PM's Opening of the European Union (Withdrawal) Act Debate - Hansard

 European Union (Withdrawal) Act

[Relevant documents: Statement that political agreement has been reached pursuant to section 13 of the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018, including Instrument relating to the Agreement on the withdrawal of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland from the European Union and the European Atomic Energy Authority, Declaration by Her Majesty’s Government of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland concerning the Northern Ireland Protocol, and Joint Statement supplementing the Political Declaration setting out the framework of the future relationship between the European Union and the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland; Political Declaration setting out the framework for the future relationship between the European Union and the United Kingdom pursuant to section 13 of the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018; and Agreement on the withdrawal of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland from the European Union and the European Atomic Energy Community pursuant to section 13 of the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018.]

Mr Speaker
I can inform the House that I have not selected any of the amendments.


The Prime Minister (Mrs Theresa May)
I beg to—[Interruption.] You may say that, but you should hear Jean-Claude Juncker’s voice as a result of our conversation. I beg to move,

That this House approves for the purposes of section 13(1)(b) of the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018 the following documents laid before the House on Monday 11 March 2019:

(1) the negotiated withdrawal agreement titled ‘Agreement on the withdrawal of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland from the European Union and the European Atomic Energy Community’;

(2) the framework for the future relationship titled ‘Political Declaration setting out the framework for the future relationship between the European Union and the United Kingdom’;

(3) the legally binding joint instrument titled ‘Instrument relating to the Agreement on the withdrawal of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland from the European Union and the European Atomic Energy Community’, which reduces the risk the UK could be deliberately held in the Northern Ireland backstop indefinitely and commits the UK and the EU to work to replace the backstop with alternative arrangements by December 2020;

(4) the unilateral declaration by the UK titled ‘Declaration by Her Majesty’s Government of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland concerning the Northern Ireland Protocol’, setting out the sovereign action the UK would take to provide assurance that the backstop would only be applied temporarily; and

(5) the supplement to the framework for the future relationship titled ‘Joint Statement supplementing the Political Declaration setting out the framework for the future relationship between the European Union and the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland’, setting out commitments by the UK and the EU to expedite the negotiation and bringing into force of their future relationship.

It has been eight weeks since this House held the meaningful vote on the Brexit deal. On that day, Parliament sent a message: the deal needed to change. In response, the Government have worked hard to secure an improved deal that responds to the concerns of this House. I took the concerns of this House about the backstop to the EU and sat down with President Juncker and President Tusk. I spoke to every single EU leader, some on multiple occasions, to make clear to them what needed to change. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union worked tirelessly with his opposite number, Michel Barnier. My right hon. and learned Friend the Attorney General engaged in detailed legal discussion with his counterparts in the European Commission. The result of this work is the improved Brexit deal that is before the House today. I will go on to explain in detail what has improved about the deal since January and why I believe it deserves the support of every Member this evening.

Frank Field (Birkenhead) (Ind)
Is not one of the problems the House faced in the previous session with the Attorney General that we were seeking legal answers to what are essentially political questions, and the political question we now face is that if we do not pass this motion, we stand to lose Brexit in its entirety?

The Prime Minister
The right hon. Gentleman makes a very important point. A lot of focus has been put on legal changes, and I will come on to the fact that there are legally binding changes as a result of the discussions since the House’s vote on 29 January, but he is absolutely correct—the danger for those of us who want to keep faith with the British public and deliver on their vote for Brexit is that if this deal is not passed tonight, Brexit could be lost.

James Cartlidge (South Suffolk) (Con)
My right hon. Friend may have slightly lost her voice, but is it not true that were we to have a second referendum, 17.5 million people would have lost their voice?

The Prime Minister
Yes. My hon. Friend will not be surprised, given what he has heard me say from this Dispatch Box, that I entirely agree with him. I believe it is absolutely imperative that this House meets the decision taken by the British people in June 2016, that we deliver on the referendum and that we deliver Brexit for the British people. As I say, there is a danger that with a failure to agree a deal we could end up in a situation where we have no Brexit at all.

John Woodcock (Barrow and Furness) (Ind)
Jean-Claude Juncker was very clear in his press conference yesterday, sitting beside the Prime Minister, that this is the end of the road for negotiation—there is no further negotiation from here. Do the Government completely accept that, and therefore what happens if the motion is defeated tonight?

The Prime Minister
The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right; that is what Jean-Claude Juncker said in his press conference. It is what he had made clear to me and to Ministers. It is what other leaders have made clear as well. Tonight, Members of this House face a very clear choice: vote for and support this deal, in which case we leave the European Union with a deal—I will go on to explain why I think it is a good deal—or risk no deal or no Brexit. These are the options.

The Prime Minister
If Members will bear with me, I will take a further couple of interventions and then try to make some progress, as I am only two pages into my speech.

Mark Pritchard (The Wrekin) (Con)
The Prime Minister will know that I did not support the withdrawal agreement at the last vote, and today I will support it unenthusiastically—forgive me, Prime Minister—because I completely agree with her that there is a danger that Brexit will be lost. There do not appear to be the votes in this House for no deal, but there certainly seem to be the votes for an extension of article 50. Neither of those options would deliver Brexit; they would frustrate and delay it and possibly stop it altogether. The main reason I am supporting the Government tonight is that there has been a definitive, material legal change on the backstop, which is that if the European Union acts in bad faith, the UK can permanently or temporarily remove itself.

The Prime Minister
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. I will come on to address that point a little later in my speech, but it is very clear. We have already had a vote in this House that said no to no deal, and those who want genuinely to deliver Brexit need to recognise that if this deal does not go through tonight, the House risks no Brexit at all.

Lady Hermon (North Down) (Ind)
The Prime Minister should spell it out to the House that if we do not agree a deal tonight, all the arguments that we have heard, including the Attorney General’s advice on the backstop, become academic. We will not even enter into the implementation period and begin work on the alternative arrangements to deal with the backstop if we do not get a deal. We have to get a deal to go into the implementation period and discuss alternative arrangements until Christmas next year before we even contemplate a backstop. Will she confirm that we need a deal tonight?

The Prime Minister
I thank the hon. Lady. She has set it out very clearly for the House, and I am sure every Member of this House will have heard what she has said about that.

Stewart Malcolm McDonald (Glasgow South) (SNP)
Will the Prime Minister give way?

The Prime Minister
No, I said I would make further progress.

First, I want to remind the House of the core elements of the deal on which these improvements build. The full reciprocal protection of the rights of EU citizens in the United Kingdom and of UK citizens elsewhere in the EU—delivered by the deal. The implementation period, which the hon. Member for North Down (Lady Hermon) has just referred to, to give everyone, especially businesses, the time to adjust and to eliminate a cliff edge when we leave—that implementation period is delivered by the deal. The full control over taxpayers’ money that comes from ending vast annual membership payments to the EU—delivered by the deal. The end of free movement and its replacement with a skills-based immigration system—delivered by the deal. The end of European Court of Justice jurisdiction in the UK, the end of the common agricultural policy for farmers, the end of the common fisheries policy for our coastal communities—all of these are delivered by the deal.

Neil Gray (Airdrie and Shotts) (SNP)
Will the Prime Minister give way?

The Prime Minister
Yes, in a moment.

The closest possible economic relationship with our nearest neighbours outside the single market and the customs union, with our businesses able to trade freely and without any tariffs, quotas or rules of origin checks; protection for the just-in-time supply chains that provide the livelihoods of millions of families; the ability to strike our own free trade deals around the world—all delivered by the deal. The closest security partnership between the EU and any third country, so our police and security services can keep on keeping us safe in a world that contains many dangers—delivered by the deal.

By doing all of these things, the deal says and does something even more profound: it sends a message to the whole world about the sort of country the United Kingdom will be in the years and decades ahead. To our friends and allies who have long looked up to us as a beacon of pragmatism and decency, and to those who do not share our values and whose interests diverge from ours, it says this: the UK is a country that honours the democratic decisions taken by our people in referendums and in elections.

Stewart Malcolm McDonald
Before the Prime Minister continues with this Britannic hyperbole, can she tell me what changes to the agreement have come about that were sought by the devolved Governments in Scotland and in Wales, or were there none at all?

The Prime Minister
As the hon. Gentleman knows, the devolved Government in Scotland want to ensure that we stay in the European Union. That is not a position that was taken by the British people, and I believe, as I have just said, that we should honour democratic decisions taken by the people.

John Lamont (Berwickshire, Roxburgh and Selkirk) (Con)
As the Prime Minister will recall, I voted against the withdrawal agreement in January, but I am very pleased that she and the Attorney General have been able to achieve the concessions to the withdrawal agreement. What my constituents and my businesses want is certainty, and they want the certainty that the Prime Minister will not give in to the Scottish National party’s demand for a second referendum. Does she agree that this deal gives the country the certainty that my businesses and constituents need?

The Prime Minister
I am very happy to give my hon. Friend that certainty. As I say, I believe that we should be delivering on the vote of the British people in 2016, but I also believe it is important that we give businesses, as my hon. Friend has said, certainty for their future. There is only one certainty if we do not pass this vote tonight, and that is that uncertainty will continue for our citizens and for our businesses.

Sir Edward Leigh (Gainsborough) (Con)
May I ask a question of the Prime Minister about the unilateral declaration? I thank her for listening, as I have been trying to make this case for the past two months. There was a question I put to the Attorney General that I think has now been answered. Am I right in saying that the unilateral declaration states that there is nothing to stop the United Kingdom leaving the backstop if talks break down? It is a very clear unilateral statement: if talks break down, am I right in saying that the EU has to prove good faith? It is a unilateral declaration, and we do not have to use the word “conditional” because the EU has not objected, and if we lay this declaration at the time of ratification, it is binding on the EU.

The Prime Minister
One of the key elements in relation to what my hon. Friend has said is that this unilateral declaration has not been objected to by the European Union. That is what ensures its legal status and its legal basis. As he says, what we say in there is that, in the circumstances in which it is not possible to agree or arrange the future relationship with the European Union,

“the United Kingdom records its understanding that nothing in the Withdrawal Agreement would prevent it from instigating measures that could ultimately lead to disapplication of obligations”

in relation to the protocol.

The Prime Minister
I will make further progress before I give way again.

We are a country where passionately held views do not stop us making compromises to achieve progress. We are a country that values both our national sovereignty and the unbreakable bonds of a shared history and an interdependent future that connect us to our friends and neighbours. A bad deal would be even worse than no deal, but best of all is a good deal, and this is a good deal.

Members acknowledged many of the benefits delivered by the deal, but none the less rejected it in January, so let me now set out what we have added to the deal on the table since the last vote. On the rights of EU citizens, we have waived the application fee, so that now there is no financial barrier for any EU nationals who wish to stay. As I have said before, they are our friends, our neighbours and our colleagues. They have added much to our country, and we want them to stay.

On the rights of workers and on environmental protections, assurances about the Government’s firm intentions were not enough, so we have committed to protecting those rights and standards in law. If the EU expands workers’ rights, we will debate those measures here in this Parliament, and this House will vote on whether we want to follow suit. This Parliament has already set world-leading standards, and after we leave the EU, we will continue to do so.

Ms Angela Eagle (Wallasey) (Lab)
I hope that the right hon. Lady’s voice lasts to the end of her speech. The Democratic Unionist party has just announced that it is not supporting her deal, and her own European Research Group has announced that it is not happy with the deal. Does she not now think that she should have reached out across parties from the beginning to seek a proper consensus across this country to give us a chance of moving forwards? Will she now admit that her strategy has comprehensively failed?

The Prime Minister
There have been alternative approaches that have been proposed to the deal that is on the table. Some were proposed the other week by the Leader of the Opposition, and that was comprehensively rejected by this House. We have continued to work with Members across this House and we continue to work with Members across this Chamber to understand the issues that need to be addressed, and what we have done on workers’ rights is one example of exactly that work.

The Prime Minister
I am going to make some progress.

I know that, for many Members on this side of the House and also for the DUP, the biggest concern is about a more difficult issue that defies simple solution—the Northern Ireland backstop. It is a complex issue that reflects the complex history of these islands, and the long and difficult road that successive generations of British and Irish people have walked down to reach the peace and stability we have known for the last 20 years.

I have talked in detail about the backstop many times in speeches and statements in this House and in Northern Ireland. I have explained why an insurance policy to guarantee no hard border between Ireland and Northern Ireland is necessary. I know that there are a number of concerns about how it might operate—none greater than the fear that the EU might seek to trap us in it indefinitely.

Along with the Attorney General and the Brexit Secretary, I fought hard and explored every idea and avenue to address these concerns, including a time limit, a unilateral exit mechanism or the replacement of the backstop with alternative arrangements. However, the House knows how complex negotiations work and, ultimately, we have to practise the art of the possible, and I am certain that we have secured the very best changes that were available. As the hon. Member for North Down made clear earlier, it has been absolutely clear that this is the deal.

Stephen Doughty (Cardiff South and Penarth) (Lab/Co-op)
I thank the Prime Minister for giving way, and she knows why I will not be voting for the deal tonight—because it will make my constituents poorer and less safe. However, on the specific issue of the legal advice from the Attorney General on the complex issue of the Northern Ireland backstop, could she confirm whether she was given preliminary advice on Saturday or Sunday that he was unlikely to be able to change his advice in the way she perhaps wished him to?

The Prime Minister
Obviously, the Attorney General has been involved in the discussions that we have been having with the European Union, but at the end of the day it is up to him to make his legal opinion and to give his legal advice to this House, which is exactly what he has done.

Helen Whately (Faversham and Mid Kent) (Con)
I thank my right hon. Friend for giving way. As she has just said, this is the deal. Is it not the case that if Parliament votes against this deal and then, in the forthcoming days, votes for an extension, that would not only be incredibly bad for businesses, which desperately want an end to this uncertainty, but risk putting the ball in the EU’s court in determining the terms of that extension?

The Prime Minister
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. First, all that that would do is extend the uncertainty. Secondly, it is not a guarantee that any extension would be agreed by the European Union or that it would agree an extension in the terms in which the United Kingdom asked for it. An extension has to be agreed by all of the parties, and that includes the 27 members of the European Union.

Stephen Gethins (North East Fife) (SNP)
I thank the Prime Minister for giving way, and I will give her a moment to get another cough sweet from the Chancellor. It is clear—we can see this from the Conservative Benches—that the Prime Minister is going to lose tonight, and to lose badly, which will drag this place, and jobs and businesses, over the edge, with the threat of a no deal. Is not the responsible thing to do now to seek an extension so that we can have some kind of way out of this calamity?

The Prime Minister
The way out of the situation we are in is to have faith with the British people and to vote for the deal this evening, which gives them what they voted for in the referendum.

Mr David Davis (Haltemprice and Howden) (Con)
I thank the Prime Minister for giving way. As she knows, many of us would have preferred a circumstance where we could unilaterally have withdrawn from this agreement, and that does not apply after what the Attorney General said earlier. That means that we are going into a circumstance where there will be a deal of trust over how we resolve the backstop and, in particular, over whether the alternative arrangements prove acceptable to the European Union and the Republic of Ireland. Some of those alternative arrangements have previously been rejected by the Union and the Republic of Ireland. Has the Prime Minister detected any change in mood on the part of the Union and the Republic with respect to a constructive outcome to dealing with the Northern Ireland border?

The Prime Minister
Yes. What has been obvious is a change in willingness from the European Union to be actively working on those alternative arrangements. As my right hon. Friend has heard me say before, it was not possible to complete that work, with the timetable we currently have, pre 29 March. But the firm commitments that have been given in the documents we have negotiated now with the European Union show that willingness on its side to be actively working with us to find those alternative arrangements and to define them in a way that means that the backstop can indeed be replaced.

The Prime Minister
No, I am going to make some progress.

There are three elements to the improved deal on the backstop, and I want to go through all of those. The first is a joint instrument—not a further exchange of letters, but something with comparable legal weight to the withdrawal agreement. It provides a new, concrete, legally binding commitment that the EU cannot act with the intent of applying the backstop indefinitely. Doing so would breach the EU’s obligations under the withdrawal agreement and could be challenged through arbitration. Were the EU to be found in breach, the UK could ultimately choose to suspend the backstop altogether, with that suspension lasting unless and until the EU came into compliance with international law. In these circumstances, we could also take proportionate measures to suspend the payments of the financial settlement.

Just as important, the joint instrument gives a legal commitment that whatever replaces the backstop does not need to replicate it, providing it meets the underlying objectives of no hard border between Northern Ireland and Ireland.

Angus Brendan MacNeil (Na h-Eileanan an Iar) (SNP)
I thank the right hon. Lady for giving way. She is talking about the EU and suspending. She talked earlier about bad faith and about the UK being a beacon across the world, and she said that it sticks to its deals. However, does she remember—they will particularly want her to remember this point in Europe—who it was who, when 28 countries went to Salzburg in November and struck a deal, later ratted on the deal, leaving the 27 high and dry? Was it her Government?

The Prime Minister
First, the hon. Gentleman’s history is a little wrong. Actually, the withdrawal agreement and the political declaration on the future framework were not agreed in Salzburg; they were agreed later last year, in November, in Brussels. Secondly, he asks, who was it who went back on the deal? Was it the Government? No, the Government voted for the deal. He voted against it. So, on that point, if he wants to look for an example of bad faith—look in the mirror!

Hilary Benn (Leeds Central) (Lab)
I am grateful to the Prime Minister for giving way. She referred a moment ago to the possibility of the UK suspending the operation of the Northern Ireland protocol. In his legal advice, which was published today, the Attorney General talks also about measures to disapply the provisions of the protocol. Can she tell the House whether suspension, which has to be temporary under the withdrawal agreement, and disapplication are one and the same thing, or are they different?

The Prime Minister
No, they are not one and the same thing. Also, if we look at the arrangements in the withdrawal agreement, as supported by the new instruments that we have negotiated, it is the case that if suspension takes place over a period of time, such that it is then obvious that the arrangements were no longer necessary, they would not have been in place and everything would have been operating without them, then a termination of those arrangements is possible within the arrangements here.

Some colleagues were concerned that the political declaration says that the future relationship will build and improve on these arrangements. We now have a binding commitment that whatever replaces the backstop does not have to replicate them. The instrument also contains commitments on how the UK and the EU intend to deliver the alternative arrangements. Immediately after the ratification of the withdrawal agreement, we will establish a specific negotiating track on alternative arrangements to agree them before the end of December 2020.

The instrument also entrenches in legally binding form the commitments made in January’s exchange of letters between Presidents Tusk and Juncker and myself. These include the specific meaning of best endeavours, the need for negotiations to be taken forward urgently, the ability to provisionally apply any agreement, which reduces the risk of us ever going into the backstop, and a confirmation of the assurances made to the people of Northern Ireland.

Joanna Cherry (Edinburgh South West) (SNP)
I am grateful to the Prime Minister for giving way. I was puzzled by her claim that the joint instrument is of comparable legal weight to the withdrawal agreement. I am sure she will be aware that, as a matter of international law, the withdrawal agreement is a treaty. The joint instrument is not a treaty; it is merely what is known as a document of reference, which can be used to interpret the withdrawal agreement. Would the Prime Minister therefore care to rephrase her assertion that the joint instrument is of comparable legal weight to the withdrawal agreement, because that is simply wrong as a matter of law?

The Prime Minister
Obviously, the withdrawal agreement is an international treaty. This is a joint instrument, which sits alongside that international treaty and which does have the same standing, in that, in any consideration that is given to any aspect of that withdrawal agreement, this will be part of that consideration, so the effect is the same, as I indicated earlier.

Anna Soubry (Broxtowe) (Ind)
It does need to be said that most of us, when we are unwell, can take to our beds. It is absolutely noticed by everybody in this House that this Prime Minister simply battles on, and that is appreciated. Having said that, I fear that this agreement is too little, too late. The Prime Minister talked about compromise. Would she agree and confirm that, two years ago, I and others who sit behind her told her that there was a majority—a compromise— across this House for the single market and the customs union that would deliver on the referendum, secure the problem with the border and do the right thing for business? Would she confirm that she rejected all of that and that the difficulty has been her inability to move away from her red lines?

The Prime Minister
The point is that we have to look at what it was that the British people were voting for when they voted in the referendum in 2016. We also have to look at the general election manifesto that the right hon. Lady and I both stood on, which was very clear in relation to those matters and to the customs union and the single market. We have put forward proposals that enjoy some of the benefits of a customs union, such as no tariffs and no rules of origin checks, but in a way that delivers an independent trade policy. That is what people want to see and that is what we will be delivering.

The Prime Minister
I will just make a little more progress before I take any more interventions. I have been quite generous already.

I want to say a word about Gibraltar. The documents confirm the understanding reached between the UK and the EU on the interpretation of article 184 of the withdrawal agreement as regards the territorial scope of the future relationship. We will always stand behind British sovereignty for Gibraltar, and the UK Government negotiate for the whole UK family, including Gibraltar.

The second element we have negotiated is a UK-EU joint statement in relation to the political declaration.

Mike Gapes (Ilford South) (Ind)
Will the Prime Minister give way?

The Prime Minister
I will give way in a few moments. I will just make a little more progress.

The second element, the statement in relation to the political declaration, sets out a number of commitments to enhance and speed up the process of negotiating and bringing into force the future relationship. There is a new commitment that the negotiating track on alternative arrangements will consider not only existing facilitations and technologies, but also those emerging.

Kate Hoey (Vauxhall) (Lab)
I thank the Prime Minister for giving way on that point. She said earlier that she thought there had been a change in attitude on looking at different ways to deal with the Northern Ireland-Irish border. Does she agree with me that if the Irish Taoiseach did what the previous Irish Taoiseach did, which was to allow the civil servants to meet with our civil servants, and there really was good will and intention, the Taoiseach would now say that their civil servants should start that process now and not wait until we have gone much further along the line?

The Prime Minister
We are happy at any stage to sit down with the Irish Government and talk to them about the arrangements that could be in place in relation to the Northern Ireland border with Ireland.

Mike Gapes
On Gibraltar, can the Prime Minister confirm that well over 90% of the people of Gibraltar voted to remain in the European Union, and that if her deal goes down tonight it will be essential that Gibraltar continues to have as close a relationship as possible with the European Union single market?

The Prime Minister
The hon. Gentleman is right about the vote. Significantly, the last time the people of Gibraltar were asked whether they wanted to continue their relationship with the United Kingdom they were very clear, overwhelmingly, that that was what they wanted. That is why we are clear that we negotiate on behalf of our whole UK family. The deal on the table tonight, the deal that Members will be voting for, delivers the close relationship for the future that the hon. Gentleman has been talking about. It delivers on the result of the referendum, but it also recognises the importance of a close relationship for us for the future with the European Union.

The Prime Minister
I am going to make further progress.

Thirdly, alongside the joint instrument on the withdrawal agreement, the United Kingdom Government will make a unilateral declaration relating to the temporary nature of the backstop. Such declarations are commonly used by states alongside the ratification of treaties. The declaration clarifies what the UK could do if it was not possible to conclude an agreement that superseded the protocol because the EU had acted contrary to its obligations. In those circumstances, the UK’s understanding is that nothing in the withdrawal agreement would prevent us from instigating measures that could ultimately lead to the disapplication of our obligations under the protocol. Were we to take such measures, the UK would remain in full compliance with its obligations under the Belfast-Good Friday agreement and to avoid a hard border on the island of Ireland.

Dr Roberta Blackman-Woods (City of Durham) (Lab)
I am very grateful to the Prime Minister for giving way. I really do want to know why she has consistently sought to get a deal that satisfies hardliners on her own side, rather than reaching out across the Chamber to get an agreement that would be a softer Brexit, but which would protect the Good Friday agreement in Northern Ireland more than her current deal does.

The Prime Minister
First of all, if as the hon. Lady thought I was placating everybody on my side of the House, I do not think the deal would have been rejected in the first place, so I think she is rather wrong on that. Secondly, I did reach out to the Labour party Front Bench. I had a meeting with the Leader of the Opposition and there was one meeting between the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster and the shadow Secretary of State, the right hon. and learned Member for Holborn and St Pancras (Keir Starmer). We offered other meetings and voice came there back none.

The Prime Minister
I will make some further progress.

There are considerable improvements on the deal the House considered eight weeks ago. In particular, there were three key issues raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Altrincham and Sale West (Sir Graham Brady). On the question of giving legal status to the assurances on the backstop, the joint instrument is a legally binding text at the same level as the withdrawal agreement, namely a treaty-level instrument. On alternative arrangements, we have an agreement that they will replace the backstop. This commitment is in the legal instrument, not just the political declaration. On the question of an end date, the core concern of colleagues was that we should not be trapped indefinitely in the backstop. The Attorney General has today changed his legal analysis to note that this risk has been reduced and that if the EU were to act in bad faith, short of its best endeavours, the backstop could be suspended or even terminated, and that this is a materially new legal commitment.

Caroline Lucas (Brighton, Pavilion) (Green)
The Prime Minister’s whole strategy this week depends on the expectation that MPs will have changed their minds in a matter of weeks between votes. At the same time, she will not allow for the fact that the public might have changed their minds in the space of many years—three years, now. Will she accept that the best chance she has of getting her deal through Parliament would be to make it subject to a confirmatory vote of the public?

The Prime Minister
As I have said on many occasions before, and as I indicated earlier in my speech, I profoundly believe that when the Parliament of this country says to the British people that the choice as to whether to remain or to leave the European Union is theirs, and when the Government—

Caroline Lucas
They’ve changed their mind.

The Prime Minister
The hon. Lady says that they have changed their mind. There is no actual evidence that the British people have changed their minds. And where would it end? We could have another referendum with a different result, then everybody would say, “Well, let’s have a third one.” Or we could have another referendum with the same result, and the hon. Lady would probably still stand up and say she wanted a third referendum to try to overturn the decision.

Wes Streeting (Ilford North) (Lab)
The simple fact is that people in my constituency and others who voted leave did so with the promise and expectation of something better. Does she not agree that the choice we are facing this evening is to vote for a deal that she knows, I know, this House knows, and, I suspect, the majority of the people in the country know—whether on economic co-operation or security co-operation—leaves our country demonstrably worse off? Why on earth is she asking us to countenance that?

The Prime Minister
The hon. Gentleman talks about those in his constituency who voted leave. What is absolutely clear from the analysis that the Government published is that if we are going to honour the result of the referendum—I believe we should, and I am sure his leave voters want us to do that—the best deal to deliver for the British people in honouring that referendum is the deal that the Government put forward back in the summer. The deal here tonight is the deal that actually gets us to the point of negotiating that future relationship in the interests of the constituents of everybody across this House.

The Prime Minister
I am going to make some more progress.

I know that some right hon. and hon. Members will still have concerns about the backstop, but real progress has been made. All of us should put out of our minds the idea that going round this again will get us any further forward. Responsible politics is about pragmatism, about balancing risk and reward. So Members across the House should ask themselves whether they want to make the perfect the enemy of the good.

Mr John Baron (Basildon and Billericay) (Con)
Most of us in this place commend my right hon. Friend and her team for their stamina in these negotiations. We accept that there is a political dimension, but will she clarify one point for those of us who are concerned about the indefinite nature of the backstop? That is that in future, this country could unilaterally decide to walk away from the agreement if there was a fundamental change in circumstances, and we could do that as a United Kingdom, including Northern Ireland, even if that meant Northern Ireland leaving the customs union within the EU.

The Prime Minister
I think this was a point that the Attorney General responded to in his statement earlier. Of course, it is open to any sovereign Government to take a decision to disapply something it has entered into. That would have consequences, and I think I am right in saying that my right hon. and learned Friend indicated that that was not a route that he could recommend that Ministers take, but of course my hon. Friend is right that it is always open to a sovereign Government to act in that way.

Antoinette Sandbach (Eddisbury) (Con)
Will the Prime Minister confirm the element of risk in going into the backstop when this country was told that this would be the easiest trade deal in history?

The Prime Minister
Of course, any negotiation of this sort between different parties does take time. Trade deals take time—often a shorter time than many people think—and we have yet to negotiate the trade deal for the future, which we will be doing when we get this withdrawal agreement deal through.

Peter Kyle (Hove) (Lab)
Will the Prime Minister give way on that point?

The Prime Minister
I am going to continue, because I want to make a very specific point about Northern Ireland, given its unique position and the fact that it will be the only part of the UK to share a border with the EU. I want to set out further commitments today on protections for Northern Ireland and its integral place in the United Kingdom.

First, the Government will legislate to give a restored Northern Ireland Assembly a vote on a cross-community basis on whether the backstop should be brought into force if there are delays in the trade talks. If Stormont does not support that, Ministers will be bound to seek an approach that would achieve cross-community support. That could, for example, be an extension of the implementation period. It has previously been the case that the understanding was that the choice would be between the backstop and the implementation period. The introduction of alternative arrangements, of course, brings another element into that, but there is that key commitment in relation to the Northern Ireland Assembly. If Stormont were to support an implementation period as the alternative, Ministers would be bound to seek an extension of the implementation period, assuming that that had achieved cross-community support.

Secondly, we will maintain the same regulatory standards across the United Kingdom for as long as the backstop is in force. This is a commitment that we have already made, but I can now tell the House that we will legislate to make this legally binding.

Thirdly, the Government will legislate to prohibit any expansion of north-south co-operation through the withdrawal agreement. That will remain a matter for the Northern Ireland Executive and Assembly in line with the Belfast agreement. At every stage of these negotiations, my determination has been to deliver a deal that works for every part of the United Kingdom, and that includes Northern Ireland.

Liz Kendall (Leicester West) (Lab)
The Prime Minister has talked a lot about concerns around the backstop, but for many hon. Members, the biggest concern is that her withdrawal agreement provides no legal certainty about any of the fundamental questions on our future relationship with the EU. As a result, we will be back here time and time again, and far from providing certainty for the future, her blindfold Brexit is the most uncertain future of all for our country.

The Prime Minister
There is a very simple and basic point that the hon. Lady seems to have forgotten: it is not possible for the European Union to negotiate and sign the legal text of that future trade relationship with the United Kingdom while we are a member of the European Union. We cannot do that until we have left the European Union, so if she wants us to get on to negotiating the future relationship, she should vote for the deal tonight. Let us get on to that next stage.

Important though the backstop is, it was not the only concern that hon. Members had. Another was in regard to the political declaration, because, as the hon. Lady hinted at her in question, it provides for a spectrum of possible outcomes. Members asked how they could be confident about what sort of future relationship the Government would negotiate.

Peter Kyle
Will the Prime Minister give way?

The Prime Minister
Can I just continue to make my point?

I am sure we can all learn lessons from how we approached this first phase of the negotiations as we move on to the second. For my part, I have no doubt that the Government do need to build a strong consensus in the House before we go on to negotiate the future relationship, not least to ensure that the process of ratification is smoother than that for the withdrawal agreement. That is why we have committed to giving a much stronger and clearer role for this House and for the other place during the next phase. It is not just about a consensus in Parliament, either; businesses, trade unions and civil society must all play a much bigger part, contributing their expertise in a collective, national effort to secure the very best future relationship with the EU. That new approach—

The Prime Minister
Would hon. Members just wait for a second? That new approach will start with the withdrawal agreement Bill. If the deal passes tonight, notice of presentation will be given tomorrow and the Bill will be introduced on Thursday. As we discuss that Bill, we can debate how exactly we will ensure that this Parliament has the full say that it deserves.

Sir Robert Syms (Poole) (Con)
I thank the Prime Minister for giving way. Given that the clock is ticking, millions of people working in businesses up and down this country want the most certain outcome, and voting for this deal today is the best way of delivering that. Voting the deal down will lead to more uncertainty. None of us knows where we are going to end up, so I, for one, will be supporting the Government and the Prime Minister.

The Prime Minister
I thank my hon. Friend. He has made a very important point. The only certain thing about rejecting this deal tonight is that it increases uncertainty. Businesses and individuals want certainty.

Sir William Cash (Stone) (Con)
I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for giving way, and I feel for her with the throat condition she has at the moment, I really do. Having said that, she referred to the fact that the backstop is very important. We all know that, and rightly so. The question, however, is also about the withdrawal agreement and implementation Bill, which is to come. First, we have not seen a draft of it, and I hope that we can get that very soon, as my European Scrutiny Committee has just said in its report. Secondly, it is quite clear in the withdrawal agreement that we will not be discharging what she said herself at Lancaster House. We will not truly leave the European Union unless we regain control of our own laws. Under article 4, it is clear that that is not the case. What is her answer to that point?

The Prime Minister
First of all, I am pleased to hear that my hon. Friend is keen to see the withdrawal agreement Bill. That Bill, of course, as I have said, will be presented to the House this week, if my hon. Friend and others vote for this deal tonight to get it through. I also say to him that yes, there are provisions in relation to the role of the European Court of Justice during the period of our winding down and winding our way out of the European Union, and that covers the implementation period. But what is absolutely clear is that once we are beyond that point, there is no jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice other than for a limited period of years in relation to citizens’ rights. There is no jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice in this country.

Mr Kenneth Clarke (Rushcliffe) (Con)
My right hon. Friend just said that, if she manages to get her withdrawal agreement approved by this House, she does not want the next stage of serious negotiations about our long-term future to proceed in the same way and that she will give a greater role to Parliament. I strongly endorse that. We cannot have another arrangement where she reaches a perfectly satisfactory agreement on the three points that she had and then we descend into parliamentary farce as different people argue about what changes they like. Is not the best way of proceeding, if she gets her withdrawal agreement through, to have some indicative votes in the House of Commons before the serious negotiations start, so that the Government can go into those negotiations knowing what a broad mass of Parliament is likely to support and to back if she can achieve it?

The Prime Minister
I thank my right hon. and learned Friend for that point. Actually, I think that there a number of ways in which we can ascertain what the views of the House would be prior to entering into the next stage of negotiations. Obviously, we have been looking at the details of that and will want to be consulting and talking across the House in relation to that matter, but, as he rightly indicated, the first step in order to get to that stage is to pass the deal tonight.

The Prime Minister
I really am going to try to make a little more progress. I have been extremely generous with interventions. Not everybody in this House is as generous as I am when it comes to interventions. [Hon. Members: “Hear, hear.”]

I set out to the House two weeks ago the specifics of what will happen if the deal is rejected tonight. We will first return tomorrow to consider whether the House supports leaving the European Union on 29 March without a withdrawal agreement and a framework for a future relationship. If the House votes against no deal, it will vote on whether to seek an extension of article 50.

I sincerely hope that the House does not put itself in that invidious position. We can avoid it by supporting what I profoundly believe is a good deal, and a substantially better deal than we had eight weeks ago, but if it comes to it, the choices will be bleak. In the long term, we could ultimately make a success of no deal, but there would be significant economic shock in the short term. Be in no doubt about the impact that would have on businesses and families. We would lose the security co-operation that helps to keep us safe from crime, terrorism and other threats, and we would risk weakening support for our Union.

I note that the right hon. Member for Ross, Skye and Lochaber (Ian Blackford) tabled an amendment seeking a second Scottish independence referendum. Polling shows that support for both Scottish independence and a united Ireland would be higher if we left without a deal, while, in the absence of institutions in Northern Ireland, a no deal would create a substantial problem of governance there.

Should the House reject leaving on 29 March without a deal and then support the Government’s seeking an extension to article 50, our problems would not be solved. An extension without a plan would prolong the uncertainty, threatening jobs and investment, yet, even as it did so, it would not change the debate or the questions that need to be settled. It would merely pass control to the European Union. They would decide how long an extension to offer, meaning we may not get what we ask for. They could even impose conditions on an extension. That could mean moving to a Brexit that does not meet the expectations of those who voted to leave, or even moving to a second referendum, with all the damage that would do to trust in our democracy. Equally, there is a risk that, having voted for an extension, the House still would not be able to agree a way forward and we would end up leaving without a deal.

Peter Kyle

The Prime Minister
Just one moment, and then I will give way to the hon. Gentleman.

If any of those things were to happen, it would be no good blaming the European Union. Responsibility would lie with this House for our failure to come together in the national interest to deliver on the vote of the British people.

Peter Kyle
I am extremely grateful to the Prime Minister for giving way. The first of her Brexit Secretaries is in his place. Time after time, he stood at that Dispatch Box and promised the House that we would get the exact same benefits after we leave as we currently enjoy with the EU. Does she not accept that raising expectations that high set them at a level that she has absolutely failed to meet? That has damaged trust in her Brexit and caused the situation we are in now. We have to find another way forward.

The Prime Minister
In the proposals the Government themselves put forward, we have set out a way of ensuring that we maintain a very close economic partnership and a close security partnership with the European Union in the future, but that we also have the benefit of acting as an independent country, of being a sovereign state and of having our own trade deals with other countries around the world.

Gareth Snell (Stoke-on-Trent Central) (Lab/Co-op)
I welcome the Prime Minister’s commitment to potentially legislating for the political declaration, but doing so in the withdrawal agreement Bill only once we have voted to endorse the political declaration may be slightly convoluted, so may I suggest a third option? If the deal is not passed this evening, the Prime Minister could independently legislate for the political declaration now, setting out in statute what the end point will be and what role Parliament will have before we are asked to vote again on a further deal. That would give people like me the confidence to understand that, by voting for the withdrawal agreement, we would have certainty about the political declaration and where we are going.

The Prime Minister
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his proposal. One of the issues is that there are elements of the political declaration that remain to be negotiated and on which there is not the certainty that I think he is searching for with his proposal, but I certainly give him credit for inventiveness and for thinking carefully about these issues.

The Prime Minister
I give way one final time, to the right hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington (Tom Brake).

Tom Brake (Carshalton and Wallington) (LD)
I thank the Prime Minister, who is being very generous. Does she agree, however, that whatever happens today—whether her withdrawal agreement is passed or not—we will have to have an extension to article 50, because there is not time to complete the business we will need to complete before 29 March?

The Prime Minister
I say to the right hon. Gentleman: let us get the deal agreed tonight, and then the usual channels will work to see what is necessary in relation to getting legislation through the House.

Mr Speaker, it was not this House that—

Alan Brown (Kilmarnock and Loudoun) (SNP)
Will the Prime Minister give way?

The Prime Minister
No, I have said—[Interruption.]

Mr Speaker
Order. The hon. Member for Kilmarnock and Loudoun (Alan Brown) is a cheeky chappie, chortling and chuckling away from a sedentary position, but it has been made perfectly clear that the Prime Minister is not giving way.

The Prime Minister
Thank you, Mr Speaker, but I will take the hon. Gentleman’s intervention.

Alan Brown
I thank the Prime Minister for being so generous with her time. When it comes to the backstop, is it not the case that the new arrangements come nowhere close to the Brady amendment; the Malthouse compromise has been consigned to history—it is a phrase we no longer hear—paragraph 19 of the legal advice says the legal risks remain the same in terms of our being stuck in the backstop; and, given that she has admitted that no technology exists to provide a solution for the Northern Ireland border, Stormont could keep the UK in the implementation period for a long time, until that technological alternative exists?

The Prime Minister
I lost count, but I say to the hon. Gentleman that I think he is wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong.

Stephen Crabb (Preseli Pembrokeshire) (Con)
On the Prime Minister’s point about any conditions the EU might attach to a request for extension of the article 50 process, does she agree that there is a set of obligations in the withdrawal agreement that the EU will want to talk about whether we seek an extension to the process or we are in a no-deal scenario? As much as we might want to wish them away, voting down the deal tonight would not make those obligations disappear.

The Prime Minister
I thank my right hon. Friend for pointing that out. He is absolutely right. Voting against the deal would not mean that those obligations disappear, which is another reason why I believe it is very important for Members of this House to go through the Lobby in favour of the motion tonight.

It was not this House that decided it was time for the United Kingdom to leave the European Union; it was the British people. It falls to us to implement their decision—their desire for change and their demand for a better, more open, more successful future for our country. Today is the day that we can begin to build that future. This is the moment and this is the time—time for us to come together, back this motion and get the deal done. Only then can we get on with what we came here to do—what we were sent here to do.

Each and every one of us came into politics because we have sincerely held views about how to build a better Britain. Some have spent their political careers campaigning against the European Union and in favour of restoring sovereignty to this Parliament. For others, membership of the EU is one of the foundations of their vision of the UK’s place in the world. But we also came here to serve. We cannot serve our country by overturning a democratic decision of the British people, we cannot serve by prolonging a debate the British people now wish to see settled, and we cannot serve by refusing to compromise—by reinforcing instead of healing the painful divisions we see within our society and across our country.

The British people have been clear: they want us to implement the decision that they made nearly three years ago. So let us show what the House can achieve when we come together. Let us demonstrate what politics is for. Let us prove, beyond all doubt, that we believe democracy comes before party, faction, or personal ambition. The time has come to deliver on the instruction that we were given. The time has come to back this deal. I commend the motion to the House.