“With permission, Mr Speaker, I would like to make a Statement on the Government’s work to deliver Brexit by putting forward a new deal that Members of this House can stand behind. We need to see Brexit through, to honour the result of the referendum and deliver the change the British people so clearly demanded. I sincerely believe that most Members of this House feel the same; that for all our division and disagreement, we believe in democracy, and that we want to make good on the promise we made to the British people when we asked them to decide on the future of our EU membership.
As to how we make that happen, recent votes have shown that there is no majority in this House for leaving with no deal and this House has voted against revoking Article 50. It is clear that the only way forward is leaving with a deal, but it is equally clear that this will not happen without compromise on all sides of the debate. That starts with the Government, which is why we have just held six weeks of detailed talks with the Opposition, talks that the Leader of the Opposition chose to end before a formal agreement was reached, but which none the less revealed areas of common ground.
Having listened to the Opposition, other party leaders, the devolved Administrations, business leaders, trade unionists and others, we are now making a 10-point offer to Members across the House: 10 changes that address the concerns raised by honourable and right honourable Members; 10 binding commitments that will be enshrined in legislation so they cannot simply be ignored; and 10 steps that will bring us closer to the bright future that awaits our country once we end the political impasse and get Brexit done.
First, we will protect British jobs by seeking as close to frictionless trade in goods with the EU as possible while being outside the single market and ending free movement. The Government will be placed under a legal duty to negotiate our future relationship on this basis.
Secondly, we will provide much-needed certainty for our vital manufacturing and agricultural sectors by keeping up to date with EU rules for goods and agri-food products that are relevant to checks at the border. Such a commitment, which will also be enshrined in legislation, will help protect thousands of skilled jobs that depend on just-in-time supply chains.
Thirdly, we will empower Parliament to break the deadlock over future customs arrangements. Both the Government and Opposition agree that we must have as close to frictionless trade at the UK-EU border as possible, protecting the jobs and livelihoods that are sustained by our existing trade with the EU. But while we agree on the ends, we disagree on the means. The Government have already put forward a proposal which delivers the benefits of a customs union but with the ability for the UK to determine its own trade and development policy. The Opposition are sceptical of our ability to negotiate that, and do not believe an independent trade policy is in the national interest. They would prefer a comprehensive customs union, with a UK say in EU trade policy, but with the EU negotiating on our behalf.
As part of the cross-party discussions, the Government offered a compromise option of a temporary customs union on goods only, including a UK say in relevant EU trade policy, so that the next Government can decide their preferred direction. But we were not able to reach agreement, so instead we will commit in law to let Parliament decide this issue, and to reflect the outcome of this process in legislation.
Fourthly, to address concerns that a future Government could roll back hard-won protections for employees, we will publish a new workers’ rights Bill. As I have told the House many times, successive British Administrations of all colours have granted British workers rights and protections well above the standards demanded by Brussels, but I know that people want guarantees and I am happy to provide them. If passed by Parliament, this Bill will guarantee that the rights enjoyed by British workers can be no less favourable than those of their counterparts in the EU, both now and in the future. We will discuss further amendments with trade unions and business.
Fifthly, the new Brexit deal will also guarantee there will be no change in the level of environmental protection when we leave the EU. We will establish a new and wholly independent office of environmental protection, able to uphold standards and enforce compliance.
Sixthly, the withdrawal agreement Bill will place a legal duty on government to seek changes to the political declaration that will be needed to reflect this new deal. I am confident we will be successful in doing so.
Seventhly, the Government will include in the withdrawal agreement Bill at its introduction a requirement to vote on whether to hold a second referendum. I have made my own view clear on this many times: I am against a second referendum. We should be implementing the result of the first referendum, not asking the British people to vote in a second one. What would it say about our democracy if the biggest vote in our history were to be rerun because this House did not like the outcome? What would it do to that democracy and what forces could it unleash? However, I recognise the genuine and sincere strength of feeling across the House on this important issue, so to those MPs who want a second referendum to confirm the deal, I say: you need a deal and therefore a withdrawal agreement Bill to make it happen. Let it have its Second Reading and then make your case to Parliament. If this House votes for a referendum, it would require the Government to make provisions for such a referendum, including legislation if it wanted to ratify the withdrawal agreement.
Eighthly, Parliament will be guaranteed a much greater role in the second part of the Brexit process: the negotiations over our future relationship with the EU. In line with the proposal put forward by the honourable Members for Wigan and for Stoke-on-Trent Central, the new Brexit deal will set out in law that the House of Commons will approve the UK’s objectives for the negotiations. MPs will also be asked to approve the treaty governing that relationship before the Government sign it.
Ninthly, the new Brexit deal will legally oblige the Government to seek to conclude the alternative arrangements process by December 2020, avoiding any need for the Northern Ireland backstop coming into force. This commitment is made in the spirit of the amendment tabled by my honourable friend the Member for Altrincham and Sale West, passed by this House on
Finally and 10thly, we will ensure that, should the backstop come into force, Great Britain will stay aligned with Northern Ireland. We will prohibit the proposal that a future Government could split Northern Ireland off from the UK’s customs territory and we will deliver on our commitments to Northern Ireland in the December 2017 joint report in full. We will implement paragraph 50 of the joint report in law. The Northern Ireland Assembly and Executive will have to give their consent on a cross-community basis for new regulations that are added to the backstop. We will work with our confidence and supply partners on how these commitments should be entrenched in law, so that Northern Ireland cannot be separated from the United Kingdom.
Following the end of EU election purdah, the withdrawal agreement Bill will be published on Friday so that the House has the maximum possible time to study its detail. If Parliament passes the Bill before the Summer Recess, the UK will leave the EU by the end of July. We will be out of the EU political structures and ever-closer union. We will stop British laws being enforced by a European court. We will end free movement. We will stop making vast annual payments to the EU budget. By any definition, that alone is delivering Brexit.
By leaving with a deal we can do so much more besides. We can protect jobs, guarantee workers’ rights and maintain close security partnerships that do so much to keep us all safe. We will ensure that there is no hard border between Northern Ireland and Ireland and we can bring an end to the months—years—of increasingly bitter argument and division that have both polarised and paralysed our politics. We can move on, move forward and get on with the jobs we were sent here to do—what we got into politics to do. That is what we can achieve if we support this new deal.
Reject it, and all we have before us is division and deadlock. We risk leaving with no deal, something this House is clearly against. We risk stopping Brexit altogether, something the British people would simply not tolerate. We risk creating further divisions at a time when we need to be acting together in the national interest. And we guarantee a future in which our politics become still more polarised, and voters increasingly despair as they see us failing to do what they asked of us. None of us wants that to happen. The opportunity of Brexit is too large and the consequences of failure too grave to risk further delay. So in the weeks ahead, there will be opportunities for MPs on all sides to have their say, to table amendments, to shape the Brexit they and their constituents want to see.
In time, another Prime Minister will be standing at this Dispatch Box, but while I am here, I have a duty to be clear with the House about the facts. If we are going to deliver Brexit in this Parliament, we are going to have to pass a withdrawal agreement Bill, and we will not do so without holding votes on the issues that have divided us the most. That includes votes on customs arrangements and on a second referendum.
We can pretend otherwise and carry on arguing and getting nowhere. But in the end our job in this House is to take decisions, not to duck them. So I will put those decisions to this House, because that is my duty, and because it is the only way that we can deliver Brexit. So let us demonstrate what this House can achieve. Let us come together, honour the referendum, deliver what we promised the British people and build a successful future for our whole country. I commend this Statement to the House”.
I thank the Minister, but with some sadness—worse, alarm—at the Statement. It is not simply that it is Groundhog Day all over again. It is not even that it is a cut and paste job on earlier versions, with the faux descriptor of being a “new deal”—which I think would make Roosevelt gag. No, it is that this Government have lost the ability to govern. In truth, that was evident right from the start, from the
In truth, after that first 230 defeat, the worst for any Government in modern parliamentary history, the Prime Minister should have resigned or been visited by those apocryphal men in grey suits. When a leader loses their flagship policy by such a margin, and loses the support of the Commons, normal parliamentary custom requires a change at the top—particularly because that defeat was of the Prime Minister’s own making.
When she moved to No. 10, many of us imagined that she would try to implement the referendum by crafting a departure deal that was as good as it could be for the country and had the approval of the Commons. Just in case that did not happen, we ensured that any departure agreement would need Commons approval—good in itself, but vital with the country so divided on this issue. Perhaps innocently—especially when Keir Starmer was made a Privy Counsellor—I imagined that the Government would engage with the Opposition to shape the sort of deal that would be acceptable across the House.
After she lost her majority in 2017, I was even more sure that Mrs May would work on something to win over a divided House—and we were always clear about what that would take. Indeed, my right honourable friend Keir Starmer spent many hours in Brussels discussing the parameters of what might be acceptable to the EU 27, so that none of our demands would be unacceptable to them. In speeches and interviews, he offered up options to bring Parliament and the country together. They were all ignored, including in last night’s last-minute letter to my right honourable friend Jeremy Corbyn. They were ignored by a Government who cannot even hold their own party together, never mind the country or Parliament.
So we have this sorry sight today: a speech made first not to MPs but to PwC—whose strapline, by the way, is:
“To build trust in society and solve important problems”.
Perhaps it should have given some advice to the Prime Minister, for her speech yesterday was rejected within minutes by her own side before the Opposition had even seen the text—and now we hear that some of her own Ministers will not vote for it. Indeed, I gather that there are letters going in to try to oust her straight away, while the ConHome website is urging people not to vote Tory tomorrow if she is not on her way out by the end of today—the day before an election.
So my question to the Leader is: where do the Government go from here? Why do they not have the confidence to put their deal to the public if they believe it is so good? Will she confirm that the Government will heed the Commons vote of
My Lords, this is now the 16th time that we have debated the Prime Minister’s deal and what to do with it. Each time we have done so, the Prime Minister has claimed that she has made some new, bold, improved offer for which she begs our support. But each time she does this—and this time is no exception—she is simply putting lipstick on a pig. It remains a pig and everybody can see it is a pig. That is why, as is clear from the comments of DUP and Tory MPs, this latest attempt is doomed to failure like the rest—almost certainly by a bigger margin than the third time that she failed to get it through the Commons. This is hardly surprising.
I will not weary the House by taking your Lordships through all 10 of the Prime Minister’s points; I will take just two. First, there is the legal duty to try to conclude alternative arrangements to replace the Irish backstop by December next year. This refers to technical means to ensure that there are no physical checks on the Irish border. But we know that no such technological solution exists—and certainly nothing that could even remotely be put in place within 18 months. So this promise cannot be fulfilled, as the Prime Minister herself must know. It is a straightforward deceit, and one of the many reasons why her proposals will be rejected by the Commons.
Secondly, there is the promise of a vote on a confirmatory referendum. I am obviously delighted that the Prime Minister now sees a referendum coming down the track. But the idea that she has made a new concession by saying that MPs will be allowed to put down an amendment on the issue, which presumably she will oppose, is neither new nor a concession. When we put down an amendment to the withdrawal Bill calling for such a referendum, we did not ask for the permission of the Leader of the House or the Government. We just did it, and the Commons has the ability to do it to the withdrawal agreement Bill, with or without government approval. So this alleged concession is a nothing, like all the rest.
Tomorrow, we are having a proxy poll on Brexit. We obviously do not know the results but we can be pretty confident that those parties which are clearly advocating leaving the EU, on either hard or soft terms, will not get a majority of the votes. I am sure that the Leader of the House will be grateful that it is a secret ballot. That way, we will never know how many Members on her own Benches vote for other parties. We know that it will be a considerable number.
This election will demonstrate the state of public opinion on Brexit, but it will also dispel the scare stories that having a national public debate on the issue would lead to civil unrest and possibly violence. A couple of milkshakes have indeed been thrown, but this campaign has been conducted like all campaigns in this country. It has been very largely civil, respectful and thoughtful. Yes, there are many people on both sides who are angry, and I have met a fair number of them in recent weeks. But they recognise that the way to deal with this issue and their anger is to vote and not to punch somebody on the nose. There is no evidence whatever that a further referendum would lead to any different method of proceeding. To suggest that it might is both irresponsible and desperate. I therefore invite the Leader of the House to disassociate herself from the Statement by the Prime Minister today about such a referendum unleashing “forces”—not specified, but clearly designed to make our flesh creep. They do not make my flesh creep, because they are simply another attempt to scare people into denying the electorate another say.
Just as the Prime Minister’s deal has not changed over months, neither have the options facing the country. There are only three. It could accept the deal and leave the EU on that basis; it could leave the EU without a deal; or it could decide to retain our membership, prosperity, security and influence by remaining in the EU, by asking the people to confirm that way forward.
It is now six months since the Prime Minister reached the current deal, and it is increasingly clear that failing to get a decision is a very costly exercise. It is not just the ridiculous £4 billion wasted on no-deal planning. Ask steelworkers in Scunthorpe today whether this delay, this inability to get an agreement in the Commons and this failure to give people a say are having an impact on people’s lives.
We can wait no longer—not for another improved, new, shiny, meaningless offer from the Prime Minister, not for a leadership election in the Tory party and not for a general election. Tomorrow’s vote will demonstrate that the country remains starkly divided on Brexit, but it will also demonstrate that there is no majority for Brexit on any terms and that the demand for a people’s vote to get us out of this Brexit nightmare cannot now be stopped.
I thank the noble Baroness and noble Lord for their comments. The noble Baroness rightly said that both Houses of Parliament had rejected leaving without a deal on several occasions, but it remains the legal default position at the end of the current extension period. I do not want no deal; that is why I am still at this Dispatch Box, attempting to encourage Members of this House to support the Prime Minister’s deal. That is what we are working towards; it is why we have come up with this new offer.
The noble Lord talked about alternative arrangements. He will of course be aware that the UK and EU have agreed that there will be a specific negotiating track on alternative arrangements, that there is benefit in doing this work, that it is a priority for both sides and that this work will be done in parallel with the future relationship negotiations. To help move that on, we will establish three domestic advisory groups to inform our negotiations on finding these alternative arrangements. So we do believe that it will be possible and we are putting money and effort into ensuring that we do it.
Both the noble Lord and the noble Baroness talked about a second referendum. This Government are committed to delivering on the first.
My Lords, may I say to my noble friend that she should suggest to the Prime Minister that, if the withdrawal agreement makes no progress, she should have cross-party discussions in order to ascertain whether there is support for revoking Article 50 preceded by a further referendum to authorise that step?
My noble friend will know that both the Conservative and Labour parties at the last election stood on manifestos to deliver the result of the referendum. We have had talks with the Opposition which were very constructive; unfortunately, we could not come to a complete agreement, but we have put into this deal a number of the issues that the Opposition Front Bench expressed, and we very much hope that this will be enough to help MPs support the deal and make sure we can get the withdrawal agreement past Second Reading.
My Lords, does the Minister accept that, right across the world, there is incredulity at how a once reliable, respected country has fallen into such dysfunctional governmental chaos? Is it not time—long overdue time—to give the people an opportunity to end all this madness in a public vote, and not simply to dangle that in front of Parliament but to offer it within government legislation that Parliament can vote upon? This whole saga began with a referendum; surely it can only be ended with a referendum to restore normalcy and stability to this country.
The Prime Minister has been very clear that she does not support a second referendum. We do not support a second referendum but, if the withdrawal Bill gets its Second Reading, it will then go through the usual legislative process: if MPs want to vote for a second referendum and put that into the Bill, they will be able to do so. It is not the Government’s position, but there will be a vehicle for MPs to do that if that is where the support is.
My Lords, my noble friend said in her Statement that she wished to encourage your Lordships’ House to give support to the Prime Minister’s deal. I welcome that, but there is no provision in the business so far announced for the two weeks after we come back for this House to discuss the matter at all. I realise that a Bill has to have a Second Reading in another place, but surely we in this House should have the opportunity to express our views on the deal if it is going before the Commons again.
My noble friend will know that, as we have announced, the Bill will be published on Friday, so noble Lords will indeed have the chance to look at it. I am sure that, through the usual channels, we will be able to find time relatively soon after we come back from recess for noble Lords to air their views on the Bill once they see it.
My Lords, if we really had parliamentary sovereignty, would that not mean that the Government would respect and reflect in their policy the majority vote in the Commons to rule out no deal? As for a people’s vote, the Prime Minister’s recognition of the possibility is enough for me to win my long-standing bet—I should have made it for more than £5—with the noble Lord, Lord Callanan, but the failure to pledge it definitely is no better than the leader of the Opposition sitting on the fence. The noble Lord, Lord Young of Cookham, has, for the second time this week, acknowledged that there is headroom in the legislative timetable. That means that the Government’s claim that there is no time to legislate for a people’s vote is false. Will the Government now facilitate such legislation?
I think I have been quite clear on the process in terms of a second referendum. There will be opportunities within the discussions on the withdrawal Bill for debates to be had on that. As for no deal, I can only repeat what I said to the noble Baroness, Lady Hayter, that, yes, Parliament has rejected leaving without a deal on several occasions but it remains the legal default position.
My Lords, we are obviously not going to get much in the way of support from the Official Opposition—that is their job—but will my noble friend remind her critics that what everyone calls the PM’s deal is in fact the treaty agreement between Her Majesty’s Government and the European Commission? That is in fact the only path that is available for fulfilling the undertaking of both main political parties that the Brexit referendum decision should be obeyed. Does she also recall the adage of Winston Churchill that one should never commit political suicide, because you may regret it afterwards? Will she draw that to the attention of the hard-line Brexiteers in our own party who are at the moment bent on destroying the very cause that they claim to espouse?
My noble friend is absolutely right that the withdrawal agreement is an agreement between the United Kingdom and the European Union. The EU has been very clear that this is the only deal available and that it will not be reopening the withdrawal agreement. All the arguments are about the future relationship. We need the withdrawal agreement to leave the EU; we need it in all circumstances, whatever your vision for the future relationship with the European Union. We have put together this offer, in the hope that MPs will support it, so that we can move on to the important issues both within this country and around defining our future relationship with the EU.
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Pearson, has been getting up since the beginning. We ought to hear from him and then from the noble Lord and, indeed, from Wales.
That is generous of the noble Lord. If and when this latest version of the Government’s deal fails, why do they not offer EU citizens a very simple alternative deal: continuing free trade under the World Trade Organization, which would get rid of the Irish border problem; continuing reciprocal residence for, say, two years; and going on with programmes such as Erasmus but as a sovereign nation? Why do the Government feel bound to prolong their hopeless negotiations with the Commission under clause 2 of Article 50 when Brussels has broken clause 1 by not allowing us to regain our sovereignty and has no intention of doing so? Why do we not team up with the people of Europe, to our mutual benefit and friendship?
We certainly want a positive and fruitful relationship with the European Union going forward. That is why we are working towards this deal. That is why we believe that this deal is the best way to deliver a smooth and orderly Brexit and ensure that we have a strong relationship with the EU and all its citizens in the future.
My Lords, in point 8, about future relationships, we have the very interesting statement that the Government are proposing that,
Does the noble Baroness the Leader of the House not recall that this was exactly the proposal carried by this House? Some of us were very pleased to know that this would be enabling the House of Commons to have a vehicle for reaching consensus. At that time, a year ago, it was denounced as being totally unconstitutional and against the conventions of the history of Parliament in this country.
I am glad the noble Lord at least agrees with one element of the withdrawal Bill, and I look forward to his support on the rest of it.
My Lords, does the noble Baroness seriously believe that the package put forward by the Government today reflects the vote of those who voted for Brexit in 2016? If it does, why do they fear having a confirmatory referendum? If it does not, surely it requires such a referendum.
As I have said, we want to deliver on the first referendum. The people said they wanted to leave the EU; we have been in negotiations with the EU for several years now; and we now have a deal that we believe is the best way to leave the EU in an orderly way, and we can then begin our discussions on the future relationship—the fruitful, productive and positive future relationship—that we want going forward. But we need to have this withdrawal Bill passed in order that we can move on to do that.
My Lords, would the Minister clarify a point? The Statement suggested that the only thing necessary for the exit to take place on
The noble Lord is absolutely right that the Bill would need to be ratified by both Houses of this Parliament and the European Parliament within that timeframe. There is a June Council, and if changes are needed to the political declaration, the aim would be to go to the June Council to seek them and have discussions then. The noble Lord is absolutely right about the timescale, and I am well aware of it.
My Lords, would my noble friend take this opportunity to tell the House that there is nothing hard line about Conservative MPs voting to implement the manifesto which they were elected on, which was to remain outside the customs union and outside the single market?
My noble friend is absolutely right that Conservative MPs were indeed elected on the manifesto, and there is nothing hard line about that whatever. We believe that the deal we have will deliver the benefits of a customs union but with the ability to develop an independent trade policy, which is what we want to see in the future.
The noble Baroness keeps repeating this, but she knows as well as everyone else in the House of Commons and elsewhere that the deal will not go through. That may be a bad thing or a sad thing but it is reality, and it is time to face up to that because the country is in such an appalling state. There are only two options. I do not like referendums, I did not want referendums like this and I certainly do not like referendums on a finely judged point. But we are stuck in a situation which cannot continue, so either you go for a referendum or in some way we withdraw it. The alternative at the moment is to be stuck in this position, not just until August but beyond August. Either the Prime Minister or a substitute or replacement Prime Minister has to take a decision on this. We cannot go on in this situation, because we will be stuck in this situation throughout the summer and beyond.
People have not seen the withdrawal Bill yet. It is being published on Friday, so I urge the noble Lord and colleagues down in the other place to wait, look at it, reflect, and understand that we need the Bill in order to leave the EU, whatever you wish the future relationship with the EU to be. I would ask everyone to look at the Bill and consider it, and then the vote will be brought forward at Second Reading. I hope that we will then see the Bill begin to pass, and we can then move on, as everyone here has said, to the future relationship with the EU.
My Lords, I begin by expressing my admiration of the Leader of the House, first, for her loyalty to the Prime Minister and, secondly, for her courage under fire. But is not the fate of these proposals to be found in the rather brutal headline of the national newspaper which used to be regarded as the house magazine of the Conservative Party—namely, “Desperate, deluded, doomed”?
I am grateful to the noble Lord for what I think are his kind words—I shall take them as that anyway. As I said, I believe that we want to leave the EU in an orderly and smooth manner. This deal is the way to do that, and that is why I continue to stand here and defend it in the face of fire from all sides. However, the British people made a decision, we are determined to deliver it, we have made a further offer to MPs to consider it and I hope that, in a couple of weeks’ time, they will vote for the Second Reading of the withdrawal Bill.
When my noble friend says to the House that she wants to carry through the decision of the British people, is not the problem that there is a good deal of disagreement as to what that decision actually was, which is why the votes are so difficult to achieve? Would it not be much better to offer the British people a real choice between actualities, so that they could make a real choice, rather than pretending that we are trying to implement what people voted on nearly three years ago, when none of us knows what they really meant by the totality of removing themselves from the European Union?
I am afraid that I will sound like a stuck record but, as I said, we have said that there will obviously be discussions and debates on a second referendum during the passage of the withdrawal Bill. If MPs wish to vote for a second referendum, that is their right, but they have not shown a majority in the House of Commons for one. We do not want a second referendum but, through the course of the Bill, MPs will be able to decide whether that is what they want.
My Lords, last year there were two marches, with 100,000 to start with and 700,000 later in the year, all of them pro-Europe and pro remaining in the EU. In March this year, 1 million people marched with the same objective in mind. Is that not the real reason why the Government are afraid to admit that the hard Brexiteers are terrified of yet another march—and, indeed, a people’s vote?
I do not accept that. I gently remind the noble Lord that the 2016 referendum was the biggest democratic exercise in our history, where the British people voted to leave the EU.
My Lords, does my noble friend agree that the reason that we have not yet left the European Union is not because of machinations by Brussels, as the noble Lord, Lord Pearson, suggested, nor as a result of machinations in the House of Commons by people who voted to remain, but because a significant section of the Conservative Party refused to back its leader?
It is certainly true that we have not been able to get a majority in the House of Commons to support the deal; otherwise, we would be having a different conversation, which would be a very nice one to have. But we are where we are. We now have a new offer, which we hope will appeal to MPs across the House of Commons, so that we can get the Bill through and start to focus on our future relationship with the European Union.
My Lords, can the Minister confirm whether I heard her right: that protection for jobs is related to our trade in goods? If so, can she say why our trade in services and the roles up and down the country relating to it will not be protected in the same way, given the importance of our trade in services to our exports, our GDP and employment? Perhaps I heard it wrongly.
My Lords, does my noble friend agree that, on Sunday, we may have a clearer view of the British people’s opinion on whether we should leave after the European elections, which I suspect are being treated by very many voters as a referendum?
I suspect that each side will interpret the European election results as they wish, as we saw with the local election results, so I am not sure that I can agree entirely with my noble friend.