Anna Soubry debates with Attorney General

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)

Legal Advice: Prorogation

Anna Soubry Excerpts
Wednesday 25th September 2019

(10 months, 3 weeks ago)

Commons Chamber
Read Full debate
Attorney General
Mr Geoffrey Cox Portrait The Attorney General - Parliament Live - Hansard
25 Sep 2019, 12:07 p.m.

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.

Anna Soubry (Broxtowe) (IGC) Parliament Live - Hansard
25 Sep 2019, 12:09 p.m.

I am sure many of us would like to congratulate the hon. and learned Member for Edinburgh South West (Joanna Cherry) and Gina Miller on making sure that this remains a sovereign Parliament. The hon. Lady asked a question of the Attorney General which he has not answered. She asked him whether he could confirm that the Cabinet or members of the Cabinet—he is a member of that Cabinet —had asked to see his advice but were denied that opportunity. Can he confirm that his advice was requested by fellow members of the Cabinet but was denied?

Mr Geoffrey Cox Portrait The Attorney General - Parliament Live - Hansard
25 Sep 2019, 12:09 p.m.

Let me make it plain that I have never denied any member of the Cabinet any sight of any advice of mine. I am not certain who else asked for that advice and when, but I certainly have never denied it.

Section 1 of the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2019

Anna Soubry Excerpts
Tuesday 9th April 2019

(1 year, 4 months ago)

Commons Chamber
Read Full debate
Attorney General
Matthew Pennycook Portrait Matthew Pennycook - Hansard
9 Apr 2019, 4:06 p.m.

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.

Anna Soubry (Broxtowe) (Ind) Hansard
9 Apr 2019, 4:06 p.m.

This is a genuine question. If Her Majesty’s Opposition had tabled an amendment seeking a much longer extension, I think it would have won support, certainly from most of us sitting over in this quarter of the Chamber. Is there a reason why the Opposition did not table an amendment to get a long extension, which would do the job for manufacturers in particular?

Matthew Pennycook Portrait Matthew Pennycook - Hansard
9 Apr 2019, 4:07 p.m.

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.

Break in Debate

Mr Owen Paterson Portrait Mr Paterson - Parliament Live - Hansard
9 Apr 2019, 4:14 p.m.

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.

Anna Soubry Parliament Live - Hansard

I suggest to the right hon. Gentleman that insulting the majority of people in this House is not exactly a great way to win an argument. However, will he confirm that he himself said we would be wrong to leave the single market? Will he also confirm that the leave campaign made it very clear that we would not leave the European Union before a deal on trade—a long-term relationship—had been established with the EU? That is right, isn’t it?

Mr Owen Paterson Portrait Mr Paterson - Parliament Live - Hansard

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.

Anna Soubry Parliament Live - Hansard

Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr Owen Paterson Portrait Mr Paterson - Hansard

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.

Break in Debate

Mr Speaker Parliament Live - Hansard

Order. It would help if Members confine themselves to three minutes each.

Anna Soubry (Broxtowe) (Ind) Parliament Live - Hansard
9 Apr 2019, 4:59 p.m.

As ever, it is a great pleasure to follow the right hon. Member for Leeds Central (Hilary Benn). I agree with everything he says. Every time I hear a right hon. or hon. Member on the Government Benches making the case for a no-deal, off-the-cliff, hardest-of-all Brexits, I grow stronger in my belief that I did the right thing by leaving that party. The fact that people who claim to be the party of business are doing the one thing that British business does not want—it would be “ruinous”, in the words of the Business Secretary—fills me with absolute astonishment, but that is the future of the Conservative party. The direction of travel is towards a far-right, extreme version of Brexit. It is not acceptable.

Steve Brine Portrait Steve Brine (Winchester) (Con) - Hansard
9 Apr 2019, 5 p.m.

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.

Anna Soubry Parliament Live - Hansard

I do not doubt for one moment that the hon. Gentleman does not share that view, but the reality is that the majority of members of the Conservative party, as we heard in earlier speeches, are travelling in that direction. The next leader of the Conservative party will be exactly the sort of person who believes in the most ruinous version of Brexit—a no-deal Brexit.

I was heartened to attend a rally at lunchtime today in central London organised by People’s Vote. What a rally it was. People from all backgrounds, of all ages and from all over the United Kingdom came together in support of sending this matter back to the British people. The star of the rally was undoubtedly the brilliant Baroness Boothroyd, who got a standing ovation before she even spoke. After she spoke, she got another rousing standing ovation, and rightly so. She reminded everybody in the audience that she is in her 90th year—I do not think she wanted that broadcast. The point that she made so beautifully, compassionately and passionately is that this issue is not about her generation. Indeed, it is not about my generation either—I am 62. It is about our children and grandchildren. The overwhelming message from that rally was that many young people have spoken to their parents and grandparents, who are now in turn increasingly saying, “Yes, we voted leave, but now we have listened to our children and grandchildren as we have seen the reality of Brexit unfold. We have changed our minds.” It is profoundly ironic that there are right hon. and hon. Members on the Government Benches who have changed their minds and voted for the Prime Minister’s withdrawal agreement, but they deny the people of this country, two and a half years on, the right to a final say and to change their minds too.

People talk about the will of the people, but the evidence is clear that the will of the people is changing. In any event, 63% of people in this country did not vote to leave the European Union, and the 52% who voted for it did not vote for this Brexit chaos and this Brexit crisis. As they see Brexit unfold, they are increasingly demanding a final say and a people’s vote. I will vote for this motion, but I want a longer extension so we can have a confirmatory vote—a people’s vote—because that is the only way out of this crisis.

Tom Brake (Carshalton and Wallington) (LD) Hansard
9 Apr 2019, 5:03 p.m.

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.

United Kingdom’s Withdrawal from the European Union

Anna Soubry Excerpts
Friday 29th March 2019

(1 year, 4 months ago)

Commons Chamber
Read Full debate
Attorney General
Ian Blackford Portrait Ian Blackford - Hansard
29 Mar 2019, 10:51 a.m.

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.

Anna Soubry (Broxtowe) (Ind) Parliament Live - Hansard
29 Mar 2019, 10:53 a.m.

I thank the right hon. Gentleman for giving way. I am really delighted that he is now looking at the substance of the Government’s motion, because it is really important that all of us who see this motion for what it is and who are going to vote against it stick together and do not turn against each other. Can he help us with this? Has he had the opportunity, and would he welcome the opportunity, to speak to the Attorney General—I am sure the Attorney General is going to come off his phone in a minute, if somebody could give him a prod. [Interruption.] Thank you. Hello. Has the right hon. Gentleman had the opportunity to speak to the Attorney General? Would he take that opportunity to speak to the Attorney General to discover whether it is the Government’s intention to revoke section 13 of the European Union (Withdrawal) Act that we passed last year?

Ian Blackford Portrait Ian Blackford - Hansard
29 Mar 2019, 10:53 a.m.

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—

Anna Soubry Hansard
29 Mar 2019, 10:53 a.m.

And Labour.

Ian Blackford Portrait Ian Blackford - Parliament Live - Hansard

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.

Break in Debate

Wera Hobhouse Portrait Wera Hobhouse - Parliament Live - Hansard
29 Mar 2019, 12:30 p.m.

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.

Anna Soubry Parliament Live - Hansard
29 Mar 2019, 12:30 p.m.

Does the hon. Lady find it somewhat ironic that there are those on the Government Benches who are changing their mind on how they are going to vote, and indeed have already changed their vote in relation to the EU (Withdrawal) Act, but, for some reason, they will not allow the British people the opportunity to change their mind and change their vote?

Wera Hobhouse Portrait Wera Hobhouse - Parliament Live - Hansard
29 Mar 2019, 12:30 p.m.

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.

Break in Debate

Sir Christopher Chope Portrait Sir Christopher Chope (Christchurch) (Con) - Parliament Live - Hansard
29 Mar 2019, 12:46 p.m.

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.

Anna Soubry (Broxtowe) (Ind) Parliament Live - Hansard
29 Mar 2019, 12:52 p.m.

It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Christchurch (Sir Christopher Chope). I do not agree with much of what he says, but I will say this in his favour: at least he is consistent with the arguments he has made repeatedly in this place for why this is a bad deal. He and I will be in the same Lobby tonight—for different reasons—and actually I agree with much of what he says about the deal.

Apparently hon. Members now decry consistency. It is quite bizarre—forgive me, Mr Speaker, for repeating comments I made only a few days ago—that hon. Members think it entirely proper and honourable that they should be allowed to change their vote and their minds but that the British people should be denied exactly the same right on this matter. [Interruption.] The right hon. Member for South Holland and The Deepings (Sir John Hayes) is one such person. He voted against the Prime Minister’s deal, then he voted for it, and he will again vote for it today.

In all the shameful shenanigans that have embraced Brexit, we have sunk to real depths today, and I want to explain why. It is not good enough for people to stand up and say, as we have heard, that they will now vote for the deal, not because they think it might be good for our country or our constituents, but because it will stop an extension—even though the Government have made it clear that no further extensions would be allowed. It is perverse for hon. Members to say they will now vote for the deal because it prevents our taking part in European parliamentary elections. These are not good reasons.

Other Government Members have said they will vote for the Prime Minister’s deal on the basis that the Prime Minister will stand down. That is not acting with honour; that is not acting with principle. I will vote with the right hon. Member for Witham (Priti Patel)—she remains my friend and always will be. At least she has been true to her principles. She stands and says that she will not vote for the deal and rightly says that she will be held to account by her constituents. I congratulate her on that. We do not always agree—we do not agree on this issue—but on many points we do agree about why this withdrawal agreement is bad for our country.

I pay tribute to the Democratic Unionist party. [Interruption.] The Minister of State, Ministry of Justice decries that. He has not even let me finish my sentence. As a grouping, I have grave difficulties with the DUP, as individuals I find most of them pleasant, but at least they have been consistent, and on this I absolutely agree with them. This withdrawal agreement is a genuine threat to the Union of the United Kingdom. I genuinely believe that. It is one of the reasons why I am in fear of this agreement. I believe that it is a threat to Northern Ireland and its relationship as part of our United Kingdom. I believe that the same is true of Scotland. I believe that Brexit will increase the desire of the Scottish people to break away from the Union and strike out by themselves, because they will see a future as a member of the European Union denied them as part of the United Kingdom. In Wales, too, we know that the number of remain voters continues to grow.

I agree with the comments made by the right hon. and learned Member for Beaconsfield (Mr Grieve), the hon. Member for Leicester West (Liz Kendall) and the right hon. Member for Leeds Central (Hilary Benn) that the division between the political declaration and the withdrawal agreement will make the certainty that British businesses are crying out for even less achievable. It is so regrettable, given that we have started finally on a process of indicative votes—something that, as you know, Mr Speaker, many of us were crying out for at the beginning of this process to bring unity; to bring the 48% and the 52% together to form a consensus. We have begun that process and we are making good progress in it, and I think that there will be some good and reasonable outcomes that will heal the divide and take us forward in the way that we need to go.

What sort of country have we become post the referendum? Are we a better country? Are we a happier country? Are we a more united country? Or is the absolute reality that we are not just as divided as we were in June 2016 but even more divided? Change will come because change has to come, because British politics is broken. We are seeing that change. I have left the Conservative party along with two others. I think more will follow. I think we will see the break-up of the two parties, and I am delighted today that the group that I have joined with former Labour Members has today formed itself into a new political party that will change the face and direction of British politics. That is why we call ourselves change.org—[Interruption.] I believe that that is what the British people are crying out for—leadership, honesty, integrity and a new way of doing politics. That is the only good thing that will come out of the Brexit chaos.

Mr Speaker Parliament Live - Hansard
29 Mar 2019, 12:58 p.m.

A four-minute limit now applies.

Withdrawal Agreement: Legal Opinion

(1st reading: House of Commons)
Anna Soubry Excerpts
Tuesday 12th March 2019

(1 year, 5 months ago)

Commons Chamber
Read Full debate Bill Main Page
Attorney General
Mr Geoffrey Cox Portrait The Attorney General - Parliament Live - Hansard
12 Mar 2019, 1:15 p.m.

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.

Anna Soubry (Broxtowe) (Ind) Parliament Live - Hansard
12 Mar 2019, 1:16 p.m.

I, too, commend the Attorney General for his work and his efforts. I believe he has acted in all good faith. I also pay tribute to the Prime Minister, because there is no doubt that she has done her best to try to solve this problem and come back with something, but she simply has not been able to, as many of us had predicted. I am an old criminal barrister—[Interruption.] Who said, “Lock her up?” In all seriousness, criminal barristers tend to speak in plain, simple language, because we address juries. Does the Attorney General agree with this simple assessment of the joint instrument, which I have read: it does not change the withdrawal agreement, and it offers no new treaty or obligations at a treaty level? Will he also confirm that this is the end of the road—there are now no more negotiations with the EU, despite all his best efforts and those of the Government?

Mr Geoffrey Cox Portrait The Attorney General - Hansard
12 Mar 2019, 1:12 p.m.

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.

European Union (Withdrawal) Act

Anna Soubry Excerpts
Tuesday 15th January 2019

(1 year, 7 months ago)

Commons Chamber
Read Full debate
Attorney General
Mr Geoffrey Cox Portrait The Attorney General - Parliament Live - Hansard
15 Jan 2019, 1:42 p.m.

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.

Anna Soubry (Broxtowe) (Con) Parliament Live - Hansard
15 Jan 2019, 1:42 p.m.

Will the Attorney General give way?

Mr Geoffrey Cox Portrait The Attorney General - Parliament Live - Hansard
15 Jan 2019, 1:43 p.m.

I must move on, because the next thing I must deal with is the alternatives.

Break in Debate

Mr Geoffrey Cox Portrait The Attorney General - Hansard
15 Jan 2019, 1:45 p.m.

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.

Anna Soubry Hansard
15 Jan 2019, 1:45 p.m.

The Attorney General and I are both members of the criminal Bar, although I was never in his league. We both understand the art of negotiation. Someone cannot be a criminal barrister or, indeed, any kind of lawyer unless they understand negotiation. He advances the case for the withdrawal agreement on the basis that it has reached some pragmatic consensus, but I suggest to him that a good negotiation is something that settles things and that a majority can positively support. The problem with this agreement is that it does not settle anything and it does not satisfy the vast majority. In fact, it probably satisfies no one in this House.

Mr Geoffrey Cox Portrait The Attorney General - Hansard
15 Jan 2019, 1:46 p.m.

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.

Break in Debate

Nick Thomas-Symonds Portrait Nick Thomas-Symonds - Parliament Live - Hansard
15 Jan 2019, 1:59 p.m.

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.

Anna Soubry Parliament Live - Hansard
15 Jan 2019, 1:59 p.m.

The hon. Gentleman is making a case about trust, and that is what the country is being asked to do—make this great leap of faith. We do not know what our future trading and security relationships will be. The sorry story is that all the way through the past two and a half years we have had a series of promises that have not been delivered. He will remember, for example, the then Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union, my right hon. Friend the Member for Haltemprice and Howden (Mr Davis), saying at the Dispatch Box that we would have a deal before we left that would convey the “exact same benefits” of our current membership of the single market and the customs union. That is what is troubling people. This is a blindfold Brexit and that is why people will not vote for it.

Nick Thomas-Symonds Portrait Nick Thomas-Symonds - Hansard

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?

Break in Debate

Mr Clarke Hansard
15 Jan 2019, 2:09 p.m.

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.

Anna Soubry Hansard
15 Jan 2019, 2:21 p.m.

Will my right hon. and learned Friend give way?

Mr Clarke Parliament Live - Hansard
15 Jan 2019, 2:24 p.m.

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.

Break in Debate

Lisa Nandy Portrait Lisa Nandy (Wigan) (Lab) - Parliament Live - Hansard

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.

Anna Soubry (Broxtowe) (Con) Parliament Live - Hansard
15 Jan 2019, 4:15 p.m.

I agree with the hon. Member for Wigan (Lisa Nandy) that it is imperative, as we face this the most important decision the House has made in generations, that we be honest with our constituents, tell them the truth and act in the national interest, not just for our constituents but for the generations to come.

In that spirit, I do not hesitate to say that our great nation has made a terrible mistake in deciding to leave the EU. Notwithstanding that, I voted to honour the referendum result and to trigger article 50. Then I reached out to my Government across these Benches to find a consensus that would deliver on the referendum result while doing the least possible damage to our economy and avoiding a hard border in Northern Ireland. As you know, Mr Speaker, and as others know who follow this debate, it was all in vain, and so it was with a heavy heart that I and many others came to the conclusion that the only way out of the impasse was to take it back to the British people. As we have thought about it and talked to people, it has become absolutely clear that that is the right thing to do: it is right for those who are entitled, now they know what Brexit looks like, to change their minds; it is right for older leave voters, as they consider their children and grandchildren, to put their interests first and change their minds; of course, it is also right, two and a half years on, for the young people who did not have the opportunity to vote, because of their age, to have a say in their future, because they will bear the burden of it all.

I agree with so much of what has been said by so many right hon. and hon. Members. If anybody in the Conservative party is still not sure how to vote tonight, I do not ask them to agree with me and my analysis. I come at this from a very different perspective from my hon. Friend the Member for North West Cambridgeshire (Mr Vara), who beautifully unpicked the whole deal and explained, in good, solid, careful terms, why it is such a bad deal and must be voted against. I would not for one moment say to him or anyone else in the Conservative party with whom I am in such huge disagreement that anybody is being undemocratic in voting against the deal. I do not agree with many of their reasons, but they are voting that way because they believe it to be right and in the national interest. That must be right.

It must also be wrong for anybody to vote in favour of this deal because they have in effect been blackmailed into thinking that the alternative is no deal; that is simply not the case. We have heard the alternatives available, whether a people’s vote or the Bill that has been proposed. I gently say to dear friends in the Conservative party that it also cannot be right to vote for this deal on the basis that it is a terrible deal. How on earth does that make sense? How does one explain that to one’s constituents? It cannot be right to vote for this deal on the basis that it is so bad that one has a cunning plan to put forward an alternative when it fails. I gently say to dear friends in the Conservative party that it cannot be right either to vote for the deal on the basis that, as one said to me, “My association would tear me to pieces if I didn’t”.

This is a bad deal and we must vote against it. Nobody voted to be poorer. It is also a terrible leap in the dark. I say with great respect to my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Rushcliffe (Mr Clarke) that it absolutely does not provide the certainty that British business is crying out for. The deal must be rejected. We are meant to be the party of business, and it is bad for business, and we are meant to be the party of the future, and it is bad for young people. Let’s all come together and vote against the deal.

Frank Field (Birkenhead) (Ind) Parliament Live - Hansard
15 Jan 2019, 4:20 p.m.

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.

EU Withdrawal Agreement: Legal Advice

Anna Soubry Excerpts
Tuesday 13th November 2018

(1 year, 9 months ago)

Commons Chamber
Read Full debate
Attorney General
Ms Angela Eagle Portrait Ms Angela Eagle - Hansard
13 Nov 2018, 1:16 p.m.

rose—

Anna Soubry (Broxtowe) (Con) Parliament Live - Hansard
13 Nov 2018, 1:16 p.m.

rose—

Keir Starmer Portrait Keir Starmer - Hansard
13 Nov 2018, 1:17 p.m.

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.

Break in Debate

Mr Dominic Grieve (Beaconsfield) (Con) Hansard
13 Nov 2018, 1:21 p.m.

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.

Anna Soubry Hansard

rose—

Keir Starmer Portrait Keir Starmer - Hansard
13 Nov 2018, 1:21 p.m.

I will give way to the right hon. Lady, and then I will deal with both interventions.

Anna Soubry Hansard
13 Nov 2018, 1:22 p.m.

I thank the right hon. and learned Gentleman for giving way. Can he help us with this? Is this a motion that was drafted by the Office of the Leader of the Opposition, which has subsequently been changed quite dramatically at the Dispatch Box? Is it an intervention, yet again, by the shadow Secretary of State to make good the failings of the leader of his party?

Keir Starmer Portrait Keir Starmer - Hansard
13 Nov 2018, 1:22 p.m.

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.

Break in Debate

Mr Dominic Grieve (Beaconsfield) (Con) Hansard
13 Nov 2018, 2:20 p.m.

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.

Anna Soubry Parliament Live - Hansard
13 Nov 2018, 2:25 p.m.

Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that at best, given the great force with which he speaks as a former Attorney General, the motion should be defeated and we should not be voting for it? Does he share my concern that I have been told I should abstain on this matter? I do not know why. I suspect it is because there is no majority. If that is the case, who is running the country: this Government or the European Research Group?

Mr Grieve Hansard
13 Nov 2018, 2:25 p.m.

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—

European Union (Withdrawal) Bill

Anna Soubry Excerpts
Wednesday 13th June 2018

(2 years, 2 months ago)

Commons Chamber
Read Full debate
Attorney General
Keir Starmer Portrait Keir Starmer - Hansard
13 Jun 2018, 1:34 p.m.

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.

Anna Soubry (Broxtowe) (Con) Hansard
13 Jun 2018, 1:34 p.m.

rose—

Keir Starmer Portrait Keir Starmer - Hansard
13 Jun 2018, 1:34 p.m.

I will give way—

Break in Debate

Keir Starmer Portrait Keir Starmer - Hansard
13 Jun 2018, 1:34 p.m.

I have already given way, so I cannot be accused of not giving way.

Anna Soubry Hansard
13 Jun 2018, 1:34 p.m.

I thank the right hon. and learned Gentleman for giving way. We need to be very clear about this. Something may have happened, but I heard the Prime Minister saying very clearly from the Dispatch Box that an amendment would be forthcoming, that it would largely incorporate much of the amendment that my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Beaconsfield (Mr Grieve) tabled yesterday, that discussions and negotiations are continuing, that that amendment will be tabled in the Lords in due course and that the job will be done on a meaningful vote involved for this House.

Keir Starmer Portrait Keir Starmer - Hansard
13 Jun 2018, 1:35 p.m.

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.

Break in Debate

Robert Buckland Portrait The Solicitor General - Hansard
13 Jun 2018, 2:32 p.m.

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.

Anna Soubry Hansard
13 Jun 2018, 2:33 p.m.

As ever, my hon. and learned Friend is quite outstanding at the Dispatch Box, but I have to ask him this: what is the Government’s solution to ensuring that we have frictionless trade? What is the Government’s policy to deliver it?

Robert Buckland Portrait The Solicitor General - Hansard

As my very old and good friend knows, the Government have indeed—[Laughter.]

Break in Debate

Charlie Elphicke (Dover) (Ind) Parliament Live - Hansard
13 Jun 2018, 5:22 p.m.

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.

Anna Soubry Hansard
13 Jun 2018, 11:30 a.m.

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for giving way. Has he read the report by the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee? Members of that Committee went all around the world and could not find anywhere where there was the frictionless trade of which he speaks. They include a number of leavers, but they came to that conclusion. He has to face up to that reality and tell us how he will to deliver the borders of which he speaks.

Charlie Elphicke Hansard
13 Jun 2018, 11:30 a.m.

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.

Break in Debate

Caroline Flint Parliament Live - Hansard
13 Jun 2018, 11:30 a.m.

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.

Anna Soubry Parliament Live - Hansard
13 Jun 2018, 5:29 p.m.

Shame!

Caroline Flint Hansard

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.

Break in Debate

Caroline Flint Hansard
13 Jun 2018, 5:30 p.m.

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.

Anna Soubry Hansard
13 Jun 2018, 5:29 p.m.

I am sorry, Mr Speaker, because I know it is a courtesy to say so, but it is not a pleasure to follow the right hon. Member for Don Valley (Caroline Flint). I have admired her for many years, but I found that one of the saddest speeches I have ever heard. [Interruption.]

Mr Speaker Hansard

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.

Anna Soubry Hansard
13 Jun 2018, 5:29 p.m.

As you will remember, Mr Speaker, I said how much I respect the right hon. Lady for so much of her work, but on this I profoundly disagree with her.

I will be voting for the very good amendment—Lords amendment 51—written and beautifully advocated by the noble Lord Kerr. I urge hon. Members to read it, because I agree with everything it says about the value of a customs union. In due course, the Bill about a customs arrangement will come back to the House. I ask British businesses to write to their local MP to explain why it is so important, just as my right hon. Friend the Member for Wantage (Mr Vaizey) said that one of his businesses had explained to him in good, simple, plain terms why having a customs arrangement is so important to his constituents, their jobs and the future of their children and grandchildren.

I will be voting for the EEA amendment because, as I have said many times in this place, I believe in the value of the single market. I say to the right hon. Member for Don Valley that I am appalled that she, as a member of the Labour party, has stood up and shown that she does not understand and appreciate the considerable value that immigrants have brought to our country. These are human beings—[Interruption.] I will take an intervention when I want—I am not afraid of a debate, and I will take one now.

Caroline Flint Hansard

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.

Anna Soubry Hansard

The right hon. Lady represents an area of the country that I know quite well; I am from north Nottinghamshire—from Worksop—and I also represent the constituency of Broxtowe. It is often quite peculiarly unique, and perhaps a little bizarre, that those who complain most about immigration are in areas where there is actually very little of it. That is the point: it is about the fear of the stranger—the fear of the unknown—and we have a duty as Members of Parliament to make the positive case in our constituencies for immigration and to have these debates with our constituents.

It is true, and I agree, that in some parts of our country a large number of people have come in, but these are invariably Polish people, Latvians and Lithuanians who do the work that, in reality, our own constituents will not do. It is a myth that there is an army of people sitting at home desperately wanting to do jobs. The truth of the matter is that we have full employment, and we do control immigration. How do we control it? It is called the market. Overwhelmingly, people come here to work. When we do not have the jobs, they simply do not come.

Now, it is right, and I agree—this is a sad legacy of previous Labour Governments—that there has not been the investment in skills that this Government are now making, and they have a proud record on apprenticeships, by way of example. However, I say to the right hon. Lady that she must speak to the businesses in her constituency, and she must ask them, “Who are these people? Where have they come from? Why have you not employed locally?” I have done that with the businesses in my constituency, and some have told me that they have probably broken the law. They have gone out deliberately and absolutely clearly to recruit local people, and they have found that, with very few exceptions, they have been unable to fill the vacancies. They take grave exception to anybody who says that they undercut in their wages or do not offer people great opportunities. It is a myth, as I say, that there are armies of people wanting to work who cannot work because of immigration.

The huge danger of the argument being advanced by some Opposition Members, as the hon. Member for Streatham (Chuka Umunna) said, is that people play into a narrative that, instead of looking at other factors in life, turns to the stranger and—history tells us the danger of doing this—blames the foreigner, the unknown and the person with a different coloured skin or a different accent, when there are actually other reasons for the discomforts and the problems people have in their lives.

I say to Opposition Members that they should be proud of their fine tradition. What they should be doing is making the case for immigration and then saying this: “Suck it up!” No alternative has been advanced in this place other than the customs union and the single market. Let’s grab it—let’s do it and move on.

Hywel Williams Portrait Hywel Williams (Arfon) (PC) - Parliament Live - Hansard
13 Jun 2018, 5:39 p.m.

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.

European Union (Withdrawal) Bill

(Report stage: First Day: House of Commons)
Anna Soubry Excerpts
Tuesday 16th January 2018

(2 years, 7 months ago)

Commons Chamber
Read Full debate Bill Main Page
Attorney General
Mr Leslie Hansard
16 Jan 2018, 1:43 p.m.

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.

Anna Soubry (Broxtowe) (Con) Hansard
16 Jan 2018, 1:44 p.m.

I think I played a small part in that, and the hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. Does he agree that all political parties are very keen to appeal to younger voters and that things such as rights really matter to young people, so it could be seen as somewhat ironic that a party that wants to get more young people to vote for it seems to be turning its back on provision for these very important rights?

Mr Leslie Hansard
16 Jan 2018, 1:44 p.m.

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.

Break in Debate

Joanna Cherry Portrait Joanna Cherry (Edinburgh South West) (SNP) - Hansard
16 Jan 2018, 1:59 p.m.

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.

Anna Soubry Hansard
16 Jan 2018, 2:05 p.m.

That was a long time ago.

Joanna Cherry Portrait Joanna Cherry - Hansard
16 Jan 2018, 2:05 p.m.

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.

Anna Soubry Hansard
16 Jan 2018, 2:06 p.m.

I am grateful to the hon. Lady for giving way, because I think it needs to be put on the record that, as a Conservative, I could not be prouder of what we achieved between 2010 and 2015, when we introduced equal marriage. I also pay tribute to the fact that the leader of the Scottish Conservatives happens to be gay. We just need to move on from all this. We should not talk about the past, but look to the future. We are very proud of our history as it now is in the Conservative party.

Joanna Cherry Portrait Joanna Cherry - Hansard
16 Jan 2018, 2:07 p.m.

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.

Break in Debate

Caroline Lucas Portrait Caroline Lucas - Hansard
16 Jan 2018, 3:09 p.m.

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.

Anna Soubry Hansard

It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Caroline Lucas), although I will not support her amendments. In fact, I will not support any amendments other than those tabled by the Government. The Bill will leave this place in much better shape than when it was first introduced, but it is still not fit for purpose, frankly. As hon. Members said on Second Reading, we need a mechanism to move all our existing law into domestic law, but the many faults in the Bill have been well rehearsed by my right hon. and learned Friends the Members for Beaconsfield (Mr Grieve) and for Rushcliffe (Mr Clarke). I wholly agree with them; I endorse their arguments; and I do not intend to repeat them.

Many changes are still needed, but it will be the other place that will make good some of the faults that remain in the Bill. We are not trying to abdicate the responsibility for doing so, because that is simply the way it is, and has been, sadly, for some time. Many right hon. and hon. Members on both sides of the House share our concerns, but given the nature of the political situation they have not quite gone the extra step to defy a three-line Whip or to be seen as disloyal to their leader. Many people do not want to undermine the Prime Minister as she enters the difficult next stage of negotiations with the European Union, but it will be important, when the Bill returns to this place, that we all have the courage of our convictions and put our country’s interests at the front of all that we do. We need to get the best piece of legislation because it is so important.

There is every chance that in the next few months the sands will begin to shift as people begin to understand and appreciate that we have made an error in taking options off the table—or never putting them on in the first place—notably in the speech that was made almost a year ago, when the Prime Minister said that the single market and the customs union were coming off the table. Those red lines have not helped, and they will not help us in the forthcoming negotiations. All options need to be placed back on the table—and I mean all options. That includes the ability of the people—it must be the people—of this country to determine the future of Brexit. It must remain with them, and they must drive it. That must be taken into consideration as the Bill moves up into the Lords and then comes back here.

Finally, this place voted, as we know, for amendment 7, and the Government lost that vote. If new clause 9, which many say has now become otiose, falls or is abandoned by the Government when the Bill passes into the other place, it must be made absolutely clear that, even in that event, this place wants a meaningful vote on the final deal and in good time—not some rubber stamp or some deal or no deal, but a proper, meaningful vote. That must be determined by elected representatives and by the people and in the interests of the people—in the interests of not just my generation but my children and my grandchildren, who I hope will come—so that we do this properly, putting the people in charge and doing the best thing for our country.

Bambos Charalambous Portrait Bambos Charalambous (Enfield, Southgate) (Lab) - Parliament Live - Hansard

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.

European Union (Withdrawal) Bill

(Committee: 2nd sitting: House of Commons)
Anna Soubry Excerpts
Wednesday 15th November 2017

(2 years, 9 months ago)

Commons Chamber
Read Full debate Bill Main Page
Attorney General
Heidi Alexander Hansard
15 Nov 2017, 3:52 p.m.

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.

Anna Soubry (Broxtowe) (Con) Hansard
15 Nov 2017, 3:56 p.m.

I know that an overwhelming majority of the people who voted in the hon. Lady’s constituency voted to remain. Does she share my concern that many such people feel completely excluded from Brexit? Does she think that this sort of debate will absolutely help to bring people back together and, perhaps, to form a consensus on Brexit?

Heidi Alexander Parliament Live - Hansard
15 Nov 2017, 3:57 p.m.

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

Chuka Umunna Hansard
15 Nov 2017, 5:34 p.m.

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.

Anna Soubry Hansard
15 Nov 2017, 5:35 p.m.

It is a great pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Streatham (Chuka Umunna). We are co-chairs of the all-party parliamentary group on EU relations; our relationship with the EU will continue. He chairs it extremely ably. I am grateful to him for the kind comments that he made at the beginning. His analysis, as ever, was absolutely spot on. For far too long, we have had far too much rhetoric and far too many insults flowing around. We have to stop the silly things that have been said about people like me, and indeed him and other right hon. and hon. Members on both sides of the Chamber, and the constant attacks. We are told that if we have the views that we have then we are remoaners who are trying somehow to thwart the will of the people and so on. It does not help and it has not helped. History will not be kind to this place when what has happened since the referendum back in 2016 is written about.

What is really interesting as we enter day two of this debate is to see Conservative Members suddenly coming over and talking to each other. People who voted leave and were very vociferous during the campaign are coming over and talking to my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Beaconsfield (Mr Grieve) where there are clear concerns on constitutional matters and on the sovereignty of this place. Conversations are held between those of both main parties and of other parties. All these things are good. This is about healing the great divide that has occurred in our party. The fact that it is happening on this side of the Chamber as well is important.

The reason that people like me get so agitated is that one moment last night was really deeply unpleasant. Some of my right hon. and hon. Friends, when they saw the electronic copy of that newspaper, were genuinely concerned and worried because they knew that they would get the sorts of emails, tweets and Facebook postings that we have had before, and we would get all that stirring up of the old antipathy of this long-running sore that has bedevilled my party in particular. It is not acceptable when people keep perpetuating these myths. As the hon. Member for Streatham says, it fuels the flames.

If nothing else, I think we can now make progress. Let us stop the rhetoric, stop accusing people like me of wanting to thwart the will of the people and accept that we are leaving. If my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Rushcliffe (Mr Clarke) accepts that we are leaving the EU, how many times do we have to say it before all these insults stop and we make the progress that we need to make in now delivering a Brexit that benefits everybody in this country? I support new clause 22.

Kate Hoey (Vauxhall) (Lab) Hansard
15 Nov 2017, 5:38 p.m.

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.

Anna Soubry Hansard

I would love to ignore death threats, but I actually find them quite frightening. As a result, I have in the past reported at least two to the police. The courts took it very seriously, I say gently to the hon. Lady. They sent one person to prison and suspended the other person’s custodial sentence. I am glad that some people in this place take it seriously.

Peter Kyle Portrait Peter Kyle (Hove) (Lab) - Hansard
15 Nov 2017, 5:39 p.m.

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?

The Temporary Chair (David Hanson) Hansard
15 Nov 2017, 5:40 p.m.

Order. I know that Members feel strongly about this subject, but we are straying slightly from new clause 2.

Anna Soubry Hansard
15 Nov 2017, 5:40 p.m.

I am desperate to get on with supporting new clause 22 and endorsing the excellent speech made by the hon. Member for Lewisham East (Heidi Alexander). Notwithstanding the referendum result, we all need to move on. When I stood for election in Broxtowe in June, I did so on the clear platform of accepting that we were leaving the European Union but continuing to make the case for the single market, the customs union and the positive benefits of immigration.

The reason why I say that with some conviction is that if we are all very honest about it, there is unfortunately every chance that we will not get anything like the sort of trade deal that we want. I have no doubt that we will get deals on security, aviation and so on, but the harsh and uncomfortable reality is that there is very little chance that we will actually get the sort of trade deal that we need to secure our country’s future. On that basis, the only alternative at the moment seems to be to crash out with no deal. I am not criticising the Government for making preparations for that eventuality, because it would be foolish of them not to do so, but I suggest that the idea that we will have either a deal or no deal is not the way to see it. We do not have just two options; there is a third option, which is for us to continue to be a member of the EEA and a member of EFTA.

I take this view, which I base on knocking on hundreds of doors during the election campaign and continuing to talk to my constituents when I go out leafleting and so on. I think that most people in the real world are absolutely fed up with all this. They have had enough of us all squabbling and moaning and groaning. It is unpleasant, and people are sick and tired of it. I think they take the view, “Look, you have all been elected to this place, and you have got a Government in place. For goodness’ sake, just get on and do it.” Now let us have a debate about what “it” is and how we do it for the very best in our country. Let us have that sort of debate. I think that we will be criticised for the fact that it has taken us so long to have that debate.

Mr Ben Bradshaw Portrait Mr Ben Bradshaw (Exeter) (Lab) - Hansard
15 Nov 2017, 5:42 p.m.

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.

Anna Soubry Hansard
15 Nov 2017, 5:43 p.m.

I completely agree with the right hon. Gentleman. I go on about what history will write about this place, and one of the observations of history will be the lack of debate until almost this point, which does us no credit. Another will be that at least two thirds, I reckon, of the people elected to this place are of the same view on the customs union and single market.

Angus Brendan MacNeil Portrait Angus Brendan MacNeil - Hansard
15 Nov 2017, 5:43 p.m.

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.

Anna Soubry Hansard
15 Nov 2017, 5:44 p.m.

I am not going to adopt the hon. Gentleman’s tribal language, because I am trying to build a consensus. I understand why Conservative Front Benchers find themselves in the position that they are in. Equally, I understand the difficulties that the Labour party has. The simple, harsh reality is that people from all parties voted both leave and remain.

One of our biggest problems when we try to resolve this issue is immigration. We need to have a proper debate about immigration and make the positive case for it. We need to explain that there is not a small army of people sitting at home, desperate to work in the fields of Lincolnshire and Kent or in the food processing factory in my constituency, for example. We need to explain that people come to our country to work and that we would be lost without them—not just in the fields or the factories, as I described, but in our great NHS.

I have been speaking to businesses, as many of us do, and the facts I am told are that many of our manufacturers have seen a 10% decline in the number of workers from the European Union and that they cannot find people in our country to replace them. This is serious stuff—I do now want to digress and get into the arguments about immigration—and it is our job as politicians to lead such arguments. We have previously discussed the proud history of those on both sides of the House in leading on social change, and we as politicians have an absolute duty to make such a case.

Wera Hobhouse Portrait Wera Hobhouse - Hansard
15 Nov 2017, 5:45 p.m.

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.

Anna Soubry Hansard
15 Nov 2017, 5:45 p.m.

The hon. Lady may well be right. I am trying to find solutions. I am trying to find a way to get the best solution for everybody in our country, while putting the economy at the heart of this.

The joy of remaining in the EEA, and indeed in EFTA, is that it is a model sitting on the shelf that can be taken down, dusted off and perhaps tweaked here and there. The benefit for the great British people is that—hallelujah!—the job will pretty much be done, and it will enable our Government to get on with the great domestic issues that we must address. It certainly means there will be a “Hoorah!” right across businesses in this country, because it will give them the certainty and the continuity for which they are desperate, and it will deliver economic benefits. There is not much else to say, but if it is pressed to a Division, I will certainly vote for new clause 22.

Tom Brake Hansard
15 Nov 2017, 5:46 p.m.

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.