There have been 14 exchanges between Chris Heaton-Harris and Department for Exiting the European Union
|Mon 1st April 2019||Leaving the European Union (Westminster Hall)||53 interactions (2,881 words)|
|Mon 25th March 2019||European Union (Withdrawal) Act||3 interactions (21 words)|
|Wed 20th March 2019||No-deal EU Exit Preparations (Urgent Question)||71 interactions (2,292 words)|
|Mon 11th March 2019||Leaving the European Union (Westminster Hall)||7 interactions (1,577 words)|
|Thu 28th February 2019||Oral Answers to Questions||49 interactions (1,180 words)|
|Thu 14th February 2019||UK’s Withdrawal from the EU||10 interactions (1,012 words)|
|Mon 4th February 2019||Leaving the European Union (Westminster Hall)||19 interactions (2,174 words)|
|Thu 24th January 2019||Oral Answers to Questions||44 interactions (1,148 words)|
|Wed 19th December 2018||Leaving the EU: No Deal||71 interactions (2,545 words)|
|Thu 6th December 2018||Oral Answers to Questions||46 interactions (1,478 words)|
|Mon 19th November 2018||Leaving the European Union (Westminster Hall)||18 interactions (2,889 words)|
|Thu 25th October 2018||Oral Answers to Questions||45 interactions (735 words)|
|Mon 10th September 2018||Vote Leave Campaign: Electoral Law (Westminster Hall)||3 interactions (1,666 words)|
|Thu 19th July 2018||Oral Answers to Questions||33 interactions (641 words)|
The right hon. Gentleman seems a bit stuck in the past. What we are talking about today is what we directly face. We could rerun the 2016 referendum campaign. We can debate the rights and wrongs, and the arguments for and against, over and over. I did not vote for the referendum or to invoke article 50, for the very reason that I could see us setting a clock ticking on a negotiation without an agreed strategy or plan. Many Members did not vote to invoke article 50, and many Members who are in the House now were not even elected at the time of the referendum. We had a general election subsequently, and that general election returned a hung Parliament, so we are where we are. The petition considers the immediate possibility that is staring us in the face—a no-deal exit from the EU, which is the legal default position if nothing changes today, or this week, to remove that possibility for 12 April.
Rather than going over the history, I am interested to know what the right hon. Gentleman thinks. Is he genuinely happy for this economy just to be driven off a cliff, with all the ramifications that flow from that?
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What is so difficult about the debate is that it has wedded itself to events in the past, rather than looking at the reality right in front of us.
Our country remains in a crisis. The situation is completely unacceptable and intolerable, and I am hugely aware of the costly uncertainty and anxiety that it is causing for businesses and people up and down the country, but I am also clear that, despite the Prime Minister’s disgraceful and inflammatory attempts to lay the blame at the feet of democratically elected representatives doing their jobs, this appalling mess is entirely of the Prime Minister’s, and the Government’s, own making.
The time-limited article 50 process was triggered without any plan or agreed strategy for where we wanted to end up—I voted against it at the time for that very reason—and months of valuable negotiating time were wasted on a general election that resulted only in a hung Parliament. After that election, there was a complete failure to listen and to reach out to or engage with MPs—either by party, geographically or according to their views on Brexit—to build that much-needed consensus, with every decision taken by the Prime Minister in her narrow party interest, rather than with the greater good of the country in mind. Yet more time was wasted by repeatedly postponing, or simply ignoring, meaningful votes on the agreement, even though it was clear some four months ago that it would not command Parliament’s support.
I implore the Minister not to respond to this important debate simply by trotting out the same tired old lines that we have heard from those on the Government Benches today, or what we have heard time and again about the Government’s approach to Brexit. I implore him to engage with the fact that this Government’s total failure to steer the country through this historic process has resulted in 6 million people signing a petition in a matter of days, calling for the only policy that this Government have pursued for the past three years to be reversed.
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It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Gray, and also a pleasure to follow my neighbour, the hon. Member for Dulwich and West Norwood (Helen Hayes). I agree with every single word she said. I want to speak to e-petition 235138 on holding a people’s vote, but, most of all, I want to talk to e-petition 241584 on revoking article 50 and remaining in the EU, which, as has been said, has been signed by more than 6 million people, including more than 25,000 people in my constituency, which is just under a third of the registered electors in Streatham.
I do not want to speak for long, but I will make these points. There is clearly no mandate whatever for the chaos that we have seen unfold in this country since the vote in 2016. Whether people voted leave or remain, there is simply no majority in the country for the mess that has unfolded, despite the comments that we have heard in this debate. Given that there is not a mandate for this mess in this House, hopefully the indicative vote process will indicate what there is a majority for. I very much hope it will be for a people’s vote. However, if there was no resolution, and on either 11 April or 21 May we faced falling off the cliff, it is clear that no responsible Government would allow this country to leave the European Union without a deal. I want to explain why, with particular reference to the Government’s own documents on the implications of our leaving the European Union with no deal. I want to draw attention to four or five of the points made in the documents that the Government—I hope the Minister will speak to this—have published.
First, we are told:
“Despite communications from the Government, there is little evidence that businesses are preparing in earnest for a no deal scenario”,
and the evidence indicates that small and medium-sized businesses in particular are unprepared for such a possibility. Secondly,
“individual citizens are also not preparing for the effects”
of our leaving the European Union with no deal. According to the evidence that the Government have published—their own economic impact assessments—if we were to leave without a deal on an orderly basis, we would be looking at the economy being 6.3% to 9% smaller than it otherwise would have been, but one of the things missed in the commentary is that that is an assessment of an orderly departure. If we were to leave and crash out on 11 April or 21 May without a deal on WTO terms, the contraction in the economy is likely to be far bigger.
Look at the practicalities:
“Every consignment would require a customs declaration, and so around 240,000 UK businesses that currently only trade with the EU would need to interact with customs processes for the first time”.
I quote directly from the Government’s own briefing papers. If we read between the lines, we are looking at an increase in food prices, panic buying by consumers and tariffs in the region of
“70% on beef... 45% on lamb... and 10% on finished automotive vehicles.”
And that before we look at the non-tariff barriers and their impact on the majority of the economy, which is service based. Based on the things that I have quoted from the Government’s own document, I do not see how any responsible Government could say that they had a mandate to bring about the disaster that they have published in their own papers.
[Steve McCabe in the Chair]
I am just quoting from the Minister’s own document. Technically, he is—dare I say it?—the Minister for no deal. He is responsible for ensuring that we are prepared if we leave in those circumstances. Never mind no responsible Government allowing us to leave without a deal; I cannot see how any Member of this House who held the post that he does as the Minister responsible could stand in the way of article 50 being revoked were we on the cusp of the disaster that he is supposed to be preparing for.
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Gosh, the hon. Lady invites me to make comments way above my station. I am sure she will understand that what happens with whipping is a matter for my Chief Whip. I do not know the exact position on how we will enforce it. But I will abstain on that motion this evening, as a shadow Minister, but I hope that she accepts in good faith what I am explaining: that I recognise—as, I am sure, do my colleagues—that that decision point might be something that we need to confront in future. It is not something that we need to do tonight, because for us tonight is about trying to find a majority for a way forward. I hope we arrive at that this evening.
I am admiring and respectful of the petition, and I understand the reasons for it. I also do not discount the proposition put this evening. The Minister should not read too much into the fact that I am not voting for it. I would add that the Labour party will whip its Members this evening, unlike the Government, who dare not whip even their own Cabinet. If I were the Minister, I am not sure I would bob up and down quite as much on this particular issue.
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I do not see any point in going through another exercise such as that without having remain on the ballot paper. Everybody seems to have their own view on exactly what ought to be on any such ballot paper—whether two or three options, a single stage or multiple stages—but the principle of engaging the public further in that decision is gaining support. I do not know if it has a majority yet—perhaps we will find out later today—but the specifics of what goes on a ballot paper would need to be quickly resolved. There would need to be a process in Parliament to help inform that, but yes, if remain is not on the ballot paper, it is difficult to see the benefit of the exercise.
We have spent two years making the case for a Brexit approach that we believe could have commanded support in the Commons, but I have to recognise that, at this late stage, if the Prime Minister forced through her deal, probably after multiple meaningful votes, that would need further confirmation from the public, as would any deal that came at the 11th hour from the indicative votes process. We have also said that we would include remain as the default option against a credible leave option, so we sympathise with the petition—especially the part that states:
“Whether you voted leave or remain, you didn’t vote for us to leave the EU in disarray, with no deal, putting many peoples livelihoods and living situations at risk.”
That brings me to the final petition, which calls for the UK to leave “deal or no deal”. I represent a seat that voted 56% to leave, and many of my friends and members of my close family voted to leave, so I know how strongly many people feel about that. However, I do not believe that leaving without a deal is what voters were promised in 2016, and I do not think it would be in the best interests of our country, or of my constituents or anyone else’s. It would cause huge damage to jobs, the economy and trade, and create enormous difficulties in Northern Ireland. That is why Labour has always said that we will not countenance no deal, and why we will be putting forward options to prevent it.
I thank everyone again for taking part in the debate, but these debates are always primarily about the people who signed the petitions. We could not have these events if it were not for so many people taking part and putting their names to petitions. It is great to see that people made time to attend the debate as well; I know some people may have travelled a long way to be here today. It is sometimes hard to find an upside of the last two years, but if there has been one, it is that people are more engaged than ever and keener to participate in what happens in this place. I am very pleased that their voices have been heard today.
I would be interested to know where the Minister got that figure. Officially, Newcastle as a city voted remain, and the votes were counted on a city-wide basis, so there is no breakdown for my constituency. I wonder whether he has been reading the Daily Mail.
I know the estimated percentage of my constituents who voted leave. It is 56.7%. However, I have told them that my role is to represent their best interests, and that is what I am trying to do. I am trying to represent the best interests of them all—not just the people who voted for me, but the people who did not vote for me; and not just the people who voted leave, but the people who voted remain.
On a point of fact, it is not up to the Petitions Committee where the debates are held. The Committee has an allocated slot on a Monday afternoon here in Westminster Hall. This is where we are allowed to hold the debates on petitions that we decide have passed the relevant thresholds. It would be for the House authorities to negotiate how that might be changed, but it is purely a matter of the procedure that the Committee has at its disposal that we have the debates here in Westminster Hall.
On no-deal preparation, one thing that has been quite frustrating is the use of non-disclosure agreements—gagging clauses. It is very difficult for the Health and Social Care Committee to assess the extent to which no-deal planning for medicines supplies has been a success, as people have had to sign those agreements. Is the Minister prepared to sweep those out of the way so that we can see whether there is adequate planning for supplies of vital medicines and medical equipment in the event of no deal?
Is the Minister saying that everybody who has been asked not to disclose any issues to do with the supply of medicines is now at liberty to disclose them?
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I refrained from raising this in my speech, but the Conservatives also stood on a manifesto saying that they would not separate the withdrawal agreement from the political declaration. How can they keep to one bit of the manifesto but not the other bit further on in the same paragraph?
I thought the Minister might want to reply. The point he continues to ignore is the reason why he and his Government are in the mess they are in. Ultimately, the 2016 referendum gave a view on whether a majority of people participating in that referendum wanted to leave the European Union, but how to leave was reserved to Parliament. His Government put a very hard Brexit to the British people and lost their majority. The clash of those two mandates is why we are going through all this chaos right now, and yet again he is sticking his head in the sand and ignoring that fact. It is all very well asserting the result of the referendum, but it did not tell us how the country wanted to leave the European Union. That has been the essential problem in this process.
The Minister is also ignoring what his own Chief Whip will say on BBC 2 later this evening: the Government have refused to alter course and change their red lines in light of the fact that they lost their majority. They cannot get measures and propositions through the House of Commons. That is why they are in the mess they are in.
It is online!
The one thing I struggle with is why, if the Prime Minister says with so much passion and conviction that her deal is what the people voted for in 2016, she is too worried to put it back to the people. If she believes it is what people voted for, she should proudly present her deal and just check that with the people.
The Minister seems to be struggling to split the hypothetical from what happened in the election. Perhaps he has the figures for the number of people who downloaded or bought the Conservative manifesto; however, as to the simplistic suggestion that the vast majority of voters read any party’s manifesto, we all know it to be untrue. The practical reality in constituencies such as mine was that in every leaflet I put out—in every interview and article, and at the hustings—I said I would continue to oppose Brexit, full stop, so it is completely false to pretend that in the election voters only voted in the knowledge that Brexit would be delivered. It is nonsense.
Surely the point of a manifesto is to let the voters know what the party will do if and when it forms a Government. We wrote our manifesto in the hope and expectation that we would be able to form a Government and carry through the manifesto that we wrote. Unfortunately for the British people, we were not able to form that Government or to take control of the Brexit process. Clearly, over the past two years, the present Government have not been able to take control of it either, but we can hardly be blamed for that, and I do not think that the electorate should be able to blame us for the fact that the Government have not been able to control their own Members or bring forward a feasible, viable Brexit process.
Does the Minister agree that it was the publication of the manifesto that was the tipping point for the Conservatives, and it was all going quite well until then, when things fell off a cliff? That was my experience.
I remind the Minister that we are being observed here by members of the public in the Gallery, and also by many people watching at home, because they have a certain level of engagement with this debate, perhaps more than others. What they do not want to see is an attempt to undermine, one by one, Members who have made a case on behalf of the petitioners today. They would like the Minister to address the substance of the petition.
The Minister talks of a commitment to people’s original voting intentions but, at the very least, the accusations and, indeed, proof of illegal activity undertaken by the Vote Leave campaign, surely mean that a reconsideration of that vote by the Government is entirely appropriate?
I thank the Minister for his reply. I was perhaps being a little unfair on him when I picked him up on his reference to Newcastle upon Tyne North being a leave constituency, because, as my hon. Friend the Member for Ipswich (Sandy Martin) pointed out, there are projected figures for demographic analysis, and I know from the conversations I had on many doorsteps during the referendum campaign that many of my constituents were voting leave.
The discussion and the level of debate from those on the Government Benches have been disappointing throughout this debate, in terms of engagement with the substance of the issue. The point that gets forgotten is a reality check on where we are, rather than going around in ever-decreasing circles, arguing tit for tat about how we got here. We know how we got here. There was a referendum question put to the country that did not specify in any way how it would be delivered, and we had a Government who went ahead and held a general election, and lost their majority. We have a Prime Minister who has completely failed to engage with anyone but those within her own party on this issue, and to reach out and form a consensus.
We know why we are where we are. Like my hon. Friend the Member for Darlington (Jenny Chapman), I was disappointed that the few Conservative Members who initially attended the debate, to whom I gave many opportunities to intervene, got up and left before the end without making any substantive contribution. If I am perfectly honest, their contributions were like those in a school debating club—point scoring rather than engaging with the substance.
I marvel, horrified, when I find Conservative Members of Parliament dismissing out of hand the concerns expressed by the CBI and by chambers of commerce up and down the country that the facts around a no-deal Brexit put so many of our jobs and industries at risk, and that they are not ready, as they have said with absolute clarity. The Conservative party used to pride itself on being the party of business; now it dismisses the concerns of businesses and treats those businesses as though they, and their concerns about a no-deal Brexit, are of no relevance to the Brexit preparations.
That is how we have ended up with this petition. To try to dismiss it as some kind of assault on democracy, which we heard in some hon. Members’ contributions, is not only deeply insulting to every single member of the public who took the trouble to go and sign up on the petitions website, but it ignores the deep, gnawing anxiety of so many people in our country who are terrified of the prospect of a no-deal Brexit and want to know that—as politicians, as Members of Parliament, as a Government—we will not stand by while that happens to our country, with all the consequences it would bring.
Anyone who stands there and says, “I have no fear of a no-deal Brexit; it’ll be absolutely fine,” clearly has nothing to lose and is completely insulated, but I know that my constituents are not. I go back to the point that the Minister made about mine being a leave constituency: the honest answer is we do not know. The vote was calculated as a city, so we know that Newcastle voted remain very marginally. What I do know, as a Member of Parliament who represents, lives in and has children growing up in the constituency, is that I will not take any action if all the evidence, including the Government’s own analysis, points to its damaging my constituency’s prospects.
Even if it means not getting re-elected, the only basis on which I will make this decision is knowing that I have done the right thing in terms of all the evidence I am presented with. That is why this revoke petition has been so popular, but it is also the reason that the call for a confirmatory referendum on whatever Brexit deal the Government arrive at has gained so much support. I recognise, as do my colleagues, that there was a vote to leave the European Union, but how that would happen was not decided upon; that is something Parliament has to decide. We have seen the evidence. We have seen that every single Brexit option will make our constituents poorer, and the impact will be greatest on those in the north-east.
Therefore, my view and the view of many of my colleagues who will support the motion tonight is that we should allow Parliament to have that process, to pass it back through Parliament and give it back to the people to make the final decision. Given that they started the process in 2016, they can now make the final decision on how it ends. That is how I will find out whether this is a Brexit that my constituents support, because they will have the opportunity to vote for it in a referendum—a referendum that every single citizen of this country who can vote can take part in. That is a democratic resolution to the impasse that we find ourselves in here in Parliament.
We know how we got here; we know how to get out of it. It is about time that the Government stopped burying their head in the sand and going around in circles, engaging in a debate that is not taking us forward in any way, but only leaves us stuck in this Brexit chaos. I implore the Minister, rather than engaging in the tit-for-tat that is driving the country to distraction, to compromise and come to an agreement that Parliament cannot take this historic decision without the confidence that it is something the public support.
I came to this debate as much to listen as to contribute, and I am very glad to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Bishop Auckland (Helen Goodman), who, in a very rare way in these debates over the past few years, has set out a way in which we might move forward. That may not be comfortable for her and these may not all be her preferred options, but it shows a willingness to listen, to compromise and to move, which has been pretty absent, if we are honest, from this debate so far.
The attitudes out there in the country are hardening. Constituents of mine who told me three years ago that they voted leave and that they were happy to leave on whatever terms Parliament deemed necessary, as long as we respected the result, are now telling me daily that they want to cut all ties and leave with no deal at all. Constituents who voted to remain and who said that we had had the debate, that the other side had won fair and square and that we just had to get on with it are now telling me that they want to halt the process altogether and remain in the EU. Having spent a lot of time with colleagues trying to find a way through this in here and behind the scenes over the past few weeks, I feel that exactly the same thing is happening in Parliament. If we do not start to move, they will not start to move and there is absolutely no prospect of repairing this country.
That is why I very much welcome what the right hon. Member for West Dorset (Sir Oliver Letwin) has done with the amendment, particularly the way in which he presented it. He is not seeking to control the outcome of this process. He is not seeking to do what many of his colleagues on each extreme of this debate have done for several years, which is to knock out any preferred option that is not theirs and undermine any of us who are trying to find a solution by questioning our good faith, intentions and motives.
As somebody who represents a constituency where two thirds of people voted to leave—they did so largely in full knowledge of what they were doing and still feel strongly about it—but where a third of people also voted to remain and have every bit as much of a stake in the future of this country as the rest, I have to say that that bad faith is operating on both sides of this debate. Those threats and the abuse are coming from both sides. I and many hon. Members face them daily, and to seek to pretend, as some Members just did in this debate, that it comes only from one side is quite simply not true. It is insulting and it will not stick.
I am very dismayed today about the Government’s position. I do not think that Ministers understand how little trust there is left. As we stand here in this Chamber, right now—according to lobby journalists who are briefing things out over social media—the Government are sitting in closed rooms trying to persuade Members on their own side to vote down this amendment in favour of guarantees. We have been here before. Time and again, they come to the Dispatch Box and they tell us they are serious. They tell us they are listening and that the House must make a decision, and then, when we get up and speak with one voice about what we want, they say, “Okay, we will go away and think about it.” They make some promises and pick off Members on their own side, and then, lo and behold, where are those promises when they most count? They are nowhere to be seen.
Given the mess that has been created in this country, what is wrong, honestly, with giving Parliament the right to consider the options that we want to put forward? We speak for very different communities in this country. When the Government seek to deny us a voice, they are not denying me a voice—who cares whether I have a voice?—they are denying the 75,000 people I represent in Wigan a voice and all other hon. Members besides.
I say to both Front-Bench teams that if we are to consider the options in good faith, given the very different needs and priorities of constituencies, a free vote has to be offered on those options. I understand the discomfort. I have served in the shadow Cabinet. It is not an easy thing to do, but when we have this strength of feeling and these very divergent views and experiences across the country, all those have to be heard if we are going to find a way through this.
I say to Ministers, too, that almost entirely absent now is not just the trust, but the good will. Last week, I could not believe what I was seeing when the Prime Minister took to the steps of Downing Street and tried to pit the people against Parliament. The public follow our lead. When we stand in here using language such as “betrayal” and “traitors”, is it any surprise that we step outside and find that same language levelled back at us? If she wants to restore good will, the first thing that she must do is apologise to Members of this House, who are all, in our very different ways and positions, trying to find a way through this in good faith. She must rule out no deal.
We will not believe that the Prime Minister is serious about the interests of the country if she is not—[Interruption.] The Under-Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union, the hon. Member for Daventry (Chris Heaton-Harris) is asking me why. Last week, I had a constituent on the phone whose son was in line for a clinical trial in the European Union that could save his life. They do not know now whether he will get it. This is a child who has no certainty about what is going to happen next. I have a constituent who is on dialysis, who rang me to say that she has been told to expect some disruption in the event of no deal. When I went to a Minister to ask what the advice was, he said, “We are doing our best, but we cannot make any guarantees.” My sister is diabetic and has not slept for months because she does not know whether she will be able to access insulin. People can accuse me of scaremongering all they like, but the Government’s technical notice cannot tell us what will happen in the event of a no-deal Brexit. What sort of Government cannot guarantee access to medicines in just a week’s time?
And I can tell the Minister that I was here on Monday when we were debating plans to allow pharmacists to limit access to medication in the event of no deal in just a few weeks’ time. I went to my local pharmacist and had a conversation with him a couple of days later and he had never heard anything about it, so to pretend that this is a responsible course of action is, frankly, a disgrace. The Minister can roll his eyes at me all he likes, but this is an absolute disgrace. The Government have driven this country to the brink and they are not learning. Every Member sitting in this House right now will look at that Minister sitting on that Bench and realise that this is a Government who are not serious about safeguarding the welfare of their citizens.
I will finish with this point, because I know that many Members are desperate to speak. In the next stages, if we get to them—if this shabby Government somehow manage to cobble together a majority for the withdrawal agreement and get us into the next stages—I would just say to hon. Members: look at what we have just witnessed in this House. Do not trust that they are acting with the interests of the whole country in mind. This House has no guaranteed role in those next stages of negotiations. If we do not insist on that right now, we will not get it.
For four months, I have been talking to the Prime Minister and to Government Members about giving Parliament the right to set out the terms of the negotiating mandate in the next stages and to guarantee a vote about the future relationship at the end of that process. They have resisted that. That is why my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent Central (Gareth Snell) and I will be bringing forward an amendment on that when the meaningful vote materialises, because we have to have a reset. If we are going to get to the next stages of those discussions, that discussion has to involve every single part of this House. We cannot allow the Prime Minister, whoever he or she may be by that point, to go off and negotiate away our rights, freedoms and protections that have been hard fought for for 100 years without any say in it.
This has become a tug of war between two groups of people who I know, from speaking to them every day in my constituency, are quite reasonable people who want this resolved. We are breaking our democracy. I commend the right hon. Member for West Dorset for tabling amendment (a) because he is seeking a way to bring the House together, to compromise and to find a way through this impasse. We as a House have to rise to the occasion, because, my God, I have just seen a perfect example from the Government Benches of why they are not capable of doing it.
(Urgent Question): To ask the Prime Minister if she will make a statement on no-deal Brexit preparations.
Will my hon. Friend give way?
Order. I do not wish to be unkind to the hon. Member for Truro and Falmouth (Sarah Newton), for whom I have the highest regard, but this is an urgent question—stop the clock, please.
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Well, the hon. Lady graced the Front Bench with considerable distinction and it is some time since she has sat on the Back Benches. It is entirely understandable that she did not know the procedure, but there is no scope for intervention when the Minister is delivering his mercifully brief oration.
I thank the Minister for that response. It is important that the Government recognise the current position. Whatever the possibilities for how Members may vote in this place or how the EU may respond to requests for extensions, he is absolutely right to suggest that the current legal default position is that the United Kingdom will be leaving the European Union on 29 March, with or without a deal. It is important in more than one sense that those on the Front Bench recognise that. The narrative that seems to be emerging from No. 10 is that Parliament has not expressed its view as to what should happen. I would suggest to the Minister that it has. In February 2017, by a majority of 384, the House clearly said that with or without a deal we would leave on 29 March 2019. There was no equivocation about; it was black and white.
The Government have said they are making adequate preparations. Many of us on the Government Benches—and, indeed, on the Opposition Benches—have questioned the Government about those preparations. We know that billions of pounds have been spent, and we have had assurances from the Government, including from the Dispatch Box and in Committee. On 12 February, I asked the Prime Minister if she could
“reassure the House that should we leave on 29 March on no-deal WTO terms, we are sufficiently prepared”.
She answered very directly:
“We are indeed. We have ramped up our preparations. We are continuing our preparations for no deal.”—[Official Report, 12 February 2019; Vol. 654, c. 752.]
I applied for this urgent question because media reports, including some emanating from this place, suggesting that a no-deal Brexit would prove a profound economic shock mirror the incorrect warnings before the 2016 referendum and are causing—[Interruption.] This is an important point for Members to appreciate, as we sit in this Westminster bubble. These pronouncements are causing concern across the country. It is easy for Opposition Members to say, “Oh, don’t worry about it”, but for a lot of people sitting in their homes, these dire predictions of economic gloom, which are unfounded, are causing concern.
I remind the Minister that prior to the 2016 EU referendum there were dire predictions of 500,000 extra unemployed people that proved unfounded—so much so that the Bank of England, among others, had to apologise. We have had record low unemployment, record manufacturing output and record inward investment. I suggest that economic reality trumps predictions any time. In order to reassure and better inform the public, will the Minister detail to Parliament the extensive preparations the Government have made for a no-deal exit? Especially given the proximity to 29 March—just a week away—the Government need to reassure people that they are prepared, having spent two years and billions of pounds on no-deal preparation. I look forward to hearing what he has to say.
I am grateful to you, Mr Speaker, for granting the urgent question.
The hon. Member for Basildon and Billericay (Mr Baron) talked about the wishes of the House, and he was right to do so, but the House has twice ruled out leaving the EU without a deal and twice rejected the Government’s deal by historic margins. It is simply unacceptable that the Prime Minister continues to doggedly press ahead with her Hobson’s choice of her deal or no deal. Resilience is an admirable quality; obstinacy is not. Does the Minister recognise that by their approach the Government risk being considered in contempt of the House yet again?
The Government’s energy at this critical time should be going to find a way forward that can command the support of the House and the country and that is not the Prime Minister’s flawed deal, which the Government themselves have said would shrink the economy by 4%. The situation requires flexibility and the Government reaching out across the House, and that includes flexibility on the length of the extension of article 50. The Chancellor for the Duchy of Lancaster said last Thursday of a 30 June extension:
“In the absence of a deal, seeking such a short and, critically, one-off extension would be downright reckless and completely at odds with the position that this House adopted”—[Official Report, 14 March 2019; Vol. 656, c. 566.]
Does the Minister agree that rather than this focus on no deal, the Prime Minister’s priority should now be to create opportunities for the House to consider all the options available to get the country out of the impasse she has created?
I welcome my hon. Friend to his place. Has he noticed that in the last few hours Monsieur Barnier has issued an instruction declaring that the EU must now prepare for the no-deal scenario, claiming that only two elements of its work need to be completed? One is short-term visas and the other is the budget for 2019. Does that mean that the EU considers that if we do not reach a deal we will leave on the 29th?
Save for what one Conservative MP referred to as the headbanger wing of the Conservative party, everybody thinks that Brexit is a bad idea—businesses, medical personnel, universities. Parliament voted to rule out no deal because it represents a colossal political failure. The hon. Member for Basildon and Billericay (Mr Baron) talked about what concerns people. I will tell him what concerns people: a decade of Westminster austerity hitting schools, the NHS and other public services. We are spending £4.2 billion on a no deal, including millions for ferries. No one voted to leave on 29 March. No one voted for a no deal. Will the Minister take no deal off the table and invest the money in hard-pressed public services?
May I pursue the question from my right hon. Friend the Member for Chingford and Woodford Green (Mr Duncan Smith)? In a statement issued yesterday, Mr Barnier said, quite correctly, that
“voting against ‘no deal’ does not prevent it from happening.”
He also said:
“Everyone should now finalise all preparations for a ‘no deal’ scenario.
On the EU side, we are prepared…and are working on the two last measures that still need to be adopted, namely on short-term visas and the EU budget for 2019.”
Will those two issues be resolved in 11 days’ time, and how many issues does the Minister think the UK Government still have outstanding?
May I ask the Minister about national security? One thing that is undoubted is that if we leave without a deal, British police forces will no longer be able to use up-to-date information from all the other police forces in Europe, and we will no longer be able to use the present extradition arrangements in the European Union under the European arrest warrant. What will the Minister put in place to make sure that we are safe?
We have been treated to plenty of lurid stories over the past few months about a shortage of the radio isotopes on which a million people in our NHS depend every year. Will the Minister confirm that advanced plans are in place to ensure that in the event of our leaving the European Union with no deal, no one would be disadvantaged?
If Macron, like de Gaulle before him, says “Non” to the Prime Minister’s request for an extension, we will not get one, because there must be unanimity. Does the Minister agree that in those circumstances—as a matter of fact—the only way to avoid no deal would be to revoke article 50, which the House could do, because, contrary to what the Under-Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union, the hon. Member for Spelthorne (Kwasi Kwarteng), suggested yesterday, the House has not as yet voted on a motion to revoke it?
My hon. Friend has acknowledged that the default position is that this country will leave the European Union on 29 March without a deal. Can he tell us in what circumstances the Government will conclude that a deal is impossible, and does he not accept the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Basildon and Billericay (Mr Baron) that the public are entitled to reassurance in that regard?
Order. I think that the hon. Member for Huddersfield (Mr Sheerman) is concerned, but the hon. Member for Basildon and Billericay (Mr Baron) is back in the Chamber. I do not think that I need to dwell on the matter. Suffice it to say that there can, in extremis, be a reason why someone has—very, very, very briefly—to leave the Chamber. When the call of nature sounds, that person cannot pretend to be deaf. I do not say that in a pejorative spirit; I simply mean that one cannot pretend not to be aware of the immediate requirement.
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I understand that the cost of Brexit has been estimated to be £500 million per week. Does that include the cost of school meals, hospital meals, and meals in social care settings?
As the Minister will know, it is now being widely reported on Twitter that President Macron is minded to veto any extension of article 50 at the Council tomorrow. Can he confirm that, should that occur, the Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union will initiate Operation Yellowhammer—the Government’s no-deal plan—on Monday? If that is so and there is no extension, why do we not just vote down the rancid withdrawal agreement and sprint for the line?
It is essential that the largest businesses, and indeed the trade associations that depend on them for information about the progress that is being made on the rollover trade deals, are kept fully informed. Can the Minister explain why the Department for International Trade stopped the roundtables with large businesses?
It would be stupid to go out panic buying, would it not?
The hon. Member for Huddersfield (Mr Sheerman) seems gravely perturbed that the fact that he is seated behind the hon. Member for Chesterfield (Toby Perkins) might disadvantage him. What I say to the hon. Member for Huddersfield is that I can almost always see him, and even if I can’t see him I can absolutely certainly hear him, so he has nothing to worry about at all. Mr Barry Sheerman.
May I tell the Minister that I am usually an optimist but I do not know if he shares with me a feeling a dread and doom today? Here we are in the greatest national crisis for 100 years with the Titanic steaming towards the iceberg. He is a nice man but he is a Parliamentary Under-Secretary being sent to reassure the House that the preparations are all in good order. Even at this late stage we can go to Europe and ask for a longer rather than a shorter extension. We can also listen to the voice of reason behind him, the Father of the House the right hon. and learned Member for Rushcliffe (Mr Clarke), who made a very serious contribution earlier today. Surely at this stage the Minister could actually speak up for the nation and say, “Enough is enough, let us put this on hold and get a sensible relationship with Europe agreed across these Benches.”
I remind my hon. Friend that we both stood on an election promise that no deal was better than a bad deal, but beyond that can he confirm that aviation agreements are in place so that planes will be flying to and from Gatwick and other UK airports on 30 March?
There is a good reason why this House has resoundingly objected to and rejected a no-deal Brexit: because Members here have looked at the evidence of the real-world harms. Just one such area of concern is the position of healthcare for British citizens who are pensioners who have retired to countries across the European Union. The Minister will know that a reciprocal arrangement could not be made with the EU as a whole but would have to be made with 27 individual countries. Can he set out in how many of those 27 countries our fellow citizens who have retired to the EU now have the absolute certainty that in nine days’ time they will have reciprocal healthcare arrangements in place?
Kent MPs have been meeting regularly about preparations for Brexit with the roads Minister my hon. Friend the Member for Hereford and South Herefordshire (Jesse Norman), the Department for Transport, Highways England, Kent Police, the Port of Dover and Eurotunnel. If my hon. Friend the Minister cannot answer this in the Chamber will he write to me with assurances that Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs, and in particular the customs part of it, is ready for Brexit and for the extra volume of customs procedures that may be needed to make sure we do not have queues in Kent?
I know we have got the TV adverts today, but what official advice are the Government giving to families across the country as to what they should do to prepare for or cope with this country exiting the EU without a deal?
It is patently obvious that the Government are not remotely prepared for us to leave without a deal, and at the same time we have a Government who are ploughing on with a plan that has been twice rejected, refusing to bring votes and refusing to stick to commitments they have made to this House. If the chief executive of a major FTSE 500 company or a hospital were to run a major project in anything like as shambolic a way as this every single Member of Parliament would be demanding they resign; why doesn’t the Prime Minister resign?
I am afraid that I still see no case to extend, but in the event of an extension, does the Minister envisage there being any further no-deal planning, or is all of that no-deal planning completed and there is nothing further to be done?
From the 10,000 or so constituents I have spoken to since the EU referendum I have heard many different reasons why people voted to leave the EU but none of them included to be poorer. So given that we know that all the credible economic analysis shows that the economy would shrink and there would be an increase in poverty, how is the Minister making preparations for if and when an extension to article 50 can be quickly implemented in this House?
Has the Minister seen the call from the president of the National Farmers’ Union of Scotland today asking the Government to abandon their proposals for applied tariffs in the event of a no-deal Brexit? As he points out:
“Without the maintenance of tariff protections, we would be in danger of opening up the UK to imported food which would be illegal to be produced here”.
In the 1970s the Minister’s predecessors in the Conservative Government then regarded our fishermen as expendable; it is beginning to look as if this current Government have taken the same attitude towards our farmers.
The Minister has said on numerous occasions already during this urgent question that the default legal position is for the UK to leave the EU on 29 March next week. So can the Minister tell the House what the process is for changing the date in the EU withdrawal Act and what day next week we will get that?
Government expenditure on no-deal preparations can be expressed as a sum of £63 per person per annum for three years. Wales’s net benefit from the EU budget is £79 per person per year. Which does the Minister consider to represent good value?
This House has unequivocally excluded the idea of no deal—it has ruled it out, out of hand—so the only ways to avoid no deal would be for the Government to bring forward a meaningful vote again, which you have excluded, Mr Speaker; to prepare to revoke article 50; or to accept crashing out with no deal. So what are the Government going to be doing?
There really would be no need for this urgent question if the Government were to accept that no deal had already been ruled out by Parliament and that there were two ways forward from that: the revocation of article 50 or its suspension. May I offer the Minister another alternative, which would be to bring back a very different meaningful vote next week that would have embedded in the approval motion the principle of the ratification of the Prime Minister’s deal by the people, with remain on the ballot paper?
In answer to my hon. Friend the Member for Hornsey and Wood Green (Catherine West), who said that the cost of Brexit was currently £500 million a week, the Minister said that he did not recognise that figure. The Governor of the Bank of England says that the figure is actually £800 million a week. Which figure does the Minister recognise?
The Minister has rightly said that, in the event of no deal next week, we now have an aviation agreement with the European Union which means that planes will be able to take off and land. What he did not say was that this will mean no route expansion during that time. Manchester airport in my constituency has 30 million passengers annually, with the capacity for 55 million, and 74% of its flights go to other EU destinations. This must surely be a bad agreement for the people of the north of England.
Can the Minister tell me how many of the 17.4 million people who voted leave in 2016 voted for the Prime Minister’s deal and how many voted for no deal? If he cannot do so, is it not time that he and his Government stopped using the term “the will of the people” unless they are prepared to find out what the will of the people is by putting the deal back to the people with the option to remain?
This has been a classic display of what over-promotion looks like, in front of the entire House this afternoon—[Interruption.] No, I will not “come on”. This stuff from the Minister has been grimly depressing. Can he confirm that my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Edinburgh South West (Joanna Cherry) was 100% spot on when she said that if the Council does not grant the extension, and if Parliament does not pass meaningful vote 3—assuming that you would allow it to come back before next Friday, Mr Speaker—revocation is the only way to stop no deal?
Well, the Government will make sure that haulage will work, and of course that is something that the Government can and will do. I have every confidence that roughly the same number of lorries will come through Calais and Dover on 30 March as on 28 March. I am sure it will work fine. I know of no reason why the Government would stop lorry drivers moving through Calais and Dover.
Exactly. That is another way of putting my reassurance that of course things are going to work, because it is in the interests of both sides.
I find it almost unbelievable that MPs elected to this place, who are meant to be serving the interests of their constituents, take delight in spreading false rumours about how everything will go wrong, like this nonsense about how drugs will not arrive in this country on 30 March. I know of no pharmaceutical companies on the continent that currently supply drugs to the NHS but have notified it that they no longer wish to do so. I have seen very clear documentation from the French side that it knows how it will handle the transit of trucks containing drugs, and there is very clear evidence that the UK Government wish all those drugs to carry on coming in with no new barriers. So what is the argument about drugs, other than a deliberate scare story to make the most vulnerable people in our country think that there is something wrong with Brexit? It is a disgrace, and we are fed up with it.
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We do. We would accept a people’s vote, but we would also accept a deal along the lines that I have outlined. I know that being able to back either option might be a little complicated for some colleagues who like a nice single answer, but Brexit is not like that, and never has been. The position that the Labour party adopted is not where we wanted to be. The situation is not of our making. However, the situation we are in now, with just 18 days to go, means that we would be prepared to accept either one of those options in preference to the deal that will probably be rejected tomorrow, or leaving without a deal. I should hope that the hon. Gentleman could understand what I have just explained to him.
I shall conclude now, Mr Hosie—it is good to see you in the Chair. However, I should like the Minister to explain clearly and precisely, if he can, what we shall be voting on tomorrow.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Hosie. On behalf of the Petitions Committee, I thank everyone for their contributions to the debate. Passions run deep, and I think our constituents would expect us to speak with passion on these issues. There are strongly held differences of opinion.
One of the things I wanted to use this debate for was to remind people that the 48% feel strongly too, but I am disappointed that during the debate I got no sense that the other side understand how people in the 48% feel. I am not sure there will be a successful resolution until solutions are brought forward that respect both sides of the debate. On that note, I must say how very impressed I was with the contribution from my colleague on the shadow Front Bench, my hon. Friend the Member for Darlington (Jenny Chapman). If the negotiations had been conducted in that spirit and with such care, we would be in a very different place today.
We frequently hear about “getting on with it”. I do not think people quite realise where we will be standing on 29 March if we go out either with no deal or with the Prime Minister’s deal. It will be not a matter of getting on with it, but the start of it—the start of an endless period of negotiation and rancour in the years ahead. That is one of my great fears. As for fear of the unknown, there is a reason to fear the unknown; it is sometimes quite sensible to fear that. I caution against a leap into the dark.
Finally, I will slightly disagree with my hon. Friend, because it seems to me that we have learned so much more in the past few years that it is not unreasonable to say, “The position is now very different from where we were in 2015, and the sensible thing would actually be to go back to the people to ask them whether this is what they want.” I do not see anything remotely undemocratic in that, and my guess is that that is where we will end up.
Question put and agreed to.
That this House has considered e-petition 239706 relating to leaving the European Union.
9. What recent discussions he has had with representatives of the business community on the potential effect on the UK economy of leaving the EU without a withdrawal agreement. 
If we crash out, what will the Minister say to Welsh farmers when they cannot sell their lamb to European markets because they face tariff rates of 46%?
16. Scottish Government analysis published last week highlights the impacts of a supply shock caused by a no-deal Brexit, which include: the destruction of supply chains; restricted supplies; significant restrictions on imports and exports; a reduction in business turnover; companies delaying investment; and the depreciation of sterling. Why does the Minister think this is worth it? 
Ah yes, star quality personified—Mr Barry Sheerman.
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The hon. Gentleman is really enjoying himself today.
11. What recent discussions he has had with Cabinet colleagues on the effect of the ongoing negotiations for the UK leaving the EU on investment and the UK economy. 
Yesterday, I met the Cheshire and Warrington local enterprise partnership, which told me how the Government’s prolonged approach to Brexit negotiations was already having a major effect on business decisions in our locality—this is a concern spread right across the UK. Will the Government act now to protect jobs in my constituency and elsewhere? Will they remove those red lines and negotiate a customs union, close ties with the single market and proper protection for workers?
Can the no-deal Minister confirm to the House that the UK is No. 2 in the whole world for foreign direct investment after only China and that although the doom mongers before the referendum said that by now we should have been in recession, with hundreds of thousands of jobs lost, this year we are going to have the fastest growth in Europe, with record numbers of people in employment?
13. What discussions he has had with Cabinet colleagues on reciprocal health arrangements for UK and EU citizens in the event that the UK leaves the EU (a) under the terms of the withdrawal agreement and (b) without a deal. 
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22. What recent steps he has taken to prevent the UK from leaving the EU without a deal. 
It is not quite as simple as that. Surely the best way to take no deal off the table is for the Government just to say that they are taking no deal off the table, so why, when the SNP put an amendment to Parliament last night, did the Government Whip their MPs, including Scottish Tory MPs, to walk through the No Lobby and not take no deal off the table?