Anne Main opposes open-ended extension to Article 50

9th April 2019

Anne Main opposes the request for an open-ended extension to Article 50 as it is for “no real sense of purpose” and is an attempt by Parliament to bind the Government and prevent Brexit.

 

It is very nice to follow the right hon. Member for Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford (Yvette Cooper), because she talked about taking a consensual approach to this. The consensual approach of this House was to trigger article 50 and to decide on the date of 29 March. The extension that is being requested today is very open-ended, and I find this incredibly concerning. The rhetoric in the media surrounding the extension has been, as the Attorney General said today, that we might not have to take up our seats in the European Parliament if we end up taking part in the European elections. However, if the extension were to last a year or longer, those European parliamentarians might well be in their seats. I find it bizarre that we are talking about good behaviour and not interrupting a budget—in other words, trying to bind those people who might have stood on a manifesto of their own making or perhaps a Conservative manifesto, and expecting them to behave themselves and be good. I find that very worrying. If those discussions are indeed taking place, it would be even more worrying if a similar agreement were extracted from the Prime Minister of this country that she and the British Government should also behave themselves and not give due scrutiny to or make any criticism of the budget.

I am following carefully what the hon. Lady is saying. Does she agree that it seems really humiliating for this country to have our Prime Minister going over to the European Union to beg for an extension? What does this say about our country when we know that 17.5 million people said very simply that they wanted to leave? That was very simple.

I completely agree with the hon. Lady.

I should like to refresh the memory of those in the House who think that there is no problem in having this flextension. In 2002, a decision by the European Council stated:

“Members of the European Parliament shall vote on an individual and personal basis. They shall not be bound by any instructions and shall not receive a binding mandate”.

The article also stated:

“Members shall exercise their mandate freely and independently, shall not be bound by any instructions and shall not receive a binding mandate”.

The loose talk about what we may or may not expect of our MEPs if we stand candidates in the next elections is extremely worrying. We have to take that seriously. People who stand in those elections should have every right to take up their seats as MEPs. It is likely that the House will not reach any form of agreement or consensus. It needs restating that only five Members of the official Opposition agreed to the separated withdrawal agreement. The political declaration has always been open for discussion, yet Labour seem to want to bind any future leader of the Conservative party. When people seek to bind the hands, the voices and the opinions of duly elected MEPs, who speak on behalf of their constituents, or of this Government, that is not democracy.

It is appalling that we may seek an extension with no real sense of purpose. If the Labour party gave an undertaking that it supported the withdrawal agreement and that its disagreement was simply with the political declaration, perhaps our Prime Minister could go along in the sure and certain knowledge that some sort of deal could be done fairly quickly.

Not only will there be no sense of purpose, but there is no certainty. My hon. Friend’s constituents, my constituents and business are crying out for certainty, but there are Labour Members who will vote for this extension secretly hoping that it will not end on 30 June but that there will be further extensions. Does that not cause further uncertainty?

As my hon. Friend the Member for East Worthing and Shoreham (Tim Loughton) admirably said, the can has been kicked down into the cul-de-sac and it is now being kicked around the cul-de-sac.

My point is that there is no sense of purpose from the Labour party. Labour does not even want to get past first base of the withdrawal agreement, which would be absolutely necessary, and whatever political declaration it wishes to try to bind our Government’s hands with. Our Prime Minister cannot go and seek any extension in the knowledge that she can give the European Union any form of assurances.

I would rather the Prime Minister did not seek an extension. We are becoming a laughing stock because we cannot stick by our words, by our manifestos, by undertakings that have been given in this House or by our vote to trigger article 50. I do not know why anyone would turn out for any future referendum, or even election, when they cannot believe a word of what goes on in here.

Labour Members need to look at themselves. They cannot get past first base. They need to say what a flextension would be for. The withdrawal agreement would certainly be part of it. There is real unhappiness among the public that people say, “We need to be consensual,” but only five Opposition Members reached across to be consensual with the Prime Minister. That says a lot.

I changed my position and voted for the withdrawal agreement, not because it is perfect but because I can see where the House is going. The House is doing its level best to bind the hands of the Prime Minister and potentially of any MEPs who are elected. It is trying to get them to play nice and to remove any scrutiny of the EU budget. Taxpayers in this country have a right to expect their MEPs to conduct scrutiny, not to go and play nice because we happen to be leaving the club at some unspecified point.

I am against this extension, because I am not sure what conditions will be extracted for it and I am not sure that Labour will ever be prepared to withdraw from anything. They could not even agree to the withdrawal agreement. From what I can see, the whole point of this extension is to ensure that we are bound in our agreements with the EU and stymied by staying in, and that the can is kicked so far down the road that people argue, “Well, probably half the people who voted in that referendum are dead, so we need to bring it all back again.” That is no way to treat the British public.

To those who say they want certainty, I say there is no certainty in a flextension. There is no certainty in an open-ended agreement in which we say, “Let’s keep chatting about it.” This is the worst of all worlds, and I sincerely hope that all those Members who could not even bring themselves to support the withdrawal agreement, forgetting all the other things they were unhappy about, because they did not trust the Prime Minister, ask themselves how consensual that was. The right hon. Member for Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford is busy on her phone, but I say to her that consensus works both ways. Five Labour Members, and no Independent Group Members, voted for the withdrawal agreement. That is how consensual the Opposition are. They are holding our Prime Minister, our country and this Brexit to ransom, and it is time they worked out that they will rue the day they did so.

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

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

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