Anna Soubry (Broxtowe) (Con)
I agree with the right hon. and learned Gentleman and the Opposition that these impact assessments should be disclosed—they can be redacted—but we definitely disagree about the Labour party’s position. We must be very clear: it started off with the Leader of the Opposition saying article 50 should be triggered on the day after the referendum, and it has flip-flopped around since. I am delighted that the Labour party has now come across to my way of thinking: we should have a transition period, retaining our membership of the single market and the customs union. I hope that Labour will go further and say we need a final deal that includes the single market and customs union.
I hope to see the right hon. Lady in the Lobby with us later if that is how she feels about this motion.
I must say that there were at least five different versions of the Government position over the summer, and it is almost impossible to reconcile the Foreign Secretary’s approach with that of others in the Cabinet. Everybody knows it and is commenting on it. To claim there is unity in the Cabinet is a pretence.
I am very grateful to the Minister for his excellent speech. He has told us that the Government will not seek to vote against the motion. On that basis, the motion will be passed. In that event, what will the Government then do?
The Government always pay careful attention to the views of this House. As I have already pointed out, we have done so in the past and we will respond appropriately. To return to the analysis—[Interruption.] This is an important point. We have been looking at 58 sectors, as well as cross-cutting regulatory, economic and social issues to inform our negotiating position.
Will the Minister express his view on whether this is a binding motion according to the procedures of this House?
It is not my job to interpret the procedures of the House; that is a matter for the House itself. As I have said, we will take note of whatever the House decides on this matter.
On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. Given the exchange that we have just heard, would it be possible to have a ruling from the Chair about the enforceability and binding nature of this motion?
Madam Deputy Speaker (Mrs Eleanor Laing)
I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his point of order. The immediate answer is, no, it would not be possible at this moment to have a ruling from the Chair. The fact is that the Minister has answered the question. I appreciate that he does not like the Minister’s answer. The right hon. Member for Broxtowe (Anna Soubry) asked a straight question, and the Minister gave a straight answer. It is not for the Chair to decide how the Minister should answer the question.
Let me clarify for the right hon. Gentleman that we are, first and foremost—
Further to that point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker.
Madam Deputy Speaker
Order. There was nothing further to that point of order, because I have answered the point of order. If the right hon. Lady has a different point of order, I will hear it.
Madam Deputy Speaker, forgive me. The point of order, which was raised and which I raise again, is whether or not this motion, in the view of the Chair, is a binding motion. That is the question.
Madam Deputy Speaker
The right hon. Lady knows that the Chair will not become involved in an argument between one Front Bench and the other, or one side of the House and the other. The Minister has—[Interruption.] Order! Do not shout when I am speaking from the Chair. The Minister has the floor and he has heard the points that are being made. It is for the Minister to answer those points.
Will my hon. Friend give way?
I will not give way to my right hon. Friend again.
Anna Soubry (Broxtowe) (Con)
I rise to support the motion. I hope that the motion is put to the vote and I shall be walking through the Lobby in favour of it. If the Minister and the Government are not prepared to be bound by the terms of the motion, I gently say to them that we are not messing about here any more. This is grown-up, serious stuff. This is no longer a debate on the fringes of politics, where people can follow long-held ideological dreams they have had for decades. The country has voted— 52% of those who voted voted to leave the EU—and people like me accept that we are going to leave the EU. But I am not going to stand by and see the future of my children’s generation and the grandchildren I hope will follow being trashed and ruined without any form of debate and disclosure as to the consequences and, arguably, the options that might be available as disclosed in all these documents that cover so many sectors in so many ways.
So this is grown-up, serious stuff. I say to Members on this side that the days of carping from the sidelines have gone. I say to them: “You’ve won; you’re in charge of this; now you have to face up to the responsibility of delivering a Brexit that works for everybody in this country and for generations to come.” So what’s the problem? If the Government are not going to be bound by this motion, vote against it. If you abstain, you agree to it and you will abide by it. As I have said, these are serious matters.
Will the right hon. Lady give way?
I will take the extra minute.
I find myself in the strange position of agreeing with everything the right hon. Lady is saying. She is making a very sensible and rational speech. Does she agree that the irony is that some of our colleagues who so seek to have a sovereign, more powerful, more transparent Parliament are, by not agreeing the result of this motion, damaging democracy and the ability of Parliament and those who sit in it to do their jobs?
I agree. Let us be clear: this debate has always crossed the political divide. Many in the Labour party supported leave and many Conservatives supported remain. This transcends the normal political divide. I agree very much with the hon. Lady.
Let me explain why it is so important that we know what is in these documents. I am getting a bit of a feeling here. I rather take the view that there might be stuff in these huge impact assessments that perhaps hon. Members on this side do not want to put out into the public domain. They can and should redact every piece of commercially sensitive material in the documents, and anything that could undermine the security of our country should also be redacted. However, I am getting a rather strong feeling that, if the Government were to say that, whatever the options might be for the final deal, everything in this wonderful new post-Brexit world that awaits us was going to be brilliant and rosy, those Members who favour no deal would be the first to stand up and say to the Government, “Disclose these impact documents! Let the people see what wonders await them in this wonderful new post-Brexit world.” So what’s the problem?
I must say to my right hon. Friend the Member for Wokingham (John Redwood), as he represents all those fishing men and women who live in his constituency: how on earth can he say that we should not disclose all these documents because that would undermine the negotiations if he has not seen them—or even some form of summary of them—in the first place? The implication is quite clear: there is something in them that is not to be disclosed because it might actually prick this golden bubble, this balloon, that is the promised land of Brexit. My constituents are entitled to know the consequences of the options that are available to this Government as they negotiate the transition and then, most importantly, the final deal. My constituents are concerned about their jobs, and so are the businesses in my constituency.
Does the right hon. Lady agree that her constituents and mine have the right to know the costs of a no-deal Brexit option? The Government are refusing to answer my parliamentary questions asking how much each Department is putting aside for Brexit contingency planning and planning for a no deal. Does she agree that that information should be in the public domain?
I absolutely agree. Other hon. Members have talked about the impact that they fear this will have on their constituents and on their part of our great country, and they are right to do so. How can local authorities, businesses and chambers of commerce—and all the other people who create our country’s great economy and the jobs and prosperity that we have now and will need in the future—plan for those things and make important decisions without the necessary information? How can we as a country come together, as people say we should, to heal the divide between the 52% and the 48%? We have failed to do that so far. How can we do all those things unless we are open and frank with people and bring them into the discussion about what Brexit is going to look like and what final deal can be secured for our country?
Whatever the right hon. and learned Member for Holborn and St Pancras (Keir Starmer) might say about Government policy, it is now clear what we want from the transition deal, thanks to the Prime Minister’s excellent Florence speech, which was widely welcomed. But let us be honest, what happened then? We heard the usual “noises off” trying to undermine her and destabilise her position. Thankfully, however, the Prime Minister has stood firm, and full credit to her for doing so. But even now, at this moment, my Government have still not worked out what their policy is for that final deal, and the usual voices continue to make their irresponsible argument for no deal and for falling off the cliff edge. That is the most dangerous thing that could possibly happen to our economy and to the generations to come.
Sir Desmond Swayne (New Forest West) (Con)
Why has my right hon. Friend put her name to an amendment to the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill that would give Parliament the power to prevent a deal?
That is absolute nonsense, if I may say so to my right hon. Friend. I hope that he might support that amendment, because at its heart is what he has told the British people he believes in. It is about taking back control in this Parliament, not relying on arguments from the right hon. Gentleman for the 19th century, who actually suggested that this Parliament might be bound by a decision in—heaven forbid—a foreign Parliament. The Canadians! I thought we had voted to take back control, and that is absolutely right. This is one of the most important decisions this country has ever made, and what Brexit will look like should be put before this House. It is a crying shame that we have had no debates, binding motions or votes on the future of our country. Future generations will judge us on that. I stood and warned people about the consequences to my party unless it stood up for everybody in this country and abandoned a hard Brexit. I was ignored, and we lost our majority. Millions of people feel that they are unrepresented by any political party, but I hope that my party will now change that by embracing the 48%.
Does my hon. Friend not accept that it is becoming clear that a number of promises made to people who voted leave will not be kept and that, in fact, the opposite is happening? Those people will not get £350 million a week for the NHS; they will not see the scrapping of all the regulations and so on, because they will be embodied in British law; they will not see a particular reduction in immigration; and, arguably, they will not be better off. It is not that they were stupid by any means—they were simply conned.
The danger with that argument is it presupposes that everybody in this Chamber knows exactly the reasons why people voted the way they did. The reality, from the question on the ballot paper, is that more people voted to leave than voted to remain. That is all we know. We do not know the reasons why and it would be wrong for us to try to interpret them. I have been elected by those same constituents, so of course I would say they are right, but SNP Members may wish to think about the same principle: for whatever reason, they came to that decision and they were right.
What I want to do is make a success of it. This is the big concern about this debate, which is a great technical debate that I have found interesting, as a lawyer. The question is whether it moves us forward to making a success of leaving the EU? We must remember that 498 out of 650 Members of this House voted to trigger article 50. Surely it follows that it is in their interests to make a success of a decision that, ultimately, they made. Yet time and again the House is used as a mechanism to slow the process down and try to defeat the ultimate goal of those who voted in that manner. I find that a terrible shame.
Angus Brendan MacNeil
I will not take any more interventions; the hon. Gentleman will have his own time.
As I was saying, I find that a shame. On Monday, our Transport Committee heard from four leaders—those of British Airways, EasyJet, Manchester airport and Heathrow airport. We challenged them on whether this would be a success for industry and they could not have been more confident that it would be. They were confident in their industry, but with the proviso that, between industry and politicians, we would make a success of it. My concern is that politicians seem to be the ones who do not have it in them to make a success of it. Again, I challenge all hon. Members who voted to trigger article 50 to talk it up and make a success of this process.
On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. I have been listening carefully to the exchanges in the debate. The motion on the Order Paper is clear and unqualified: it says that the impact assessments should
“be provided to the Committee on Exiting the European Union.”
During the debate, though, those who proposed the motion and others who support it have suggested that parts of those documents might be withheld. Have you received an amendment to the motion that might qualify what should be provided to the Select Committee, or is it for the Government to interpret what they should do after the debate?
Madam Deputy Speaker (Mrs Eleanor Laing)
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his point of order. I can answer the practical part of it very simply by saying that the Chair has received no such amendment. As far as I am concerned—and I can be very positive about this—the matter that is currently being debated is exactly the wording in the motion before us on the Order Paper. The way in which the Opposition interpret that might be different from the way in which the Government interpret it. That is what this Chamber is here for: to discuss those differences and come to a conclusion.
On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. Is it in order for the Government to disclose to members of the media what they plan to do in relation to the documents we are discussing? I have just seen a tweet from the rather excellent political correspondent from The Sun newspaper, who says that he understands that the Government will release the documents, albeit heavily redacted.
Madam Deputy Speaker
I thank the right hon. Lady for her very reasonable point of order. It is not for the Chair to rule on what the Government may say to journalists, but I say to the right hon. Lady that while a debate is going on in the Chamber about a matter of great importance, the place where announcements in connection with or pertaining to that matter of importance should be made is here in the Chamber.
I am grateful to give my hon. Friend an extra minute and say, “Hear, hear!” to everything he says.
I am very grateful, because I have always campaigned—this is one reason I was so keen to leave the EU—for the rights of this House. One of the great rights of this House is to hold the Government to account and to use the procedures and facilities open to it to do that in a powerful and real way. That is something the motion does.
The Canadian example—over Afghanistan—shows that failure to meet the requirements of this House is a breach of privilege, and there is no protection for any information that the Government have received from outside sources on the grounds of confidentiality once it is required by this House. Any agreement the Government have made is superseded by the powers of this House and cannot be challenged in any court because it is a fundamental privilege of this House that it should be guided by its own rules.
I have no particular view on whether it is right or wrong to publish these papers—I would trust the Government on that—but I am pleased that the House of Commons is exercising its historic power, albeit from a 19th century precedent, and I welcome the Government’s response.
The Minister is very kind, and I am glad that my SNP colleagues agree with me on the electoral system. The right hon. Member for Broxtowe (Anna Soubry) was right when she pointed out that there was a tweet stating that the Government would agree to publish the impact assessments. Is that tweet from The Sun right or wrong?
We have not stated any intention to publish redacted documents, although I did note what my right hon. Friend the Member for Broxtowe (Anna Soubry) said about that and, in the cool light of tomorrow, we will revisit exactly what was said in Hansard. All we have said is that we will reflect on the outcome of this debate, having regard to Parliament’s rights in relation to the documents—[Interruption.] I am grateful to Opposition Members, but I am also delighted now that I have finished my—
Order. Excessive gesticulation is coming from right hon. and hon. Members in sedentary positions. I think the Minister is perfectly aware of the attempted intervention from his right hon. Friend the Member for Broxtowe, and it is inconceivable that he would be unaware of it. He is aware of it.
I am grateful to Opposition Members, and I would like to say how much I have been looking forward to the moment that I give way to my right hon. Friend.
I am grateful for the Minister’s gracious response. Will he help the House to understand something? If the Government will not vote against the motion, will they commit at the Dispatch Box that they will therefore hand over the documents? If they will not hand over the documents, they must vote against the motion. What is it to be? Come on.
I refer my right hon. Friend to what I said just moments ago.
Coming back to what my hon. Friend the Member for Croydon South (Chris Philp) said, Hansard is of course available very quickly these days and it is the case that the right hon. and learned Member for Holborn and St Pancras said, according to Hansard:
“As I have said, we are open to hearing from the Government if they have alternative mechanisms or procedures to allow publication in an appropriate fashion. We are not wedded to the form we have put forward.”
[Interruption.] Opposition Members say, “Disgrace,” but there can surely be no disgrace in simply reading back the Hansard record of their Front-Bench spokesman. I find that entirely bizarre.
Several hon. Members rose—
I am on page one of my remarks with less than two minutes to go, and I therefore feel that I should apologise to Members for not getting through everything that I wish to say.
Throughout this process, it has been clear that the Government have always acted in line with the remit given to them by Parliament. The Secretary of State has been consistent in stressing the importance of parliamentary scrutiny and oversight of the Brexit process. A widely supported referendum Bill gave us the historic vote that will take us out of the European Union. We had legislation on the triggering of article 50, which preceded the Prime Minister’s letter to President Tusk, setting out the terms of our departure and our ambitions for the negotiation, including delivering a deep and special partnership with the European Union, which the Government are determined to deliver.
Turning to the matter at hand, it was Parliament’s vote last year that we should not put into the public domain things that could compromise our negotiating positions. We have heard time and again from both sides of the House that we should not do that, and good reasons have been given for it—