There have been 136 exchanges between John Bercow and Cabinet Office
|Wed 30th October 2019||Oral Answers to Questions||32 interactions (464 words)|
|Tue 29th October 2019||Early Parliamentary General Election Bill||74 interactions (1,509 words)|
|Mon 28th October 2019||Early Parliamentary General Election||39 interactions (345 words)|
|Wed 23rd October 2019||Oral Answers to Questions||21 interactions (204 words)|
|Tue 22nd October 2019||European Union (Withdrawal Agreement) Bill||121 interactions (2,205 words)|
|Mon 21st October 2019||Preparations for Leaving the European Union||9 interactions (56 words)|
|Sat 19th October 2019||Prime Minister’s Statement||44 interactions (324 words)|
|Mon 14th October 2019||Debate on the Address||16 interactions (230 words)|
|Tue 8th October 2019||Preparations for Leaving the EU||46 interactions (280 words)|
|Thu 3rd October 2019||Brexit Negotiations||18 interactions (203 words)|
|Thu 26th September 2019||Principles of Democracy and the Rights of the Electorate||2 interactions (56 words)|
|Wed 25th September 2019||Brexit Readiness: Operation Yellowhammer||26 interactions (567 words)|
|Wed 25th September 2019||Prime Minister's Update||115 interactions (3,550 words)|
|Mon 9th September 2019||Points of Order||70 interactions (3,778 words)|
|Mon 9th September 2019||Prorogation (Disclosure of Communications)||52 interactions (646 words)|
|Mon 9th September 2019||Early Parliamentary General Election (No. 2)||79 interactions (1,863 words)|
|Wed 4th September 2019||Oral Answers to Questions||41 interactions (438 words)|
|Wed 4th September 2019||Early Parliamentary General Election||18 interactions (311 words)|
|Tue 3rd September 2019||G7 Summit||27 interactions (373 words)|
|Tue 3rd September 2019||Points of Order||6 interactions (173 words)|
|Thu 25th July 2019||Priorities for Government||48 interactions (539 words)|
|Wed 24th July 2019||Oral Answers to Questions||28 interactions (180 words)|
|Wed 17th July 2019||Oral Answers to Questions||26 interactions (194 words)|
|Wed 10th July 2019||Oral Answers to Questions||29 interactions (115 words)|
|Wed 3rd July 2019||Oral Answers to Questions||17 interactions (262 words)|
|Wed 3rd July 2019||G20 and Leadership of EU Institutions||3 interactions (11 words)|
|Wed 26th June 2019||Oral Answers to Questions||21 interactions (158 words)|
|Wed 19th June 2019||Oral Answers to Questions||18 interactions (197 words)|
|Wed 12th June 2019||Oral Answers to Questions||9 interactions (128 words)|
|Wed 5th June 2019||Oral Answers to Questions||18 interactions (397 words)|
|Wed 15th May 2019||Oral Answers to Questions||17 interactions (118 words)|
|Wed 24th April 2019||Oral Answers to Questions||23 interactions (221 words)|
|Thu 11th April 2019||European Council||15 interactions (180 words)|
|Wed 10th April 2019||Oral Answers to Questions||7 interactions (31 words)|
|Wed 3rd April 2019||Oral Answers to Questions||17 interactions (135 words)|
|Wed 27th March 2019||Oral Answers to Questions||10 interactions (114 words)|
|Mon 25th March 2019||European Council||21 interactions (195 words)|
|Fri 22nd March 2019||Overseas Electors Bill||11 interactions (607 words)|
|Wed 20th March 2019||Oral Answers to Questions||36 interactions (497 words)|
|Thu 14th March 2019||Points of Order||13 interactions (604 words)|
|Wed 13th March 2019||Oral Answers to Questions||29 interactions (186 words)|
|Tue 12th March 2019||European Union (Withdrawal) Act||75 interactions (1,590 words)|
|Tue 26th February 2019||Leaving the European Union||38 interactions (342 words)|
|Wed 20th February 2019||Oral Answers to Questions||34 interactions (345 words)|
|Wed 13th February 2019||Oral Answers to Questions||29 interactions (663 words)|
|Tue 12th February 2019||Leaving the EU||39 interactions (837 words)|
|Wed 6th February 2019||Oral Answers to Questions||24 interactions (201 words)|
|Wed 30th January 2019||Oral Answers to Questions||17 interactions (224 words)|
|Tue 29th January 2019||European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018||121 interactions (2,244 words)|
|Mon 21st January 2019||Leaving the EU||23 interactions (211 words)|
|Wed 16th January 2019||Oral Answers to Questions||7 interactions (71 words)|
|Wed 16th January 2019||No Confidence in Her Majesty’s Government||106 interactions (1,278 words)|
|Mon 14th January 2019||Leaving the EU||7 interactions (43 words)|
|Wed 9th January 2019||Oral Answers to Questions||17 interactions (137 words)|
|Wed 19th December 2018||Oral Answers to Questions||40 interactions (376 words)|
|Mon 17th December 2018||European Council||18 interactions (187 words)|
|Wed 12th December 2018||Oral Answers to Questions||33 interactions (307 words)|
|Mon 10th December 2018||Exiting the European Union||29 interactions (741 words)|
|Wed 5th December 2018||Oral Answers to Questions||41 interactions (593 words)|
|Tue 4th December 2018||European Union (Withdrawal) Act||71 interactions (1,118 words)|
|Mon 3rd December 2018||G20 Summit||7 interactions (121 words)|
|Wed 28th November 2018||Oral Answers to Questions||36 interactions (403 words)|
|Mon 26th November 2018||Leaving the EU||17 interactions (217 words)|
|Thu 22nd November 2018||Progress on EU Negotiations||27 interactions (267 words)|
|Wed 21st November 2018||Oral Answers to Questions||18 interactions (197 words)|
|Thu 15th November 2018||EU Exit Negotiations||32 interactions (543 words)|
|Wed 14th November 2018||Oral Answers to Questions||33 interactions (308 words)|
|Wed 14th November 2018||70th Birthday of the Prince of Wales||6 interactions (90 words)|
|Wed 31st October 2018||Oral Answers to Questions||36 interactions (345 words)|
|Mon 22nd October 2018||October EU Council||21 interactions (230 words)|
|Wed 17th October 2018||Oral Answers to Questions||35 interactions (204 words)|
|Mon 15th October 2018||EU Exit Negotiations||30 interactions (313 words)|
|Wed 10th October 2018||Oral Answers to Questions||19 interactions (159 words)|
|Wed 12th September 2018||Oral Answers to Questions||16 interactions (151 words)|
|Wed 5th September 2018||Oral Answers to Questions||22 interactions (274 words)|
|Tue 17th July 2018||Electoral Commission Investigation: Vote Leave||22 interactions (362 words)|
|Mon 16th July 2018||NATO Summit||13 interactions (154 words)|
|Mon 9th July 2018||Leaving the EU||28 interactions (290 words)|
|Wed 4th July 2018||Oral Answers to Questions||42 interactions (318 words)|
|Mon 2nd July 2018||June European Council||11 interactions (114 words)|
|Wed 27th June 2018||Oral Answers to Questions||42 interactions (398 words)|
|Tue 19th June 2018||Parliamentary Constituencies (Amendment) Bill: Committee Stage||3 interactions (25 words)|
|Mon 11th June 2018||G7||3 interactions (23 words)|
|Mon 11th June 2018||Cornish National Identity: 2021 Census||3 interactions (68 words)|
|Wed 6th June 2018||Oral Answers to Questions||30 interactions (292 words)|
|Wed 23rd May 2018||Oral Answers to Questions||22 interactions (246 words)|
|Wed 16th May 2018||Oral Answers to Questions||38 interactions (906 words)|
|Mon 14th May 2018||Tributes: Baroness Jowell||26 interactions (348 words)|
|Wed 2nd May 2018||Points of Order||12 interactions (893 words)|
|Wed 25th April 2018||Oral Answers to Questions||53 interactions (301 words)|
|Tue 24th April 2018||Capita||3 interactions (68 words)|
|Mon 23rd April 2018||Voter ID Pilots||7 interactions (100 words)|
|Wed 18th April 2018||Oral Answers to Questions||26 interactions (196 words)|
|Tue 17th April 2018||Military Action Overseas: Parliamentary Approval||69 interactions (1,034 words)|
|Mon 16th April 2018||Syria||32 interactions (453 words)|
|Mon 16th April 2018||Syria||27 interactions (266 words)|
|Wed 28th March 2018||Oral Answers to Questions||37 interactions (252 words)|
|Tue 27th March 2018||EU Referendum: Electoral Law||35 interactions (751 words)|
|Mon 26th March 2018||European Council||16 interactions (155 words)|
|Mon 26th March 2018||National Security and Russia||5 interactions (39 words)|
|Wed 14th March 2018||Salisbury Incident||26 interactions (256 words)|
|Mon 12th March 2018||Salisbury Incident||11 interactions (100 words)|
|Wed 7th March 2018||Oral Answers to Questions||67 interactions (634 words)|
|Mon 5th March 2018||UK/EU Future Economic Partnership||32 interactions (344 words)|
|Wed 28th February 2018||Oral Answers to Questions||39 interactions (314 words)|
|Wed 21st February 2018||Oral Answers to Questions||47 interactions (603 words)|
|Wed 7th February 2018||Oral Answers to Questions||18 interactions (124 words)|
|Thu 1st February 2018||Capita||3 interactions (66 words)|
|Mon 29th January 2018||Contaminated Blood Inquiry||3 interactions (68 words)|
|Wed 17th January 2018||Oral Answers to Questions||28 interactions (149 words)|
|Wed 10th January 2018||Oral Answers to Questions||44 interactions (307 words)|
|Wed 20th December 2017||Oral Answers to Questions||61 interactions (410 words)|
|Mon 18th December 2017||European Council||23 interactions (207 words)|
|Wed 13th December 2017||Oral Answers to Questions||14 interactions (130 words)|
|Mon 11th December 2017||Brexit Negotiations||22 interactions (210 words)|
|Wed 6th December 2017||Oral Answers to Questions||23 interactions (276 words)|
|Wed 29th November 2017||Oral Answers to Questions||25 interactions (216 words)|
|Wed 22nd November 2017||Oral Answers to Questions||23 interactions (218 words)|
|Wed 1st November 2017||Oral Answers to Questions||25 interactions (213 words)|
|Wed 25th October 2017||Oral Answers to Questions||60 interactions (396 words)|
|Mon 23rd October 2017||European Council||45 interactions (272 words)|
|Wed 18th October 2017||Oral Answers to Questions||64 interactions (578 words)|
|Wed 11th October 2017||Oral Answers to Questions||29 interactions (201 words)|
|Tue 10th October 2017||Race Disparity Audit||9 interactions (97 words)|
|Mon 9th October 2017||UK Plans for Leaving the EU||31 interactions (382 words)|
|Wed 6th September 2017||Oral Answers to Questions||24 interactions (199 words)|
|Wed 19th July 2017||Oral Answers to Questions||40 interactions (279 words)|
|Wed 12th July 2017||Grenfell Tower Fire Inquiry||4 interactions (191 words)|
|Wed 12th July 2017||Redundancy Modification Orders||5 interactions (97 words)|
|Mon 10th July 2017||G20||27 interactions (367 words)|
|Wed 5th July 2017||Oral Answers to Questions||31 interactions (212 words)|
|Mon 26th June 2017||European Council||27 interactions (185 words)|
|Mon 26th June 2017||Northern Ireland||14 interactions (116 words)|
|Thu 22nd June 2017||Grenfell Tower||46 interactions (329 words)|
|Wed 21st June 2017||Debate on the Address||49 interactions (781 words)|
|Tue 13th June 2017||Election of Speaker||8 interactions (482 words)|
(9 months, 1 week ago)Commons Chamber
Coming from a Prime Minister who withdrew his own Bill, that seems a bit odd. My question was about somebody whose mother had died and who believes that that is because of the shortage of staff within the NHS. I had hoped that the Prime Minister would have shown some empathy and answered that question, because GP numbers are falling, there is a 43,000-nurse shortage in the NHS, and the NHS has suffered the longest spending squeeze ever in its history. The choice at this election could not be clearer. People have a chance to vote for real change after years of Conservative and Lib Dem cuts, privatisation and tax handouts for the richest. This Government have put our NHS into crisis, and this election is a once-in-a-generation chance to end privatisation in our NHS, give it the funding it needs and give it the doctors, nurses, GPs and all the other staff it needs. Despite the Prime Minister’s denials, our NHS is up for grabs by US corporations in a Trump-style trade deal. Is it not the truth—[Interruption.]
Despite the Prime Minister’s denials, the NHS is up for grabs by US corporations in a Trump trade deal. Is it not the truth—the Government may not like this—that this Government are preparing to sell out our NHS? Our health service is in more danger than at any other time in its glorious history because of the Prime Minister’s Government, his attitudes and the trade deals that he wants to strike.
Break in Debate
Q6. For more than 30 years, the Royal National Orthopaedic Hospital in Stanmore was promised a rebuild. Under a Conservative Government, we have the first phase of those medical facilities, to match the world-class treatment provided by the medical team there. However, there are two problems. The first is that the next phase is caught up in NHS bureaucracy, and the second is that two eminent non-executive directors have sadly been dismissed from the board. Can my right hon. Friend sweep away this NHS bureaucracy so that we can provide the medical facilities required, and also order an investigation into why the non-executive directors have been removed from the board by NHS London? 
Break in Debate
You know, Mr Speaker, I thought it was Prime Minister’s questions, not a rant from the Prime Minister. I have to say—[Interruption.]
Well, I certainly wish Mr Grant all the best for his future, because he is not coming back, like so many of the Scottish Conservatives. We hear that the Prime Minister will be coming up to Scotland in the election campaign. He will be welcome, because each time he comes to Scotland he drives up SNP support.
Scotland did not vote for Brexit and we will not have it forced upon us. Is it not clear that the Scottish National party is the only party standing up for Scotland’s interests and respecting our democratic decision to remain in the European Union? This coming election will be one of the most important in Scotland’s history. Only a vote for the SNP can secure the escape route for Scotland away from this Brexit mess, from the chaos of Westminster and from the austerity of the Tories, and protect Scotland’s right to choose our own future as an independent country in Europe.
I am sorry if I seemed to rant at the right hon. Gentleman, but if I may say so, he does rant quite a lot about independence for Scotland—he bangs on about it endlessly. Why does he go on about Scottish independence so much? It is because he wants to conceal what the SNP Government are actually doing in Scotland. They are wrecking it. They are diabolical for the Scottish economy. They have the highest taxes in the UK. They are not running either health or education well. That is why they are so monomaniacal about independence and smashing the Union.
There are some wonderful things happening in Scotland, and it is very often thanks to Scottish Conservatives, who are delivering £200 million for Scottish farmers—that is all thanks to the intercessions of Scottish Conservatives —as part of the biggest ever block grant from London to Scotland. It is Scottish Conservatives who can be relied upon, unlike any other party in Scotland—unlike Labour or the SNP—to keep the Union together: the most successful political partnership in history.
Q7. Mr Speaker, as your former Deputy Speaker, I want to say that nobody who has sat in that Chair has done more to defend and promote the rights of LGBTI people in this country and throughout the world. When so many people live in fear of being born the way they are, I salute you. Thank you.The Guardian reported last week that the largest number of happy people live in the Ribble valley, and I believe that the Prime Minister has the capacity to make them happier. Will he ensure that Ribble Valley gets its fair share of the 153 extra police who are coming to Lancashire, that we get our fair share of rural funding for health services such as the Slaidburn health centre and that we get equal funding per pupil in our schools? Finally, for the 57% who voted Brexit and for the almost 100% who believe in democracy, will he ensure that after the general election, when he is Prime Minister, he will deliver the Brexit people voted for? 
Break in Debate
Q2. Mr Speaker, I have never known this place without you here, and it is going to be different. It is a delight to see your children here watching today, because I know that, while you have a responsibility to Parliament, you also take your responsibilities as a parent incredibly seriously. And now to the Prime Minister.[Interruption.] Today is my son Danny’s 11th birthday. Thanks to the years of cuts voted for by the Prime Minister, my son Danny and hundreds of children in Birmingham, Yardley are in super-sized classes and are only being educated four and a half days a week. I do not want to hear his fancy stock answers about Brexit or Russia that he has been giving from his little folder or about how he is going to give more—[Interruption.] 
I do not want to hear the Prime Minister’s campaign-ad answer, because my son will not be able to go to school on Friday, and his campaign-ad answer does nothing for me as a parent. [Interruption.] I am so glad that they think it is really funny that children cannot go to school five days a week. The Prime Minister is responsible for the children in this country, and while he might struggle with that personally, will he today give a commitment that there will be a maximum number of children in every class post the election and that every single child will be able to go to school for five days a week?
Break in Debate
Indeed. As my right hon. and learned Friend knows, the advantage of the partnership we will build is that not only—[Interruption.] I am sure the talks will go well. We will have a zero-tariff, zero-quota arrangement with our European friends and partners. Under the current deal, which is a fantastic deal, we will also be able to do free trade deals around the world. There will be many ways in which we will stay very close to our European friends partners, but there will also be important ways in which we may seek to do things differently and better.
I have already mentioned animal welfare; I might mention tax breaks for new technology, I might mention cutting VAT on sanitary products, I might mention free ports. There are all sorts of ways to do this. I might mention different regulation on biotechnology or in many of the areas in which this country now leads the world. That is the opportunity for our country: to do a great free trade deal with our European friends and partners of a kind of which I am sure my right hon. and learned Friend would thoroughly approve, while also being a champion of free trade around the world. That is what we are going to do.
Q11. Mr Speaker, I know that everyone on this side of the House would like to associate ourselves with those comments about the Father of the House.One of the most consistent things I have seen in all my parliamentary casework is, I am afraid, too many children with special educational needs not getting the support they need. I know that their cause is something you personally support a great deal, Mr Speaker. This year, councils in England alone will overspend on their SEN budgets by more than £400 million. Even then, there is simply not enough resource in the system. How could any Government like the Prime Minister’s justify going ahead with cutting corporation tax to 18% when children with the greatest needs in this country are simply not getting what they should? 
Break in Debate
There will never be, because there could never be, a more eloquent and articulate Speaker than you, Mr Speaker; we will miss your style and your remarkable, encyclopaedic grasp of detail—and I will miss the literary references by the way, Mr Speaker.
Marcel Proust said the only—[Interruption.]
Marcel Proust said:
“The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes”.
Hard-working British patriots who voted to leave the European Union with fresh eyes have in their sights the bourgeois liberal elite who are trying to steal Brexit from them. Will my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, as he is broadcast on the wireless and elsewhere and actually meets people in real life too in the coming days and weeks, simply evangelise this plain and straightforward message: back Brexit, back Britain, back Boris?
Break in Debate
Yes. I thank my hon. Friend for everything he has done to campaign on this issue. As he knows, the consultation on the new legislation was concluded only a few days ago. I can certainly give him the reassurance that we will bring forward legislation to ensure that, when there is no new evidence being provided, there are no unfair prosecutions of people who served this country faithfully and well.
Mr Speaker, I have been in Parliament for 32 years. I have seen many Speakers in the Chair and I must say you have been the best. As we say in the north-east—it’s not quite the language of the Welsh—you’re a canny laddie.
The WASPI women were given a bad deal on their pensions. Does the Prime Minister have any plans to put that wrong right?
Break in Debate
I thank my right hon. Friend for all the service he has given to this Government and this country. I remember vividly campaigning with him on one occasion when we were interrupted by a dog show. He has done particularly important work on conserving oceans. He has helped to ensure that this country has global leadership in establishing marine conservation areas around the planet. As you know, Mr Speaker, this country protects a vast expanse of the oceans, more than any country on earth, and it is thanks to the work of my right hon. Friend that we have put that issue at the forefront of our politics, protecting marine life and protecting not just the fish but the penguins as well. As he will know, a third of the world’s Emperor penguins are British. He has done a signal job of protecting those penguins and I thank him for it.
(9 months, 1 week ago)Commons Chamber
I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.
It is now a week since Parliament voted to delay Brexit yet again. It is a week since this Parliament voted yet again to force Brussels to keep this country in the European Union for at least another three months, at a cost of £1 billion a month. In the days since then, the Government have tried to be reasonable and to ascribe the best possible motives to our friends and colleagues around the House. [Interruption.] I have twice offered more time for debate. I offered more time last week and I made the same offer last night. I said that we were prepared to debate this Bill—[Interruption.] I said we were prepared to debate the withdrawal Bill around the clock to allow Parliament time to scrutinise it, to the point of intellectual exhaustion. We must bear in mind that not only has this House been considering this issue for three and a half years, but last week when this Bill was being debated there was not a single new idea and not a single new suggestion. All they wanted was more time, more weeks, more months, when they could not even provide the speakers to fill the time allotted.
Break in Debate
Thank you, Mr Speaker.
I want to make the point that we want any election to involve as many people as possible. It is meant to be a big exercise in democracy, and I hope the amendments—
Break in Debate
I will not give way for a very simple reason, which is that both hon. Gentlemen have consistently tried to obstruct Brexit for the most specious and completely unacceptable reasons.
It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Stone (Sir William Cash). I have to say that I think he has just written the SNP’s leaflets for our election campaign. He says that we have tried to obstruct Brexit. Well, I would say to the House: guilty as charged. Let me explain exactly why we have done so.
We are used to referendums in Scotland. We have had two: one in 2014 and another in 2016. Crucially, we were told in 2014 that, if Scotland stayed in the United Kingdom, we would be staying in Europe. But more than that—we were told that this was going to be a Union of equals and that Scotland was going to be respected. And what has happened? In the European referendum, Scotland voted to remain in Europe by 62%, and our Parliament and Government have sought to give voice to that. We have published document after document under the title “Scotland’s Place in Europe”, in which we have sought to compromise with the United Kingdom Government, but at every step of the way—whether it was the previous Prime Minister or this one— we have been ignored.
I have repeatedly made the point—I make no apology for making it again today—that SNP Members are simply not prepared to sit back and allow Scotland to be taken out of the European Union against its will. On that basis, I welcome the opportunity of an election. Make no mistake, the coming election will be for the right of Scotland to determine its own future. We will reflect on everything that has happened since 2017, when 13 Scottish Conservatives were temporarily elected to this House. I say “temporarily” because they have voted against Scotland’s interests every step of the way, and have given no consideration to the fact that every single local authority area in Scotland voted to remain.
Just think about what Brexit would do to Scotland. Just think about the challenge we face in growing our population—a challenge that we have had for decades, but one that we have risen to on the basis of the free movement of people. Our economy is growing and European citizens have made a contribution to that economy. We have collectively benefited from the right to live, work and travel in 28 EU member states. We voted to retain those rights, yet the Conservatives want to take us out, so I really look forward to the election, when we can reinforce the mandate that we already have from the Scottish election in 2016, when the people of Scotland yet again voted the SNP into power. We have a mandate for an independence referendum, and it ill behoves this House to frustrate the legitimate demands of our Parliament and our Government. If the people of Scotland back the SNP again in the coming election, it has to be the case that we have the right to determine our future.
I am grateful that the European Union has granted us an extension to the end of January, and we must use the time wisely. But I say to our friends in Europe: please remember to stand by Scotland in our hour of need; and, as our dear friend Alyn Smith said in the European Parliament, keep a light on for Scotland because we are coming back. And that is because we are ambitious for our country. We want to grow our economy, to continue to benefit from the single market and the customs union, to make Scotland a destination in Europe, and to complete the journey that Scotland embarked on with devolution 20 years ago. We have a Parliament that has delivered for the people of Scotland and that is pushing on with addressing the challenge of climate change. We have a Parliament that is doing its job and has delivered education free at the point of need, not based on people’s ability to pay. I could go on about the differences between the way in which the Scottish Government and the UK Government have delivered for our people, and about the growing self-confidence that we see in Scotland.
Break in Debate
On a point of order, Mr Speaker. I listened closely to the comments made by the hon. Member for Chelmsford (Vicky Ford). She alluded to the Lib Dems not being present last night. That is not the case. Our spokesperson for the environment—my hon. Friend the Member for Brecon and Radnorshire (Jane Dodds)—was here for the entirety of the debate, as I understand it from the hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Caroline Lucas), so I would like that to be amended in the record.
I apologise if one Liberal Democrat Member was here last night, but as I see it, the hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion represents the Green party.
The question that we are grappling with in this House and, indeed, in the wider country is not just a narrow matter of our relationship with the European Union, although this debate on Brexit has exposed significant differences in how people feel about that. People’s identities of remain or leave run deep, because this is not only about whether we remain in the EU or leave; it is about who we are as a country. It is about our values. It is about whether we are open, inclusive and internationalist in our outlook, facing the future, or whether we are closed and insular, wanting to pull up the drawbridge and look to the past. That is the key question that we, as a country, need to resolve.
The Prime Minister talked about “one whole United Kingdom”. I thought he had a cheek, because he has not been acting in a way that protects our whole United Kingdom. He has sold out the people of Northern Ireland with the deal he has done with the EU. This is a man who said that no Conservative Prime Minister should ever accept a border in the Irish Sea, yet that is exactly what he has done. My Liberal Democrat colleagues and I think that our United Kingdom is something precious that is worth protecting, and that Scotland, England, Wales and Northern Ireland are stronger together.
Break in Debate
I thank the hon. Lady for her intervention. The question was not framed in pejorative terms: are you voting for Britain to be greater, Britain to be smaller, Britain to be richer, Britain to be poorer? The question was a simple one: do you want Britain to leave the European Union?
Thank you very much, Mr Speaker. I think I have been slightly thrown by taking so many interventions, so I am saying “you”. I know I should not and I apologise.
If I may continue with the points that I was making—
Break in Debate
Mr Speaker, I cannot work out whether you are eating popcorn as you watch this extraordinary spectacle of a great debate between two of our great parliamentarians play out across the Chamber.
Does my hon. Friend not agree with me that this election provides a fantastic opportunity for each of the main parties to set out in principle what they want to see from Brexit, and to finally address the point that the public voted to leave the European Union but are leaving it to parliamentarians to decide the best way of delivering Brexit? It is therefore incumbent on both main parties to set out their Brexit proposals. We can at least unite in this fractious Chamber by agreeing that no deal is not an option and that those who voted to stop no deal are the real heroes of Parliament.
I thank my right hon. Friend for what I think was a friendly intervention. I am certainly learning to appreciate the benefit of friendly interventions.
I have just been refuelled, Mr Speaker.
We were talking about the need for a new Parliament. There are many things that I would like a Parliament to spend much more time talking about instead of being so focused on Brexit. The rise of autocracies is a very serious issue. On Huawei, do we allow the use in this country of high tech from a communist party state, especially if its stated aim is to dominate global 5G in the years to come? I am wary of making the world safe for autocracies and one-party states. We need time to debate that.
Another issue is the ongoing disaster of Syria and the clear mistakes made by President Trump. There is also the need for integration of overseas foreign policy. We also have an exciting domestic agenda and I want us to talk more about that.
Finally, I want an Isle of Wight deal so that our public services are of the same standard as those on the mainland, or the north island, as we call it. Most parts of the United Kingdom that are isolated by water—in other words, islands—either have a fixed link, which we are never going to have because it would cost £3 billion, or more money through increased public expenditure, but the Island has neither, and that has been a structural flaw for many years.
The best way to deal with all of those problems is for us to agree to an election and to listen to our constituents, the folks in the places that we care for and love—
Break in Debate
To return to the Second Reading of this Bill, my hon. Friend faces a challenge from the Liberal Democrats in St Albans. Does she agree that, during the referendum, every household in the country received a letter saying
“The Government will implement what you decide”?
Does she remember the previous leader of the Liberal Democrats saying that, even if it were by one vote, the result should still stand? And did she hear the other day—
You are absolutely right, Mr Speaker. My inquiry was reaching its climax. I finish by asking my hon. Friend the Member for St Albans (Mrs Main) whether she also recalls the current leader of the Liberal Democrats saying that, if there were to be a people’s vote and the result were to go, in her view, the wrong way—in other words, if the people were to vote again to leave the European Union—she would not recognise it as valid. Is that not a most extraordinary position for any party of democrats to take?
I take your instruction, Mr Speaker, and I will not be diverted.
A general election allows us to ask which party is prepared to honour democracy, and I will be asking that question every day in St Albans. A general election also reminds people that a strong Government is needed, and I mean a strong Government with a majority.
The current situation is the worst of all governance. It is governance by horse-trading. The Conservative party did not quite have the majority it needed at the 2010 election, so the Liberal Democrats came into power with us. [Interruption.] It worked so well, as someone says from a sedentary position. The horse-trading began straightaway. Horse-trading is exactly what happens in weak Governments. The lack of numbers means people suddenly start putting forward different agendas.
In St Albans, many students and young people were seduced by the thought of free tuition fees. I heard that being promised time and again across the land, and young people, potentially facing large debts being wiped away, suddenly found they might want to nail their colours to tuition fees at a general election. Tuition fees were an issue that attracted many young people for obvious reasons, and young people nailed their colours to that mast in largish numbers.
However, when we got into government with the Liberal Democrats, tuition fees were the first thing to be horse-traded. Tuition fees were horse-traded for a vote on the alternative vote system. The Liberal Democrats felt that changing the voting system was more important than tuition fees. As a result, hundreds of thousands of young people found themselves being duped and the horse-trading continued.
Break in Debate
On Brenda of Bristol, I shall give way.
Mr Speaker, I rise as the unrecognised Liberal Democrat in this place and I apologise to the Chamber. Let me get back to the issue of the election itself. I represent the coldest and most northerly constituency in the British mainland. It is going to get dark a hell of a lot earlier where I come from than it does in St Albans, and the streets and roads are going to be an awful lot icier. This is perhaps an appeal for the Leader of the House, who is not with us at this precise moment, but may I ask the Government to co-ordinate as closely as possible with the Scottish Government to make sure that the streets and roads are safe for the people who want to come out to exercise their democratic right?
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I have given way to the hon. Gentleman already.
This is a question of trust. The British people trust us to deliver on our promises, and if we do not deliver on our promises we undermine the basis of democracy. The leaflet that came out during the European referendum said: “We will implement what you decide.” Many people, some of whom had never voted for the whole of their lives because they felt it did not make anything change, went and voted in the European referendum because they thought it would make a difference. It was the biggest democratic exercise in our country’s history and a majority voted to leave—and leave we must.
The Opposition are playing party politics, because their only determination is to try to make sure that Brexit cannot happen by the 31st. That is because they think the public are stupid. They think the public will say, “Ah—the Prime Minister did not deliver Brexit by the 31st, so we can go to the country and say that he did not keep his promise.” But actually the public are not stupid. They can see that the reason we have not delivered it by the 31st is that the Opposition voted to institute the European Union (Withdrawal) No. 2 Bill, which surrendered control of when we leave to the European Union.
I want to deal with the issues in the amendments. The first amendment would allow all EU voters living in this country to vote. Quite apart from the fact that this has not been properly debated, it is very difficult to add 3 million voters to the register at very short notice. It would also have—
Thank you, Mr Speaker, for that guidance. I did notice that many other speakers mentioned the amendments during their orations.
Absolutely, Mr Speaker
I would like to discuss the issue of European citizens, which has already been mentioned during the debate. It would be very difficult to add 3 million voters to the electoral register at short notice, and the relative size of constituencies would be affected. It is notable that some, like my hon. Friend the Member for Isle of Wight (Mr Seely), who was here earlier, have constituencies of more than 100,000 people, while others have constituencies of just 20,000 people. I know that there has been an effort by the Boundary Commission to introduce changes that would even those up, but suddenly adding European voters would have an impact on the relative value of an individual’s vote. It is also notable that none of the EU27 member states allows citizens not from their country to vote in a general election, and with free movement and elections at different times one can rather see why that might be.
Other speakers have discussed votes at 16. As a paediatrician, I have over time seen and treated a number of young people at 16. I have met some very, very mature 16-year-olds with great life experience who no doubt have the knowledge and maturity to vote, but I have also met 16-year-olds who do not. It is worth looking at the international—
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I am reminded of the fact that when people start to get personal towards the Prime Minister or others, it is because they do not have a political argument to make.
It is useful to look at international norms. The United Nations, which we are part of, sees 18-year-olds as adults. Internationally, refugees are seen as children if they are less than 18 years old. We are part of the Five Eyes group, along with Australia, New Zealand, America and Canada, all of which allow votes only from 18. All EU member states, apart from Austria, allow votes only from 18. As a children’s doctor—
Thank you, Mr Speaker; I appreciate your guidance on this matter. I hope you will not mind my responding to the comments made by the leader of the Liberal Democrats, the hon. Member for East Dunbartonshire (Jo Swinson), who said that our children should have a vote because it matters to their future. This will affect my four, eight and 12-year-olds’ futures even more, but that is not a rational argument for them to vote.
I am concerned that the amendments that have been tabled are wrecking amendments, because they are trying to change the franchise just before an election. Were that to happen against the Electoral Commission’s advice, we would not be able to have an election in December.
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I thank my right hon. Friend for his intervention; he is right.
We need to deliver Brexit and get on with the priorities of the British people. People in my constituency want more police, more money for schools, better broadband and a strong economy—all the things that were promised in the Queen’s Speech. This Parliament needs to be honest with the people. If Members do not want to deliver Brexit, they should be honest about that and say to voters that they do not want to deliver Brexit, then see whether they are returned. We are at an impasse where the only solution to get Brexit done, whether we want one or not, is to have a general election now.
I agree. I plan to say a number of things, but I want to follow up on some of the things that have been said during the debate. There has been a huge amount of talk about being honest with the public, political expediency and turning the referendum into a party political thing. The hon. Member for St Albans (Mrs Main) seemed very concerned that the referendum and how we vote on Bills has been used for political expediency. I would like to gently remind everybody of the time that the Prime Minister got a camera crew to come and take a picture of him as he signed his little resignation letter to Theresa May—sorry, the right hon. Member for Maidenhead (Mrs May). Some might say that it had been politically expedient and, lo and behold, he is now the Prime Minister. Gosh forbid that anybody should use things for political expediency or that Conservative Members have always voted for the Bill.
The trouble with the arguments we are having is that the Government have continued to behave like a Government who have a majority, regardless of the fact that they do not. The right hon. Member for Maidenhead suffered exactly the same problem after the referendum, which was not won decisively by one side—it was a marginal win—and after the 2017 election, when again the country was split, and the idea of bringing forward a Bill that we could all sit down and work on was literally never ever taken forward.
I have listened to Conservative Members saying today, “Well, you shouldn’t be allowed to amend the Bill”, or “You only want time to amend it”. Er, yes—that is absolutely right, because that is the job of this House. Different people come here from different backgrounds and make laws that are not just for one sort of person, but that represent this country. I seem to be in a twilight zone where the Government and the Executive seem to think that they just write a line and then go, “Er, well, it’s my way or the highway”. Welcome to parliamentary democracy!
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I am grateful to have been called when I was not able to be present for the whole debate. I will try to keep my remarks brief, because I know that other colleagues want to speak.
It is an example of the journey I have made in my 14 years in this House that my maiden speech was a Eurosceptic speech that followed a speech by a Labour Eurosceptic, the hon. Member for Luton North (Kelvin Hopkins). I will now make a resolutely pro-remain, pro-European speech following the excellent speech by one of the Members whom I most admire in this House, the hon. Member for Birmingham, Yardley (Jess Phillips).
I have to say, Mr Speaker, that the minute you rose I realised the error I had made in speaking injudiciously and inaccurately. From now on, I will take a forensic approach. The point I was going to make was that I support the call for an election. It is quite right that we try to break the deadlock that exists in Parliament by having an election as soon as possible. I am also mindful—I have listened to every word you have said in this Chamber, Mr Speaker—that I am not going to speak about any of the amendments. All I will say is that the hon. Member for Birmingham, Yardley raised important points and the amendments, if they are called, will also raise important points.
There are important debates to be had in this Chamber about the shape and form of elections. I am open to the idea, for example, of 16-year-olds voting. I am open to the idea of our European friends who live here and contribute their taxes voting. In particular, I take on board the point the hon. Lady made about money and lies. We know that in a digital age the propaganda pumped out on tech platforms will be a huge issue in this election and in future elections. When this House returns after the election, I hope that that will be one of the issues that is addressed.
Many hon. Members, including my hon. Friend the Member for St Albans (Mrs Main), who made an excellent speech, have focused on the fact that people in the country are yearning for us to talk about something other than Brexit and about the issues that matter to them. I am extremely fortunate to represent the wonderful constituency of Wantage and Didcot, which contributes an enormous amount to the British economy. It is a centre for scientific research, space companies and life sciences, and it has a Formula 1 team, Williams Formula 1. Understandably, the constituency voted to remain because those companies rely on the expertise of a workforce who are spread throughout Europe and who are able to come to this country to work. It is clear, therefore, that when we have this election—and we must have it—Brexit and the issues that emerge from it will be an important factor in the debate.
It is also right that when we call this election—I am speaking in support of the Bill—people should have the chance to debate issues such as who provides the best stewardship of the economy, healthcare and education as well as the importance of culture and the creative industries in our society, a subject very close to my heart.
I echo what the hon. Member for Birmingham, Yardley said—I hope this is in order, Mr Speaker—about the tone of any forthcoming general election campaign. You will be pleased to know that the insight I am about to deliver represents the conclusion of my remarks. When you quite rightly ruled me out of order for saying that I was going to make a pro-remain speech when in fact I am making a pro-election speech, the point I wanted to make was that, with a little bit of Brexit inside me—[Interruption.] My hon. Friend the Member for St Albans has perked up. Obviously, I do not want to be part of a European superstate. I often say to my remain friends that if at any point the European Union told us, “You can stay in the European Union only if you join the single currency,” I would be the first to man the barricades and call for Brexit—even, dare I say it, a no-deal Brexit.
What was left behind after the referendum, and what I hope we get back if we call an election, is an understanding of the role of this incredible institution of Parliament. We know that the people voted to leave the European Union, but the paranoid hard-right Brexiteers decided that any version of Brexit apart from their own would somehow snatch away their hard-won victory. However, you know, Mr Speaker, that the role of this place, as the Chamber of a representative democracy, is to take that instruction and to interpret it as best we can.
My rebellious streak emerged when a hard-line Brexit was proposed—the proposal to leave the customs union and the single market while maintaining an open border in Ireland is an impossible circle to square—and there were attacks on our judges, who were called “enemies of the people” for interpreting the law; attacks on business, which pays taxes and employs people; attacks on our civil servants, who worked day and night to deliver the instructions of their political masters; and, dare I say it, Mr Speaker, attacks on you for allowing us in this Chamber to have our say on important matters. What really drove me mad was the attempt by some people in this House to own the result of the referendum and say, to echo the words of the hon. Member for Birmingham, Yardley, “My way or the highway,” trashing in the process every single institution that they purported to be campaigning for when they campaigned for Brexit. That is utterly shameful. I hope they realise that everyone in this House has done their best to deliver on the referendum result.
It is not our fault that there was a hung Parliament. We can blame various people for the reason that we came back with a hung Parliament—[Interruption.] No, I blame the politicians. I blame the person who was leading our party at the last election when we could have come back with a majority, and this party can perhaps reflect on how long it took to react. Nobody knows how this election will turn out. I have simply taken a consistent position—as I have watched the carnage and the wreckage, and the ratcheting up of the rhetoric to “traitor” and “treason”—and said, “We should respect the referendum result, but we should leave with a deal.”
I do not know whether you and I will ever meet again in our respective positions, Mr Speaker. I simply want to say to you, as one man of average height—to echo my right hon. Friend the Member for Rayleigh and Wickford (Mr Francois)—but of substantial girth: thank you for everything that you have done to stand up for the rights of this Chamber. Thank you as well to all my colleagues, who I look forward to seeing on the election beat, reasonably exchanging sensible and intelligent views on the best way forward—
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I am very grateful; my hon. Friend has been a wonderful colleague to me over many years. This place at its best is one of the best places to be—and at its worst, it is absolutely awful.
I will not be supporting a general election because I do not think that a general election will resolve Brexit. The clue is partly in the name: a “general” election is about general issues. It is impossible to extrapolate from the result what people think about a very specific issue—in this case, Brexit. If we want a specific answer on Brexit, we have to ask a specific question, and the best way of doing that is through a people’s vote. That is even more the case with an electoral system that is as undemocratic and antiquated as ours, because first past the post regularly delivers majority Governments on a minority of votes.
A million people did not march through the streets of London a few weeks ago demanding a general election; they wanted a people’s vote because they know that that is the best way—indeed, the only way—to get to the bottom of this crisis and resolve it. All that a general election will do, frankly, is put Nigel Farage and the Prime Minister back in their comfort zones, giving them a stage—political insiders dressed up as rebels, whose agenda, frankly, is chaos—so that division will thrive.
I want to take on the idea that this Parliament has run its course. The Prime Minister has won votes on both his Queen’s Speech and the Second Reading of the withdrawal agreement Bill. The only person who is blocking progress in this Parliament is the Prime Minister. The reason for that is very clear: he has an agenda that is all about a general election—about installing an even harder Vote Leave contingent of MPs in Parliament—but let us not allow him to get away with telling us as Parliament that somehow we have not been doing a good job of holding him to account. This is not a zombie Parliament; it is a Parliament that has got its head around parliamentary procedures in a way that any new Parliament will take months to do. It is precisely because we have been able to keep the Prime Minister in his box that he is not very happy with the fact that we are trying to continue on our way forward.
One of the reasons I do not want a general election right now is that the thing that should be front and centre of it—the climate emergency, which is what we should be debating in a general election—will be overshadowed by yet more fights about Brexit, which it will not resolve. We know that the next 18 months will be crucial in terms of whether we have a chance of getting off the collision course we are on with the climate catastrophe. The Committee on Climate Change said in its report to Parliament a few months ago that the next Parliament will be absolutely vital, so it is crucial that the next general election is about the climate crisis. This existential crisis is facing all of us and if we fritter the time away with more debates about Brexit, which they are not even going to resolve, we will be responsible for the greatest irresponsibility—that does not quite make sense, but you know what I mean. We will be responsible for the greatest betrayal of young people and their futures, because this is a massive wasted opportunity, and I cannot bear the fact that we are going to spend it talking about Brexit in a way that is not going to resolve it.
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On a point of order, Mr Speaker. Many excellent speeches species were curtailed at three minutes this evening. Why is this awful, repetitious performance being allowed to go on for so long?
Thank you for that opportunity, Mr Speaker, but I think I will be able to do so in slightly shorter order, so I hope that I can bring pleasure to the hon. Gentleman.
In the election, we will deliver on a one nation agenda: delivering for our schools and our hospitals, safer communities, more police, massive investment in our infrastructure, keeping our streets safe and tackling the cost of living. The alternative will be the nightmare advanced by the Leader of the Opposition, who wants to make 2020 the year of two referendums: one on Brexit and another on Scottish independence—more energy-sapping, mind-numbing stagnation and more pointless delay, so I urge right hon. and hon. Members to back this Bill and back the general election. Let the Government get Brexit done and allow the country to move on.
Question put and agreed to.
Bill accordingly read a Second time; to stand committed to a Committee of the whole House (Order, this day).
This has been a fractious, challenging, controversial and difficult debate at times. Do you agree, Mr Speaker, that in the context of this debate, it is extraordinarily important that all Members agree that their behaviour, whether in this House or in the potential general election to come, should be exemplary, whatever others do?
(9 months, 1 week ago)Commons Chamber
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.
(9 months, 2 weeks ago)Commons Chamber
As ever, I agree with my hon. Friend. I am pleased to see that his powers of oration have not dimmed. Ours is the most successful political and economic Union in history, and our four nations are safer, stronger and more prosperous together. We are deeply committed to keeping our family of nations together.
In a week in which we have seen a poll indicate that more voters support independence, threatening to split the Union, can my right hon. Friend tell me what work he is doing to build on the last Administration’s work to get UK Departments engaging with, and getting more of a presence in, the devolved nations?
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The right hon. Gentleman is showing complete ignoratio elenchi—a complete failure to study what we actually passed last night in that historic agreement. It is very clear that it is open to the House to do better, where it chooses, on animal welfare standards or social protections, as indeed this country very often does. We lead the way: we are a groundbreaker in this country. I am afraid to say that the right hon. Gentleman has no other purpose in seeking to frustrate Brexit than to cause a second referendum.
As for the NHS, this is the party whose sound management of the economy took this country back from the abyss and enabled us to spend another £34 billion on the NHS—a record investment—and, as I promised on the steps of Downing Street, to begin the upgrade of 20 hospitals, and as a result of the commitments this Government are making, 40 new hospitals will be built in the next 10 years. That is this party’s commitment to the NHS. [Interruption.]
Two questions and we are still waiting for an answer, although we could do with a translation of the first part of the Prime Minister’s response.
I hate to break it to the Prime Minister, but under his Government and that of his predecessor, privatisation has more than doubled to £10 billion in our NHS. There are currently 20 NHS contracts out to tender, and when he promised 40 hospitals, he then reduced that to 20, and then it turns out that reconfiguration is taking place in just six hospitals. So these numbers keep tumbling down for the unfunded spending commitments that he liberally makes around the country.
The Prime Minister continues to say that he will exclude our NHS from being up for grabs in future trade deals. Can he point to which clause in the withdrawal agreement Bill secures that?
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Q6. What plans he has to (a) encourage investment in and (b) improve the transport infrastructure of northern Lincolnshire. 
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I am very grateful to my hon. Friend for his support. I can say to him that our policy remains unchanged: we should leave the EU on 31 October, at the end of this month. We will leave the EU on 31 October if Opposition Members will comply. That is what I will say to the EU, and I will report back to the House in due course. On his other two requests of a—
On a duchess and a city, may I undertake to report back to the House on the progress we are making, Mr Speaker?
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I must correct the hon. Gentleman, who just said this is our decision. It is the decision of the BBC. [Interruption.] No, come on, Opposition Members should be clear about what is happening. It is up to the BBC to fund these licences. The hon. Gentleman’s point about scamming is a reasonable one. We will ensure that we give people the protection and security they need—not least through another 20,000 police officers on the streets of our country.
Thank you, Mr Speaker; it gives me great pleasure to be called. As you have pointed out, this may unfortunately be my penultimate Prime Minister’s questions and will unfortunately be your penultimate Prime Minister’s questions, but I hope that it will not be my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister’s penultimate Prime Minister’s questions.
Is the Prime Minister aware that many Members who, like me, voted for his Bill last night but voted against the programme motion would be delighted to accept a reasonable compromise for the proper scrutiny of the Bill, and that this was not a vote for revocation in disguise?
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(9 months, 2 weeks ago)Commons Chamber
I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.
We come together now, in the very best traditions of this House, to scrutinise this Bill and then take the decision that this country expects: to make the verdict of the British people the law of the land so that we can leave the European Union with our new deal on 31 October.
I of course wish that this decision on our national future had been taken through a meaningful vote on Saturday, but I respect perfectly the motives of my right hon. Friend the Member for West Dorset (Sir Oliver Letwin), although I disagree with the effects of his amendment.
I regret, too, that after Saturday’s vote the Government have been forced to act on the advice of the Cabinet Secretary and to take the only responsible course, which is to accelerate our preparations for a no-deal outcome.
Today, we have the opportunity to put all that right, because if this House backs this Bill and if we ratify this new deal, which I believe is profoundly in the interests of our whole United Kingdom and of our European friends, we can get Brexit done and move our country on—and we can de-escalate those no-deal preparations immediately and turn them off next week, and instead concentrate on the great enterprise of building a new relationship of the closest co-operation and friendship, as I said on Saturday, with our European neighbours and on addressing our people’s priorities at home.
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This new deal explicitly respects the territorial integrity of the UK. It takes the United Kingdom, whole and entire, out of the EU, and, of course, there is a set of special provisions applying to Northern Ireland—
Mr Speaker, I give way to the hon. Member for Belfast East (Gavin Robinson).
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The Prime Minister has claimed to the House today that the agreement does not rule out the interpretation that he has given to the House, but paragraph 8 of article 13 states quite clearly that any
“subsequent agreement between the Union and the United Kingdom shall indicate the parts of this Protocol which it supersedes”
and that the EU will have a say in that. How then can he claim to the House that we have total freedom of decision making?
I will respond by just repeating the point that those arrangements are automatically terminated after four years unless a majority in the Northern Ireland Assembly expressly decide to retain any or all of them, so those arrangements naturally and legally dissolve into full alignment with the whole of the UK. The default position is alignment with the UK unless, as I say, there is a majority vote in the Assembly against that alignment. In any event, those arrangements can be replaced by the future relationship based on the free trade agreement that we will conclude with the EU.
At the same time, the agreement ensures that Northern Ireland is part of the UK customs territory and benefits immediately from any UK trade deals. Clause 21 gives effect to those measures in the protocol. Apart from those special provisions, there are no level playing field provisions covering only Northern Ireland. Nothing in the new deal requires different treatment of Northern Irish services, which account for over 70% of the economy, and nothing in the revised political declaration would oblige Northern Ireland to be treated differently in the future relationship with the EU, which we will soon begin to negotiate.
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I can indeed give the hon. Gentleman that assurance. [Interruption.] There will be no race to the bottom. For hon. and right hon. Members who wish to be involved in the building of our future partnership, there will be every opportunity at every stage for the House to be involved, and quite properly so. [Interruption.]
I am delighted to repeat our unequivocal commitment to consumer standards and protections.
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It is indeed a genuine point of order concerning the programme motion. The BBC breaking news app is reporting that the Prime Minister has said that if he loses the programme motion he will withdraw the Bill. Given that the Prime Minister is talking about working with the House, has he given you any notice, Mr Speaker, that if the programme motion falls he will pull the Bill tonight?
Let me be very clear, to come to exactly the point the hon. Gentleman raises, that I will in no way allow months more of this. [Interruption.] No, I will not give way. If Parliament refuses to allow Brexit to happen and instead gets its way and decides to delay everything until January, or possibly longer, in no circumstances can the Government continue with this. And with great regret I must go directly to the point that the hon. Gentleman raises: with great regret I must say that the Bill will have to be pulled, and we will have to go forward, much as the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition may not like it, to a general election. I will argue at that election—[Interruption.] No, I will not give way. At that election I will argue “Let’s get Brexit done,” and the Leader of the Opposition will make his case to spend 2020 having two referendums—one on Brexit and one on Scotland—and the people will decide.
There is another path. [Interruption.] No, I won’t give way. And that is to accept, as I have done, that this deal does not give us everything that we want, and all of us can find clauses and provisions to which we can object, as we can in any compromise, but it also gives us the opportunity to conclude that there is no dishonour in setting aside an entirely legitimate desire to deliver the perfect deal in the interests of seizing the great deal that is now within our grasp—of seizing the opportunity to begin healing the divisions, and to satisfy the aching desire of the British public that we would just get Brexit done and to move on to do what those who sent us here want us to do, which is to address their priorities.
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I think I have given way quite a lot during this speech and I wish to wind up because I know that hon. Members will wish to make their own contributions to the debate.
For three and a half years this Parliament has been caught in a deadlock of its own making, and the truth is that all of us bear a measure of responsibility for that outcome, yet by the same token we all have the same opportunity now. The escape route is visible. The prize is visible before us: a new beginning with our friends and partners; a new beginning for a global, self-confident, outward-looking country that can do free trade deals around the world as one whole entire United Kingdom. The deal is here on the table. The legislation to deliver it is here before us. A clear majority in the country is now imploring us to get Brexit done in this House of Commons. I say to the House: let us therefore do it and let us do it now and tonight. I commend this Bill to the House.
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My right hon. Friend’s constituency, which I know very well, was once a centre of manufacturing in Britain, but the Government of Margaret Thatcher put paid to that. He is right that, in the event of tariffs being introduced on manufactured goods and in the event of WTO conditions, the opportunities for sales in the European market, which are obviously huge at present, would be severely damaged. I ask colleagues to think carefully about what I see as the dangers behind the Prime Minister’s approach, because he does not offer a safety net—[Interruption.] There are so many people trying to intervene. Can I deal with one at a time, please? That would be kind. The Prime Minister does not offer a safety net—[Interruption.]
I do not think there is any process that allows an intervention on an intervention on an intervention. I think you would probably notice it, Mr Speaker.
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I will give way to my hon. Friend, with his quiet demeanour, but let me just say, on workers’ rights, that by removing any level playing field provision the Government are asking us to give them a blank cheque on rights at work.
I am grateful to my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition for eventually giving way. I was incredibly concerned when I was reminded by my wife earlier today that we spent longer choosing a sofa than this House has to debate this incredibly important Bill. The important point is this: the Prime Minister’s own legislative adviser, Nikki da Costa, has said and advised him that she thinks this House needs at least four weeks to debate this important legislation in order for it to go through both Houses. We have just not got enough time to debate this—does my right hon. Friend agree?
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No, I will not give way.
That is not all—[Interruption.]
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The Prime Minister and I agree on very little, but we both give way a great deal. I am not going to give way for the moment.
Clause 30 makes it worryingly clear that if no trade deal with the EU is agreed by the very ambitious date of December next year, Ministers can just decide to crash the UK out on World Trade Organisation terms. That is not getting Brexit done; it is merely pushing back the serious threat of no deal to a later date. Let us be clear: as things stand the Bill spells out the deeply damaging deal that the Prime Minister has negotiated—and he knows it, which is why he is trying to push it through without scrutiny. Labour will seek more time to scrutinise. We will seek a clear commitment on a customs union, a strong single market relationship, a hard-wired commitment on workers’ rights, non-regression on environmental standards and the closure of loopholes to avoid the threat of a no-deal Brexit once and for all.
Lastly, the Prime Minister’s deal should go back to the people; we should give them, not just Members of this House, the final say. They always say that the devil is in the detail; I have seen some of the detail and it confirms everything we thought about this rotten deal. It is a charter for deregulation across the board, paving the way for a Trump-style trade deal that will—[Hon. Members: “Oh!”] Government Members do not like hearing this bit, so I will say it again: it will pave the way for a Trump-style trade deal that will attack jobs, rights and protections and open up our precious national health service and all the history and principles behind it, and other public services, to even more privatisation. That is exactly what the Prime Minister set out in his letter to the President of the EU Commission, when he said that alignment with EU standards
“is not the goal of the current UK Government.”
There we have it in his own words. That is a vision for the future of our country that my party, the Labour party, cannot sign up to and does not support. That is why we will be voting against Second Reading tonight and, if that vote is carried, we will vote against the programme motion, to ensure that this elected House of Commons has the opportunity to properly scrutinise this piece of legislation.
On a point of order, Mr Speaker. The Home Affairs Committee was due to take evidence from the Home Secretary tomorrow afternoon. I have been trying to speak to the Home Secretary today, because she has now informed the Committee that she does not want to give evidence tomorrow. We have offered to change the timing of the sitting to tomorrow morning—
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I can see the Home Secretary nodding; I hope she can now agree to give evidence tomorrow morning, because we have been seeking to get this session in the diary since the beginning of August.
Further to that point of order, Mr Speaker. I would be grateful if the Home Secretary can confirm that she is able to attend, because the sitting was due to be on preparations for Brexit.
Although I am not on a time limit, I know that time is short, so I will be as brief as I possibly can to ensure that everybody else can get in.
Some 25 years ago, the Maastricht treaty finally passed into UK law. I remember with some fondness going on many occasions through the Lobby to vote against the Government—heaven forfend—and I was always joined by the jolly figure of the current Leader of the Opposition, the right hon. Member for Islington North (Jeremy Corbyn). We shared many a conversation about how terrible it was and how, given the opportunity, we would one day join together to repeal the European Communities Act 1972. I am sorry to say to the Leader of the Opposition, in genuine friendship, that I would love to know what happened in the intervening 25 years that changed his mind about the European Union such that he now no longer wishes to repeal that Act. I miss our friendship and would like that to be put on record. [Interruption.] As my hon. Friend the Member for Wycombe (Mr Baker) said, it was literally the only thing we ever agreed about.
Today, I am going to—
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On a point of order, Mr Speaker. I have serious concerns that there has been some mistake in the printing of the withdrawal agreement Bill. We have repeatedly heard reference in the speeches of the Prime Minister and others to clauses and measures under which the terrible arrangements for Northern Ireland would disappear on the signing of a free trade deal with the EU. I cannot find those clauses. During the Leader of the Opposition’s speech, I took the opportunity to look at the Bill again, but I cannot find those clauses in my copy. Could you give me clarity on how we can get some certainty? Perhaps my copy has some missing pages or there has been some form of misprint, or perhaps the Government could outline where these clauses exist, because I cannot find them.
I, too, noted that the Prime Minister referred to checks and declarations on GB-Northern Irish goods as being “transitory”. He also said that they would “melt away” unless a majority of Northern Ireland chose to retain them. I share the concerns of the hon. Member for Belfast South (Emma Little Pengelly) that that is not in fact correct, and that perhaps there has been some confusion between the future decision relating to a single market and being in a customs union. Does it not highlight the challenge that we face that the Prime Minister appears to need additional time to consider the real implications of the decisions being taken that will have a significant impact not only on this country, but in particular on our trading relationship with Northern Ireland, and on trade from Northern Ireland to the European Union? This really adds to the weight of concern about the lack of time to properly scrutinise such issues in this debate.
Indeed, Mr Speaker, as always.
It is a pleasure to follow the right hon. Member for Chingford and Woodford Green (Mr Duncan Smith). We do not perhaps agree on the destination for which we should be heading, but he certainly makes his case with passion.
The points of order that have just been made absolutely demonstrate that we must have proper scrutiny of absolutely fundamental legislation that is going to affect all of us, our children and our grandchildren for decades to come. We must be able to tease out the facts.
The Government in London have an obligation to negotiate with parties from Northern Ireland, as the right hon. Member for Chingford and Woodford Green said, but also to negotiate with the devolved Administrations in Edinburgh and in Cardiff. In the spirit of generosity that is suggested by the Government, there has to be real dialogue and negotiation with all parties that are involved in this.
The simple fact remains that while we on the SNP Benches have no desire to leave the European Union, it is regrettable that over the past three years we have not had the opportunity to explore in detail a compromise position, which may have been staying in the single market and customs union and would have resolved many of the difficulties that we now face with Northern Ireland.
I thank the right hon. Gentleman for reminding us that we spent 100 hours in Committee on Maastricht.
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I think there are very legitimate questions to be answered, and my hon. Friend is quite correct. I am conscious of time and I have taken a number of interventions, but I am not far from the end and I wish to move on and conclude. [Interruption.] Really? “Thank God for that” is what we get from Government Members. That is the disrespect that is shown to the Scottish people. Perhaps they should stand up and put it on the record. That is an absolute disgrace.
It is simply an insult to democracy that the Government are trying to push this Bill through in limited time, and I urge Members—I urge even those on the Government Benches—to ask themselves: is this really how they want things to be done? Even the previous director of legislative affairs at No. 10, Nikki da Costa, stated in May that this Bill would take “more than four weeks”. What has changed? Moreover, it was agreed that this legislation must not be passed until the UK Government have published an economic impact assessment of their deal, yet on “BBC Breakfast” on Saturday, the Brexit Secretary confirmed that no economic analysis has been done by this Government on the final deal. That is the height of irresponsibility. There is no economic analysis on a deal that is going to have a fundamental impact on the lives of all our citizens.
Each and every one of us in this House knows—because we have seen the evidence, we have listened to the experts—that there is no such thing as a good Brexit. In every scenario, Brexit threatens jobs, it risks environmental standards, it risks workers’ rights, it unravels co-operation and opportunities and, importantly, it poses questions about the future values that the UK has fostered hand in hand with the European Union. This Government are closing their eyes, putting their head in the sand and hoping that the sun comes out—the sunny uplands that the Brexiteers talk about—but that is reckless and it is foolish. The arrogance and the incompetence of the Government cannot and must not be allowed to go unchecked. Our priority today must be to ensure that an extension is negotiated and secured with the European Union, so this House can scrutinise fully and properly the significant lasting changes that this legislation will mean.
In closing, I want to touch on some of the substantive points about why, in no circumstances, will the SNP ever vote for Brexit and this shameful deal. Despite our efforts to compromise, this legislation will take us out of the European Union, out of the single market and out of the customs union. With the Prime Minister’s deal, under a free trade agreement Scotland’s GDP would be around 6.1% less, or £9 billion worse off, than if we stayed in the European Union. That is equivalent to £1,600 per person in Scotland. That is the cost of the Prime Minister’s Brexit for Scotland. Northern Ireland businesses will have easier access to the European single market while simultaneously enjoying “unfettered” access to the UK market. There is significant uncertainty as to how the economic impact may play out, but it could see Scottish business losing market share with direct competitors. The risk is that supply chains may be re-organised to take advantage of Northern Ireland’s preferential access to the single market. It may even play a role in location decisions in some cases.
The SNP is significantly concerned that the removal of the commitments on environmental protection from the withdrawal agreement, and restricting them to the non-binding political declaration, opens the door to UK divergence from EU standards. The political declaration remains weak in relation to human rights, and in particular on the importance of continuing UK compliance with the European convention on human rights.
Scotland will be worse off—unfairly disadvantaged—despite our will to remain. Therefore I urge Members not to sell out Scotland. Listen to the will of the Scottish people, protect our devolution settlement, respect our democratically expressed wishes and stand by the rights of the Scottish people, businesses, farmers, crofters, fishermen, students, doctors and nurses. Stand by them and vote to stop this disastrous deal and to give the Scottish Parliament, and therefore the Scottish people, their say.
The Bill and the agreement that it seeks to implement represent a compromise. It is a compromise that I believe is acceptable, but I will not conceal the fact that I and many other Members on this side of the House will find elements of it difficult and uncomfortable. My decision to support the Government tonight rests above all on what I and the great majority of Members on both sides of the House pledged to the electorate in 2016—that we would, however we campaigned and however we voted, respect the decision that they took in the referendum.
When I look through the Bill, I see that much of it is familiar territory. That is hardly a surprise as much— indeed, most—of it ratifies precisely the same negotiated text as that negotiated by my right hon. Friend the Member for Maidenhead (Mrs May). Of course, one significant change has been in relation to Northern Ireland. As my hon. Friend the Member for North Dorset (Simon Hoare), the Chair of the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee, said in an intervention earlier, there are advantages to what is in the deal. The guarantee of an open border on the island of Ireland is not only vital to allow trade and, indeed, normal economic life for people living in the border counties to continue, but is essential in my judgment for the maintenance of peace and security in the border areas. It is also important for the maintenance of the Union. When I look at the demographics of Northern Ireland as someone who passionately wants to see the Union continue and grow stronger, I conclude that for that to happen the Union will need to command the support—or at the very least the acquiescence—of a large number of people who identify as Irish or who are non-aligned in their affiliation.
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I will not give way, because I have very little time.
That is the issue of sovereignty. Northern Ireland will be left as a semi-detached part of the United Kingdom. In the long run, of course, the whole focus of attention will move from Westminster to Dublin. Who will speak for us in Europe when these regulations come through? Who will speak for us in Europe when the customs rules are affecting us? It will not be the UK Government. Increasingly, the focus will be on the Dublin Government.
The second argument is that we can vote our way out of the arrangements. The mechanism for voting our way out of them is now a simple majority vote. I never thought that I would hear a Prime Minister who has insisted that we adhere to the rules of the Belfast agreement suddenly bring up its central premise in this way. The first issue that was addressed in the Belfast agreement was what kind of checks and balances should be in place to protect both communities when it come to the operation of the Assembly. The Belfast agreement said that, in order to give those protections and ensure that all sections of the community could participate and work together, arrangements would be put in place
“to ensure that key decisions are taken on a cross-community basis.”
There is no greater and no more divisive a decision than this issue of our relationship with the EU, yet the safety valve in the Belfast agreement has been taken away. The Prime Minister said, “Oh, it has been taken away because it is a reserved matter anyway.” These are not reserved matters. Indeed, the very reason why we have a whole section in the Bill about what the Northern Ireland Assembly can and cannot do is that they are devolved matters, yet on these devolved matters, and on this one issue in particular, the Government have agreed to take away the central principle of consent. That will do damage when it comes to the operation of the Assembly in future. We cannot be selective like that, and certainly not on an issue such as this.
I come now to the last issue. I nearly choked when the Prime Minister said, “Don’t worry about it, because all of these changes that will affect Northern Ireland will be light-touch. It is not really a boundary down the Irish sea; they are just light-touch regulations.” These light-touch regulations require firms to make declarations when they sell goods to another part of their own country and to pay duties for goods that come from a part of their own country, which incur costs. I would at least have had some respect had the Prime Minister said, “I have a deadline of 31 October. I have to get this round. I am therefore having to make concessions and, unfortunately, Northern Ireland is a concession, and you will understand that.” What I cannot take is a Prime Minister who thinks that I cannot read the agreement that has been published, and who thinks that I cannot see in that agreement what the impact on Northern Ireland will be—
This Parliament is letting the public down. Three years and four months ago, I and 17.4 million people voted to leave the European Union. We voted to take back control of our laws, our borders and our money, and we are still waiting for that to happen. We were told by the then Prime Minister that he would send a letter announcing our decision immediately after the result, and under the treaty we expected to be out after two years with or without agreement by the European Union.
Instead, we find ourselves today having yet another debate after so many groundhog days in this place, with the same people rehearsing the same arguments, as around half the Members of the House of Commons—we will find out whether it is more than half—are still trying to stop any kind of Brexit, and are forcing those of us who believe in Brexit to dilute what we are trying to do and delaying our enjoying the fruits of our Brexit vision.
Let us look at the agreement, because it is far from ideal from the point of view of a leave voter. I am delighted that the Prime Minister has today reassured us that we will completely take back control of our fish, and that we will decide how that amazing resource is nurtured, looked after and used by our country. That is very welcome. I also accept that the documents show that we will not have to go into battle with our troops on a vote that we have lost, and that we are not about to be sucked into losing the sovereign control of our Government and Parliament over our foreign and defence policy.
But we are still in trouble with the powers of the European Court of Justice over our laws. I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Stone (Sir William Cash) for contributing to the Bill, because there is now a sovereignty clause, and I hope it works; it is a definite improvement. However, I am extremely worried by the situation in Northern Ireland.
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Last week, the Queen’s Speech was the most important thing to the Prime Minister, and today and previously we have been given all sorts of assurances. It almost felt as though if someone had asked him today whether he would assure them at the Dispatch Box that the moon is made of cheese, he would have given that assurance. His assurances, the Queen’s Speech—it means nothing.
My hon. Friend makes a valid point. We have had a lot of assurances from the Prime Minister at the Dispatch Box. We know that some of them cannot be trusted, and therefore we have to assume that we should not rely too much on any of them. He also promised at that Dispatch Box that after Brexit, full control of Scottish fishing would be returned to Scotland, but in fact Government policy is precisely the opposite.
I have gone through the specific concerns that a lot of businesses in my constituency have been raising over the past several years, and I have tried to go through the withdrawal agreement and this Bill to find out what parts of those documents address the specific worries that my local businesses have. To date, I have not found a single concern that has been raised with me on which I can go back to those businesses and say, “It has been sorted if these documents go through.” We get a lot of platitudes and reassuring noises, but there is absolutely nothing in any of these documents that will give businesses the certainty they are looking for. The Scottish Conservatives have even started to misrepresent the views of the Scottish Chambers of Commerce in their desperation to make it look as though the business community is telling us we should go ahead with this. What the SCC actually said was:
“On the surface this is good news but the devil is in the detail…until we see what the deal means for businesses on the ground, many are reserving judgement.”
That was hailed as a ringing endorsement, because it was as good an endorsement as is going to come.
The right hon. Member for North Thanet (Sir Roger Gale) said that he was looking for solutions. The House can be satisfied that Scotland has a solution. We have a solution that will get us out of this mess, and we will apply that solution if this Bill goes forward tonight.
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I think everybody knows my position; I genuinely believe that any deal should go back to the people for confirmation. They have the right to compare the results of any negotiations between the UK and the EU with the promises made by the now Prime Minister and other leaders of the leave campaign back in 2016, because in 2016 there was a vote to leave, but it was not a vote on how to leave. Brexit started with a referendum and any Brexit deal should therefore be confirmed or rejected by a referendum. This started with the people, and it should end with the people.
There are some who raise the political temperature by using the language of “the people versus Parliament”, but it is those who do not want this deal to go back to the people for a final say who are being disingenuous and cynical when they use such language. There are dozens of parliamentarians in this House who want to include the people in the final decision. They are the ones who are on the side of the people, not those who use the pitch of “the people against Parliament”. But as my hon. Friend the Member for Hove (Peter Kyle) said during the debate on Saturday, the Government say they are acting on the will of the people. We now have two negotiated withdrawal agreements and the threat of no deal. It seem that, for some, the will of the people takes almost as many forms as there are forms of Brexit.
Why not ask the people once again in a confirmatory and binding vote whether they still want to go ahead? Whatever agreement we achieve should go to the people. If they want to go ahead with Brexit on that basis, it should be implemented and that should be the end of it—no third referendum and no neverendum.
The next tactic deployed by right hon. and hon. Members supporting this agreement is to say, “Let’s just get on with it. People are sick of the process; they are tired of it.” I think we all share that view, but you do not give up on an issue of this magnitude because you are tired—you keep going until you get it right. Three days for debate on this withdrawal agreement is therefore outrageous.
As an example of people’s attitudes, on Saturday the right hon. Member for Chingford and Woodford Green (Mr Duncan Smith) said that people, metaphorically speaking, were dying for a decision on Brexit. I agree, so let them make the decision. I say to my constituents that I will vote for a deal as long as it goes back to them to confirm whether they want to go ahead with it or not. I think that is fair. I do not want the deal to get through this House and be implemented without their agreement, because for them Brexit will not be over. We do not know its impact, their jobs will be under threat, and the deal negotiated is not as good as the one we have now. We might try to reinvent the wheel but we will find out that it is not as round as the original.
Therefore, as I have said, we need to get this over in the right way. We cannot do that if we do not even have access to an economic assessment of the basis of this deal. That is very important when one in five of the people who work in one’s constituency work in manufacturing. I genuinely believe that if we do not put this back to the people, we will live to regret it as a democratic institution and as a country. I do not want the deal to get through this House and be implemented without the people agreeing one way or the other, only to find out that for them Brexit is not over.
I have struggled against the excesses of the European project for as long as I can remember—perhaps even as long as you can remember, Mr Speaker, and, given that you can remember everything, that is a bold claim. As it metamorphosised, if not in the eyes of its architects, then certainly in the perception of the British people, from a common market to a political union through successive treaties that I opposed in this House, I recognised that the British people were becoming less and less impressed with this project so beloved of the privileged classes.
Why did I struggle in that way? It was because this is essentially about a single matter, and no more than that—from where power is exercised, and how it is held to account. When power is detached from its effect, it first becomes careless and ultimately opens itself up to corruption.
As I have watched these matters being debated in this place, I have considered the two misassumptions that prevail among those who take a different view from my own. The first is about sovereignty. It is the Crown that is sovereign, not this Parliament, and the Ministers of the Crown have a mission to govern. Parliament’s job is to legislate and to hold those Ministers to account, but it is not this House’s purpose or role to govern, yet we have been constantly told, over the course of the consideration of this matter, that Parliament should do just that.
Secondly, there is a misassumption among the unreconstructed remainers about the character of allegiance. Pan-Europeanism may have a certain appeal to elements of the bourgeoisie, but it is no substitute for the shared sense of patriotic belonging that nourishes individual purpose and nurtures national pride.
Our legitimacy here depends upon the electors’ faith in the bond between those they choose to represent them and the people. Rejecting this deal risks breaching the trust on which that faith is founded. To face our democratic duty and to face down the alliance of nitpickers and doom-mongers is critical to maintain popular faith in the character of our democratic system of government.
There are some who agonise about the details of this deal who, frankly, would accept nothing that was negotiated: nothing would ever be quite good enough. No detail would ever be entirely perfect or well formed enough for those critics. Their endeavours are at best mischievous, and, at worse, malign.
Time and tide wait for no man, and the tidal wave of popular discontent about what this Parliament has done must not be resisted. G. K. Chesterton spoke of the people who had “not spoken yet”. Now their voices ring loud and clear. They are tired of waiting. They want Brexit, and they want it now.
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It has been a long three years, but two themes have arisen in this debate. One, echoed by the hon. Member for Leicester West (Liz Kendall), is the frustration with the length of time it has taken us to get anywhere, and the other, in the same breath, is an entrenched position on a preferred outcome of Brexit. The two do not tally. It is against that backdrop that I congratulate the Prime Minister and his Front-Bench team on coming to the House with a deal we can discuss that has been approved by the EU.
The realpolitik has not changed. The parliamentary maths means that we will not get the pure outcome that we want. The thing that has changed is the frustration of the nation, who are looking at us asking, “Why haven’t you moved forward?” Labour Members have moved forward in their position: they have kicked the can down the road in wanting a second referendum, because they are divided about which way they want to go, but they have not made it clear what such a second deal would be. However, here is a deal. They want to have a second deal, but they have no appetite to go around this buoy again. The Liberal Democrats want to disregard the referendum completely and go to revoking article 50. The DUP has genuine concerns, and we must listen to those. As the part of GB that has a land border with the EU, those concerns will I hope be addressed in Committee.
We should all admit that this unusual form of democracy—a referendum, with its closeness, that took place three years ago—is testing our democratic process. With our appreciation and understanding, how should we interpret something that has been so close? I ask the Government Front-Bench team to qualify and make firm the position on clause 30. The idea has been put forward already—spun—that this is an attempt to take us to no deal. I think I am right in saying that it is the Government’s position that we want to depart with a deal, and I hope that will be confirmed today.
I would like to say that we have a simple choice. With opinion so divided, do we have the courage to compromise and seek a strong, close and workable relationship that 100% of the nation can live with and tolerate—not just the half who actually voted to leave, but the other half who might be wanting a second referendum, which would provide further delay and further division?
I would also say that I agree with contributors in saying how this has been damaging to British politics, to this Parliament and, let us be honest, to the Conservative party—my party—in our complexion and outlook. We have a repair job to do once we are on the other side of Brexit. It has also been distracting. We have had a spending review, but it hardly got any airtime whatever. There are domestic issues that the nation wants us to look at. It has been distracting on the international level as well; our voice is missed on the international stage, as events in Turkey and Syria underline.
Today is a real opportunity to clear the fog of Brexit, find a place of compromise, break the impasse and move the nation forward.
First, it is worth noting that this House had more time to debate the Wild Animals in Circuses Act 2019, which affected 19 animals, than we will have on this particular Bill. The Institute for Government has said that the timetable appears to have been deliberately “designed to frustrate… scrutiny”. Clearly, it was, and I think the grin that kept on spreading across the face of the Leader of the House when he announced the business confirmed that.
It is right that Members have focused on Northern Ireland during this debate, and I want to focus on the issue of tariffs that are going to be applied to goods or intermediary goods at risk of being sold into the Republic of Ireland. I want some clarity about what goods we are actually talking about, and how on earth they are going to be tracked. There is no technological solution that provides the granularity required accurately to track the movements of goods, because multiple goods may share the same pallet, never mind the same lorry. Consequently, it is hard to see how all companies will not have tariffs levied on them up front, and then be required to seek a rebate.
The impact on businesses in Northern Ireland is clearly going to be significant, and we have heard about the export forms that they will have to complete to send goods to Great Britain. All this is of course coming to them courtesy of a party that was apparently in favour of reducing red tape to businesses. The impact assessment —it looks only at the legislation, not at the impact of Brexit—says that costs will be running at £167 million per year. Interestingly, it says that the benefit to business is precisely zero.
The Chancellor has said that it is self-evidently in our economic interest to go for Brexit. We have focused extensively on the issue of no deal, but it is worth focusing on this deal and on whether there is in fact any economic interest in it for the United Kingdom. We know from the various analyses looking at comparable deals that we are each going to be at least £2,000 worse off, that the hit on wages is 6.4% and the hit on GDP is 6.7%, and that the non-tariff barriers are going to be catastrophic for the automotive and chemical sectors, for example.
How do we get out of the mess we are in? As other Members have said, there is only one way forward, and that is through a confirmatory vote. Certainly the Liberal Democrats are adding our names to the Kyle-Wilson amendment, and I hope that amendment will secure the support of the House so that we can proceed with the sensible way out of the catastrophe that we are facing.
Break in Debate
I have to commend the hon. Lady for her persistence, but to reopen the issue in that way would be, with the greatest of respect to my hon. Friends who support it, the ultimate cop-out for this Parliament. It is time for all of us who believe in representative democracy to accept the fact that the whole concept of parliamentary representation is itself on trial. It is on trial in a way that perhaps none of us had ever envisaged. Acknowledging the fact that we are facing unprecedented challenge is something that should make us—[Interruption.]
It is something that should make us focus even more determinedly upon the need to make decisions—however imperfect, however unpalatable, however untimely they might seem to hon. Members. The public demand nothing less than for us to make a positive move. The time for decision making is now. The time for proposing nothing, opposing everything and seeking to play old-fashioned politics is over. We have to get on with this. As somebody who spent my life believing in the concept of our membership of the European Union, that comes as bitter gall to me, but it is not about me or individuals; it is about all of us.
Break in Debate
Further to that point of order, Mr Speaker. I must say that I find the response of the Prime Minister quite extraordinary, because the facts of the matter are—[Interruption.]
The fact of the matter is that this is yet another humiliating defeat this evening for the Prime Minister, who has sought to railroad through this House legislation that requires proper scrutiny. Rightly, this House has spoken with a very clear voice to tell the Prime Minister that he is not on. Furthermore, it is absolutely crystal clear what should now happen. There is legislation passed by this House, and it is the law of the land, that on the basis of not agreeing a deal, the Prime Minister is instructed—instructed, Prime Minister —to seek an extension. Go to Brussels and do as you have been instructed, and do not put yourself offside against this Parliament.
It is crystal clear that this is a Government in whom there is no confidence, and a Government who have sought to ignore the wishes of the Scottish Parliament and the Scottish people. It is obvious to us that if we want to guarantee our rights as EU citizens, Scotland has to become an independent country. To that end, Mr Speaker, can you advise me about what we must do in this House and what options are open to us both in securing the extension and in protecting Scotland’s national interest?
On a point of order, Mr Speaker. It is your decision; I do not think that either of us particularly minds. It is a point of order—almost.
May I ask the Prime Minister and everybody else to reconsider the suggestion he made that we pause the progress of the Bill tomorrow? I congratulate him on winning approval for the deal he negotiated. I think I said in the House once that I would apologise to him and congratulate him if he actually got it, and he has achieved it, and the Second Reading vote was the approval of his deal. The argument is about how long the House is allowed to take over considering it. I cannot quite see the logic of pausing progress on the Bill when the whole House is expecting the next two days to be spent on it. That would enable us to see how quickly the House wishes to proceed and what sort of time is being looked for, and if people started filibustering—I hope they would not—it might enable the Government to get a majority for a timetable motion that was a modest adjustment to tonight’s. Three or four days more would do it.
Further to that point of order, Mr Speaker. Twice in the last three days, the Prime Minister has failed to force his bad Brexit deal through the House without adequate scrutiny. He continues in an irresponsible vein to talk up the prospect of no deal. Is it not time to end the brinksmanship and replace it with some statesmanship; to seriously and respectfully engage with our European friends to secure an extension to article 50 to enable the House to pass legislation for a people’s vote; or, if he prefers, to allow proper scrutiny of his Bill or to call a general election? All of those things require a decent extension to article 50: he should be a statesman and go and secure it.
Further to that point of order, Mr Speaker. First, on the Second Reading vote, many hon. Members—certainly in my hearing—voted for it although they were against the contents of the deal. They said that they would want to see changes to it. The House has made a wise decision to allow further time for detailed examination of some of the most important legislation that we will ever have to consider, particularly given the impact on Northern Ireland. As the Prime Minister reflects on the votes on Saturday and studies the votes tonight, I suggest that he should talk to us again about what can be done even at this late stage to ensure that we join in this great quest to get Brexit done, but as one United Kingdom.
Further to that point of order, Mr Speaker. May we have a clarification from the Chair that the Second Reading was passed with a significant majority? The leaders of the Liberal Democrats and the SNP keep saying that it has not been passed. Can you clarify that Second Reading was passed with a majority?
Further to that point of order, Mr Speaker. I wondered if you could clarify for me how “getting Brexit done” sits with pausing Brexit. This feels like a very churlish reaction to what is a straightforward request, which is for the House to have a short amount of time. Do those two things equate in your mind?
On a point of order, Mr Speaker. Can you confirm that the Prime Minister had no alternative other than to do what he has done tonight? The previous Labour Government passed timetable motions—Bills had to have such a motion to proceed. Therefore, the action of Members tonight to vote against the timetable motion means that we cannot continue with the business, which we could do until the changes were made by the previous Labour Government.
On a point of order, Mr Speaker. Can you explain to me and to people outside, now that the Government have chosen to pause legislation and, by doing that, to extend the Brexit process—[Interruption.]
The Government and people outside will appreciate that there is now more opportunity to release the economic impact assessments that we should all have sight of before we make such material decisions.
On a point of order, Mr Speaker. I am grateful for your indulgence. Would it be in order for the House to adjourn for an hour, so that the Leader of the House could come back with an amended timetable motion to put to the House for its approval?
On a point of order, Mr Speaker. The Leader of the Opposition offered the Conservative party a proper discussion on a different programme motion, which would have given us more time for the release of impact assessments and so on, and more time to discuss a very complex and important Bill. That has not been addressed. It is correct that we cannot proceed tonight, but if an agreement was reached between Front Benchers we could surely re-establish a timetable and scrutinise the Bill properly—if we did not have a Prime Minister who was behaving like a two year old and playing silly games?
(9 months, 2 weeks ago)Commons Chamber
I am answering the question. We can have a nice conversation outside, but I will take this opportunity to answer the question before the right hon. Lady comes back. The hon. Gentleman’s question related to events and provisions on 1 November. I note that the right hon. Lady is referring to the deal and yes, it is the case that those provisions would come into effect if we had the deal, but of course we will make sure that they are seamless.
Local businesses in my constituency overwhelmingly tell me that it is not the future form of Brexit that we are arguing about in here that is causing them the most concern; it is the constant and endless delay and confusion—
Of course, Mr Speaker. Does my right hon. Friend agree that the best way to avoid no deal is to vote for a deal?
Break in Debate
I completely agree, and I am very grateful to my hon. Friend for everything that he says. He is a model of civility inside and outside this House, and I do hope that the standard of debate across the country can match the standard of debate that he always indulges in.
In one response, the right hon. Gentleman confirmed that there is, as yet, no agreement on reciprocal security arrangements for the data that we need to make sure that we can keep our borders safe. What is the Secretary of State doing to make sure that we will still be safe on 1 November?
(9 months, 3 weeks ago)Commons Chamber
Mr Speaker, I want to begin by echoing what you have just said and expressing my gratitude to all Members of the House for assembling on a Saturday for the first time in 37 years, and indeed to all members of our House of Commons staff who have worked to make this sitting possible. I know that it has meant people giving up their Saturday and breaking into their weekend at a time when families want to be together, and of course it means missing at least the end of England’s world cup quarter final. I apologise to the House for that; I wish I could watch it myself. I know that the hon. Member for Cardiff West (Kevin Brennan) has postponed his 60th birthday party—if not his 60th birthday—to be here. The House has gone to a great deal of trouble to assemble here on a Saturday for the first time in a generation, and I do hope that in assembling for the purposes of a meaningful vote, we will indeed be allowed to have a meaningful vote this evening.
With permission, Mr Speaker, I shall make a statement on the new agreement with our European friends. The House will need no reminding that this is the second deal and the fourth vote, three and half years after the nation voted for Brexit. During those years, friendships have been strained, families divided and the attention of this House consumed by a single issue that has at times felt incapable of resolution, but I hope that this is the moment when we can finally achieve that resolution and reconcile the instincts that compete within us.
Many times in the last 30 years, I have heard our European friends remark that this country is half-hearted in its EU membership, and it is true that we in the UK have often been a backmarker—opting out of the single currency, not taking part in Schengen, very often trying to block some collective ambition. In the last three and a half years, it has been striking that Members on all sides of this House have debated Brexit in almost entirely practical terms, in an argument that has focused on the balance of economic risk and advantage. I do not think I can recall a time when I have heard a single Member stand up and call for Britain to play her full part in the political construction of a federal Europe. I do not think I have heard a single Member call for ever closer union, ever deeper integration or a federal destiny—mon pays Europe. [Interruption.] Perhaps I missed it, but I do not think I have heard much of it. There is a whole side of the debate that one hears regularly in other European capitals that is simply absent from our national conversation, and I do not think that has changed much in the last 30 years.
If we have been sceptical, if we have been anxious about the remoteness of the bureaucracy, if we have been dubious about the rhetoric of union and integration, if we have been half-hearted Europeans, it follows logically that with part of our hearts—with half our hearts—we feel something else: a sense of love and respect for European culture and civilisation, of which we are a part; a desire to co-operate with our friends and partners in everything, creatively, artistically, intellectually; a sense of our shared destiny;, and a deep understanding of the eternal need, especially after the horrors of the last century, for Britain to stand as one of the guarantors of peace and democracy in our continent—and it is our continent.
It is precisely because we are capable of feeling both things at once—sceptical about the modes of EU integration, as we are, but passionate and enthusiastic about Europe—that the whole experience of the last three and a half years has been so difficult for this country and so divisive. That is why it is now so urgent for us to move on and build a new relationship with our friends in the EU on the basis of a new deal—a deal that can heal the rift in British politics and unite the warring instincts in us all. Now is the time for this great House of Commons to come together and bring the country together today, as I believe people at home are hoping and expecting, with a new way forward and a new and better deal both for Britain and our friends in the EU. That is the advantage of the agreement that we have struck with our friends in the last two days. This deal allows the UK, whole and entire, to leave the EU on 31 October in accordance with the referendum while simultaneously looking forward to a new partnership based on the closest ties of friendship and co-operation.
I pay tribute to our European friends for escaping the prison of existing positions and showing the vision to be flexible by re-opening the withdrawal agreement and thereby addressing the deeply felt concerns of many in this House. One of my most important jobs is to express those concerns to our European friends. I shall continue to listen to all hon. Members throughout the debate today, to meet with anyone on any side and to welcome the scrutiny the House will bring to bear if, as I hope, we proceed to consider the withdrawal Bill next week.
Today this House has a historic opportunity to show the same breadth of vision as our European neighbours and the same ability and resolve to reach beyond past disagreements by getting Brexit done and moving this country forwards, as we all yearn to do. This agreement provides for a real Brexit, taking back control of our borders, laws, money, farming, fisheries and trade, amounting to the greatest single restoration of national sovereignty in parliamentary history. It removes the backstop, which would have held us against our will in the customs union and much of the single market. For the first time in almost five decades, the UK will be able to strike free trade deals with our friends across the world to benefit the whole country, including Northern Ireland.
Article 4 of the protocol states:
“Northern Ireland is part of the customs territory of the United Kingdom”.
“nothing in this Protocol shall prevent”
Northern Ireland from realising the preferential market access in any free trade deals
“on the same terms as goods produced in other parts of the United Kingdom.”
Our negotiations have focused on the uniquely sensitive nature of the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic, and we have respected those sensitivities. Above all, we and our European friends have preserved the letter and the spirit of the Belfast/Good Friday agreement, and have upheld the long-standing areas of co-operation between the UK and Ireland, including the common travel area. As I told the House on 3 October, in order to prevent a regulatory border on the island of Ireland we propose a regulatory zone covering all goods, including agrifood, eliminating any need for associated checks at the border.
But in this agreement we have gone further by also finding a solution to the vexed question of customs, which many in the House have raised. Our agreement ensures
“unfettered market access for goods moving from Northern Ireland to the rest of the United Kingdom’s internal market.”
It ensures that there should be no tariffs on goods circulating within the UK customs territory—that is, between Great Britain and Northern Ireland—unless they are at risk of entering the EU. It ensures an open border on the island of Ireland, a common objective of everyone in the House. And it ensures for those living and working alongside the border that there will be no visible or practical changes to their lives: they can carry on as before.
I believe that this is a good arrangement, reconciling the special circumstances in Northern Ireland with the minimum possible bureaucratic consequences at a few points of arrival in Northern Ireland, and it is precisely to ensure that those arrangements are acceptable to the people of Northern Ireland that we have made consent a fundamental element of this new deal. So no arrangements can be imposed on Northern Ireland if they do not work for Northern Ireland. Under this agreement, the people of Northern Ireland will have the right to express or withhold their consent to these provisions by means of a majority vote in their Assembly four years after the end of the transition. If the Assembly chooses to withhold consent, these provisions “shall cease to apply” after two years, during which the Joint Committee of the UK and EU would propose a new way forward, in concert with Northern Ireland’s institutions.
As soon as this House allows the process of extracting ourselves from the EU to be completed, the exciting enterprise of building a new relationship with our friends can begin. That enterprise has been too long delayed, and the Labour party would delay it further. I do not wish this to be the project of any one Government or any one party, but rather to be the endeavour of the United Kingdom as a whole. Only this Parliament can make this new relationship the work of the nation, and so Parliament should be at the heart of decision making as we develop our approach. I acknowledge that in the past we have perhaps not always acted in that spirit.
So as we take forward our friendship with our closest neighbours and construct that new relationship, I will ensure that a broad and open process draws upon the wealth of expertise in every part of this House, including Select Committees and their Chairs. Every party and every Member who wishes to contribute will be invited to do so, and we shall start by debating the mandate for our negotiators in the next phase.
The ambition for our future friendship is contained in the revised political declaration, which also provides for the House to be free to decide our own laws and regulations. I have complete faith in this House to choose regulations that are in our best tradition—our best tradition—of the highest standards of environmental protections and workers’ rights. No one, anywhere in this Chamber, believes in lowering standards. Instead—[Interruption.]
Mr Speaker, I am grateful.
No one believes in lowering standards. Instead, we believe in improving them, as indeed we will be able to do, and seizing the opportunities of our new freedoms. For example, free from the common agricultural policy, we will have a far simpler system where we will reward farmers for improving our environment and animal welfare, many of whose provisions are impossible under the current arrangements, instead of just paying them for their acreage. Free from the common fisheries policy, we can ensure sustainable yields based on the latest science, not outdated methods of setting quotas.
These restored powers will be available not simply to this Government, but to every future British Government of any party to use as they see fit. That is what restoring sovereignty means. That is what is meant in practice by taking back control of our destiny. Our first decision, on which I believe there will be unanimity, is that in any future trade negotiations with any country, our national health service will not be on the table.
I am convinced that an overwhelming majority in this House, regardless of our personal views, wishes to see Brexit delivered in accordance with the referendum—a majority. In this crucial mission, there can no longer be any argument for further delay. As someone who passionately believed that we had to go back to our European friends to seek a better agreement, I must tell the House that with this new deal the scope for future negotiation—for fruitful negotiation—has run its course.
The Opposition said that we could not reopen the withdrawal agreement. They said that we could not change a comma of the withdrawal agreement. They said that we could not abolish the backstop. We have done both. But it is now my judgment that we have reached the best possible solution. So those who agree, like me, that Brexit must be delivered, and who, like me, prefer to avoid a no-deal outcome must abandon the delusion that this House can delay again, and I must tell the House in all candour that there is very little appetite among our friends in the EU for this business to be protracted by one extra day. They have had three and a half years of this debate. It has distracted them from their own projects and their own ambitions, and if there is one feeling that unites the British public with a growing number of officials in the EU, it is a burning desire to get Brexit done.
I must tell the House again, in all candour, that, whatever letters they may seek to force the Government to write, it cannot change my judgment that further delay is pointless, expensive and deeply corrosive of public trust, and people simply will not understand how politicians can say with one breath that they want delay to avoid no deal and with the next breath that they still want delay when a great deal is there to be done.
Now is the time to get this thing done, and I say to all Members, let us come together as democrats to end this debilitating feud. Let us come together as democrats to get behind this deal—the one proposition that fulfils the verdict of the majority, but which also allows us to bring together the two halves of our hearts, to bring together the two halves of our nation. Let us speak now, both for the 52 and for the 48.
Let us go for a deal that can heal this country and can allow us all to express our legitimate desires for the deepest possible friendship and partnership with our neighbours, a deal that allows us to create a new shared destiny with them, and a deal that also allows us to express our confidence in our own democratic institutions, to make our own laws, to determine our own future and to believe in ourselves once again as an open, generous, global, outward looking, free trading United Kingdom. That is the prospect that this deal offers our country. It is a great prospect and a great deal. I commend it to the House.
I join you, Mr Speaker, in thanking all the staff—cleaning staff, catering staff, security staff, officials and our own staff—who have come into the House this morning. They have given up a weekend to help our deliberations. I also thank the Prime Minister for an advance copy of his statement.
The Prime Minister has renegotiated the withdrawal agreement and made it even worse. He has renegotiated the political declaration and made that even worse. Today, we are having a debate on a text for which there is no economic impact assessment and no accompanying legal advice.
The Government have sought to avoid scrutiny throughout the process. Yesterday evening, they made empty promises on workers’ rights and the environment—the same Government who spent the last few weeks negotiating in secret to remove from the withdrawal agreement legally binding commitments on workers’ rights and the environment.
This Government cannot be trusted, and the Opposition will not be duped; neither will the Government’s own workers. Yesterday, the head of the civil service union Prospect met the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster and, at the conclusion of that meeting, said:
“I asked for reassurances that the government would not diverge on workers’ rights after Brexit… He could not give me those assurances.”
As for the much-hyped “world-leading” Environment Bill, its legally binding targets will not be enforceable until 2037. For this Government, the climate emergency can always wait.
This deal risks people’s jobs, rights at work, our environment and our national health service. We must be honest about what it means for our manufacturing industry and people’s jobs: not only does it reduce access to the market of our biggest trading partner, but it leaves us without a customs union, which will damage industries across the country in every one of our constituencies. From Nissan in Sunderland to Heinz in Wigan, Airbus in Broughton and Jaguar Land Rover in Birmingham, thousands of British jobs depend on a strong manufacturing sector, and a strong manufacturing sector needs markets, through fluid supply chains, all across the European Union. A vote for this deal would be a vote to cut manufacturing jobs all across this country.
This deal would absolutely inevitably lead to a Trump trade deal—[Interruption]—forcing the UK to diverge from the highest standards and expose our families once again to chlorine-washed chicken and hormone-treated beef. This deal—[Interruption.]
This deal fails to enshrine the principle that we keep pace with the European Union on environmental standards and protections, putting at risk our current rules on matters ranging from air pollution standards to chemical safety—we all know the public concern about such issues—at the same time that we are facing a climate emergency.
As for workers’ rights, we simply cannot give the Government a blank cheque. Mr Speaker, you do not have to take my word for that. Listen, for example, to the TUC general secretary, Frances O’Grady, who says—[Interruption.] She represents an organisation with 6 million affiliated members, and she says:
“This deal would be a disaster for working people. It would hammer the economy, cost jobs and sell workers’ rights down the river.”
Listen to Make UK, representing British manufacturers, which says—[Interruption.] Government Members may care to listen to its comments on the deal. Make UK says that
“commitments to the closest possible trading relationship in goods have gone. Differences in regulation between the UK and the EU will add cost and bureaucracy and our companies will face a lack of clarity inhibiting investment and planning.”
Listen also to the Green Alliance, which says that the deal amounted to a
“very sad Brexit read from a climate perspective.”
The message is clear that this deal is not good for jobs and is damaging for our industry and a threat to our environment and our natural world. It is not a good deal for our country, and future generations will feel the impact. It should be voted down by this House today.
I also totally understand the frustration and fatigue across the country and in this House, but we simply cannot vote for a deal that is even worse than the one that the House rejected three times. The Government’s own economic analysis shows that this deal would make the poorest regions even poorer and cost each person in this country over £2,000 a year. If we vote for a deal that makes our constituents poorer, we are not likely to be forgiven. The Government are claiming that if we support their deal, it will get Brexit done, and that backing them today is the only way to stop a no-deal exit. I simply say: nonsense. Supporting the Government this afternoon would merely fire the starting pistol in a race to the bottom in regulations and standards.
If anyone has any doubts about that, we only have to listen to what the Government’s own Members have been saying. Like the one yesterday who rather let the cat out of the bag by saying that Members should back this deal as it means we can leave with no deal by 2020. [Hon. Members: “Ah.”] The cat is truly out of the bag. Will the Prime Minister confirm whether that is the case? If a free trade agreement has not been done, would that mean Britain falling on to World Trade Organisation terms by December next year, with only Northern Ireland having preferential access to the EU market?
No wonder, then, that the Foreign Secretary said that this represents a “cracking deal” for Northern Ireland, which would retain frictionless access to the single market. That does prompt the question: why is it that the rest of the UK cannot get a cracking deal by maintaining access to the single market?
The Taoiseach said that the deal
“allows the all-Ireland economy to continue to develop and… protects the European single market”.
Some Members of this House would welcome an all-Ireland economy, but I did not think that they included the Government and the Conservative and Unionist party. The Prime Minister declared in the summer:
“Under no circumstances… will I allow the EU or anyone else to create any kind of division down the Irish Sea”.
We cannot trust a word he says.
Voting for a deal today will not end Brexit, and it will not deliver certainty. The people should have the final say. Labour is not prepared to sell out the communities that it represents. We are not prepared to sell out their future, and we will not back this sell-out deal. This is about our communities now and about our future generations.
Break in Debate
I wish to agree with at least part of my right hon. and learned Friend’s analysis, because he says that there is scepticism across the continent about federalism and the desire to build a European Union superstate, and I think that he is right, but unfortunately that scepticism has not percolated up to the elites who run the EU and set the agenda in Brussels. [Interruption.]
I am making a valid point, which is that in Brussels my right hon. and learned Friend’s message has not really been perfectly understood, because they are continuing with a large number of federalist projects. At the European Council, only a couple of days ago, I heard the distinguished President of France calling for a union bancaire—a banking union, Mr Speaker; spelt b-a-n-c-a-i-r-e. There is a strong desire to intensify the process of integration—for example, by creating a defence pact— in a way that I think would meet the scepticism of not just my right hon. and learned Friend, but millions of people across the EU. I can give him an absolute reassurance that in the course of negotiations—in which we would want the entire House, or as many Members who want to be involved as possible, to take part—we will ensure that we get exactly what I think he desires: a zero-tariff, zero-quota free trade partnership so that there is maximum trade, and increasing trade, between our economies.
Break in Debate
The Prime Minister’s deal removes protections on workers’ rights. It puts a border—[Interruption.]
The Prime Minister’s deal removes protections on workers’ rights. It puts a border down the Irish sea and, according to the Government’s own analysis, will damage our economy on a scale greater than the financial crash. Today, hundreds of thousands of people will be outside demanding a final say in a people’s vote. Is not it the truth that the reason why the Prime Minister refuses their calls is that he knows that, if given the option, the people will reject his bad deal and choose to remain in the European Union?
I am afraid that the right hon. Lady is not correct in what she says. The new deal does absolutely nothing to remove protections from workers or from the environment. On the contrary, it gives us the opportunity to strengthen such protections. She asked for the people to have a final say at the ballot box, yet she has been preventing a general election. Instead of campaigning for a general election, she has been in Brussels asking the EU not to give this country a new and better deal. The mere fact that we have a great deal before us today is a tribute to the signal lack of influence of the Liberal Democrats in Brussels.
Despite the fact that those who oppose Brexit have tried to undermine his negotiating position at every turn, despite the fact that the Benn Act sought to remove his strongest negotiating lever, the Prime Minister has done what they said was impossible two weeks ago and got the European Union to reopen and change its negotiating position. Does he agree that, during the referendum, this Parliament effectively made a promise to the British people to deliver on their decision, and that today is the day to deliver on that promise?
Break in Debate
They certainly shall, and I congratulate my hon. Friend and thank her for everything she does to stick up for UK fishing. Fishing has a glorious future in this country, in the west country, and in Scotland too, if only the House will do the right thing and allow us to come out on 31 October.
How can this House have any confidence in the Prime Minister’s claims that he does not want to lower standards, when his own deal precisely moves the so-called level playing field from the binding withdrawal agreement to the non-binding political declaration? Is not the truth that this deal takes a wrecking ball to our social and environmental standards, and the reason that he will not put it back to the British people is that he knows full well that they can see through his bluster and see that this is a profoundly bad deal?
I am afraid the hon. Lady has totally misread or misunderstood the provisions in the agreement. It is stated plainly in the political declaration that we will maintain the highest possible standards, and it is up to this House to do so. I think it is the will of this House, and this Government, to have even higher standards. This is the party and Government who have banned microbeads and are cracking down on plastics. We are leading the world in going for zero-carbon by 2015. We are world leaders in environmental and animal welfare protection, and we will continue to be so outside the EU.
The Prime Minister said that he wanted to leave with a deal, and he has shown determination and flexibility to reach a deal, for which he deserves credit. He will be aware, however, that unless we reach a free trade agreement in the next stage of negotiations, there is a risk that Great Britain will leave the implementation period without a deal with the European Union. Can he commit today to showing the same determination and flexibility to ensure that we reach a deep and special partnership through a free trade agreement with the European Union, before we allow the implementation period to come to an end?
My right hon. Friend makes an excellent point—indeed, that was really the substantive point that I have been discussing with our European Union friends in the past couple of days. That is where they want to go now. They are interested in our timetable and in whether 14 months is enough, and it is absolutely right to focus on that. I think that it is enough; I think we can do it in 14 months. [Interruption.] The right hon. Member for Islington South and Finsbury (Emily Thornberry) asks why from a sedentary position. She may not know that we are already in perfect regulatory alignment with the European Union, and it may have escaped her that we already have zero-tariff and zero-quota arrangements with the EU. We have a fantastic opportunity to do a free trade deal. Yes, 14 months is a blistering pace, but we can get it done. I remind doubters and sceptics—[Interruption]—there they all are. They said that it was impossible to reopen the withdrawal agreement, they said we would never get rid of the backstop, and they said we would never get a deal. There is a very good deal on the table here today, and I hope they vote for it.
Thank you very much, Mr Speaker. While addressing the Democratic Unionist party conference in Northern Ireland, the Prime Minister promised that there would be no border down the Irish sea, whether customs, regulatory or any other sort. He promised the same thing to his Conservative colleagues during his pursuit of power to become the jungle king. Would the Prime Minister like to take this opportunity to formally apologise to the DUP, his Conservative colleagues and the good people of Northern Ireland for having sold them down the river and for having broken yet another promise?
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If I may say so respectfully, I do not believe that such Acts have necessarily been conducive to a stable negotiating position. By the way, I have not done enough in this statement to thank my team and those in the Foreign Office, the Department for Exiting the European Union and all the Departments of State, as well as the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, David Frost and the many others who have worked to make this deal happen. I want to thank them very much for what they have done. I respectfully say to the right hon. Gentleman that I do not think their position has been made easier by measures passed in the name of the right hon. Member for Leeds Central (Hilary Benn). Not a good idea!
The people of Wales voted to leave, but many had concerns about a no-deal Brexit. Can I thank the Prime Minister for coming forward with a deal that respects the result in Wales and delivers on the concerns of those who did not want a hard Brexit? As the Welsh would say: mae’n hi’n bryd. Diolch yn fawr.
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I have a cheery disposition, Mr Speaker, but Scotland says we reject this—[Interruption.]
I am grateful, Mr Speaker. Scotland says today that we reject this rotten deal. We will be taken out of the European Union, which we value and cherish, against our national collective will, be deprived of the customs union and single market and be left at a competitive disadvantage to our friends in Northern Ireland. Is it not the case that Scotland can retain its EU membership only by becoming a normal independent nation?
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The right hon. Gentleman has spoken with his customary honesty and insight. I think it would be a good thing if the House were able to have what I think was promised to it and to the country, namely a meaningful vote tonight, but my fear is that the vote that we have will not prove to be meaningful, and I think that, given the solemnity of this occasion, that would be a great pity.
The Union is of massive importance to many in this House. Will my right hon. Friend commit himself to mitigating, subsidising and defraying the costs of any new arrangements for customs within Northern Ireland?
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If the right hon. Gentleman is worried about a cliff edge—I, frankly, am not as worried as he is, because I think we will do a great free trade deal by then—the best thing he can do is vote for this deal tonight. I am looking at him carefully to see whether he might have that in his heart; I hope he does. He says that he is opposed to a no-deal Brexit and that is the way to avoid it.
(9 months, 3 weeks ago)Commons Chamber
I beg to move,
That an Humble Address be presented to Her Majesty as follows:
Most Gracious Sovereign,
We, your Majesty’s most dutiful and loyal subjects, the Commons of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland in Parliament assembled, beg leave to offer our humble thanks to your Majesty for the Gracious Speech which your Majesty has addressed to both Houses of Parliament.
It is a great honour to move the Loyal Address, both for me and the constituency of North East Derbyshire, my home, which I am so proud and privileged to represent. First, however, I stand here this afternoon to right an historic and terrible injustice: no Member from my great county of Derbyshire has moved the Loyal Address for over 100 years. The delay has been long. It last happened in 1903, when it was moved by Colonel Gretton, representing the constituency so ably now served by my hon. Friend the Member for South Derbyshire (Mrs Wheeler).
I took to reading that speech to get some inspiration for the rather terrifying job I now have. I am afraid to report that it only increased my nervousness at the task ahead. I discovered that before the good colonel even uttered a single syllable, Hansard noted, with that courteous understatement that Hansard is famous for, that he was heard “with much difficulty”. What that is an Edwardian euphemism for is lost to time. I will seek to avoid the challenge that faced my county forebear by speaking both loudly and, at least at the start, by avoiding Brexit.
Secondly, another worry arose, if not for me, for the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition. The subject to which Colonel Gretton turned first was not education, health, welfare or taxes, or even his constituency, but a subject that is returned to time and again in this place: Venezuela. [Laughter.] The colonel was keen to explain that the recent policy successes in South America had been achieved without the destruction of personal property. I wonder if our Venezuelan friends will have the same pre-eminence in 2019 that they did in 1903.
Finally, I was struck by the response of the Prime Minister, Mr Balfour. His initial remarks were not focused on great matters of state. Instead he was keen not to impede the impending dinner hour of the Members present. I hope not to do so today by applying some Derbyshire common sense and knowing when to sit down.
I am relatively new to this place, having only been here since the 2017 general election. Having just turned 39, I hope that I tend—just—towards the more youthful end of the parliamentary age range. That is true not least—if he will forgive me—when I compare myself with my parliamentary neighbour, the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr Skinner), who was in customary fine form this morning and who has been providing quips to this House since a decade before I was born. [Laughter.]
Having witnessed only one Queen’s speech, I searched for advice about how to do this, and I discovered that the definition was laid out by my right hon. Friend the Member for Sutton Coldfield (Mr Mitchell) in a speech in the 1990s. My joy quickly turned to horror when, having read his remarks, I found I had been given a privilege by the Treasury Bench usually accorded to
“some genial old codger on the way out”—[Official Report, 6 May 1992; Vol. 207, c. 56.]
I know that Brexit has aged us all in the last three years, but I did not realise that my right hon. Friends in the Government thought it had affected my youth so badly, nor how keen they were to get rid of me.
We meet today in troubled times, at the end of the longest parliamentary Session since the civil war. It is a time that more experienced Members tell us newer recruits is just not normal. Our precious body politic lies bloodied, poisoned by rancour and enmity, and, until the hope of the last few days, paralysed by competing legitimacies. Our politics is fought over, sometimes viciously, by us here in a way that I have never known in my lifetime. I say that as a working-class kid who grew up in the north during the miners’ strike, who is the nephew of someone who worked for the National Union of Mineworkers, and whose grandparents toiled under some of the villages I now have the privilege to represent. So I have some knowledge of challenge and tumult.
We are in a hard place, and all of us, whatever Bench or Chair we sit on, are responsible for where we end up. In the last few days, there has at least been hope that this toxic and crippling fog we have created might just be lifting, as the Prime Minister sketches an outline of a way forward. I speak as someone who has been robust in my review of previous proposals, but the House must surely see, as I do, that we have debated long enough, this is a moment for decision and we were elected to make decisions. If there is light at the end of the tunnel later this week—heaven knows, I hope there will be—we have a fundamental responsibility in this place to try to resolve this most vexed of problems, and allow our despairing and embittered country to move on. For the health of our democracy and to restore faith in this most venerable of institutions, we simply must get Brexit done.
I hope that, deep down, this place realises it is time to get back to the other priorities of our country—if it does not, this shattered Parliament will be given even shorter shrift than the residents of North East Derbyshire have already given it. They speak plainly and honestly in my 41 towns, villages and hamlets. They are good, honest, industrious men and women who are the quiet backbone of our great country. In Dronfield and Killamarsh, they seek only to get up every morning, get a fair crack of the whip and be able to get on. In Eckington and Clay Cross, they seek betterment in life for their families and their children, recognising that communities are built from the ground up, not imposed from the top down, and understanding that Governments should do some things well, not lots of things badly. They want Governments who prioritise technological advancement and innovation in healthcare, to allow people to get better quickly and to live longer; they want people who stand shoulder to shoulder with our brave officers on the frontline, through a police covenant; and they want Governments who make it their mission to deliver fast broadband to all of our nations. That is why there is so much to be welcomed in this Queen’s Speech and why we must move beyond Brexit.
My constituency sits around the towering presence of a church that has been there since the 12th century and can be seen for miles around. It is famous for a spire that twists and bends unconventionally into the sky. I am the son of that crooked spire and am so very proud to represent some of its domain today. The values of those sons and daughters of north Derbyshire are the same as those of other proud working-class northern and midlands towns across the country. They are the values that propelled me here today: hard work; aspiration; a hand up, not a handout; freedom: liberty; society; real opportunity for ourselves and for our communities; and a desire to be set free to allow our talents to let us achieve what we can, and not to be told how to live our lives.
Last Friday, I returned to my old school, St Mary’s in Chesterfield, to talk about the importance of democracy. It reminded me of the first time I came here some years ago, on a sixth-form trip, when we were welcomed by our Member of Parliament at the time, the much-respected Tony Benn. I come from a very different political tradition from Mr Benn, but he is still held in high esteem in my constituency. In the same year as he kindly showed me and my fellow students around these Benches, he stood somewhere in here and asked five questions of politicians, as he did regularly. They are as pertinent today as they were then:
“What power have you got? Where did you get it from? In whose interests do you exercise it? To whom are you accountable? And how can we get rid of you?”—[Official Report, 22 March 2001; Vol. 365, c. 510.]
I hope we remember that in the days ahead.
As we turn the page on one of the most tumultuous parliamentary Sessions of our lives and dare to hope of new beginnings in a new one, I close by turning back to the Prime Minister, Mr Balfour, who responded to the last Derbyshire MP to propose a Loyal Address. Mr Balfour was a remarkable man, who contributed much to our civic and political life in this country. He was reputed once to have said:
“Nothing matters very much, and few things matter at all.”
That may or may not be true, but in this most tempestuous of times, I hope and believe that most of us in this place recognise that the coming days do matter, and that our nation is watching, anxious with hope and belief that we can move on. North East Derbyshire wants to move on and return to the priorities of the people so outlined in this programme of government—I think the country does too.
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There is no question. My hon. Friend is absolutely right. This legislation is designed to hit the poorest the hardest: those who do not have passports or access to other forms of identity, and who will thus lose their right to vote and decide who governs in the future. [Interruption.]
Freedom of movement has given opportunities to millions of British people to live, work and retire across Europe. It has benefited our economy immensely, with European Union workers playing a key role in sustaining many of our industries and public services. No responsible Member would vote to rip that up, unless there is a proper plan in place. In the shadow of the Windrush scandal, the settled status scheme for European Union citizens risks another round of wrongful denial of rights and shameful deportations. I look forward to the Prime Minister assuring those European Union citizens, who have made such an enormous contribution to our lives and our society, that they will have a secure future in this country.
The Government say that they will be at the forefront of solving the most complex international security issues and global challenges, yet they are playing precisely no role in stopping the horrors unfolding in the Kurdish areas of northern Syria, ending the war and humanitarian crisis in Yemen, or standing up for the rights of the Rohingya, the Uighurs, or the people of Palestine, Ecuador or Hong Kong. They are continuing to cosy up to Donald Trump, and sitting idly by as he wrecks the world’s efforts to tackle climate change and nuclear proliferation.
As the hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Caroline Lucas) said in an intervention, the crisis of our age is the climate emergency as declared by this House in May, but there is no action announced in the Queen’s Speech. I pay tribute to the climate school strikers and to Extinction Rebellion. Sadly, the Government have not listened. The Prime Minister derided them as “nose-ringed…crusties”, although I note that their number included a Conservative former Member of the European Parliament, who I believe is related to the Prime Minister. So many people are concerned about bad air quality, the failure to invest in renewable energy, the pollution of our rivers and seas, and the loss of biodiversity. Only this Government have the power and resource to tackle the climate emergency if they wanted to, but they are missing with inaction. It is Labour that will bring forward a green new deal to tackle the climate emergency.
The legislative programme is a propaganda exercise that the Government cannot disguise. This Government have failed on Brexit for over three years. They are barely beginning to undo the damage of a decade of cuts to our public services. It does nothing for people struggling to make ends meet. It does nothing to make our world a safer place or tackle the climate emergency. The Prime Minister promised that this Queen’s Speech would dazzle us. On closer inspection, it is nothing more than fool’s gold.
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I am very grateful to my hon. Friend for her intervention. I must direct her back to the answer I gave a moment ago: we are looking very carefully at HS2, and she should wait until the review concludes.
We have a vision of a balanced, just and fair society, where we fight crime and demand justice for victims, where we educate in prison and demand rehabilitation, where we fund superb education and healthcare, not in spite of our belief in the free market—again, the right hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington (John McDonnell) flinches at the mention of the free market—but because we understand that a dynamic wealth-creating economy is essential to pay for those public goods. That is the vision for the society I believe in: a generous, tolerant, outward looking and humane society. That is the vision at the core of this Queen’s Speech, and I commend it to the House.
Thank you, Mr Speaker. [Interruption.]
Before I begin my response to the Queen’s Speech, Mr Speaker, I am sure that you are aware of the news from Spain. A number of Catalan politicians who have been arguing for self-determination, including a former Speaker of that Parliament, have been imprisoned. It is right that politicians here and elsewhere around the world have the right to argue for self-determination. I am proud to say that, at the Scottish National party conference, which has met today in Aberdeen, we have passed a motion in solidarity with our friends in Catalonia. We stand with the Catalans who have been imprisoned for standing up for the right of self-determination.
I rise to respond to the Queen’s Speech. In the usual tradition, I pay tribute to the hon. Member for North East Derbyshire (Lee Rowley), who talked about the longest Session of Parliament since the civil war—although I did wonder whether he was talking about the civil war in the Conservative party.
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I will tell the right hon. Gentleman what is wrong with what the Prime Minister is bringing forward: it is that he wants to bring forward the catastrophe of a no-deal Brexit. The fact of the matter—[Interruption.]
I think the Leader of the House might need a bit more space if he is to lie back as he is prone to do.
This is a serious matter. We know that, if Scotland is taken out of the European Union against its will, it will cost us up to 100,000 jobs. We also know, because the Government have told us through the Yellowhammer document, that there is a threat to the supply of food and medicines. And now the chief medical officer for England is telling us that there is a threat to lives. At the end of the day, it is the Government who are responsible for this situation and it is the Prime Minister who has it within his gift to recognise what a calamity a no-deal Brexit would be.
The Prime Minister could stand up in this House today and say that he will respect the rule of law and the Benn Act, and that under no circumstances will we leave the European Union on a no-deal basis at the end of October. To do so would be an act of dignity and an act that respects the rule of law. I will happily give the Prime Minister the opportunity, if he so chooses, to rise now and tell the House that he will respect the law and that he is never, ever above the law. Well, there we are. There is the answer that the House needs. [Interruption.] The Prime Minister might be tying his laces, but he is tying the Conservative party in knots.
It is worth noting that 10 of the Bills introduced by the UK Government during the 2017-19 Session did not complete their passage through Parliament despite the length of the Session, emphasising the chaos at the heart of this Government. In contrast, just last month, the Scottish Government set out their latest programme for government and continue to pass progressive legislation such as the Climate Change Bill, committing Scotland to becoming a net zero society by 2045.
The Government have announced 22 Bills today, but they are not truly proposing the pathway for governance. It is blatant, egotistical electioneering—another toxic Tory agenda, presenting wish lists for a Prime Minister who carries no majority in Parliament. This Government’s top priority is to leave the—[Interruption.] You know, it gets a bit rich for someone who is behaving as if he is a barrack-room lawyer to shout out repeatedly. I tell you what—I look forward to the people of Stirling being able to give their judgment on the behaviour of the hon. Gentleman. That the Government’s top priority is to leave the European Union shows contempt for the majority view of Scotland that we should remain in the European Union. It is about time that those who are temporarily here from Scottish seats representing the Tories recognised that they should be standing up for the people of Scotland, who want to stay in the European Union, not stabbing them in the back.
These legislative proposals will be devastating for Scotland. Despite the rouge and the fanfare around today, the Prime Minister is not really interested in delivering a new legislative programme; he is only interested in showcasing his party’s manifesto—and what a regressive manifesto it is. The Queen’s Speech is a missed opportunity to address years of austerity and punishing cuts in social security support. We call it social security, by the way—you lot call it welfare, and that is the difference. The Queen’s Speech completely failed to address the social security disaster the Tories have overseen since 2010. The Scottish National party is clear that universal credit should be radically reformed, and that the disgraceful—absolutely disgraceful—two-child cap on child tax credits, along with the appalling rape clause, must be scrapped immediately. It is astonishing that this Government continue to pursue a policy of inflicting hardship and economic harm on people across the United Kingdom.
The sheer hypocrisy of saying that this Queen’s Speech is heavy on law and order, coming from a Prime Minister who is prepared to break the law: you really couldn’t make it up. The Prime Minister was found by the Supreme Court to have given unlawful advice to the Queen. Then he told the Commons he would not abide by the Benn Act. However, he then gave a sworn promise to the Scottish courts that he would obey the law and issue a letter for extension if no deal is agreed by 19 October. The Prime Minister must deliver that letter but, if not, I give him this promise: he will find himself back in the courts next week and answerable to them.
On Thursday 3 October, the Prime Minister told the Commons that his proposals would not create physical infrastructure on the Irish border, which the Taoiseach then called out, stating simply that United Kingdom proposals would mean infrastructure on the border. Many across the UK will find it hard to stomach a Prime Minister talking about law and order when he himself shows the rule of law absolutely no respect.
(10 months ago)Commons Chamber
I am grateful, as ever, for the thoughtful tone in which the right hon. Gentleman asks his questions. I am also grateful for the opportunity, which I hope I will have, to appear in front of his Committee to discuss in detail some of the provisions within the document. We take a different view on the Act that bears his name. I think it weakens the UK Government’s position. He in all conscience believes that it strengthens the UK’s position, but we disagree on that. It is of course possible, for a host of reasons, that we might leave on 31 October without a deal, and it is prudent that this Government—and indeed the Scottish Government and the Welsh Assembly Government, led by Labour—are preparing for that, because that eventuality is a realisable and potential outcome. In the meantime, I am anxious to secure a deal. I argued that we should leave the European Union without a deal, but if it is impossible to leave the European Union without a deal, then, much though I regret it, we have to leave.[Official Report, 16 October 2019, Vol. 666, c. 4MC.]
You will recall, Mr Speaker, that some weeks ago you afforded me the opportunity to ask the Prime Minister what provision would be made for pension uprating, healthcare and benefits for expat UK citizens. My letter seeking a clarification of the broad-brush answer awaits a response, but I have had the opportunity to read the no-deal readiness report, and not one word in it offers long-term comfort to the thousands of now increasingly frightened and elderly UK citizens living within the rest of the EU. This is not a matter of reciprocal arrangements; it is within the clear gift of the United Kingdom Government to look after our own people. Will my right hon. Friend give a clear undertaking that that will be done?
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Yes, I think it is, but it is also important that if we put to one side the rhetoric that organisations often use to try to secure attention and look in a granular way—[Interruption.]
Thank you, Mr Speaker. If we put aside the rhetoric for one moment, there are granular issues that local resilience forums and local enterprise partnerships address. I would be very grateful to address those and, indeed, to meet the right hon. Gentleman if there are specific questions that he wants to put and specific easements that he wants to see put in place.
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I am grateful to the hon. Lady for making those points about hill farmers, whom she represents with such energy and passion. She is right—I have never shied away from this fact—that if we leave without a deal some sectors of our economy will face bigger challenges than others. Sheep farmers, along with the Northern Ireland dairy sector, are perhaps two of the sectors most likely to be most adversely affected. We take very seriously our responsibilities towards those who rear and grow the food on which we depend, and that is why my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs has the necessary comprehensive support package to help anyone who may be adversely affected.
We have been extremely generous to 3 million EU citizens residing in this country at the point of no deal. Surely our EU partners could be equally generous in providing assurances for 1 million-odd of our citizens living in Europe. They have been threatened with having to reapply for residence next year, and they do not know where they stand.
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My right hon. Friend makes a very important point. In our proposal we have said that the people of Northern Ireland will be subject to the European acquis as it applies to manufacturing goods and agri-foods. That causes some discomfort for some in Northern Ireland, but we cannot accept the idea of a customs border inside our own country. No country on earth would allow a customs border to be erected between its own people. If it is the case—I have not heard that it is —that any politician says that Northern Ireland must stay in the customs union come what may, they are saying either that we should generate dynamic forces that separate our country or that the UK can only leave the EU on terms that the EU dictates. That cannot be acceptable.
The document makes it clear that environmental standards will be not only maintained but enhanced. Yesterday, a leaked DEFRA paper, written by civil servants, said that the Department for International Trade would push DEFRA to lower UK standards governing animal welfare and pesticide residues. Does that not indicate that the document is not worth the paper it is written on?
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Absolutely. We could have been out of the European Union with a deal if Opposition Members had backed the Prime Minister, Theresa May, in her efforts.
The Minister is not being straight with us. He has the gall to claim that UK environmental standards post-Brexit will be a beacon to the world, but in reality he is planning to cut those standards. The document claims that the carbon price will apply “at a similar level” to that under the EU emissions trading system, but page 64 makes it clear that the new carbon emissions price will be about half the EU price. If the Government are going to cut incentives to tackle the climate crisis, will they at least be honest about it?
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I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for raising the matter. First, let me say that I was not in on that telephone call. Secondly, let me affirm that the Bundeskanzlerin and the Government of the Federal Republic are good friends of this country. I had the opportunity to speak at the German day of national unity event at the German embassy last week, when I affirmed our commitment to friendship and the respect that we have for the German people for their achievements since 1945 as a democracy that we can all admire. Let me take this opportunity, at the Dispatch Box, to dissociate myself entirely from any sort of racist or demeaning language towards Germany. The Germans are our friends and our allies, and Germany is a great country.
I agree with my right hon. Friend. As someone who voted for a deal three times, I am pleased to hear that that is still the Government’s policy.
Many people will already have plans for travel beyond 31 October. Notwithstanding point 4 on page 41 of the document, and the answers that he gave my right hon. Friends the Members for Basingstoke (Mrs Miller) and for North Thanet (Sir Roger Gale), will the Minister say how many reciprocal healthcare deals have been signed, and how many memorandums of understanding are likely to be signed, before 31 October?
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The hon. Gentleman makes an important point. The key thing is that we will be taking a continuity approach towards the flow of goods into this country. We will not be administering checks for the EU when EU businesses export to us. The EU will, of course, impose checks under its acquis, although the French authorities, for example, have ensured that the border inspection posts for shellfish will be in Boulogne-sur-Mer. That means that fish caught in Scotland on Tuesday can be on sale in France on Wednesday without any impairment.
On page 71 we see a reference to transitional arrangements for financial services that need to be in place by 31 October. How many of them are in place?
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My hon. Friend makes a good point. I will take it up with the Health Secretary to ensure that the support that we already give can be extended in precisely the cases that he mentions.
The intransigence of the Irish Government and the EU has resulted in the comprehensive proposals put forward by the Prime Minister and the compromises that were required being rejected. In the light of that, will the Minister think again about his policy of not imposing duties on goods coming from the Irish Republic, in order to protect producers in Northern Ireland and put some pressure on the Irish Government to be realistic?
I entirely appreciate the force of the case that the right hon. Gentleman makes, but it is our judgment that we should not impose additional checks or tariffs on goods coming from Ireland into Northern Ireland.
I congratulate my right hon. Friend on his documents and on his crisp and effective chairmanship of the daily XO—EU exit operations—committees. I notice that he talks about the environmental safeguards in great detail. Does he think, therefore, that the current desecration of Cubbington Wood by HS2, despite the moratorium, might be better controlled after Brexit?
As one former Member of this House said to a foreign potentate, I admire my hon. Friend’s courage, his strength and his indefatigability in being able to insert HS2 into every question, and he knows my views on that matter.
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Absolutely, and it is important that we look at the operation of the seasonal agricultural workers scheme and, if necessary, expand the numbers available to people in the soft fruit industry, for which my hon. Friend is such a powerful advocate.
Thank you, Mr Speaker. In the light of recent fake news from the Prime Minister about a shiny new hospital in Canterbury, which currently has no A&E or urgent treatment centres, can the Minister please guarantee that, with the possible chaos resulting from Operation Brock, my constituents will still be able to get to the William Harvey Hospital in Ashford for the urgent care that they desperately need?
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They should pay attention and do everything they are asked to by the outstanding Member of Parliament for Walsall North.
First, may I indicate that, with your permission, Mr Speaker, I intend to raise a point of order at the end of this item of business about comments made by the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster earlier that were deeply offensive to me and many others? However, given the damage that has been done to relationships between the United Kingdom and Germany by the deliberate, malicious and almost certainly inaccurate leaking of a private phone call between the two Heads of Government, will he, the next time he speaks to his very good friend the Minister for the Cabinet Office, ask how quickly we can be given a statement by the Cabinet Office that confirms that the culprit—there are only two possible suspects—has been identified and removed from No. 10 before they can do any more damage?
(10 months, 1 week ago)Commons Chamber
I will strain every sinew, Mr Speaker. In fact, it was only my desire to appear before you and the House today that restrained me from going off to other European capitals and selling this project.
Can the Prime Minister not accept that a customs post that is sited 20 miles away from a border still represents a hard border and therefore goes against the Good Friday agreement? Why is he willing to prioritise Brexit against the Good Friday agreement?
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Mr Speaker, they are completely in line with section 10 of the withdrawal Act, and I would be happy to demonstrate that to the hon. Gentleman. On his request for a second referendum, I really cannot think of anything more divisive or more wasteful of this country’s time. [Interruption.] If Opposition Members want an election, why do they not talk to the Leader of the Opposition?
Mr Speaker, I am glad to hear it.
The devil will be in the detail, but I very much congratulate my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister on his improved proposals as a basis for a deal. However, in straining every sinew to secure a good deal, will he be resolute not only in his intent to honour the triggering of article 50 by an overwhelming majority in this place, which clearly stated that we would leave with or without a deal, but in ensuring that we are prepared for no deal? It is inescapable logic that being so prepared improves the chances of securing such a deal, despite the fact that that logic escapes the Opposition parties.
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We are working very hard to restore Stormont, and I am sure that that has the complete support of the hon. Gentleman—he has already said that and I am glad that it does.
Thank you very much for the personal compliment, Mr Speaker.
The former Liberal Democrat MEP, Andrew Duff, who is the president of the very influential Spinelli group of European federalists, has responded positively to the Prime Minister’s proposals this morning. He said that they are politically astute and that they represent a potential landing zone for a deal. Does the Prime Minister agree that that is positive and that those of us in this House who want a deal and want to avoid no deal now need to respond positively and to engage with his proposals, rather than dismissing them out of hand without even having read the final text?
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