Theresa May suffered another defeat yesterday, as a government motion re-stating the approach to leaving the EU expressed by the House of Commons on 29 January 2019 was defeated by 303 votes to 258. During the debate Sir William Cash made the following interventions:
The Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union (Stephen Barclay): I beg to move,
That this House welcomes the Prime Minister’s statement of 12 February 2019; reiterates its support for the approach to leaving the EU expressed by this House on 29 January 2019 and notes that discussions between the UK and the EU on the Northern Ireland backstop are ongoing.
On 29 January, a majority of right hon. and hon. Members told this House and our country that they would support a deal, but that this support was conditional. Members were prepared to compromise on issues, but not on the overriding issue of the backstop. The Government’s motion today references and confirms this House’s support for the motion passed on 29 January, as amended by my hon. Friend the Member for Altrincham and Sale West (Sir Graham Brady). His amendment in effect gave this Government an instruction, which we have taken to our European partners.
This Parliament’s mandate must now be the given the opportunity to achieve its end, and the Prime Minister must be given the chance to ensure that. It is clear that the Government’s priority is to address the indefinite nature of the backstop, which, under article 50, is legally required to be temporary. Today I will address issues raised by a certain number of my hon. and right hon. Friends who are concerned about whether this motion gives credence to the idea that the Government are taking no deal off the table.
Sir William Cash: My right hon. and learned Friend referred to legislation. Of course, he voted for the Third Reading of the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018, which expressly states that the European Communities Act 1972 will be repealed on exit day. Is that not sufficient proof of the need for the kind of legislation to which he referred? We do not need to have all these mysterious differences, because the anchor to the referendum is the repeal of that Act. Does my right hon. and learned Friend not agree? He voted for it.
Mr Clarke: Government and Parliament can at any time produce legislation to reform previous legislation because the circumstances have changed. The idea put forward by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State that the Government are now bound by what they passed on article 50 and by the withdrawal Act, and cannot possibly contemplate amending that Act or asking us to vote again on article 50, is, with great respect to him, one of the most preposterous propositions that I have ever heard anybody put before this House. The Government have every possible power in their hands to decide to avoid the calamity of leaving on 29 March with no deal whatever—leaving not with any long-term prospect of pursuing the national interest, but simply because nobody here is able to agree in sufficient numbers on what on earth they want to do. All we are doing is vetoing each other’s propositions on what should go forward.
This all started when the Government’s policy went completely off the rails after they were defeated by a record-breaking majority on an agreement that they had taken two years negotiating in pursuit of what was a clear strategy. It is obvious that we need a preliminary agreement—a withdrawal agreement—on three issues before we leave politically, if we are going to, on 29 March. On leaving, we will spend years negotiating long-term arrangements, not only on trade and investment, but in the many, many areas of activity in which we have based all our arrangements with the outside world on EU membership for almost half a century. It will take a very long time to sort out sensible arrangements.
We all know that the Government’s agreement was rejected. I voted for it; I am in favour of the Government’s withdrawal agreement. Nobody in this House wishes more than I do to see us remain in the united European Union; that would be in this Government’s interests. However, in this House, the majority for leaving is overwhelming. Let us come face to face with reality: there is nothing wrong with the withdrawal agreement; it is perfectly harmless. It gets us into a transition period; then we can negotiate. I will not go on about my views; I have given them before. There is nothing wrong with the Irish backstop at all. To say otherwise is complete invention for the sake of finding things wrong with the deal.
That put us in a dilemma. The agreement was defeated by a variety of people with totally conflicting objectives. The biggest vote against it was from the Labour party, officially. As interventions have shown, it is rather puzzling to say quite what the Labour party had against the withdrawal agreement. I have just heard the Irish backstop accepted by its Front-Bench spokesman—quite rightly; it is necessary, unfortunately. The money has been settled, and nobody is arguing about EU citizens’ rights. Labour voted against the agreement because it was a divided party, and it decided that the only thing on which it could keep itself together was on all voting against the Government. That was all.
Both the big parties are shattered now; there were large rebellions on both sides. The biggest group of people who joined in the defeat were ardent remainers who, unlike me, are firm believers in the people’s vote. They are still facing difficulties, because they do not want us to leave on any terms, so they are going to keep—(…)
Sir William Cash: The two previous motions, one in the name of my hon. Friend the Member for Altrincham and Sale West (Sir Graham Brady) and the other in the name of my right hon. Friend the Member for Meriden (Dame Caroline Spelman), are both incorporated in the Government motion.
With respect to the first motion, there has been no realistic suggestion for a credible replacement to the backstop since the motion was passed and the EU is still saying it will not renegotiate. There is no withdrawal agreement simply because it has not been signed. In that context, the Brady motion was meaningless. Furthermore, as I said to the Prime Minister on Tuesday, article 4 of the current draft withdrawal agreement undermines control over our own laws. That will create uncompetitive havoc for businesses, and for trade unionists and for workers, as the laws are passed by the other 27 member states, as they go through the Council of Ministers, and we will not even be there. The measure also contradicts section 1 of the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018 and the repeal of the European Communities Act 1972.
John Redwood: Does my hon. Friend agree that, were we to make the mistake of saying that we rule out leaving without signing the withdrawal agreement, we would take away the Government’s main bargaining card for getting improvements to the agreement?
Sir William Cash: My right hon. Friend is absolutely right.
On the amendment tabled by my right hon. Friend the Member for Meriden, in reply to my question on Tuesday, which the Prime Minister agreed with, the Prime Minister said that Members from across the House voted to trigger article 50, which had a two-year timeline, ending on 29 March, and that every Conservative Member had voted for the withdrawal Act. She was right. However, the amendment tabled by my right hon. Friend the Member for Meriden passed only because it was supported by Members from all parties who had already voted for the withdrawal Act, the European Union (Notification of Withdrawal) Act 2017 and the European Union Referendum Act 2015, and were in effect, on the Prime Minister’s own analysis, undermining their previous votes. Furthermore, we were whipped against the amendment tabled by my right hon. Friend the Member for Meriden.
There was no consultation prior to the tabling of the Government motion now before the House. In any case, the Government’s position that a so-called no deal remains on the table is clear, as the Secretary of State confirmed. The motion makes no sense, so why are we faced with it today? We are told that it is to keep traction with the EU, which has been, as I said to the Prime Minister on Tuesday, both undemocratic and totally intransigent. As I have said, the withdrawal agreement itself is inconsistent with the European Communities Act 1972. It is therefore also inconsistent with the referendum itself and our manifesto. The 2018 Act includes the repudiation in UK law of all EU laws and treaties, and article 4 of the withdrawal agreement is completely inconsistent with that. A vast number of voters see through this charade—they see through the smoke and mirrors—and in particular so too does the Conservative party membership—a recent “ConservativeHome” poll showed that 70% of them are against the withdrawal agreement.
The real problem goes back to what I said at the time of the first vote on the withdrawal agreement and my observations about the failure of public trust in respect of the Chequers deal and this withdrawal agreement. Those words stand as much today as they did when I spoke on 15 January. Today’s motion further undermines public trust. We are now truly entering the world of George Orwell’s Ministry of Truth. In his book “1984” Orwell wrote:
“Doublethink means the power of holding two contradictory beliefs in one’s mind simultaneously, and accepting both of them.”
This double motion is doublethink in action, and I cannot possibly vote for it.