Business Questions 21 February 2019

It is absolutely unacceptable that the Government have failed to effectively plan their Brexit strategy over the past two and a half years. With just five weeks to go until the UK exits the EU on 29 March, the Government are still attempting to secure a negotiated agreement with legal assurances.

Below is my speech in full:

I thank the Leader of the House for the business statement for next week. I note that she has provided the Backbench Business Committee with two days of debates, and both subjects are very important. I know that the Chair of the Committee, my hon. Friend the Member for Gateshead (Ian Mearns), is a cheeky chappie, but the Leader of the House should not have favourites, so as she is being so generous with Government time, may we have an Opposition day? The shadow Secretary of State for Wales, my hon. Friend the Member for Neath (Christina Rees), whose birthday it is today—I wish her a very happy birthday—will be pleased about the St David’s day debate.

Will the Leader of the House confirm whether the House will rise on 4 April and return on 23 April? I understand that some civil servants are being told that their leave is cancelled during that time. Are there any plans to cancel the recess? Will the Leader of the House place in the Library a letter about the costs that were incurred as a result of the cancelling of the February recess? I particularly thank the staff for being here. It is easy for Members to rearrange their time, but it is not so easy for the staff of the House and our own staff to do that. Will the Leader of the House confirm that all the fire and safety works that were due to take place this week will be done at a convenient time?

I thank the Leader of the House for scheduling the statutory instruments—she will know that it is very important that Parliament has the opportunity to scrutinise them—but from next week an average of 24 Commons debates on affirmative Brexit SIs need to be held each week through to exit day, so will she confirm that all the affirmative Brexit SIs will have proper scrutiny in the House?

It is absolutely unacceptable that the Government have failed to effectively plan their Brexit strategy over the past two and a half years. The Prime Minister gave a speech in Lancaster House on 17 January 2017, and speeches in Davos on 19 January and Florence on 22 September that year, and she gave speeches at the Mansion House on 2 March 2018 and at Chequers on 6 July 2018, yet with just five weeks to go until the UK exits the EU on 29 March, the Government are still attempting to secure a negotiated agreement with legal assurances. I am not clear how this works, because I understand that the Attorney General—[Interruption.] No, I was here listening to him, and the Attorney General warned in December 2018 that the backstop provision in the Brexit deal could continue indefinitely“unless and until it was superseded” by a new agreement. That is according to the Government’s legal advice, but he is now seeking to secure changes and a new legal interpretation. Does that mean he has misled Parliament? Will the Attorney General come to the House and explain his advice, because it is clearly going to change?

On Tuesday, the Prime Minister was forced to admit to Conservative MPs that the Irish backstop could not be replaced by the Malthouse compromise. The Leader of the House will know that that is not actually a clause in the agreement, and Brussels does not recognise it—it was done only to win the vote. The Leader of the House said that the Prime Minister is going to make a statement on Tuesday and that there is a vote on Wednesday; will she confirm that it is the meaningful vote on Wednesday?

Will the Leader of the House confirm that the Spring statement will take place on 13 March? New analysis by the Institute for Fiscal Studies shows that more than half of day-to-day public spending on the NHS, defence and overseas aid has already been allocated. That means that if the Chancellor was right when he said that austerity has ended, the Government will have to spend £5 billion more than is currently planned by 2023-24 to maintain real spending per person on unprotected services.

May we have a debate on the wholly inappropriate use of public money by the Mayor of the West Midlands combined authority? He wants to introduce articulated buses—or bendy buses—on one of the routes in Walsall where the X51 already provides a perfectly reliable service. Articulated buses were taken out of use because they caused accidents with cyclists and pedestrians. May we have a debate on that misuse of public money?

I, too, attended the unveiling of the plaque for PC Keith Palmer. No one can forget that day. There were some heartfelt tributes by both the Prime Minister and the Metropolitan Police Commissioner. I can only repeat what the commissioner said to Keith Palmer: thank you and God bless you. We have our own memorial on the estate where PC Palmer fell. People have already been laying flowers.

I want to take up what my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff West (Kevin Brennan) said to me and pay full praise to our colleague, Paul Flynn. Newport has lost a famous son. He was a Member of Parliament for more than 30 years. He recalled hearing Aneurin Bevan, the then Minister for Health, speak in the city in 1948, when he established the new NHS. He served on many Select Committees, and, at the age of 81, was very gracious and kind to me both when I first came in and when he handed over to me as shadow Leader of the House. In 1996, he won Back Bencher of the Year award from The Spectator. Hon. Members will be aware of his book “Commons Knowledge: How to be a Backbencher”. I hold it up to the Chamber because he said that one of the 10 commandments for a Back Bencher was: “Honour your party and extend its horizons.”

And I think he did that. He also showed us how to live through Private Bills and—Mr, Speaker, you will like this—how to survive the Speaker. On making bogus points of order, he said, “Flatter the speaker subtly.” I think it’s a nice tie—it is one of the better ones anyway. Paul also said to be cheeky to the Speaker.

In the foreword, the late Tony Banks said that Paul Flynn was “one of Westminster’s sharpest of brain and tongue”— with a— “well-merited reputation for forthright and controversial views.”

Paul was ahead of his time in many ways. He was one of the first MPs to use the internet to communicate with constituents and, in 2000, he won the New Media Award for his website from the New Statesman. We all send condolences to his family and we will miss him and his gorgeous voice.

Finally, Mr Speaker, you will pleased to know—I am sure that Paul would like this, too—that there will be a blue plaque to Bob Marley, which shows great diversity on the blue plaque front. I know that some hon. Members will be singing “Exodus”, but those of us on the Labour Benches will be singing, “One Love/People Get Ready.”