Stephen Kinnock: I rise to speak in favour of amendments 6 and 7 and new clause 1, which have been tabled in my name and those of my right hon. Friend the Member for Don Valley (Caroline Flint) and many other Members across the Committee. Before I do, however, I want to briefly say that I will be voting for the Bill this evening. That is because I have always been clear that the worst possible Brexit outcome would be a catastrophic no-deal crash-out that severely damages the security and economy of our country and our communities. This is why an extension of any kind is far superior to crashing out on 31 October.
I and other colleagues from across the Committee are, however, deeply concerned that it is nearly three years since MPs voted to trigger article 50 to leave the EU and our nation is still stuck in limbo. We believe that if the UK does not specify the purpose of the extension, we will end up in exactly the same position on 4 January as we are in today on 4 September. The public are getting increasingly tired of this and, like Parliament, increasingly polarised. Finding compromise, or indeed any route forward, will only become more difficult as time goes on. A further extension to the timetable to leave the EU without a very good, clearly defined purpose will leave most of the country banging their heads against a brick wall. The public are fed up of talking and hearing about Brexit. Most people, regardless of what some campaigners may like to tell themselves, would like to see the referendum result honoured. Therefore, amendments 6 and 7, together with new clause 1, aim to set a purpose for the extension request until 31 January. The explicit purpose, we state, should be to pass a Brexit Bill, and, more specifically, to pass something similar to the withdrawal agreement Bill that was drafted in May 2019 as a result of cross-party talks.
Andrew Percy: I have worked with the hon. Gentleman on a couple of issues over the past few years and I think he does want to make good on the referendum. The problem with his extension, of course, is that we have repeatedly heard from Members saying that they want to respect the will of the referendum, but every time we come to a vote on the matter there is always a reason why they cannot quite bring themselves to trot into the Lobby and vote for the withdrawal agreement. We have had three occasions on which we could have voted for the withdrawal agreement, and four other occasions on which to express an opinion in favour of Norway, the European Free Trade Association or the European economic area. Every single time, the same MPs trot up and say they support the referendum result but when it comes to the vote they vote to block Brexit, so what is going to be different this time?
Stephen Kinnock: I gently say to the hon. Gentleman that the meaningful votes that took place are a very different kettle of fish from what was produced by the cross-party talks. As I will say later in my speech, the cross-party talks contained a number of extremely important compromises and concessions from Labour Members. It is therefore a travesty that this Parliament never had the opportunity to debate or vote on the withdrawal agreement Bill. It is a different kettle of fish from what went before. For those with short memories, the withdrawal agreement Bill was very different from the former Prime Minister’s initial so-called “blind Brexit”—which was rejected three times by this House—because it contained 10 major concessions that gave far more clarity on the UK-EU relationship. We were not prepared to give carte blanche to the Government.
The cross-party talks gave the detail that we need. That was a direct result of the hard work of Opposition and Government Front Benchers and negotiating teams over the course of six weeks of serious talks. The concessions included a customs union compromise, with a binding vote on post-Brexit customs arrangements; a workers’ rights Bill that would guarantee that employment rights in the UK would not lag behind those of the EU; a pledge that the UK would see no change in the level of environmental protection after Brexit; a promise to seek as close to frictionless trade in goods with the EU as possible while being outside the single market and ending free movement; a commitment to having parliamentary time to allow for a vote at Committee stage on whether the deal should be put to a second referendum; an assurance to MPs that they must have the final say on the future UK’s relationship with the EU; and a promise that Northern Ireland would stay aligned with the rest of the UK on regulations and customs, even if the backstop were to come into force.
Harriett Baldwin: I appreciate the spirit in which the hon. Gentleman is approaching this debate and his amendments. Will he clarify whether the 10 changes that he outlines would involve changing anything in the 585-page withdrawal agreement?
Stephen Kinnock: The 585-page withdrawal agreement would remain intact, because those are the separation issues. All these issues relate to the future relationship, which the EU has made clear it is open to amending. The future relationship is, of course, a political declaration. The reasons why Labour Members were opposed to previous deals were that there was so little detail on the future relationship, and frankly, that we had said repeatedly that the Government should, rather going to the wrong extreme in this debate, reach out to Labour Members. Finally, the former Prime Minister agreed to do that. We had the cross-party talks, and it is a travesty that this House never had the opportunity to debate and vote on those issues.
Norman Lamb: As someone who feels very strongly that the polarisation in this debate has been immensely damaging for our country and that there are not enough people finding ways of bringing our country back together again, may I ask the hon. Gentleman whether he shares my view that this is a route to achieving a compromise—an art that appears to have been lost in this place at present—and perhaps a way for someone such as me, who believes in a relationship that is akin to what Norway has, to find a way forward and achieve a compromise that not only meets the obligation of implementing the referendum outcome, but recognises the views of many people about the need to maintain a very close relationship with the EU?
Stephen Kinnock: I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his intervention and for adding his name to our amendment. I agree with every word that he said. Let us not forget that a Parliament that is captured by its extremes is one that plays directly into the hands of the no-dealers, because the legal default position is that if there is no alternative, we leave without a deal. The failure to compromise has played directly into the hands of the no-dealers, who are a small minority in this House. The tail has been wagging the dog for too long. It is time for it to stop. The Committee stage of a withdrawal agreement Bill would provide ample opportunity for amendments such as a common market 2.0 type of arrangement, but that has to be debated in this House in Committee. Let us first get it over the line on Second Reading.
Luke Graham: The hon. Gentleman is proposing a compromise, which I appreciate—it is time that Members started to vote for things, rather than just against things—and he says he wants greater detail. I served under my right hon. Friend the Member for Aylesbury (Mr Lidington) in the Cabinet Office, and as we know there was no cross-party Front-Bench agreement on these measures. Even if we were to go forward with this compromise, he would not have his Front Benchers behind him, so how can we get behind it?
Stephen Kinnock: I was not party to the decision taken not to support the withdrawal agreement Bill, which included the 10 concessions our negotiating team did such a great job in securing, and I regret it. It is a tragedy that the House has never had the opportunity to debate or vote on the withdrawal agreement Bill. I truly hope that hon. Members on both sides of the House will tonight join me and other colleagues in the Division Lobby to make it clear that it is time to vote for something, not just against things.
Jeremy Wright: As the hon. Gentleman knows from the Second Reading debate, I have a good deal of sympathy with the approach he is setting out. I appreciate, too, that he is recommending to the House that we pass amendments 6 and 7 as well as new clause 1. If I were minded to support new clause 1 but not amendments 6 and 7, would I effectively be presenting an option that everyone in the House could choose to adopt, in preference to no deal and no Brexit, and that the Government could bring forward so that there was an option for us all to pursue, but then if the Government were to themselves negotiate a separate deal, nothing in new clause 1 would prevent them from proposing that option?
Stephen Kinnock: I can confirm that we are saying in the amendments that the vote should reflect the outcome of the cross-party talks, but clearly this is not about setting that in stone. The current Prime Minister is welcome—good luck to him—to go to Brussels and try to get a deal. I am sure that hon. Members will forgive me if I am sceptical about whether serious attempts are being made to do that, but if he is able to secure changes that he feels he can bring back, clearly they would still have to be based on that 585-page document, which is the basic building block for a deal. It will not be torn up by the EU.
Mr Kenneth Clarke: As the hon. Gentleman says, the House has never voted on the proposal that so nearly came forward. I think I would have supported it had it got that far. Does he agree that had the whole House realised then what form subsequent events would take to lead us to today and what would happen to public opinion in the ever increasingly wild debate that followed—if the vote could have been taken with that foresight—it would have been carried by a large majority in this House, that the withdrawal deal, as amended, would now be in place, and that we would now be able to have civilised and sensible debates about the long-term arrangements to be agreed during the transition period?
Stephen Kinnock: I thank the Father of the House. Like many Members, I wish that crystal balls had been handed out when we first came to this place. Unfortunately, that was not the case. It goes back to what he said earlier—Parliament and the debate have been captured by the extremes, and we have to move on from that. We have to break the deadlock and find a sustainable way of preventing no deal, and the way to do that is to leave with a deal.
Ian C. Lucas: My hon. Friend and his colleagues have put forward a very interesting amendment indeed. Could he clarify what discussions he has had with the Opposition Front Benchers about the amendments and what response he has had from them?
Stephen Kinnock: I recognise my hon. Friend’s point, but at present I have not had a conversation with our Front Benchers on this topic.
My party’s Brexit spokesperson, my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Holborn and St Pancras (Keir Starmer), made it clear in an interview on last weekend’s Marr show that Labour only withdrew from the talks due to the inability of the former Prime Minister to deliver her own party. He stated:
“We took a judgement call that some of the proposals that the Prime Minister put forward she would not be able to get through her own party”.
I think this confirms that our side was ready to compromise on a deal if the Prime Minister could have delivered her own party. The good will was clearly there. Now all the focus should be on finding a way to put that deal back on the table, to study it, to debate it, to amend it, to vote on it, and ultimately to use it as the basic vehicle for sorting out the shambolic situation we find ourselves in.
John Redwood: I appreciate the tone of the hon. Gentleman’s remarks, and I agreed with his opening remark that we want this to be over with and to move on, but my worry is this. Does not his idea require guarantees and statements from the European Union? What would they be, and how could we secure them?
Stephen Kinnock: At the heart of our amendment, and of the withdrawal agreement Bill, is a document that has absolutely been signed off by the EU27. It is there; it is ready to go; it is off the shelf. The changes—the 10 concessions—relate to the political declaration on the future relationship. So the answer to the right hon. Gentleman’s question is that the European Union would, I think, bite our arms off if we were able to come forward and say, “This is the deal. It needs some tweaks, but, in essence, this is where we need to go.” That is why I think it is so vital for us to use the extension period for a purpose.
Victoria Prentis: The hon. Gentleman is being very generous in giving way. I am sorry that there are so many questions, but it is interesting to note that when there is a sensible suggestion the House is genuinely interested in trying to establish some consensus, and in that spirit I ask a slightly cheeky question. Were one to have committed oneself to “do or die” by 31 October, is there any way in which we could get this consensus—this new idea—through the House before that date without relying on the extension?
Stephen Kinnock: As my right hon. Friend the Member for Don Valley (Caroline Flint) said on Second Reading, we are ready to work every hour of every day, 24/7. The 31 January date is named in the extension document, but if we can get this done before then, and indeed before 31 October, yes—and the huge advantage is that it is on the shelf and ready to go.
We would not have to accept the withdrawal agreement Bill as it stands in its entirety. We could add amendments in Committee; we could improve it, just as with any other legislation. Those who are campaigning for a second referendum can even try again to add a confirmatory vote in Committee, if that is the way they wish to go. As I said earlier, I myself would consider trying to introduce something nearer to a common market 2.0 approach. All those options would be open to us in Committee, but we have to get the Bill over the line on Second Reading. The reality is that whatever angle we are coming from in this deeply divided and fragmented House, the withdrawal agreement Bill is the only game in town if we want to make progress.
Our second substantive proposal calls on the Government to publish a copy of the draft Bill to implement the withdrawal agreement between the United Kingdom and the European Union within five working days. The draft Bill must include provisions reflecting the outcome of the inter-party talks. We know that that document exists, and we need to see it published so that we can give it the scrutiny that it requires.
For any Member who supports either a deal-based Brexit or even a second referendum, supporting our amendments is the most sensible and pragmatic approach, and the way forward. Let us get this done. Let us rediscover the lost art of compromise. Let us move our country forward, on to the issues that matter to people up and down the country.
Mr Iain Duncan Smith: I am sorry to interrupt the hon. Gentleman, because I suspect that he has reached his peroration, but may I ask him a simple question? Has he checked with his Front Benchers that they would support his amendment if he were to press it?
Stephen Kinnock: I understand that our position at the present time would be to abstain, but I am not 100% sure of that. I really hope that, having listened to the debate, colleagues throughout the House will consider supporting the amendment, because I think that given the amount of support that we are receiving from Members on both sides of the House, we have a real chance of getting this across the line.
Albert Owen: Will my hon. Friend give way?
Stephen Kinnock: I will give way briefly, but then I must press on.
Albert Owen: In new clause 1(2)(b), my hon. Friend talks of alignment with Northern Ireland. Is he saying that the whole United Kingdom—all four nations—would be in a single market until such time as the Europeans reached an agreement during the transition period?
Stephen Kinnock: That is correct. The commitment in the clarifications of the withdrawal agreement Bill makes it clear that that will be the case until such time as alternative arrangements are found. I will be absolutely frank: the backstop is at the heart of the withdrawal agreement Bill, but if Members really boil it down, how many in this House are actually opposed to it? I am a big fan of the backstop because I believe the backstop protects peace in Northern Ireland. The vast majority of Conservative MPs voted for the withdrawal agreement, which has the backstop at its heart. There are a maximum of 50, or 60 maybe, Members of Parliament who are opposed to the backstop, and as a result we are in the mess we are in now; it is the definition of the cliché “the tail wagging the dog”, and it has to stop.
Let us move forward. Let us get back to the issues that people really care about on the doorstep: education, health, housing and cutting crime. Do we remember when we used to discuss those issues in politics—the vital bread-and-butter issues that really matter to our communities?
This House has been paralysed by its extremes; it is time to break the deadlock, and I hope that colleagues will join us in the Division Lobby later in that spirit.