Angela Smith speech in the House of Lords, Monday 17th December 2018
My Lords, another Monday, another Prime Minister’s statement.
I’m grateful to the Noble Lady, the Leader of the House, for repeating today’s offering. But not that it offers very much. Last week NL referred to these statements as her “weekly treat” – I doubt she or the PM feel the same way today. And how relieved they must be that Parliament isn’t sitting next Monday – as far as we know…
This isn’t a statement from the Prime Minister that gives any assurances or confidence that she knows where this is going. Or indeed where she is going. In last week’s statement, following a weekend of assurances that MPs would vote on Tuesday, the Prime Minister refused to allow MPs to make a judgement on her Deal. Rather than face defeat, she pulled the vote, citing her wish to go back to the EU – although none of us were really clear what she was trying to do.
Was it a change, or clarification? In the end it was neither. Yet again, it was about her living in the moment, delaying a difficult decision, averting today’s immediate crisis – without any credible plan for tomorrow.
So what is today’s statement about? The Prime Minister has been forced – at the very last minute – to indicate when the Commons will be able to vote on her agreement. But despite her continued efforts to present the vote as a choice between her Deal or No Deal, it remains the case that MPs will accept neither.
What are the alternatives? We know the Prime Minister doesn’t want a further referendum – but I don't think she understands that the main reason that this is now gaining greater currency, including in her own Cabinet, is because of the failure of her own Leadership.
Noble Lords will have seen reports that Mrs May’s Chief of Staff and her de facto deputy have discussed a further referendum as a means of breaking the current impasse. Her statement today, briefed out yesterday, to warn against a further public vote, is yet another example of her attempts to manage her own party – rather than delivering for the people and businesses of this country.
It’s hard to know where her support now is? Despite winning a vote of Confidence from her MPs, it’s clear, that if we assume – as we must – that the remaining Government members all voted for the Prime Minister in the secret ballot, she now only has the support of around half her backbenchers.
All the while, some of her Cabinet colleagues, and I use the word ‘colleagues’ loosely, are attempting to take control of the Brexit process – amidst an unseemly jockeying for position in the chaos that now passes for Government.
My Lords, the Prime Minister cannot expect the world to stand still while she holds onto her Deal, fearing its rejection by MPs but allowing nothing else to move on or progress.
It is worth recalling Sherlock Holmes: “Once you eliminate the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth”.
So although the Leader of the Commons will make arrangements for the meaningful vote during the week commencing 14 January, that will be almost two months since the publication of the draft text and a mere 10 weeks until Article 50 expires.
My Lords, surely MPs should have been allowed to eliminate the impossible – which, as noted earlier, are both the Prime Minister's Deal and the No Deal option. Because for the past week the country has been paralysed by the Mrs May’s reckless time-wasting. As things stand, this will continue for until the middle of January.
We have said for months that parliamentarians should have been involved in mandating the negotiations. The Education Secretary appears to have been convinced, proposing a series of free votes during last week’s Cabinet conference call to flush out which – if any – majorities exist in the Commons.
The International Trade Secretary appeared to agree on The Andrew Marr Show, stating that he “wouldn’t have a huge problem with parliament as a whole having a say on what the options were”. That may well be the only sensible thing we’ve heard on Brexit from Liam Fox.
And the Business Secretary has added his own support to that suggestion today today. But still, Mrs May stubbornly ploughs on towards the cliff-edge.
The public and businesses are desperate for certainty. Already last week we saw the announcement of 5,000 job losses at Jaguar Land Rover – with our departure from the EU confirmed as part of the reason. As the deadline looms, others will be making investment plans – or not.
The statement notes that European Council conclusions are legally binding, but this was not the test that the Prime Minister set herself last week. The PM says negotiations are ongoing. The Commission disagrees.
I have a couple of simple, straightforward questions for the NL.
Firstly, given the pressing need for certainty, could she confirm whether, in her opinion, any meaningful change, clarification or progress was secured at the summit?
Our view is that it is wrong for the Government to try and stumble into the Christmas recess without putting this matter to a vote and allowing Parliament to move the process forward. I have to say it really feels as if the Prime Minister is deliberately orchestrating a delay to ensure that there is an irresponsible choice between her Deal and No Deal.
The NL will have heard the truncated debate in YLH earlier this month and the wide support for the ‘No Deal’ part of the motion in my name.
The NL will also be at tomorrow’s Cabinet meeting where apparently there will be a discussion about spending an extra £2 billion on No Deal planning. Many in YLH will consider this a dire use of taxpayers’ money.
Would it not be better to cut that debate at Cabinet short and use the time to prepare to get a view from MPs before Christmas – on what is impossible, so that the time that remains until the end of March could be used to achieve the possible. Perhaps the NL could relay such a message from this House to the PM at the Cabinet meeting tomorrow?
Baroness Angela Smith is Shadow Leader of the House of Lords. She tweets @LadyBasildon