No Confidence in Her Majesty’s Government
16 January 2019
Jeremy Corbyn (Islington North) (Lab) I beg to move, That this House has no confidence in Her Majesty’s Government.
Last night, the Government were defeated by 230 votes —the largest defeat in the history of our democracy. They are the first Government to be defeated by more than 200 votes. Indeed, the Government themselves could barely muster more than 200 votes. Last week, they lost a vote on the Finance Bill—that is what is called supply. Yesterday, they lost a vote by the biggest margin ever—that is what is regarded as confidence. By any convention of this House—by any precedent—loss of confidence and supply should mean that they do the right thing and resign.
The Prime Minister has consistently claimed that her deal, which has now been decisively rejected, was good for Britain, workers and businesses. If she is so confident of that—if she genuinely believes it—she should have nothing to fear from going to the people and letting them decide.
In this week in 1910, the British electorate went to the polls. They did so because Herbert Asquith’s Liberal Government had been unable to get Lloyd George’s “People’s Budget” through the House of Lords. They were confident in their arguments, and they went to the people and were returned to office. That is still how our democracy works. When we have a Government that cannot govern, it is those conventions that guide us in the absence of a written constitution. If a Government cannot get their legislation through Parliament, they must go to the country for a new mandate, and that must apply when that situation relates to the key issue of the day.
Chris Philp (Croydon South) (Con) Is not the Leader of the Opposition engaging in a piece of shameless political opportunism, putting party interests ahead of national interests? Is he not simply trying to disguise the fact that he has no policy on this great issue?
Jeremy Corbyn In 2017, the Prime Minister and her party thought that they could call an election and win it. They thought that they would return with an overall majority, but there was an enormous increase in the Labour vote—the biggest since 1945—during that campaign when people saw what our policies actually were.
When the Prime Minister asked to be given a mandate, she bypassed the Fixed-term Parliaments Act 2011 which, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Islington South and Finsbury (Emily Thornberry), the shadow Foreign Secretary, pointed out, was designed to give some stability to the Tory-Lib Dem coalition Government to ensure that the Lib Dems could not hold the Conservatives to ransom by constantly threatening to collapse the coalition. The 2011 Act was never intended to prop up a zombie Government, and there can be no doubt that this is a zombie Government.
Pete Wishart (Perth and North Perthshire) (SNP) If the right hon. Gentleman’s motion is successful this evening, there may be a general election in a few short weeks. Would the Labour party manifesto state whether it will be a party of Brexit or a party against Brexit? It is a simple question; what is the answer?
Jeremy Corbyn We are a democratic party, and our party will decide what policy we fight the election on. In the meantime, however, we are clear that there has to be a customs union, access to European trade and markets, and the protection of rights, and there must be a rejection of a no-deal Brexit.
As I was saying, last week this Government became the first for more than 40 years to lose a vote on a Finance Bill. In a shocking first for this Government—a shocking first—they forced a heavily pregnant Member of this House, my hon. Friend the Member for Hampstead and Kilburn (Tulip Siddiq), to delay a scheduled caesarean to come to vote, all because of their cynical breaking of trusted pairing arrangements. We need to examine our procedures to ensure that such a thing can never happen again.
Anna Soubry (Broxtowe) (Con) On a point of order, Mr Speaker. Could you please assist the House, because this is an important matter? I say this as a woman. We need to establish once and for all whether the hon. Member for Hampstead and Kilburn (Tulip Siddiq) was offered a pair. I think all of us and the public need to know.
Mr Speaker The Clerk reminds me that that is not a point of order. My understanding is that there was a pairing opportunity, but the issue was aired in the chamber on Monday and again yesterday. The Leader of the Opposition is absolutely entitled to highlight his concern about the matter, which I know is widely shared, but it should not now be the subject of further points of order. I hope that that satisfies the right hon. Member for Broxtowe (Anna Soubry).
Jeremy Corbyn Nothing demonstrates the sheer incompetence of this Government quite like the Brexit negotiations. Yesterday’s historic and humiliating defeat was the result of two years of chaos and failure. It is clear that this Government are not capable of winning support for their core plan on the most vital issue facing this country. The Prime Minister has lost control and the Government have lost the ability to govern. Within two years, they have managed to turn a deal from what was supposed to be—I remember this very well— “one of the easiest in human history” into a national embarrassment. In that time, we have seen the Prime Minister’s demands quickly turn into one humiliating climbdown after another. Brexit Ministers have come, and Brexit ministers have gone, but the shambles has remained unchanged, culminating in an agreement that was described by one former Cabinet Minister as “the worst of all worlds.”
Let me be clear that the deal that the Prime Minister wanted this Parliament to support would have left the UK in a helpless position, facing a choice between seeking and paying for an extended transition period or being trapped in the backstop. The Prime Minister may claim the backstop would never come into force—[Interruption.] Who has confidence in this Government’s ability to negotiate a future trade deal with the EU by December 2020 after the shambles that we have all witnessed over the past two years? This Frankenstein deal is now officially dead, and the Prime Minister is trying to blame absolutely everybody else.
Mr Tanmanjeet Singh Dhesi (Slough) (Lab) In modern British history, when faced with a defeat even a fraction of the size of the titanic and calamitous margin that the Prime Minister faced yesterday, Prime Ministers have done the right and honourable thing and have resigned and called a general election. Does my right hon. Friend agree that the Prime Minister, in the pursuit of power and the trappings of office, has now forgotten what is right and honourable?
Jeremy Corbyn I thank my hon. Friend for that intervention. As I made clear, all the precedents are that when a Government experiences a defeat like last night’s, it is time to resign and allow the people to elect a new Parliament to deal with the issues facing the country. Let me be clear that the blame for this mess lies firmly at the feet of the Prime Minister and her Government, who have time after time made hollow demands and given what turned out to be false promises. They say that they want this Parliament to be sovereign. Yet when their plans have come up against scrutiny, they have done all they can to obstruct and evade. The Prime Minister’s original plan was to push through a deal without the appropriate approval of this Parliament, only to be forced into holding a meaningful vote by the courts and by Members of this House, to whom I pay tribute for ensuring that we actually had the meaningful vote last night.
Mr Alistair Carmichael (Orkney and Shetland) (LD) As I understand it, the Leader of the Opposition will allow his party to decide whether he will deliver Brexit should he become Prime Minister. His party has already decided that if he is not successful in getting a general election, he should support a people’s vote. If he does not win the vote tonight, will he then support moves in this House to give us a people’s vote?
Jeremy Corbyn I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman is fully aware of the decision made at my party’s conference that all options are on the table for the next phase, including the option to which he has referred.
Catherine West (Hornsey and Wood Green) (Lab) In this national crisis, will my right hon. Friend confirm whether the Prime Minister has telephoned the Leader of the Opposition to ask for a meeting to discuss the way forward for our country?
Jeremy Corbyn I have not had such a call as yet. I have my phone on. [Interruption.] I think we should proceed with this debate. The Prime Minister’s original plan was to push through a deal without approval, as I pointed out, and she was forced into seeking approval by the courts. Since losing their majority in the 2017 general election, the Government have had numerous opportunities to engage with others and listen to their views, not just here in Westminster, but across the country. Their whole framing of the EU (Withdrawal) Bill was about giving excessive power to the Secretary of State for Brexit at the expense of Parliament. It was a Bill of which Henry VIII would have been very proud.
Yesterday’s decisive defeat is the result of the Prime Minister not listening and ignoring businesses, unions and Members of this House. She has wasted two years recklessly ploughing on with her doomed strategy. Even when it was clear that her botched and damaging deal could not remotely command support here or across the country, she decided to waste even more time by pulling the meaningful vote on 11 December on the empty promise, and it was an absolutely empty promise, of obtaining legal assurances on the backstop—another month wasted before the House could come to its decision last night.
Some on the Government Benches have tried to portray the Prime Minister’s approach as stoical. What we have seen over the past few months is not stoical; what we have witnessed is the Prime Minister acting in her narrow party interest, rather than in the public interest. Her party is fundamentally split on this issue, and fewer than 200 of her own MPs were prepared to support her last night. This constrains the Prime Minister so much that she simply cannot command a majority in this House on the most important issue facing this country without rupturing her party. It is for that reason that the Government can no longer govern.
Yesterday, the Prime Minister shook her head when I said that she had treated Brexit as a matter only for the Conservative party, yet within half an hour of the vote being announced the hon. Member for Grantham and Stamford (Nick Boles) commented: “She has conducted the argument as if this was a party-political matter rather than a question of profound national importance”.
How right he was, and how wrong the Prime Minister was to threaten him before the vote took place. I know that many people across the country will be frustrated and deeply worried about the insecurity around Brexit, but if this divided Government continue in office, the uncertainty and risks can only grow.
George Freeman (Mid Norfolk) (Con) When those cross-party talks start, which of the Scarlet Pimpernels will come? Will it be the Leader of the Opposition who campaigns for remain in London and the south-east, or will it be the Leader of the Opposition who campaigns for Brexit up north? We need to know.
Jeremy Corbyn There has been no offer or communication on all-party talks. All the Prime Minister said was that she might talk to some Members of the House. That is not reaching out. That is not discussing it. That is not recognising the scale of the defeat they suffered last night.
It is not just over Brexit that the Government are failing dismally, letting down the people of this country. There has been the Windrush scandal, with the shameful denial of rights and the detention, and even the deportation, of our own citizens. The Government’s flagship welfare policy, universal credit, is causing real and worsening poverty across this country. And just yesterday, under the cover of the Brexit vote, they sneaked out changes that will make some pensioner households thousands of pounds worse off. Those changes build on the scourge of poverty and the measures inflicted on the people of this country, including the bedroom tax, the two-child limit, the abominable rape clause, the outsourced and deeply flawed work capability assessment, the punitive sanctions regime and the deeply repugnant benefits freeze.
People across this country, whether they voted leave or remain, know full well that the system is not working for them. If they are up against it and they voted remain, or if they are up against it and they voted leave, this Government do not speak for them, do not represent them and cannot represent them. Food bank use has increased almost exponentially. More people are sleeping on our streets, and the numbers have shamefully swelled every year. The Conservative party used to call itself the party of home ownership; it is now called the party of homelessness in this country.
Care is being denied to our elderly, with Age UK estimating that 1.2 million older people are not receiving the care they need. Some £7 billion has been cut from adult social care budgets in the past nine years. Our NHS is in crisis, waiting time targets at accident and emergency—[Interruption.] I am talking about waiting times at accident and emergency departments and for cancer patients that have not been met since 2015, and that have never been met under the Government of this Prime Minister.
The NHS has endured the longest funding squeeze in its history, leaving it short-staffed to the tune of 100,000 and leaving NHS trusts and providers over £1 billion in deficit. The human consequences are clear. Life expectancy is now going backwards in the poorest parts of our country and is stagnating overall, which is unprecedented —another shameful first for this Government and another reason why this Government should no longer remain in office. That is why this motion of no confidence is so important.
Anna Soubry The Leader of the Opposition is making some powerful arguments—not very well, but he is making them—but could he help us with this? I saw an opinion poll at the weekend. If there is any merit in his arguments, can he explain why the Conservative party is six points ahead in the polls? Could it be because he is the most hopeless Leader of the Opposition we have ever had?
Jeremy Corbyn I thank the right hon. Lady for her intervention, and I look forward to testing opinion at the ballot box in a general election, when we will be able to elect a Labour Government in this country.
Mr David Lammy (Tottenham) (Lab) My right hon. Friend is right to put on record the concerns about uncertainty in the country, and he is absolutely right to talk about poverty. Can he confirm that it is the position of the British Labour party to rule out a no-deal Brexit? Can he understand why the party that claims to be the traditional party of business will not do the same?
Jeremy Corbyn I can absolutely confirm that. We have voted against a no-deal Brexit, and apparently the Business Secretary thinks that vote is a good idea. The Prime Minister was unable to answer my question on this during Prime Minister’s Question Time. A no-deal Brexit would be very dangerous and very damaging for jobs and industries all across this country.
Imran Hussain (Bradford East) (Lab) I thank my right hon. Friend for giving way. He is absolutely right that, under this Government, we see our NHS in crisis and education underfunded. Our communities have been devastated by their austerity agenda. More people are homeless, more people are living in poverty and more people are using food banks. If the Government disagree, why do they not call a general election? We are ready.
Jeremy Corbyn I thank my hon. Friend for that intervention and for his work representing his constituency. On this side of the House, we are determined to force this Government to accept the reality of the defeat last night and to go to the people so that they can decide whether they want a party in office that promotes inequality, poverty and injustice in Britain, or the Labour alternative, which is bringing people together, however they voted in the referendum.
I know that some Members of this House are sceptical, and members of the public could also be described as sceptical, but I truly believe that a general election would be the best outcome for this country. As the Prime Minister pointed out in her speech yesterday, both the Labour party and the Conservative party stood on manifestos that accepted the result of the referendum . Surely any Government would be strengthened in trying to renegotiate Brexit by being given a fresh mandate from the people to follow their chosen course. I know many people at home will say, “Well, we’ve had two general elections and a referendum in the last four years.” For the people of Scotland, it is two UK-wide elections, one Scottish parliamentary election and two referendums in five years So although Brenda from Bristol may gasp “Not another one”, spare a thought for Bernie from Bute. However, the scale of the crisis means we need a Government with a fresh mandate. A general election can bring people together, focusing on all the issues that unite us—the need to solve the crises in our NHS, our children’s schools and the care of our elderly.
We all have a responsibility to call out abuse, which has become too common, whether it is the abuse that Members of this House receive or the abuse that is—[Interruption.] I am sure we can all unite in condemning racist abuse in any form whatsoever within our society. Too many of our constituents have faced that since the toxic debate in the last referendum and, if I may say so, the Government’s hostile environment policies on the Windrush generation.
Many media pundits and Members of this House say there is currently no majority in the House for a general election—let the Members of this House decide. However, it is clear there is no majority for the Government’s Brexit deal and there is no majority either for no deal. I pay tribute to all Members of this House who, like the Labour Front-Bench team, are committed both to opposing the Prime Minister’s bad deal, which we voted down last night, and to ruling out the catastrophe of no deal. But I do believe that following the defeat of the Government’s plan, a general election is the best outcome for the country, as the Labour party conference agreed last September.
A general election would give new impetus to negotiations, with a new Prime Minister, with a new mandate, and not just to break the deadlock on Brexit, but to bring fresh ideas to the many problems facing our constituents, such as very low pay, insecure work and in-work poverty, which is increasing. They face the problems of trying to survive on universal credit and living in deep poverty; and the scandal of inadequate social care, which might not concern the right hon. Member for Rayleigh and Wickford (Mr Francois) but does concern millions of people around this country.
Then we have the crisis facing local authorities, health services and schools, which are starved of resources; and the housing and homelessness crisis, whereby so many of our fellow citizens have no roof over their head night after night. They are looking to Parliament to deliver for them a better and fairer society—
Mr Speaker Is the right hon. Gentleman just pausing?
Jeremy Corbyn I am pausing because you stood up. If the House backs this motion today, I will welcome the wide-ranging debates we will have about the future of our country and the future of our relationship with the European Union, with all the options on the table. As I said before, a Prime Minister confident of what she describes as “a good deal” and committed, as she claims, to tackling burning injustices should have nothing to fear from such an election. If the House does not back this motion today, it is surely incumbent on all of us to keep all the options on the table, to rule out the disastrous no deal and offer a better solution than the Prime Minister’s deal, which was so roundly defeated yesterday.
This Government cannot govern and cannot command the support of Parliament on the most important issue facing our country. Every previous Prime Minister in this situation would have resigned and called an election. It is the duty of this House to show the lead where the Government have failed, and to pass a motion of no confidence so that the people of this country can decide who their MPs are, who their Government are and who will deal with the crucial issues facing the people of this country. I commend my motion to the House.
Labour’s No-Confidence motion was defeated by 19 votes. (Noes 325. Ayes 306)