Margaret Beckett debates with Department for Exiting the European Union

There have been 5 exchanges between Margaret Beckett and Department for Exiting the European Union

Mon 1st April 2019 EU: Withdrawal and Future Relationship (Motions) 17 interactions (989 words)
Wed 27th March 2019 EU: Withdrawal and Future Relationship (Motions) 5 interactions (949 words)
Wed 27th March 2019 EU: Withdrawal and Future Relationship (Votes) 3 interactions (211 words)
Mon 25th March 2019 European Union (Withdrawal) Act 9 interactions (690 words)
Wed 19th December 2018 Leaving the EU: No Deal 3 interactions (941 words)

EU: Withdrawal and Future Relationship (Motions)

Margaret Beckett Excerpts
Monday 1st April 2019

(1 year, 5 months ago)

Commons Chamber
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Department for Exiting the European Union
Mr Dominic Grieve (Beaconsfield) (Con) Parliament Live - Hansard
1 Apr 2019, 6:21 p.m.

Thank you, Mr Speaker. I will try to be brief.

Of the four motions before us, two relate to substance and two relate to process, and they cannot be easily disaggregated. I have signed motion (E) and motion (G), motion (E) being that of the hon. Member for Hove (Peter Kyle). As I have said on many occasions, in view of the circumstances that have arisen, the idea that we can legitimately take the people of this country out of the European Union without consulting them as to whether the deal that we are offering them is one they want seems to me very odd indeed. The reality is that everything we have been talking about this evening, on the two substantive motions in particular, bears almost no relation to what was advanced by those advocating leave in the 2016 referendum campaign.

Equally, this House has said repeatedly that it does not believe in a no-deal Brexit. That is why I support the motion of the hon. and learned Member for Edinburgh South West (Joanna Cherry)—because we have to do everything to stop it, given that the evidence is overwhelming that leaving without a deal would be catastrophic. I realise that this is sometimes a very difficult issue. On Friday night, I found myself giving an audience the Government’s own figures on the administrative burden on business of leaving without a deal, which is £13 billion per annum. That may be too high or it might be too low, but it is a reasoned estimate. That group of people, some of whom say they support my party and therefore the Government, were shouting “Liar” at me. This, I am afraid, is the point where reasoned debate has wholly evaporated. The House is very clear that what we have here is a real risk to this country’s integrity in future, and that is why no deal must be prevented.

Let me now turn to the two substantive motions. Looked at straightforwardly, I think that both offer a better destination for this country than what the Prime Minister negotiated. That is first because they address the Northern Ireland issue, and do it a way that covers the integrity of the whole United Kingdom and does not separate Northern Ireland out from it, which seems to me to be an advantage; and secondly, because the concessions they make to our participation or deeper integration with our EU partners even after we have left do not come at a cost that people will notice when we are out. I agree entirely with my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Rushcliffe (Mr Clarke) that, in reality, the trade deals that we were told we would have, and which were celebrated, are going to be absolutely marginal compared with the effect on our wellbeing now and what we are going to lose.

For those reasons, I look with favour on both motions. They are both, as I said, very far removed from what was being trumpeted in 2016, which unfortunately was an utterly misleading vision that the United Kingdom could have its cake and eat it—could have the benefits of membership and all the freedoms that go with not being a member. That is the basic problem that this House is going to have to grapple with. I will not vote against the two motions of substance, which seem to me to be moving us probably in the right direction.

I am anxious about the risks of our concluding a political declaration and having a very limited timeframe—to 22 May, with probably no extension—to resolve fully the issues within it to the satisfaction of this House. I have a serious concern, first, that that can be done; and secondly, that it can be done to the satisfaction of the public. That is why there is a need for a linkage between the preferred option and consulting the public. I do not want to say any more about that now—I want to sit down and allow others to speak.

However, I do want to emphasise my willingness to work with Members of this House who have promoted both these motions, in my determination to try to bring this sorry saga to an end. But in saying that, I want to emphasise that the House has to be very careful about simply jumping on something that it thinks we can all agree on without thinking through the consequences of the process and making sure that the process ends up satisfying the House itself and the electorate, and leading to the right outcome.

Margaret Beckett Portrait Margaret Beckett (Derby South) (Lab) - Parliament Live - Hansard
1 Apr 2019, 6:26 p.m.

I shall seek to be extremely brief, Mr Speaker, because I have been fortunate enough to catch your eye before on these matters.

One of the merits of last week’s indicative vote process was that the arguments for each option, and also the prime concerns, have become much clearer. Discussions on the proposal for a confirmatory ballot devised by my hon. Friends the Member for Hove (Peter Kyle) and for Sedgefield (Phil Wilson) revealed considerable reluctance to contemplate the longer extension, and hence the delay, that would be needed. I completely understand that reluctance, especially if, as may be, it would lead into the holding of Euro elections. But to me, that would be a price well worth paying for the sake of achieving the settlement that a confirmatory vote could produce, as it did with the Good Friday agreement. It may also be the price that we need to pay to allow enough scrutiny of the different options before us to provide the basis for a stable majority, not just a fleeting majority, in this House.

As it happens, I very seriously doubt that such a longer extension can be avoided in any event. The Government can only deliver either the Prime Minister’s deal or any other deal when the necessary legislation passes both Houses of this Parliament. That legislation is said to be ready, but, as the hon. Member for Stafford (Jeremy Lefroy) pointed out last week, the House has seen neither hide nor hair of it. I have heard that it is long, perhaps even 100 clauses, and that it is also complex—and it is obviously an extremely significant part of this process. But whenever it is mentioned, Ministers speak briefly and dismissively as if its passage is just a given thing that will be both brief and uncontentious. Frankly, I rather doubt that. So as we are likely to need a long extension anyway, for a whole variety of other reasons, why not take advantage of that reality to hold a confirmatory vote on the likely outcome of Brexit, whatever option ultimately emerges from these deliberations?

Lucy Powell Portrait Lucy Powell (Manchester Central) (Lab/Co-op) - Parliament Live - Hansard

I agree with what my right hon. Friend is saying. Does she agree with me, though, that in order to get that long extension, the EU would need to be satisfied that this House has actually taken forward a view through a substantive, positive vote, and that otherwise—if we do not take that difficult step—we could just crash out with no deal?

Margaret Beckett Portrait Margaret Beckett - Parliament Live - Hansard
1 Apr 2019, 3:34 p.m.

I agree that that would make it infinitely easier. The EU might be convinced of that on the basis of our wanting to hold such a vote, but I totally accept my hon. Friend’s point. This is all based on us trying, if humanly possible, to get such a deal.

Dr Andrew Murrison Portrait Dr Murrison - Parliament Live - Hansard

Will the right hon. Lady give way?

Margaret Beckett Portrait Margaret Beckett - Parliament Live - Hansard
1 Apr 2019, 4:50 p.m.

I am trying to be brief, but all right.

Dr Andrew Murrison Portrait Dr Murrison - Hansard

I am grateful to the right hon. Lady. This country has had half a dozen or so referendums in recent years, and we have honoured the outcome of those referendums on each occasion. She is suggesting that we do not honour the outcome of the June 2016 referendum. If we do not honour the outcome of that referendum, are the public not entitled to ask why we should honour the outcome of the referendum that she is advocating or any other?

Margaret Beckett Portrait Margaret Beckett - Hansard
1 Apr 2019, 4:50 p.m.

I am sorry, but I utterly reject the notion that what I am proposing does not honour the outcome of the 2016 referendum, and I will come to the reason why I do not accept that for one second. We should take the step of a confirmatory vote whatever the deal or option that is finally agreed, or even if none is agreed, because whatever the hon. Gentleman may say, not one of the options before the House tonight or over the last few weeks was on the ballot paper in 2016—not one of them, including the Prime Minister’s deal.

Stephen Kinnock Portrait Stephen Kinnock (Aberavon) (Lab) - Parliament Live - Hansard

My right hon. Friend is making an excellent speech, and I agree with her, but for a confirmatory referendum to take place, there needs to be a viable leave option on the ballot paper versus remain. Does she agree that those campaigning for a second referendum should support the other motions on the Order Paper that present a viable leave option—namely, a customs union and common market 2.0?

Margaret Beckett Portrait Margaret Beckett - Parliament Live - Hansard
1 Apr 2019, 4:50 p.m.

I am happy to agree with my hon. Friend about that, but I hope it cuts both ways. I heard the hon. Member for Grantham and Stamford (Nick Boles) say, “Of course, those who want a second referendum can come back to this some other time in legislation when all of this is done,” but it must be a two-way street.

Nick Boles Parliament Live - Hansard

Will the right hon. Lady give way?

Margaret Beckett Portrait Margaret Beckett - Parliament Live - Hansard
1 Apr 2019, 4:50 p.m.

I am sorry, but I really must go on.

Nick Boles Hansard

She has referred to me.

Margaret Beckett Portrait Margaret Beckett - Hansard
1 Apr 2019, 4:50 p.m.

I did; all right.

Nick Boles Hansard

I will be brief. I just want to reassure the right hon. Lady of one thing. Last Wednesday I abstained on her motion, and I will abstain on it again tonight, as a gesture of good will towards it.

Margaret Beckett Portrait Margaret Beckett - Hansard
1 Apr 2019, 6:32 p.m.

I am duly grateful to the hon. Gentleman.

What is most often heard in these discussions is the argument that to hold a confirmatory vote would be not only wrong but undemocratic, which is the point that the hon. Member for South West Wiltshire (Dr Murrison) was trying to address. That argument is advanced both by those who believe that the view of the people has not changed and that they will still vote to leave—and, according to Mr Farage, by a bigger margin—and by those who fear that their view might have changed and who resist holding such a vote for that very reason. It seems to me that there is something mutually contradictory in those arguments.

We have heard a great deal about the resentment that would be felt by those who voted to leave, but I again ask Members to carefully consider the position in which this House would place itself if it is the case—I do not know one way or the other—that the British people do not now wish to leave the European Union. We are being invited to vote to take the UK out of the European Union even if it is now against the wishes of the British people, and to do so while refusing to give them the opportunity even to express such wishes. I fear we may find such a refusal difficult to defend, especially if the basis of our decision ends up being the Prime Minister’s deal, which will itself have been presented to this Parliament for decision more than once.

There is another dangerous argument being advanced: that we should leave, and if we do not like it, we can always rejoin. This House knows that if we leave, we lose the special opt-outs on the euro and Schengen that successive Governments have negotiated. Rejoining would put us in a very different place from remaining with the concessions that we have now.

I accept that, in a variety of ways, the alternatives proposed on today’s Order Paper by the Father of the House and others offer advantages over the Prime Minister’s proposal. I could live with any of them apart from the option of no deal, but I repeat: none of them was before the British people three years ago, and for that reason, if for no other, they should be asked for their view on the reality that is before them, rather than the fantasies they were spun in 2016.

Huw Merriman Portrait Huw Merriman (Bexhill and Battle) (Con) - Parliament Live - Hansard
1 Apr 2019, 4:50 p.m.

It is a pleasure to follow the right hon. Member for Derby South (Margaret Beckett). Like her, I will be voting for motion (E), but I will be doing so for very different reasons, and I wish to explain those reasons in the time I have.

I have been on the wrong side of all the EU votes when it comes to the arithmetic, with the exception of the vote for the Prime Minister to trigger article 50, when I was one of almost 500 MPs who voted for that to occur. Since then, I have voted for the Prime Minister’s deal three times, I have voted for no deal as the fall-back twice and I have voted not to allow an extension of article 50—on each occasion, I have lost. That has brought me to this place.

Motion (E) provides the opportunity to get the Prime Minister’s deal through, as much as it provides the opportunity for those who did not vote for article 50 to be triggered to revoke article 50. I am willing to take my chances and put the matter to the people, because I have given up on Parliament delivering a majority for the deal that I want. I am left with two choices. One is to find myself in meaningful vote 3,029, and the other—I say this as a former transactional lawyer working on a trading floor—is to look ahead and try to find a solution that will deliver what I want, which is to honour the vote in 2016. That is incredibly important to me. I worry about the democratic deficit of that not being delivered.

Of course, people could ask us why we are going back to the people. I say this with a great degree of self-loathing, but I am supporting this purely because Parliament is unable to reach a majority and a decision—we are stuck. Every Member of this House needs to face up to the reality and ask themselves, “How long can this go on? How much uncertainty will we allow business and our constituents to bear before we finally reach the conclusion that we need to find another option?”

EU: Withdrawal and Future Relationship (Motions)

Margaret Beckett Excerpts
Wednesday 27th March 2019

(1 year, 6 months ago)

Commons Chamber
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Department for Exiting the European Union
Steve Barclay Portrait Stephen Barclay - Parliament Live - Hansard
27 Mar 2019, 4:25 p.m.

I am conscious that 47 Members want to speak, so I will press on. I am sure that we will have a further debate before too many days have passed.

Turning quickly to motion (J) in the name of the Father of the House, my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Rushcliffe (Mr Clarke), my concern is that it would open up a role for the courts given that it would be for them to adjudicate on whether the suggestion of a comprehensive UK-wide customs union has been met in our negotiating mandate.

Motion (O) is referred to by some hon. Friends as the Malthouse compromise—Malthouse plan B in this case—and it would involve paying for an implementation period. However, the EU’s clear position is that that proposal would be regarded as the UK reneging on an agreed fair settlement, which it has repeatedly said it is unwilling to accept.

As for the flaws of motion (K) from the Leader of the Opposition, we have been around these houses so many times that we do not dwell on them. Paragraph (a)(iii) refers to “dynamic alignment” but we have already committed to temporary alignment when it comes to implementing EU workers’ rights. Again, the motion also does not address the fact that the Opposition appear to accept the withdrawal agreement but seem reluctant to say so.

In conclusion, the motions before the House represent a range of suboptimal solutions that either do not deliver on the referendum result or do so in a way that would not deliver the benefits of the Prime Minister’s deal. That is why the deal remains the best method to deliver on the biggest vote in our history in a way that protects business and citizens’ rights.

Margaret Beckett Portrait Margaret Beckett (Derby South) (Lab) - Parliament Live - Hansard
27 Mar 2019, 4:34 p.m.

Negotiations succeed when no one gets everything they want but everyone gets something they want, and I hope that is the spirit in which we can approach today’s proceedings. This consultative process is too little and too late, but it is a lot better than carrying on as we were. We all owe a debt of gratitude to hon. and right hon. Members on both sides of the House who have striven to find proposals that could command wider support so that, finally, some alternative ideas are before the House, and I very much hope some common ground can be identified.

There is one vital thing that all these varied proposals have in common: not one of them reflects what the British people were told were the prospects before them when they cast their votes in 2016, and nor does the Prime Minister’s package, although that is not on the Order Paper. These differences from what was said to be on offer are substantial. The one key element that figures in each and every one of the proposed alternatives is the matter of sovereignty. It is key because all these proposals, including the Prime Minister’s, would mean that we follow EU laws and regulations without having any real say in their content.

In 1975, during the first referendum on our links with Europe, I campaigned against continuing those links, mainly because of the diminution of sovereignty they implied, but at least then we were not forfeiting sovereignty but sharing it. Today’s proposals mean we stand to lose our voice, our vote and our veto. Successive British Governments have used voice, vote and, occasionally, veto to considerable effect. We already have special deals all over the place. We do not have to be in the euro and we do not have to be a member of the borderless Schengen area. And we have helped to shape agreements within the EU and, as an EU member, across the world.

School students across the world recently went on to the streets to campaign against the threat to life on this planet, including the threat to the continued existence of the human race. Within the EU, the UK has played a substantial role over the years, under successive Governments, in pursuing these issues, and it was experiencing the influence that we could and did wield internationally in this sphere that finally and wholeheartedly convinced me of the value of our EU membership.

The Prime Minister’s deal and the various alternatives, one and all, surrender that shared sovereignty. They would make us rule takers without being, as we have been, influential rule makers. It is clear that many who voted leave have accepted the possible economic damage, of which they have been warned, as a price they are prepared to pay for the return of sovereignty, and I honour them for that stance, but sovereignty is not returning. In fact, we are sacrificing sovereignty for the sake of saying we are no longer a member of the EU. I recognise that such a deal may be all that is on offer, but to me it is inconceivable that its acceptance should be solely a matter for Members of this House. I genuinely have no idea what view the British people might take of these various compromises, and certainly many, including in this House, vehemently oppose their even being asked.

Ever since the day of the second referendum result in 2016, a deluge of not only warnings but threats has come from those who take that view, forecasting unrest, civil disorder, greater division and a dramatic further reduction in the public’s trust in politics. But I invite colleagues who determinedly resist a confirmatory vote to look starkly at the full implications of what they are saying. They are willing, some are determined, to vote to terminate our membership of the European Union even if it may now be against the wishes of the majority of the British people. Consider the possible consequences for trust in politics or for social peace if this House forces an outcome on the people of this country that they no longer desire—that really would be the undemocratic, establishment stitch-up of all time.

We have all heard people say that the deals now available are worse than the one we now have as EU members, and some still say that, nevertheless, they still wish to leave. My mother would have called that cutting off your nose to spite your face, but if that is still the view of the majority, so be it. But how, in all conscience, can we alone in this House force through such a decision on their behalf without allowing them any say as to whether that is still their view?

David Tredinnick (Bosworth) (Con) Hansard
27 Mar 2019, 4:35 p.m.

Will the right hon. Lady give way?

Margaret Beckett Portrait Margaret Beckett - Hansard
27 Mar 2019, 4:35 p.m.

I am sorry, but I do not have time.

As with the Good Friday agreement, whatever emerges from these complex negotiations, the outcome should go back to the people for confirmation. The people started this process. They set a desired goal. It has proved far more difficult and tortuous than predicted, but we will now soon have a potential outcome. It is the people who should choose whether, on the terms now on offer, they still wish to proceed. Theirs should be the final decision on this, which is the first stage only of our withdrawal from the EU. With a clear conscience, I can look my constituents in the eye and tell them that that is the outcome that this House has secured. The European Union needs reform. Britain could play a key role in shaping it or we can just walk away and live with the consequences. But it is the British people who should now decide what comes next.

George Eustice Portrait George Eustice (Camborne and Redruth) (Con) - Parliament Live - Hansard
27 Mar 2019, 4:36 p.m.

I rise in support of motion (h), which stands in my name. It involves leaving the European Union but rejoining the European Free Trade Association and relying on our existing rights under the treaty establishing the European economic area. It differs from the “Common market 2.0” proposal in a couple of important areas. First, it does not envisage the need for a customs union. Secondly, it does not necessarily require the existing withdrawal agreement that the Prime Minister has been putting to this House.

I had a pretty good innings as agriculture Minister. Indeed, three months ago, after a reshuffle in Luxembourg, I became, for a short time, the longest serving agriculture Minister in Europe. In my five and a half years, I attended the AgriFish Council on a monthly basis, discussing all sorts of obscure and technical issues. I saw 10 EU presidencies come and go. Each came in with its list of priorities and each went out lamenting the fact that little had been achieved. I recall one occasion, before Italy was commencing its presidency, when the Italian Minister cast aside the notes his officials had given him and simply said, “We will talk about the usual stuff and probably not get much done.”

I have three observations that my experience has given me that I would like to highlight, because they underpin the approach I have suggested. First, we must recognise that the European Union moves at glacial pace; it is not agile. It makes tiny, incremental changes and takes years to do so; I remember arguing for three or four years about something as simple as changes to organic food labelling. Secondly, the EU does not really follow national democracies; it sees what happens in national democracy as a national issue and a national problem. The European institutions live by their treaties and the letter of the words in them. Finally, decades of EU membership has engendered a particular type of culture among our negotiators and our civil service. I have huge admiration for our civil service but, undoubtedly, a qualified majority voting system is all about trying to get something rather than be willing to walk away from the table. That is why in both the negotiation that David Cameron had and the current negotiation officials would often come back claiming that things are “not negotiable”. Therefore, the simple proposition behind motion (h) is that, rather than wade through the treacle and try to negotiate a bespoke deal from scratch, knowing the nature of European institutions, why not instead use existing treaty rights as our starting point and allow things to evolve from that point?

The UK is a signatory to the treaty that established the European economic area in 1994, and it had that role because at that point the EU had no legal personality. At times, as the Secretary of State repeated today, the Government have adopted a political line to take, claiming that our EEA membership automatically falls away when we leave the European Union. That claim is wrong in law. A year ago, I was in Oslo, and at that time our ambassador to Norway was on standby, having been ordered by the Foreign Office to deliver a letter to give notice under article 127 of the EEA treaty, although in the event the Foreign Office chose not to. In 2017, during a judicial review hearing, Sir James Eadie QC, no less than the counsel representing the Government, made exactly the reverse claim: he claimed that we had not taken the decision to leave the EEA, and in his submission to the court he claimed it is not true that our membership of the EEA automatically falls away with our membership of the European Union.

It is either the case that the Government—advised, I am sure, by Government Law Officers—have been repeatedly wrong at the Dispatch Box, or it is the case that they did not give a true account of their understanding of the law to a court. Having talked to several lawyers who understand these things, my understanding is that we are indeed a signatory to the EEA and that our rights and obligations remain intact. It is simply the case that to make those rights and obligations operable, we have either to be in the EU pillar of that agreement, as we are now, or to switch to the EFTA pillar.

Under international law, both the European Union and the EFTA states are under an obligation to make treaties work and to work with any consequential changes to a treaty that might be required to ensure that it is operable. An application to join EFTA cannot be unreasonably refused. Indeed, in my discussions with both Iceland and Norway, they made it clear that they would not stand in the way of such an option.

The EFTA option is sometimes described as the Norway option, but it has a very British pedigree. Sixty years ago, in 1959, Members in this House debated the establishment of the European Free Trade Association. When there was a cross-party consensus that the political and democratic costs of joining the then European Economic Community were too great, it was this House that forged ahead to build an alliance of countries, including not only Norway but Portugal, Austria, Sweden and others, to form the European Free Trade Association. The idea was supported by both Harold Macmillan and Harold Wilson. Would it really be such a bad thing to return to that model, given that we were the godfather of the European Free Trade Association?

In conclusion, the benefits of the approach I have set out are that we can get things done quickly. We can join the EFTA surveillance system within three months and have full EFTA membership within six months. We would have a ready-made free trade agreement. We would be outside the customs union and would have an independent trade policy, and we would have control of our fishing grounds again and an independent agriculture policy. We would become an independent country again.

EU: Withdrawal and Future Relationship (Votes)

Margaret Beckett Excerpts
Wednesday 27th March 2019

(1 year, 6 months ago)

Commons Chamber
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Department for Exiting the European Union
Mr Speaker Hansard
27 Mar 2019, 9:56 p.m.

Order. Wait a moment; patience. I do not mean any unkindness to hon. Members, but I think at this point I will hear from a former Leader of the House of enormous experience, and who had a motion before us today: Dame Margaret Beckett.

Margaret Beckett Portrait Margaret Beckett (Derby South) (Lab) - Parliament Live - Hansard
27 Mar 2019, 9:57 p.m.

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. I would be grateful if you could correct or confirm my recollection. I do not know what anybody else expected, but I did not necessarily expect any motion to carry a majority today, certainly not the one I proposed, which, if I recall, has had almost an identical result to the one it had the last time it was moved in this House. My understanding of the procedure instigated by the right hon. Member for West Dorset (Sir Oliver Letwin) was that we would first let 1,000 flowers bloom and see where we went, that that would expose some things that had perhaps little support, and that then we would seek to proceed to see whether ranking things in an order of importance made a difference.

I have to say to the Secretary of State that I thought it was somewhat extraordinary for him to come to the Dispatch Box and say that this proves that the only thing to do is go ahead with the Prime Minister’s motion, which got fewer votes than many motions that have been before us tonight. So perhaps you would tell me, Mr Speaker, whether my recollection, which seems to differ from that of some colleagues, is reasonably accurate.

Mr Speaker Parliament Live - Hansard
27 Mar 2019, 9:59 p.m.

Yes. It is not for the Chair to adjudicate on the merits of the arguments, and I have not sought to do so. What I did seek to do, which I thought it was proper for the Speaker to do, was facilitate the House by selecting a wide range of motions expressing different points of view and allowing those different, and in some cases contrasting, propositions to be tested. I would just very gently make the observation, again with a view to the intelligibility of our proceedings to a wider audience, that these matters have been debated over a lengthy period. Indeed, since the publication of the withdrawal agreement a little over four months ago I have chaired every single debate—and every minute of every single debate and, I think, exchange—in the Chamber on the matter. It is simply a statement of fact to say that in that period of four months and a bit, the House has not reached a conclusion. So if the right hon. Lady is asking me whether I am utterly astonished that today no agreement has been reached, I confess that I am not utterly astonished that after one day’s debate no agreement has been reached, but that is the factual position.

European Union (Withdrawal) Act

Margaret Beckett Excerpts
Monday 25th March 2019

(1 year, 6 months ago)

Commons Chamber
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Department for Exiting the European Union
Sir Nicholas Soames Parliament Live - Hansard

I will not, because many others want to speak. I hope the hon. Gentleman will forgive me.

All of us know that many of our constituents are understandably extremely angry that Brexit has so distracted the Government from the serious issues we face—the NHS, education, crime, the reform of social care, housing, the environment and climate change, and all the other great issues that have inevitably had to be neglected as Brexit has gradually sucked the life blood out of the Government. As you very well know, Mr Speaker, the public believe that we have collectively let them down badly, and this is leading inevitably and very seriously to the fraying of the bonds between Parliament and the nation. The national interest clearly dictates that we have to get this done and that we must get on with the vital work of establishing our future relationships with our most important economic partners and allies.

At the beginning of the business of the House every day, the Speaker’s Chaplain reads the prayer that enjoins Members most especially to

“never lead the nation wrongly through love of power, desire to please, or unworthy ideals but laying aside all private interests and prejudices keep in mind their responsibility to seek to improve the condition of all mankind”.

All of us need to pay a little more attention to those wise, profound and humane words, which have guided and succoured this House through thick and thin down the years and in worse days than these. It is now time that Parliament did its duty by the country, for the national interest and for national unity, and regardless of party or inclination, to bring these matters to a belated conclusion.

Margaret Beckett Portrait Margaret Beckett (Derby South) (Lab) - Hansard

It is, as ever, a great pleasure to follow the right hon. Member for Mid Sussex (Sir Nicholas Soames), although I should perhaps place on record that I totally disagree with what he and the right hon. Member for West Dorset (Sir Oliver Letwin) said on one issue, because I feel that the only way we will resolve this situation peacefully and in a way that brings people together is by going back to the people for confirmation of whatever decision this House makes. Otherwise, I fear we will be seen as engaging in an establishment stitch-up, thinking of something that we will then foist on the people. It is essential to seek their view.

I am very conscious that today’s is a crowded agenda. Amendment (f), standing in my name and those of others on both sides of the House, is so straightforward that it practically speaks for itself, so I intend to be brief. I am also mindful of how many others want to speak.

I recognise, of course, that the House has voted on more than one occasion against the UK leaving the EU without a deal; indeed, the Prime Minister has acknowledged that. I am also well aware that there are nevertheless Members who feel that, whatever the evidence to the contrary, leaving with no deal would not cause us major problems, and that there are even some who actively support our leaving without a deal or at least regard it as a desirable outcome. Surely, however, few if any believe it would be desirable that the UK should not make such a decision but drift or fall into it by inadvertence—almost by accident. That would be the very definition of irresponsibility.

We still have a very tight timetable, which presently encompasses, in addition, a potential recess period. As I said, my amendment is extremely simple and straightforward. It seeks to ensure that the UK can leave the EU without a deal only with the explicit consent of the House of Commons.

Yvette Cooper Portrait Yvette Cooper - Hansard
25 Mar 2019, 5:29 p.m.

My right hon. Friend is making a very important speech about the risks of no deal. The Prime Minister said today:

“Unless this House agrees to it, no deal will not happen.”

However, she has not provided for any process to ensure that those safeguards are in place. Does my right hon. Friend agree that we therefore need her amendment, otherwise there is a danger that we will drift by accident into the kind of chaotic, damaging no deal that both the CBI and the TUC have warned against?

Margaret Beckett Portrait Margaret Beckett - Parliament Live - Hansard
25 Mar 2019, 7:50 p.m.

My right hon. Friend makes a powerful point, in line with the many contributions she has made on this issue. I will come to that in a moment.

The amendment guards against a no-deal withdrawal that lacks the clear and evident consent of the House. It also allows for the possibility of the House being in recess when such a danger arises and provides for the seeking of any necessary extension of the leaving deadline. I was originally very encouraged by the Prime Minister’s statement today, as my right hon. Friend said, that

“Unless this House agrees to it, no deal will not happen.”

That is what the amendment says, so my hope was that the Government might be prepared simply to accept it. That would seem the logical thing to do—I am giving the vehicle by which they can give effect to the statement that the Prime Minister made today.

I listened with care to the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster. I think he said that, despite the fact that the Government are not taking any steps, as my right hon. Friend just pointed out, to prevent us from simply running out of time, the amendment was not necessary. He said the problem with my proposal was that there would be only two options left before the House, and the legal default would be that we leave without a deal. That is the point—that is why I tabled the amendment. Although I appreciated the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster’s explanation, I know that otherwise, we would leave by legal default without a deal. He agreed that the Government will need to come back to the Dispatch Box to deal with these issues. I suggest that the Ministers on the Front Bench pass on to their right hon. Friend that the very simple thing to do—it need take no time at all—is to accept this amendment and ensure that the House does not run the indefensible risk of stumbling out of the EU without a deal.

Mr Dominic Grieve (Beaconsfield) (Con) Parliament Live - Hansard
25 Mar 2019, 5:29 p.m.

It is a pleasure to participate in this debate and to follow the right hon. Member for Derby South (Margaret Beckett). I can tell her now that I shall be voting for her amendment if it is put to the vote at the end of the evening, as I hope it will be. I shall return to that in a moment.

I am the second signatory to amendment (a), and I want briefly to outline my thoughts on its necessity and why it may help the House. I have obviously approached this in a slightly different way from my right hon. Friend the Member for West Dorset (Sir Oliver Letwin). As the House will be perfectly well aware, I continue to believe that Brexit is a historic mistake of very great proportions, and I am afraid that at no time since the referendum took place have I felt, despite efforts on my part to do so, that we are moving towards a position where I could ever take the view that the future outside the EU was going to better than remaining in it.

But I certainly voted to trigger article 50. I did it in deference to the result of the referendum and in the full knowledge that we could not even start negotiations unless we did so. Although I have occasionally been characterised as trying to obstruct Brexit, the truth is that, throughout 2017 and 2018, most of the work I did was to try to improve the process because of the concerns I had that it was being shortcut, thereby making mistaken outcomes all the more likely. I think there were only two occasions when I voted on substantive motions about alternatives, but that was because I was rather worried about the extent to which the Government seemed to be self-imposing red lines, and on neither occasion did it come anywhere close to success. I accepted that, and I accepted also that I should reserve my position on what the Government were negotiating and indicated that on a number of occasions in debates.

Where I disagree with or differ from my right hon. Friend the Member for West Dorset is that, when I finally came to look at the Government’s deal as negotiated in December, I thought it was a deal that was going to condemn us to a third-rate future. That is the basis on which I have been unwilling to support it. In saying that, I am entirely mindful of the fact that it has been negotiated in good faith by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, and I believe that every Member on the Front Bench has exercised as much diligence as possible to get the best possible outcome. Of course, that raises another question. If the outcome secured in December was so unsatisfactory that it was defeated by 220 votes in this House, and defeated because the examination of it from differing directions by Members on both sides of the House found it wanting, that calls into question whether in fact a fundamental error has been made and the entire process has inherent flaws.

A tendency that has crept in ever since the referendum result has been to close down debate on the basis that it is not proper to pursue it, because the referendum result must act as a diktat that prevents such debate from taking place. I have been long enough in this House to have experienced that sort of argument before, sometimes when Governments get very large majorities in general elections. I even remember on one occasion a Member of this House arguing that, because the then Labour Government had such a big majority, there was no real need any more to have the Second Reading debate of Bills, and the matter should be just put through on the nod and we should move on to the detail.

The one thing I am absolutely persuaded of is that we cannot have a working democracy where we close down debates. Democracy is all about the permanent shifting of tectonic plates. It goes on every second of every day, all the time. Just because somebody is defeated on one matter, it does not mean that they have to give up. They can keep going at it—and heaven knows, we have watched Members do just that in this House. In the same way, to argue that the referendum result imposes a permanency that cannot be challenged is, in my judgment, entirely wrong. When I look at the mess into which we have got ourselves, it appears to be at least in part the consequence of pushing that argument and thereby preventing the democratic process from working.

We get criticism that this House is not functioning properly or that democracy is not working. I think that this House has an exceptional capacity to reach sensible outcomes, but, I have to say to my hon. and right hon. Friends on the Front Bench, it has been consistently prevented from doing its ordinary job by the straitjacket that has been imposed on the extent of what is acceptable to debate.

Break in Debate

Steve Barclay Portrait Stephen Barclay - Hansard
25 Mar 2019, 9:51 p.m.

We are in danger of rerunning the opening of the debate. Indeed, the shadow Brexit Secretary asked whether the Government would give a binding commitment to respect and adopt whatever was passed, even though the Opposition, who made that request, were not willing to give that commitment. We cannot give a blank cheque when we do not know exactly what those votes will be—I am sure that, when the Father of the House was a Minister, he would have taken the same line.

The real issue is the constitutional significance of amendment (a) because it is unprecedented in its nature. The Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster has already addressed the kernel of the matter, which is whether the Government will make time available this week. Indeed, he set out at the beginning of the debate that, in good faith, we will have discussions with my right hon. Friend the Member for West Dorset, Opposition Front Benchers and Members from across the House on how the process should look. Amendment (a) does not set that out in detail, so the Government have undertaken to have that process and the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster addressed that in his opening remarks.

On amendment (f), I reassure the right hon. Member for Derby South that the Government will return to the Dispatch Box in the event that the withdrawal agreement is not approved this week. We will also return to the House to consider plans for the week of 5 April after any indicative voting. As the right hon. Lady will know as a senior Member of the House, the decision on whether to enter recess is in the control of the House. Although we do not think it is sensible to try to set the Order Paper now for a date in two weeks’ time without knowing what will happen in the interim, I hope that she is content that the House will certainly have a say on the matter.

Margaret Beckett Portrait Margaret Beckett - Parliament Live - Hansard
25 Mar 2019, 9:53 p.m.

I will not detain the Secretary of State. If what I have suggested is acceptable, why does he not just accept the amendment?

Steve Barclay Portrait Stephen Barclay - Hansard
25 Mar 2019, 9:54 p.m.

As I said, we cannot anticipate the business in two weeks’ time, but we have given a signal from the Dispatch Box on behalf of the Government about our position.

Let me turn to amendment (d) in the name of the Leader of the Opposition. The shadow Brexit Secretary said that many Members want to break the current deadlock, yet his amendment raises no objection to the withdrawal agreement and, as he well knows, it is the withdrawal agreement, not the political declaration, that needs to be approved to meet the tests that the European Council set for an extension to 22 May. He went on to criticise the Government for not giving a commitment to be bound by any indicative votes, yet, as I pointed out earlier, when the Father of the House challenged the right hon. and learned Member for Holborn and St Pancras on that very issue, he was unable to give such a commitment for Her Majesty’s Opposition to be bound in that way. Indeed, despite many of his own Members pressing for free votes from the Government in respect of those votes, he was again unwilling to give such a commitment on behalf of the Opposition. The Leader of the Opposition’s amendment notes that the Government’s deal has been defeated, but it is silent on the fact that his own deal has also been rejected by the House.

Regardless of any other votes, if the House does not approve the withdrawal agreement this week, it risks a longer extension, potentially resulting in Brexit being revoked, at odds with the Government’s manifesto. The uncertainty of any longer extension would be bad for business confidence and investments. It would also have lasting implications for our democracy, including our reputation around the world as a country that respects the votes of its citizens.

If this House can find the resolve, we could be out of the European Union in a matter of weeks. This is the ultimate mandate: the one handed to us by the British people; the one that reflects the manifestos that the Labour party, as well as the Conservative party, stood on. The Prime Minister’s deal is the way to deliver what the people voted for in 2016 and 2017. That is why it is right that the Government maintain control of the Order Paper, in line with constitutional convention, and why the amendments this evening should be defeated.

Leaving the EU: No Deal

Margaret Beckett Excerpts
Wednesday 19th December 2018

(1 year, 9 months ago)

Commons Chamber
Read Full debate Read Hansard Text
Department for Exiting the European Union
Sir Charles Walker Portrait Mr Charles Walker (Broxbourne) (Con) - Parliament Live - Hansard
19 Dec 2018, 5:49 p.m.

Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker. The greatest political movement of the 20th century was undoubtedly the Labour party. It transformed that century; it came from nowhere and literally changed the landscape of this country. Its greatest Prime Minister, Clement Attlee, was educated 10 miles from where I live. So I have to ask the Labour party: what on earth is it doing at the moment? What on earth is it doing with the national interest? We have a Prime Minister who is breaking herself, duty bound to get a deal for this country that ensures we leave with a deal, yet the shadow Secretary of State is saying, “No matter what she brings back, the Opposition will reject it, but no deal is not an option.” I know some Labour Members spend a huge amount of time with their constituents, but surely they are hearing their constituents say, “Look, let’s just take what the Prime Minister is bringing back”—[Interruption.] That is what they are saying. They are saying, “Let’s take what the Prime Minister is bringing back and let’s move on as a country.” I tell hon. Members that in January, when the Prime Minister presents her deal at the Dispatch Box, one that she has pursued tirelessly on behalf of this country without rest or break, and the Labour party votes against it and then says that no deal is not good enough, the people of this country will work out who is responsible for where we end up. It will not be Conservative Members; there will be a few on our Benches, but it will be Opposition Members, and they will pay the political price.

I have huge respect for the right hon. and learned Member for Holborn and St Pancras (Keir Starmer), but he cannot camouflage his desire to see a second referendum with promises and pledges that say, “I have six tests that need to be met.” He is possibly the only person who knows what those six tests are—the country has not got a clue. We then have this idea that the right hon. Member for Islington North (Jeremy Corbyn), who leads a peripatetic caravan of chaos on the Opposition Benches, could go to the EU and negotiate a better deal. This is the man who, after the poisonings in Salisbury said, “We need to go and have a chat with Putin to find out what his problems are.” It is just not realistic—and the British public know it. The Labour party is playing fast and loose with this country’s future.

I have not spoken in these debates. As Chairman of the Procedure Committee, I have worked tirelessly for a year and a half to ensure that both sides have a fair rub of the green. I was not going to speak today, but then I heard that there was to be another debate under Standing Order No. 24 so that the right hon. and learned Gentleman could say the same thing over and over again, which is, “Whatever deal the Prime Minister brings back, it will not be good enough, but my word—I am not going to tolerate leaving with no deal!” Why can he not be honest and just say, “I want a second referendum”? That is what he wants. He wants a second referendum. He wants to thwart the will of the people for the people. That is what the people’s vote is: “I will thwart the will of the people for the people.” It is an entirely dishonest position.

Opinion polls go up and down—they fluctuate. It will not have escaped the right hon. and learned Gentleman’s attention that my party has had a huge amount of difficulty over the past week, but this week we are four points ahead of Her Majesty’s Opposition. The reason is that the public have worked out that the Opposition are being dishonest with the truth. Members should by all means go through the Division Lobby in January and vote against the deal, but the public will not believe for a minute that it was done in the national interest. It will have been done in self-interest. The Labour party no longer cares about or knows about the national interest, and it is a disgrace. I started my speech by saying that the Labour party was the greatest political movement of the 20th century, but it is now beginning to look like a rabble.

Margaret Beckett Portrait Margaret Beckett (Derby South) (Lab) - Parliament Live - Hansard
19 Dec 2018, 5:51 p.m.

I am really sorry and dismayed to have heard what the hon. Member for Broxbourne (Mr Walker) just said, because I have high regard and respect for him. I simply say to him that he could not be more wrong. He talked with great respect of the work that the Prime Minister has put in; she has made one catastrophic misjudgment after another and it is she who is threatening the national interest. Furthermore, she is in gross dereliction of her most serious duties as the Prime Minister. She is playing an extraordinarily dangerous game. There is every possibility that there is a risk that we will stumble into no deal.

Way back in the beginning, when the referendum result first came into being, I had hoped that there might be a deal that we could vote for that would mitigate the damage. I have been driven to the conclusion that that is not the case mostly because of the catastrophic mess that the Prime Minister has made of the negotiations. As the hon. Member for Broxbourne knows, I have conducted many negotiations myself, so I know whereof I speak. She could not have conducted it worse if she had thought for a week. The dangerous game that she is playing means that, as I said, she is risking our stumbling into a no-deal position.

I really felt for the Minister today. I am happy to say that I have never quite been in the position that he was in at the Dispatch Box, but I have been at the Dispatch Box defending a difficult case, and I felt for him because the only answer that he had to any question that anybody asked him was, “All you need to do is vote for the Prime Minister’s deal.” I suggest that he and the hon. Member for Broxbourne put that argument forward with a greater degree of caution than they have so far. My understanding—my perception—is that most people in this House do not think the Prime Minister’s deal delivers on the promises made to those who voted leave. That is one of the reasons why there is so much opposition to it, irrespective of the point of view held by different individuals.

I shall say this briefly, because I am conscious of how many people want to speak. The people who are going to vote for the Prime Minister’s deal—there will be some—are happy because they think that they will be able to go out and say to the British people, “Those of you who voted leave, we delivered on your mandate.” I think they are going to lose, but let us say that I am mistaken and they win, and they get this deal through, or some variety on the theme of this deal. I hear people talk about the Norway option, although it is far from clear to me that the European economic area has any intention of accepting Britain into membership. Let us put that aside for the moment, though and let us say that either the Prime Minister’s deal or some minor variant of it carries. What happens then? That is why I say to the hon. Member for Broxbourne that he is absolutely wrong about the national interest. What happens then is that people will see that there are still high levels of immigration; they will see that we are still making payments to the European Union; they will see that we still have a link to the European Court; and they will see that we are still bound by the rules and regulations of the European Union, although we no longer have any voice in deciding what they are. Perhaps most of all, they will see that one of the Prime Minister’s simplest promises—vote for my deal and it will all be over—could not be less true. It will not be over; it will barely have begun. The worst and the most difficult of the negotiations will still be to come, and that will rumble on for years and years.

I will tell the hon. Gentleman why he is wrong about where the national interest lies. Anybody who thinks longer than perhaps a month or so, or six months, beyond the date of decision should think about this very hard: I suspect that the greatest possible disillusion will come if the Prime Minister’s deal, or something like it, goes through, because then people will find out that they are in the circumstances that her deal leaves us in. I cannot think of anything more likely to make people utterly disillusioned with politics and politicians than realising that they have been told, or promised, “Oh, it’s alright, we voted for this. We have left the European Union”, when it does not mean any of the things that they thought it would mean. I entirely agree with the hon. Member for Glenrothes (Peter Grant). I have been driven to the view that what we should do in the national interest—it is the only thing to do in the national interest—is to delay article 50, to put in place procedures for a people’s vote, because it is right for it to go back to the people, and to suggest that we leave it to them but to say that we should stay in the European Union.

The Prime Minister has talked today, as she so often does, of the duty and responsibility of hon. Members when she is in complete dereliction of her own duty. I say that the biggest duty that any of us has is to tell people the truth and it is time that we got on with it.

Jeremy Lefroy (Stafford) (Con) Parliament Live - Hansard
19 Dec 2018, 5:56 p.m.

It is a great honour to follow the right hon. Member for Derby South (Margaret Beckett).

We are living in the most serious of times, and I think that that is very clear to all of us. What we are discussing today is of such great import that there should be a reaching out across the Front Benches, as I have said in this place more than once. It is incumbent on the Government to do that and it is also incumbent on the Opposition to do that.

I will largely restrict my remarks to why I believe that no deal should not and must not happen—indeed, I was one of those who signed the letter co-signed by my right hon. Friend the Member for Meriden (Dame Caroline Spelman) and the hon. Member for Birmingham, Erdington (Jack Dromey). A no deal would cause such grave disruption to the businesses in my constituency in the west midlands and further afield.

Let us just look at what no deal means. No deal means going on World Trade Organisation terms. These have been lauded in some quarters. I disagree. I have been involved in international trade for most of my working life. Yes, the WTO provides the lowest common denominator for world trade. It provides for nothing more than that. Those who think that a country such as the United Kingdom will thrive on World Trade Organisation terms, which no other major country thinks are anything like sufficient, are deluded. Indeed, no other country of our size has World Trade Organisation membership without several other additional agreements, whether it is with China, the United States or wherever. They all have agreements with their neighbouring countries for a start.

Let us look at what World Trade Organisation means on a day-to-day basis: it means tariffs. We do not have tariffs with the European Union at the moment, but it will mean tariffs. Much more importantly, it will mean the non-tariff barriers that have already been mentioned, whether that is phytosanitary inspections, veterinary inspections and other types of inspections of borders. I, along with colleagues from the Exiting the European Union Committee, have seen what happens at Dover. It is a smooth flow of trucks through the port—one every few seconds. A slight delay, which we have seen for other reasons, causes massive back-ups. This is simply not possible, and that will happen at other ports as well.

World Trade Organisation terms would also mean that we would have to deal with the separation of the quotas that we have as part of the European Union. This will not be easy. For instance, New Zealand has questions about how its quota of lamb to the European Union will be divided between the UK and the EU27. We will not have the benefit of the 40 free trade agreements that cover about 70 different countries, unless they are rolled over. It is going to be difficult enough to roll all those over if we sign the withdrawal agreement; if we do not, it will be next to impossible and I do not believe that we have the capacity or time to do that. And that is just for goods.

For services, World Trade Organisation terms would mean a very basic agreement. Whatever has been said about the failure of the European Union to complete the single market in services, it is nevertheless a much better market for services than WTO rules.