I beg to move,
That there shall be an early parliamentary general election.
I think it is fair to say that nobody in this House relishes the idea of a general election, because nobody wants to put the public to this inconvenience—[Interruption.]—particularly, as one hon. Gentleman says, during this season. But across the country, there is a widespread view that this Parliament has run its course, and that is because I simply do not believe that this House is capable of delivering on the priorities of the people, whether that means Brexit or anything else.
Of course, I would rather get Brexit done. I share the blazing urgency of many colleagues across the House. Indeed, last Tuesday, we briefly allowed hope to bloom in our hearts when, for the first time in three and a half years, Parliament voted for a deal to take this country out of the EU, and I repeat my admiration for the way MPs came together across the House to do that. In many ways, it was an astonishing moment. They said that we would never reopen the withdrawal agreement. They said that we would never be able to get rid of the backstop. They said we would never do a new deal with the EU. We did all of them. They said we would never get Parliament to agree.
I thank my right hon. Friend for all he is doing to get Brexit done. In his preparations for a no-deal Brexit, can he make sure that there is plenty of corn feed for the election chickens on the Opposition Benches?
Elegantly put, and thanks to the work of the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, our preparations for a no-deal Brexit are very thorough indeed. But alas, as I have said, we have not been able to get Parliament to agree. There was a tantalising moment when I thought that Parliament was going to do the sensible thing, and then this House threw out the programme motion, at the urgings of the Opposition, at the final hurdle, as they intended all along. They made it inevitable that the people of this country would be retained in the EU against their will for at least another three months, at a cost of another £1 billion a month. [Interruption.] I hear cries from those on the Opposition Benches to bring the Bill back. I have offered that and I continue to offer it. I wanted, and I still want so badly, to accommodate this House.
Those of us on the Government Benches have compromised. Last week, I wrote to the Leader of the Opposition offering him more time for debate—days more in Committee, days more in the Lords, the ability to sit round the clock if necessary, and all last weekend—with only one condition: that he would agree to do what all Leaders of the Opposition are meant to yearn, crave and campaign for and have a general election on
Let us be clear: that is enough time to scrutinise this Bill. It was a remarkable feature of the debate last week on the new deal that not only were there no new ideas in that debate, but the Opposition actually ran out of speakers in the debate. [Interruption.] They want more time—they ran out of speakers. The people of this country can see the reality. They are not interested in scrutinising Brexit. They are not interested in debating Brexit. They just want to delay Brexit and cancel Brexit. If the House is to convince the country that it is serious about getting Brexit done, there must be a fixed term to this debate—a parliamentary terminus, a hard stop—that everybody can believe in.
To make this matter easy for those of us on the DUP Benches, could the Prime Minister confirm to the House whether, if he is successful and achieves a general election, he will seek a mandate on the basis of the withdrawal agreement that the House voted for last week, or whether he will seek to change that withdrawal agreement?
I can tell the House that we have an excellent deal for the whole of the UK and that we will campaign on the basis of that deal. If the hon. Gentleman wants more time to debate and scrutinise it, as I take it from his question he does, he can have it, but we must have
An election would fulfil exactly that purpose. It would allow a new Parliament and a new Government to be in place by Christmas. Without that hard stop of an election, without that moment of truth, the electorate will, I am afraid, have a sense that we are all like Charlie Brown, endlessly running up to kick the ball, only to have Parliament whisk it away yet again, only to find that Parliament is willing to go on delaying and delaying, to the end of January, to February and beyond. The frustration will go on, the anxiety will go on, and the angst and uncertainty felt by millions of people and businesses across the country will be unnecessarily and unfairly prolonged and exacerbated. That is what the Opposition’s course condemns the country to.
If I am wrong, the remedy is very simple: the Opposition—the Leader of the Opposition and all his cohorts on the Front Bench—can vote for this motion tonight. Then we can bring the Bill back and get Brexit done and then go our separate ways and make our cases to the country to reboot our politics in the way our people want. If he does not wish to take that opportunity —if he wants simply to delay Brexit and frustrate yet again the democratic will of 17.4 million people, frustrate democracy in this country—I am afraid we must have an election now. We cannot continue with this endless delay.
“Let this Bill pass and gain Royal Assent, and then we will back an election”—[Official Report,
Vol. 664, c. 292.]
The Bill passed and gained Royal Assent, but he still shrank from an encounter with the voters. Then he said he would wait until the Act had been complied with. The letter was sent over a week ago—not my letter, of course, but Parliament’s letter—and he is still coming up with ever more ludicrous excuses for hiding from the British people. Now he says we have to take no deal off the table at the end of the transition period in December 2020. I repeat: he wants to take no deal off the table at the end of the transition period in December 2020. Of course I think his so-called anxieties are absurd, because I am confident that we will negotiate a fantastic new trade deal. [Interruption.] If the Opposition vote for this motion, we will bring the Bill back. We will negotiate a fantastic new trade deal that will bring thousands of new jobs to businesses and communities across this country.
Even if the Leader of the Opposition disagrees, would it not make sense, even according to his logic, for him to agree to an election now, so that he can have the opportunity to take no deal off the table himself? Is that not the logic of his position? He can run, but he cannot hide forever. Across Parliament, his supposed allies are deserting. The SNP, I now read, is in favour of an election. The Liberal Democrats are in favour of an election. What an incredible state of affairs. There is one party tonight that is actually against a general election. There is one party that does not trust the people of this country, and that is the principal party of opposition. I hope that the Leader of the Opposition accepts tonight that he is snookered and that this charade has gone on for long enough, and that he will agree to allow Brexit to get done and then allow us to make our cases to the people.
When that election comes, the people of this country will have to make a choice between a Government who deliver, a Government who not only got a great Brexit deal when others said it was impossible but who are putting 20,000 more police on the streets, delivering the biggest hospital building programme in a generation, investing £14 billion more in our schools and levelling up education funding across the country—a great one-nation Conservative Government, which is what we represent—and a Labour Opposition who would turn the year 2020 into a toxic, tedious torture of two more referendums, one on the EU and one on Scotland. That is the choice.
It is time for the Leader of the Opposition to move his rusty Trabant from the yellow box junction where it is currently blocking progress, and it is time for us to get Brexit done by
I commend the motion to the House.
This is a Prime Minister who cannot be trusted. Having illegally prorogued Parliament for five weeks for his Queen’s Speech, he now abandons that Queen’s Speech. He got his deal through on Second Reading, then abandoned it. He promised us a Budget on
Order. Let us have some measure of decorum in the debate.
The Prime Minister spent £100 million—£100 million— on an advertising campaign to leave on
At the weekend, we learned from the former Chancellor that the Prime Minister’s deal was offered to the former Prime Minister 18 months ago, but she rejected it as being not good enough for the United Kingdom. We have a rejected and recycled deal that has been misrepresented by Ministers in this House, no doubt inadvertently. The Prime Minister said, in terms, there would be no checks on goods between Great Britain and Northern Ireland; the Brexit Secretary himself has confirmed that there will be. The Prime Minister made promises to Labour Members about workers’ rights; I remember his saying, with all the concentration he could muster, that workers’ rights would be protected by him. The leak to the Financial Times on Saturday shows these promises simply cannot be trusted. He says the NHS is off the table for any trade deal, yet a majority of the British public do not trust him. And why should they? Thanks to a Channel 4 “Dispatches” programme—[Interruption.] This is actually quite an important point that the Prime Minister might care to listen to. [Interruption.] I will go through it again: thanks to—[Interruption.]
Order. The right hon. Gentleman is entirely at liberty to do so. If there are people trying to shout the Leader of the Opposition down, stop it; it is deeply low grade.
As I was saying, thanks to a Channel 4 “Dispatches” programme we learn that secret meetings—[Interruption.] Conservative Members might find this funny, but actually it is quite serious for our national health service.
It does not need to be investigated at all. Unfortunately, it is not even a very good try at a bogus point of order; as the smile on the face of the hon. Gentleman readily testifies, it is a very substandard attempt.
I think this section is very important, so I will go through it again. Thanks to a Channel 4 “Dispatches” programme we learn that secret meetings have taken place between UK Government officials and representatives of US pharmaceutical firms at which the price of national health service drugs has been discussed.
We have a Prime Minister who will say anything and do anything to get his way. He will avoid his responsibilities and break his promises to dodge scrutiny. And today he wants an election and his Bill. Well, not with our endorsement. He says he wants an election on
On a point of order, Mr Speaker. I am afraid that the Leader of the Opposition is mistaken. As I have always said, this Government obey the law. We have complied with the law, and that has taken its course. Parliament asked for this delay, and now it is up to the right hon. Gentleman to go to the country in a general election. That is what he should do.
For the avoidance of doubt, such matters are not matters for the Chair, but the Prime Minister has made his own point, apparently to his own satisfaction.
Order. I do not care how long it takes—I am not having the hon. Gentleman shouted down and prevented from being heard. That will not work. End of subject.
On the issue of trust, which my right hon. Friend is rightly pointing out, is he aware of the interesting rumour that has reached my ears that the Prime Minister might be planning not to stand in his own constituency at an upcoming general election, and that he has apparently instead lined up Sevenoaks or East Yorkshire? Has my right hon. Friend heard that rumour?
Like my hon. Friend Stephen Doughty, I do not trust the Prime Minister, but there is a deeper issue about whether we can trust him with our safety. Let me briefly read this analysis from the Financial Times, which says—[Interruption.] The Prime Minister may shake his head, but perhaps he would care to listen. It states that when
“Johnson responded, ‘I have never heard such humbug’”—
Order. I invite the hon. Lady to resume her seat. She has a right to be heard. She has a right not to be shouted down by Front or Back Benchers, and she will not be.
Thank you, Mr Speaker. The analysis states that when
“Johnson responded: ‘I have never heard such humbug in all my life’, Labour MP Paula Sherriff began receiving toxic tweets at a rate of more than 100 an hour…One such tweet from that evening read: ‘Tough shit Mrs Shrek. A #SurrenderBill or #SurrenderAct is exactly what Benn’s treacherous act is.’ Another read: ‘Do what the people told you to effing do otherwise yes expect to be strung up metaphorically or physically.’”
The Prime Minister has never apologised for saying what he said that evening, so how can we trust him that we can be safe?
I thank my hon. Friend for her intervention, and for the stoic way in which she has dealt with the most appalling abuse that has been thrown at her. After the threats that she and other colleagues have received, the damage that has been done to MPs’ offices and the abusive language that has happened in so many parts of this country, I would be happy to give way to the Prime Minister now if he wants to get up and apologise to my hon. Friend for what he said about her during that debate. Mr Speaker, the Prime Minster has an opportunity to apologise for the language he used, but he seems unable to do so. The treatment she received was disgusting by any standards. I would also point out that numbers—
I thank my hon. Friend for that intervention. She is right. That is why many of us are very cautious about believing anything that the Prime Minister says. We want this tied down before we agree to anything.
I thank the right hon. Gentleman for giving way. Going back to workers’ rights, he correctly says that the Prime Minister cannot be trusted, so will he explain why the 19 Labour Back Benchers who said that they had secured workers’ rights concessions from the Prime Minister backed the withdrawal agreement? If the Prime Minister is so incompetent, is there any point at which the right hon. Gentleman is not going to keep him in power?
I was talking about students and their opportunity to vote on the date in question, but the latter point may not be the case on
I am very grateful to the Leader of the Opposition for giving way. If we take him at his word that this most untrustworthy Government and Prime Minister are wedded to doing the most evil and disastrous things to this country, can he explain his reticence about a general election at which he has the chance to sweep us out of office?
We have said all along that we want no deal off the table. As there is so little trust in this Prime Minister, we will agree to nothing until exactly what is being proposed is clear and concrete. We agree that an early election is necessary, but we seek good reason for one, as no general election has been held in December since 1923.
The Prime Minister has a Bill to deliver and a Budget to present. He has a Queen’s Speech that he told us was vital. He should, for once in his life, stick to his word and deliver. He says in his misogynistic way that people should “man up”, which is a bit rich for a Prime Minister who refuses to face up to his responsibilities at every turn and serially breaks his promises.
I thank my right hon. Friend for giving way. Does he agree that the timing of this proposed general election, not whether we have a general election, is yet another example of the art of voter suppression, ensuring that students are less likely to have a vote and that older people and people with disabilities are less likely to go out and vote? If the Prime Minister truly believed in democracy, we would hold the election when people are able to go and cast their vote.
When no deal is off the table, when the date for an election can be fixed in law, and when we can ensure that students are not being disfranchised, we will back an election so that this country can get the Government it needs. It needs a Government that will end the underfunding and privatisation of our public services, tackle the grotesque poverty and inequality in our country created by this Government and the Government before it, recognise the seriousness of the climate emergency, rebuild an economy that does not just work for the privileged few, which is all the Tory party knows about, and build a better society that ends inequality and injustice and gives the next generation real opportunities and real hope about the kind of country and kind of world that they can live in.
This Parliament is once again misjudging the mood of the public. We were elected here to do serious things on behalf of our public. Conservative and Labour MPs alike were elected to see Brexit through. Three years and four months later, there is no sign of that. Instead, we have this discordant, argumentative Parliament that will do nothing. It will not throw the Government out of office and it will not allow the Government to govern. We owe it to the British people either to allow our Government to govern or to let the British people decide on a better group of MPs who can form a Government and do positive things for our country.
Every constituency in my region voted at the 2016 referendum by a huge margin to leave the European Union. At that time, lots of my constituents, in some of the most deprived communities of this country, told me that they did not trust this Parliament to deliver it. They said, “We won’t get it. They’ll never let us leave.” The five Conservatives out of the 10 MPs in my region might have voted to deliver Brexit, but is not the truth of it that the Labour MPs across my region, bar one or two examples, are never going to vote to leave the European Union, sadly proving right my constituents who said, “They’ll never let us leave”?
My hon. Friend is right, but it is now about more than Brexit. It is about confidence in our parliamentary system to deliver orderly government that can do things for the people or to allow the public to decide who should be a better Government, because the House has no confidence in the Government.
This Parliament needs to put through a Budget quite soon. Our economy needs a boost, and we need to know whether we can have the tax cuts as well as the spending increases, but I suspect that the Government fear bringing a Budget to the House because they think there will be no co-operation as they do not have a majority and this Parliament will not allow a majority to be formed.
This Government have recently brought a Queen’s Speech to the House. It contains a number of good measures that I do not think were ideological or Conservative provocations to socialists and those of a more left-wing nature. They were chosen to build some consensus and address the issues that worry people. But again, I think the Government rightly fear that any one of those measures, if introduced, would probably meet with resistance and a lack of co-operation, in exactly the way that we have been experiencing with all these other measures.
But above all, this House needs to think what message it is sending to all our partners, friends and allies—countries around the world; the businesses that our businesses do business with; all those contacts we have around the globe. They see this country as a great beacon of democracy—a country of great experience in the art of democratic government; a country that has often led the world in putting forward and fighting for those freedoms and showing how they can improve the lives of those governed by them. But instead we are sending a message that we do not know what we are doing and can never agree about anything—that all we can do is have endless rows in this place, for the entertainment of people here perhaps, but to the denigration of our country and the undermining of its position.
How can a Government conduct international negotiations when everything they propose is undermined or voted against by the Opposition, because we do not have a majority? Above all, how can we get to the point where this House decides that it is good legislation to say that the Prime Minister has to break his promises—where it has turned the demand that he break his promises into something that this House calls an Act of Parliament? No wonder we look ridiculous. No wonder we cannot resolve Brexit. No wonder we cannot have a Budget to promote our economy. No wonder we cannot govern with aplomb in the interests of the British people.
The Prime Minister is right that if this House cannot do better, it must dissolve and ask the people to choose a better Parliament. Either we need to be a better Parliament or they need to choose a better Parliament as soon as possible.
May I begin by thanking the European Union for granting the extension that this Parliament asked for under the Benn Act? We are not leaving Europe on
A general election on the terms offered by the Prime Minister is not and will not ever be acceptable to the Scottish National party, but doing nothing is not an option. The impasse cannot remain forever. We on these Benches do want an election, but not with the hand that the Prime Minister is delivering. Let us be clear about what he promises: he proposes to bring back his bad withdrawal deal; he knows that some Labour MPs will help him pass that Bill and then he would have us leave the EU at the end of November, before a general election. For Scotland, that would mean we would be taken out of the EU against our will, and we will never vote for such a proposition. It would give the Prime Minister a post-Brexit election, something we simply will not sign up to.
At the weekend, I and the leader of the Liberal Democrats wrote to Donald Tusk seeking a meaningful extension to article 50 that would remove the risk of no deal and give us time. The continuation of the flextension, whereby the UK can leave at the end of any month in which it passes the motion, is not the complete safety and security we want. It demonstrates precisely why if we enable this motion to pass, we will be out before the Prime Minister’s election. We cannot allow this Prime Minister to railroad through this disastrous so-called “deal”: a deal that opens the door to a hard Brexit, with us outside the single market and the customs union; and a deal that would end freedom of movement, seeing Scotland’s working population decline—that is what the Conservatives offer the people of Scotland.
The people of Scotland have made their position very clear, because we voted 62% to remain in the EU. Where is the respect to the people of Scotland and to our Parliament? This is, after all, a deal that leaves Scotland at a disadvantage to Northern Ireland and a deal that will not have the consent of the Scottish Parliament. Let me tell the Prime Minister that that consent is required, despite what he said at Prime Minister’s questions last week. There must be respect towards the Scottish Parliament. This deal will cost each person in Scotland the equivalent of £1,600 compared with EU membership —or even more if no trade agreement can be reached.
So today, Scottish National party Members will not be supporting the Prime Minister in his motion. We will not be bullied by this Prime Minister. We will not play his games. And we know what he does not want: to face the electorate having missed his
We will support the Liberal Democrat proposal for an election before Brexit can happen, with no reintroduction of the withdrawal agreement Bill, because given the way some Labour MPs voted, we cannot trust Labour to block the Bill in future. This is not an issue of three days between election dates; it is an issue of whether we are in the European Union or out of it. That is fundamental. We are ready for an election, but it must be on those terms, not—not ever—on the Prime Minister’s. In that election, we want to see votes for 16 and 17-year-olds and for EU nationals. When that election comes, we will fight the Tories on Brexit, on the rape clause, on austerity, on the harm they have done to people’s lives and livelihoods, and, yes, we will fight them on the right of Scotland to choose our own future, rather than be dragged through this Westminster mess ever again.
I say to the Labour party that we and the Liberal Democrats have put forward a Bill that leaves us in control of the process and allows us to set the date for the election, and I appeal to Labour MPs to come with us, because this is about leadership. This is about the Opposition parties coming together and taking the keys of No.10 Downing Street away from a Prime Minister we cannot trust. My message to the Labour party is: let us face an election, let us do it on our terms, let us make sure that we take the Prime Minister and his toxic Tory Government out of office. We can do it—we can do it if the Opposition parties unite. We can stop the deal that the Prime Minister wants to drive through. It is in the hands of the Labour party to join us and the Liberal Democrats, to have the courage to stand up against the Prime Minister. But what are we going to find? We are going to find that the Labour party wants to sit on its hands and wait for this Government to deliver a Brexit. I say to the Labour party: do not be the handmaidens of the Prime Minister’s Brexit. Let us put this back to the people now by coming together. It used to be said, including by Oliver Brown, a well-known Scottish nationalist, “A shiver ran along the Labour Front Bench looking for a spine to crawl up.” The shiver is still looking for that spine.
The SNP is standing up for Scotland. We are standing up against Brexit and this Tory Government. The SNP has fought tirelessly alongside others in this House to prevent Brexit, to secure the right to revoke article 50, to stop no deal and to limit the damage. We have delivered the votes, day in and day out. But we have to be realistic and we have to be honest with the public: we have repeatedly voted for a referendum with remain on the ballot paper but, regrettably, there is no evidence that the majority exists in this House for a people’s vote. The Leader of the Opposition and the shadow Chancellor are acutely aware that if the Bill comes back, some of their MPs will back it, the Bill will become law and Brexit will happen. The question for the Labour party is: can it get its act together? Do Labour Members actually want to stop this Prime Minister? Do they want to stop Brexit or do they agree that it should be imposed on Scotland against our will? Doing nothing means that this Prime Minister stays in power—it means he gets Brexit done, on his terms and in his party’s interests, not in all our national interests.
I would like the right hon. Gentleman to clarify something he said earlier. He talked up his link-up with the Liberal Democrats on wanting to have an election on a different date in December. He went on to say that that would be conditional on 16-year-olds and European Union citizens having ballot papers. I wish to ask him a simple question: if there is no time to do that, does he still back the idea of an election in early December?
I would simply say that it is the right thing to do; our young people have a right to have a say on their future, just as EU nationals do. That is the principled position that we have long taken, and I am proud that my colleagues in government in Scotland have made sure that when it comes to our Scottish election, our young people and our EU citizens are given their rights. We want to see this happen here, but I understand the circumstances we are in, where we need to make sure that an election happens on our terms. That is the priority. It is the priority to make sure that we legislate that in future our young people and our EU nationals are given due respect, but the priority we face in the short term is to make sure that we come together to stop this damaging Brexit that the Prime Minister wants to put through.
I listened carefully to what the right hon. Gentleman said about 16 and 17-year-olds. I certainly would bring an amendment such as that to any Bill and I would be interested to hear what he says, because this is what we now have the pleasure of having in Wales. He also mentioned EU voters, but does he agree that there is also an issue in respect of overseas voters, many of whom were excluded in previous elections? Does he also agree that crucial issues relating to spending on advertising on social media would need to be addressed before we could be clear that any election could proceed safely and democratically?
The hon. Gentleman raises issues that have been aired in this House and that he knows we support him on, but the fact of the matter is that we are in a constitutional crisis.
I ask the House to reflect on one thing. We have been granted an extension by the European Union until the end of January. It behoves us all to end this crisis. Time is of the essence. If we act now, in all our national interests, without playing the games that the Conservatives want, we can have that election and put the issue back to the people.
I certainly want the people in Scotland to have their say—and, crucially, to recognise that if we want to protect our interests in Scotland that means we should not and cannot be ripped out of the European Union against our will. That means that Scotland has to complete the journey that we began with devolution 20 years ago and become an independent member of the European Union.
In conclusion—[Interruption.] Well, there we are. There is the message to the people of Scotland: “Sit down and shut up!” That is what we get from the Conservatives. That was absolutely loud and clear, and it comes over time and time again. I tell you this: people at home are watching this and they can see the disrespect that is shown. The day when this Union comes to an end is fast approaching.
The SNP will never—not ever—vote for Brexit. We cannot and will not trust this Prime Minister. The Scottish National party does not want to leave this Prime Minister with time in Parliament to do anything other than dissolve it, so we will not vote with the Government tonight. But make no mistake: the Scottish National party is ready to give people back their say, to stop this Tory Government, to stop Brexit and to demand the right to choose Scotland’s future as an independent country—our destiny.
The situation is very simple, and the bottom line is this. The Labour party is scared—[Interruption.]
Order. The hon. Gentleman, who is Chair of the European Scrutiny Committee and has served without interruption in this House for the last 35 years, must—and will—be heard.
The bottom line is this. I heard Ian Blackford talking about disrespect just now, and I heard the Leader of the Opposition talk about trust. What those who are abstaining or voting against the motion are doing is utterly disrespectful to their own constituents and utterly disrespectful to our democratic system. They are not trusting the people, they are not removing the uncertainty and they are not allowing the British people their democratic right to choose Members of Parliament whom they wish to elect in individual constituencies.
What the Leader of the Opposition and the right hon. Member for Ross, Skye and Lochaber are doing is denying democracy. That is completely and totally unacceptable, whether people are remainers or leavers. The democratic right of the British people is to have a general election in the situation we are in now. Yes, certainly we should be supporting leaving the European Union, but remainers, too, have the right to vote, and that is being denied them by the Leader of the Opposition and every single Labour Member of Parliament and others who are either abstaining or voting against the motion today. That is a total denial of democracy. When it comes to the general election, I trust that the people who know why they have been denied it will vote against those Members of Parliament, to make sure that those Members themselves see the damage they have done to our democratic system.
The Liberal Democrats want to stop Brexit. I appreciate that there are different views on different sides of the House on that matter, but I hope that people appreciate that at least we have been consistent on wanting to stop Brexit throughout this process.
I will make some progress and then give way.
We believe that the best way to do this is to put a specific Brexit deal to the public for a final say in a people’s vote. We have been leading the campaign for a people’s vote for three and a half years. We stood in the 2017 election on a manifesto that argued for a people’s vote and we have laid amendments for a people’s vote 17 times in this House, including an amendment to the Queen’s Speech last week.
The official Opposition have refused to back wholeheartedly a people’s vote—in fact, 19 Labour MPs voted for the Prime Minister’s deal last week. When it comes to the cause of remaining in the EU and of stopping Brexit, the Labour party has not delivered. We have put our best efforts in, but so far the House has not yet backed them in sufficient numbers.
Not all the hon. Lady’s MPs have always been so unequivocal on this: Chuka Umunna voted in favour of article 50, although he never tells the House that. I voted against it.
Why does the hon. Lady believe that a general election, using an electoral system that her party, like me, has always thought does not deliver a fair result, will solve this issue, rather than sticking to the point that we should be seeking a referendum? She could end up delivering a hard Brexit on only 38% of the vote, not 51%.
Or indeed long-standing supporters.
We are looking for the best way to protect our constituents and our place in the European Union. But MPs should not kid themselves that, by hanging on, there is somehow going to be a different outcome.
I am responding to the previous question.
The reality of the situation is this. We have secured an extension to article 50 until
I have been very clear that I do not believe that the Leader of the Opposition or the Prime Minister are the right people to be in government and leading the country. I am crystal clear about that. In a general election, I will go the country and make my case that there should be a Liberal Democrat Government. A Liberal Democrat Government would revoke article 50 on day one, and that is the best way to stop Brexit. We need to find a way forward. If it is not through a people’s vote—if there is not the support for that in this Parliament—we need to look at the other way to do that, and right now, that is through a general election.
The hon. Lady knows that I was a founding member of People’s Vote and she knows, too, the cost that I and many others have paid for our belief, which, at the time, was certainly not popular or fashionable. She also knows—because of the meetings that she has attended—that there is no doubt that, across the House, there is a majority, at the right moment, for that confirmatory referendum. Does she agree that—[Interruption.] Sir Edward Davey, who has not attended those meetings, has obviously not been informed. Does the hon. Lady understand that the best way forward is to allow that process to continue, because it is obvious that that moment is coming when there will finally be that majority for a people’s vote, and that she is pre-empting that? Nobody needs to be told—especially not me and others who have been so courageous and brave, and I pay tribute to them—that this is the time not for a general election, but for a people’s vote, and it is within our grasp.
The right hon. Lady and I have worked together well on the people’s vote campaign, and I pay tribute to her for the courageous decision that she took earlier this year to leave her party and for the work that she has done on this campaign, but I say to her that I dearly wish it were the case that we were at a majority situation for a people’s vote. If we are at that situation then MPs can sign the motion and demonstrate that that is the case.
Perhaps the right hon. Lady would make an exception for this particular early-day motion.
In the absence of that support being clearly demonstrated, we have to act; we cannot just wait. My fear is either that the Government push ahead with their withdrawal Bill and it is delivered, and Brexit is delivered on the back of Labour votes, or that we end up in January, a couple of weeks away from the deadline of crashing out without a deal, in the same precarious position, but that time the EU says, “I am sorry, but we have extended and extended again and we cannot keep doing so if you do not find a path to resolve this.”
I will not give way. I want to make some progress.
That is why, in the absence of those numbers for a people’s vote, the way forward now is to have an election, but to do so responsibly, not letting the Prime Minister force through his bad Brexit deal in a small number of days without proper scrutiny, which is what his plan is and why we will not support his motion tonight. We know that the Prime Minister’s Brexit deal will be bad for workers’ rights, bad for environmental protections, bad for the economy, bad for jobs, bad for our public services, bad for our security and bad for our United Kingdom. It should not be left to the Government to have carte blanche to set the date of the election after the House of Commons has dissolved. We cannot trust what the Prime Minister says.
No, I am making some progress.
We cannot trust what the Prime Minister says. We have no guarantee that he would not try to crash us out of the European Union. He said that he would not prorogue Parliament; he did. He said that he would not send a letter to request an extension of article 50, and he did. We cannot trust what the Prime Minister says. That is why the plan that we have put forward with the Scottish National party for a general election on
The hon. Lady set out three conditions, which I noted very clearly. The leader of the SNP mentioned the issue of 16 and 17-year-olds getting the vote in such a situation. He also mentioned EU electors, overseas voters and a number of other issues. Does she support efforts to ensure that those things are attached to any election, and would she support a Bill that did not a guarantee that those rights to vote were respected and available?
I thank my hon. Friend—and I do count him as a friend—for that intervention. We have also worked together well on the people’s vote campaign, and I welcome the cross-party nature of that work. I have campaigned for votes at 16 from the moment that I came into this House. We have votes at 16 for most elections in Scotland, and it works well. The sky has not fallen in. I think that votes at 16 should be introduced across all different elections. But I say to my hon. Friend that the worst thing we could do for 16 and 17-year-olds is to crash out and leave the European Union. We are in a situation where there is no guarantee of an extension beyond
I have given way plenty of times.
The Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition say that they want a general election. If that is the case and they are not just playing games, then the Government will give time for the Bill that we have published, and the Leader of the Opposition will ask his MPs to support it. I relish the opportunity to take both of them on in a general election and share with the country the Liberal Democrat positive vision to stop Brexit and build a brighter future.
I am delighted to make a short contribution to this very important debate. I shall be supporting the motion tonight, because it is absolutely clear to me that the only way out of the current situation is a general election. This House is in stalemate. We are in lockdown. We cannot move forward with Brexit; we cannot move forward with anything else. That is not good for the country. It is not good for the businesses in our country, which are fed up with the uncertainty and the challenges that they are facing and want to know what the way forward is. The current state of this House is not good for our democracy.
It is also essential that we have an election as soon possible because, in the eyes of many voters across the country, this House has lost all legitimacy to sit. It has lost the trust that was invested in it by the British people in 2017. Let me start with the Liberal Democrats. I note what Jo Swinson said about an election manifesto for a second referendum. The Liberal Democrats have only half a passing acquaintance with keeping manifesto promises, but at least half of their members currently sitting in this House were elected on a manifesto to respect the referendum and deliver Brexit, and they have switched parties without any reference to their constituents. Their constituents voted for an MP to represent them as a member of a party to deliver Brexit, and those constituents have had no say—they have not been consulted—about their MPs’ change of position.
Does my hon. Friend share my concern that many young people were duped on tuition fees? The horse trading then went on in coalition. There was no straight answer about who the Liberal Democrats would prop up in the next coalition. They are milking that 16 and 17-year-old vote because they are promising a future that they do not necessarily intend to deliver—just as they never delivered on tuition fees. They traded them away.
I am very grateful for that intervention. I agree with my hon. Friend wholeheartedly. I do not believe that the Liberal Democrats have always held the position of wanting a second referendum, because I distinctly remember, after the referendum in 2016, Liberal Democrat after Liberal Democrat coming on the media and saying, “We must respect the outcome of the referendum. We must deliver this outcome.” I do not believe that a second referendum has always been their position.
Just under 600 Members were elected in 2017, on a clear commitment to respect the referendum and deliver Brexit. It is a sad reflection on our democracy and on the politics in this country today that, as we sit tonight, as far as I can make out, only about 300 Members are committed to that end. Over half the MPs who were elected to deliver on the referendum have reneged on that promise since the 2017 general election. This House no longer reflects what people voted for in 2017. People voted for something they thought they were going to get, and as things stand right now, they are not getting what they voted for.
My hon. Friend is talking about the sad state of democracy in our country. When we go around the world and say, “The United Kingdom stands for respecting democracy and the rule of law,” other countries say, “Well, you had a referendum where the majority of the people wanted to leave, and your Parliament will not deliver on that.” It is quite clear that not being able to deliver on that result weakens our position in pushing for democracy around the world.
My hon. Friend makes a very good point, about which I know he has a great deal of experience and knowledge. The eyes of the world are looking on this place to see whether we will be true to what we said we would do and whether we will respect what the voters told us to do.
My hon. Friend talks about Members of Parliament being elected at the last election on a promise of delivering Brexit and reneging on that promise. Did he notice that 217 Labour MPs voted against the withdrawal agreement Bill on Second Reading? Had they voted for it, they could have amended it how they wished, but they actually voted to stop Brexit.
My hon. Friend makes a very good point. If the Leader of the Opposition wants to take no deal off the table, there are two very simple ways to do that: vote for a deal and secure a smooth exit from the European Union; or vote for a general election and take no deal off the table if he wins. The fact that he will not support a general election betrays the real reason that Labour Members will not support an election, which is that they are afraid of the British people, they are afraid of what voters will vote, and they are afraid that they will lose seats and we will be in government.
I will be supporting this motion tonight because I believe that this House has sadly lost all legitimacy. We have lost the trust of the British people, and the only way to recover it is for the House to be dissolved as soon as possible, to have an election and to let the British people elect a Parliament they can trust to represent them.
The Prime Minister has claimed that anyone who does not support his demand for an early election is, first, trying to stop Brexit and, secondly, running scared of the electorate. The Democratic Unionist party will not be supporting this motion tonight, but not because we are scared of the electorate. In fact, I can tell the House that the Unionist electorate in Northern Ireland are so angry at, so despairing of and so bewildered by the way in which the Prime Minister has broken his promises to the people of Northern Ireland that they would return 100 DUP MPs if they had the option.
We are not scared of a general election and we are not trying to stop Brexit. In fact, we have been pilloried in this House because we have been seen to be some of the most determined people to deliver Brexit. But the Brexit on offer is not a Brexit for the United Kingdom; it is a Brexit for part of the United Kingdom. It would leave Northern Ireland still within the single market and under the EU customs code. It would mean that any goods coming into Northern Ireland from GB would be subject to customs checks, customs declarations and tariffs. It would mean that we would have to sign export declarations when we sent goods to another part of our own country.
All these things would add costs and delays to the economy of Northern Ireland and would be a huge imposition on the thousands of small firms that currently trade freely with the rest of the United Kingdom. They would suddenly find themselves having to treat the country to which they belong as a third country when it comes to trade. Despite what the Prime Minister has said, the withdrawal agreement makes it quite clear that we could not take part in trade deals that our country does with other parts of the world if they went against the protocols in the agreement.
The issue of additional bureaucracy for business between Northern Ireland and Great Britain, and Great Britain and Northern Ireland, is all the more stark when we look at the statistics, which show that Northern Ireland trades more with Great Britain than with the Republic of Ireland, the European Union and the rest of the world put together; putting up a barrier to our biggest market by far would be hugely significant for the economy of Northern Ireland. Does my right hon. Friend agree?
My hon. Friend is right, but sometimes statistics can go over people’s heads. Let us also bear in mind that the agreement goes totally against the promises made by both the former Prime Minister and the current Prime Minister—that there would no impediments to trade between our part of the United Kingdom and GB, and that there would be no danger of the Union being imperilled.
Would the right hon. Gentleman accept that this dreadful border down the Irish sea would be avoided if the whole United Kingdom left the customs union and left the single market, which I think his party has always supported? But now that the Prime Minister has gone back on and abandoned that position, would the DUP be prepared to accept the entire United Kingdom staying in the customs union and the single market during the transition period, leaving the whole thing to be negotiated over the next two or three years during that transition period? That would rescue Ulster from the absurd proposal of putting these barriers between Northern Ireland and the rest of the United Kingdom.
Of course the right hon. and learned Gentleman will know that that is only half the answer, because under this agreement we would still be within the rules of the single market, still subject to the European Court of Justice making adjudications about whether we adhere to those rules, and still subject to the EU being able to deny the United Kingdom Government the ability to apply changes to the law made here in Westminster to Northern Ireland.
There are very good reasons why we oppose this deal, and the motion does not offer any hope of change. In fact, if anything, the Prime Minister is quite openly saying, “And, by the way, I now want Democratic Unionist party MPs to vote for the accelerated passage of the Bill”—a Bill that would facilitate the agreement, which would have such detrimental effects on Northern Ireland. We do not want the accelerated passage of the Bill. We do not want 24-hour scrutiny. We want to ensure that nothing happens in this House that enables the Prime Minister to deliver on a deal that he promised he would never, ever do.
Of course, if the Prime Minister gets his general election, what platform will he be standing on? What mandate will he seek? What strategy will he put forward? What will be in his manifesto—that he wants to come back here with a majority to deliver the death deal to the Union in Northern Ireland, as he made clear to my hon. Friend Ian Paisley? The offer of the accelerated passage of a Bill that would facilitate the agreement and an election that the Prime Minister would use to justify breaking his promises to the people of Northern Ireland is an offer that we can refuse and will be quite happy to refuse.
Although we want to see Brexit delivered, we want to see it delivered for the whole United Kingdom. We want it delivered in the form that the Prime Minister twice—he changed his mind the third time—voted for in this House. We will not be prepared to facilitate him moving the goalposts and affecting Northern Ireland in this way. Although we do not fear a general election and we want to see Brexit delivered, if it is not going to be delivered for the whole United Kingdom, I do not think that anyone in this House could possibly condemn us for standing up for our constituents, who will be damaged economically and constitutionally.
May I put it to the right hon. Gentleman that if we were to have a general election, that would simply be a de facto referendum part 2, because there would be no other subject under debate during that general election than Brexit? Would it not be an absolute dereliction of duty were we to allow something as important as a general election to be hijacked and simply to be a weak, ersatz version of another referendum?
The hon. Gentleman is trying to draw me into saying that this should be decided by a second referendum. I do not believe that it should be decided by a second referedum, because, of course, the first referendum has not been delivered on. We want to see the first referendum delivered on, and delivered on for the whole United Kingdom.
The argument has been put forward here tonight that we need a general election because this has now become a zombie Parliament—the Government cannot get their business through. We are not wreckers. We do not want to see the United Kingdom ungovernable. Indeed, the reason we voted with the Government on the Queen’s Speech last week was that they had a programme to get through and we wanted to give it support. We do not want to see the United Kingdom made ungovernable. But the one thing we are not prepared to do is to see the United Kingdom divided and the Union destroyed, and that is why we cannot give our support in the vote tonight.
Would it be a way through if the Government went to Brussels now and said that they would like to initiate free trade talks immediately so that we could leave with no tariffs and new barriers, if such talks were agreed to, rather than signing the withdrawal agreement?
We are wandering a bit from the motion now, Mr Speaker, but I hope you will indulge me just to answer this point. That is one of the arguments that the Prime Minister has put forward—that surely all this will just disappear if and when we have a free trade arrangement. But the withdrawal agreement makes it very clear in section 13(8) that—this would have to be agreed with the EU so it would have a veto; so much for the claim that we have got our sovereignty back—the EU could still have a free trade arrangement that would leave Northern Ireland fully or partly within the protocols in the agreement.
While I would love to think that that would be a way out, and we would love to see it be a way out, unfortunately the agreement that the Prime Minister has signed does not allow it to be a way out. That is yet another reason why we have to get this right, and yet another reason why we do not believe that debating, scrutinising and accelerating the passage of the Bill through the House, and an early general election to get a mandate to implement it, is correct.
We find ourselves in Alice in Wonderland politics today. I am in my 28th year in Parliament, and I have never seen anything as incredible as the events I have seen since the British people voted in 2016 to leave the European Union. We made that contract with them. Project Fear did not quite work and they were not quite scared enough to vote to remain in the EU. Actually, they said, “No, we’ve heard what everybody has said is going to happen—that the sky will fall in—but we are still prepared to vote to leave the European Union.” In many cases, they simply did not believe some of the scare stories they were told.
Absolutely. I did a two-day tour around my constituency last Friday and Saturday, and I spoke to a number of people. There were three hardcore remainers who would do almost anything to remain in the European Union. However, the vast majority of people who come up to me in Ribble Valley say either, “I voted leave: get on with it”—they are quite angry that we have not left the European Union—or, “I voted remain, but I can’t believe that we are still in the European Union. I am a democrat. I believe in democracy, and when we have a referendum I believe in carrying out the wishes of that referendum.” We all remember what was written on the back of that pamphlet: it said that we would follow the instructions of the British people in that referendum.
Even better than that, of course, we had a general election in 2017 in which we said that we would deliver Brexit. Labour Members stood in that general election and said they would deliver Brexit, but what do we find? Ever since that general election, we have seen dither and delay, dither and delay, and anything—anything—but vote for the Brexit that they promised. It was either, “It’s not the right deal”, or “We have to get no deal taken off the table.” Well, we had an opportunity last week to take no deal off the table, and that would have made it possible for Labour Members to have fulfilled their promise in that general election two years ago by voting for the deal that the Prime Minister brought back from Brussels. But no—the vast majority of Labour MPs voted against Second Reading. That meant that they did not want it to go any further. There was no possibility of their amending the legislation to have a customs union, to get workers’ rights or to get higher environmental standards. No, they decided they wanted to stop Brexit in its tracks, and that is why they voted against Second Reading. Only 19 of them voted to give it a Second Reading.
My constituency, Ribble Valley, is in the heart of Lancashire. In fact, on an Ordnance Survey map one of my villages is actually in the very centre of the United Kingdom. My constituency voted 57% to leave the European Union. Every constituency in Lancashire, whether it has a Labour MP or a Conservative MP—thankfully, we do not have any Lib Dems—voted to leave the European Union.
What we are seeing tonight is quite remarkable. Labour Members said that they would deliver Brexit, and they are now clearly not doing that. Then they said that they wanted more time to scrutinise the withdrawal agreement Bill, even though the vast majority of them voted against its going any further. They wanted more time, and so tonight we are offering them more time. Then they said that they wanted an early general election. Well, the way they get an early general election is by voting for the motion tonight. They will get more time to scrutinise the withdrawal agreement Bill so that they will at least fulfil part of their promise two years ago, and then get their early general election on
On the other hand, we have the Scots Nats, who are at least saying that they want to go for
Then there are the Lib Dems, who just want to revoke article 50. They are called the Liberal Democrats. I do not know what aspect of them is democratic, because we had a referendum, the people said they wanted to leave, and that is not being fulfilled.
As I understand it, the leader of the Liberal Democrats said that if we had a second referendum, she might not agree with its result. I wonder whether that is true.
That was a previous position. However, we are in an even more bizarre position with Labour Members, because they say that if they win the election they will go to Brussels, renegotiate Brexit, then put that to the British people in a second referendum and campaign against the deal they just negotiated. That is the most Alice in Wonderland politics that I have seen in 28 years. Now we have an Opposition, who have been calling for an early general election, running scared. The last thing they want to do is face the electorate, and, quite frankly, I can see why.
We are apparently approaching the season of good will, when we are supposed to have Christmas parties in our primary schools and wish each other season’s greetings. I hope that people who want a season of good will have not been watching these exchanges.
They say that turkeys do not vote for an early Christmas. That is probably true, but it is also apparent that some people have been on chicken runs from one constituency to another. [Interruption.] No, I am standing in Ilford South; I am not running anywhere. I am standing in my own constituency.
The people who are doing it and who perhaps will do it know who they are; I will not name them.
The only way we are going to end this rancorous, divisive politics is by being realistic. If there is a general election and a party gets a big majority—35% or 40% of the vote—that will still leave a majority in this country extremely unhappy with the outcome. The referendum, in my view, was misguided. It was an advisory referendum, but former Prime Minister David Cameron nevertheless said that it would be binding. He then made his reckless gamble and ran away, leaving his successors to clear up the mess. That referendum got us into the mess. The only way we will get closure in this country is by putting the withdrawal agreement to a confirmatory vote by the people and legislating for the referendum to be legally binding, and unambiguously so.
There is a dire need for us to think about the long-term consequences. If 16 and 17-year-olds are not allowed to vote, that generation will be extremely unhappy for many years to come. We also need to look at the role of social media. The Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee has highlighted the problems with social media’s involvement in election campaigning. If there is an election in a few weeks’ time, it will not be properly regulated and will be open to abuse.
I was going to raise that very point. Does the hon. Gentleman agree that we need new legislation on data and electoral law, to ensure that any future election is not interfered with by people committing criminal offences?
I supported remain in the referendum. My constituents voted to leave. My country voted to leave. The mandate and instructions that I have as a Member of this House are clear. Each and every one of us has that same instruction, and we should execute it and do the right thing. It is clear that this House is at an impasse. Those on the Government Benches want to get Brexit done and move forward, while those on the Opposition Benches want us to cancel Brexit and go back into the European Union. This impasse can only be solved in one way: by the people in a general election, making the final determination. That is why I will support a general election tonight, and so should each and every one of us.
One and a half hours having elapsed since the commencement of proceedings on the motion, the Speaker put the Question (
On a point of order, Mr Speaker. The Leader of the Opposition literally and figuratively has run away from the judgment of the people. For the third time, he has turned down our offer to get Brexit done, in spite of the fact that he and every member of the Labour party stood on a promise to deliver Brexit in this Parliament. I think, frankly, that the electorate will find his behaviour utterly bewildering.
As I said when moving the motion, however, we will not allow the paralysis to continue, and one way or another we must proceed straight to an election. So, later this evening, the Government will give notice of presentation of a short Bill for an election on
There is no support in the House, as we heard earlier from those on the Opposition Benches, for the withdrawal agreement Bill to proceed, but this House cannot any longer keep this country hostage. Millions of families and businesses cannot plan for the future, and I do not believe that this paralysis and this stagnation should be allowed to continue. Now that no deal is off the table, we have a great new deal, and it is time for the voters to have a chance to pronounce on that deal and to replace this dysfunctional Parliament with a new Parliament that can get Brexit done so the country can move on.
Further to that point of order, Mr Speaker. It is clear that there is a desire on the Opposition Benches to bring forward a Bill that can give us an election, but we do not trust this Prime Minister—and we do not trust him for good reason. So if the Prime Minister is going to bring forward a Bill, he must give an absolute cast-iron assurance that, up until the passage of that Bill and the rising of Parliament, there will be no attempt to bring forward the withdrawal agreement Bill. Of course, the SNP will do its job and scrutinise any Bill that comes forward.
It is absolutely demonstrably the case that we want an election. We want the people of Scotland to be given the opportunity to have their say. We will fight that election on the right of the Scottish people to determine their own future. We will not, under any circumstances, consent to being taken out of the European Union against our will. That election campaign will make it clear that the right to determine our future will be in the hands of the Scottish people.
Further to that point of order, Mr Speaker. We have just had an hour and a half of a slightly out-of-control student union debate, and it sounds as though we might have a rather similar farcical performance tomorrow. Is there any chance of you, as the Chair of the House, persuading the usual channels to resume their meetings and produce a sensible timetable for the Bill we have before us, so that this House can resume discussion of these serious matters in a grown-up fashion and come to a resolution on the deal, which—I repeat—I will vote for if it reaches Third Reading, as I think it will? It could well be that we get back to orderly government, which I think the general public are dearly wishing we would rapidly do.
I take careful note of what the Father of the House has said, and I am certainly open to any such discussions, but it does require willing participants, and it remains to be seen, with the passage of time, whether that be so. But I think everybody will be attentive—on this occasion, as on every other—to what, on the basis of 49 years’ experience in the House, the Father of the House has had to say to us.
Further to that point of order, Mr Speaker. I apologise to you and to the Prime Minister for not being here at the point when he raised his point of order. I was detained outside the Chamber; I am now back here.
I understand that a Bill will be tabled tomorrow. We will obviously look at and scrutinise that Bill. We look forward to a clear, definitive decision that no deal is absolutely off the table and there is no danger of this Prime Minister not sticking to his word—because he has some form on these matters—and taking this country out of the EU without any deal whatever, knowing the damage it will do to jobs and industries all across this country.
That point stands in its own right.
On a point of order, Mr Speaker. As you know, I believe in correcting things when I get things wrong, and I want to apologise to Sir Greg Knight—a very honourable gentleman—for incorrectly referencing his seat in the point I made earlier. I understand that he has in fact been readopted by his association. I apologise to him for mistaking his seat for another. For that, I truly apologise.
That was typically gracious of the hon. Gentleman.
I have a sense that his apology will be accepted readily. Let us hear a response in the form of a point of order from Sir Gregory Knight.
I am greatly obliged, as the hon. Gentleman will be, to the right hon. Gentleman.