James Cleverly answers MPs’ questions in relation to his Ministerial portfolio in the Department for Exiting the European Union.
Revoking article 50 would cause irreparable damage to the relationship between voters and the Members of Parliament who represent them. It would reverse the outcome of the 2016 referendum, betraying not only the 17.4 million voters who voted to leave but everyone who voted, putting their faith in our democracy at risk. Revoking article 50 would break the trust the British people place in politicians, in voting and in democracy.
I am grateful to the Minister for that answer. What steps is his Department taking to maintain the public’s faith in the importance of their votes and confidence in this Government delivering what they said they would deliver, particularly as we head into European elections that the public did not want, vote for or support?
Ultimately, there are only three ways that this situation can resolve itself: the UK leaves the EU with an agreement; the UK leaves without an agreement; or we revoke article 50 and do not leave. Leaving without a deal is undesirable, but not leaving is unacceptable. That is why the Government maintain the position that they want to leave the European Union with an agreement as quickly as possible, restoring people’s faith in the democratic process and honouring the commitment we made in the 2016 referendum.
Next month, it will be three years since the referendum. Does the Minister regard the referendum choice as binding for all time? Does he not recognise that at some point it will be necessary to go back to the people and ask whether they still think leaving the EU is a good idea?
The Government’s position is that the referendum result is binding until it is delivered.
Will not the biggest danger to confidence in democracy come when the promised sunlit uplands fail to materialise? Is not the only way out of this mess to go back to the people and ask them to exercise their democratic choice?
The British people have already exercised their democratic choice. I do not subscribe to the negative predictions that the hon. Gentleman and others have made about a post-Brexit British future. More importantly, international businesses do not agree with him; inward investment into the UK is still flourishing. The employment market does not agree with his predictions either, because unemployment is still reducing and employment is still increasing. I am confident—the Government are confident—that there is a bright future ahead for this country outside the European Union. That is what we are committed to delivering and that is what we are working towards.
Additional EU exit funding allocated by Her Majesty’s Treasury to Departments and devolved Administrations covers all scenarios. No-deal spending cannot readily be separated from deal spending, given the significant overlap in plans in many cases. Since 2016, the Treasury has allocated more than £2.4 billion of funding for all exit scenarios.
Despite talking up and legitimising a no-deal outcome for two years, the Prime Minister applied for two different extensions to the article 50 period to avoid that outcome, because she knows it would be damaging to the country. The Minister talks of £2.4 billion. Would that money not have been better spent on the fight against knife crime, on helping families struggling to cope with universal credit or on 100 other causes that would benefit our constituents, rather than on an argument that, by the Prime Minister’s actions, she has shown she does not even believe in?
Her Majesty’s Government have never had the policy to take no deal off the table; the House has committed the Government through votes to do so. The right hon. Gentleman talks about spending in other Departments. We have, for example, seen record spending in the national health service, making good on the Government’s commitment. If he does not want to see any more money spent on no-deal preparations, it is incumbent on him to bring this to a conclusion, and the best way of doing so is by voting for the withdrawal agreement Bill when it is presented to the House, giving this country certainty and the ability to move forward in a post-Brexit world.
In an op-ed in The Sun on Saturday, the Brexit Secretary argued that
“it would be inexcusable for the Government to not use the coming months to continue to prepare”
for no deal. Indeed, based on his answers today, no doubt he would like to accelerate those preparations. However, as the public know, given that they get advance sight of pending public rows in their morning newspapers, the Chancellor of the Exchequer takes a different view. He recently issued an edict that no further Treasury money will be provided for no-deal planning ahead of the 31 October deadline. When it comes to no-deal planning, will the new Parliamentary Under-Secretary tell us who actually speaks for the Government?
The Treasury has already allocated money for no-deal preparation. We continue to prepare for no deal, because at the moment there is still the possibility that on 31 October the United Kingdom will leave with no deal. Members of the House who are uncomfortable with that position can take a no-deal Brexit off the table by voting for a withdrawal agreement and leaving with a deal, which remains the Government’s policy. If we were to do that, we could move on to the second stage of the negotiations and set about creating a strong working relationship with our European partners and other nations around the world.