European Union (Withdrawal) Bill DebateFull Debate: Read Full Debate
John BercowMP Main Page: John Bercow (Speaker - Buckingham)
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(2 years, 1 month ago)Commons Chamber
I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.
I rise to speak to new clause 1 and amendments 2 and 1, which stand in my name and those of my right hon. and hon. Friends. As you are aware, Mr Speaker, this remaining group contains a significant number of important issues, and while I want to spend time talking to each of our three amendments, I am conscious that time is limited, so I will endeavour to keep my remarks as brief as possible.
As my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield Central (Paul Blomfield) reminded the House yesterday, as far back as last March the Opposition set out six ways in which the Bill required improvement. The first was that it be drafted in such a way as to enable transitional arrangements after 29 March 2019 on the same basic terms as now—including being in a customs union with the EU and within the single market. The second was that the sweeping delegated powers in the Bill be circumscribed. The third was that it needed to contain clear and robust protection and enforcement mechanisms for all EU-derived rights, entitlements, protections and standards. Sadly, despite some small steps in the right direction, the Government have largely failed to respond in any meaningful way to the concerns we raised in relation to these three areas. The purpose of new clause 1 and amendments 2 and 1 is to press the Government once again to do something about each of them.
I turn first to new clause 1, the purpose of which is to ensure that retained EU law enjoys a form of enhanced protection from subordinate legislation contained in other Acts of Parliament. This is a highly technical matter but a crucial one for the rights and protections our constituents enjoy. Mr Speaker, you were not in the Chamber at the time, but hon. Members who were present will recall that the House debated clauses 2, 3 and 4 in great detail on day two of Committee, and I certainly do not intend to cover the same ground again today. As we heard again yesterday, however, there are very real problems that flow from the ambiguous and uncertain status of retained EU law—a problem to which we believe new clause 13, tabled by the right hon. and learned Member for Beaconsfield (Mr Grieve), provides a pragmatic solution, or at the very least a sensible starting point for a conversation about how the status of this new category of law could be more clearly defined.
Leaving to one side the issues relating to the status of retained EU law—issues that I have no doubt the other place will return to at some length—there is another, related concern, and that is the vulnerability of this new category of law to subordinate legislation and what that means in practical terms for the rights, entitlements, protections and standards our constituents currently enjoy. I want to be very clear as to the argument I am making at this point, because when I first did so on day two of Committee, the debate was prone to veer off on to other related but distinct issues.
The concern I am highlighting does not relate to the issue of how Parliament is to scrutinise and, where necessary, approve the hundreds of statutory instruments that will flow from clause 7, as well as clauses 8, 9 and 17. We welcomed the Government’s acceptance of the amendments tabled by the hon. Member for Broxbourne (Mr Walker) and other members of the Procedure Committee, although we still believe that they do not go far enough, particularly in relation to the new sifting committee’s inability to request that Ministers revoke and remake specific statutory instruments.
Nor does the argument that I am advancing concern how the powers contained in this Bill might be used to amend, modify or repeal retained EU law. The specific issue that I am highlighting, and what new clause 1 seeks to address, is our serious concern that the Bill as drafted leaves retained EU law vulnerable to amendment, modification or repeal by subordinate legislation contained in numerous other Acts of Parliament.
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I have, and everybody still seems to be awake!
I congratulate the right hon. and learned Member for Rushcliffe (Mr Clarke) on warming up the debate so well. In a way, Mr Speaker, I feel sorry for you in the Chair, because it is perfectly ridiculous that the programme order is such that we have to conclude our series of debates at 4.30 pm when so many issues have not been properly aired on Report. I said that during yesterday’s debate on the programme motion, and I hope that Members in the other place will bear that in mind when they consider the Bill.
I tabled amendments on six issues that I did not think had been adequately covered in Committee. Being a dutiful Member, I felt it my responsibility to table amendments to cover those issues, but I must rush through them, because otherwise I will not exactly be flavour of the month with many of my colleagues.
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With the consent of the House, I rise to speak to amendment 59 in the name of my right hon. Friend the Member for Ross, Skye and Lochaber (Ian Blackford) and other right hon. and hon. Members, and to amendments 9 and 56 and new schedule 1.
Before I speak in more detail about amendment 59, may I commend the hon. Member for Nottingham East (Mr Leslie) for the amendments that he submitted? What he has done is to remind us of what a complete sham this entire process has been. Almost 90% to 95% of the way through these eight hours of debate, the Government who had promised, day after day after day, to listen to the debate and to take appropriate effective action still have not corrected some of the glaring deficiencies in their own Bill, the most serious of which, perhaps, is the fact that we still do not have any statutory guarantee that the Northern Ireland peace process, the Belfast agreement and all that that implies, will be protected in law. If the Government cannot be trusted to bring forward amendments to correct such a desperate deficiency in their own legislation, how can they expect this House to trust them with the draconian and unprecedented powers to use ministerial directive to correct deficiencies in domestic legislation after we have left?
Amendment 59 seeks to ensure that the withdrawal agreement can only be implemented when we also have an agreement to remain in the EU single market and customs union. Let us be honest: everybody knows that, on a free vote of this House, there would be a substantial majority in favour of remaining in the single market and the customs union. My plea this evening will be for all of those who know that that is in the best interests of their constituents to set aside the demands of the party Whips and to go through the Lobby in support of this amendment. We can win this vote this evening if all those who know that it deserves to win are able to set aside the demands of the Whips and vote for it. We can take a decision tonight that will keep us away from the cliff edge, not just for two years but for very much longer.
I am very grateful to colleagues from the Liberal Democrats, Plaid Cymru and the Green party who have signed this amendment. Although there have been no signatures from Labour Members, either from the Front Bench or the Back Benches, I appeal to all of them to support this amendment today.
Let me first deal with the question of the constitutional or democratic legitimacy of the amendment. One of the very disturbing aspects of the referendum debate, which has continued all the way through the process since then, has been the degree of hostility and open hatred that has been created against anyone who speaks, or even thinks, against the wisdom of the Government, the newspaper editor, the blogger or whoever. I have a good bad example: just a day or two ago, a group of MPs who had the temerity to go over to Europe to meet Michel Barnier were denounced as traitors—treachery with a smiling face—by one well known bloggist. Apart from the fact that such inflammatory and violent language has no place in any supposedly respectful debate, I want to remind the House of some facts of our membership of the single market—facts that I appreciate will be very uncomfortable to some Members, but that are still utterly incontrovertible.
It is a matter of fact that the people of the United Kingdom have never voted in a referendum about membership of the single market or the customs union. This House had the opportunity when the European Union Referendum Bill was on its way through Parliament. We could have decided to ask questions about the customs union and the single market, but the House and the Government chose not to. Having chosen not to ask the question, none of us—including me—has any right to decide that we know what the answer would have been.
It is a matter of fact that it is possible to be in the single market and the customs union without being a member of the European Union. Hon. Members will have different views as to whether it would be wise, appropriate or in our best interests to do so, and they have every right to debate the benefits of membership of the single market and the customs union. But anyone who insists that it cannot happen is not engaging in debate; they are engaging in fiction. We have had far too much fiction in this debate already—from both sides, it has to be said—as the right hon. and learned Member for Rushcliffe (Mr Clarke) mentioned earlier. The decision to leave the single market was a unilateral political decision taken by the Prime Minister without any prior consultation with the people or with Parliament. It cannot, under any circumstances, be described as an inevitable consequence of the vote to leave the European Union.
Finally, it is a matter of fact that when the Conservative party fought on a manifesto that said it wanted to stay in the single market, it won an overall majority of seats in this place—the only time in the last 25 years that it has managed such an achievement. It is also a fact that the Conservatives lost that overall majority two years later, when they stood on a manifesto saying that they wanted to take us out of the single market. Nobody can claim that that is clear evidence of a popular democratic mandate to stay in the single market, but it certainly blows to smithereens any nonsense that there is any mandate for us to leave.
I am conscious of the need for brevity from me as well as from others, so I will not go into the full and detailed argument for staying in the single market, as that would take us from now to Brexit day, if not beyond. However, the right hon. and learned Member for Rushcliffe referred to the latest analysis produced by the Scottish Government, entitled “Scotland’s Place in Europe: People, Jobs and Investment”. I certainly accept his caveats that we cannot be sure that the forecasts and projections in it are accurate. They are certainly not intended to be precise or definitive.
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I am grateful to my hon. Friend for the case that he has made. The Government are well apprised of the issue that he has brought to the House. It is absolutely right that we respect and uphold parliamentary sovereignty—
I was completing my speech by inviting the intervention that my hon. Friend is now making.
That is why in the Bill we treat retained direct EU legislation as primary legislation for the purposes of the Human Rights Act, and why we have taken the approach we have to challenges based on the general principles. Bearing in mind what my hon. Friend has said—and, indeed, what my right hon. Friend the Member for Clwyd West (Mr Jones) has said—and the view of the Select Committee, which he has just set out, we will of course listen carefully to him and his Committee, and the other individuals he has mentioned, as the Bill continues its passage.
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Thank you, Mr Speaker. I shall endeavour to practise courtesy by act rather than by anything else, in being brief.
It is a pleasure again to participate in this afternoon’s debate, which is wide-ranging and has moved away from the rather narrow focus of some of the perfectly sensible amendments that have been tabled and that are designed to explore the undoubted deficiencies in the legislation; for example, the Opposition have put forward sensible proposals in new clause 1. Those are matters that we have looked at for a considerable number of days.
I wanted to focus on an issue that has arisen this afternoon and is a particular concern to me. In doing so I do not want to repeat what my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Rushcliffe (Mr Clarke) said. I agree with every word he said, and there is no point in my saying it again. There is a separate angle, however, on which we might pause and reflect. New clause 17 raises the issue of whether we should have continued participation in the single market and customs union.
If we look at the Bill as drafted and at its original intention, particularly now that the pernicious effects of clause 9 have been removed, we can see that it is about the legal order of the United Kingdom after we have left with no deal at all. So an argument can be made that this legislation is perhaps not the most satisfactory place to try to bring in the single market and customs union. However, that raises an entirely legitimate issue. Ultimately, as we trundle on with the legislation it becomes more and more apparent how different it is from the Government’s intention regarding the end product that they want the country to enjoy.
The Prime Minister set out her vision in the Lancaster House and Florence speeches. As I have said before, but it is worth repeating, if she succeeded in achieving everything that she set out, there might well be broad consensus in the House, because we would lose those aspects of EU membership that we do not like and at the same time we would retain all the benefits of EU membership that we—or at least many of us, the vast majority of hon. Members—consider desirable.
The truth is that most of us—again, I suspect—in the House know that that is unlikely to be achieved. We are asking our EU partners to engage in the bending of the rules of the legal order, which is not something that can be readily obtained. We started out on this negotiation with a major fallacy: the EU can somehow be twisted around from matters of self-interest into entirely changing its nature. In fact, it is an international treaty organisation underpinned by law: that is what it is. Having visited Brussels on Monday, it was brought home to me—I already knew it—very clearly that that is indeed the nature of the entity with which we are dealing. Unless we are realistic about that we cannot hope to secure a reasonable outcome to our negotiations.
What troubles me particularly is the timing of all this. The reality is that the EU, for very good reasons, wants order. It is a legal order, and it wishes order to exist, even when countries are leaving it. The point was made to us that ultimately it would negotiate according to our red lines and, if we decide to put red lines down that make it impossible to reach the sort of agreement that the Prime Minister wants, we will not secure that agreement—it is very simple. On top of that—I would like to add this point to the one made by my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Rushcliffe—all of this is likely to come to a head at a very late stage indeed for rational judgments by the House about what is in the national interest.
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Thank you, Mr Speaker; I will keep my comments brief. I rise to oppose new clause 2 for the following reasons. By seeking full, comprehensive and sufficiently detailed agreements on several aspects of the future relationship between Britain and the EU, it ties the hand of Government. I am not sure that that is any way to negotiate future trading agreements. Furthermore, the new clause is impractical and inconsistent with article 50, for which the vast majority of this House voted last March.
The EU (Withdrawal) Bill is intended to ensure that EU legislation is transferred into UK law to deliver for the UK a smooth exit from membership of the EU next year, which I am sure we all hope for. Future trade agreements are a separate matter, and they will determine our future trading relationships throughout the world. I commend to the House the “Britain is GREAT” campaign, which is designed to open up a host of trading opportunities once we have left the EU.
Despite the comprehensive list of priorities—a total of 35—on which those who support the new clause want detailed agreements, the issues that concern my constituency are largely ignored. I am not willing to support the new clause, but I call on the Minister to commit, at an early stage, to a strategy that incorporates the economic and social cohesion principles derived from article 174 of the treaty on the functioning of the European Union. That is important for regions across the UK, including the county of Cornwall, so that we can have confidence that future support will be maintained for areas with high levels of deprivation, rural and island areas, areas affected by industrial transition, and regions that suffer from severe and permanent natural or demographic handicaps.
Brexit offers opportunities to further reduce inequalities between communities and regional disparities in development. Cornwall and Scilly has received considerable EU funding, but not every penny has been spent as intended. The region must be given far greater power over its own destiny and prosperity, and that is what the 2015 Cornwall devolution deal was intended to achieve. Work continues on thrashing out the detail so that Cornwall and Scilly has every tool needed to create a vibrant and successful economy, where wealth is shared across our population.
I do not believe that serious thinkers in Cornwall and Scilly believe that structural funding support of the sort that has been enjoyed, such as EU regional development funds and EU structural funds, continuing indefinitely is in our best interest; nor was it anticipated that Cornwall would be in receipt of the money even if the British people had voted in June 2016 to remain in the EU. Cornwall and Scilly and other areas across the UK need investment to create the infrastructure, jobs and skills that will assist long-standing pockets of deprivation, and an environment that offers opportunities and life chances to everyone, whatever their age or ability.
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I will be brief, Mr Speaker. I rise to speak to new clause 17, on which I intend to test the will of the House later today. I will not repeat what the right hon. and learned Member for Rushcliffe (Mr Clarke) said, but I very much appreciate his support for the new clause, as I do the comments made by the right hon. and learned Member for Beaconsfield (Mr Grieve).
I tabled the new clause simply to inject some clarity, transparency and honesty in the debate. We already have a strong baseline of what the single market and the customs union provide the UK, and new clause 17 offers a straightforward way of comparing what we have now and what the Government come back with and put on the table before the House votes on the legislation to invoke our leaving the European Union.
I also tabled the clause to prompt another discussion about the single market and the customs union. I intervened on my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham East (Mr Leslie) to make the point that all these complicated issues—those relating to the island of Ireland are probably the most complicated—can be resolved by continuing to participate in the single market and the customs union.
My key point, on which I hope Ministers will reflect and which Michel Barnier has already stated clearly, is that the red lines that the Government have set themselves are completely and utterly incompatible with the conclusion they wish to reach. Until they are honest about that with the public and this House, we will be unable to move forward. That is part of the reason why the EU keeps demanding from the UK an explanation of the final destination—what the UK actually wants from the process. The Prime Minister’s Florence and Lancaster House speeches set out criteria that are completely and utterly undeliverable, given the red lines set. To take the customs union and the single market off the table so early as a red line was the wrong decision.
We need the Government to put to both Houses a full and independently assessed analysis comparing the impact on the UK economy of two conclusions to this debate: staying in the single market and customs union and coming out on the basis of the deal the Government propose. The Government will resist the new clause, however, not out of principle, but because they know that any negotiated deal they come back with from the EU will not be as good as the deal we have today, and that will be saying to the public that that deal will make the country poorer. For any Government, that is a dereliction of duty. They should put their money where their mouth is, support my new clause 17 and put in black and white the consequences of this country’s refusing, failing and no longer participating in the single market and customs union.
Will my hon. Friend give way?
I will be as brief as I can. I rise to speak in support of new clause 6 on the legal standing of article 50. I voted in the last Parliament to invoke article 50 because I believed it was the duty of the House to seek to deliver Brexit in the form in which it was sold to the British people, but it was conditional on it being in that form. I said that if it turned out to be materially different at the end of the process, the people would be entitled to keep an open mind on what should then happen. By that I meant they were entitled to halt the process and revoke the article 50 notification given by the Prime Minister to the President of the European Council, if that was what the people decided to do.
The core purpose of new clause 6 is to clear up this matter. On the issue of revocability—halting the process or extending article 50—Ministers have sought deliberately to pull the wool over the eyes not just of this House but of the people. They have given the misleading impression that legally we are not free to keep an open mind and that we cannot revoke article 50 if we so wish. For example, on 9 October 2017, when my right hon. Friend the Member for Exeter (Mr Bradshaw) asked the Prime Minister if it was possible to halt the article 50 process, she implied that it was not and said:
“The position was made clear in a case that went through the Supreme Court in relation to article 50.”—[Official Report, 9 October 2017; Vol. 629, c. 51.]
But it was not. The case she was referring to was brought by Gina Miller to stop this Government seeking to take back control for Ministers instead of for Parliament, as was intended.
The Prime Minster was pressed again on the same day by my right hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton South East (Mr McFadden) and my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham East (Mr Leslie) and each time gave a similar response. This gave a completely false impression of the reality, because what she said was not factually correct. The Supreme Court did not and has not opined on this issue in the Miller or any other case before it, though the author of article 50, the noble Lord Kerr, has made it clear that it may be revoked.
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I rise to speak as the vice-chair of the British-Irish Parliamentary Assembly and the all-party parliamentary group on Ireland and the Irish in Britain. Despite the border being one of the principal issues in the phase 1 agreement, there has been very little debate or understanding in this House about the context of the border issue with Ireland, and that is a huge problem. Phase 1 is hugely welcome. Our Prime Minister has signed up to it on behalf of the United Kingdom, and there is to be no ambiguity or rowing back from it.
On day five of these debates, the hon. Member for North Down (Lady Hermon) said that she remembered exactly where she was when the Good Friday-Belfast agreement was announced. That is true for many of us. I am one of the millions of British children of Irish immigrants who grew up in the 1970s and 1980s. It was difficult. The violence and murder on the streets of Northern Ireland and Britain hung over our communities and fuelled anti-Irish sentiment here. That changed in the 1990s.
The Good Friday agreement is an exemplar across the world of dealing with long-standing conflict. The UK and Ireland are its guarantors, and our joint membership of the EU, our shared regulations and our customs union are the foundation on which it is based. The Good Friday-Belfast agreement was not just about Northern Ireland and it was not just about politics. It was about the relationship between all the people on these islands. We have more in common: until 100 years ago, we were one country. My grandparents were born in Mayo and Cavan under the auspices of this Parliament, just like me when I was born in London. Our legal and political systems are akin, which is why the Republic of Ireland is our greatest ally in the EU. For years, hundreds of weekly meetings have taken place between our officials and our politicians as part of the EU. These will cease, and the Good Friday agreement now needs to come into its own and deepen the north-south and east-west strands. The debate about the border is not about wandering cows and cameras. The absence of a border is about recognising our commonality and our mutual interest.
On the British-Irish Parliamentary Assembly, we are concerned that there is no longer the necessary knowledge and experience in this Chamber of the British-Irish relationship, and we have been considering how to support hon. Members to develop that understanding and to undertake greater cross-party and jurisdictional work. I hope that the House of Lords will have more debates on this issue than we have done.
In my early days as a Member, Mr Speaker, we had the privilege of hearing the noble Lord Bew speak in your rooms about Charles Stewart Parnell and the great arguments that raged in this place throughout the 19th century. We could perhaps arrange for more speakers from all communities, and we could encourage the Select Committees and the all-party parliamentary groups to share understanding across these islands and to develop those deep relationships. Most importantly, we need to build on what we have and not go back. Voices on both sides of the House are crucial to that.
This Bill is essentially about cutting and pasting the laws, protections and rights of the EU into British law, and the fundamental problems are that clause 9 gives sweeping powers to Ministers to strike out those laws, protections and rights and, quite simply, that we do not have the institutions to enforce those rights. In essence, new clauses 10 and 14 would ensure institutions are in place to enforce those individual, consumer, environmental and workers’ rights and protections.
The European Food Safety Authority, which responded to the horsemeat scandal, or similar agencies should be in place to prevent genetically modified, hormone-impregnated or antibiotic-impregnated meat, and so on, from coming from America. The European Chemicals Agency is charged with protecting us through REACH—the regulation, evaluation, authorisation and restriction of chemicals regulation—which prevents, for example, asbestos from being sold here when they can be sold in America. The European Environment Agency underpins our air quality and is taking the British Government to court. It has delivered blue flag beaches instead of low-tar beaches, and it is involved in ensuring biodiversity, etc. Euratom regulates nuclear power and research across Europe, including Britain. The European Medicines Agency ensures Britain can develop and sell drugs across Europe.
It is critical that institutions are in place to continue those processes, yet the White Paper said, for example, that protected habitats will continue without enforcement agencies after Brexit. In other words, we do not know there will be a guarantee that institutions will be in place to enforce the rights and protections we currently enjoy, which is why new clauses 10 and 14 are important.
We also know that Britain does not have the ready capacity to enforce rights and protections in the way those big institutions do. Enforcement would basically mean fining ourselves for not fulfilling air quality standards, which is meaningless.
New clause 14 essentially says that those rights and protections should also be instilled in new trade agreements, which the Government are hurtling ahead in agreeing in secret. Such rights and protections should therefore be frontloaded, so that people can be secure in the knowledge that Ministers will not sign off agreements that are perhaps in breach of domestic law and that will then be imposed by arbitration courts, whether through investor-state dispute settlements or through the investment court system.
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I wish to speak to new clause 17. We have learned several things in recent weeks. First, that the red lines set by the Prime Minister will handicap us in our negotiations; secondly, that those same red lines have removed important options from the table; and, thirdly, that the Government have not felt it necessary to do comprehensive qualitative and quantitative assessments on the implications of leaving. That is extraordinary. No large business, certainly no multinational business, would leave a market and abandon its investment in that market without fully evaluating the commercial and reputational consequences, but for this Government that lack of process is somehow acceptable. What new clause 17 offers, correctly, is a framework to properly evaluate the deal and arrangements proposed by the Government, so ensuring both transparency and a full public understanding, by area, of the consequences of leaving. That is why I support new clause 17.
I would rather be speaking on whether or not we should be leaving the EU. The more I hear, the more I fear the UK is heading over a cliff and on to rocks far below. Like everyone here, however, I am speaking on the specifics of how the UK withdraws from the EU, if withdrawal is to go ahead. I support new clauses 12 and 21, and others that seek to preserve our environmental protections and legislation. I particularly support new clause 12, which stands in the name of my hon. Friend the Member for Wakefield (Mary Creagh) and would require the Government to report on the “loss of environmental protection” as a result of leaving the EU and to introduce a new environmental protection Bill.
The Government have kept trying to reassure Parliament and the British people that Brexit will mean that EU law will be seamlessly merged in UK law and that we do not need to worry. Not only do I not believe that to be true, but I am concerned about the Government’s lack of urgency on taking sufficient legislative action before March 2019. We are still awaiting the long-promised policy statement on environmental principles which will underpin future environmental policy making. There will then be wide consultation, but even that will not be on the actual policies; it will just
“explore the scope and content of a new statement on environmental principles.”
That suggests there is a lot of law up for grabs and no sense of urgency.
On air quality, which matters greatly to my constituents, the Government are dragging their feet. The London Mayor, Hounslow Council and many other councils are using their limited powers to improve air quality, but there is only so much they can do. The Mayor has made it very clear that the UK will not bring pollution levels into line with existing EU air quality laws without serious and urgent action by the Government. But instead of this, the Government are using taxpayers’ money to defend themselves against yet another legal challenge by ClientEarth over illegal levels of air pollution in the UK and they have launched an environment plan that is weak to say the least. Given this lack of proven commitment to bringing the UK into compliance with even one aspect of existing EU environment standards, I have little faith that Brexit will mean anything other than an undermining of many protections and improvements that the EU has brought us to date. That is why I urge this House to support many of these amendments, particularly new clauses 12 and 21, and any others that protect our environmental rights and protections, which I, my constituents and many of us hold so dear.
I hope the Government will consider workplace protections in the Bill, because many of us do not trust the Government in that regard.
This has been a full and vibrant debate, with many excellent contributions and memorable moments, to which I shall try to refer at the end, if there proves to be time.
Two Members made particular requests. The hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Caroline Lucas), who is not in her place, asked about the timing and when we would take forward our policy. I will undertake to discuss that with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs later this week.
My hon. Friend the Member for St Ives (Derek Thomas) mentioned the shared prosperity fund. I assure him that we discussed it when I visited Cornwall and that the Government are well aware of the need in Cornwall and other areas. We will drive forward the design and implementation of that fund.
It might help the House to know that I intend to speak first to the Government amendments and, in a couple of cases, the related Opposition amendments. I will then ensure that I have dealt with the Belfast agreement, as it is so important, before working through some of the other amendments, if time allows.
Government amendment 33 builds on the exit-day amendments tabled by my right hon. Friend the Member for West Dorset (Sir Oliver Letwin), to whom we are grateful. This further amendment to schedule 7 makes the power to set exit day subject to the affirmative procedure, thereby fulfilling a commitment that I gave at the Dispatch Box during day eight in Committee. As the Prime Minister and the Secretary of State have made clear, we have always been committed to the proper parliamentary scrutiny of our exit from the EU. In line with our promise that Parliament will be given time to debate and scrutinise the legislation that implements the final agreement that we reach with the EU, it is appropriate that Parliament scrutinises any potential change to exit day. I hope the whole House will support the amendment.
Labour’s amendment 1 would allow the Government to amend the definition of “exit day” if it were not in accordance with any transitional arrangements agreed under article 50. I understand the intention behind the amendment, but I remind the House that, after the improvements to which I have referred, the Bill now provides for changes to the exit day, as set out in article 50, to ensure that the domestic situation reflects the international position. Furthermore, Government amendment 33 will ensure that Parliament has appropriate scrutiny of any change to the date of exit by making it subject to the affirmative procedure.
Amendment 10, which was tabled by the right hon. Member for Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford (Yvette Cooper), would require exit day to be specified in a separate Bill on the terms of withdrawal. It replicates an amendment that was debated in Committee in November, since when the Bill has benefited from the amendments I mentioned and, in particular, the changes suggested by my right hon. Friend the Member for West Dorset. Exit day will be set out in law as 11 pm on 29 March 2019, but we will have the technical ability to amend it if the UK, the EU and, indeed—to address the right hon. Lady’s points—the European Council, decide unanimously to change the date. The right hon. Lady referred particularly to the European Parliament, but I have the text of article 50 with me and it is clear that any change would require the
“European Council, in agreement with the Member State concerned”
to unanimously decide to extend the period, so I do not accept her argument about the European Parliament having more say than this Parliament.
We have always been committed to the proper parliamentary scrutiny of our exit from the EU, which is why, in line with our promise that Parliament will be given time to debate and agree the legislation that implements the final agreement that we strike with the EU, it is appropriate for Parliament to scrutinise any changes to exit day through the affirmative procedure. In the unlikely event that the power to change exit day is used, it will simply be a technical change to ensure that our domestic legislation reflects the reality of international law. It is certainly not necessary, and would be disproportionate, to make such a change via primary legislation.
The House agreed in Committee to Government amendments regarding explanatory statements and to the Procedure Committee’s amendments to establish a sifting committee. We have tabled two technical amendments, Government amendments 35 and 36, to ensure that these amendments best function alongside each other. Government amendments 35 and 36 will ensure that the requirement for a Minister of the Crown to make an explanatory statement applies before a draft instrument is laid before the House for the purposes of sifting, as well as in other cases. They will also ensure that, where an explanatory statement has been made before the House of Commons for the purposes of sifting, there is no need to make a further statement after sifting when an equivalent instrument is laid again before both Houses of Parliament after being made or as a draft affirmative instrument. That will ensure that the committee has all the necessary information at its disposal and will avoid confusing double statements when nothing has changed.
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Well, would my hon. Friend give way? [Laughter.]
Voices of inspiration, I trust.
My hon. Friend mentioned the withdrawal Bill several times. Am I right—to be absolutely clear—that the withdrawal Bill will come forward and be considered, and probably approved, by this House before any withdrawal agreement is ratified, that we will not be presented with a Bill to implement an agreement that is already binding on the United Kingdom, but that actually the Government will not ratify any agreements until the House of Commons has first given its support and approval?
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My first point is that that will be incorporated into our legislation. The purpose of the Bill is to ensure that we carry EU legislation into UK law. Secondly, we can only correct deficiencies that arise as a result of our withdrawal, and the hon. Gentleman will be familiar by now with the provisions of clause 7 and associated schedule 2.
To increase transparency, the Government amendments accepted by the House on 13 December will require a Minister to make a statement relating to equalities legislation and duties before laying every SI made under the principal powers in the Bill, as sought by the hon. Member for Enfield, Southgate (Bambos Charalambous). It is not for this Bill to require similar statements in other EU exit legislation. Indeed, this Bill would not be able to affect most of this legislation, including the Sanctions and Anti-Money Laundering Bill and the Nuclear Safeguards Bill, which will have been introduced to the House before this Bill’s Royal Assent. However, as my hon. Friend the Member for Esher and Walton (Dominic Raab) promised in Committee, we will make equalities-related statements alongside other EU exit-related legislation, which I hope will satisfy the House.
Transparency will ensure that the House and the sifting committee established by the amendments tabled my hon. Friend the Member for Broxbourne (Mr Walker) have all the information necessary to make informed and reasonable judgments in the scrutiny of the SIs that we will be making under the Bill. I hope that Labour Front Benchers will be persuaded not to press their amendments.
I turn briefly to new clause 11, which was tabled by the right hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington (Tom Brake). His contribution and the presence of the hon. Member for Streatham (Chuka Umunna) in the Chamber reminded me of a rather fetching photograph of the hon. Member for Streatham posing with a remain campaign poster pointing out that the leave campaign had said that we would leave the single market. If any Member wishes to see that, I might tweet it later.
It would be remiss of me if I did not thank all those involved with the passage of the Bill: all right hon. and hon. Members who took time to participate; all the Clerks in the Public Bill Office who have provided invaluable support to Members of the House; and the world-class officials in DExEU and across Government who have ensured the Bill’s smooth passage.
New Clause 11
Meaningful vote on deal or no deal
“(1) The Prime Minister must publish and lay before both Houses of Parliament an assessment of the impact on the economy of the United Kingdom, and on each nation, province or region of the United Kingdom, of any unratified agreement between the United Kingdom and the EU under Article 50(2) of the Treaty on European Union which sets out the arrangements for the United Kingdom’s withdrawal from the EU.
(2) Any agreement between the United Kingdom and the EU under Article 50(2) of the Treaty on European Union which sets out the arrangements for the United Kingdom’s withdrawal from the EU may not be ratified unless—
(a) subsection (1) has been complied with,
(b) the House of Lords has considered a motion relating to the unratified agreement,
(c) the House of Commons has approved the unratified agreement by resolution,
(d) the statute mentioned in section 9 (approving the final terms of withdrawal of the United Kingdom from the European Union) has been passed, and
(e) any other legislative provision to enable ratification has been passed or made.
(3) If no agreement has been reached by 31 December 2018 between the United Kingdom and the EU under Article 50(2) of the Treaty on European Union setting out the arrangements for the United Kingdom’s withdrawal from the EU, the Prime Minister must publish and lay before both Houses of Parliament within one month an assessment of the impact on the economy of the United Kingdom, and on each nation, province or region of the United Kingdom, of leaving the EU under Article 50(3) of the Treaty on European Union without an agreement.
(4) If no agreement has been reached by 31 January 2019 between the United Kingdom and the EU under Article 50(2) of the Treaty on European Union setting out the arrangements for the United Kingdom’s withdrawal from the EU,
(a) a Minister of the Crown must propose a motion in the House of Lords relating to the lack of an agreement, and
(b) a Minister of the Crown must propose a motion in the House of Commons approving the intention of the United Kingdom to leave the EU under Article 50(3) of the Treaty on European Union without a withdrawal agreement.
(5) Unless the House of Commons approves by resolution after 31 January 2019 the intention of the United Kingdom to leave the EU under Article 50(3) of the Treaty on European Union without a withdrawal agreement, the Prime Minister must either —
(a) reach an agreement before exit day between the United Kingdom and the EU under Article 50(2) of the Treaty on European Union which sets out the arrangements for the United Kingdom’s withdrawal from the EU, or
(b) request the European Council for an extension of negotiation under Article 50(3) of the Treaty on European Union, or
(c) rescind the notice of intention under Article 50(2) of the Treaty on European Union to withdraw from the EU given in accordance with the European Union (Notice of Withdrawal) Act 2017 and request the European Council to accept that rescission.”—(Tom Brake.)
This New Clause would ensure that the Government assesses the impact of either an agreement or no deal on the UK economy and regions before a meaningful vote, and that if Parliament does not agree to the agreement or to no deal, then the Government must request a revocation or extension of Article 50.
Question put, That the clause be added to the Bill.
I beg to move, That the Bill be now read the Third time. Taking a leaf out of the Liberal Democrat book, I do so enthusiastically.
The Bill is essential to preparing the country for the historic milestone of withdrawing from the European Union. It ensures that on day one we will have a statute book that works, with this Government delivering the smooth and orderly exit desired by people and businesses across the United Kingdom. It is a complex piece of legislation, which is unsurprising given that it seeks to put into British law the entire acquis of European law—established over 40 years or more of membership—and to do so in a few years while active negotiations are going on.
The House has spent more than 80 hours discussing the Bill’s principles and why they are necessary. We have scrutinised each clause and schedule in detail, and we have debated the merits of more than 500 amendments and new clauses. I thank the Members who took the time to table amendments, and I thank them for the spirit in which they have engaged with the debate throughout. I pay tribute to the Clerks and officials in the Public Bill Office who have provided invaluable support for Members in all parts of the House, advising on the drafting and tabling of those hundreds of amendments.
I pay special tribute to several colleagues for their individual contributions. I thank my right hon. Friend the Member for West Dorset (Sir Oliver Letwin) and my hon. Friend the Member for Broxbourne (Mr Walker) for tabling amendments that will undoubtedly enhance this legislation by providing greater certainty over the timing of exit day and how secondary legislation will be scrutinised. I also pay tribute to other Conservative colleagues for their contributions throughout the debate, notably my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Torridge and West Devon (Mr Cox), my hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Robert Neill), my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Beaconsfield (Mr Grieve), my right hon. Friend the Member for Wantage (Mr Vaizey), my hon. Friend the Member for Harwich and North Essex (Mr Jenkin) and my right hon. Friends the Members for Basingstoke (Mrs Miller) and for Chingford and Woodford Green (Mr Duncan Smith). I am grateful to them all for their hard work—[Interruption.] I have not finished yet. I am grateful to them all for their hard work in effectively scrutinising this legislation and their tireless work in representing their constituents.
I also thank Opposition Members for their contributions. We heard impassioned and eloquent contributions from the right hon. Member for Birkenhead (Frank Field), the hon. Member for Vauxhall (Kate Hoey), the hon. Member for Wakefield (Mary Creagh), the right hon. Members for Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford (Yvette Cooper) and for Leeds Central (Hilary Benn), and the hon. Members for Brighton, Pavilion (Caroline Lucas) and for North Down (Lady Hermon) among many others, who all played—[Interruption.] I will take nominations, Mr Speaker, if you really want, but I think I just picked out the highlights; many others made fantastic contributions. In the interests of brevity and to allow others to speak, I would like the House to take as read the detailed thanks to the Front Benchers of both sides.
I said on Second Reading that I would
“welcome and encourage contributions from those who approach the task in good faith and in a spirit of collaboration.”—[Official Report, 7 September 2017; Vol. 628, c. 343.]
All of us, as elected representatives, have a shared interest in making this Bill a success in the national interest. The Government have said time and again that we would listen carefully to all suggestions put forward and that, where hon. Members made a compelling case, we would respectfully consider it and act accordingly.
I hope that Members agree that in this debate we have often heard the very best of what this House is here to do. We have tabled amendments to provide extra information about equalities impacts and the changes being made to retained EU law under the powers in the Bill. We published a right-by-right analysis of the charter of fundamental rights, setting out how each substantive right found in the charter will be reflected in UK domestic law. It looks at how the right flows through retained EU law and how it is otherwise protected by existing domestic law or international law after exit.
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On a point of order, Mr Speaker. I seek your advice on how to inform the House of some breaking news coming out of the Welsh national Parliament. Assembly Members have unanimously supported the introduction of a Welsh continuity Bill to put a halt to the Westminster power grab. So great is the constitutional encroachment of the Westminster Government that this Bill to support Welsh democracy is supported by not only Plaid Cymru, but the Welsh Conservative party and the UK Independence party. This is of great constitutional significance, with implications for the passage of the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill, which has just received its Third Reading.