Robert Buckland debates with Attorney General

There have been 12 exchanges between Robert Buckland and Attorney General

Tue 9th April 2019 Section 1 of the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2019 41 interactions (1,962 words)
Tue 19th February 2019 Northern Ireland Backstop (Urgent Question) 74 interactions (2,417 words)
Thu 29th November 2018 Withdrawal Agreement: Legal Advice (Urgent Question) 86 interactions (2,477 words)
Tue 13th November 2018 EU Withdrawal Agreement: Legal Advice 7 interactions (1,905 words)
Wed 13th June 2018 European Union (Withdrawal) Bill 114 interactions (6,871 words)
Tue 22nd May 2018 Child Sexual Exploitation and Consent to Sexual Intercourse (Westminster Hall) 6 interactions (1,406 words)
Tue 15th May 2018 Public Legal Education (Westminster Hall) 9 interactions (1,812 words)
Tue 16th January 2018 European Union (Withdrawal) Bill 31 interactions (2,665 words)
Mon 11th December 2017 Shooting of Abdulkarim Boudiaf 2 interactions (1,622 words)
Wed 6th December 2017 Unduly Lenient Sentences (Westminster Hall) 3 interactions (1,641 words)
Wed 15th November 2017 European Union (Withdrawal) Bill 84 interactions (4,905 words)
Thu 29th June 2017 Oral Answers to Questions 36 interactions (1,121 words)

Section 1 of the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2019

Robert Buckland Excerpts
Tuesday 9th April 2019

(1 year, 5 months ago)

Commons Chamber
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Attorney General
Mr Speaker Parliament Live - Hansard
9 Apr 2019, 3:42 p.m.

Well, it is essentially a negativing, but the hon. Gentleman can expatiate on the matter if he is successful in catching my eye. It is always a pleasure to call Mr Peter Bone. To move the motion, I call the Minister—the Solicitor General, no less.

Robert Buckland Portrait The Solicitor General (Robert Buckland) - Hansard
9 Apr 2019, 3:42 p.m.

I beg to move,

That this House agrees for the purposes of section 1 of the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2019 to the Prime Minister seeking an extension of the period specified in Article 50(3) of the Treaty on European Union to a period ending on 30 June 2019.

I will endeavour to be brief in my remarks. I will, of course, take interventions, but please allow me to make three points by way of introduction. First, the Government did not want to be in this position. I do not say that in the spirit of seeking to attribute blame to people, but in a moment of solemn reflection it is important that we acknowledge where we find ourselves.

It is of great disappointment to me and many others that this House has not felt able to approve the withdrawal agreement. The Prime Minister said last week that any plan for the future must include the withdrawal agreement. It is what we negotiated with the EU, and it remains the Government’s position that leaving with a deal is the best way for this country to leave the EU. Although I understand that certain right hon. and hon. Members have not found themselves in a position to support the withdrawal agreement, if we are to leave the EU in a smooth and orderly manner, we must find a way to find a plan for the way forward that includes it. Furthermore, the Government have already been clear that we are seeking an extension. As such, we continue to be of the view that the Bill passed last night was, with respect to its movers, unnecessary.

Secondly, it is clear that the House is not willing to leave without a deal. Thirdly, nobody who respects the outcome of the referendum could wish the UK to participate in the European Parliament elections, nearly three years after our country voted to leave the institutions of the European Union. However, if the UK remains a member state on 23 May, that is what it will be legally required to do. That is because the EU treaties provide that European Union citizens have the right to be represented in the European Parliament, and that the European Parliament needs to be properly constituted, with duly elected MEPs from all member states, for it to perform its functions.

Lord McLoughlin Portrait Sir Patrick McLoughlin (Derbyshire Dales) (Con) - Hansard
9 Apr 2019, 3:45 p.m.

When my hon. and learned Friend says that we need to have left by 23 May, that is the date the election actually takes place. Will he inform the House of the latest date possible for the returning officer to publish the notice of poll and start the process of those elections?

Robert Buckland Portrait The Solicitor General - Hansard
9 Apr 2019, 3:45 p.m.

In the letter that was sent to colleagues in the names of my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster and my right hon. and learned Friend the Attorney General, I think reference was made to the necessity of allowing a suitable time between the bringing into force of the order that allows the elections to proceed and the elections themselves. My recollection is that that is a 25-day period. However, I will say also say, with regard to the process, that, of course, the new European Parliament does not meet until early July, and therefore it is important for us to distinguish between the need to hold elections and the requirement for British MEPs to actually sit in the European Parliament, if we are indeed to leave the European Union before early July.

Robert Buckland Portrait The Solicitor General - Hansard
9 Apr 2019, 3:46 p.m.

I give way first to the hon. Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant).

Chris Bryant Portrait Chris Bryant (Rhondda) (Lab) - Parliament Live - Hansard
9 Apr 2019, 3:46 p.m.

I think the Solicitor General said earlier that what we have to do is find a way to find a plan to find a way forward. That sounds just a little bit nebulous, if he does not mind me saying so; it seems quite unlikely that that is going to be very concrete by 30 June. So if the European Council says, “Actually, we think you need to have an extension to the end of the year,” will the Government be open to that?

Robert Buckland Portrait The Solicitor General - Hansard

As the hon. Gentleman knows, negotiations will carry on in the Council tomorrow, and I think it would be idle speculation for me to try and anticipate what might be agreed. Some people take offence at the word nebulous; I do not. [Interruption.] I really do not. What I have tried to do, at all stages of this process, is to find a way forward and to seek a solution. It is in all our hands, and I say that in a spirit of friendship and co-operation to all hon. Members.

Sir Robert Neill Portrait Robert Neill (Bromley and Chislehurst) (Con) - Hansard
9 Apr 2019, 3:47 p.m.

It seems to me that the Solicitor General is simply giving the House a reality check as to the position that we have been put into by Members who voted in various ways. But is not the situation in law that, although it might be necessary to participate in elections—which neither he nor I nor, I think, most of us want—as a matter of law, the outgoing European Parliament exists until the moment that the new Parliament is created, and therefore there are certain things that could take place, such as ratification of any agreement, until the point that the new Parliament meets; also, the argument that British presence might impugn the new Parliament would not exist if we have left by that time?

Robert Buckland Portrait The Solicitor General - Hansard
9 Apr 2019, 3:48 p.m.

I am grateful to my hon. Friend. I think he is absolutely right about the way in which the European Parliament is constituted. It is due, I think, to rise on 18 April, but it does not cease to exist—it does not dissolve in the way that we do. That is important in terms of ratification, because section 13 of the withdrawal Act that we passed obviously includes that requirement as well.

Sir Iain Duncan Smith Portrait Mr Iain Duncan Smith (Chingford and Woodford Green) (Con) - Hansard

I just want to clear up something that I heard my hon. and learned Friend say. I think I heard him say at the Dispatch Box that it was wholly feasible that the Government may actually end up fighting the European elections, then only after that not allow its MEPs to take their seats—say they had been given an extension, but somehow we had managed to ratify the deal. Is that correct? Is it Government policy that we would go as far as to fight an election but not take our seats at the end of it?

Robert Buckland Portrait The Solicitor General - Hansard
9 Apr 2019, 3:49 p.m.

My right hon. Friend is right to ask about that detail. I think that we are obliged, as a matter of law, to prepare for European elections, but if we have exited the European Union by the end of June, we are no longer a member but a third country. Therefore, the requirement to take our seats in the European Parliament would have ended.

Hilary Benn Portrait Hilary Benn (Leeds Central) (Lab) - Hansard
9 Apr 2019, 3:49 p.m.

Further to the point made by the right hon. Member for Derbyshire Dales (Sir Patrick McLoughlin), will the Solicitor General give the House an assurance that, bearing in mind that postal votes will be cast before polling day, no one who casts a vote will find that the election in which they have cast that vote is cancelled after they have marked their cross on the piece of paper?

Robert Buckland Portrait The Solicitor General - Hansard
9 Apr 2019, 3:50 p.m.

The ingenuity of the right hon. Gentleman knows no bounds. He is right to ask detailed questions such as that, but we have a solution to all these vexed questions: to agree a deal so that we can get on with leaving.

Mr Dominic Grieve (Beaconsfield) (Con) Parliament Live - Hansard
9 Apr 2019, 3:51 p.m.

That goes to the very heart of the issue. I have no objection to supporting this afternoon’s Government motion for extension, but I am mindful that we cannot go on lurching from one cliff-edge crisis to another. Unless the Government are able to craft a deal that commands a majority of this House, we must bear it in mind that 22 May or 30 June are not very far away. That concerns me. I would much prefer an opportunity, if necessary, for a longer and fungible extension, which enables us to make some decisions without the pressure we are under. Finally, with respect to the Bill passed through this House yesterday, I make the point that, like the nuclear deterrent, it works because we do not have to use it.

Robert Buckland Portrait The Solicitor General - Hansard
9 Apr 2019, 3:51 p.m.

My right hon. and learned Friend tempts me on to a path of anticipating what might or might not be the outcome of the summit. I hear his point about the need to avoid regular cliff edges. He will forgive me if I remind him politely but firmly that there is an option for us all to take, which is to agree a way forward and an orderly exit.

Stephen Doughty Portrait Stephen Doughty (Cardiff South and Penarth) (Lab/Co-op) - Hansard
9 Apr 2019, 3:51 p.m.

Further to the point made by the right hon. and learned Member for Beaconsfield (Mr Grieve) and by my hon. Friend the Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant), I appreciate that the Solicitor General will not get into what might or might not be discussed at the European Council, and I appreciate his sincerity about wanting to get a deal agreed as soon as possible, but the reality is that many of us will support the motion conditional on our expectation that the Prime Minister will listen seriously and consider any longer options suggested, such as flextension, fungible extension or whatever we want to call them. I ask for his assurance that the Prime Minister will listen carefully to any offers put forward by other European leaders.

Robert Buckland Portrait The Solicitor General - Hansard
9 Apr 2019, 3:52 p.m.

I think it is axiomatic that the Prime Minister will indeed listen carefully to any constructive suggestions made by the Council and the Commission on such matters. That is what she has always done—she has borne the brunt of some criticism for doing so, but her painstaking approach is the right way to go.

Jonathan Edwards Portrait Jonathan Edwards (Carmarthen East and Dinefwr) (PC) - Hansard
9 Apr 2019, 3:52 p.m.

Is there little point to the British Government setting their red lines for the extension of the extension, because the decision on its length and the conditions attached will be made tomorrow by the European Council, with the British state outside the room?

Robert Buckland Portrait The Solicitor General - Hansard
9 Apr 2019, 3:53 p.m.

The hon. Gentleman is right to characterise the decision of the 27, but before that there will have been active and proper negotiation and discussion between the United Kingdom and the Council. The reality is that we can end all of this here, in this House, by coming to a sensible agreement and making those compromises that many of us have had to do, me very much included.

Sir Hugo Swire (East Devon) (Con) Hansard
9 Apr 2019, 3:53 p.m.

In the event of a whole swathe of MEPs being elected but not taking their seats, will they be entitled to compensation? Will the Solicitor General assure us that that compensation will be paid for not by our constituents but by the EU?

Robert Buckland Portrait The Solicitor General - Hansard
9 Apr 2019, 3:53 p.m.

My right hon. Friend makes an intriguing point. I will not get into any discussions about the question of liability. Everyone who might put themselves up as a candidate for that election would know the likely outcome.

Mr Ben Bradshaw Portrait Mr Ben Bradshaw (Exeter) (Lab) - Hansard

The Solicitor General talks about compromise, but he overlooks the fact that certainly most of us on the Opposition Benches voted for every single one of the four options before us last week; the problem was that most Conservative MPs and the Government did not vote for any of them.

Robert Buckland Portrait The Solicitor General - Hansard
9 Apr 2019, 3:54 p.m.

Well, that did not include me.

Lord Clarke of Nottingham Portrait Mr Kenneth Clarke (Rushcliffe) (Con) - Parliament Live - Hansard
9 Apr 2019, 3:55 p.m.

My hon. and learned Friend is chopping about with various dates that he would prefer, and he keeps making the obvious point that article 50 can come to an end if and when we have support for a withdrawal agreement, which I have supported all the way through. Would not the best thing be to take some far distant date and give us a proper extension—saying, of course, that it will end forthwith, as soon as any withdrawal agreement is passed? I think that is being proposed in Brussels at the moment, and I cannot think of the slightest sensible reason against it. We cannot keep having these ridiculous cliff-edge debates, moving the date forward by a fortnight or a month every now and again.

Robert Buckland Portrait The Solicitor General - Hansard

My right hon. and learned Friend is right to talk about the need to avoid cliff edges. To that extent, I can agree that today we are seeking to create a situation whereby we will have the flexibility to leave if ratification takes place. That aspect of his intervention is a very important one to remember. The negotiability of the position is simply that the talks between the parties are ongoing and if there is something fruitful as a result, we can proceed to use the provisions of section 13, with which all of us are notably very familiar. Those stages can then be passed and ratification will be deemed to be complete.

Eddie Hughes Portrait Eddie Hughes (Walsall North) (Con) - Parliament Live - Hansard

What advice would my hon. and learned Friend give me to pass on to council candidates for the forthcoming local elections? For two years, they have been telling constituents that we were leaving on 29 March; then it became 12 April. We now have a wipe-clean board in my office so we can fill in the current date that we are leaving. What should our candidates be telling people on the doorstep?

Robert Buckland Portrait The Solicitor General - Hansard

Just like my hon. Friend, I am an assiduous canvasser and I am having those conversations myself. The message that I would give to my constituents is that we are doing our part and trying our very best to resolve this situation, but we now need all elements—all Members of Parliament—to come together in a spirit of compromise, so that we can get on with the job that we were mandated to do.

Steve Double Portrait Steve Double (St Austell and Newquay) (Con) - Hansard

Is not the point that whether the delay is two weeks, two months or two years, it is not time that is needed, but political will to come to a deal? People such as me have made compromises—there is much in the withdrawal agreement that I do not like—to move to a position to support the withdrawal agreement. Is it not about time that other Members of this House were willing to do the same?

Robert Buckland Portrait The Solicitor General - Hansard
9 Apr 2019, 3:57 p.m.

My hon. Friend makes an extremely powerful point. I pay tribute to him and to all hon. and right hon. Members who were faced with a very difficult decision and took what I would regard as the statesman or stateswomanlike approach by deciding to support the withdrawal agreement. It was absolutely the right thing to do, and I pay warm tribute to each and every one of them.

Robert Buckland Portrait The Solicitor General - Hansard

Let me just make a little bit of progress, and then I will of course take more interventions.

Mr Speaker Parliament Live - Hansard
9 Apr 2019, 3:57 p.m.

There is only time for one or two more interventions because lots of people want to speak—move on.

Robert Buckland Portrait The Solicitor General - Hansard

I will obey your strictures and move on, Mr Speaker.

I turn to the question of what might happen with regards to the further extension. Before the House considers the motion, as the Prime Minister said last week, we should all be very clear what the extension would be for. It is all about ensuring that we leave the EU in a timely and orderly way, and that means leaving with a deal. That is why the Government have engaged in a constructive process with the Opposition to seek to agree a plan—either a unified position that could command the confidence of the House, or a series of options upon which it could decide. As we know, that process remains ongoing.

Stewart Hosie Portrait Stewart Hosie (Dundee East) (SNP) - Hansard

Six times now, the Solicitor General has said that the best way to move forward is to agree a deal and that, if we are to have a Brexit at all, that is self-evidently true. The problem is that we are not being offered a deal; we have been offered the deal—the Prime Minister’s deal. Is this not the time to concede that it is a bad deal socially and economically, and that that is the reason why the Government are in the position they are in?

Robert Buckland Portrait The Solicitor General - Hansard
9 Apr 2019, 3:59 p.m.

With the greatest respect to the hon. Gentleman, I disagree with his analysis about the deal. I did not note much opposition, certainly from certain corners of the House, to the detail of the withdrawal agreement. The focus of the debate has been on the nature of the future relationship and the declaration that accompanies the agreement. I therefore take issue with his characterisation of the current position.

It is our desire to pursue this process with expedition. Our intention is to secure the House’s assent to the deal and we have been clear, as I have just said, that that could include making changes to the political declaration. That would meet the necessary preconditions for ratification by 22 May, so that we could leave the EU without the need to hold European Parliament elections. While all sides recognise the urgency with which we need to make progress, given where we are and that it will be challenging, we cannot be certain that an extension until just 22 May would provide us with sufficient time.

Dame Caroline Spelman (Meriden) (Con) Hansard
9 Apr 2019, 4 p.m.

Just to support what my hon. and learned Friend says, business says very clearly to us that the deal is good enough for it. Is he aware that the mini-extensions are really difficult, particularly for manufacturing? The car factories are shut down at the moment in anticipation of disruption. They cannot just open up and shut down on these cliff edges, so flexibility is essential.

Robert Buckland Portrait The Solicitor General - Hansard

My right hon. Friend makes a powerful point. As a Member of Parliament, she represents car manufacturing interests very proudly. I care very deeply indeed about the future of that important industry and will do everything I can to secure it.

Robert Buckland Portrait The Solicitor General - Hansard
9 Apr 2019, 4:01 p.m.

I will not give way, because I need to move on and wrap up, as Mr Speaker said.

For the reasons I have given, we have sought an extension up to 30 June, which as I said earlier is before the new European Parliament will be constituted in early July.

Mrs Anne Main (St Albans) (Con) Parliament Live - Hansard
9 Apr 2019, 4:01 p.m.

This is a point we have been debating among ourselves here. I gather that the European Parliament has already divvied up the seats, so to speak. What will happen if we take our seats and then do not take our seats? Surely what is being proposed will throw the whole thing into confusion.

Robert Buckland Portrait The Solicitor General - Hansard
9 Apr 2019, 4:02 p.m.

My hon. Friend is right that the European Parliament has had to make contingency plans for constitution with the UK and without the UK, and there is no doubting the complications of that.

Robert Buckland Portrait The Solicitor General - Hansard
9 Apr 2019, 4:01 p.m.

Tempted as I am to take further interventions from right hon. and hon. Members, I must finish.

I think most colleagues would agree that it would now be odd to leave on 22 May, when just a few additional weeks would allow for the finalisation of the ratification of a deal. I should explain why we cannot seek to extend only to 22 May and then ask for a further extension to 30 June. To put it simply, we must all recognise that we cannot assemble and reassemble the European Council every few weeks.

The Government have committed to deliver on the result of the referendum, and we in this House must now come together to find a way forward, rather than seeking to further extend the process. It is up to us to chart a course for this country beyond the EU and to agree a plan that can deliver what I hope and believe will be a bright future, with the close and meaningful partnership with the EU that we all want to see. That is what the Government’s extension will provide time for, and that is why I urge all right hon. and hon. Members to support it, to support the Prime Minister at tomorrow’s Council, and to support a plan that will deliver on the referendum and take the United Kingdom out of the European Union. I commend the motion to the House.

Matthew Pennycook Portrait Matthew Pennycook (Greenwich and Woolwich) (Lab) - Parliament Live - Hansard
9 Apr 2019, 4:04 p.m.

The motion before us is a straightforward one. I note the Solicitor General’s remark that he did not want to be here, but the more pertinent point is that we should not have found ourselves here. When Parliament voted overwhelmingly to give the Prime Minister the authority to trigger article 50 and begin the negotiations, we never expected that we would be in this position two years later.

The Government should be mortified that they have been forced to ask once again for the House’s approval to seek an extension to the article 50 process, not only because the fact that another extension is required is a damning indictment of their mishandling of the negotiations and their failure to secure a deal that commands the confidence of the Commons, but because the very fact that we are being asked to approve the motion before us, pursuant to an unconventional Act of Parliament spearheaded by my right hon. Friend the Member for Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford (Yvette Cooper) and the right hon. Member for West Dorset (Sir Oliver Letwin) and passed last week in the face of Government opposition, is testament to the serious erosion of trust between the Executive and this legislature. If right hon. and hon. Members are weary, it is first and foremost a weariness of the undeliverable promises made by this Government and the false expectations that have consistently been raised, whether it be the Brady amendment or the Malthouse compromise.

Even this morning, contrary to all the available evidence and the constancy of the EU position, the Leader of the House chose to give credence to the fantastical notion that the EU, at the same time as considering another extension request, might also entirely shift its position and agree to reopen the withdrawal agreement. It is long past time that Government Ministers stopped peddling myths to indulge the hardliners on their own Benches and advance their personal agendas.

Northern Ireland Backstop

Robert Buckland Excerpts
Tuesday 19th February 2019

(1 year, 7 months ago)

Commons Chamber
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Attorney General
Nick Thomas-Symonds Portrait Nick Thomas-Symonds (Torfaen) (Lab) - Parliament Live - Hansard
19 Feb 2019, 12:39 p.m.

(Urgent Question): To ask the Attorney General if he will make a statement on options for legally binding changes to the Northern Ireland protocol of the EU withdrawal agreement, which contains the backstop arrangement.

Robert Buckland Portrait The Solicitor General (Robert Buckland) - Parliament Live - Hansard
19 Feb 2019, 12:40 p.m.

Before I answer the hon. Gentleman, my constituents would expect me briefly to express their dismay and deep concern about Honda’s announcement this morning, which will deeply affect the community. I anticipate the statement of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy—

Mr Speaker Hansard
19 Feb 2019, 12:41 p.m.

Order. Do not tell me what the situation is. The hon. and learned Gentleman is a Law Officer and a member of the Government. A sentence, but absolutely no more. He should have asked me in advance. He is either on the Front Bench or he is not. It is not for him to presume the right to speak of a matter about which he could speak if he sat on the Back Benches, which he does not.

Robert Buckland Portrait The Solicitor General - Parliament Live - Hansard
19 Feb 2019, 12:41 p.m.

I am very sorry, Mr Speaker, but I said what I said.

The Government recognise the legitimate desire of Members on both sides of the House to understand the legal effect of the proposed withdrawal agreement. On 12 February, the Prime Minister set out ways in which legally binding changes to the backstop could be achieved. She explained that the UK and the EU would hold further talks to find a way forward. Those discussions are ongoing, and it would not be appropriate to provide a running commentary.

Nick Thomas-Symonds Portrait Nick Thomas-Symonds - Parliament Live - Hansard
19 Feb 2019, 12:42 p.m.

Thank you for granting this urgent question, Mr Speaker, and I thank the Solicitor General for responding. The reality is that there are 38 days until we leave the EU, and in all likelihood eight days until the next round of voting, and we are nowhere nearer having any further clarity on this issue. All this time, our economy, our jobs and our futures are affected by that uncertainty.

On 29 January, the Prime Minister told the House:

“What I am talking about is not a further exchange of letters but a significant and legally binding change to the withdrawal agreement. Negotiating such a change will not be easy. It will involve reopening the withdrawal agreement”.—[Official Report, 29 January 2019; Vol. 653, c. 678.]

Can the Solicitor General confirm that it is still Government policy to formally reopen the withdrawal agreement? If not, what positive, concrete proposals are the Government suggesting? Can he confirm whether the Government have actually put forward those proposals as options to the European Commission and the European Council?

Yesterday, on Radio 4’s “Today” programme, the Minister for the Cabinet Office said:

“The Attorney General, Geoffrey Cox, is closely involved with the negotiations too, and he will be making a speech on Tuesday to set out how, in his view, the legal tests that he has set, about ensuring that the so-called backstop cannot be used to trap the United Kingdom indefinitely, could be met and overcome.”

Can the Solicitor General clarify exactly what the Attorney General’s role is in the negotiations and when he will publish those legal tests? Are the Government seeking, as is reported in the media, a “joint interpretive instrument” on the withdrawal agreement, some sort of annexe to it, another exchange of letters, or changes to the political declaration?

We are about to make a momentous decision on the future of our country. The Government need to be clear with this House about precisely what their strategy is. Running down the clock is reckless and irresponsible. Surely this nation deserves better than a Government wandering in the wilderness, not even sure about what their next move is.

Robert Buckland Portrait The Solicitor General - Parliament Live - Hansard

What would be reckless and irresponsible is for the Government to provide a running commentary on sensitive negotiations. I would have thought it is as plain as a pikestaff to the hon. Gentleman that that is not the way negotiations should be conducted. Let the Government get on with this work at pace, which is what we are doing.

Rather than criticising from the sidelines, it now behoves the hon. Gentleman and all Opposition Members to work for a constructive solution and end the uncertainty. It is in his hands as much as it is in the hands of the Government.

Lord Clarke of Nottingham Portrait Mr Kenneth Clarke (Rushcliffe) (Con) - Parliament Live - Hansard
19 Feb 2019, 12:45 p.m.

I understand the dangers of a running commentary, but I have a little difficulty understanding by what process we have reached this point. As far as I can see, the serious negotiations are with the Democratic Unionist party and the European Research Group in my party to see what modifications to the withdrawal agreement we have negotiated they will accept. Ministers then go to Brussels to demand that the European Union accepts the changes and threaten it with leaving without a deal if the changes are not made. As my hon. and learned Friend understands it, are those roughly the tactics being pursued? Why does he think any European politician should accept a situation whereby the permanent open border in Ireland is subject to being terminated by the British Government at any stage they want or having an end date put on it, which seems to me a contradiction? Finally, does he think that the hard-liners in the ERG would accept even that, even if my right hon. and learned Friend the Attorney General produces some ingenious form of words that seems to make it legally binding?

Robert Buckland Portrait The Solicitor General - Parliament Live - Hansard
19 Feb 2019, 12:46 p.m.

As usual, my right hon. and learned Friend tempts me down many paths that I dare not take, simply because this is a negotiation between the United Kingdom and the EU. We heard yesterday from my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union, who has been to Brussels and held a productive meeting with Michel Barnier, and my right hon. and learned Friend the Attorney General has been playing an important part in these negotiations. May I reassure my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Rushcliffe (Mr Clarke) that the Government remain determined to get on with the job at pace?

Joanna Cherry Portrait Joanna Cherry (Edinburgh South West) (SNP) - Parliament Live - Hansard
19 Feb 2019, 12:47 p.m.

This morning, France’s Europe Minister, Nathalie Loiseau, said that there will be no renegotiation of the withdrawal agreement. In saying that, she was simply echoing what has been said repeatedly by Donald Tusk, Jean-Claude Juncker, Angela Merkel, Emmanuel Macron and Leo Varadkar. That was the position made crystal clear to the Select Committee on Exiting the European Union when we met Martin Selmayr on 4 February. He said that the most the EU would be prepared to contemplate was an additional legal instrument or a codicil to the agreement, which would incorporate the sort of assurances set out in the letter from Tusk and Juncker dated 14 January but which would not contradict or change the existing text of the agreement. Can the Solicitor General confirm that that is still the position of the EU and that there is no question of the withdrawal agreement being opened up and renegotiated in relation to anything, let alone the backstop? Will he confirm that it is clear that there will be no time limit or unilateral exit clause to the backstop? If his position is that he does not want to give this House a running commentary, why is the Attorney General supposed to be elsewhere today, giving a speech about what is proposed, not to this House, but to I know not who? Is it true that that speech has been cancelled? If so, why has it been cancelled?

Robert Buckland Portrait The Solicitor General - Parliament Live - Hansard
19 Feb 2019, 12:48 p.m.

May I assure the hon. and learned Lady, who expresses a deep interest in the Attorney General’s diary, that his plan is to make a speech about the issues, but it is not going to be some detailed exposition of a legal position, which he will bring to this House if appropriate? He has already shown an admirable willingness not only to address this House, but to comply with its orders, and I am sure he will continue to work in that spirit.

I am glad the hon. and learned Lady referred to the letter of 14 January, because it is important to remind ourselves that the Commission made it clear in that letter that it was determined to give priority to the discussion of alternative arrangements. That is very much part of the ongoing discussion. It would be somewhat difficult for me to commit the other party to the negotiation to a particular position. I have heard her comments with interest. I am here to speak on behalf of Her Majesty’s Government and our position is clear.

Sir William Cash Portrait Sir William Cash (Stone) (Con) - Parliament Live - Hansard

As you know, Mr Speaker, I raised this matter urgently with you yesterday. Does my hon. and learned Friend accept that it is essential that when the Attorney General has had his discussions with the EU, he tables, in compliance with his parliamentary obligations, any asserted “legally binding” treaty text, in black and white, in the House itself by Monday 25 February, so that my European Scrutiny Committee can fully assess and report to the House on its legal meaning and the substance, and he does not merely address some audience at a City law firm?

Robert Buckland Portrait The Solicitor General - Parliament Live - Hansard
19 Feb 2019, 12:49 p.m.

My hon. Friend raises an important point, and both the Attorney General and I take the work of his Committee, a Committee of this House, with the utmost gravity. I assure him that any work that is done with regard to legal texts will of course be shared at the appropriate moment. I think he will understand that I cannot give him an absolute commitment in terms of dates, but I have heard what he said and will certainly bear those comments very much in mind in the days ahead.

Hilary Benn Portrait Hilary Benn (Leeds Central) (Lab) - Hansard
19 Feb 2019, 12:50 p.m.

If the technology that could keep the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic as it is today existed, there would be no need for the backstop. The Solicitor General knows that that technology does not exist, and no one can say when it might become available. In those circumstances, will he please explain to the House how the Government can credibly ask for either a time limit or a unilateral exit clause, particularly when he knows that the EU has made it very clear that it has no intention of giving either?

Robert Buckland Portrait The Solicitor General - Parliament Live - Hansard
19 Feb 2019, 12:51 p.m.

The right hon. Chairman of the Exiting the European Union Committee elides two issues: the existence of the technology and the sensitivities of the communities on both sides of the border. I do not think any of the ongoing discussions relate to new technology in the sense that it needs to be relied on today; there is plenty of existing technology that could be used. The most important point, however, is the communities and their sensitivity. That is well understood by the Government. For the right hon. Gentleman to hang his hat on that as a reason for the absence of any potential termination clause or unilateral mechanism is to simplify things just a bit too far.

Dr Andrew Murrison Portrait Dr Andrew Murrison (South West Wiltshire) (Con) - Parliament Live - Hansard
19 Feb 2019, 12:51 p.m.

Does the Solicitor General agree that whatever agreement is arrived at with Brussels, we must get away from the idea that the potentially forever customs union is seen as basecamp for our future trading relationship?

Robert Buckland Portrait The Solicitor General - Parliament Live - Hansard
19 Feb 2019, 12:52 p.m.

My hon. Friend is right to remind us that the future relationship document contains a range of options. The negotiation on that will begin as soon as possible; let us get the withdrawal agreement done so that we can have that debate urgently.

Ed Davey Portrait Sir Edward Davey (Kingston and Surbiton) (LD) - Parliament Live - Hansard
19 Feb 2019, 12:52 p.m.

Has the Solicitor General seen the study published yesterday by Irish Senator Mark Daly, in conjunction with two UNESCO chairmen, on the danger of a return to violence in Northern Ireland in the event of a no-deal Brexit? Given that Senator Daly says that his report

“highlights the responsibility of the UK government to stand by the backstop”,

what weight have Her Majesty’s Government given to the cause of peace in their discussions on the backstop?

Robert Buckland Portrait The Solicitor General - Parliament Live - Hansard
19 Feb 2019, 12:53 p.m.

I have not seen Senator Daly’s report but will look at it urgently because, like him, I treat the cause of peace with the utmost seriousness. In fact, everything that the Government have said reveals their dedication not only to the letter of the Belfast agreement but to its spirit as well.

Mr Mark Francois Portrait Mr Mark Francois (Rayleigh and Wickford) (Con) - Parliament Live - Hansard
19 Feb 2019, 12:53 p.m.

The Solicitor General has told the House clearly that the Government will not provide a running commentary on the negotiations—unless, of course, it is Olly Robbins, the Government’s chief negotiator, who can get hammered in a bar in Brussels and give a detailed running commentary to anybody who happens to be in earshot. That is extremely unprofessional behaviour for a senior civil servant. A Minister who did that would be sacked. What disciplinary action has been taken against Mr Robbins? Or does he get away with it because he is teacher’s pet?

Robert Buckland Portrait The Solicitor General - Parliament Live - Hansard
19 Feb 2019, 12:54 p.m.

My right hon. Friend referred to a newspaper report on which it would be ill-advised for me to comment. Let me say this generally about our civil servants: whatever their role, position or views, they are in a singularly difficult position in that they cannot answer back.

Lord Dodds of Duncairn Portrait Nigel Dodds (Belfast North) (DUP) - Parliament Live - Hansard
19 Feb 2019, 12:55 p.m.

Everybody knows that there is not going to be any hard border in Ireland and, given what Michel Barnier said, everybody knows that even in the event of a no-deal Brexit operational ways would be found so that there were no controls or checks, so all this is scaremongering. It is not going to happen. Anyone who knows anything about Irish politics knows that no Irish Government will introduce a hard border on the island of Ireland. That is the reality of the situation. The fact of the matter is that the Prime Minister has, as the Solicitor General knows, given a commitment to reopen the withdrawal agreement and to seek legally binding changes to the treaty itself. Yesterday, Simon Coveney ruled out legally binding language even outside the withdrawal agreement. Does the Solicitor General accept that some of the rhetoric coming from the Irish Government and others is bringing about the very thing that they say they want to avoid, which is the possibility of no deal?

Robert Buckland Portrait The Solicitor General - Parliament Live - Hansard
19 Feb 2019, 12:55 p.m.

The right hon. Gentleman is absolutely right in his call for everybody to cool it and to calm down when it comes to important issues such as the Irish border. I am not going to make comments about members of friendly Governments, but I will say that this is a time for calm heads rather than hot ones.

Mr Speaker Hansard
19 Feb 2019, 12:55 p.m.

On the subject of calmness, I think we should hear from a Lincolnshire knight. I call Sir Edward Leigh.

Sir Edward Leigh Portrait Sir Edward Leigh (Gainsborough) (Con) - Parliament Live - Hansard
19 Feb 2019, 12:55 p.m.

Thank you, Mr Speaker. This is really a taster for what will be a very calm debate: my Adjournment debate on Thursday on this very subject, which I am sure will be the highlight of the week. I do not ask the Solicitor General to provide running commentary, but has he noted that many international lawyers have said that if the EU does not want to reopen the withdrawal agreement, it would be entirely in accordance with international law for us to issue, either unilaterally or in agreement, a conditional interpretive declaration proclaiming that there will be an end date to the backstop? It is something that I have been boring on about for weeks now.

Robert Buckland Portrait The Solicitor General - Parliament Live - Hansard

My right hon. Friend is anything but boring. He might be persistent, but boring? No. I commend him for his work in looking at this particular aspect of international treaty law and interpretation and urge him to pursue it.

Mr Speaker Hansard
19 Feb 2019, 12:56 p.m.

The right hon. Member for Gainsborough (Sir Edward Leigh) is quite wrong. He is far too hard on himself. I have known the right hon. Gentleman for 25 years and have never been bored by him on any occasion. Never.

Mr Barry Sheerman Portrait Mr Barry Sheerman (Huddersfield) (Lab/Co-op) - Parliament Live - Hansard
19 Feb 2019, 12:57 p.m.

I wonder whether the Solicitor General minds my putting on record, and I hope he will also put on record, the distaste that we felt at that personal attack from the Back Benches—I think from a member of the European Research Group—on a civil servant who is trying to do his job. The job that civil servants are trying to do is a very difficult one and the people responsible for that difficulty are the Government, not the civil servants trying to do a good job.

Does the Solicitor General agree that we need a running commentary in this House? I am glad that he has made this statement today, because the fact of the matter is that at a certain juncture in this dialogue we are supposed to be having to find the answer to this difficult problem, the Government side stopped talking to people. Will he resume the talks so that we can get this sorted?

Robert Buckland Portrait The Solicitor General - Parliament Live - Hansard
19 Feb 2019, 12:57 p.m.

The hon. Gentleman knows that I am here and always ready to talk, as are the Government, and the dialogue continues. The Leader of the Opposition has of course made an approach, which we welcomed. That is an important sign of the cross-party work that needs to continue.

I have said what I have said about our civil servants. Politicians are here to be accountable and to answer for our actions; civil servants are there to carry them out, nothing further.

Vicky Ford Portrait Vicky Ford (Chelmsford) (Con) - Parliament Live - Hansard
19 Feb 2019, 12:58 p.m.

I find this urgent question from the Opposition somewhat bizarre, as only last Thursday the Opposition Brexit spokesperson, the right hon. and learned Member for Holborn and St Pancras (Keir Starmer), said that he had no problems with the backstop at all. For the avoidance of doubt, will the Solicitor General confirm again that the Government stand firmly behind all their commitments on the Belfast Good Friday agreement?

Robert Buckland Portrait The Solicitor General - Parliament Live - Hansard
19 Feb 2019, 12:58 p.m.

I will never tire of saying to my hon. Friend or to the House that we remain steadfast in our commitment to the Belfast agreement. It is as important to me now as it was when it was signed 20 years ago.

Thangam Debbonaire Portrait Thangam Debbonaire (Bristol West) (Lab) - Parliament Live - Hansard
19 Feb 2019, 12:58 p.m.

The Attorney General made a rather snippy remark, if I may say so, about my hon. Friend the Member for Torfaen (Nick Thomas-Symonds) having made a comment from the sidelines, and then implied that the solutions to this situation were as much in my hon. Friend’s hands as in the Solicitor General’s. He cannot have it both ways. Has the Solicitor General invited my hon. Friend to be part of the solution—yes or no?

Robert Buckland Portrait The Solicitor General - Parliament Live - Hansard

I remind the hon. Lady, for whom I have a high degree of respect, of section 13 of the European Union (Withdrawal) Act, which gives this House the role of ratifying the withdrawal agreement. It is Parliament that has to ratify it and pass a Bill before that agreement is ratified. It is on us all—the buck stops with all of us before we can ratify—so please let us get on with it.

Andrew Bridgen Portrait Andrew Bridgen (North West Leicestershire) (Con) - Parliament Live - Hansard
19 Feb 2019, 1:09 p.m.

Does the Solicitor General agree with the widely reported comments of Olly Robbins, the Prime Minister’s chief negotiator, who, I believe, spoke in vino veritas when he said that he saw the backstop as a bridge to a future partnership? Clearly, that is a future partnership involving a customs union, which would prevent our having an independent free trade policy. If he does not agree with him on behalf of the Government, why is Mr Robbins still in his position?

Robert Buckland Portrait The Solicitor General - Parliament Live - Hansard
19 Feb 2019, 1 p.m.

My hon. Friend will have heard the answer that I gave some moments ago. I simply say that the backstop is not intended to be a bridge to anywhere. It is to be used only in extremis if we cannot achieve a future relationship. It cannot be a bridge; the bridge has to be with the withdrawal agreement and then our future relationship.

Liz Saville Roberts Portrait Liz Saville Roberts (Dwyfor Meirionnydd) (PC) - Parliament Live - Hansard
19 Feb 2019, 1 p.m.

The Solicitor General seeks to justify the problem that is Brexit by insisting that the backstop is the problem. I understand that he wants to sympathise with the manufacturing communities in Swindon, Wales and elsewhere that are waking up to job losses, but it is difficult because he is in the Government. Given the evidence, how can the Government, abetted by the Labour Front-Bench team, continue to defend their myopia, their self-interest, and their talent for procrastination? When will he admit their part in this problem?

Robert Buckland Portrait The Solicitor General - Parliament Live - Hansard
19 Feb 2019, 1:01 p.m.

I can agree with the hon. Lady to this extent: it is incumbent on politicians from all parts of the House, most importantly on those on the Opposition Front Bench, to work to achieve a solution, rather than to achieve nano-party-political ends. I entirely agree with her. I have seen precious little of the former, and far too much of the latter, but God loves a sinner who repenteth, and I look forward to the Opposition following that advice and helping us all to do our duty and get the deal through.

Sir Bernard Jenkin Portrait Sir Bernard Jenkin (Harwich and North Essex) (Con) - Parliament Live - Hansard
19 Feb 2019, 1:01 p.m.

First, may I thank my hon. and learned Friend for making it clear that there are viable alternative arrangements, which the Government are discussing, arising from the so-called Brady amendment? Last week, President Tusk tweeted that no concrete proposals had been received from the UK Government. Will he now confirm that these proposals have been presented as Government policy to the European Union?

Robert Buckland Portrait The Solicitor General - Parliament Live - Hansard
19 Feb 2019, 1:01 p.m.

I am grateful to my hon. Friend. He knows that it would be invidious of me to provide that running commentary that I have been quite properly resisting. May I assure him that the discussions are more than diplomatic niceties? They are meaningful and substantial and will continue in greater depth in the days ahead.

Mr Gregory Campbell (East Londonderry) (DUP) - Parliament Live - Hansard
19 Feb 2019, 1:02 p.m.

Will the Solicitor General tell us whether the Government have made it clear to the European Union in negotiations that its insistence on the backstop will prove the most expensive financial and political wrongdoing of the past 60 years? There cannot be a hard border because of the complexity of the border on the island of Ireland.

Robert Buckland Portrait The Solicitor General - Parliament Live - Hansard
19 Feb 2019, 1:03 p.m.

The hon. Gentleman, with his deep knowledge of the border, speaks absolute truth when he talks about its complexity. May I assure him that this Government are dedicated to making sure that the backstop is fully understood and that we understand the importance of making sure that this House can coalesce around a deal that will be acceptable? I think that that is now very much understood in the corridors of Brussels.

Mr David Jones Portrait Mr David Jones (Clwyd West) (Con) - Parliament Live - Hansard
19 Feb 2019, 1:03 p.m.

It is, of course, entirely reasonable that the Solicitor General should decline to conduct a running commentary on the progress of the negotiations, but can he at least confirm that, in approaching those negotiations, the Government have borne fully in mind the view of this House that the Northern Ireland backstop should be replaced with alternative arrangements—a state of affairs that I suggest would not comprehend a mere interpretative instrument?

Robert Buckland Portrait The Solicitor General - Parliament Live - Hansard
19 Feb 2019, 1:04 p.m.

Indeed, the Government listened very carefully when the House passed the so-called Brady amendment and have pursued the strands of work that were encouraged by hon. Members. That continues, and I am confident that it will bear fruit.

Ian C. Lucas (Wrexham) (Lab) Parliament Live - Hansard
19 Feb 2019, 1:04 p.m.

Will the Solicitor General please confirm my view that the Prime Minister’s withdrawal agreement creates a different set of trade rules applying on each side of the Irish sea?

Robert Buckland Portrait The Solicitor General - Parliament Live - Hansard
19 Feb 2019, 1:04 p.m.

Without going through the detail of the protocol, the hon. Gentleman knows that the particular construct of the protocol meant that, for certain items of trade, Northern Ireland was treated as a member of the single market. There would be an effective border if Great Britain changed its rules and there was a difference between the two. That is not our intention. I need not recite the matter any further. He knows that that is one reason why we have been looking carefully again at the backstop bearing in mind the decisions made by this House. It is time for him to come forward, be a statesman and vote for the deal.

Sir Desmond Swayne Portrait Sir Desmond Swayne (New Forest West) (Con) - Parliament Live - Hansard
19 Feb 2019, 1:04 p.m.

Does this speech by the Attorney General include the assessment that the one thing worse than the backstop would be staying in the EU?

Robert Buckland Portrait The Solicitor General - Parliament Live - Hansard
19 Feb 2019, 1:05 p.m.

I have not yet read the speech, so it would be wholly premature of me to assume what my right hon. and learned Friend, with great style no doubt, will dilate upon.

Mr Clive Betts Portrait Mr Clive Betts (Sheffield South East) (Lab) - Parliament Live - Hansard
19 Feb 2019, 1:05 p.m.

Will the Solicitor General give us an assurance that, if there is any change to the legal advice that the Government receive about the withdrawal agreement or any related documents, that advice will be given to this House before we have the opportunity to vote on any resolution to which it might be relevant?

Robert Buckland Portrait The Solicitor General - Parliament Live - Hansard
19 Feb 2019, 1:05 p.m.

The hon. Gentleman makes a very proper point. Very careful consideration will be given to the publication of any documents that might emanate from my right hon. and learned Friend. We are very mindful of the position that we reached in light of motions passed by this House. At the moment, it would be wrong of me to prejudge anything that might or might not exist, but I heard the hon. Gentleman very clearly.

Stephen Metcalfe Portrait Stephen Metcalfe (South Basildon and East Thurrock) (Con) - Parliament Live - Hansard
19 Feb 2019, 1:06 p.m.

I agree with my hon. and learned Friend that it is not appropriate to provide a running commentary during these negotiations, but does he agree that, during any negotiation, it is not appropriate to remove the option of being able to walk away, because that is what focuses the mind?

Robert Buckland Portrait The Solicitor General - Parliament Live - Hansard
19 Feb 2019, 1:06 p.m.

Indeed, the Government have been very clear that, when it comes to negotiations, one should not willingly and wantonly abandon the cards that they have in their hand. That is the way that we will continue to negotiate—firmly but fairly and as openly as possible, consistent with our duties to this House.

Peter Grant Portrait Peter Grant (Glenrothes) (SNP) - Parliament Live - Hansard
19 Feb 2019, 1:06 p.m.

We have heard all the usual excuses today: blame the civil service; blame Brussels; blame Ireland for what is an entirely British-made problem. As long ago as December 2017, the Government, with the full support of the Democratic Unionist party, gave a binding commitment to provide a solution that would make their customs union red lines compatible with the Belfast agreement. Is it not the case that the only reason that the backstop will ever exist is because the Government have failed to deliver on those commitments? Will the Solicitor General not finally admit that, when it becomes clear that leaving the customs union and the single market is incompatible with the Belfast agreement, the Belfast agreement has to stay and the Government’s red lines have to go?

Robert Buckland Portrait The Solicitor General - Parliament Live - Hansard
19 Feb 2019, 1:08 p.m.

I have not been seeking to blame anybody. When it comes to constructive negotiations, I believe not in blame games, but in trying to find solutions. It is high time that the hon. Gentleman and his party actually joined the solutions-based approach rather than constantly carping from the sidelines. I am absolutely fed up with that approach. It is time that they grew up and joined the debate.

Huw Merriman Portrait Huw Merriman (Bexhill and Battle) (Con) - Parliament Live - Hansard
19 Feb 2019, 1:08 p.m.

The Solicitor General is not only a great fighter for workers in his constituency, but a canny negotiator for Government. Does he agree that, rather than Members of this place parroting position lines from EU 27 Government Ministers about how difficult it would be, we need to hold our nerve and keep our best card? That way, we will get a deal and ensure that we deliver democracy at the same time.

Robert Buckland Portrait The Solicitor General - Parliament Live - Hansard
19 Feb 2019, 1:08 p.m.

I am very grateful to my hon. Friend for his remarks about the communities that both and I and my hon. Friend the Member for North Swindon (Justin Tomlinson) serve in the context of Honda. He is absolutely right to say that it is rather rum for people in this House and elsewhere to constantly believe the words of other negotiating parties and other Governments as gospel and refuse to accept anything that Her Majesty’s Government might say as even in the remotest bit true.

Mr Speaker Hansard

As colleagues will know, the word “rum” was much favoured by PG Wodehouse of whose works, I suspect, the Solicitor General is, among others, a devotee.

Gareth Snell (Stoke-on-Trent Central) (Lab/Co-op) Parliament Live - Hansard
19 Feb 2019, 1:09 p.m.

The Solicitor General says it is in the fate of the Labour party to help him secure a deal, but that simply is not true. What concessions, if any, will the Government make towards the deal that the Labour party has put down as a potential way through this? He knows that I have given his Government the benefit of the doubt on more than one occasion by not supporting things that my party has asked me to, and actively opposing things on other occasions. I did not support the Government on the Brady amendment, but nor did I oppose it, because I believed it was important that the Government had the space to conduct negotiations to get a deal through. The wording of that amendment quite clearly said that the backstop should be “replaced”, so can the Solicitor General tell me, without equivocation, that when he brings that deal back, the backstop will have been replaced?

Robert Buckland Portrait The Solicitor General - Hansard
19 Feb 2019, 1:09 p.m.

I note with care the hon. Gentleman’s position and I have observed what he is doing to represent his constituents. It would be somewhat pre-emptory for me to anticipate what might come back from the negotiation. I assure him that we are trying to get on with it at some speed, so that his position can be as clear as possible, and so that he can, with the rest of this House, make that all-important decision on his constituents’ behalf.

Kevin Foster Portrait Kevin Foster (Torbay) (Con) - Hansard
19 Feb 2019, 1:09 p.m.

The Solicitor General will recall, as I do, that the House expressed a clear view on 29 January, and I am pleased to note that the Government are now negotiating to try to implement that and bring something back. Can he confirm, however, that it is right not to give a running commentary on this, and that anyway the House will have an opportunity next week to debate and vote on this matter again?

Robert Buckland Portrait The Solicitor General - Hansard
19 Feb 2019, 1:09 p.m.

I am grateful to my hon. Friend; he is of course correct on all counts.

Nick Smith Portrait Nick Smith (Blaenau Gwent) (Lab) - Parliament Live - Hansard
19 Feb 2019, 1:09 p.m.

This morning, the Health Secretary said that the NHS is spending £11 million preparing for no deal. In January, this House voted for the Spelman-Dromey amendment to take no deal off the table, so can the Solicitor General explain why the Government are ignoring the will of the Commons by trying to keep no deal on the table, and spending that £11 million unnecessarily?

Robert Buckland Portrait The Solicitor General - Parliament Live - Hansard
19 Feb 2019, 1:09 p.m.

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman. The Spelman-Dromey amendment actually committed us to a course of action whereby this House would not leave without a withdrawal agreement and future relationship. Those are not quite the same things as the assertions that he makes. He knows that I am as anxious as he is to achieve a deal. He represents a constituency that I know well, which has, shall we say, more than its fair share of challenges. I want to help him and his constituents. The way to do that is to end the uncertainty and support the deal.

Mr Philip Hollobone Portrait Mr Philip Hollobone (Kettering) (Con) - Parliament Live - Hansard
19 Feb 2019, 1:09 p.m.

Is it the policy of Her Majesty’s Government to replace the backstop with alternative arrangements?

Robert Buckland Portrait The Solicitor General - Parliament Live - Hansard
19 Feb 2019, 1:09 p.m.

My hon. Friend knows the Government’s position. The Prime Minister set out a number of ways in which there could be a revision to the withdrawal agreement. Those matters are being actively pursued, and we will come back as soon as possible, and hopefully satisfy my hon. Friend that he will be able to do the right thing and support a withdrawal agreement that will facilitate the Brexit for which he has campaigned for so long.

Mr Simon Clarke Portrait Mr Simon Clarke (Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland) (Con) - Parliament Live - Hansard
19 Feb 2019, 1:09 p.m.

On 29 January, I voted for the Brady amendment to replace the backstop with alternative arrangements. I praise my hon. and learned Friend for his personal role in helping to develop the Malthouse compromise. With regard to the second meaningful vote, whenever it comes, may I urge him to emphasise to colleagues across the Government that the definition of insanity is to repeat the same experiment and expect a different result?

Robert Buckland Portrait The Solicitor General - Parliament Live - Hansard
19 Feb 2019, 1:09 p.m.

My hon. Friend puts it in a very attractive way; I commend him for that. He, like me, is a realist, and he knows that he, representing his constituents as ably as he does, will want to resolve the uncertainty. I know that he is very keen to do that, and I applaud him for the constructive approach that he is taking. I very much commend that to him in the days ahead.

Nigel Huddleston Portrait Nigel Huddleston (Mid Worcestershire) (Con) - Parliament Live - Hansard
19 Feb 2019, 1:09 p.m.

Although I recognise the challenging position of many Opposition MPs, does the Solicitor General share my amazement at those Opposition MPs who say they cannot support the withdrawal agreement because it may include a temporary backstop, keeping us temporarily in the customs union but not paying into the coffers and without freedom of movement, and simultaneously advocate a permanent customs union that would stop us from doing international trade deals?

Break in Debate

Kevin Hollinrake Portrait Kevin Hollinrake (Thirsk and Malton) (Con) - Parliament Live - Hansard
19 Feb 2019, 1:09 p.m.

Rather than having to agree with the European Union whether we have met our obligations to avoid a hard border in Northern Ireland, would it not be fair and reasonable to both sides to refer the matter to a process of arbitration?

Robert Buckland Portrait The Solicitor General - Parliament Live - Hansard
19 Feb 2019, 1:09 p.m.

Well, well. My hon. Friend tempts me down an interesting path. He knows that of course the arbitration process is contained within the provisions of the agreement itself. I think that we appreciate that time is of the essence, and that we have to operate within that constraint, which is why we are very keen to come back to this House as quickly as possible.

Jeremy Lefroy (Stafford) (Con) Parliament Live - Hansard
19 Feb 2019, 1:09 p.m.

Last week, I listened with great attention and respect to the former Taoiseach of Ireland, Bertie Ahern, as he gave evidence to the Select Committee on Exiting the European Union. He made the point that leaving with no deal would be extremely damaging to people on both sides of the border, both Republic of Ireland businesses and Northern Ireland businesses—particularly indigenous businesses, not so much international businesses. Does my hon. and learned Friend agree that for that reason it is incredibly important that this matter is resolved, and that the withdrawal agreement is passed with support right across this House?

Robert Buckland Portrait The Solicitor General - Parliament Live - Hansard
19 Feb 2019, 1:09 p.m.

My hon. Friend has long been a keen student of these issues. He is absolutely right to warn us about the dangers of a no deal, which is why he, I and very many others have supported a deal. It is now time for all of us to do just that and end the uncertainty.

Paul Masterton (East Renfrewshire) (Con) Parliament Live - Hansard
19 Feb 2019, 1:09 p.m.

Is it not the case that the time for running around Europe with ambitious schemes that will not be accepted is over, that that simply increases the chances of a no-deal exit and that the requests for any changes need to be detailed and precise? So can my hon. and learned Friend confirm that the Government will be going in with a targeted micro-surgery approach, not trying to blast the withdrawal agreement with a scattergun?

Robert Buckland Portrait The Solicitor General - Parliament Live - Hansard
19 Feb 2019, 1:09 p.m.

I can assure my hon. Friend, who speaks with conviction and passion and serves his constituents admirably, that the Government will be taking a forensic approach. This is a detailed negotiation. The time for platitudes is long gone. We will be adopting his approach in the days ahead.

Lord Clarke of Nottingham Portrait Mr Kenneth Clarke - Hansard

On a point of order, Mr Speaker.

Withdrawal Agreement: Legal Advice

Robert Buckland Excerpts
Thursday 29th November 2018

(1 year, 10 months ago)

Commons Chamber
Read Full debate Read Hansard Text
Attorney General
Keir Starmer Portrait Keir Starmer (Holborn and St Pancras) (Lab) - Hansard
29 Nov 2018, 10:34 a.m.

(Urgent Question): To ask the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster and Minister for the Cabinet Office if he will make a statement on the publication of the Attorney General’s legal advice on the proposed withdrawal agreement.

Robert Buckland Portrait The Solicitor General (Robert Buckland) - Parliament Live - Hansard
29 Nov 2018, 10:35 a.m.

The Government recognise the legitimate desire of Members on all sides of the House to understand the withdrawal agreement and its legal effect. That is why my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster confirmed to the House on Tuesday 13 November that the Government will publish a full reasoned statement to set out their position on the legal effect of the withdrawal agreement. That is in addition to the material that the Government have already published, including, for example, a detailed explainer of the withdrawal agreement and a technical explanatory note on the Northern Ireland protocol. My right hon. and learned Friend the Attorney General will also make a statement to the House on Monday 3 December—the next sitting day—about the legal effect of the agreement, and he will answer questions from Members, I am sure in the fullest possible way.

Keir Starmer Portrait Keir Starmer - Hansard
29 Nov 2018, 10:35 a.m.

Not good enough.

Mr Speaker, nobody who was present in the debate on 13 November, including the Solicitor General, could be in any doubt about what the House was asking for. During that debate I stated that

“the motion requires the publication of the final and full advice provided by the Attorney General to the Cabinet concerning the terms of any withdrawal agreement. This must be made available to all MPs. It is to be published after any withdrawal agreement is reached with the EU, but in good time to allow proper consideration before MPs are asked to vote on the deal.”—[Official Report, 13 November 2018; Vol. 649, c. 235.]

The motion was passed unanimously on those terms, and when it was passed, I made it clear that those were its terms.

It was perfectly clear to Ministers, including the Solicitor General who spoke at the end of the debate, that the House was not asking for a position paper or a summary of the Attorney General’s advice. That was the offer made from the Dispatch Box during the debate, and it was roundly rejected, as the Solicitor General knows full well. The binding motion that was passed was for nothing less than for the full and final legal advice provided by the Attorney General. It is therefore wholly unacceptable, and frankly shows contempt for this House, for Ministers, including the Prime Minister at the Dispatch Box yesterday, now to pretend that the House was asking only for partial or qualified legal advice. If the Government are not willing to comply with the order of the House, why did they and the Solicitor General not vote against the motion?

In 12 days’ time, this House will have to take the most important decision it has taken for a generation, and MPs are entitled to know the full legal consequences of the deal that the Prime Minister is asking them to support. That is why the order was made, and why it must be complied with. Throughout the Brexit process, the Government have repeatedly tried to sideline and push Parliament away. If they now intend to ignore Parliament altogether, they will get into very deep water indeed. I urge the Solicitor General to think again and to comply with the order of the House.

Robert Buckland Portrait The Solicitor General - Parliament Live - Hansard

With the greatest respect to the right hon. and learned Gentleman, his request is wholly premature—[Interruption.]

Mr Speaker Hansard
29 Nov 2018, 10:37 a.m.

Order. Everybody will have a chance to contribute on this most important and solemn of matters, but just as the right hon. and learned Member for Holborn and St Pancras (Keir Starmer) was heard in relative quiet, so must similar courtesy be extended to the Solicitor General. Everybody will get a chance to put his or her point of view—of that there need be no doubt.

Robert Buckland Portrait The Solicitor General - Parliament Live - Hansard
29 Nov 2018, 10:38 a.m.

Thank you, Mr Speaker. The Attorney General will come to the House on the next sitting day, and he will make a full statement and answer questions from hon. Members across the House. It might then be for the House to judge whether the Government have discharged their obligations consistent with the Humble Address, but not before.

Sir Desmond Swayne Portrait Sir Desmond Swayne (New Forest West) (Con) - Hansard
29 Nov 2018, 10:38 a.m.

Who needs legal advice to know a trap when they see one?

Robert Buckland Portrait The Solicitor General - Parliament Live - Hansard
29 Nov 2018, 10:39 a.m.

My right hon. Friend makes the important point that, ultimately, the decision for this House and the motions on which it will vote are political matters, and to try to dress them up in legalese and as legal matters does not help anyone.

Peter Grant Portrait Peter Grant (Glenrothes) (SNP) - Hansard
29 Nov 2018, 10:39 a.m.

I commend the right hon. and learned Member for Holborn and St Pancras (Keir Starmer) on securing this urgent question. A dangerous pattern is developing here. First, the Government tried to avoid their obligations under a previous Humble Address to release their impact assessments, and on two instances, senior Conservative ex-Ministers were given guarantees by Ministers at the Dispatch Box, which they then claimed publicly had been broken. Now we see the Government trying to wriggle out of yet another binding decision of this House.

Mr Speaker, this is not the time or the place to re-run the discussion about whether it was a good idea for that motion on an Humble Address to have been passed. How ironic that the Government want to re-run a debate on something that has already been voted on—just think about that! This is not the time to discuss its merits. As has been said, if the Government did not want to comply with the instruction, they should have instructed their MPs to vote against it. The reason they did not was that they knew they would have lost the vote.

Does the Solicitor General accept the ruling of the Chair that this decision is binding on the Government? If so, when do the Government intend to comply with the instruction they have had from representatives of the sovereign citizens of these islands?

Robert Buckland Portrait The Solicitor General - Parliament Live - Hansard
29 Nov 2018, 10:40 a.m.

I am disappointed that the hon. Gentleman did not listen to the answer I gave. The Attorney General will be here on the next sitting day. He will make a statement and answer questions. Then the hon. Gentleman and other right hon. and hon. Members can form a judgment on whether the motion that was carried by this House has been satisfied. My argument is that the Attorney General will meet the spirit and intention of the motion passed, but preserve the important constitutional convention relating to Law Officers’ advice.

Sir Robert Neill Portrait Robert Neill (Bromley and Chislehurst) (Con) - Parliament Live - Hansard
29 Nov 2018, 10:40 a.m.

The right hon. and learned Member for Holborn and St Pancras (Keir Starmer), the shadow Secretary of State, said during his speech:

“I wanted the Government to see the good sense in putting the legal position before the House, for all the exceptional reasons that have been set out”.—[Official Report, 13 November 2018; Vol. 649, c. 194.]

Accepting that, is that not precisely what the Attorney General intends to do and will be able to do on Monday?

Robert Buckland Portrait The Solicitor General - Hansard
29 Nov 2018, 10:40 a.m.

My hon. Friend, the Chair of the Justice Committee, is absolutely right. The right hon. and learned Member for Holborn and St Pancras (Keir Starmer) is more familiar than most with the position of the Law Officers and their role within the constitution. I would have expected him to do better.

Tom Brake (Carshalton and Wallington) (LD) Parliament Live - Hansard
29 Nov 2018, 10:40 a.m.

The Solicitor General should be aware that I, and probably others in this House, have written to Mr Speaker asking whether this is a matter of contempt. I suspect we may find it easier to get 48 letters than others have found. Can the Solicitor General confirm whether the Government will fight any contempt proceedings? Has he identified who in the Government would be the subject of contempt proceedings? Does he agree that this latest snub to Parliament leaves Members of Parliament with a sneaking suspicion that when it comes to the vote on 11 December and any votes that come after, the Government may decide to play fast and loose with what is the normal procedure in this place?

Robert Buckland Portrait The Solicitor General - Parliament Live - Hansard
29 Nov 2018, 10:40 a.m.

The right hon. Gentleman asks me to speculate about matters that might not arise. There is no snub to Parliament. It is a wholly confected controversy that actually detracts from the real issues we should be debating and will be looking at next week.

Simon Hoare Portrait Simon Hoare (North Dorset) (Con) - Parliament Live - Hansard
29 Nov 2018, 10:40 a.m.

While the Opposition may wish to play fast and loose with the national interest, does my hon. and learned Friend agree that it would be wholly irresponsible to publish material which could or would damage the national interest?

Robert Buckland Portrait The Solicitor General - Hansard
29 Nov 2018, 10:40 a.m.

My hon. Friend is right to emphasise the national interest. It is rare for a Law Officer, in this case the Attorney General, to come to the House and make a statement of this nature. We accept that these are exceptionally important, unusual and unprecedented times. That is why he is doing it. Members will have the chance to grill him when he comes.

Lord Dodds of Duncairn Portrait Nigel Dodds (Belfast North) (DUP) - Parliament Live - Hansard
29 Nov 2018, 10:40 a.m.

The Solicitor General is repeating the offer that was made during the debate on 13 November and repeating what the Prime Minister said yesterday, but that was not accepted by the House. The House unanimously adopted a binding resolution in the terms that the Opposition spokesperson has outlined, so why does the Solicitor General not listen and the Government start listening? This has been the problem all along. What is it that they have to hide?

Robert Buckland Portrait The Solicitor General - Parliament Live - Hansard

May I assure the right hon. Gentleman that when the Attorney General comes here on Monday, he will be able to ask him questions and make sure he is properly examined on these issues? He will have that opportunity. This is not an instance where the Government seek to delay or hide; this is all about providing information at the right time ahead of the important debate that I know he will be playing an important part in.

Maggie Throup Portrait Maggie Throup (Erewash) (Con) - Parliament Live - Hansard
29 Nov 2018, 10:44 a.m.

Will my hon. and learned Friend agree that it is the role of the Government always to put the national interest at the heart of any decision?

Robert Buckland Portrait The Solicitor General - Parliament Live - Hansard
29 Nov 2018, 10:45 a.m.

My hon. Friend makes a simple but important point. If we start trying to subdivide the role of the Law Officers and create a rift in collective decision making, where will democratically accountable government end up?

Sir George Howarth Portrait Mr George Howarth (Knowsley) (Lab) - Parliament Live - Hansard
29 Nov 2018, 10:45 a.m.

In my experience, when someone smells a rat, it is usually a good idea to set a trap. The Solicitor General will be aware that the Prime Minister wants everybody in the House to make a sensible decision based on all the information available to us. Should we not, then, have the fullest possible legal advice in as timely a manner as possible if we are to arrive at a sensible decision?

Robert Buckland Portrait The Solicitor General - Parliament Live - Hansard
29 Nov 2018, 10:45 a.m.

I take the right hon. Gentleman’s question with the seriousness it deserves. That is why the Attorney General is coming here on the next sitting day before we start the five-day debate—so that hon. Members have a chance not just to question him but to digest what he says, come to a judgment and make points appropriately, either in the debate or in other proceedings that might follow.

Victoria Prentis Portrait Victoria Prentis (Banbury) (Con) - Parliament Live - Hansard
29 Nov 2018, 10:46 a.m.

I must confess that I remain as confused as I was on 13 November about precisely what is being requested. What differences are there between the position now and the position the Government were in when advice was provided concerning Iraq?

Robert Buckland Portrait The Solicitor General - Parliament Live - Hansard
29 Nov 2018, 10:47 a.m.

My hon. Friend, who is a former Government lawyer, will recall that the circumstances of the publication of the Iraq advice were dramatically different from the current circumstances. In brief, extracts from the then Attorney General’s advice were leaked to the press during the 2005 election campaign, and in those exceptional circumstances, the then Labour Government took a collective decision that the Attorney General should publish the full text. That is the only time it has happened. It was an exceptional case that I do not think sets a precedent here.

Jim Shannon Portrait Jim Shannon (Strangford) (DUP) - Parliament Live - Hansard
29 Nov 2018, 10:47 a.m.

Can the Solicitor General outline the legal implications of Northern Ireland entering into a customs union—including, to all intents and purposes, a united Ireland—with no voice or vote for an indefinite period and without the mechanism of a border poll, as called for in the Belfast agreement?

Robert Buckland Portrait The Solicitor General -