THE DEBATE on the European Union Withdrawal Agreement Bill began yesterday with Tory PM Johnson confirming that if it is not voted through, the UK will leave the EU on October 31 without a deal.
Johnson said: ‘I regret that after Saturday’s vote the government has been forced to act on the advice of the cabinet secretary and to take the only responsible course, which is to accelerate our preparations for a no deal outcome, but today we have the opportunity to put that right.
‘If this House backs this legislation, if it ratifies this new deal, which I believe is profoundly in the interest of the whole of our United Kingdom and our European friends, then we can get Brexit done and move our country on.
‘Let us reflect on the scale of the choices before us. If we reject this new deal, what would the House be saying to the country and the world? What is the alternative course of action open before us? To undo Brexit? To cancel the greatest democratic exercise in the country?
‘Even now I find it impossible to believe that any democrat would contemplate such a course.
‘Time and again this House has promised to honour the referendum.
‘And the fact that the leader of the opposition is now proposing a rerun I think shows a regrettable contempt of the verdict of the British people. This House has repeatedly rejected a second referendum and in my view should emphatically do so again.
‘I know some are contemplating certain amendments and not about delivering a new deal, but to change it … I know that there are some colleagues who want to change the deal, contemplate amendments that will change the fundamentals of the deal.
‘I have to ask the House what would that say to our European friends about our good intentions? To come back to Brussels to ask for a third agreement?
‘That we will put it to a fifth vote perhaps after another six months or another year?
‘Is there anyone who seriously believes that the EU will re-open the Withdrawal Agreement again?
‘On the contrary, our European friends could not be clearer. The deal on the table is the one contained in this bill. The decision for this House is whether to ratify this deal rather than go around in circles in a futile attempt to try to negotiate a new one.’
Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said: ‘We warned on Saturday that this bill would be a disaster for our country. Now as we look through the details of the bill, we see just how right we were – page after page which amounts to nothing less than a charter for deregulation and a race to the bottom.
‘A deal and a bill that fails to protect our rights and our natural world.’
Labour MP Lisa Nandy from Wigan intervened: ‘Does he understand that those of us in seats which voted very heavily to Leave and stood on a manifesto in 2017 that said that we would respect the results of the referendum, feel very strongly that this bill must be allowed to proceed to committee stage so that we can engage in the detail of the debate, to see if there is the possibility of getting a Brexit deal that protects our constituents?’
Corbyn replied: ‘I do understand the concerns in those constituencies and those communities. And I know that she will support the principle of a Customs Union. My own view is that we should vote against this bill for the reasons I have set out.’
Labour MP Gloria De Piero representing Ashfield then interjected: ‘Today I am also minded to vote for a second reading, not because I support that deal, but because I don’t, and I want to improve that deal so it reflects the manifesto that I stood on to respect the result of the referendum. To leave with a deal that protects jobs and trade. Does he understand my motivation?’
Corbyn said: ‘Her concerns are that she wants to represent her constituency and their concerns. I hope that she will understand why this bill should not be given a second reading but I am also sure she will agree with me, that to get this bill to debate less than 17 hours after it was published is a totally unreasonable way of treating Parliament and I hope she will join me in the lobby this evening in opposing the Programme Motion for this bill.’
Tory MP Steve Baker and Chair of the European Research Group said: ‘I treasure the interview that he and I gave before he became leader to Sky News when the only thing that we agreed on is that we should leave the European Union on democratic grounds. What has changed since he became leader of the Labour Party, that he can’t see that if he votes against the Programme Motion tonight, he and his whole party will be seen as voting against delivering Brexit.’
Johnson concluded: ‘Let me make it absolutely clear I will in no way allow months more of this. If Parliament refuses to allow Brexit to happen, and instead gets its way and delays everything until January or possibly longer, in no circumstances can the government continue with this, and with great regret I must say that the bill will have to be pulled and we will have to go forward to a general election.
‘And I will argue at this election to get Brexit done and the leader of the opposition will make his case to spend 2020 with two referendums, one on Brexit and one on Scotland.’