Leaving the EU: Parliamentary Scrutiny

There is a real risk that MPs are forced to vote on a 'motherhood and apple pie' Brexit bill this October, with loose wording that means very little, and so forces us to gamble on our government's competence. Would require a huge leap of faith!

Stephen Kinnock: I congratulate my right hon. Friend and thank him for his forbearance in what is sometimes a very robust discussion in Committee; he is certainly masterful in seeking consensus.

The question is really around the vote in October and the content of the political declaration on the framework for the future relationship. Does my right hon. Friend agree that there is a real risk of a wishy-washy, vague, motherhood-and-apple-pie political declaration in an attempt to keep the Conservative party together, rather than giving MPs a clear sense of the direction our future relationship would take? What steps does he think the Government should take to assure the House that there will be sufficient detail in that political declaration to make a meaningful vote truly meaningful?

Hilary Benn: I thank my hon. Friend for his work on the Committee. I hope he will forgive me if I do not comment on party considerations in making this statement here today, but he raises an important issue about the nature of the political declaration. We heard clearly in evidence that it will not be a treaty or draft treaty, although there was some debate when we heard from Guy Verhofstadt about whether including it as an annex to the agreement would give it greater force. It will come down to this question: will the House think there is sufficient certainty about the nature of our future relationship on all the things I mentioned a moment ago to the Chair of the Select Committee on Health, the hon. Member for Totnes (Dr Wollaston), in the political declaration or not? If we approve it and there is not that certainty, the House will really be saying, “Well, let’s see what happens.”

There are two parts to this negotiation: the withdrawal agreement, which is the divorce settlement, and which is important, and our future relationship on trade, security, the fight against terrorism, foreign policy and services—80% of the British economy is services—which is the really important bit. Therefore, the more detail and the more certainty the political declaration can offer, and the more the parties to the negotiation can show they are committed to turning that into a treaty, the better it will be for Parliament as it makes its judgement.