Part of Business of the House - Motion on Standing Orders – in the House of Lords at 12:15 pm on 4th April 2019.

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Photo of Lord Mackay of Clashfern Lord Mackay of Clashfern Conservative 12:15 pm, 4th April 2019

My Lords, I understand that the European Union has made it clear that, for an extension to be granted, it must know the reason for it. I would have been much happier with a decision in the House of Commons—not necessarily through this sort of procedure—that told the Prime Minister, by agreement, what it wanted to give as the reason. This is a fundamental part of the Bill. It is asking the Prime Minister to go and ask for an extension without specifying the reason to be put forward. Surely if the House of Commons requires the Prime Minister to do that, the minimum it should do is give an instruction as to the basis on which it wants that. However, for reasons I do not completely understand, we are in this position.

It is worth remembering that the European Union said at the beginning of these negotiations, described so eloquently by the noble Lord, Lord Owen, that it was determined to agree the withdrawal agreement before any substantial discussion about the future. Therefore, it is now urgent to agree the withdrawal agreement. The Prime Minister’s agreement with the European Union has come before the House of Commons a number of times, yet, as far as I know, no amendment to it has been proposed. Surely if we are dealing with the withdrawal agreement, it is important that what is wrong with the Prime Minister’s one, in the eyes of the House of Commons, is made clear in an amendment to it. Of course, the European Union says that it will not agree to such an amendment, but if the option is a no-deal departure instead of an agreed departure, the European Union might well prefer a revised agreement. I do not know whether that is the case—needless to say, I am not party to these negotiations. I do not intend to be here all night either.

I am trying to understand what is going on. I believe that we need to concentrate on the withdrawal agreement. Nearly all the discussions in the House of Commons, so far as I have been able to follow them—they are quite detailed—have been about the future relationship. One problem is the provision in the present agreement about the future arrangement in the shape of the Irish backstop. It seems to me that that should not strictly be part of the withdrawal agreement, but part of the arrangements for the future. That is a possible amendment to the Prime Minister’s deal that might be of some interest.