There have been 10 exchanges between Chris Bryant and Attorney General
|Thu 3rd October 2019||Oral Answers to Questions||5 interactions (82 words)|
|Wed 25th September 2019||Legal Advice: Prorogation||3 interactions (80 words)|
|Tue 9th April 2019||Section 1 of the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2019||3 interactions (84 words)|
|Fri 29th March 2019||United Kingdom’s Withdrawal from the European Union||15 interactions (606 words)|
|Tue 12th March 2019||Withdrawal Agreement: Legal Opinion||3 interactions (138 words)|
|Tue 15th January 2019||European Union (Withdrawal) Act||14 interactions (416 words)|
|Mon 3rd December 2018||Withdrawal Agreement: Legal Position||7 interactions (82 words)|
|Mon 3rd December 2018||Points of Order||11 interactions (252 words)|
|Tue 13th November 2018||EU Withdrawal Agreement: Legal Advice||9 interactions (283 words)|
|Thu 29th June 2017||Oral Answers to Questions||3 interactions (53 words)|
Some of us, however, will stand up for Parliament at all times. I completely respect the right of the Attorney General to his view. This Parliament is entirely legitimate. It is doing its work, it should be expected to do so and no amount of cheap abuse, calumny and vituperation directed at this Parliament will stop it doing its job. That is the way it is, that is the way it will continue to be, that is the way it has to be.
The hon. Gentleman is quite right; there are some countries that will not extradite their own citizens. In those cases it is a case of bilateral discussion with them. There is the existing Extradition Act 2003, but if they will not extradite citizens, there is of course the option of trying them in that country. That is generally the option that those countries offer in connection with their own citizens.
My right hon. Friend is asking me to look into a crystal ball. Far be it from me to fathom the inscrutable minds of their lordships in the Supreme Court as to why they chose not to dissent if they were minded to dissent, or to agree if they were minded not to agree.
I give way first to the hon. Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant).
As the hon. Gentleman knows, negotiations will carry on in the Council tomorrow, and I think it would be idle speculation for me to try and anticipate what might be agreed. Some people take offence at the word nebulous; I do not. [Interruption.] I really do not. What I have tried to do, at all stages of this process, is to find a way forward and to seek a solution. It is in all our hands, and I say that in a spirit of friendship and co-operation to all hon. Members.
I must make progress, but I will give way, particularly to the hon. Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant).
The reason for the motion today, and for the form of the motion, is that it enables the House to secure this legal right. It is the case that the Government make that the agreement is required in any event. Members on the other side do not dispute the requirement for the agreement to be passed, so we invite the House to secure the certainty of the extension; to continue the process of the political declaration reconsiderations; to enable us, by 22 May, to ratify the domestic implementing legislation; and to conclude discussions on the political declaration.
There will certainly have to be a Bill. There will have to be a process of ratification in the House, which is why, if it votes for the withdrawal agreement today, it would be surprising if it did not vote to implement the withdrawal agreement. This is the step that we need to take.
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Indeed, and it has always been the case, because of the withdrawal agreement, that it would have to reverse the—
That is an interesting question, but I am being diverted from the final point that I want to make.
I listened to the Attorney-General’s kind reference to the indicative votes process. I almost forgot that the Government voted against it happening this week. If they were taking it seriously, they would indicate a willingness to compromise if the House is able to find a way forward.
The deal has been defeated twice because it offers no clarity or certainty for our future. If businesses come to me in my constituency and say, “Hilary, I know how it works today. I export. Tell me how it will work with this political declaration in three, five or 10 years.” I have to look them in the eye and tell them the truth: I have absolutely no idea. So is it right to ask the House to take us out of the European Union on that basis, especially when a new Prime Minister may be coming?
On “Newsnight” last night, it was reported that a Cabinet Minister was asked why the Government were going ahead with this vote and they replied, expletive deleted:
“I’m past caring. It’s like the living dead in here.”
I will not comment on the language, but that is the problem and it has always been the problem.
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It is a pleasure to follow the right hon. Member for Broxtowe (Anna Soubry). I admire her consistency, but she will not agree with what I am about to say. I am afraid that I did not agree with what she said.
This is a simple question of democracy, sovereignty and accountability. That is why 17.4 million people voted to leave. They were told, “You are sovereign. You make a decision. The Commons, as elected, will interpret that.” They trusted us to deliver what they voted for. They will be bitterly disappointed. At 11 o’clock tonight, we should be leaving, and we will not be leaving, and that is a terrible blow to integrity and their trust in us. The Conservative manifesto was very clear that we would interpret leave to mean leaving the single market, leaving the customs union and leaving the European Court of Justice. The Labour party pretty well said the same thing. More than two thirds of Members of Parliament represent seats that said leave, and 444 and 498 Members voted for the Second and Third Readings of the Bill to trigger article 50. At that stage, perhaps Opposition Members were stunned by the effect of the referendum, but now I am amazed by the nature of these debates. There is a sense that that enormous vote—that enormous expression of popular demand—has faded into the past. It is seen as a bit embarrassing and bit like a bad smell at a dinner party
Other Members want to speak, so I must push on.
The issue is live. Those people are out there and they believe that it should happen and that we should deliver it. It is not going back. It cannot be put back in the bottle, with the top screwed on, and then hidden in a cupboard or put in the fridge. That huge vote will continue to dominate our politics. The issue is not going away.
It is extraordinary that the fifth largest economy in the world is proposing to have laws imposed on it by 27 other countries, many of which are competitors that have no incentive to pass law in our interest. We will not be present when the law is made and we will not be able to amend or repeal it, and if we do not apply it to the satisfaction of the European Commission and, ultimately, the European Court of Justice, we will be subject, as we heard during last week’s urgent question, to unlimited fines—“disallowance”, in EU-speak.
We have the horror facing Northern Ireland. The whole basis of getting the Unionist population to vote for the Belfast agreement was the principle of consent. There was an extraordinarily successful campaign by Lord Trimble; it was an amazing effort to get Unionists to vote for it. The basis was trust that the status of Northern Ireland could not be changed, yet we are going to have something horrible called UKNI, which is actually in breach of the Acts of Union of 1801.
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It is not that challenging to follow that speech. It is a shame to be back on the Back Benches after three years as a Minister. It might have been on the Front Bench, but I have sat through a lot of these debates, and it seems to me that the hon. Member for Edinburgh North and Leith (Deidre Brock) is about to prove my point: Members of this House have spent far too much time listening in order to respond, rather than listening in order to understand. The entrenchment of positions, as my hon. Friend the Member for Taunton Deane (Rebecca Pow) said, is part of the problem.
Many of my constituents voted to remain—probably the majority—many voted to leave, and many were not old enough and decry the fact that they could not take part. However, their view is that if we must leave, we must do so with a withdrawal agreement. If that is one’s position—it has been mine since day one—one cannot wish away no deal. That is why I have supported the Prime Minister’s withdrawal agreement twice. However, I came to the conclusion that we cannot just keep hoping that the agreement gets over the line—from the speeches we have heard, I think it is unlikely to do so today.
We therefore needed to have a plan B and a parallel process, and earlier this week I left the Government in order to support that process. It was never going to produce a conclusive result; we never expected it to. If the withdrawal agreement falls today, Monday’s process will become more important than ever. If Members do not believe in leaving without a withdrawal agreement, as I do not—and I believe the Prime Minister does not, along with a big majority in this House—it is because they want to respect the result of the referendum, whether or not they regret it, in a safe way that produces a safe exit from the European Union. People write to me all the time to say that handing the matter back to the people will solve the situation. It might produce an outcome, but it will not be consequence-free. As with voting against the withdrawal agreement the second time and tonight, whatever the House decides this afternoon will have consequences.
I am clear that voting for the withdrawal agreement is the right thing to do. It would move us forward, out of the constitutional arrangement with the EU and into a treaty arrangement. My hon. Friend the Member for Cheltenham (Alex Chalk) put it very well when he said that the key point is simplicity. It is about a financial settlement—because this is a country that honours our financial settlements—citizens’ rights, which matter greatly to me and to my constituents, and the implementation period, which business has been crystal clear it needs to deliver a safe exit.
They say that in life there are only two certainties: death and taxes. Well, I would like to add one more to the list: the certainty that this is a remainer House and that it will resist, kicking and screaming, every opportunity to take this country legally out of the European Union.
I have listened to every speech, so I am pleased to be called, and I have made a note of some of the comments made. The right hon. Member for Ross, Skye and Lochaber (Ian Blackford) said that
“the voice of remain will be heard”,
that “we must stop Brexit” and,
“we will never accept Brexit”.
Those sorts of comments—I have heard other versions of them today—have changed the context for people like me who voted against the withdrawal deal on both occasions.
It is deeply undemocratic that the method put in place by my right hon. Friend the Member for West Dorset (Sir Oliver Letwin) means that we are expected to vote in a half-an-hour slot on eight or more options that we have not debated or tested in this House, that we have not had any legal information on, that we have not had the Attorney General’s view on and that we have not run past the European Union to see whether they are acceptable to it. We are supposed to say that this is a democracy and that that method will deliver a consensus, but it will deliver a bogus consensus. On Monday, we may end up having preferential votes, as it is an amendable motion.
Despite having two years of debate about this particular withdrawal agreement and having examined the minutiae of its flaws, of which there are many, there is the potential that we will go to something far, far worse. So, for me, the context has changed and I know it has for some other hon. Members. This is a very, very difficult decision for many colleagues. There have been plenty of siren voices from the Opposition Benches. I have had hundreds of emails, as many do, on this topic alone. Most of those emails—all bar 80—are from the remain side of the argument, because they see that the withdrawal agreement, with all its flaws, is the one way that they can stop Brexit.
So today, I am changing my vote, because I am not going to be cowed into a process that means on Monday I am expected to make a choice on somebody else’s selection of what they think Brexit should mean. I am not going to choose, on behalf of my constituents and the country as a whole, based on something that has had no debate and no scrutiny, and because a remainer Parliament is hoping against hope that this deal, which is the best of the ugliest of sisters, will be struck out today in the fervent hope that they can bring something far softer or not at all. And for all those talking about a second referendum, I hope they can explain to the British people on the doorstep how, by the time they get one, it is current.
I think I had better just say that I agree with that one.
And so it was under that particular Prime Minister! I was telling the hon. Gentleman the complete truth, as I am telling him it now. I have forgotten what the other question was—that was a betrayal of robing room talk. I am so taken aback by that question that I think I had better sit down.
I will give way in a moment. I intend to take many interventions in the course of this speech.
We are playing with people’s lives. We are debating the effects of legal continuity. Forty-five years of legal integration have brought our two legal systems into a situation where they are organically linked. To appeal to those who have a medical background, it is the same as if we were to separate from a living organism, with all its arteries and veins, a living organ—a central part from this body politic. We cannot underestimate the complexity of what we are embarked upon doing.
The Attorney General, as per usual, is addressing the House with a remarkable combination of the intellect of Einstein and the eloquence of Demosthenes. We are all enjoying it enormously— [Interruption.] Well, I am certainly enjoying it, but I hope he will not cavil if I gently remind him that 71 Members wish to contribute. I know he will tailor his contribution to take account of that important fact.
The hon. Gentleman knows the affection that I hold for him. It is not “my way”. I understand the heartfelt, passionate and sincere views held on both sides. I listened all last night to the speeches from Members on the Opposition and Government Benches. We must come together now, as mature legislators, to ask ourselves: what are the fundamental objections, if there are any, to this withdrawal agreement? Whether or not it can be done by 29 March does not affect the decision we have to take today, which is: do we opt for order, or do we choose chaos?
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How is it possible for the right hon. and hon. Members who speak today to capture the past two and a half years in five minutes? How is it possible to capture the 45 years of our membership in five minutes? The good news for those who like to debate Europe is that we do not have to do that, because there will be many, many more debates to come—
I can hear the joy on the Opposition Benches.
As the Attorney General said, this is only the end of phase 1. I think that the point he was trying to make in his speech was that today’s debate should be about the 625 pages of the withdrawal agreement and the political declaration. I will support the agreement tonight—as with my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Rushcliffe (Mr Clarke), people perhaps might not have expected that, given some of the statements I have made. I do not want to go into the detail, because it is easy to get stuck in the weeds of the EU debate and to talk about this appendix or that clause of the withdrawal agreement that we do not like. This House is in danger of getting so bogged down in the detail that we forget that the country is looking at us—not just at the detailed debate, but at the tone of the debate and the way that we conduct ourselves and disagree—and that we can do it well and in a way that, as the right hon. Member for Leeds Central (Hilary Benn) said, will hopefully, eventually, lead us to a place where there can be broader consensus and a majority can be found. Unfortunately, that ability to find a consensus has been somewhat lacking.
A previous Prime Minister talked about “general wellbeing”; there has not been nearly enough talk about flourishing. I have heard some contributors begin to say what people want—what is a positive way forward—and that is where we need to be, as a House, if the House does not approve the agreement tonight. The country is deeply divided, our constituencies are divided and this House is divided, but it is up to us as Members of Parliament to change the tone and start to heal the divisions if we are ever to get to talking about other issues. That is one of the lessons I have learned in the past two and half years. That is not to say that I have always practised it, but it is certainly something for which we should all aim.
Whatever is said today—whatever right hon. and hon. Members on all sides say—a substantial number of those watching and of our constituents will disagree with us. As we know, some will disagree more vehemently and violently than others, but there is a vast silent majority out in the country who are watching today and hoping against hope that the House does approve the agreement. On the basis of what I am hearing, I do not think they will be satisfied, but I have never before had so many members of the public coming up to me as a Member of Parliament and wishing us well for this vote. The country is watching what we do today and beyond.
I wrote an open letter to my constituents. I do not hear enough Members of Parliament talking about their constituencies in this debate today. We are their representatives. It is not about us; it is not about how we feel; it is not about our heads and our hearts: it is about who we are representing and what is best for them. I have come to a conclusion after wrestling with this greatly over the last two and a half years. Of course I would have been happy to see the referendum result go differently. I would be happy to see an even closer relationship with the EU going forward. But that is not what people voted for—the majority who voted in 2016. They did vote for change and it is up to us to deliver that change.
I have always been very clear that Brexit should not undermine our constitution, and we have put our representative democracy under massive strain through having one referendum. It should not be about undermining our economy, although that is not all about numbers. In order for people to flourish in this country, it is not just about the size of our economy—it is about other issues, too, that have not been tackled by Brexit, nor by the Government over the last two years as our UK politics have stalled. It should be about our values and not undermining our values as a country. One of those, undoubtedly, is that the British people are very independently minded, and I can understand why it is that people took the decision they did in June 2016.
Let me, in the time available, briefly take one issue from what the Attorney General said. If the deal goes down tonight, there are other deals—other models—on the table where I believe this House can find consensus and compromise. Carrying on with this deal cannot be an option, and I would be disappointed if the Prime Minister did that.
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People had wanted to have their say on Europe for many years. When we gave them the referendum on the alternative vote, the main question in my constituency was, “Why aren’t you giving us a vote on our membership of the European Union?” Some 17.4 million voted to leave, including 58% of my constituents, and more people voted for Brexit than have voted for anything else. Importantly, 403 constituencies voted to leave. Those people were promised that their vote would be honoured, that it was the people’s decision, and that it would not be overturned by politicians or by this Parliament. It would be wrong to say to those people that we will have a second vote when we have not delivered on what they voted for the first time. It has become clear over the past month or so that there is a majority in this House against no deal. Therefore, if we vote down this deal, the remaining alternatives, including the Norway model or some version of it, are so far from what people voted for that we will have broken faith with the British people.
I say to my friends across the House—pragmatic Brexiteers and democratic remainers alike—that we must prevent an alliance of people who want to stop Brexit and people who want an even stronger Brexit from denying what the people voted for. We know that business does not want a second referendum, which would lead to even more uncertainty. I heard today from trade unionists who want to leave the EU that it
“will unleash an unprecedented level of disillusionment in British politics which will be unparalleled in our history”
if we do not deliver Brexit.
It is no secret that I voted to leave the EU, as did 67% of my constituents and nearly 17.5 million people across the UK. The reasons for voting to leave varied across the country, but I spoke to thousands of my constituents before, during and after the referendum and they were clear about what they voted for. They want to see an end to free movement, they want control of our borders, they want sovereignty for our Parliament and they want the ability to trade freely around the world. I very much share those sentiments. I was keen to see an agreement delivered that I could support. Critically, the one on offer does not meet two of the criteria set out by my constituents: the return of our sovereignty and the ability to trade freely.
My personal concerns about the deal are similar to those of many in this House, mainly on the backstop and the future legal agreement. As it stands, the deal on the table potentially gives away our sovereignty and £39 billion-worth of our money with absolutely nothing guaranteed in return.
Getting an agreement is the most favourable option, but not at any cost. I believe that, with the deal before us, we are giving too much away. It is not too late to change course. We can secure amendments that deliver wholly on the referendum result, and those changes need to include getting rid of the Northern Ireland backstop and having guarantees on our future relationship, both of which are likely to command a majority in this House and, importantly, deliver on the democratic will of the British people. It is important that that is delivered because people are so frustrated by the games of some politicians who seek to frustrate the result.
I implore the Prime Minister to go back to the EU—I know the EU has said the deal is final, but it has moved on other things and we have seen that it is able to move the goalposts when it suits—and come back with a deal that we can get behind.
There is a formula in the agreement for the calculation of our obligations, but it depends on others’ contributions, what particular programmes there are and whether they spend particular sums of money. There is a series of variable factors, which is why we cannot give a firm, clear and precise figure. If my hon. Friend is referring to what may be due after a no deal, that would depend on a series of arguments that would be untested except in a court.
Suppose there was advice, and suppose the advice contained—this is a hypothetical situation—[Interruption.] Well, the same principle applies. Suppose the advice contained information, facts or considerations of the most acute significance for the national interests of this country.
But one might lose the vote. What then? No Minister could go ahead and harm the nation merely because of a resolution, when the House had not seen the document. In court, there is a mechanism for weighing this, but the House has not seen the document. The motion for a return was traditionally always confined to public and official documents.
Oh, very well—it is completely different, I feel sure.
First, I recall the hon. Gentleman’s inquiry. I would not have been able to pinpoint the date—I advise those attending to our proceedings outwith the Chamber—as I do not have that level of anorakish recall of his parliamentary contributions, but I do recall the fact of the question being put. It made an impression on me, as does so much of what he says. Secondly, as a matter of principle, the Foreign Secretary ought by now to have replied to a request of that date—if it was of that date—from the hon. Gentleman. Thirdly, as a matter of practicality, I say that it is somewhat unwise for a Minister—in this case, apparently, the Foreign Secretary, an extremely experienced and dextrous, as well as courteous, parliamentarian—not to have replied to the hon. Gentleman by now, for failure to provide one was bound to invite excoriation. The Foreign Secretary will now be on the receiving end of that as soon as he learns of the hon. Gentleman’s point of order. I hope that on all three counts I have brought some happiness into his life.
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That is extremely interesting information, and I am very grateful to the hon. Lady. I feel sure that she feels that she has done the House a signal service.
Oh, very well, but it must be very brief. I feel that the hon. Gentleman will tax the patience of the House.
If anybody has inadvertently misled the House, that person must correct the record, but I hope the hon. Gentleman will accept that I do not think it incumbent on me now to act as arbiter of whether it happened. The issue has been given a full airing. Both hon. Members are very experienced, are not backward in coming forward and can pursue this matter either through the use of the Order Paper or by other means in the days ahead. I do not in any sense seek to deny them the opportunity to do so.
If there are no further points of order, if the appetite has at last been satisfied—it is very important that Members have the opportunity to express themselves—we can now proceed. The Minister looks very relieved about that.
I am grateful for that intervention. I had the privilege of working with the right hon. and learned Gentleman when he was Attorney General, so I know how carefully he attended to his work.
I am grateful for that intervention and agree on both fronts, particularly on summary or editing. In my time as a lawyer, I saw various attempts to edit or summarise legal advice. Even done with the best of intentions, it can lead to some misinterpretation of the advice that has been given.
There is a convention, but it is subject to exceptions and this is an exceptional case. There is good reason and good precedent for publishing this advice, and it is the right thing to do. I think there is growing cross-party support for that, and rather than fighting this unnecessary battle with Parliament, the Prime Minster should accept the motion and agree to publish the full advice.
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If I may, I will answer the right hon. Gentleman while also responding to something that was said by the Opposition spokesman when he referred to the commitment that, yes, is there in the White Paper that the Government published earlier this year to provide Parliament with information and analysis ahead of the meaningful vote. I want to agree and accept on behalf of the Government that that information and analysis should include not only such things as impact assessments, which the Opposition spokesman mentioned, but a legal analysis as well.
In specific response to the right hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington (Tom Brake), we certainly do intend to provide an economic analysis. The Under-Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union, my hon. Friend the Member for Fareham (Suella Braverman), will have heard what he has proposed one of the options should be.
That particular point is a matter to be followed up with the Ministers in charge of that particular legislation. However, I recall from my time at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office discussions with other European Governments about sanctions policy, and it was very clear that, I am afraid, contrary to what the hon. Gentleman said, a number of EU countries have, while remaining members of the European Union, given up the right to set their own policies on sanctions and rely on European Union instruments in order to give effect to those policies.
In the case of the United Kingdom, we have some sanctions, while members of the European Union, that are applied by virtue of European Union instruments, and there are others additional to those that we have had the freedom to apply on our own. It would probably be unwise of me to try to supplant Ministers in the Department for International Trade and get into the detail about this, but I am sure that the Secretary of State will be only too delighted to listen in detail to the hon. Gentleman’s concerns.
I want to return to the main point that the shadow Secretary of State put to me.
I agree with my hon. Friend. Leaving will not make a difference to how human rights are defended in this country. It is worth remembering—I am sure she made this point on the doorsteps—that this Government have a good record in the defence of human rights, both domestically and abroad. It was this Government that put forward a modern slavery Bill, which was not just the first in this country, but the first in Europe, and Conservatives in Government promoted the idea of sexual violence in conflict being something that the world must take seriously. We are proud of that record, and we will continue with it.
We have to work through the practicalities. It will be important to understand how people demonstrate that they are who they say they are, but I do not accept that that will lead to a system of identity cards. The hon. Gentleman will recall that Conservatives in government got rid of the Labour idea of having identity cards in the first place.