There have been 4 exchanges between Chuka Umunna and Attorney General
|Tue 12th March 2019||Withdrawal Agreement: Legal Opinion||3 interactions (97 words)|
|Tue 15th January 2019||European Union (Withdrawal) Act||9 interactions (120 words)|
|Wed 13th June 2018||European Union (Withdrawal) Bill||10 interactions (1,075 words)|
|Wed 15th November 2017||European Union (Withdrawal) Bill||14 interactions (763 words)|
Yes, I do. Given what is at stake for the people of Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, for the credit and faith of the European Union, which will be on the line, and for our ability to measure its performance against the detailed timetables and procedures that are now in place, I simply do not believe that we will be unable to reach any agreement with them. I repeat: it is perfectly possible to approach this in stages—to agree several agreements. We will be able to agree something over the next two or three years and the first priority, which is set out in this instrument, is the subsequent agreement replacing the backstop.
The hon. Gentleman is not right about that. Under article 184 of the withdrawal agreement, there is a legal duty on the Union and the UK to negotiate a deal that is in line, and according to, the political declaration. He asks, is there any unconditional right to withdraw? With respect, I have answered that question. The only circumstance in which there would be an unconditional right to withdraw is if there were a fundamental change of circumstances pursuant to customary international law.
I will give way to my right hon. Friend the Member for Broxtowe (Anna Soubry), but first I need to make some progress.
Orderly exit from the European Union would always require a withdrawal agreement along these lines. No alternative option now being canvassed in the House would not require the withdrawal agreement and now the backstop. Let us be clear: whatever solution may be fashioned if this motion and deal are defeated, this withdrawal agreement will have to return in much the same form and with much the same content. Therefore, there is no serious or credible objection that has been advanced by any party to the withdrawal agreement.
It was said last week by the right hon. and learned Member for Holborn and St Pancras (Keir Starmer) that we should have negotiated a full customs union with a say within the political declaration and then there would have been no need for a backstop, because the agreement could then have been concluded within the transition period. However, he knows, and it is clear, that the European Union is unwilling to and regards itself as bound by its own law not to enter into detailed negotiations on the permanent relationship treaties. The EU was never going to do it, and its own negotiating guidelines said it would not, so there was always going to be this withdrawal agreement, a political declaration setting out a framework and months, if not years, thereafter of detailed negotiation on any final resting place that any political declaration might have.
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.
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I set myself a clear time limit, but I am anxious—[Interruption.] You really cannot win. I am trying to take as many interventions as I can, and I will take that of the hon. Member for Streatham (Chuka Umunna).
We must start from where we are now. It is easy to say, “We shouldn’t have started from here.” The political declaration sets out clear parameters about the future treaty. First, written into the DNA of the political declaration are two cardinal principles—
It is not a legal document, but no political declaration would ever be a legal document, by definition. Under EU law, we cannot have a finally negotiated text with all the legal detail.
Let me come to the two clear conditions in the political declaration—[Interruption.] I will complete in a few minutes. First, no free movement—
Mr Speaker, I might risk straying into yesterday’s business, but I will briefly say that my hon. Friend knows that I have said repeatedly that we do not support or endorse the notion of this House mandating or directing the Government by resolution. We believe in full, vigorous democratic accountability, but that, frankly, is not the way that negotiations are conducted or treaties signed.
The shadow Secretary of State dealt with the question of Northern Ireland in some detail. We of course recognise the unique circumstances that apply to the border with the Republic of Ireland, and we have been consistent in our commitment to avoid a hard border. We believe that our joint report commitments can be fulfilled through the overall UK-EU future partnership, but it is necessary to ensure there is a backstop solution for the Northern Ireland border that avoids a hard border and protects the constitutional integrity of the UK internal market. No Prime Minister could ever sign up to the solution for Northern Ireland and Ireland that, I am afraid, the Commission has set out, because it threatens the constitutional and economic integrity of our United Kingdom. We are Unionists and we are proud to be so.
I entirely agree. The Government’s policy is to achieve a deal, because we are mindful of the points the hon. Gentleman and others understand.
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It is great to have the opportunity to speak in this important debate. Yesterday’s was very entertaining and we did make a piece of fudge, and I am pleased to say that my side of the House got the biggest piece—I just want to put things beyond any doubt. Of course it was a fudge, because a lot of this is about compromise. Today’s debate is perhaps less entertaining, because we are debating far more serious issues to do with our economy, jobs and human rights.
I wish briefly to inject a slight note of reality into the debate and perhaps allow my constituents to contribute to it. I was emailed the other day by a small manufacturer based in my constituency on the subject of how it exports to the European Union. Some 60% of its manufactured goods, with an average price of about £150, go to countries in the EU. It told me that it was not necessarily worried about customs charges, but it is very worried about customs delays. Its customers in Germany and France know that if they order from this firm they get their goods in two or three days. Nevertheless, the costs are real. Its product costs 40% more for Norwegian customers than for Swedish customers, and 50% more for Swiss customers than for German customers. This company sends out 30,000 parcels a month. It is a great British employer, but the punchline is that its new distribution centre is going to be based in the EU, because of the 15% costs that are going to be added to its business by our decision to leave. The reason it has to compete is that its competitors are based not in the United States, Norway or Switzerland, but in Germany, France and Italy, and Brexit has given them an immediate advantage.
That is the reality of what we are talking about. We hear a lot of bluster. Whenever people who urge caution or realism about Brexit stand up, they are told to be optimistic and, indeed, patriotic. One prominent member of the Government compared Brexit to Y2K, which was an issue when, 18 years ago, double-digit computers were switching from the 20th century to the 21st. Apparently, Y2K was a ridiculous scare story and absolutely nothing happened. [Interruption.] This was the millennium bug; sorry, I am so old that I call it Y2K. A constituent emailed me to say that it is true that nothing happened with the millennium bug, but that was because, as he pointed out, thousands of people—he was one of them—delivered millions of lines of code, planned for it for five years and implemented the changes for two years, giving up their nights and weekends. The message to Government Front Benchers—perhaps the Foreign Secretary—is that changes of this nature are complex and difficult, and they take time and require planning. That is why the amendments we are debating are important and why a spirit of compromise and pragmatism must be injected into the debate.
To a certain extent, I am on repeat mode: I always like to have a bit about free trade deals in my Brexit speeches. We have already heard one speech saying that the EU is absolutely rubbish at free trade deals, but if we look at the large trading blocs’ free trade deals, I think it compares pretty well. It certainly compares well at the moment with the United States, which has come out of the Trans-Pacific Partnership and is bitterly renegotiating the North American Free Trade Agreement. The United States does not have a free trade deal with India or China, so we cannot really castigate the EU. The EU has free trade deals lined up with Japan and Singapore. Indeed, as the trade envoy to Vietnam, my instruction from the Department for International Trade is to secure a trade deal between the EU and Vietnam so that we can piggyback off the back of it.
As I have always said, trade deals are not easy to negotiate, but the EU can hold its head up high. We are often told that the EU holds back developing nations; it does have trade deals with developing nations and encourages them, but it quite rightly expects some give and take—for example, high labour standards, so that there is not unfair competition—and perhaps to have a voice in those countries on issues such as human rights.
I am not a dyed-in-the-wool Euro-fanatic, and I echo what my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Rushcliffe (Mr Clarke) said when he cited Dan Hannan, because we all know that as a pragmatic Brexiteer, Dan Hannan has said repeatedly that we should try to stay in certain elements of the single market—that is in black and white. The ideology has to be stopped, and we have to look at things. That is not to say that the EU itself cannot reform. It should take Brexit as a signal of how it should be more flexible, and its legally based approach to the negotiations is unhelpful. Although I appreciate the irony of the Brexiteers who campaigned against Galileo now saying that we should have our own Galileo, for me it is an example of European Union inflexibility. The amendments are important, and I shall continue to listen to the debate. I look forward to further developments.
My father does not speak perfect English, but I do not know what more integration he could have done when one of his sons is a Member of the British Parliament. Does the hon. Gentleman agree that in all this talk of immigration, we should be very moderate in how we reflect on it? Immigration has been of enormous benefit to the United Kingdom, when his own family and succeeding generations came to this country. Does he agree that British citizens living in Italy and elsewhere also need to be thought of?
Let me encourage colleagues, please, to make brief interventions. There is very, very, very little time.
Order. A four-minute limit now applies.
I am happy to be corrected on that point, but I would say to the hon. Gentleman that it is a bit rich to suggest that the many public pronouncements that have been made on employment rights over many years by so many Conservative Members have been forgotten entirely and that Conservative Members are suddenly the champions of enhanced workers’ rights. We do not believe that, which is why we need legal safeguards in the Bill.
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I am sure that it is an important protection for workers. I do not think that anybody is threatening the protections that are already incorporated into our law codes. We will have many productive debates in future about how we can raise those standards and where we should raise those standards, as we have done in the past.
The House should remember that much of this is already in British law and goes beyond the EU minimum standards; it would be very perverse to think that Parliament would then want to turn around and start taking away those standards when it had made this very conscious effort to go beyond the EU minimum standards. It also reminds us that this House has been quite capable of imposing good standards over and above the European ones and that we are not entirely dependent on the European Union to do that.
I would like to pursue the point of my right hon. Friend the Member for West Dorset by pointing out that there are consequentials from taking the approach that the Solicitor General said that the Government are considering on clause 6(4)(a). Again, I echo what has been said, which is that it is very important that clarity is given to our Supreme Court. Like my right hon. Friend, I want the ultimate arbiter of these things to be Parliament. That is what taking back control is all about. If the Supreme Court feels that it needs more parliamentary guidance, then that is exactly what we must supply either through this or subsequent legislation.
We now come to the important set of issues that various Members have raised about what should be done by primary and secondary legislation. I suggest that, at the moment, we stick to our general rules for non-EU proposals. We know that important matters deserve primary legislation and that ancillary matters, usually arising out of primary legislation, can be done by statutory instruments, usually identified in the primary legislation itself. There needs to be primary legislation cover for the use of the SI principle. Again, Parliament has a way of deciding which ones are a bit more important and so need an affirmative resolution procedure and debate, and which ones are done by the negative resolution procedure. Where the Opposition want to call in one for negative resolution, they do get a debate and a vote, because that is part of the system that we should apply.
On the proposal of my hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Robert Neill), I say that we should not be asymmetric in our democracy. He suggested that major pieces of legislation coming from the EU that are in passage but will not be completed by the time we leave the EU should go through under some fast-track SI procedure. I think that those pieces of legislation should face exactly the same procedure that anything else faces in this House. If they are technical or relate to some major piece of legislation that has already gone through, then of course they can go through by statutory instrument if we wish to replicate the European law. If they are substantial and new, they will clearly need to go through the primary legislative process, because we have been arguing that we need more scrutiny and more debate about this important piece of legislation, which makes everything possible.
I see clauses 2 and 3, along with clause 1, as a platform. They are very much a piece of process legislation—the legislation that takes back control. In itself, it does not prevent this Parliament in future doing its job a lot better than it was able to do when quite a lot of our laws and regulations came from Court decisions over which we had no control, from regulations on which we might even have lost the vote, or in circumstances where we were not very happy about the compromise that we had to strike to avoid something worse.
This is a great time for Parliament. I hope that all Members will see that it enables them to follow their agendas and campaigns with more opportunity to get results if they are good at campaigning and at building support in Parliament. That is exactly what clauses 2 and 3 allow us to do. The legislation will allow us to go on to get rid of VAT on items or to have a fishing policy that we think works better for the United Kingdom, while, of course, protecting the many excellent protections in employment law and other fields that have been rightly identified by the Opposition. I recommend these two clauses, which I am sure will go through, and I look forward to hearing more comments from Ministers in due course about how Parliament can satisfy itself on any changes needed to make all those laws continue to work.
Does my hon. Friend agree that it is about time that we all remembered that we have more in common than that which divides us?
Is it not important that we keep laws such as the equal treatment directive, which allowed many women, particularly in the public sector, to claim equal pay from their employer?
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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.