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Preparations for Leaving the European Union

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 6:32 pm on 21st October 2019.

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Photo of Tommy Sheppard Tommy Sheppard Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Cabinet Office), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Scotland), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (House of Lords) 6:32 pm, 21st October 2019

I thank the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster for advance sight of the statement. It leads me to my first question, which is: what is he not telling us? What does he know that we do not know about this entire process? He must know something, because otherwise I do not understand why he continues to commit hundreds of extremely highly qualified civil servants and to waste hundreds of millions of pounds of taxpayers’ money in the service of an objective that we have consistently ruled out. He himself said as recently as March that no deal is something that must be avoided, the Benn Act has made no deal illegal unless this House agrees to it and now the Prime Minister has sought an extension to the process from the EU in order that no deal can be avoided. I admit that the Prime Minister has acted with the maximum bad faith and with all the enthusiasm of a petulant schoolboy, but none the less he has written the letter, and the letter has been received and accepted. That means that the only way the scenario that he is planning for can unfold is if this House fails to pass the Government’s withdrawal Bill, which I hope it will, and the EU then declines to extend beyond 31 October. Is Government policy therefore now based on the assumption that the EU will refuse to extend the article 50 deadline beyond 31 October? If it is not, why does he continue with this wasteful exercise?

I agree with Mr Clarke: how come this date of 31 October has become elevated to the extent it has? The Government have this Halloween fetish now. The only reason 31 October matters—rather than, say, a week, month or year later—is to save face for this Prime Minister. It is a rum day indeed when the Government of the day are more concerned about the vanity of the Prime Minister than they are about making good legislation and doing what is good for the country. Is the truth not that all this talk of Yellowhammer and no-deal preparations is a propaganda exercise, trying to whip up fear and anxiety to drive people into the welcoming arms of the Prime Minister’s deal, in relief and thankfulness? It won’t work, Chancellor.