European Council - Statement

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 3:08 pm on 11th April 2019.

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Photo of Lord Goldsmith Lord Goldsmith Labour 3:08 pm, 11th April 2019

My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness the Leader of the House for repeating this Statement. At the request of my noble friend Lady Smith of Basildon, I am responding.

We are pleased that an extension to the United Kingdom’s exit date has been granted, so that we do not crash out of the European Union tomorrow without a deal, which would put at risk jobs, health, the economy and our security. However, the way it has happened is no cause for pleasure, because its occurrence as a result of a rushed flight to Brussels amid reports of serious disagreements between different member states has led to a further erosion of the credibility of the United Kingdom in the world. It is also a very bad set of conditions in which to continue negotiations with the EU 27 on the political declaration, if we get that far. No doubt there will also be sharp and sustained anger and dismay in the country.

The reason for that is squarely to be placed at the door of the Prime Minister and the Government. She knew, at the latest in early December, when she postponed the first meaningful vote, that her deal was in grave difficulties and unlikely to pass. That became clearer and clearer as we went through later months. Yet still she drove forward to the sharp cliff edge of a no-deal exit in a game of chicken, hoping that either the European Union or Parliament would blink before we got there. She was warned time and again, including by the Labour Party, not to run down the clock in the hope that Parliament would be forced to agree her deal despite its strong dislike of it, instead of looking at alternative routes forward—particularly cross-party discussions, which have at least finally started.

It is now plain to see that her plan has backfired. It is not either the EU that has had to blink and reopen the deal, or Parliament that has had to blink and accept it. It is the Prime Minister who has had to blink and ask for an extension—although we welcome it— apparently then having to sit out the Council meeting itself again in a solitary room, waiting to be summoned back and told her fate, and indeed ours. She now has time, which she must use wisely and productively in the interests of all the people of this country, not solely of the Conservative Party. In progressing cross-party talks but also in looking at all other ways to find a solution—including looking at a public vote—can the Minister therefore answer these questions?

First, the European Union Council has said that though the extension is until 31 October, it will be reviewed in June. What has the Council said that it will particularly look at then, and what will the Government do to meet those requirements? What is the risk that we would face an exit earlier than the end of October? Secondly, what steps will the Government take to use the time now available? Thirdly, we had understood that the European Union expected us to say what the purpose of an extension was. Did the Prime Minister make any statements to the Council about that and, if so, what were they? Finally, what steps will be taken to keep Parliament—including this House—fully informed of the progress?