Early Parliamentary General Election
04 September 2019
The Prime Minister (Boris Johnson) I beg to move,
That there shall be an early parliamentary general election.
The House of Commons has passed a Bill devised by the Leader of the Opposition, who, I see, is not in his place. He is characteristically evasive, if not frit. It is a Bill that effectively ends the negotiations; a Bill that demands an extension at least until next year, and perhaps for many more years to come; and a Bill that insists that Britain acquiesces to the demands of Brussels and hands control to our partners. It is a Bill designed to overturn the biggest democratic vote in our history, the 2016 referendum. It is therefore a Bill without precedent in the history of this House, seeking as it does to force the Prime Minister, with a pre-drafted letter, to surrender in international negotiations. I refuse to do this. It is clear that there is therefore only one way forward for the country. The House has voted repeatedly to leave the EU, yet it has also voted repeatedly to delay actually leaving. It has voted for negotiations, and today, I am afraid, it has voted to stop—to scupper—any serious negotiations.
What this Bill means is that Parliament, or the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition, who is still not in his place—[Interruption.] I really do not know where he is. He refuses to give battle, or at least to engage in argument tonight. Perhaps that is a sign of how he intends to pursue things in the weeks ahead. [Interruption.] I am glad that he has now favoured the House with his presence. His Bill, among its other functions, will take away the right of this country to decide how long it must remain in the EU and hand that power to the EU. That is what it does, and I am afraid that it is time for this country to decide whether that is right.
The country must now decide whether the Leader of the Opposition or I go to those negotiations in Brussels on 17 October to sort this out. Everybody knows that if the right hon. Gentleman were the Prime Minister, he would beg for an extension and accept whatever Brussels demanded. We would then have years more dither and delay, yet more arguments over Brexit and no resolution to the uncertainty that currently bedevils this country and our economy. Everyone knows, by contrast, that if I am Prime Minister, I will go to Brussels and I will try to get a deal. Believe me, I know that I can get a deal. If they will not do a deal—I think it would be eminently sensible for them to do so, and I believe that they will—then, under any circumstances, this country will leave the EU on 31 October.
It is completely impossible for Government to function if the House of Commons refuses to pass anything that the Government propose. In my view, and in the view of this Government, there must be an election on Tuesday 15 October—I invite the Leader of the Opposition to respond—to decide which of us which goes as Prime Minister to that crucial Council on Thursday 17 October. I think it is very sad that MPs have voted like this—[Interruption.] I do; I think it is a great dereliction of their democratic duty. But if I am still Prime Minister after Tuesday 15 October, we will leave on 31 October with, I hope, a much better deal.
The Leader of the Opposition now has a question to answer. He has demanded an election for two years while blocking Brexit. He said only two days ago that he would support an election. Parliament having passed a Bill that destroys the ability of Government to negotiate, is he now going to say that the public cannot be allowed an election to decide which of us sorts out this mess? I do not want an election, the public do not want an election and the country does not want an election, but this House has left no option other than letting the public decide who they want as Prime Minister. I commend this motion to the House.
Jeremy Corbyn (Islington North) (Lab) This is the second time I have replied to a Conservative Prime Minister who has sought to dissolve Parliament and call an election because they did not have a deliverable Brexit policy. Although I am not condemning the right hon. Member for Maidenhead (Mrs May) by comparing her to her successor, she at least made detailed speeches setting out her Brexit policy—even if we fundamentally disagreed with them. This Prime Minister claims he has a strategy, but he cannot tell us what it is. The bigger problem for him is that he has not told the EU what it is either.
At Prime Minister’s Question Time today, as in the statement yesterday, the Prime Minister was unable even to say whether he has made any proposals whatsoever to the EU. Basically, the policy is cloaked in mystery because, like the emperor’s new clothes, there really is absolutely nothing there. The naked truth is that the reality is deeply unpalatable: a disastrous no-deal Brexit to take us into the arms of a trade deal with Donald Trump that would put America first and Britain a distant second.
The Prime Minister knows there is no mandate for no deal, no majority support for it in the country and no majority for it in this House. The Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster—the co-convenor of the Vote Leave campaign—said in March this year that
“we didn’t vote to leave without a deal.”
Even the leaders of the leave campaign are absolutely clear that the referendum conferred no mandate for no deal. No deal is opposed by every business group, every industry body and every trade union—and by this House, as today’s vote and others have shown.
We want an election because we look forward to turfing this Government out.
Sir Patrick McLoughlin (Derbyshire Dales) (Con) Does the Leader of the Opposition want a general election? A yes or no will suffice.
Jeremy Corbyn The right hon. Gentleman obviously did not hear what I just said. Before he gently interrupted me, I was about to point out that the offer of the election today is a bit like the offer of an apple to Snow White from the Wicked Queen, because what the Prime Minister is offering is not an apple or even an election, but the poison of a no deal. I repeat what I said last night. Let this Bill pass and gain Royal Assent, and then we will back an election—so we do not crash out of the European Union with a no-deal exit.
It is the anti-democratic instincts of this Government that cause us concern. Despite the expressed will of the House to support the Bill debated today, the Conservative peers—the Government’s colleagues in the Lords—have tabled 92 amendments for debate. I really doubt that this is motivated by a desire to improve the legislation; not a bit of it. Instead, it is motivated by a desire to filibuster the Bill—an undemocratic cabal in Downing Street, aligned with an undemocratic and unelected House to override the democratic will of this House expressed in the Bill to which we have just given a Third Reading. If the Government cannot win the argument, they try to shut down debate.
We had the Prime Minister deciding to prorogue Parliament in August, and today he wants to dissolve Parliament to shut down scrutiny. He cannot handle dissent and debate in his own party, and has extraordinarily expelled 21 of his own MPs who voted against him last night. The hypocrisy of this process is phenomenal, from a Prime Minister who twice voted against the former Prime Minister’s Brexit plans.
A general election is not a plaything for a Prime Minister to avoid his obligations, to dodge scrutiny or to renege on commitments. He has committed to renegotiate Brexit, but where is the plan and where are the proposals? If he has a Brexit plan, be it no deal or the new mystery proposal deal of which we have yet to see any information, he should put it before the public in a public vote—a referendum or a general election—and seek a mandate from them. Let the Prime Minister go to Brussels tomorrow and ask for an extension so that he can seek a mandate for his unknown Brexit plan and put it before the people.
The truth is that this motion from the Prime Minister is about playing a disingenuous game that is unworthy of his office. I look forward to the day when his Government and his party, with all the austerity and misery they have heaped on this country, are turfed out of office, and when we prevent this country from crashing out on 31 October, with all the damage—he knows, because he has already seen the documents—that it will do to people’s lives and job prospects in this country. It is a cynical move from a cynical Prime Minister.
Mr Kenneth Clarke (Rushcliffe) (Ind) I do not know whether the House wants a debate, so I will be very brief. I was going to join in if other people were going to debate. Thank you for encouraging me, Mr Speaker—no doubt to the deep distress of everybody else waiting to have an important vote.
I merely say that I have found these exchanges quite predictable; they had been well rehearsed before they took place today. With the greatest respect, I do think that the Prime Minister has a tremendous skill in keeping a straight face while he is being so disingenuous. The fact is that he is now desperate to have a general election in order to bring this House’s proceedings to an end, and to have the election, clearly, before 31 October. He is obviously going to campaign before that on the basis that he has been thwarted in getting an amazing, beneficial deal for this country that is being blocked by wicked continental politicians and by MPs in the House of Commons who have no sense of the true national interest, which is to keep him in power.
It is wrong to say that those opposed to the Prime Minister are trying to reverse the referendum. A very large percentage of those who have been defeating him in the past two days are prepared to vote for Brexit. They voted for Brexit more often than he has. He caused delay in March and he caused delay in April when we wished to proceed on satisfactory, reasonable terms. We now have a Bill that is the beginning of a pathway to giving us more time for grown-up, sensible, diplomatic exchanges between each other.
The idea that those in the European Union are refusing us a deal because they think that they are going to trap us in it permanently is nonsense. They are desperate to get a deal—of course they are—but not so desperate that they are going to accept terms that will cause chaos in Northern Ireland, politically and economically, and will shatter the normal rules that hold together the single market and the customs union upon which they are based. The Prime Minister has thrown down dramatic conditions that he must know make any sensible negotiations pointless unless he changes his direction. He is now Prime Minister. He is now a responsible politician with huge responsibility. I urge him one last time to stop treating all this as a game and to use the time available to get a serious resolution of these impossible problems to look after the future good will of this country, to keep us in a proper—no doubt different—relationship with our partners on the continent, and, in particular, to keep our economic and trading relationships intact, because they are essential for the future of our children and grandchildren.
Ian Blackford (Ross, Skye and Lochaber) (SNP) May I congratulate with all my heart the right hon. and learned Member for Rushcliffe (Mr Clarke), who has spoken with great sense, as he has done on many occasions when I have followed him? I will give you a piece of friendly advice, Prime Minister: sack your adviser Dominic Cummings and bring in the right hon. and learned Member for Rushcliffe, who might actually be able to give you some sensible advice.
We are having this debate tonight quite simply because the Prime Minister has been defeated. That is the reality. I say to the Prime Minister: as this House is supposed to be sovereign in your eyes, accept the will of this House, accept the Bill that Parliament has passed, accept your duty as Prime Minister, and go to the European Council on 17 October to negotiate the extension that you have now been told to deliver.
Yet again, this Government have been defeated by a majority in the House of Commons against a no-deal Brexit. The passage tonight of the Bill to block no deal is a victory not just for democracy but, yes, for common sense. I pay tribute to the Members of Parliament across these Benches who have worked tirelessly to build consensus for this legislation to pass and remove the cliff-edge catastrophe. The Prime Minister should not be talking about surrender—he should be congratulating Members of Parliament who have stood up for all our national interests. What a disgrace for a Prime Minister to accuse parliamentarians—decent parliamentarians—of surrender. It simply lacks dignity.
Now that Parliament has once again displayed its will, the Prime Minister must show respect for democracy and agree to abide by the will of Parliament and the Bill blocking no deal. [Interruption.] If the Prime Minister wishes to intervene rather than shout at me, I will give him the courtesy that he did not afford me.
Mr Iain Duncan Smith (Chingford and Woodford Green) (Con) I have been listening to the right hon. Gentleman with great care, but the one thing he does not say in all this is that the reason he has voted for the Bill tonight is that he and his party are adamantly opposed to ever delivering Brexit. Will he now admit that that is his purpose and the purpose of the Bill?
Ian Blackford My heavens! I think it is quite clear, if anyone reads the Bill, what it is about—it is about removing the cliff edge of 31 October. We in the SNP have worked with colleagues right around the House in a spirit of consensus, but yes, of course I wish to stop Brexit and Scotland being dragged out. We will work collectively with everybody here, but my colleagues and I have a responsibility to stop this Government dragging Scotland out of Europe against its will. My message to the Prime Minister and the right hon. Gentleman is this: will you respect democracy in Scotland, and will you respect the fact that Scotland has voted to remain in the European Union?
It is the SNP’s top priority to avoid no deal. We know the devastation that a no-deal Brexit would bring to people in Scotland and across these islands. That is why we have been working hard for the past two years to avoid no deal. SNP MPs have voted consistently against no deal. We supported the Letwin-Cooper process in March to avoid no deal, and we are now doing the same with the Benn Bill.
Christine Jardine (Edinburgh West) (LD) I welcome the right hon. Gentleman’s confirmation tonight that he will, along with my party and the Labour party, vote against the Government. If the Government continue to pursue this reckless no-deal policy, will he continue to work with us to block any attempt to take us off the cliff edge against the will of Parliament?
Ian Blackford The simple answer is yes. I commit myself to working with all others, because we have a responsibility to our constituents to stop the disaster of no deal. Indeed, I have been working with leaders of other parties to ensure that the Benn Bill passes tonight. We have come together to ensure that protecting the lives of people across the United Kingdom and their livelihoods is the absolute priority of this Parliament, and it is important that we keep working together.
No one voted for a no-deal Brexit. It was not on the ballot paper, and the Prime Minister needs to wake up to that reality—perhaps, Prime Minister, you might start listening to the debate, rather than chatting to the Chancellor, if you don’t mind. It is important that no tricks are deployed to avert the course of democracy over the coming days. [Interruption.] Government Members can try to shout us down. They tried last night, and it will not work. The unelected House of Lords should not under any circumstances seek to damage or kill the protections in this legislation, and the Prime Minister should quit game-playing stunts. The SNP will not fall for them.
The Scottish National party is ready for an election. We stand ready to bring down the Tory Government and give Scotland a chance to stop Brexit and decide its own future. We signal our intent to work with all across this House to stop a no-deal Brexit. It is in all our interests to do so. We will do our duty to protect all of us from a no-deal Brexit, but at the same time, this House should respect the sovereignty of the Scottish people and our right to be able to determine our own future.
Pete Wishart (Perth and North Perthshire) (SNP) I do not know whether my right hon. Friend noted last night the lack of enthusiasm from Scottish Conservatives for an early general election. That might have something to do with the fact that they are now at 20% in the polls and due to be decimated. If they vote for this tonight, would they not be turkeys voting for Christmas? If Ruth Davidson cannot stomach the Prime Minister, why should Scotland?
Ian Blackford My hon. Friend is quite right. I look forward to SNP challengers standing in the Scottish Tory seats. We will take the fight to those constituents over the coming weeks and make sure that those constituents have the opportunity to return those seats to the Scottish National party.
Much of this debate has been about democracy. It is about the abuse of power by a Government seeking to shut down Parliament. This House must respect the Scottish Parliament, and in particular the mandate the Scottish Government have for a referendum on independence. It should be Scotland’s right to choose its own future, not the right of this Prime Minister or any other in Westminster to tell Scotland that our votes do not matter and that we cannot determine when Scotland votes in an independence referendum.
An election is coming, and I invite Scotland to send a message to Westminster: it is Scotland’s right to choose. The Times poll today shows that the SNP is set to win a majority of Westminster seats in any election. Make no mistake: we relish an election because we want to stop Brexit for good, stop the Tories and stop this Prime Minister; and, most importantly, we want to give the people a say—their choice to decide their own future. However, we will not be a party to the Prime Minister’s games and allow the Prime Minister to use an election to force a no-deal Brexit through the back door.
Simply put, the SNP cannot support this motion tonight because we do not trust the Prime Minister, and who could blame us? With his tall tales, his contempt for democracy and his Government’s broken promises to the people of Scotland, we cannot trust that he will allow this Bill to pass and remove the cliff edge before an election. I urge other opposition parties tonight to not give the Prime Minister the opportunity to bring in a no deal through the back door. We cannot allow a Government who have lost their majority, who do not command the House and who have treated this Parliament and this country with contempt to remain in office for one more day longer than is necessary.
The Prime Minister is going to shut this Parliament down so that he can spend four weeks running down the clock. We could instead use that time to run him out of office. Once a no deal has been blocked, MPs on the Opposition Benches should come together to bring down this Government—not on the Prime Minister’s terms, but on the right terms. Time is of the essence over the next few days in order to remove the cliff edge, and to remove this shambolic, irresponsible, incompetent Tory Government from office.
we could leave on no-deal WTO terms. Despite all that, Members in this place—too many remain MPs—have clasped at straws to frustrate Brexit and disregard the EU referendum result. That must now end. People have lost their patience with this place. The time has come to put forward actions instead of words.
Note: The votes cast were Ayes 298. Noes 56. The motion fell having failed to reach the two-thirds majority required under the Fixed Term Parliaments Act 2011. The required majority for a general election is 433.