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European Union (Withdrawal) Acts

– in the House of Commons at 7:52 pm on 8th January 2020.

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Photo of James Duddridge James Duddridge The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union 7:52 pm, 8th January 2020

I beg to move,

That this House
approves, for the purposes of section 2(2)(a) of the European Union (Withdrawal) (No. 2) Act 2019, the report made by the Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union under section 2(1) of that Act, published on 8 November 2019 titled “Report under section 2(1) of the European Union (Withdrawal) (No.2) Act 2019”.

Photo of Lindsay Hoyle Lindsay Hoyle Speaker of the House of Commons

With this we may take the following motion:

That this House, for the purposes of section 13(6)(a) of the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018, has considered the statement made by the Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union under section 13(4) of that Act on 8 November 2019 titled “Statement under section 13(4) of the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018”.

Photo of James Duddridge James Duddridge The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union

In a bid to improve my popularity, Mr Speaker, I will be very brief, and, following speeches from the Front Benchers and a few others, we should be able to conclude the debate quickly.

The Government were required by law to table these motions, which relate to a report and statement published by the Government on 8 November 2019. Last October, Parliament failed to approve the revised deal negotiated by the Prime Minister. That triggered a requirement for the Government to seek an extension of the article 50 period to 31 January, which in turn triggered reporting requirements under section 13 of the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018 and section 2 of the European Union (Withdrawal) (No. 2) Act 2019. The statement outlined how the Government proposed to proceed in the light of the House of Commons vote in October. A report for the purposes of section 2 was also published, explaining what progress had been made in negotiations on the UK’s relationship with the EU. Both are available on gov.uk, and are also in the Vote Office.

Let me add, for the benefit of Members who have not read the documents, that they make it clear that the Government have no further plans to change the terms of the withdrawal agreement regarding our exit on 31 January. The reason is quite simple: we will be leaving the European Union with the Prime Minister’s deal at the end of this month.

Photo of Paul Blomfield Paul Blomfield Shadow Minister (Exiting the European Union) 7:54 pm, 8th January 2020

I am conscious that the House likes nothing more than an opportunity to debate our departure from the European Union, and I shall make some fairly brief remarks in response to what the Minister has said.

We are having this debate because of the Opposition’s success in the previous Parliament, when we worked closely with colleagues in all parties—including Conservative Members—to secure a meaningful vote on the withdrawal agreement, and to prevent a no-deal Brexit. It is not just those on our side of the House who have benefited from the provisions in section 13 of the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018 and from the European Union (Withdrawal) (No. 2) Act 2019. Members from across the House were given the opportunity to question Ministers on the various withdrawal agreements and, indeed, to vote them down three times. Those who participated in those votes are well represented here. They included the Prime Minister, who is not.

The European Union (Withdrawal Agreement) Bill, which we have been debating over the past two days, repeals both section 13 of the European Union (Withdrawal) Act and the Benn Act in its entirety. I do not want to repeat the debate that we have been having or pre-empt the exciting debate that we can anticipate tomorrow on Third Reading, but it is disappointing that the Government have refused to accept a single one of the many sensible and constructive amendments to the Bill that were tabled. We will not oppose the motions today, but I would say that with Parliament’s role in ratifying the withdrawal agreement soon to be completed, it is deeply regrettable that the Government have used the withdrawal agreement Bill to undermine parliamentary democracy so severely by reducing our role in overseeing the negotiations on the future relationship. If anybody thinks that the past few years of negotiating the first stages of our departure from the European Union have been difficult, that will be nothing compared with the negotiations yet to come. The decisions over our future relationship with the EU will have consequences for generations, and this is not the time to lock Parliament out of decision making or diminish our role in scrutinising the Government.

Securing Parliament’s role in the first phase of the negotiations was dragged out of the Government kicking and screaming, both through the Supreme Court and by votes in this place. The right response for a Government after an election in which they won a clear majority of seats but failed to win a majority of votes would be to move forward with humility and attempt to build consensus, so I am disappointed that instead they are responding by threatening the judiciary and excluding Parliament. We have seen over the past few years that the Government will do all they can to avoid their responsibilities to Parliament, up to and including proroguing Parliament to avoid obligations in the legislation under consideration now. I hope that Conservative Members will reflect on whether voting to lock themselves out of any influence over the Brexit process fulfils the ambition of parliamentary sovereignty for which so many of them have argued over the previous few years.

Photo of Patrick Grady Patrick Grady SNP Chief Whip 7:57 pm, 8th January 2020

I want to contribute briefly to the debate. It is quite right that there is a bit of a sombre and reflective mood in the House as we consider these motions, because they are the legacy of the cross-party efforts that were made during the last Parliament to ensure and secure as much scrutiny as possible of the Government’s Brexit proposals. Given that the whole point of Brexit, as we heard earlier today, is supposed to be about taking back control and the restoration of parliamentary sovereignty, it was absolutely right that those efforts were made. We should pay tribute to those Members, many of whom are not here any more, whose legacy is still being felt as a result of the Grieve amendment in 2018 and the Benn Act in 2019. I also want to pay tribute to my former colleague Stephen Gethins, who was part of so much of that cross-party co-operation.

The establishment of those amendments and that legislation pushed the boundaries and set new precedents, and they are going to be particularly important in the post-Brexit world in holding this Executive to account for the power grab that they are now perpetrating through the Bill that we have discussed today. It is right, as we go through the remaining stages of the Brexit legislative process, that the mood is one of reflection and consideration and not one of triumphalism or of the bombast that we hear from the Maastricht rebels and the European Research Group on the Government side of the House. They might want Big Ben to chime at 11 pm on 31 January, although I am not sure they will be successful with that request. Perhaps they should not be, because we know the trouble that Brexit is going to bring. They might want to reflect, as they continue with their campaign, on the old admonishment: do not ask for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.

Question put and agreed to.