Prorogation of Parliament — [Joan Ryan in the Chair]

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 5:03 pm on 9th September 2019.

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Photo of Justin Madders Justin Madders Labour, Ellesmere Port and Neston 5:03 pm, 9th September 2019

I do not know the precise context of those comments. What is clear is that Prorogation is designed to have the same effect—to shut down debate and stop Parliament analysing properly the effects of our exiting the EU by way of a deal or not. I am afraid that it amounts to the same thing—an absolute outrage for democracy.

That is where we are. Parliament will be suspended later today because the Prime Minister desires to avoid scrutiny and force us into a no-deal Brexit, despite the Government’s own analysis showing that a no-deal Brexit would mean food shortages, medicine shortages and chaos at our ports, and despite Parliament legislating to take no deal off the table.

The Government have no mandate from the British people to leave the EU without a deal, but what else would we expect from this Prime Minister? It was reported last week that his chief of staff described negotiations as a scam and an attempt to run down the clock. Even Amber Rudd has decided that she can no longer take part in this charade. She resigned from the Cabinet this weekend because the Government had not undertaken serious formal negotiations with the EU. That exposes the truth of what the Government are about.

Let us be absolutely frank: the Government are about hiding from scrutiny and running away from the reality and the consequences of their decisions. It is a desperate attempt to cut and run before the truth catches up with them. A string of local companies came to see me over the summer with genuine concerns about the impact of a no-deal Brexit. Between them, they employ thousands of people. The Government’s decisions have the potential to wreak havoc on the local economy.

This is about not just the consequences of leaving without a deal, but Government decisions relating to that that could be changed. There are industry-wide issues, and that will almost certainly mean that jobs in other parts of the country will be affected. We are denied the opportunity to hold the Government to account on these matters, because we know that the truth is that they cannot justify their decisions. We are in the middle of the biggest constitutional crisis that this country has ever seen. We are on the cusp of enacting the biggest changes that this country has made for a generation, yet the Government are acting as if there is nothing to talk about. What an outrage!

If we leave the EU on 31 October with or without a deal, we will be woefully underprepared. It is simply inconceivable that all the legislation needed for an orderly exit is place, as my hon. Friend Dr Drew said. To my knowledge, there are at least six Bills that have not been passed and would need to be enacted for that to happen. If we crash out on the 31st without a deal—let us not forget that, despite what the Prime Minister said, that is still an option if he can persuade Parliament that it is the right thing to do—there is still an enormous amount of contingency planning needed in transport, medicines and food, to name but a few areas. Members of Parliament should be scrutinising the Government and holding them to account for what they intend to do.

I read a very alarming report the other day that suggested that the plans for a no-deal Brexit involve relocating thousands of council staff from around the country down to Whitehall to deal with no-deal fallout. Bizarrely, the council staff will be replaced with members of the armed forces. I have no idea whether that is true—I hope it is not—but surely we deserve to know what is going on. Surely our role as parliamentarians is to scrutinise Government policies, particularly when the effect might be as dramatic as that. We should sit every day until 31 October to sort this out, which is what we were elected to do. The Prime Minister should not be going around the country electioneering at a time of national crisis. That is snollygostering of the highest order.

The Prime Minister’s game—that is what it is to him—has been clear for some time: make a load of spending announcements quickly, shut down any scrutiny of them, and hope that the traditional honeymoon period that all Prime Ministers experience lasts until mid-October. Well, we will not play that game. I have been on to him since his second day in office, when he announced a £3.6 billion fund for towns. When I heard about that, I thought, “That sounds pretty promising and is certainly something that Ellesmere Port and Neston could benefit from.” I was keen to see whether my constituency would be on the list, but as Parliament was not sitting, I submitted a freedom of information request to the Cabinet Office, which said in its response that it had no information at all.

Here we have a Prime Minister announcing a multibillion-pound expenditure, while his office does not have even one scrap of paper to set out how the money will be spent. What a complete charlatan. I want accountability, answers and a Minister at the Dispatch Box to explain where that money is going, how it is being spent and who made those decisions. Anything less than that and it looks like a political fix—a cheap stunt unworthy of a serious party of government.

That is not the only issue on which I want answers. A major employer in my constituency is talking about shutting down in the event of a no-deal Brexit. Two secondary schools are up in arms about the way that they have been treated. There are major concerns about the way that a company contracted by the NHS suddenly went bust over the summer, and about the future of the fire service. There are major problems with access to mental health services. There is rising unemployment and a chronic lack of affordable housing. We should be tackling all of those matters here and now, in Parliament.

In truth, however, we will not be able to talk about those things because the Prime Minister does not want scrutiny as what he says does not stand up to it. He tells us that he cannot negotiate with the EU if no deal is taken off the table, but given his claim that the primary change that he wants to make is on the Irish backstop—a very specific issue—I see no connection between the changes that he says he wants and the need to keep no deal on the table. He also tells us that the first thing that the EU will ask in respect of any proposals made by the Government is whether they have the support of Parliament. How can Parliament say that it supports the proposals if it does not even know what they are and it is not sitting to find out? That does not stack up; it is a nonsense that has unravelled in a matter of days since Parliament’s return.

No wonder the Prime Minister does not want Parliament to sit. The more exposure he gets, the more even his own party walks away from the circus. The clown routine is an insult to the office of Prime Minister, to Parliament and to the people of this country, who he thinks will be duped by Eton’s answer to Arthur Daley—we will not fall for it. One cannot claim, as the Conservative party has, to believe on one hand in parliamentary sovereignty, and on the other in shutting Parliament down.

I put on the record that I do not support the Prorogation of Parliament and believe it to be an unprecedented, antidemocratic and unconstitutional attack on our democracy. Taking back control means Parliament taking back control and standing up to the bully boys who want to shut us down.