My Lords, this is a straightforward technical amendment to plug a gap which I noticed as soon as the Bill was published; indeed, I referred to it in my speech on it. As we know, the Bill mandates the Prime Minister to seek an extension to the withdrawal date provided for in Article 50 in the form of the letter in the Schedule. It goes beyond the earlier withdrawal Bill, known as the Cooper-Letwin Bill, of April. That Bill required the Prime Minister of the day to seek, but not necessarily to achieve, an agreement about extension. Mrs May could have picked up the phone, asked Monsieur Barnier for an extension and then said that on reflection she did not want it. Of course, that is not what happened.
That loophole is closed by the Bill in Clause 3(1) to (3). Subsection (1) says that, if the European Council agrees an extension to 31 January 2020, the Prime Minister “must, immediately” agree to the proposed extension, without qualification or consultation. But subsection (2) says that if “a date other than” 31 January is offered, the Prime Minister may not have to agree; subsection (3) says that if the Commons decided to disapprove the extension offer, the UK does not have to agree it.
I do not know why the two are treated differently. I note that the Commons is given this opportunity to consider the offer if an extension is granted that is not 31 January; it could be 30 January, or December next. But if the extension is 31 January, this is what might occur. Suppose the European Union agrees to an extension to 31 January but attaches a condition—for example, the holding of a second referendum, a payment of billions, settling issues to do with migration, or even a new Prime Minister. The Prime Minister has to accept it immediately, as set out in line 4 on page 3—no consultation, no Commons approval, unlike the provision in subsection (2). My amendment adds to the arrangement contemplated in subsection (1) the same requirement that the Commons should have two days to consider and accept or reject any condition attached. That must be right. I imagine the difference was an oversight, unless the proponents can explain the discrepancy.
I also note, but have not attempted to amend, a difficulty with the meaning of “two days” in subsection (2) and “two calendar days” in subsection (3). They are different—why? Imagine that the European Union offers an extension which is not to 31 January and that this is offered in early October or during some period when Parliament is not sitting. Is Parliament to be summoned to agree the question, or does “two days” mean two sitting days—indeed “Lords sitting days”, whatever they are—as set out in Clause 1? Might Parliament be prorogued to sidestep these time provisions? It is not clear. What is clear is that the Commons should have some power, for two days, to scrutinise and approve any offer of an extension to 31 January in exactly the same way as it is empowered so to do if the date were to be 1 February. That is the purpose of my amendment. I beg to move.