There have been 9 exchanges between Anna Soubry and Attorney General
|Wed 25th September 2019||Legal Advice: Prorogation||3 interactions (97 words)|
|Tue 9th April 2019||Section 1 of the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2019||15 interactions (686 words)|
|Fri 29th March 2019||United Kingdom’s Withdrawal from the European Union||13 interactions (1,120 words)|
|Tue 12th March 2019||Withdrawal Agreement: Legal Opinion||3 interactions (158 words)|
|Tue 15th January 2019||European Union (Withdrawal) Act||19 interactions (990 words)|
|Tue 13th November 2018||EU Withdrawal Agreement: Legal Advice||13 interactions (153 words)|
|Wed 13th June 2018||European Union (Withdrawal) Bill||27 interactions (1,031 words)|
|Tue 16th January 2018||European Union (Withdrawal) Bill||13 interactions (755 words)|
|Wed 15th November 2017||European Union (Withdrawal) Bill||18 interactions (1,520 words)|
My hon. Friend asks whether this came as a surprise. Quite a lot about the judgment came as a surprise, but that particular part proceeded from a quite strict, narrow interpretation of the Bill of Rights on what was a proceeding. It was interpreted to apply the protection afforded by the Bill of Rights to the core and essential business of Parliament, and it was held by the Supreme Court that such a proceeding—namely, the execution of the Queen’s Commission in the Lords, in the presence of Mr Speaker and those who attended that proceeding—was not sufficiently close to its core and essential business to attract the protection of the Bill. It would, of course, be open to the House to decide to legislate otherwise, and no doubt that is one of the implications of this judgment that will have to be reflected upon in the coming months and years. I know that there was a widespread view that it was indeed a proceeding in Parliament, but the Supreme Court is as entitled to redefine, or at least to take a view of, its definition of the protection afforded by the Bill of Rights as it is to invent a new legal principle, as it did in this judgment.
My hon. Friend makes a very good point. Conservative Members tell us that we have had no influence whatsoever throughout the duration of our membership but that if we stay in we will be able to exert influence in a way that is wholly irresponsible for the functioning of the Union.
The honest answer is that we all know that 30 June is not a particularly realistic proposition and that the Prime Minister was forced to propose that date more for reasons of party management. She has, in a sense, contracted out the decision to the EU. We would expect the Government to accept any reasonable extension that goes beyond 30 June, with the proviso that if this House approved and ratified a withdrawal agreement we would exit at that point.
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They were told that we would leave and take back control, and then, in the ensuing general election, the two main parties and the Democratic Unionist party confirmed that leave meant leaving the single market, leaving the customs union and leaving the remit of the European Court of Justice. That was confirmed by 498 and 494 Members on the Second and Third Readings of the withdrawal Bill triggering article 50, which triggered departure on 29 March.
Opposition Members just must understand the anger outside this House; and the frustration will turn into something that I would not like to quantify. People approach me the whole time and I get letters, emails and calls because it is very clear that this House, perhaps stunned by the immediate impact of the referendum, voted to trigger article 50 and has since done everything it can do to stymie it, culminating in the Bill that went through last night in ridiculous circumstances. The Second Reading went through by a majority of one, and it was then rammed through with hardly any procedures here.
The right hon. Lady has done a very good job of infuriating the 17.4 million people out there and insulting them on a daily basis because of her stand. She and I were elected on a clear platform of leaving the single market, the customs union and the remit of the European Court of Justice.
No, I am going to move on, because others want to speak.
I am aware that such views do not go down well in this House, but I really do appeal to Members to think of the reaction outside it. The anger is touchable. People expect us to leave. At the moment, there is a real, existential threat to both the main parties. The first 100 marginals that the Labour party must win include 78 for leave, and we know that a similar number of the marginals that we on the Conservative side must win are strongly for leave. At the moment, we have a free market in terms of leave votes—UKIP has disappeared, and there is no one else. If we are so stupid as to pass this motion tonight and to go for a European election—I appeal to my colleagues on the Front Bench—we will singlehandedly give a new party an opportunity to emerge, funded with European money, and that would be a great mistake.
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Order. It would help if Members confine themselves to three minutes each.
May I put on the record that not everybody on this side of the House shares that view? The right hon. Lady knows from our conversations that my constituents and I do not share it.
I thank the right hon. Members for Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford (Yvette Cooper), for Leeds Central (Hilary Benn) and for West Dorset (Sir Oliver Letwin) and the hon. Member for Cardiff South and Penarth (Stephen Doughty) for getting us as far as we have got today.
On the extension, I certainly would not want our friends in the European Union to think that 30 June is, by any stretch of the imagination, ideal or leaves us satiated, because it does not. It is clearly not long enough for a people’s vote, although it clearly is long enough for the European elections to take place, which the Liberal Democrats and a number of other parties will fight very hard and positively.
I am going to make some progress.
There has been no attempt to engage across the House and no attempt to engage with the devolved institutions. It has always been the Prime Minister’s way or the highway. There has been no appreciation that, rather than being sucked into reconciling herself with the European Research Group, the Prime Minister should have sought to work across party. Last Wednesday, the Prime Minister met Opposition party leaders. Many of us set out our positions, but crucially, when we extended an olive branch and sought to work with the Prime Minister, it was rejected. It was the Prime Minister who would not budge: transfixed, repeating the same old mantra and caught in a trap of her own making. Leadership brings responsibility. It has been sadly lacking in this case. It is little wonder that we are left in this situation where the Prime Minister is isolated: isolated from the other parties in this House and leaving the UK in a position of division.
My right hon. Friend is absolutely correct. We have had no clarity from the Attorney General on that issue. Let me applaud her, Liberal Democrat Members, Plaid Cymru Members and the Green Member of Parliament, because we have all sought to work together. We have all sought—
And those on the Labour side as well. We have all sought to work together to bring unity to the Opposition and to present a credible alternative. I hope that on Monday we do that; that we can coalesce around a motion that we can support which sends a very clear message to the European Council ahead of its meeting on 10 April. We say to the European Union, on the basis of the Government being able to achieve a consensus across the Houses of Parliament, trust the Members. It is in that spirit that I say to all colleagues in this House—I plead with you—under no circumstances vote with the Government today. Do not make it easy for this Government to deliver us into a blind Brexit.
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I thank the right hon. Gentleman for that contribution and for the opportunity to say this again. If it was 100% clear that 17.4 million people voted to leave without a deal, or if it was 100% clear that 17.4 million people voted for the Prime Minister’s deal—which is what he should discuss with his own Prime Minister—then I would agree. But we do not know that, which is exactly why we need to test the will of the people. It was not clear.
I could not agree more. It is ultimately the arrogance of individual Members who claim that they know exactly the will of the people. I do not know the will of the people in 2019. I am happy to ask them.
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I will be joining the hon. Member for Leicester West (Liz Kendall) in voting against this agreement. Despite the best interests of so many of my colleagues, I fear they are falling for the Government’s siren song that is threatening no Brexit or an even softer Brexit as the only alternatives to voting for the agreement today.
Do my hon. and right hon. Friends not realise that, if the agreement were to be approved today, they would be powerless to prevent the ensuing legislation from being amended to keep the United Kingdom in the single market and the customs union without our having the ability to control immigration? We will have given up £39 billion and our unilateral right to leave the European Union, and we will be held to ransom by those in this House who do not wish to honour the Conservative party manifesto or, for that matter, the Labour party manifesto, both of which committed to implementing the will of the people as enunciated by the referendum.
I associate myself absolutely with the words of wisdom of my right hon. Friends the Members for Wokingham (John Redwood) and for Witham (Priti Patel) and the right hon. Member for East Antrim (Sammy Wilson), who accurately sum up my mood. The Attorney General sought to make a virtue of the new legal right to stay in the European Union until 22 May, but I am more concerned about enforcing and delivering our existing legal right to leave on 12 April.
Leaving on WTO terms on 12 April, although two weeks later than we hoped, will bring certainty. Those two weeks can be used further to reduce the short-term problems. Let us also remember that, in the indicative votes, the overwhelming majority of the Conservative party in Parliament voted in favour of the no-deal option. Let us not forget that.
We also know, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Wokingham said, that there is very little support across the country for the Prime Minister’s deal. Indeed, there is growing support, and much greater support, for the no-deal WTO outcome. We should listen to those people and expect more support for the no-deal option, which of course remains the default option. If we vote against this agreement today, we will be leaving on 12 April, as we could have been leaving today had it not been for the way in which the Prime Minister unilaterally decided to stand against the will of the people.
Some of my hon. and right hon. Friends are holding their noses in voting for a withdrawal agreement they despise. Why would anyone want to hold their nose and vote for something so much against their own instincts and the interests of the British people?
We are having this debate on the basis of the European Council decision on 22 March to provide an extension of article 50 to 12 April, and to the 22 May if we approve the withdrawal agreement. I fear that our European colleagues were rather misled into thinking that the reference to the withdrawal agreement included the political declaration. In her letter to Donald Tusk on 20 March—not that long ago—the Prime Minister asserted:
“The UK Government’s policy remains to leave the European Union on the basis of the Withdrawal Agreement and Political Declaration agreed in November”,
yet the Front Bench are clearly indicating that they are minded to change the content of the political declaration through further negotiation.
In the same letter, the Prime Minister also said that
“the House of Commons rejected the deal for a second time”
and that she had intended to bring it back in the week to 20 March but that this had not been possible because of your rulings, Mr Speaker. In respect of those rulings, she said:
“Some Members of Parliament have interpreted that this means a further change to the deal”
is necessary—distancing herself perhaps from that interpretation. She then said that
“it remains my intention to bring the deal back to the House”
—not “part of the” deal, but “the” deal—and that
“I intend to put forward a motion as soon as possible under section 13…and make the argument for the orderly withdrawal”,
and so on.
The Prime Minister has not come back with “the” deal, and she has not put forward a motion under section 13, so I suspect that our European friends might find, when they look at the detail, that they were gravely misled into their Council decision. We know they are angry at the way the Prime Minister negotiated a deal that she then sought to renege on by, for example, supporting the Brady amendment. We might find out more next week, once we have defeated this motion tonight, but I suspect that the Prime Minister now needs to deliver the will of the British people and allow no deal on 12 April to proceed.
I simply say to my hon. Friend that I really do not believe so. Why not? Because the commitments now cemented on alternative arrangements, which require a separate negotiating track, with a timetable to negotiate them, are now built in so that, as I have said in my written opinion, it would be extraordinary if the EU declined to adopt any such measures. It would be extraordinary, so I do not accept that the backstop is the base for any future arrangement. Let me give another reason why it is not. Built into the political declaration is an independent free trade policy, and we cannot have an independent free trade policy and have a customs union. Also built into it is no free movement. Does the Labour party support free movement now? It speaks with all sorts of voices. But the political declaration says there is none, and we cannot belong to the single market without free movement. So I say to my hon. Friend that I understand where these fears come from, but we must be bold and courageous, and we must move forward, for the sake of our country.
I do not agree with the right hon. Lady. This instrument will be deposited with the withdrawal agreement, and it contains material new obligations, which are couched in the language of agreement. That represents an agreement between the parties not only about the interpretation, but about specific operational commitments. This has a standing equal to the withdrawal agreement, including in its material commitments, particularly those relating to obligations of an operational character. So I do not agree with her; what she says is not right. We have to look at the substance, not the label.
The right hon. Lady asks whether negotiations are at an end. Yes, they are at an end. This is the moment of decision. We now have to take the fork in the road, and we are going to have to assume our responsibilities for it.
My hon. Friend is wrong. The House of Lords did not say that. The House of Lords Committee said that there was no obligation in EU law, but that there may well be public international law obligations. The basis of the argument that there are no public international law obligations is in my judgment—I have tested it, as I always do on matters of law, with some very distinguished lawyers with expertise in the field—flimsy at best. The House of Lords Committee did not say there are no public international law obligations.
I must move on, because the next thing I must deal with is the alternatives.
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I will come to the hon. Gentleman in time. Let us examine the point. The question is on the basis for the objection to the withdrawal agreement.
I respectfully suggest to my right hon. Friend that that is because the expectations of the withdrawal agreement have been far too unrealistic. [Interruption.] This is a serious issue, and I ask for the indulgence of the House in making what I hope is a serious point, although I have to give way to the hon. Member for Leeds West (Rachel Reeves). If the House does not accept the point, that is fine, but let me at least make it.
The withdrawal agreement and a backstop are the first and necessary precondition of any solution. Members on the Opposition Benches have real concerns about the content of the political declaration and the safeguarding of rights. I listened to Members speak last night about the enshrinement of environmental rights and environmental laws and so on, but the political declaration would never have been able to secured detailed, legally binding text on those matters, which will be discussed and negotiated in the next stage of negotiation. It makes no sense to reject the opportunity of order and certainty now because Members are unhappy that they do not have guarantees about what will be in a future treaty.
What will be in that treaty, governed by the parameters set out by the political declaration that I need to come to in a moment, will be negotiated over the next 21 months. This Government have made a pledge to the House that we will take fully the opinion of the House in all the departmental areas over which the negotiations will take place.
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I have great respect for the hon. Lady, but I fundamentally disagree with her final remark. There is a commitment to the Good Friday agreement among Labour Members. My constituency has great pride in the agreement because the peace talks were chaired by my predecessor—we have great respect for it and want to protect it.
Let me be clear why we cannot support the bespoke customs union within the backstop: it would have no proper governance; firms based in Britain, rather than Northern Ireland, would be outside the single market facing barriers to trade; and the protections for workers and the environment would be unenforceable non-regression clauses that would see the UK fall behind over time. The arrangement falls far short of what Labour has argued for.
What other routes are there to an exit from the backstop? I asked the Attorney General about international treaties that the UK has no unilateral right to terminate. His response was to direct me to the Vienna convention on the law of treaties. Even if it applied—and it only applies between states—the Attorney General knows this is clutching at straws. First, it is said, we could argue that the EU was not using “best endeavours” to complete our future trade agreement and that that constituted a “material breach” under article 60 of the convention. The Attorney General has said, in relation to article 2.1 of the backstop protocol, that
“it is the duty of the parties to negotiate a superseding agreement. That must be done using best endeavours, pursuant to Article 184 of the Withdrawal agreement. This is subject also to the duty of good faith, which is both implied by international law, and expressly created by Article 5 of the Withdrawal Agreement”.
But he has also said:
“The duty of good faith and to use best endeavours is a legally enforceable duty. There is no doubt that it is difficult to prove.”
Again, those are the words of the Attorney General. He knows that that is the case.
Secondly, we could try to argue that there had been a “fundamental change of circumstances” under article 62 of the Vienna convention, but we could not credibly argue that entering the backstop was such a change in circumstances when the situation is clearly set out in the withdrawal agreement in such a way. To say that a scenario we are all aware of and debating now represents a fundamental departure would not wash with anyone, as the Attorney General knows. It is not so much an airlock as a padlock, and it is a padlock with two key holders, of which we are only one.
What changed over Christmas? What has been achieved by delaying the vote? The Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs told us on the morning of the vote that it was
“definitely, 100%, going to happen”.
We all know what happened after that—it is one of many incidents during this process that has led many of us to disbelieve so much that the Government say. The Prime Minister said in her statement later that day:
“I have heard those concerns and I will now do everything I possibly can to secure further assurances”.
The Leader of the House said:
“The Prime Minister has been clear that the vote will take place when she believes she has the legal assurances that Parliament needs that the backstop will not be permanent.”—[Official Report, 10 December 2018; Vol. 651, c. 25-84.]
The International Trade Secretary, went even further, saying that it would be
“very difficult to support the deal without changes to the backstop”.
He was not sure that the Cabinet would agree for it to be put to the House of Commons.
What actually happened? The Prime Minister went to the European Council but could not persuade leaders to give her the conclusions she wanted. The Christmas break came and went. We got a document on commitments to Northern Ireland that did nothing to change the legal text and then, yesterday, letters appeared between the Prime Minister on the one hand, and the President of the European Council and the President of the Commission on the other.
The right hon. Lady is right and I am sure that she has noted the inconsistency. The Attorney General said only a few moments ago that we could not expect to have anything detailed negotiated at this stage, but that is precisely what the Government had previously promised. How are we supposed to believe those conflicting statements?
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I apologise to my hon. Friend, but I have no time.
I believe that Britain’s role in the world now is as one of the three leading members of the European Union, and one that has particular links with the United States—when it has a normal President—that the others do not. That enables us to defend our interests and put forward our values in a very dangerous world. We have influential membership—we lead on liberal economic policy— of the biggest and most developed free trade area in the world, which is always going to be where our major trading partners are, because in the end geography determines that they matter to us more than anyone else.
I will not go on, but just in case there is any doubt about where I am coming from, let me say that I am being pragmatic, as we all have to be. The Attorney General was quite correct to raise the need for the House to achieve some kind of consensus and to accept some kind of compromise to minimise the damage, which I regard as my duty. The vote on invoking article 50 revealed to me that there was not the slightest chance of persuading the present House of Commons to give up leaving the EU, because it is terrified of denying the result of the EU referendum. To be fair to my friends who are hard-line Brexiteers and always have been, none of them ever had the slightest intention of taking any notice of the referendum, but there is now a kind of religiously binding commitment among the majority in the House that we must leave. So we are leaving.
Why, therefore, am I supporting the withdrawal agreement? It is a natural preliminary to the proper negotiations, which we have not yet started. Frankly, it should have taken about two months to negotiate, because the conclusions we have come to on the rights of citizens, on our legal historical debts and on the Irish border being permanently open were perfectly clear. They are essential preconditions, to which the Attorney General rightly drew our attention, to the legal chaos that would be caused if we just left without the other detailed provisions in that 500-page document.
The withdrawal agreement itself is harmless, and the Irish backstop is not the real reason why a large number of Members are going to vote against it. One would have to be suffering from some sort of paranoia to think that the Irish backstop is some carefully contrived plot to keep the British locked into a European relationship from which they are dying to escape. The Attorney General addressed that matter with great eloquence, which I admired. It is obviously as unattractive to the other EU member states as it is to the United Kingdom to settle down into some semi-permanent relationship on the basis of the Irish backstop.
In my opinion, we do not need to invoke the Irish backstop at all. We can almost certainly avoid it. It seems quite obvious that the transition period should go on for as long as is necessary until a full withdrawal agreement, in all its details on our political relationships, regulatory relationships, trade relationships, security and policing, has been settled. I do not think that will be completed in a couple of years, however. I actually think it will be four or five years, if we make very good progress, before we have completed all that, and I think that is the view of people with more expertise than me who will be saddled with the responsibility of negotiating it if we ever get that far. I have actually been involved in trade agreements, unlike most of the people in this House.
If we extend the transition period as is necessary, we will never need to go into the backstop. Putting an end date on the transition period is pretty futile, because we cannot actually begin to change our relationship until we have agreed in some detail what we are actually changing to. If this House persists in taking us out of the European Union, that is eventually where we have to get to.
If I give way to my right hon. Friend, who is a good friend, I shall suddenly find that everyone is leaping up, and I will not keep my word if I start giving way.
The outcome that I wish to see is, as it happens, the same as the Government’s declared outcome. Keeping to the narrower matters of trade and investment, we should keep open borders between the United Kingdom and the rest of the European Union and have trade relationships that are as free and frictionless as we have at the moment. I shall listen to people arguing that that is not in the best interests of the United Kingdom and future generations, but that is an impossible case to make. It is self-evident that we should stay in our present free trade agreement. We cannot have free trade with the rest of the world while becoming protectionist towards continental Europe by erecting new barriers. Nobody said to the electorate at the time of the referendum that the purpose of the whole thing was to raise new barriers to two-way trade and investment.
It seems quite obvious, and factually correct in my opinion, that if we wish to keep open borders—the land border, which happens to be in Ireland, and the sea border around the rest of the British Isles—we will have to be in a customs union and in regulatory alignment with the EU, which would greatly resemble what we call the single market. All this stuff about new technology may come one day when every closed border in the world will vanish, but under WTO rules we have to man the border if there are different tariffs and regulatory requirements on either side. That is where we have got to go, and we will have to tighten things up sooner or later.
The Government keep repeating their red lines, some of which were set out at an early stage long before the people drafting the speeches had the first idea about the process they were about to enter into. Most of the red lines now need to be dropped. The standard line is that we cannot be in a customs union because that would prevent us from having trade agreements with the rest of the world, which is true. We cannot have a common customs barrier enforced around the outside of a zone if one member is punching holes through it and letting things in under different arrangements from other countries. For some, that is meant to be the global future—the bright and shining prospect of our being outside the European Union, which nobody proposed in the referendum. As far as I can see, such things stemmed from a brilliant speech made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Uxbridge and South Ruislip (Boris Johnson), who was praised for putting an optimistic tone on it all. He held out this vision of great countries throughout the world throwing open their markets to us in relief when we left the European Union and offering us better terms than we have spent the last few years obtaining when taking a leading role in negotiating together with the European Union.
Of course, the key agreement that is always cited is the trade agreement that we are going to have with Donald Trump’s America, which is a symbol of the prospects that await us, and China apparently comes next. I have tried in both places. I have been involved in trade discussions with those two countries on and off for the best part of 20 years. They are very protectionist countries, and America was protectionist before President Trump. I led for the Government on negotiating the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership. The reason why the EU-US deal had the funny title of TTIP was that we could not call it a free trade agreement, because the Americans said that Congress was so hostile to the idea of free trade that we could not talk about such an agreement, so we had to give it another title.
We got nowhere, even under the Obama Administration, because we wanted to open up public procurement and access to services, including financial services, in the United States, and I can tell you that it was completely hopeless trying to open up their markets. We are told that things are different with President Trump, that the hopes for President Trump are a sign of the new golden future that is before us. However, President Trump has no time for WTO rules. He has been breaking them with some considerable vigour, and he will walk out of the WTO sooner or later. His view of trade deals is that he confronts allied partner countries and says that the United States should be allowed to export more to them and that they should stop exporting so much to the United States. He has enforced that on Canada and Mexico, and he is having a good go at enforcing it on China.
President Trump’s only expressed interest in a trade deal with Britain is that we should throw open our markets to American food, which is produced on an almost industrial scale very competitively and in great quantities. That trade deal would require one thing: the abandonment of European food and animal welfare standards that the British actually played a leading part in getting to their present position in the rest of the EU, and the adoption of standards laid down by Congress—the House of Representatives and the Senate—in response to the food lobby. There is no sovereignty in that. Nobody is going to take any notice of the UK lobbying the American Congress on food standards. It is an illusion.
If we had enforced freedom of movement properly before all this, we would not be in this trouble. All the anti-immigrant element of the leave vote was not really about EU workers working here. We were already permitted to make it a condition that people could only come here for a prearranged job, and we were permitted to say that someone would have to leave if they did not find a new job within three months of losing one. Everybody in this House and outside falls over themselves with praise for the EU workers in the national health service and elsewhere, but it is another illusion.
Given the present bizarre position, my view is that we must get on with the real negotiations, because we have not even started them yet. It is not possible to start to map out the closest possible relationship with the EU if we are going to be forced to leave. We are in no position to move on from this bad debate and then sort everything out by 29 March. It is factually impossible not only to get the legislation through but to sort out an alternative to the withdrawal agreement if it is rejected today.
We should extend article 50, but that involves applying to the EU and it implies getting the EU’s consent, which would be quite difficult for any length of time. I advocate revoking article 50, because it is a means of delay. We should revoke it—no one can stop us revoking it —and then invoke it again when we have some consensus and a majority for something. I will vote against it again, but there is a massive majority in this House in favour of invoking article 50.
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For all the division in this House, I have not met a single Member, privately or publicly, who believes this motion has a chance of being passed tonight. For many Opposition Members, that is not because of the withdrawal agreement itself but because of the complete absence of clarity about what is to come next. Almost three years after one of the most divisive episodes in British history, it beggars belief that the Government are asking for our votes while being unable to tell us even the broad direction of travel.
I represent a constituency with a huge number of food manufacturing jobs, which are at stake. Two visions of the future are on offer, one in which we retain close economic ties with the EU, with the rights, working protections and living standards that go with them, and another in which we follow the US and China in a race-to-the-bottom, zero-hours, no-hope economy, which would have profound implications for my constituency and many others. I have discussed it with the Prime Minister, and I am grateful for her time but, with hours to go until the vote, there is no clarity about what comes next.
I have also been honest with the Prime Minister about the fact that Members of Parliament like me, who from the beginning have sought a way through this and who have looked for reasons to vote for the withdrawal agreement, need confidence that there is a role for Parliament in what comes next. We are a deeply divided country, and we represent a range of views in this House. All parts must be heard, but I say to my friends and colleagues that we, collectively, have not risen to the challenge. I have heard Members on both sides of the House pretend that no deal is a political hoax, not a legal reality. I have heard Members pretend that we can resolve no deal and avoid that catastrophic scenario simply by wishing or voting it so, but we cannot. We cannot continue to grandstand, to remain in our entrenched positions and to call one another “traitor,” as I have heard again in today’s debate, despite death threats, abuse and the murder of one of my colleagues in recent years. It will not do.
I say to both the Government Front Bench and the Labour Front Bench that none of us will hang on to power, or the prospect of power, by a sleight of hand. We are here to lead, and to lead in the country’s interest, not in our own interest. I have not seen this level of anger directed towards MPs since I was first elected nearly 10 years ago during the expenses scandal.
We are playing with fire, we are breaking our democracy, but there is the hope: the public are better than we are. For all that the extremes have tried to drown it out, there is a decent, sensible, pragmatic majority in this country that wants a way through. We cannot go on arguing about the will of the people or dividing people with our binary choices. Let’s ask them to help us to resolve it, as they did in Ireland, Canada, Australia and this week in France with President Macron responding to widespread unrest. In just seven weeks, a citizens’ assembly could make recommendations to this Parliament to help us to break the deadlock.
That said, a citizens’ assembly would not offer us an escape from hard choices, or respite from them. Choices have to be made. Every option facing the country has costs. There is a clear trade-off between democratic harm and economic harm and we have to be honest with people. Nearly three years after the referendum, we cannot continue to lie to the people. When this deal is voted down, it will be time to begin to work together and tell the truth.
Over last weekend, as the way in which the political traffic was moving became clearer and clearer, I changed my mind about how to vote tonight. I had been going to vote against the Government’s motion; I will now vote for it, and I wish to explain that. For all the problems that we have had, the nastiness in the debate, which was mentioned by my hon. Friend—my very honourable friend—the Member for Wigan (Lisa Nandy), has come because we indulged in a referendum. We thought that the people would agree with us, and we found it impossible to incorporate in a representative system of government a delegate system of government operating from referendums. The idea that we want more of that poison by organising another vote is the last idea to which I would move.
I changed my mind because, for all the weaknesses of the agreement that the Government have presented to us, for all its failings, I believe that we now risk losing Brexit. That does not excuse the Government for their incredible incompetence. It does not mean that some of us, when this stage is over, will not push for a Dardanelles-type inquiry to find out why we landed in this desperate position at this late hour. I do not wish to live my time as Member of Parliament for Birkenhead aiding and abetting those whose real aim is to destroy Brexit.
The agreement gives us five advantages for which I campaigned in supporting Brexit. First, it fulfils the promise that we will control our borders. Secondly, after the transition zone we will be free from paying cash—any cash—to the European Union. Thirdly, it will give us British laws for British people. Fourthly, it will allow us to negotiate new trade agreements. Fifthly, as the Prime Minister has told me on three occasions when answering my questions in the House, it will offer us frictionless trade for our manufacturing industry. We have some manufacturing industry left in Birkenhead: we have Vauxhall’s manufacturing down in the Wirral, towards what I call the mainland. I take heart from the statement by the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders that this was the best deal it could accept and that, as far as Brexit went, the car industry would be safeguarded.
Let me end on a similar note to my hon. Friend the Member for Wigan. It is not just one person who has been roughed up. We are all pushed and poked by enthusiasts, let us call them, on the outside, who wish to prevent the views that they do not want to hear from being heard. One of the things that representative government—as opposed to delegate, referendum government—has done is this: it has always given us a Chamber in which people can listen to views without being held to account, as we are, by a group outside who have given us instructions. We may not like that in the House. We may have misjudged our electorate. We may think that they were foolish to give us those instructions. But we asked for instructions, and they gave us instructions to leave.
I shall give way in just one minute. We are not calling for legal advice to be published in its draft form, or as it is given between now and then, or on a rolling basis.
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I am most grateful to the right hon. and learned Gentleman for giving way. I have great sympathy with the anxieties he is expressing about the legal issues surrounding the potential backstop, but surely he would agree with me that the proper practice is for the Government, at the conclusion of negotiations, to publish a document setting out the Government’s position on the law, and, if I may say, if that differs from what the Attorney General has advised, I would expect the Attorney General to resign forthwith.
I will give way to the right hon. Lady, and then I will deal with both interventions.
As the right hon. Lady knows, I have great respect for her, but I really do not think that engaging in that kind of intervention is helpful in this serious debate.
In relation to the intervention of the right hon. and learned Member for Beaconsfield (Mr Grieve) and the general point, my response is this: this issue of the disclosability of legal advice has been discussed very much in the past two or three weeks. As soon as I started calling for it, I made it very clear, when I was pressed as to what procedures we would use to try to obtain the advice, that I did not want to use any. I invited the Government to indicate that they would disclose the advice in full rather than have this fight in the House, and therefore I declined, three weeks ago, to say what procedure we would use. I wanted the ball to be in the Government’s court. I wanted the Government to see the good sense in putting the legal position before the House, for all the exceptional reasons that have been set out, and the Government have not responded in kind. That is why we are here today with this Humble Address.
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Thank you, Mr Speaker. I shall endeavour not to repeat what has already been said and to be brief.
First, I entirely understand the motivation that has led the Opposition and the right hon. and learned Member for Holborn and St Pancras (Keir Starmer) to bring this motion before the House. I have, on a personal level, every reason to be deeply concerned about the legal implications of any potential Brexit deal. We have heard enough in the last few weeks to give rise to even greater concern about how it will affect our independence, the integrity of the United Kingdom and our ability to hold it together, and the power of Government in future to take independent decisions and not be fettered by a subsequent treaty to the one we are going to be leaving on 29 March, as well as a concern that those issues may come to a conclusion without being fully understood when we have to vote on them.
I have no idea whether the so-called leaked memo that came out a short time ago was correct or not. If it did come from within the Government, it suggested, frankly, a quite disgraceful timetable by which, on the conclusion of negotiations, the House would be bulldozed into starting a five-day debate and coming to a decision without, on the face of it, even time, as it seemed to be set out, for the Government to set out their position, which I would normally expect to be in a White Paper and supported by the Government’s full legal evaluation of the treaty changes taking place. It is often forgotten that in leaving the EU we may be getting rid of the European Communities Act 1972, but when we come on to consider the EU withdrawal agreement Bill, if we get to that point, we are going to be enacting a piece of constitutional legislation of immense importance which has huge significance for United Kingdom citizens living in Northern Ireland and the potential to give rise to great public disquiet. For all those reasons, the terms of the agreement we hope we reach will be of the utmost importance. In a nutshell, there is a big difference between a break clause and a review clause, as any lawyer will know, and it will be of the utmost importance to understand on which side of the line any Northern Ireland backstop lies.
That said, I have to say to the right hon. and learned Member for Holborn and St Pancras that the course he has sought to press this afternoon is a mistaken one. This goes to the very heart of the relationship between the Law Officers and Government. They are, as he knows, there to stand rather aside from the day-to-day thrust of politics. Indeed, it is noticeable that in recent weeks I should think it has been a nightmare for the current Attorney General. If he goes to have pizza with the Leader of the House, it is immediately assumed that he is siding with one faction within Government rather than another, something that has to be avoided at all costs. He has to maintain his independence. Above all, he has to speak truth to power. That is the absolutely fundamental part of his job.
I understand my right hon. Friend’s point. It will be a matter for the Government to determine how they wish to respond at the end of the debate. What I will seek to do now is to set out the reasons why I think the approach the Opposition have taken in the motion is mistaken, and I want to conclude as quickly as possible.
The Attorney General has to speak truth to power. In doing that, he must be in a position to produce legal advice to the Government which is there for their consumption. By demanding that it should be published, we are immediately beginning to skew that process, because it will be prepared with a view to publication. The right hon. and learned Member for Holborn and St Pancras made the point that there may be a difference between advice about what is lawful and a survey of what a treaty adds up to in terms of the obligations it places on this country. I would not be at all surprised if, for example, in the course of doing that the Attorney General might not have to respond to questions that have been transmitted to his office through Cabinet Ministers with queries which, although they may be irrelevant to his advice, might pertain to what had been said in the course of an international negotiation with a third party and therefore would be something we would not wish to put into the public domain. We cannot predict how such advice will be put together.
It seems to me that that precisely highlights why one should distinguish between advice that is produced by a Law Officer, subject to the usual rules of legal professional privilege—I agree with the right hon. and learned Gentleman that if it starts to be published partially it has to be shared with everybody; on that we all agree 100%—but that should be compartmentalised away from what we should be getting from the Government, which is a full statement of the Government’s legal analysis and their collective position. Doubtless, it will be heavily informed by the Law Officers’ advice. As I said, not entirely tongue in cheek, if the document setting out the Government’s legal position and their evaluation of the implications of the treaty is at variance with what the Attorney General has been saying to the Cabinet in informing them as to whether to accept the decision or not, I would not expect the Attorney General to still be in post by dusk that evening. It would be his clear duty to leave office immediately, because he could not continue to work as a Minister within the Government.
I therefore believe, particularly in the light of the assurances given by the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster and Minister for the Cabinet Office, my right hon. Friend the Member for Aylesbury (Mr Lidington), that in those circumstances and with the assurances he has provided, the House is now beginning to get the reassurance it requires that, first, this process, when it comes to a deal, will be taken in a measured and sensible way, and with a full opportunity for Members to consider the legal implications properly; and secondly, as I suggested, a Law Officer, who customarily can sit on the Government Benches and intervene in debate does so as we go through the Bill to clarify points that may need clarification. That used to be done all the time. I tried to restore it, but for various reasons it seemed to have gone out of fashion when I was in opposition. My hon. and learned Friend the Solicitor General has been pretty assiduous at doing that, and the Attorney General can do it too. That should lead to the House having all the information it needs without breaching a convention which in my view, for the very reasons I have just heard also apply for the Scottish Government, is really important. I do not think it is necessary or desirable that we should be considering such a breach for the purposes of reaching the proper conclusion to these very important debates.
I simply urge the House to consider carefully what has been said and express the hope that it will be possible to proceed in a way that does not breach what I think is a really fundamental and important convention. As I know from my time as Attorney General, it is of the utmost importance that the dialogue between the Law Officers and Government, whom they are there to serve, can be carried—
I am grateful for that intervention. I have not seen the news that is just coming through. If that is the case, it is extremely concerning. A strong message needs to go out from this House about the proper role of Parliament in the article 50 process and one that argues for the best possible outcome in terms of a close economic relationship with the EU.
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I have already given way, so I cannot be accused of not giving way.
I am grateful for that intervention. I have not seen whatever news is coming out, but having observed the proceedings yesterday and the various interventions, it seems to me that what the right hon. and learned Member for Beaconsfield (Mr Grieve) was saying was very clear for us all to hear. He spoke about the specific paragraphs that were of huge importance, and we heard about what the proposed amendment in the Lords would contain. Obviously, we will have to wait and see what the wording is, but, from my point of view, as someone who was observing it, I thought that it was pretty clear what was being said from the Front Bench about what was likely to happen in the course of next week.
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The right hon. Gentleman, as ever, makes a pertinent point. [Interruption.] Well, I am being polite to the right hon. Gentleman, because I think that is what he deserves. I say to him that questions about participation in international institutions will be made on the basis of the United Kingdom being a third country and the status of the United Kingdom becoming somewhat different from that which it currently enjoys. The point is that the consent to such further international ties will lie here in Westminster. That answers the point that has been raised, quite properly, by my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Beaconsfield (Mr Grieve), on the signing of treaties and the fact that the United Kingdom has, on many occasions in its history, chosen to share the power it has enjoyed and participate as a full and vigorous member of the international community.
As my very old and good friend knows, the Government have indeed—[Laughter.]
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One thing that my constituents in Dover and Deal were absolutely clear about when they decided to vote by a large majority to leave the European Union was the need to take back control of our borders and to end uncontrolled EU immigration—to end free movement. It is not just in my constituency; it is regions across the country, including Labour leave areas, which I know feel the same way. It should therefore be a red line for this House to ensure that, whatever happens, free movement comes to an end, because our constituents up and down the land have been very clear about that.
We must also ensure that we take the full opportunities that leaving the European Union will afford this country. That is why we need to leave the customs union and why we cannot stay in the EEA. The truth is that 90% of future economic growth in this world of ours will come from outside the European Union. In recent decades, the share of global GDP represented by Europe has halved, from about a third to just about 15%. Europe is in relative decline. We do not have to go that way ourselves. We can jump forward to explore, trade and participate in the fast-growing areas of the planet. I am not saying that it will be easy, but it is an instruction that has been given to us by our constituents and by this nation. What is more, when it comes to trade in goods, it is important to remember that the European Union sells us £100 billion more goods than we sell to it. It is therefore in its interests to ensure that there is frictionless trade, more so than it is in our interests.
We need to ensure that we are fully prepared for every eventuality and every single kind of deal that we might do. That is why I am making the case that we need to modernise our systems. We have needed to modernise them for years, so it is no-regrets spending. We should modernise them because the border is no longer as it was in the 1950s, where we checked every lorry; the border is a tax point. With the systems in place that technology now enables, trusted traders could be required to account for their loads and we could ensure that there was no need for any checks at the border whatsoever. That includes Northern Ireland.
Those who are opposed to us leaving the European Union like to cite Northern Ireland, but the truth is that we do not need any infrastructure or any checks at the border. We can have frictionless trade through the border, with audits in workplaces and computer systems that ensure there are proper audits. Singapore has such a single-window system in place, and countries around the world have such systems. We need to take advantage of that, because that is the kind of future we can make, and that is why I have been making the case for that investment to be made.
That is exactly why I have been setting out the case for how we can use technology and these sorts of system, with a trusted traders scheme, and how we can build on the WTO’s trade facilitation agreement, to which the European Union has signed up. We should be making this investment—we should have been making this investment many years ago.
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Since the referendum, the debate has often been polarised in this place and outside it between hard-line Brexiteers who feel that we can walk away without a deal and walk off a cliff edge, and hard-line remainers who do not accept the result of the referendum and want to find whatever way possible to stay in the EU. That is why I am not supporting Lords amendment 51. The essential choice for Parliament is whether we accept the outcome of the referendum and the article 50 process and agree that the UK leaves the European Union in March 2019, or whether we seek to subvert that process. Perhaps the Norway option—the European economic area—suits that purpose.
The EEA agreement helped three small countries that could not persuade their people to adopt EU membership and that accepted having no say in return for single market membership. They accepted the role of rule takers, not rule makers, with second-class membership of the European Union. Much has been said about Michel Barnier saying this morning that he will give us membership of the EEA plus the customs union. Of course he would—he would bite off the Prime Minister’s hand for that deal, because apart from leaving without any deal, it is the worst deal for the United Kingdom.
The right hon. Lady says, “Shame!” I am afraid to say that it is that sort of contribution to this debate that is so unhelpful and divisive, because we have to reach consensus on the way ahead. I believe that we have to be as close as possible to the single market and that there should be a customs arrangement. Importantly, however, I recognise that there is an issue of immigration, which has been overlooked for at least 15 years, since we first let in the A8 countries. I am afraid that the right hon. Lady does not reflect that on behalf of her constituents.
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I thank my hon. Friend. There will be a point, when we leave the European Union, at which Opposition Members will have to work out what our policies are for the challenges ahead for our country, and I know that on those areas we will come together.
There is no precedent for a country the size of the UK leaving the European Union. It is new ground and demands a new relationship, but that should not be a replication of Norway’s. The terms of EEA membership clearly do not allow the sort of changes to freedom of movement that some of my right hon. and hon. Friends have suggested. The only provision affecting migration is the Liechtenstein solution, which is a temporary brake on immigration in the event of an economic crisis. That was a provision for a country with a population half the size of that of my constituency of Don Valley. This is not an adequate response to the public concern about the lack of control the UK has had over EU migration since 2004.
I say to my hon. Friend the Member for Streatham (Chuka Umunna) that many people from the black and minority ethnic community voted leave and are also concerned about free movement. To move forward, we cannot just cobble together ideas as in the EEA amendment. There has to be an end to freedom of movement, just as my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Holborn and St Pancras (Keir Starmer) has suggested, and after that we can decide what sort of migration we want in the future.
Those of my constituents who voted leave have been insulted, day in and day out, by comments made in the place and outside. They are not against all migration, but they want a sense that we can turn the tap on and off when we choose to do so. They also want us to answer the questions: “Why hasn’t Britain got the workforce it needs, why has social mobility stopped, why do we train fewer doctors than Holland or Ireland, and why are these jobs dominated by those in the middle and upper classes so we don’t get a look in?”
I will be voting for the Labour amendment, because although it is not perfect, it seeks to delete the EEA option; and if that is lost, I will vote against Lords amendment 51. I urge the House to reject that amendment and to begin to face up to the policy challenges of life after Brexit.
Order. I appeal to colleagues. I understand there are raging passions on these issues, but please let us try to treat each other with respect. Other Members are right hon. and hon. Members who happen to hold opinions that differ.
I would urge the right hon. Lady to look at the record in Hansard. I made it very clear that I am not against all immigration, and I also said very clearly that nor are my constituents, but they want to feel that we have better systems in place and that immigration is fair and managed, and that is something they have not felt for a long time.
It is a pleasure to follow the right hon. Member for Broxtowe (Anna Soubry). I rise to speak to Plaid Cymru’s amendments to Lords amendment 2, which would clarify that “a customs union” was the customs union. Plaid Cymru campaigned to remain, and we have been consistent in our support for remaining within the customs union and the single market and, for that matter, for looking at the EEA.
The Government and the Labour party are facing some pretty difficult problems, and that is because reality is intruding. Labour is split, as the Secretary of State said the other day, and I am sure we all marvelled yesterday at the bit of negotiation in the Chamber between the Solicitor General and the former Attorney General, the right hon. and learned Member for Beaconsfield (Mr Grieve). That shows me that both parties are intent on pursuing their own internal conversations as well as the matter in hand.
It is not quite one minute to midnight, but it is pretty close. Our European interlocutors are asking us to tell them what we want and they are still not getting an answer. I can say that for industry in Wales, for universities in Wales and for health in Wales, we certainly need an answer, and pretty sharply too. The question for us is this: what is happening in respect of divergence as time progresses? We are getting no real answers.
Last night, I was here late and I took a taxi home. On the way, I asked the taxi driver what he thought of yesterday’s proceedings. His answer, predictably, was, “Why haven’t we left yet? Just get on with it.” I then asked him what he would do about the Land Rover jobs and the problems with the Galileo programme, at which point he said, “You’re from Wales aren’t you? I went up Snowdon once.” That suggests to me that he has a promising career ahead of him as a Brexiteering MP evading the real questions that face us.
As I said in an earlier intervention, the arrangements for the north-south border in Ireland will be very instructive for the arrangements between the EU and the United Kingdom in general. We will see the adoption of certain north-south arrangements, which will inevitably mean that they are adopted in the rest of the UK. I think all Unionists would agree with me in that respect. I asked Pascal Lammy, when he gave evidence to the Brexit Committee, if he knew of any two countries with two customs regimes for different parts of their states. Of course, he said no. To me, that means the arrangements between Dublin and Belfast will be the same as the arrangements between Dublin and Holyhead, and for that matter between Dover and Boulogne. By the way, he was also asked about the effect of having no controls at all, which has been suggested by some Conservative Members. Quite reasonably, he said that abandoning all controls means we would have nothing to bargain with in trade negotiations.
We have heard of a cake Brexit, a red, white and blue Brexit, a hard Brexit, a Brexit for jobs and a green Brexit. My suggestion is for a Welsh cake Brexit, which would entail staying in the single market and the customs union. We have been consistently in favour of that, and it would suit our economy and the requirements we have for health, industry, universities and so on.
Today, the Labour party has an opportunity to defeat the Government. I think we would all love to see that. Instead, however, it seems to have decided to try to water down the Lords amendments and pave the way, eventually, for the Tories to steamroller through a hard Brexit. I do not think we will be supporting them in that.
I can certainly imagine cases where our constituents, feeling the need to assert some of those rights in the charter in future, find themselves falling foul of the provision in clause 5 that says, all of a sudden, that the charter of fundamental rights is not part of domestic law on or after exit day. They enjoyed those rights hitherto; where would that situation leave them?
The Government, when being sued by the tobacco companies which did not like plain packaging and thought it was against their rights of expression, cited the right to public health in the charter of fundamental rights and managed to defeat those tobacco companies. The charter of fundamental rights proved important not just for our constituents, but for the Government themselves in upholding what was a good piece of public policy at the time.
I am sure that advice will have been heard in senior quarters. Indeed a vice-chair of the Conservative party, the hon. Member for Braintree (James Cleverly), is sitting on the row in front of the right hon. Lady. He is a very senior and eminent individual now, who has great responsibility for digging the Conservative party out of quite a deep hole.
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I rise to discuss amendment 7, which is in my name and those of my hon. Friends and other Members and relates to the charter of fundamental rights, and amendments 42 and 43, which are in my name, and to give support to amendment 55, which was tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Cumbernauld, Kilsyth and Kirkintilloch East (Stuart C. McDonald), who will be addressing it in due course. The amendments raise issues relating to the protection of fundamental rights, about which we have already had quite a degree of discussion today, and to the justiciability of those rights and their legal certainty in this country and its jurisdictions after Brexit. The amendments tabled by the Scottish National party have the support of the Law Society of Scotland, and those that relate to the charter have widespread support, including from the Equality and Human Rights Commission. I am also interested in the wording of amendment 4, which was tabled by the official Opposition, and if I do not press my amendment, they can count on the SNP’s support should they press amendment 4 to a vote.
The questions raised by the amendments have all yet to be answered adequately by the Government. As the right hon. and learned Member for Beaconsfield (Mr Grieve) alluded to earlier in his erudite contribution, the Government’s approach to the detailed and widely held concerns about aspects of the Bill tends to be rather dismissive or deals with them airily and in generalities. At this stage, before the Bill goes to the other place, which is unaccountable and undemocratically elected, it is incumbent on the Government to address the questions about clauses 5 and 6 that were directed to them in Committee, rather than to continue to deal in the generalities that they have used so far.
The hon. Member for Hove (Peter Kyle), who is no longer in his place, made a valid point earlier. When we hear constant reassurances from Government Members that this Parliament could not possibly do anything to contravene fundamental rights, we do not need to look back very far into our history, or into the lifetimes of many in this House, to see a prolonged period when the rights of gay people were denigrated by a Conservative Government through the use of section 28.
It was not that long ago. Some of us were at school or were students at the time and fought very hard against it. Some of us still find it rather irksome to see the modern Conservative party presented as a great defender of gay rights, because we remember the years when it was not. It has seen the light since then and that is a good thing, but the contravention of human rights is something that Governments do from time to time, which is why it is necessary to have protections that go over and above the whims of the party in power.
I am sorry that the right hon. Lady has failed to take my point, which is that this is not about what has happened over the past five years, when there has been cross-party support across the United Kingdom—apart from the Democratic Unionist party—for things such as equal marriage. I am talking about recent history and my lifetime as a gay woman. When I was at school and when I was a student, the Conservative party had a policy of completely quashing the aspirations of gay people. We were not even allowed to hear about what our lives might be like when we grew up. That is an example of why we need protections that go over and above the Government and the majority of the day.
Conservative Members do not like to hear it, but there are other similar examples from our recent history. Try telling the members of the nationalist and Catholic community in Northern Ireland in the 1960s and ’70s, whose civil liberties and human rights were routinely undermined, that they were defended by this House. They are now, and it is wonderful that we have moved on, but those rights were not protected in the past—in our lifetime—and that is why we need independent support for fundamental rights. It simply will not do for the Government to say that we can get rid of the charter and that all the rights in it will be protected in United Kingdom law, because they are not. I gave an example in Committee of where such rights were not protected—namely, the loophole in the Walker case in the Supreme Court, but we have yet to hear how the Government propose to close the loophole—and there are other examples.
The hon. Member for Sheffield Central (Paul Blomfield), the Opposition spokesman, made the point that the cat was rather let out of the bag when the new Under-Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union, the hon. Member for Fareham (Suella Fernandes), wrote an article for The Daily Telegraph last year—I mentioned this in Committee—saying that it was right to get rid of the charter because it contained many rights that she would like to see the back of. I wonder whether that isolated attack on the charter, as the one bit of European law that the Government do not want to bring into UK law, is connected to their previous antipathy to the Human Rights Act and the European convention on human rights. We have been hearing conflicting noises from Government Members about their attitude to the ECHR and the Human Rights Act, and I would be interested to hear the Government’s long-term proposals. We have a new Justice Secretary; what is his view on the matter?
In any event, it is important for us to bear in mind that there are many voices from different parts of British society who want to keep the charter, including all the Opposition parties, the devolved Governments in Scotland and in Wales, large parts of the legal profession, significant parts of the judiciary, respected think-tanks and respected non-governmental organisations. It is time for the Government to take note of views held beyond the House and beyond their own party. This is similar to the attitude the Government take towards the views of the people of Scotland, 62% of whom voted to remain. We will debate what passes for the Government’s amendments on devolved issues later today, but the distinguished Scottish political commentator Gerry Hassan wrote in the newspaper earlier this week that:
“British politics as currently conducted cannot go on indefinitely, with the will of the people interpreted on the basis of just one June 2016 vote, but ignored in everything else…public opinion north of the border cannot be permanently ignored without profound consequences.”
Do not just take that from Mr Hassan, or indeed from the Opposition. The Conservative party’s spokesperson on constitutional affairs in Scotland, Professor Adam Tomkins, said at the weekend that
“the political price of enacting legislation without consent”—
from the Scottish Parliament—
“might be quite significant indeed.”
The wilful ignoring of the will of the Scottish people highlights a democratic deficit at the heart of the United Kingdom, which is why I and other Scottish National party Members would like to see an independent Scotland. The irony is that those who push so strongly for Brexit complain about a democratic deficit in the European Union, and many of them hold that view sincerely, but they seem not to care a jot for the democratic deficit in this Union, the United Kingdom.
Many of the amendments being considered today are about defending democracy, and it is right they should be debated and determined by this House, not by the undemocratic and unaccountable House of Lords. The House of Lords contains a significant number of able people—indeed, I look forward to hearing what they have to say about aspects of this Bill—but they are not accountable in the way that Members of this House are. We should be debating these issues, which is why it is so disgraceful that the Government have not tabled their substantive amendments on devolution. My hon. Friend the Member for North East Fife (Stephen Gethins) will speak about that in more detail later.
The SNP’s amendments, and indeed Labour’s amendment, on the charter are supported by the Equality and Human Rights Commission, and many hon. Members will have had the benefit of reading the EHRC’s briefing and the opinion it commissioned from distinguished senior counsel Jason Coppel on the Government’s right-by-right analysis, which was published back in December 2017. The analysis repeats the Government’s assurance that the rights provided by the charter will not be weakened following Brexit, which we already know is not the view of the Under-Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union, the hon. Member for Fareham; nor is it the view of Mr Coppel, who has produced a detailed opinion showing that the loss of the charter will result in a loss of rights in a number of ways.
As I and others said in Committee, there are gaps and, most importantly, this Bill will remove remedies that are currently available in UK law in cases of a breach of charter rights. As the right hon. and learned Member for Beaconsfield said, there is also the very real possibility that charter rights could be repealed or overridden in UK law by the use of secondary legislation.
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I am happy to agree with that intervention.
In case a Conservative Member is about to embarrass themselves by repeating the spectacularly stupid suggestion yesterday by the Guido Fawkes website—[Interruption.] Yes, I know that is not hard to believe. It suggested that new clause 7 would weaken animal sentience law because article 13 of the Lisbon treaty applies to only six policy areas, whereas the Secretary of State’s Bill would apply to all Government areas. Leaving aside that it is hard to imagine a Government policy relating to animal welfare that does not fall under one of those six policy areas, which are pretty broad, the point is that we have no domestic animal sentience law to weaken. We have a hastily cobbled together draft Bill that may, or may not, become a substantive Bill that reaches the statute book before 29 March 2019—or ever.
It is this Bill that will weaken our animal welfare law by failing to transfer into UK law the obligation on the Government set out in article 13 of the Lisbon treaty. As I said in reply to the hon. Member for North Down (Lady Hermon), had I tabled an amendment that in some way added to or strengthened the obligations set out in article 13, Ministers would no doubt have rejected it on the grounds that I was trying to gold-plate EU law, which is not the purpose of the Bill. If new clause 7 were accepted, nothing would stop the Secretary of State’s draft Bill subsequently addressing any real or perceived weaknesses in the wording of article 13, and that would have my support. But let us not be left with a gap in the legislation. The real risk is that, because of the volume of legislation with which Whitehall and the civil service are having to grapple, a new Bill would not come forward in time to plug any gap after we leave the EU. That is why my belt-and-braces approach would make sure that we have this legislation safely included in UK law.
In the past, the right hon. Member for West Dorset (Sir Oliver Letwin) has called this solution inelegant. Yes, it is a bit inelegant, but I would rather be inelegant and effective than elegant with a big gap in the legislation. Let us stop playing political games with a draft Bill that may, or may not, get anywhere near the statute book. Let us do what the Secretary of State clearly wished to do himself as recently as July last year, when he was asked whether he wanted to include article 13 in the Bill—he said of course he did. There can be no better legislative vehicle right now to transfer article 13 of the Lisbon treaty into UK law than the Bill, which exists to transfer EU law into UK law. I therefore commend new clause 7 to the House.
I also wish to put on record my support for amendment 57 and new clause 19, tabled by the hon. Member for Bristol East. The amendment would preserve more comprehensively than clause 4, which it would replace, the rights, powers, liabilities, obligations, restrictions, remedies and procedures derived from EU law and incorporated into domestic law by the European Communities Act 1972. As the hon. Lady has already made clear, there are weaknesses in clause 4, as a result of which some provisions in EU law are at risk of being lost. She gave several examples, and I want to add one more. Unless amended, clause 4 could result in the loss from EU retained law of provisions that detail the aim and purpose of directives such as article 1 of the environmental liability directive, which includes reference to the polluter pays principle, and article 1 of the habitats directive, which specifies that the aim of the directive is to contribute towards biodiversity conservation.
New clause 19 would remove the risk of transposition gaps in retained EU law. It is simpler and more comprehensive than clause 4, and it would ensure that the rights arising from EU directives are preserved and a mechanism would be in place after exit day to deal with problems arising from the incorrect or incomplete transposition of EU law. I hope that Ministers will accept the amendment and new clause.
I will be supporting amendment 57 and other provisions. I rise to speak to new clause 16, which is in my name. I will not be pushing it to a vote, because it is a probing provision.
The new clause seeks to ensure that there is no regression in our equality protection as we leave the EU and following the repeal of the charter of fundamental rights. That principle has already been agreed by the Government, so there should be little controversy about supporting new clause 16. Hon. Members were promised that the Government would introduce an amendment that required Ministers, on the presentation of any Brexit-related primary or secondary legislation, to make a statement before the House on whether and how it was consistent with the Equality Act 2010. While the Government may try to make out that amendment 391 covers that point, I do not believe that it properly addresses the issue of primary legislation—a point eloquently made by the right hon. and learned Member for Beaconsfield (Mr Grieve).
For that reason, I have tabled new clause 16. We cannot allow any regression in, or diminishing of, our equality protections and rights when we leave the EU. I totally disagree with hon. Members who have suggested that we should just trust the Government to get this right. The equality protections and human rights referred to in new clause 16 have been hard fought for, and we cannot allow them to be put at risk. I commend new clause 16 to the House.
I rise to speak to new clauses 22 and 23 in my name. I say at the outset that I will not take interventions because I know other Members wish to speak. I put on record my thanks to George Peretz QC for his help in drafting the new clauses.
New clause 22 would prevent Ministers from using provisions in this Bill as the basis for withdrawing the UK from the European economic area, whether under article 127 of the European economic area agreement or otherwise. It would also ensure that Ministers cannot use the regulation-making powers they seek to give themselves in other parts of the Bill to circumvent that carve-out. It would mean, in effect, that if Ministers wanted to take us out of the EEA, which is the grouping of EU and non-EU countries that together make up the single market, they would need to introduce a separate Bill to authorise that.
Why is this necessary? The UK is currently a member of both the EU and the EEA. Although the bodies overlap, they have different member countries, they are governed by different treaties and they have different guiding principles at their heart. There is one process for leaving the EU, as governed by article 50 of the Lisbon treaty, and another for leaving the EEA—article 127 of the EEA agreement requires a member to give 12 months’ written notice. Parliament should determine whether we trigger article 127 to notify our withdrawal from the EEA, and not the Prime Minister sat behind her desk in No. 10. MPs in this House, the public’s elected representatives, should decide, and there should be a specific, explicit vote that is binding on Ministers.
The Government’s contention that it is not necessary to trigger article 127, and that we do not need formally to leave the EEA as we are a member simply by virtue of our EU membership, does not stand up to scrutiny. All EU states are listed as contracting parties to the agreement, in addition to the EU itself and the three non-EU EEA states.
The Government have changed their argument on article 127 repeatedly over the past year. One minute they argue that our departure would be automatic, and the next that our membership would be unworkable. They assert legal opinion as irrefutable fact. They fail to acknowledge that a basic principle of international law is that a treaty relationship with another state cannot be changed simply by changing a different treaty to which that state is not party and assuming a knock-on effect. And the Government fail to acknowledge that, at a time when we would supposedly be wanting to sign international trade treaties with other countries in our own right, we might be in breach of the treaty that underpins the EEA. This all sounds very legalistic, but the issue has critical importance beyond the legal technicalities.
At its heart, new clause 22 is about democracy and our country’s future. In last year’s referendum there was only one question on the ballot paper:
“Should the United Kingdom remain a member of the European Union or leave the European Union?”
The words “European economic area” or “single market” did not feature. Had Parliament wanted people to take a view on the EEA, we could have legislated for that in 2015, but we did not. Some people say, “Everyone knew it meant we’d be leaving the single market,” but that is simply an interpretation of the result. Some people may have voted to leave it, but others did not. The Government are now rewriting history: they claim that coming out of the single market and customs union is an automatic consequence of the leave vote, not their political choice. If just one tenth of those who voted leave believed that we would stay in the single market, there never was a mandate for the sort of Brexit that the Government are now pursuing.
We spend hours in this place debating all the twists and turns of negotiations, parliamentary processes relating to withdrawal and so on, but we never seem to get to the crux of the issue. That is what new clause 22 would do: give us a parliamentary lever to shape Brexit. Parliament must determine whether we leave the single market. We must decide whether Ministers should notify other countries of our intention to leave the EEA. The process must not be reduced to some sort of back-door authorisation that can be cobbled together by adding up various bits of the Bill, but that is precisely what the Government are trying to do.
I believe that the repeal of the European Economic Area Act 1993 contained in part 2 of schedule 8 will be used by Ministers, alongside the powers they want to give themselves in clause 8, to claim parliamentary authorisation for setting the ball rolling on our departure from the EEA. They will claim that the by-product of Parliament’s voting, as part of the Bill, to remove domestic UK rights for the citizens and businesses of EEA countries such as Norway, is a parliamentary authorisation to notify other EU and EEA countries of our intention to leave.
I completely agree. My new clause may offer some form of compromise, which I shall set out in due course.
How many of our colleagues actually understand what the Bill will do? Why do the Government want to avoid open and transparent debate? Why is there not a specific clause in the Bill that makes it clear? The answer is obvious: the Government are doing everything they can to avoid an explicit vote on whether the UK should leave the EEA and the single market. They are worried that there might be a parliamentary majority for a so-called soft Brexit, in which we put jobs first and anxieties about immigration and so-called sovereignty second.
Break in Debate
I am going to be quick, so I will not take any more interventions.
We have talked a lot about parliamentary sovereignty, which is why it is vital that we see changes made to the Bill, but the biggest threat to national sovereignty for many countries, particularly in the advanced world, is the power of multinational corporations in an era of globalisation. I am not opposed to those organisations per se, but they do need to be properly regulated and marshalled for the common good. However, they operate across borders, and, ultimately, if we want to regulate them properly and make them work particularly for lower and middle-income families in the advanced world—of course, people’s discontent with globalisation was primarily the thing that drove them to leave the European Union—we have to do that across borders.
Being in the EEA—being part of that framework—enables us to get the system to work better for people. If there is one thing we learned from the referendum we had in 2016, it is that they want us to change the system and better marshal it to their interests. Being in the EEA and EFTA helps to enable us to do that. That is why we should be focusing on it and why we need to pass the amendment tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham East.
I would not like the public who are listening or watching to take the right hon. Lady to mean that the abuse, nasty remarks and things that are going on are only against people who were remainers. Some of us on the other side of the argument have received a huge amount of abuse, but we sometimes think it is probably easier and better simply to ignore it.
The right hon. Lady and I have had our differences during my time in Parliament since 2015, particularly when she was a Business Minister. We had some vigorous debates and disagreements when I, as a member of the Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Committee, challenged her about the steel industry and the industrial strategy, but I felt that she was always very respectful of my view and the strength with which I held it. Why were we able to have such vigorous but respectful debate over such policy issues, but Brexit seems to bring out the very worst in public discourse in this place and beyond?
Order. I know that Members feel strongly about this subject, but we are straying slightly from new clause 2.
Does the right hon. Lady agree that the debates that we are having could be helpful to the Government? The Government are much more likely to be able to “do it”, as she puts it, if they reflect the consensus view of opinion across the House.
The right hon. Lady is making some very good arguments, which chime with the SNP’s position. The difficulty is that the Conservative party and the main Opposition Labour party have the same policy; they are both wedded to leaving the single market and leaving the customs union. Unfortunately, parliamentary arithmetic is against us in this matter, and that situation is taking the UK over the cliff edge.
Does the right hon. Lady not agree that what we are really discussing is democracy and how we interpret it? As much as I agree that the language has sometimes gone overboard and been very unpleasant for some of us, we are grappling with this because democracy is a very difficult issue.
There are certainly several amendments in the group that I will support, if they are pressed to a Division. I very much welcome new clause 55, which was tabled by the right hon. and learned Member for Beaconsfield (Mr Grieve) and relates to enhancing scrutiny. That is clearly something that we need, as it was much debated on Second Reading, and is now being discussed in Committee. If new clause 22, which was tabled by the hon. Member for Lewisham East (Heidi Alexander), is subject to a vote, we will certainly support that.
I welcome the return of the right hon. Member for Witham (Priti Patel), who is clearly making herself the standard bearer for Brexiteers on the Back Benches. I am sorry that she is no longer in the Chamber, but she said in her speech that Brexit was not about cutting regulations. However, that does not quite sit with what she has said previously about Brexit being an opportunity for widespread deregulation. I am afraid I must ask why we should believe what Government Front Benchers are now saying about their intentions when many members of the Cabinet, Ministers and Back Benchers are on record as stating very clearly that Brexit will provide opportunities for deregulation. Members will be pleased to hear that I will make only some brief remarks.