Prime Minister Theresa May’s Statement to the House of Commons on Brexit
21 January 2019
Thank you, Mr. Speaker.
Mr. Speaker, I am sure that the whole House will join me in condemning Saturday’s car bomb attack in Londonderry – and paying tribute to the bravery of the Northern Ireland Police and the local community who helped to ensure that everyone got to safety.
This House stands together with the people of Northern Ireland in ensuring that we never go back to the violence and terror of the past.
Mr. Speaker, turning to Brexit, following last week’s vote, it is clear that the Government’s approach had to change. And it has.
Having established the confidence of Parliament in this government, I have listened to colleagues across parliament from different parties and with different views.
Last week, I met the leader of the Liberal Democrats, the Westminster leaders of the DUP, SNP, Plaid Cymru and the Green Party, and backbench members from both sides of this House.
My Right Honourable Friend the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster also had a number of such meetings.
The Government has approached these meetings in a constructive spirit, without preconditions, and I am pleased that everyone we met…I am pleased that everyone we met with took the same approach.
I regret…I regret that the Right Honourable Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition has not chosen to take part so far. I hope…I hope he will reflect on that decision.
Given the importance of this issue, we should all be prepared to work together to find a way forward. And my Ministerial colleagues and I will continue with further meetings this week.
Let me set out the six key issues which have been at the centre of the talks to date.
The first two relate to the process for moving forwards.
First, there is widespread concern about the possibility of the UK leaving without a deal.
And there are those on both sides of the House who want the Government to rule this out.
But we need to be honest with the British people about what that means.
The right way to rule out No Deal is for this House to approve a deal with the European Union.
That is…that is what this Government is seeking to achieve.
The only other guaranteed way to avoid a No Deal Brexit is to revoke Article 50 – which would mean staying in the EU.
There are others who think that what we need is more time, so they say we should extend Article 50 to give longer for Parliament to debate how we should leave and what a deal should look like.
This is not ruling out No Deal, but simply deferring the point of decision.
And the EU are very unlikely simply to agree to extend Article 50 without a plan for how we are going approve a deal.
So, when people say, “rule out No Deal”, the consequences of what they are actually saying are that if we in Parliament can’t approve a deal, we should revoke Article 50.
Mr. Speaker, I believe this would go against the referendum result and I do not believe that is a course of action that we should take, or which this House should support.
Second, all the Opposition parties that have engaged so far – and some backbenchers – have expressed their support for a Second Referendum.
I have set out many times my deep concerns about returning to the British people for a Second Referendum. Our duty is to implement the decision of the first one.
I fear a Second Referendum would set a difficult precedent that could have significant implications for how we handle referendums in this country – not least, not least, strengthening the hand of those campaigning to break up our United Kingdom.
It would require an extension of Article 50…It would require an extension of Article 50. We would very likely have to return a new set of MEPs to the European Parliament in May.
And I also believe that there has not yet been enough recognition of the way that a Second Referendum could damage social cohesion by undermining faith in our democracy.
Mr. – Mr. Speaker, we do not know what the Rt Hon Gentleman, the Leader of the Opposition, thinks about this, because he has not engaged.
But I know there are Members who have already indicated that they wish to test the support of the House for this path.
I do not believe there is a majority for a Second Referendum.
And…and if I am right, then just as the Government is having to think again about its approach going forwards, then so too do those Members who believe this is the answer.
The remaining issues displayed [raised] in the discussions relate to the substance of the deal – and on these points, I believe we can make progress.
Members of this House, predominantly, but not only on the Government benches and the DUP, continue to express their concern on the issue of the Northern Ireland backstop.
All of us agree that as we leave the European Union, we must fully respect the Belfast Agreement and not allow the creation of a hard border between Northern Ireland and Ireland – nor indeed a border down the Irish Sea.
And I want to be absolutely clear, in the light of media stories this morning, this Government will not reopen the Belfast Agreement. I have never even considered doing so – and neither would I.
With regard to the backstop, despite the changes we have previously agreed, there remain two core issues: the fear that we could be trapped in it permanently; and concerns over its potential impact on our Union if Northern Ireland is treated differently from the rest of the UK.
So I will be talking further this week to colleagues – including in the DUP – to consider how we might meet our obligations to the people of Northern Ireland and Ireland in a way that can command the greatest possible support in the House.
And I will then take the conclusions of those discussion back to the EU.