Tory veteran ridicules Theresa May over ‘silly’ Brexit date amendment
Tory veteran Ken Clarke has slated the Government’s "silly" attempt to enshrine in law the day Britain must quit the European Union.
The pro-EU backbencher said the amendment to tie down the date Britain leaves the bloc represented “a sop” to placate Brexiteer MPs angry with the Government’s move to grant MPs a “meaningful vote” on the final deal.
His intervention comes after David Davis announced yesterday MPs are to be given a binding vote on the terms of the final Brexit deal struck between the Government and the rest of the EU.
However, Mr Davis insisted that if it is voted down, Britain will still leave the EU - but without a formal agreement with its remaining 27 member states.
Mr Clarke's intervention prompted laughter among MPs, days after the Foreign Secretary and Environment Secretary penned a letter to the Prime Minister urging her to "underline her resolve" for a total break with the EU.
Addressing MPs as they began eight days of debating EU Withdrawal Bill, Mr Clarke said the exit date was already fixed in Article 50 and thus the Government's amendment was "unnecessary".
"Suddenly in the last few days, the Government’s suddenly produced most precise amendments tying down our departure to the second," he said.
In a scathing assault on ministers, he added: “But having made what might have been seen by some as a dreadful concession to of all people [Mr Grieve and Ms Soubry], ‘shock, horror, what kind of press was that going to produce, what kind of reaction from the fourth row below the gangway behind me' somebody is urged to bring something we can throw as a sop to the Foreign Secretary and the Environment Secretary and produce this ridiculous amendment.
"And it is not just ridiculous and unnecessary, it could be positively harmful to the national interest.”
Mr Clarke insisted that it was “unnecessary to close down our options” when the UK had so far failed to agree future terms.
And in a further swipe at the Government he said Mrs May’s Florence speech in September was so far the “only” significant step forward that the UK has so far taken in the whole negotiation process.
To rapturous applause from Labour MPs, the former Cabinet minister concluded: “There are some very, very serious issues to be settled in this bill and I ask the Government to reconsider silly amendments thrown out because they got a good article in the Daily Telegraph which actually might do harm…”
SNP MP Stephen Gethins added that it was “an absolute privilege” to be called to speak following the Tory backbenchers speech.