European Union (Withdrawal) (No. 5) Bill DebateFull Debate: Read Full Debate
David HansonMP Main Page: David Hanson (Labour - Delyn)
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(1 year, 3 months ago)Commons Chamber
If the Committee takes up all the time, there will be no Third Reading. That is up to the Committee, which is why I want to make progress and get to some of the speeches. I am looking around to see who wishes to speak.
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I thank my hon. Friend for all that. One problem with this whole negotiation is getting hung up over some clause or other in some EU treaty when we all—we or the UE—face a much bigger dilemma: how do we settle this political crisis? We have to consider how we find a resolution to this dispute, and achieve a reconciliation in our country and an outcome to this debate that can settle the Brexit argument and deliver the referendum result from 2016.
Yes, but it does so through a Bill and it gives the Prime Minister the opportunity to make her case to Parliament, but without any constraint on that at all. Given that this is a very novel legal approach—a rushed piece of legislation, with a Bill being driven through the House in one day—we should be cautious about the scope we attach to that Bill. Attaching an ability to go for a very long extension of several years—potentially five years if Parliament decided that is what it wanted—is worthy of further deliberation.
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I think my right hon. Friend’s comments were directed at my hon. Friend the Member for Mid Dorset and North Poole (Michael Tomlinson), rather than directly at me, so I will not become engaged in this discussion.
Regarding the provisions for subsections (6) and (7), the question still remains of what would happen if there were a counter-offer from the European Union. My contention is that that should then be a matter for the Government to bring before the House in a statement, to be challenged in the usual way. If at that point the House was unsatisfied with the Government’s proposal, it would still be open to it, through an initiative of the sort we have seen today, to introduce a Bill placing a further constraint on the Government, perhaps by requiring them to accept a counter-offer, for instance of a two-year extension, so that we could have a fuller, longer and perhaps more considered debate on what in my view would be a really big decision, because we would have gone five years since the first referendum and achieved nothing. The risk of not leaving the European Union at all and ending up arguing about a second referendum would grow. I believe that opting for such a lengthy extension would a very big decision, and one that would warrant a separate Bill with a separate, much longer and much more detailed discussion.
My right hon. Friend is making an excellent speech. Is it not also true that the Prime Minister has invited the Leader of the Opposition to discuss the political declaration and the withdrawal agreement? The amendments tabled by the hon. Member for Stone (Sir William Cash) would effectively curtail those discussions. Should we not pass the Bill cleanly in order to maximise the opportunities for that process?
I will be speaking to my amendment, but I do not think that the right hon. Gentleman desires flexibility to deny Brexit altogether, given that he represents a leave constituency. The point of my amendment, which I hope he will look at a little more closely, is to stop the Prime Minister agreeing anything that may be unacceptable to the House. The date I have picked is the one currently being discussed by the European Union. Therefore, should the Prime Minister agree a date that the House finds unacceptable, she would have to come back to the House to suggest it, rather than being able to do what she can at the moment, which is to pick a date that this House may find unacceptable. That is the point of my amendment.
The right hon. Gentleman makes a compelling case on people’s concerns about what may happen in a Brexit without a withdrawal agreement, but the European Union has explained to us on many occasions that the withdrawal agreement is now basically a hermetically sealed box, and many of the things he discusses in relation to the future relationship, such as trading, are encompassed in the political declaration, which cannot be binding—we have been told that many times. I genuinely fail to understand why, if he is so concerned about our leaving without an agreement, he does not just vote for the withdrawal agreement and then set about making his case for what should be in the political declaration, which cannot be binding until we have formally left the European Union.
The right hon. Gentleman has been saying that he would like to have certainty—I completely accept the worries about a possible no deal and not knowing what is going on, which is crucial for businesses—but, in relation to the amendments restricting exactly how long the Prime Minister can agree to on her own, how will he feel if the Prime Minister comes back and says, “I have accepted, because I am able to, a two-year extension”, and all the uncertainty for his constituents about what will happen is magnified for two years?
On the points the right hon. Gentleman has made about amendment 6, does he not agree with me that, as opposed to representing a sincere interest in and respect for the devolved Administrations, it is a very clever way of preventing the quick and effective enactment of this Bill?
The right hon. Gentleman has made the point that the Northern Ireland Assembly has not been sitting. It has not been sitting since January 2017, and there is no expectation that the Assembly will be sitting any day soon. Further to that point, the right hon. Gentleman, as a former direct rule Minister in Northern Ireland, will know that it would be an unmitigated disaster for Northern Ireland if this country were to leave without a deal. It would be an unmitigated disaster in terms of security—he will know all about the threat from dissident republicans, and he will also know that Sinn Féin would use a no-deal Brexit to campaign for a border poll to take Northern Ireland out of the United Kingdom and into a united Ireland.
The right hon. Gentleman has referred to the arrest warrant, and I have to say to him that I am well aware of a case in the county of Staffordshire. A person under an arrest warrant was convicted in his absence of murder, but it in fact transpired that he was working in Staffordshire, and he was then found not guilty because he was actually working in a restaurant in England at the time when he was supposed to have committed the murder in Italy.
I would like to speak to amendment 1, standing in my name, which addresses similar themes to the proposal of my hon. Friend the Member for Camborne and Redruth (George Eustice), who spoke earlier.
I was quite horrified when I read this brief Bill, because it mandates the Prime Minister to seek an extension, but there is no date associated with that extension, as other Members have mentioned. On top of that, as we know, article 50 enshrined the date on which we would be leaving: 29 March. The Prime Minister, as was quite within her rights—my right hon. Friend the Member for West Dorset (Sir Oliver Letwin) said it was her untrammelled prerogative—decided, when she went into her negotiations, that she would accept a new date, which was offered to her by the European Union, having been agreed in a room, in a debate in which she did not participate. She accepted a date that was not of her choosing.
My concern is that, whatever date this House considers to give the right amount of time, if the Prime Minister is not fettered, as the right hon. Member for Delyn (David Hanson) mentioned, she is quite within her rights—nobody here is seeking in any way, shape or form to curtail those rights—to accept another date that is offered to her and which might be the only date on offer. Whatever date this House might choose, for whatever associated reasons or purposes, the Prime Minister is quite within her rights to accept—or reject—the date on offer from the European Union.
I find that incredibly worrying. Depending on which side of the argument hon. Members find themselves, they could have the Prime Minister seeking a date in line with the House’s instructions, but not having to agree the date, even if the EU says that she can have it. That would be a rather bizarre scenario, but the Bill would not stop it, so whatever date the House fixed on could, in theory, only be asked for, but then be rejected.
The other side, which worries me far more, is that the Prime Minister could go along with a date—as yet unspecified by this House and with no associated justification—and be offered a date, let us say, two years in the future. I would suggest that at that point most hon. Members would have severe concerns about the legitimacy of whatever was being agreed by the Prime Minister—or any of us in this House—with the date set so far in the future.
Amendment 1, which stands in my name and that of 21 other hon. Members, simply proposes a date that has already been accepted by the European Union—I know that Guy Verhofstadt has talked about the end of June, but the European Union has suggested this date on many occasions—as a date that it would be comfortable extending to. It is also a date that would not oblige us, by default, to fight in the European elections. It would mean that the Prime Minister could accept the date offered to her—to the 22nd—but could not arbitrarily accept any other date offered without bringing it back and discussing with the House whether it met what the House wishes to achieve.
The right hon. Member for Delyn talked about not tying the Prime Minister’s hands, but if the House truly wishes to shape the next phase—I really do not like this process, but I am trying to look at it constructively—it is incredibly important that she does not have carte blanche to sit in a room in Brussels, meekly accept a date that is fixed, and then come back to the House, which will not be able to alter that date. I picked the 22 May date, because she can agree anything up until that point. After that date, with which we are all familiar, we will not have the Prime Minister accepting a date that may end up coming to this House and not finding favour. We are then back in the long grass. We are back to arguing about the date. We are back to arguing ad infinitum, to the great uncertainty for the many businesses who feel that what is going on here today is beyond a farce.
Other Members who have a better legal brain than mine—I have no such qualifications whatever—are looking at the Bill line by line and saying it is shoddily and poorly drafted, and that it does not stand up to scrutiny. The argument that comes back—I have heard it a few times this afternoon—is that, “Well, we haven’t had a lot of time and this is to stop no deal.” My amendment does not do anything to harm the Bill’s objectives. It gives the Bill belt and braces to ensure that the Prime Minister, to whom everyone says, “Let’s give her some latitude and trust”, is not able to accept something that is certainly beyond the wishes and scope of this House or the people who voted to leave the European Union.
I hope my amendment is given serious consideration, since we are now supposed to be engaging constructively with the process in a cross-party consensual way to try to get something through. I would be far more comfortable if the Prime Minister was not allowed free rein, or untrammelled prerogative, as my right hon. Friend the Member for West Dorset said. As the House may have observed, we have already tried that and it has not got us terribly far. I therefore ask Members please to consider this amendment. It is very small. It does not stop anything. It simply might stop what some Members have maybe not thought through too well, which is the date.
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My hon. Friend is absolutely right about that. I could enlarge on the reasons why we would not want to have any European parliamentary elections and why we would not want to have any MEPs—they cost a fortune as well. Furthermore, a lot of them are, by all accounts, engaged in activities that are either useless or very expensive. I will not dilate on that, but it is a matter of fact.