|Tue 22nd October 2019||
European Union (Withdrawal Agreement) Bill
2nd reading: House of Commons
Programme motion: House of Commons
|21 interactions (1,486 words)|
European Union (Withdrawal Agreement) Bill DebateFull Debate: Read Full Debate
Mr Dominic GrieveMain Page: Mr Dominic Grieve (Independent) - Beaconsfield)
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If I may, I say to the hon. Lady that I understand the point she makes, but she has had an answer, I believe, from my right hon. Friend the Chancellor yesterday. I think it will be clear to everybody that the best way to avoid any disruption from a no-deal Brexit is to vote for this deal today—to vote for this deal to get it done. I think that will unleash a great tide of investment into this country and be a demonstration of confidence in the UK economy. By voting for this deal tonight, we will deliver a powerful, positive shot in the arm for the UK economy, and I hope very much that she will do so.
Once more, under this agreement, British people will be able to live under laws made by representatives whom they alone elect and can remove—laws enforced by British judges in British courts.
We can square that very simply by pointing out that, yes, of course, there are transitory arrangements for some aspects of the Northern Ireland economy, but they automatically dissolve and are terminated after four years unless it is the majority decision of the Assembly of Northern Ireland to remain in alignment with those arrangements either in whole or in part. The principle of consent is therefore at the heart of the arrangements.
Under the Bill, British farmers will escape the frequently perverse effects of the common agricultural policy; British fishermen, liberated from arcane quotas, will be free to fish in a way that is both more sensible and sustainable; and this House will be free to legislate for the highest possible standards.
Break in Debate
With due respect to the hon. Gentleman, he does intervene a lot. The reality is that we have also spent a lot—[Interruption.] I do not mean that rudely, I just genuinely mean that he does intervene a lot.
There is a very good video doing the rounds. I am sure that my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Rushcliffe (Mr Clarke) has not seen it, but it would be good if he had. It is not about him; it is about many others who have argued here for one case, but who now, since the referendum, seem to have managed to change their views massively. The streets of Westminster are marked by the skid marks of politicians who have done U-turns on the position they took directly after the referendum. We had pledges to implement the referendum. I note that, when the result first came out, the shadow Secretary of State for Brexit said on two occasions that the referendum would have to be implemented, and that freedom of movement would end when we left. Now, of course, the Opposition are shifting their position around and they want to delay. More than that, the Leader of the Opposition has said that he now wants to make certain that the Bill cannot possibly go through.
That brings me very briefly to two points that have been made. One is on a second referendum, which some Members want to include in an amendment to this Bill. They want more time to do that. I have a simple point to make: those who want a second referendum argue very carefully that it should not contain a question about leaving, which strikes me as bizarre. More importantly, why should any member of the public, or any one of our constituents, who voted in the first referendum—
One second. May I just finish my point?
Why should any of our constituents believe any one of us now? We promised them at the time of the previous referendum in 2016 that we would implement it. We then came into this House and voted to implement it and voted to implement article 50. Why, when we go back to them, should we be able to say, “Don’t worry. Trust us. Despite what we said to you last time, and although we have now reneged on that, we’re going to give you another chance, because we think that, somehow, you might change your decision, and if you do not, you need to trust us that we will stand by the decision that you have not changed, even though you gave us that decision earlier”? That, frankly, is utterly absurd.
I am always grateful to receive an intervention from my right hon. and learned Friend, but I have to tell him that I disagree with him. The British people voted to leave the European Union, so they clearly like it and they like the idea that we are going to get on with it. I do not know who he is talking to in his constituency, but I have to tell him that most of those in my constituency—even those who voted remain—keep on saying, “Whatever else we do, let us get this done and get it done now.” My right hon. and learned Friend will know full well, because he has played a very significant part in all these debates under two Prime Ministers, that he has not missed a single opportunity to lay amendments and to debate almost every single part of this agreement that now sits in front of us. I have no problem with that, and I respect him entirely. He remains a friend. Despite the fact that we disagree, I refuse to be rude or antagonistic. I simply say that he knows he has played his full part.
Break in Debate
I have heard the hon. Lady express those concerns, I have heard them expressed by our friends in the Democratic Unionist party and I take them seriously. The Prime Minister gave an assurance that these measures were transitory, and that they would be self-dissolving after a certain period. I hope that he will continue to talk to the hon. Lady and to colleagues in the Democratic Unionist party, and will assure them that that is the case. Obviously I hear what she says about the Bill, and I hope that she can receive an assurance on that point.
If my right hon. and learned Friend will forgive me, I feel that I must press on.
As I was saying, I believe that this is an improvement on what we were offered before, but there are still elements that I do not like. I am not happy with the idea that, for 15 months we will be, in the words of the Leader of the House, essentially a vassal state, taking orders from the European Union without being able to vote on them, and continuing to pay in. I am willing to pay that price as long as there is a clearly defined end point after which we will be free to set our own rules and to reach the trading agreements that I want to see, and no longer subject to the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice.
Break in Debate
The direct answer to the hon. Gentleman, with whom I also have the pleasure of serving on the Exiting the European Union Committee, is that to attempt to say to Members that the choice has to be between a bad deal—this is worse than the previous Prime Minister’s deal—and no deal is not a very attractive proposition. During the passage of this Bill—if it gets its Second Reading—I hope that we will attempt to improve some elements of it.
Clause 30 goes to the heart of the point about no deal, because the withdrawal agreement makes provision for the possibility of an extension to the transition period which, at present, will end in 14 months’ time. Clause 30 says that the House can agree to a further extension, but it requires a Minister of the Crown to move the motion in the first place. The situation I am worried about is what if the Minister of the Crown fails to come to the House, does not move a motion proposing that the Government should request to the joint committee that the transitional period be extended, and the answer is that we would fall out without a deal in 14 months’ time if an agreement had not been reached. The House has voted on several occasions to make it clear that it is opposed to leaving with no deal, and there are arguments on either side as to whether people think that is a good thing or a bad thing, so I flag this up at this stage, because we will need to deal with that point—I gather that an amendment is on its way if it has not already been tabled—and to safeguard against it.
There is a second related problem to clause 30. What happens if a deal has not been negotiated by the end of December 2022 when the two-year extension has been applied for and secured? Now we would be facing exactly the same difficulty: the possibility of exiting without an agreement at the end of the transition period. In those circumstances, there is no way under the agreement that the British Government can get a further extension, so we have to find a way of ensuring that a deal is concluded by that time.
Ministers claim that, because of the high degree of alignment, it will all be done really quickly. I would just observe that took three and a quarter years to get to this point, and it took Canada six to seven years to get an agreement. Michel Barnier said this morning that he thought it would take around three years to negotiate such a deal, so we will be looking for assurance from the Minister in Committee that under no circumstances will the United Kingdom leave the European Union at the end of the transition period without a deal—I think another amendment may be on its way about that. The same point is relevant to citizens’ rights, which have not been raised much in the debate so far. We could do with clarification from Ministers, because if the transition is extended, will they also change the deadline by which EU citizens have to apply for settled status?
As I said on Saturday, I will not be voting for the Bill, above all because of the political declaration—I do not have a problem with the withdrawal agreement—which is not the right approach to take, because it is not good for business. I am very surprised, like other hon. Members, that the Government have just blithely said, “We are not going to undertake an economic assessment,” and I assume that the reason for that is simple. They did one before which showed that a free trade agreement is the second-worst outcome up for the economy after no deal, and they do not really want to have to point that out again.
My final point is about clause 31, and it links to the economic impact of the political declaration. The clause deals with the oversight of negotiations on the future relationship, and it appears to give Members some oversight, some say, over the nature of the negotiations on the future relationship, but proposed new section 13C(3) of the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018 says:
“A statement on objectives for the future relationship…must be consistent with the political declaration of 17 October 2019”.
I simply point out that if, in one, two or three years’ time, the House realises that the objectives of such a free trade agreement are not in our economic interests, because we finally realise the damage it will do to the economy—we have seen what businesses have said and the concerns they have expressed—the current wording of the clause gives no opportunity for Parliament to get a Government to change those objectives. I do not think we should accept the Bill on that issue, as it is currently worded.
I am enormously grateful to the right hon. and learned Gentleman for allowing me to intervene. He has been a great friend to Northern Ireland for a long time, and he has been a great defender of the Good Friday/Belfast agreement since it was signed 21 years ago. I would be enormously grateful to him if he would explain to the House his concerns, if any, about how this new Brexit deal, brought back in triumph by the Prime Minister, has caused such anxiety in Northern Ireland that it actually undermines the great achievement of the Good Friday agreement.
I have listened to the right hon. and learned Gentleman’s speeches for a great deal of time and have a lot of respect for him, but on this issue I disagree with him. I ask him to reflect on the parallel he has just drawn between Scotland and Northern Ireland. Northern Ireland is a war-torn Province that has been subject to a civil war, and it is completely irresponsible for any politician to draw a parallel between Scotland and Northern Ireland in this context. Northern Ireland has a very specific history; it is subject to treaties to maintain peace on the island of Ireland. That is why it is having special treatment, and it is why Unionists support that and are trying to work so hard to have a deal that works for all parts of the United Kingdom, but it is not equivalent to Scotland.
I would love to vote today for a Bill that would take us out of the EU, but unfortunately we find ourselves in a position where we cannot support this Bill. I want to make something clear: allegations have been made that the agenda of those who oppose the Bill today is to keep us in the EU, but neither I nor my party has any desire to stay in the EU, nor does the record of my party indicate that. What we demand is that, as we are part of the United Kingdom and took part in a United Kingdom-wide referendum, as part of the United Kingdom we leave on the same terms as the rest of the United Kingdom. That is not the case with this Bill, nor with this agreement.
The Prime Minister has said that if we do not agree to this Bill, we will not get another chance—that if we do not agree this deal, the agreement will not be reopened. I have heard those arguments made before; in fact, the Prime Minister just ignored them when they were made previously, because he knew that they were untrue. Given the enormity of the issues involved, I do not believe that we should vote for the Bill tonight.
A number of arguments have been made. The first is that this is our chance to take back sovereignty. It is not a chance to take back sovereignty in Northern Ireland; indeed, Northern Ireland will be left out of that move towards taking back sovereignty. Let us just look at the facts about Northern Ireland: we will be left in an arrangement whereby EU law on all trade, goods and so on will be applied to Northern Ireland. We will be in a situation where, despite what the Prime Minister says, we will be subject to the full implementation of EU customs regulations. That means that goods moving from GB into Northern Ireland will be subject to declarations, checks and the imposition of tariffs. We found out yesterday that, despite the promise of unfettered access to the UK market, checks will occur in the opposite direction for the thousands of firms in Northern Ireland that currently export to GB. At the moment they do not face any impediments or costs, but they will face them now.