No debates on Brexit in Commons next week despite 31 October deadline

24 October 2019, 13:30

The Commons is not scheduled to discuss Brexit next week
The Commons is not scheduled to discuss Brexit next week. Picture: Leader's Office/PA
Nick Hardinges

By Nick Hardinges

MPs will not discuss an election or Brexit in the House of Commons next week despite the 31 October deadline, Jacob Rees-Mogg has announced.

The Leader of the House released the parliamentary schedule for the week commencing 28 October with no reference to Brexit, despite Boris Johnson previously stating the UK would leave the EU at the end of October.

MPs will instead be debating the Environmental Bill, the Grenfell Tower fire and the Animal Welfare Bill the week the UK was supposed to be departing from the European bloc.

Mr Rees-Mogg said MPs should continue "working towards" the 31 October deadline despite the exclusion of the government's Withdrawal Agreement Bill.

He said: "The point of it [the rejected programme motion] is the deadline is the 31st, which we are all working towards, a deadline set by the EU not the British Government, the British Government accepted the European Union's offer."

The Commons Leader then responded to questions about the Bill's exclusion with a short poem.

"They seek it here, they seek it there, those parliamentarians seek it everywhere. Is it in heaven? Or is it in hell? That damned elusive Brexit bill," he recited.

The UK prime minister said on Tuesday he would pause the legislation following the defeat of his planned programme motion in Westminster, which explains its exclusion in next week's timetable.

Also missing was any business on a snap general election which could take place in the coming months.

However, Commons business can be updated and so the government is waiting for the outcome from EU leaders who met yesterday to discuss whether or not to grant the UK a Brexit extension. A formal decision will likely be announced by Donald Tusk in the next 48 hours.

Mr Rees-Mogg added: "The date of the 31st is still the date set in law. We do not yet know what the European Union will do.

"And the European Union knows that the request for an extension is not the Prime Minister's request, it is the request of the Benn Act. Her Majesty's Government does not want an extension."

Meanwhile, the prime minister upset MPs late Wednesday evening by pulling out of an appearance before the Commons Liaison Committee set for Thursday.

Committee chairwoman Sarah Wollaston MP said: "This is the only select committee that can call the Prime Minister, and this is now the third time that he's cancelled, despite having given a clear reassurance during the leadership campaign that he would come at an early opportunity.

"So I think that's the point here. He knows that he's been Prime Minister for months now, he's only had two appearances at Prime Minister's Questions, and again not facing this kind of detailed scrutiny, I don't think it's good enough, really."

The government has also been criticised for not being clear over the issue of goods flowing between Great Britain and Northern Ireland.

Appearing before the Home Affairs Select Committee, Home Secretary Priti Patel was could not clarify the types of checks that will take place and did not rule out the introduction of Border Force officers.

She subsequently wrote to the committee clarifying the government position with regard to Northern Ireland.

Ms Patel confirmed administrative procedures will be required, including a declaration, when goods move between the two land masses.

Committee chairwoman Yvette Cooper said: "In the last three days, different senior members of the Government have said contradictory things about checks on goods moving from Northern Ireland to Great Britain and the other way round.

"This is too important to be fudged. They need to be straight with people about what checks there will be."

Boris Johnson and Brexit Secretary Stephen Barclay had previously given opposing statements on the matter, with the prime minister saying at PMQs that fresh regulatory and customs checks in the Irish Sea would not happen on his watch.