Prorogation of Parliament — [Joan Ryan in the Chair]

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 6:10 pm on 9th September 2019.

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Photo of Jo Platt Jo Platt Shadow Minister (Cabinet Office) 6:10 pm, 9th September 2019

It is an honour to serve under your chairmanship, Mrs Main. I thank all Members who have taken part in the debate for their speeches, which have highlighted the seriousness of the debate. Tonight, Parliament is to suspend for up to five weeks at this most crucial time in our country’s recent history. That slippery manoeuvre by the new Prime Minister is designed to scupper proper accountability and silence scrutiny when it is most needed.

The Government are already operating with even more secrecy than the previous Government, who were certainly not known for their transparency. As we saw last week when the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster came to the House to provide an update on Brexit preparations, the Government are determined to conceal what is really going on. Indeed, what we know about the Government’s preparations for Brexit has come mostly from leaks, and from insight from former Tories, including the former Work and Pensions Secretary, Amber Rudd, who resigned this weekend in protest at the inaction. According to newspaper reports, the Yellowhammer papers, which outline scenarios in the event of a no-deal Brexit, speak of delays at the channel stretching over two days, food and medical shortages, and potentially even protests on the streets.

Depending on who we listen to, the Government’s negotiations with Brussels are either going well or going nowhere at all. I suspect that the Minister himself does not know which. Such is the way the Government are run. They are run by a small ring of unelected advisers who are more concerned with their reputations than the interests of the country. Clearly, then, there are serious questions that Parliament and the public need answers to over the coming weeks, but in closing down Parliament, the Prime Minister has denied the chance for questions to be asked, let alone answered. As my hon. Friends have pointed out, he has shown contempt not only for Parliamentary democracy, but for the British public, who deserve reassurances that the Government have their interests front and centre. It is yet another case of the old Etonian, entitled arrogance that seems to characterise so much of this Government’s policies. What this boils down to is the feeling among the Prime Minister and his allies that they know best. Clearly they do not, and every time the Prime Minister loses yet another vote in the Commons, we are reminded that far from knowing best, they have misjudged Parliament. Labour believes that they have also misjudged the mood of the public.

If the Government use the suspension of Parliament to ram through a no-deal Brexit, as many believe they will, they will not be delivering on the will of the people, but setting the country up for a period of more stagnation and hardship. We must expose no deal for what it is. It is not a quick fix to solve Brexit, but a path of more chaos, more negotiations, more unrest and no consensus across the country. Far from settling the chaos, it will take us back years, while we build from scratch the economic relationship that we want with our closest and nearest trading partners. It would be a path of more delay, rather than allowing us to forge our future relationship with the EU. We would see years of turmoil that we simply cannot afford. After a decade of Conservative austerity, that is the exact opposite of what our country needs at this key turning point.

That is why Labour is determined to use every possible means to expose and prevent the no-deal Brexit that has only ever been the desired option of a small group of hard-liners in the Conservative party, obsessed with deregulation and mythical free trade deals. Indeed, it is their obsession with a no-deal Brexit and the failure of successive Prime Ministers to show leadership that has stopped us reaching a consensus and getting a deal that works for the whole country. The Chancellor’s repeated refusal to rule out an electoral pact with the Brexit party only confirms that this Government are prepared to hang on to the coat-tails of hard-liners, just like the last one.

Setting aside the question of Brexit for the moment, let us consider the shock with which so much of the public reacted not only to the news that the Prime Minister was closing down Parliament, but to the very fact that he could do that. For many people, the past few weeks have provided a crash course in how the British constitution works. I hear that Parliament overtook “Love Island” in the TV viewing ratings. Viewers are probably unhappy with the characters in both programmes.

People often talk of our unwritten constitution in glowing terms; they say it is flexible, but that flexibility has allowed the Prime Minister to sidestep Parliament completely. Consider for a moment the precedent that that sets—a Prime Minister who does not like the view of Parliament simply shutting it down and silencing elected representatives. In doing so, he has shown contempt for democracy, but he has also revealed how archaic our political system really is. Brexit is about many things, but for many people, it was a chance to express their dissatisfaction with how our political system works— and they are right to be dissatisfied. The Westminster system is over-centralised, and the second Chamber is unelected. Parliament is dominated by those from privileged backgrounds, and our elections are captured by big and dark money.

That the Prime Minister can suspend Parliament so easily is yet another feature of our political system that points towards the urgent need for reform. That is why the Labour party is committed to delivering a constitutional convention when it is in government—a convention that will examine and advise on reforming the way Britain works at a fundamental level. We hope that the convention will provide the impetus for a programme of democratic reform that puts power in the hands of the people. However, in the meantime, it is essential that the Labour party, working with the other Opposition parties, does everything it can to prevent a disastrous no deal. The suspension of Parliament will make that task all the more difficult, but as the last week has shown, the Government’s tricks and attempts to rig the system are collapsing like a house of cards. If they continue to show contempt for Parliament and the British public, they may find themselves leaving No. 10 as quickly as they entered it.