Early Parliamentary General Election DebateFull Debate: Read Full Debate
John BercowMain Page: John Bercow (Speaker) - Buckingham)
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This is a Prime Minister who cannot be trusted. Having illegally prorogued Parliament for five weeks for his Queen’s Speech, he now abandons that Queen’s Speech. He got his deal through on Second Reading, then abandoned it. He promised us a Budget on 6 November, and then he abandoned that too. He said he would never ask for an extension, and he said he would rather die in a ditch—another broken promise! Every promise this Prime Minister makes, he abandons. He said he would take us out of the European Union by 31 October—[Interruption.]
The Prime Minister said he would take us out of the European Union by 31 October, do or die.
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The Prime Minister spent £100 million—£100 million— on an advertising campaign to leave on 31 October, but failed to deliver. This is serious, Mr Speaker. The National Audit Office says that the campaign “failed to resonate”. I ask the Prime Minister, and I ask this House: with that £100 million, how many nurses could have been hired, how many parcels could have been funded at food banks, how many social care packages could have been funded for our elderly? The Prime Minister has failed because he has chosen to fail, and now he seeks to blame Parliament. That is £100 million of misspent public money.
At the weekend, we learned from the former Chancellor that the Prime Minister’s deal was offered to the former Prime Minister 18 months ago, but she rejected it as being not good enough for the United Kingdom. We have a rejected and recycled deal that has been misrepresented by Ministers in this House, no doubt inadvertently. The Prime Minister said, in terms, there would be no checks on goods between Great Britain and Northern Ireland; the Brexit Secretary himself has confirmed that there will be. The Prime Minister made promises to Labour Members about workers’ rights; I remember his saying, with all the concentration he could muster, that workers’ rights would be protected by him. The leak to the Financial Times on Saturday shows these promises simply cannot be trusted. He says the NHS is off the table for any trade deal, yet a majority of the British public do not trust him. And why should they? Thanks to a Channel 4 “Dispatches” programme—[Interruption.] This is actually quite an important point that the Prime Minister might care to listen to. [Interruption.] I will go through it again: thanks to—[Interruption.]
As I was saying, thanks to a Channel 4 “Dispatches” programme we learn that secret meetings—[Interruption.] Conservative Members might find this funny, but actually it is quite serious for our national health service.
On a point of order, Mr Speaker. I understand that the annunciators may not have been working in the offices of Labour MPs, because most of them have not chosen to turn up today. Can that be investigated?
I think this section is very important, so I will go through it again. Thanks to a Channel 4 “Dispatches” programme we learn that secret meetings have taken place between UK Government officials and representatives of US pharmaceutical firms at which the price of national health service drugs has been discussed.
We have a Prime Minister who will say anything and do anything to get his way. He will avoid his responsibilities and break his promises to dodge scrutiny. And today he wants an election and his Bill. Well, not with our endorsement. He says he wants an election on 12 December. How can we trust him to stick to that date when we do not yet have legal confirmation of the extension? The Prime Minister has not formally accepted, and the other 27 have not confirmed following that acceptance. The reason I am so cautious is quite simply that I do not trust the Prime Minister.
On a point of order, Mr Speaker. I am afraid that the Leader of the Opposition is mistaken. As I have always said, this Government obey the law. We have complied with the law, and that has taken its course. Parliament asked for this delay, and now it is up to the right hon. Gentleman to go to the country in a general election. That is what he should do.
I simply say this to the Prime Minister: if he always obeys the law, why was he found guilty by the Supreme Court?
I thank my right hon. Friend for giving way. On the issue of—[Interruption.]
On the issue of trust, which my right hon. Friend is rightly pointing out, is he aware of the interesting rumour that has reached my ears that the Prime Minister might be planning not to stand in his own constituency at an upcoming general election, and that he has apparently instead lined up Sevenoaks or East Yorkshire? Has my right hon. Friend heard that rumour?
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Like my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff South and Penarth (Stephen Doughty), I do not trust the Prime Minister, but there is a deeper issue about whether we can trust him with our safety. Let me briefly read this analysis from the Financial Times, which says—[Interruption.] The Prime Minister may shake his head, but perhaps he would care to listen. It states that when
“Johnson responded, ‘I have never heard such humbug’”—
Thank you, Mr Speaker. The analysis states that when
“Johnson responded: ‘I have never heard such humbug in all my life’, Labour MP Paula Sherriff began receiving toxic tweets at a rate of more than 100 an hour…One such tweet from that evening read: ‘Tough shit Mrs Shrek. A #SurrenderBill or #SurrenderAct is exactly what Benn’s treacherous act is.’ Another read: ‘Do what the people told you to effing do otherwise yes expect to be strung up metaphorically or physically.’”
The Prime Minister has never apologised for saying what he said that evening, so how can we trust him that we can be safe?
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The situation is very simple, and the bottom line is this. The Labour party is scared—[Interruption.]
The bottom line is this. I heard the right hon. Member for Ross, Skye and Lochaber (Ian Blackford) talking about disrespect just now, and I heard the Leader of the Opposition talk about trust. What those who are abstaining or voting against the motion are doing is utterly disrespectful to their own constituents and utterly disrespectful to our democratic system. They are not trusting the people, they are not removing the uncertainty and they are not allowing the British people their democratic right to choose Members of Parliament whom they wish to elect in individual constituencies.
What the Leader of the Opposition and the right hon. Member for Ross, Skye and Lochaber are doing is denying democracy. That is completely and totally unacceptable, whether people are remainers or leavers. The democratic right of the British people is to have a general election in the situation we are in now. Yes, certainly we should be supporting leaving the European Union, but remainers, too, have the right to vote, and that is being denied them by the Leader of the Opposition and every single Labour Member of Parliament and others who are either abstaining or voting against the motion today. That is a total denial of democracy. When it comes to the general election, I trust that the people who know why they have been denied it will vote against those Members of Parliament, to make sure that those Members themselves see the damage they have done to our democratic system.
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On a point of order, Mr Speaker. The Leader of the Opposition literally and figuratively has run away from the judgment of the people. For the third time, he has turned down our offer to get Brexit done, in spite of the fact that he and every member of the Labour party stood on a promise to deliver Brexit in this Parliament. I think, frankly, that the electorate will find his behaviour utterly bewildering.
As I said when moving the motion, however, we will not allow the paralysis to continue, and one way or another we must proceed straight to an election. So, later this evening, the Government will give notice of presentation of a short Bill for an election on 12 December, so that we can finally get Brexit done.
There is no support in the House, as we heard earlier from those on the Opposition Benches, for the withdrawal agreement Bill to proceed, but this House cannot any longer keep this country hostage. Millions of families and businesses cannot plan for the future, and I do not believe that this paralysis and this stagnation should be allowed to continue. Now that no deal is off the table, we have a great new deal, and it is time for the voters to have a chance to pronounce on that deal and to replace this dysfunctional Parliament with a new Parliament that can get Brexit done so the country can move on.
Further to that point of order, Mr Speaker. It is clear that there is a desire on the Opposition Benches to bring forward a Bill that can give us an election, but we do not trust this Prime Minister—and we do not trust him for good reason. So if the Prime Minister is going to bring forward a Bill, he must give an absolute cast-iron assurance that, up until the passage of that Bill and the rising of Parliament, there will be no attempt to bring forward the withdrawal agreement Bill. Of course, the SNP will do its job and scrutinise any Bill that comes forward.
It is absolutely demonstrably the case that we want an election. We want the people of Scotland to be given the opportunity to have their say. We will fight that election on the right of the Scottish people to determine their own future. We will not, under any circumstances, consent to being taken out of the European Union against our will. That election campaign will make it clear that the right to determine our future will be in the hands of the Scottish people.
Further to that point of order, Mr Speaker. We have just had an hour and a half of a slightly out-of-control student union debate, and it sounds as though we might have a rather similar farcical performance tomorrow. Is there any chance of you, as the Chair of the House, persuading the usual channels to resume their meetings and produce a sensible timetable for the Bill we have before us, so that this House can resume discussion of these serious matters in a grown-up fashion and come to a resolution on the deal, which—I repeat—I will vote for if it reaches Third Reading, as I think it will? It could well be that we get back to orderly government, which I think the general public are dearly wishing we would rapidly do.
Further to that point of order, Mr Speaker. I apologise to you and to the Prime Minister for not being here at the point when he raised his point of order. I was detained outside the Chamber; I am now back here.
I understand that a Bill will be tabled tomorrow. We will obviously look at and scrutinise that Bill. We look forward to a clear, definitive decision that no deal is absolutely off the table and there is no danger of this Prime Minister not sticking to his word—because he has some form on these matters—and taking this country out of the EU without any deal whatever, knowing the damage it will do to jobs and industries all across this country.
On a point of order, Mr Speaker. As you know, I believe in correcting things when I get things wrong, and I want to apologise to the right hon. Member for East Yorkshire (Sir Greg Knight)—a very honourable gentleman—for incorrectly referencing his seat in the point I made earlier. I understand that he has in fact been readopted by his association. I apologise to him for mistaking his seat for another. For that, I truly apologise.
Further to that point of order, Mr Speaker. I accept the very gracious comments just made.