2017 05 – Parliamentary Notes

Parliament Notes

by Dick Barry

Early Parliamentary General Election

On 19 April Theresa May announced that a General Election would be held on 8 June. Her speech and that of Jeremy Corbyn is published below.

The Prime Minister (Mrs Theresa May)

I beg to move, That there shall be an early parliamentary general election.

I rise to speak to the motion on the Order Paper in my name and those of my right hon. Friends. The motion confronts every member of this House with a clear and simple opportunity—a chance to vote for a general election that will secure the strong and stable leadership the country needs to see us through Brexit and beyond. It invites each one of us to do the right thing for Britain and to vote for an election that is in our country’s national interest.

My priority when I became Prime Minister was to provide the country with economic certainty, a clear vision and strong leadership after the long and passionately fought referendum campaign. This Government have delivered on those priorities.

Sir Edward Leigh (Gainsborough) (Con) In the time-honoured fashion, my right hon. Friend has called this election in what she considers, and I consider, to be the national interest at this moment. It would be a brave man or woman who voted against this motion. The Fixed-term Parliaments Act 2011 is therefore seen to be an emperor without clothes—it serves no purpose, and many of us have questioned it for many years. Will the first line of our manifesto be to scrap it?

The Prime Minister My hon. Friend tries to tempt me down that road. What is clear is that the Fixed-term Parliaments Act gives us an opportunity, notwithstanding the fixed-term element of it, to have elections at another time, but it is of course for this House to vote for such an election. Like him, I think it is very clear that every Member of this House should be voting for this election.

Paul Farrelly (Newcastle-under-Lyme) (Lab) The Prime Minister pledged time and again not to call an early election. In her Easter message, she talked greatly of her Christian values, so will she explain why she has such a loose and complicated relationship with telling the truth?

Mr Speaker Order. The Prime Minister is perfectly well able to fend for herself, but what the hon. Gentleman has said is a breach of order and I must ask him to withdraw it. He is versatile in the use of language—he used to pen articles for newspapers; he is a journalist—so withdraw, man, and use some other formulation if you must. At the very least, however, withdraw it.

Paul Farrelly I am very happy to withdraw and reformulate what I said. Why does the Prime Minister have such a complicated and loose relationship with giving the country a clear indication of her intentions?

The Prime Minister I say to the hon. Gentleman that yesterday I gave the country a very clear indication of my intentions. If he has a little patience, he will hear the reasons why I did that. As I was saying, the Government have delivered on the priorities that I set out last year. Despite predictions of immediate financial and economic danger, since the referendum we have seen consumer confidence remain high, record numbers of jobs and economic growth that has exceeded all expectations. At the same time, we have delivered on the mandate we were handed by the referendum result by triggering article 50 before the end of March, as we pledged to do. As a result, Britain is leaving the EU and there can be no turning back.

Stewart Malcolm McDonald (Glasgow South) (SNP) Does it not take some brass neck to call a general election when you are facing allegations of buying the last one?

The Prime Minister That intervention was not worthy of the hon. Gentleman.

Stephen Timms (East Ham) (Lab) Will the Prime Minister just clarify for us whether she supports fixed-term Parliaments?

The Prime Minister We have a Fixed-term Parliaments Act that enables us to have fixed-term Parliaments. I believe that at this point in time, it is right for us to have this debate and this vote in this House, and I believe that it is right for Members of this House to vote—I shall explain why—for us to have a general election at this stage. Today we face a new question: how best to secure the stability and certainty we need over the long term in order to get the right deal for Britain in the Brexit negotiations and make the most of the opportunities ahead. I have come to the conclusion that the answer to that question is to hold a general election now in this window of opportunity before the negotiations begin.

I believe it is in Britain’s national interest to hold an election now. A general election is the best way to strengthen Britain’s hand in the negotiations ahead. Securing the right deal for Britain is my priority and I am confident that we have the plan to do it. We have set out our ambition: a deep and special partnership between a strong and successful European Union and a United Kingdom that is free to chart its own way in the world. That means we will regain control of our own money, our own laws and our own borders, and we will be free to strike trade deals with old friends and new partners all around the world.

Ian Blackford (Ross, Skye and Lochaber) (SNP) I am very grateful to the Prime Minister for giving way. I can understand that she wants to give the House the opportunity to determine whether there should be an election, but if the House determines that now is the time, why is it that the Prime Minister stands in the face of the Scottish ​Parliament and the Scottish Government, which have voted for a referendum on Scotland’s future? If it is right that the people here have a voice and a vote on the future of this country, why should not the Scottish people be given a vote as well?

The Prime Minister Now is the time for a general election because it will strengthen our hand in the negotiations on Brexit. Now is not the time for a second Scottish independence referendum because it would weaken our hand in the negotiations on Brexit. Strength and unity with the Conservatives; division and weakness with the Scottish nationalists. I believe that our plan for Brexit delivers on the will of the British people. It is the right approach for Britain and it will deliver a more secure future for our country and a better deal for all our people. But it is clear that other parties in this House have a different view about the right future for our country, while Members of the other place have vowed to fight the Government every step of the way.

Jake Berry (Rossendale and Darwen) (Con) In the referendum, the people of Rossendale and Darwen gave my right hon. Friend and the Government a mandate to exercise article 50. She has done that and we are now grateful to have the opportunity to strengthen the Prime Minister’s hand so that she can go out there and get the best possible deal for people who live in Rossendale and Darwen, manufacturers in Rossendale and Darwen, and every family in Rossendale and Darwen.

The Prime Minister My hon. Friend is absolutely right. We should be united in this Parliament in wanting to get the best possible deal not just for the country as a whole, but for everybody across the whole of this country. I commend him for the work that he has done in Rossendale and Darwen to support his constituents on this matter.

Andy Burnham I can see how it suits the Prime Minister’s purposes to make this election all about Brexit, but does she accept the possibility that it may just become a referendum on her brutal cuts, which have left older people without care, schools sending begging letters to parents and a record number of homeless people on the streets of Greater Manchester?

The Prime Minister Of course when we come into the general election campaign, people will look at a wide range of issues. They will look at the fact that pensioners are £1,250 a year better off because of the actions of the Conservative Government. They will look at the fact that 1.8 million more children are in good or outstanding schools. If the right hon. Gentleman wants to talk about impact on the economy, I suggest he ​searches his memory for the time he spent as Chief Secretary to the Treasury, when Labour were trashing the economy of this country and leading us to virtual bankruptcy.

I have set out the divisions that have become clear on this issue. They can and will be used against us, weakening our hand in the negotiations to come, and we must not let that happen. I believe that at this moment of enormous national significance, there should be unity here in Westminster, not division. That is why it is the right and responsible thing for all of us here today to vote for a general election, to make our respective cases to the country, and then to respect the result and the mandate it provides to give Britain the strongest possible hand in the negotiations to come.

Geraint Davies (Swansea West) (Lab/Co-op) In the last election, the Conservatives made a manifesto commitment to stay in the single market. Will the Prime Minister withdraw that commitment from the new manifesto and, if she does, will that not weaken her negotiating position, as well as removing two months from the negotiation window?

The Prime Minister We gave a commitment in the last manifesto to provide the people of the United Kingdom with a vote on whether or not to leave the European Union. We gave them that vote, with the support of Parliament, and they gave a clear message that they want the United Kingdom to leave the European Union. That is exactly what we are going to do.

Mr Nigel Evans (Ribble Valley) (Con) I fully support the fact that the Prime Minister needs a stronger hand going into the negotiations as we leave the European Union. Does she not think it perverse that some people who did not want a referendum in the first place now want a second referendum at the very end of the procedure, just in case the British Government do not get a good deal from Brussels? Does she not believe that if we were to have that second referendum, it would deeply weaken her position in the negotiations she will have with the European Union?

The Prime Minister My hon. Friend is absolutely right in his description of what would happen. Those who say that they want a second referendum would actually be denying the will of the people, because people voted for us to leave the European Union. We are going to go out there and get the best possible deal. Waiting to hold the next election in 2020, as scheduled, would mean that the negotiations would reach their most difficult and sensitive stage just as an election was looming on the horizon. A general election will provide the country with five years of strong and stable leadership to see us through the negotiations and ensure we are able to go on to make a success of the result. That is crucial. That is the test. It is not solely about how we leave the European Union; it is what we do with the opportunity that Brexit provides that counts.​

Leaving the EU offers us a unique, once-in-a-generation opportunity to shape a brighter future for Britain. We need the leadership provided by a strong and stable Government to seize it: a Government who have a plan for a stronger Britain, a Government with the determination to see it through, and a Government who will take the right long-term decisions to deliver a more secure future for Britain. The Conservative party I lead is determined to be that Government.

Mr David Winnick (Walsall North) (Lab) Is the Prime Minister at all concerned that, having tried her best to build a reputation for political integrity both as Home Secretary and Prime Minister, she is now seen, after all the denials that there would be a snap election, simply as a political opportunist?

The Prime Minister I have not denied the fact that when I came into this role as Prime Minister, I was clear that what the country needed was stability and a Government who would show that they would deliver on the vote people had made in the referendum on leaving the EU. We have provided that over the last nine months. Now it is clear to me that if we are to have the strongest possible hand in the negotiation, we should have an election now. As I have just said, leaving the election to 2020 would mean that we would be coming to the most sensitive and critical part of the negotiations in the run-up to a general election. That would be in nobody’s interests.

I have said that the Conservative party I lead is determined to be that Government who have the determination to see through our plan for a stronger Britain. We are determined to provide that leadership, and determined to bring stability to the United Kingdom for the long term. That is what the election will be about: leadership and stability.

Nigel Huddleston (Mid Worcestershire) (Con) Does the Prime Minister, like me, appreciate decisiveness? Does she agree that voting yes to the motion signifies strength, whereas abstaining is a symbol of weakness?

The Prime Minister Absolutely: voting yes is a sign of strength, but I would say a little more about abstaining. Anybody who abstains and thinks we should not have a general election is presumably endorsing the record of the Conservative Government, so we are happy both ways.

Nadhim Zahawi (Stratford-on-Avon) (Con) Does the Prime Minister agree with Lord Hill, who was a European Commissioner? When asked by the Foreign Affairs Committee what was the best strategy for negotiation, his response was that we have to come together, because our interlocutors will be watching this place and will exploit any weakness in our political system.

The Prime Minister My hon. Friend is absolutely right and I am grateful to him for reminding us what Lord Hill, with his experience, said. It is important that we come together, that we do not show the divisions that have been suggested in the past, and that we are able to show a strong mandate for a plan for Brexit and for making a success of it.​

We are determined to bring stability to the United Kingdom for the long term. That is what this election will be about: leadership and stability. The decision facing the country will be clear. I will be campaigning for strong and stable leadership in the national interest with me as Prime Minister. I will be asking for the public’s support to continue to deliver my plan for a stronger Britain, to lead the country through the next five years, and to give the country the certainty and stability that we need.

Dawn Butler (Brent Central) (Lab) On the timetable before yesterday, the Prime Minister would have concluded her negotiation by 2019. We would have gone into the general election in 2020, a year later, talking about her deal. That would have given the country an outlook as to what it would be voting for. She is asking the country to strengthen her hand, but does she agree that she is asking the country to vote for a blank cheque?

The Prime Minister No, I am not asking the country to write a blank cheque. We have been very clear about what we intend in terms of the outcome of the negotiations. I set that out in my Lancaster House speech in January, it has been set out in the White Paper, and it was set out in the letter we submitted to the President of the European Council to trigger article 50.

The choice before the House today is clear. I have made my choice to do something that runs through the veins of my party more than any other. It is a choice to trust the people, so let us vote to do that today; let us lay out our plans for Brexit; let us put forth our plans for the future of this great country; let us put our fate in the hands of the people; and then let the people decide.

Jeremy Corbyn (Islington North) (Lab) We welcome the opportunity of a general election because it gives the British people the chance to vote for a Labour Government who will put the interests of the majority first. The Prime Minister says she has only recently and reluctantly decided to go for a snap election. Just four weeks ago, her spokesperson said “there isn’t going to be an early general election”. How can any voter trust what the Prime Minister says?

Britain is being held back by the Prime Minister’s Government. She talks about a strong economy, but the truth is that most people are worse off than they were when the Conservatives came to power seven years ago. The election gives the British people the chance to change direction. This election is about her Government’s failure to rebuild the economy and living standards for the majority; it is about the crisis into which her Government have plunged our national health service; and it is about the cuts to our children’s schools, which will limit the chances of every child in Britain, 4 million of whom now live in poverty. It is a chance of an alternative to raise living standards. More and more people do not have security in their work or their housing.

Gareth Snell (Stoke-on-Trent Central) (Lab/Co-op) I try not to take it personally that, having arrived so recently, the Prime Minister is that desperate to get rid of me that she is calling an election. Does my right hon. Friend agree that the Prime Minister, in calling this election, has essentially said that she does not have confidence in her own Government to deliver a Brexit deal for Britain? One way in which she could secure my vote and the votes of my hon. Friends is to table a motion of no confidence in her Government, which I would happily vote for.

Jeremy Corbyn I congratulate my Friend on his election to the House and on his work. I agree with him: I have no confidence in this Government either.

Robert Flello (Stoke-on-Trent ??) My right hon. Friend highlighted the fact that the Prime Minister for 12 months dithered over whether she wanted an election, and all the time said that she did not want one, but is not the reality that her mind was focused by the fact that she may well lose some of her Back Benchers if the Crown Prosecution Service has its way?

Jeremy Corbyn The timing of the election and the role of the CPS is extremely interesting, and it is interesting that the Prime Minister did not mention it in her contribution.

Mr Shailesh Vara (North West Cambridgeshire) (Con) The Leader of the Opposition talks about trust in leaders. What trust can the public put in a leader who has no confidence from his parliamentary colleagues, and who is put in place not by people inside Parliament, but people outside?

Jeremy Corbyn I was elected leader of my party by 300,000 votes. I do not know how many people voted for the Prime Minister to be leader of her party. I suspect it was none whatsoever.

To the 6 million people working in jobs that pay less than the living wage, I simply say this: it does not have to be like this. Labour believes that every job should pay a wage people can live on, and that every worker should have decent rights at work. To the millions of people who cannot afford a home of their own, or who have spent years waiting for a council home, I say that this is their chance to vote for the home their family deserves. Labour Members believe that a housing policy should provide homes for all, and not investment opportunities for a few. To the millions of small businesses fed up with the red tape of quarterly reporting, hikes in business rates and broken promises on national insurance, I say ​that this is their chance to vote for a Government who invest and who support wealth creators, not just the wealth extractors.

The Prime Minister says that she has called the election so that the Government can negotiate Brexit. We had a referendum that established that mandate. Parliament has voted to accept that result. There is no obstacle to the Government negotiating, but instead of getting on with the job, she is painting herself as the prisoner of the Lib Dems, who have apparently threatened to grind government to a standstill. There are nine of them and they managed to vote three different ways on article 50, so it is obviously a very serious threat. The Tories want to use Brexit to turn us into a low-wage tax haven. Labour will use Brexit to invest in every part of this country to create a high-wage, high-skill economy in which everyone shares the rewards.

The Prime Minister says this campaign will be about leadership, so let us have a head-to-head TV debate about the future of our country. Why has she rejected that request? Labour offers a better future. We want richer lives for all, not a country run for the rich.

The House divided:

Ayes: 522  Noes: 13

Question accordingly agreed to.

The 13 Members who voted against holding a General Election were: Ronnie Campbell (Lab, Blyth Valley), Ann Clwyd (Lab, Cynon Valley), Jim Fitzpatrick (Lab, Poplar & Limehouse), Clive Lewis (Lab, Norwich South), Fiona MacTaggart (Lab, Slough), Liz McInnes (Lab, Heywood & Middleton), Dennis Skinner (Lab, Bolsover), Graham Stringer (Lab, Blackley & Broughton), Sylvia Hermon (Ind, North Down), Natalie McGarry (Ind, Glasgow East), Michelle Thompson (Ind, Edinburgh West), Alasdair McDonnell (SDLP, Belfast South).

Note: Natalie McGarry and Michelle Thompson are suspended members of the SNP.