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Brexit - Motion to Take Note

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 4:11 pm on 2nd October 2019.

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Photo of Lord Butler of Brockwell Lord Butler of Brockwell Crossbench 4:11 pm, 2nd October 2019

That is a legal issue on which I do not want to reply immediately. I think that is a proceeding in Parliament, but this was an act of the Executive, which happened to take place in Parliament.

The result of the Supreme Court’s judgment is that this House is sitting today and we have an opportunity to make our contribution to the debate, so I welcome this occasion. I hope that the Government get a deal with the EU; and there are some hopeful signs, although perhaps not as many as the Prime Minister claims. The DUP now seems prepared to support a deal on the broad lines the Prime Minister is outlining. The Irish Government, although by no means convinced by the details so far reported about the Prime Minister’s approach, appear to have realised that no deal would be a severe economic blow to them. The European Union wants a deal and is prepared to accept a greater role for the Northern Ireland Executive regarding the arrangements affecting Northern Ireland. As the noble Lord, Lord Howell, pointed out to us in our previous debate, constructive suggestions about alternative arrangements for border controls have been made by the commission established by Prosperity UK.

Yet the prospects of reaching an agreement on all the necessary details by 31 October, let alone 17 October, are so remote as to be impracticable. So what sort of agreement do the Government envisage by that date? I understand that the Minister will not be able to tell us any more tonight, beyond what is in the Prime Minister’s so-called final offer to the EU and the documents that have been placed in the Printed Paper Office. But realistically, we must accept that it seems impossible that an agreement will be reached on 17 October, except perhaps on ways of temporarily mitigating the effects of no deal.

In that case, a request for a postponement under the European Union (Withdrawal) (No. 2) Act seems inevitable. People understandably ask, “What would be the purpose of an extension?”. The Minister described it as “pointless”; I was surprised by that adjective because one benefit would be the general election which the Government have been seeking. It would, presumably, take place in late November or early December and might produce a Government able to hammer out a policy which would command a majority in Parliament, and with whom the EU would have to negotiate seriously. If that were the outcome, it would be a price worth paying for a further extension. It would at least be preferable to the present paralysis and, in my view, greatly preferable to leaving on 31 October without a deal.