by tacking on an amendment for a second referendum. I wish to avoid that outcome and would say that anybody who votes in favour of my right hon. Friend’s amendment is helping those who wish not to carry out the democratic wishes of the British public.

The final point I want to make is for my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House to note—perhaps he can respond to us before Saturday—and it is about ensuring that we are all able to be here. I understand that a march or a demonstration is to take place. First, will he make sure that the Metropolitan police take steps to ensure that Members may access the parliamentary estate and leave the estate in good order, and will that fact be communicated to Members? Secondly, will he not only ensure that all the documents are made available online, but reflect on how they will be made available to Members in hard copy in good time for the debate? Will he ensure that that information is communicated clearly? That will help to facilitate a good debate. I look forward to the House’s approving that debate today and its taking place forthwith.

Photo of Anna Soubry Anna Soubry Leader of the Independent Group for Change 1:20 pm, 17th October 2019

I assure Mr Harper that those who come to this place in support of a people’s vote will behave in exactly the way that they have in the past. Last time, when a million marched, there was not a single arrest, so everyone can be absolutely sure that these are good and true democrats who feel very strongly about the future of their country. Asking for a confirmatory referendum can in no way be described as being undemocratic.

I rise to support the amendment, and for this reason. As anyone who has had the opportunity to glance through the withdrawal agreement will know, this is now a very different agreement from the one that was negotiated by the former Prime Minister, in two distinct ways. First, I understand that the new provisions for Northern Ireland, in order to avoid the hard border between the Republic and the north, now create a new border across the North sea. [Hon. Members: “The Irish sea.”] Across the Irish sea. I am from the east coast; I used to do an awful lot of paddling in the North sea. What we are absolutely clear about, however, is that the Prime Minister said there was no way that he would ever agree to that. Well, he has quickly changed his mind on that, but he is very good at saying whatever suits him and his ambition. However, the matter really is very significant for the future Union of our United Kingdom, and it gives me no pleasure to say this. I was a proud member of the Conservative and Unionist party, which in my opinion has now become the Conservative and Brexit party. I actually now believe that in my lifetime we could see a united Ireland because of the way in which the border has been drawn in the Irish sea and the consequences for the island of Ireland.

The other important feature of this new agreement is that for England, and for Scotland and Wales, we are now deprived of a backstop that at least gave a bare-bones customs union and other protections. So, in effect, we now have in England, Wales and Scotland with the hardest Brexit available, and Liz Saville Roberts is absolutely right about the need for impact assessments. She is right to say that this place should have documentation that is carefully thought through. What has happened to the scrutiny of the agreement that we would have expected from our Select Committees? In that context, to say that this place should have a debate of no longer than 90 minutes on Saturday is an outrage, and to say that we could not even amend the motion would compound that outrage. I ask everybody who believes in this place—this sovereign Parliament and democracy—to support this very reasonable amendment.

Question put, That the amendment be made.

Division number 2 Business of the House (Saturday 19 October) — Amendments and Votes

A majority of MPs voted to permit amendments, if selected by the Speaker, to be moved and voted on during a planned sitting of MPs on Saturday 19 October.

Aye: 287 MPs

No: 275 MPs

Ayes: A-Z by last name

Tellers

Nos: A-Z by last name

Tellers

Absent: 84 MPs

Absents: A-Z by last name

The House divided: Ayes 287, Noes 275.

Question accordingly agreed to.

Main Question, as amended, put and agreed to.

Ordered,

That this House shall sit at 9.30am on Saturday 19 October and at that sitting:

(1) the first business shall be any statements to be made by Ministers;

(2) the provisions of Standing Order No. 11 (Friday sittings), with the exception of paragraph (4), shall apply as if that day were a Friday;

(3) paragraph (1) of Standing Order No. 16 (Proceedings under an Act or on European Union documents) shall not apply to any motion on that day; and

(4) if an amendment to any motion has been disposed of (including at or after the moment of interruption), any further amendments selected by the Speaker may be moved, and the questions shall be put forthwith.’