There have been 25 exchanges between Mr Dominic Grieve and Cabinet Office
|Tue 22nd October 2019||European Union (Withdrawal Agreement) Bill||21 interactions (1,486 words)|
|Mon 14th October 2019||Debate on the Address||3 interactions (74 words)|
|Wed 25th September 2019||Brexit Readiness: Operation Yellowhammer||3 interactions (161 words)|
|Wed 25th September 2019||Prime Minister's Update||5 interactions (126 words)|
|Mon 9th September 2019||Points of Order||3 interactions (217 words)|
|Mon 9th September 2019||Prorogation (Disclosure of Communications)||68 interactions (4,163 words)|
|Wed 4th September 2019||Oral Answers to Questions||3 interactions (85 words)|
|Tue 12th March 2019||European Union (Withdrawal) Act||11 interactions (1,180 words)|
|Tue 26th February 2019||Leaving the European Union||3 interactions (176 words)|
|Tue 12th February 2019||Leaving the EU||3 interactions (118 words)|
|Tue 29th January 2019||European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018||11 interactions (1,580 words)|
|Mon 10th December 2018||Exiting the European Union||3 interactions (144 words)|
|Tue 4th December 2018||European Union (Withdrawal) Act||3 interactions (1,176 words)|
|Mon 26th November 2018||Leaving the EU||3 interactions (205 words)|
|Thu 22nd November 2018||Progress on EU Negotiations||3 interactions (177 words)|
|Mon 15th October 2018||EU Exit Negotiations||3 interactions (124 words)|
|Wed 5th September 2018||Salisbury Update||3 interactions (188 words)|
|Tue 17th April 2018||Military Action Overseas: Parliamentary Approval||9 interactions (86 words)|
|Mon 16th April 2018||Syria||3 interactions (110 words)|
|Mon 26th March 2018||National Security and Russia||13 interactions (166 words)|
|Wed 14th March 2018||Salisbury Incident||3 interactions (132 words)|
|Mon 12th March 2018||Salisbury Incident||3 interactions (155 words)|
|Fri 23rd February 2018||Overseas Electors Bill||3 interactions (111 words)|
|Mon 4th December 2017||European Union (Withdrawal) Bill||7 interactions (296 words)|
|Wed 21st June 2017||Debate on the Address||5 interactions (1,857 words)|
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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his intervention. I understand exactly what he is saying, but I am trying to give voice to opinions that are being expressed to me right now in my emails. The Government need to think very carefully about these provisions, so that if they do bring them in, they introduce them in such a way that does not damage those least able to speak for themselves in our community.
The hon. Lady raises three important points. The first is whether the food or agrifood sector, in the event of a no-deal scenario, is likely to be the worst affected. It is certainly the case that our agrifood exporters will face the highest tariffs if we leave without a deal, and in this job and my previous job, when at the Dispatch Box, I have not shied away from the consequences. There are risks and challenges; that is why DEFRA has taken steps in order to be able to mitigate those risks and challenges.
The hon. Lady asks about the impact on the vulnerable of a rise in prices. It may well be that some food commodity prices rise; others are likely to fall overall. She makes the point about food banks. It is vital that we support those who work with food banks, but I have seen no evidence or indication so far—I am very happy to talk to the hon. Lady—that the supply of food to food banks would be affected in any scenario, deal or no deal.
It is always a pleasure to hear from my right hon. and learned Friend. In my statement, I drew a distinction between the base scenario, which involves those unarguable facts that we can all agree in this House will be the consequence of a no deal-exit, and a reasonable worst-case scenario. Operation Yellowhammer uses those base facts to draw up what a reasonable worst-case scenario might be. That is the distinction between them.
With respect to the Schengen information system, I would say, in fairness to my right hon. and learned Friend, that that is not the only law enforcement or national security tool that we will lose access to in a no-deal Brexit. There are others as well, but I have had an opportunity to talk to people who are involved in the provision of our national security, and I recognise that there are appropriate steps that we can take.
As the right hon. Lady can imagine, I will not comment on my conversations with Her Majesty. I am afraid she is sadly in error in her history. To my memory, John Major prorogued Parliament for 18 days before he even had an election, and all we were going to lose was four or five sitting days over the party conference period. She will have ample opportunity, after the European Union summit on 17 and 18 October, to debate Brexit again, as is her privilege, her prerogative and indeed her pleasure, and it was always intended that she should.
Order. Let it be said with crystal clarity including to occupants of the Treasury Bench—[Interruption.] Yes, here we go. The right hon. and learned Gentleman will be heard. He will not be shouted down by people from his own Benches. That sort of behaviour is intolerable and it is obviously so to most remotely reasonable people.
I repeat the confirmation I have made many times that this Government observe, and will observe, the law. If I may say so to my right hon. and learned Friend, our view of the matter that was before the Supreme Court had the support of the Master of the Rolls and the Lord Chief Justice, who, at the risk of embarrassing my right hon. and learned Friend, are perhaps even more distinguished in the law than he is.
Bless you, Barry, for what you have said. [Interruption.] Will hon. Members will forgive me? I call Mr Dominic Grieve.
I thank the right hon. and learned Gentleman for what he said. I regard him as a quite exceptional parliamentarian, so to receive a tribute from him means a great deal to me, and I think he knows that.
We now come to the motion in the name of Mr Dominic Grieve and others, to be moved under Standing Order No. 24. I remind the House that a paper with the terms of the motion has been distributed.
On that point, if the right hon. and learned Gentleman is successful and the Government are obliged to supply these papers, is he confident that the current Prime Minister and the Executive will do so?
Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that what makes this particularly important is that it was open to the Government to move a periodic Adjournment—or, as we normally call it, a sittings motion—which could have been approved by the House to achieve the same effect? However, the Government chose to use the prerogative power, which in effect enables the Prime Minister to advise the Queen to remove Parliament from the scene of action. It is therefore obviously of the greatest possible importance what the Government’s motive in so doing was, and the papers he describes will reveal that motive in a way nothing else can.
Will the right hon. and learned Gentleman give way?
I thank the right hon. and learned Gentleman for giving way to this girly swot. Does he agree that democracy requires a certain commitment to the truth; that to date there has been a reasonable expectation that when asked questions the Government will not actively lie and will tell the truth; and that the loosening of the current Administration’s moorings from a commitment to tell the truth is a direct threat to democracy?
Does the right hon. and learned Gentleman recall any instance, when he was Attorney General, of being unable to find public officials willing to swear affidavits about the Government’s case?
My right hon. and learned Friend and I have worked together, originally as master and pupil and then as Attorney General and civil servant. We have a great deal of history in this matter. Does he agree that there are civil service mechanisms and systems for guiding the behaviour of civil servants, and that these matters are ideally best not discussed in the manner in which we are discussing them this afternoon?
Will the right hon. and learned Gentleman tell the House whether he intends to put on the record any of the details of the information he says he received? The worry is that if he does not and the Government simply ignore his Humble Address, we will never know its contents. The implication of what he is saying is really very serious—that the Queen was misled by the Prime Minister as to his reasons for wanting a Prorogation.
As the right hon. and learned Gentleman knows, I have been in this House for 40 years. I have never heard of a more serious allegation against a Government: misleading this House and stopping it functioning. Would he agree?
Will my right hon. and learned Friend give way?
I am grateful to my right hon. and learned Friend for giving way; we have been friends for his entire time in this House. Having been a Minister himself, is he not worried about the collateral damage that this Humble Address is creating? It is important that civil servants have space—a safe space—to speak truth to power, and I think that by his actions today, he is damaging the civil service’s ability to communicate and discuss matters freely with Ministers. Does he not see the damage that he is doing?
Surely all that matters is what was in the Prime Minister’s mind—his reasons for making the decision—and we cannot work that out from the personal testimonies of lots of officials, some of whom met the Prime Minister about this and some of whom did not. The question is what was in the Prime Minister’s mind, and the House has had ample opportunity, which it has already used, to cross-examine him and to satisfy itself as to his true motive. I do not see how knowing what some officials thought helps at all.
Prorogation this evening will deny the Liaison Committee a three-hour session with the Prime Minister this Wednesday—a session the Prime Minister agreed to on 14 August.
My right hon. and learned Friend has named nine individuals. He could have asked for the Cabinet Secretary and permanent secretaries, but these names appear very arbitrary. I know one of them and I think she was appointed only a week or 10 days ago. What were his criteria for choosing these nine individuals?
There are few in the House who have the right hon. and learned Gentleman’s knowledge of its conventions and protocols, except, perhaps, you, Mr Speaker. Certainly, my constituents do not follow the differences between Prorogation, recess, Queen’s Speech requirements and so forth. However, they do know that my title is “Member of Parliament”, which implies where I should be—in Parliament. Does the right hon. and learned Gentleman agree that at this time of constitutional crisis my constituents expect us to be sitting in Parliament, and expect it not to be shut down? Does he agree that the question of why we are being prorogued goes to the heart of the credibility of me as a Member of Parliament and the credibility of the House in its entirety, and does he agree that, for that reason, the public interest is absolutely involved?
I do not know whether my right hon. and learned Friend has had a chance to look at the transcript of the evidence that I supplied to the Exiting the European Union Committee last week. In my evidence I gave some undertakings about publications related to Yellowhammer. If carried out, would those assurances be sufficient for my right hon. and learned Friend?
I hope that before this debate concludes my right hon. and learned Friend will have an opportunity to look at the evidence submitted to the Select Committee, and I hope that, on that basis, he will be able to take those assurances as appropriate. I should be very grateful for his indication that he would do so.
May I pursue the point about the evidence presented by the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster to the Select Committee last Thursday? I did indeed ask him whether he would publish the report on Operation Yellowhammer. For the benefit of the House, this is what he said in response:
“What I hope to do is more than that. What I would like to do is to make sure that we have Yellowhammer, once we have done the proper revision and the kicking of the tyres, alongside a publication that details the actions that the Government has taken to inform people of the consequences and allows people to see the mitigations that we have put in place, so people can make a proper judgment about the changes they need to make”.
That, I think, is a full quotation. On that basis, it would seem to me that the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster would have no difficulty whatsoever with that part of the right hon. and learned Gentleman’s Standing Order 24 motion.
I am very grateful to the right hon. and learned Gentleman. He has had all sorts of emollient assurances from the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, but the Daily Mail is reporting right now that:
“Downing Street not in any mood to bow to Grieve’s demands…No. 10 source: ‘Under no circumstances will No. 10 staff comply with Grieve’s demands regardless of any votes in Parliament.’”
If the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster intervenes on the right hon. and learned Gentleman again he can be pressed to assure the right hon. and learned Gentleman that he will not see Parliament treated with such contempt.
I have been listening with great care to my right hon. and learned Friend’s observations and part of his draft Humble Address troubles me. What legal right do the Government have to require their employees to give up private email accounts and personal mobile numbers? If there is no legal right—I imagine he would contend that there is not—how on earth would the Government enforce the Humble Address if they desired to do so?
Order. We must conduct this debate in a seemly manner.
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The hon. Gentleman has made his own point in his own way, and he may wish to expatiate further on that matter if he catches my eye in the course of the debate. Meanwhile, it is on the record and will be widely observed.
My right hon. and learned Friend has just refined the Humble Address to confine the request for personal mobile information and personal private accounts only to communications that ought to have been carried out as official business on official accounts. The difficulty with the Humble Address that I invite him to consider is that it is a blunt instrument and that, in truth, what this Humble Address requires is careful refinement so that it complies with legal rules. This Humble Address has no binding legal effect on individuals. It potentially has a binding effect on the Government, if they observe it, but not on individuals. There seems to be a risk that it will trespass upon the fundamental rights of individuals, as it is currently drafted.
Will my right hon. and learned Friend give way, on a serious point?
I am very worried, because I have been looking at the special advisers code of conduct, and it says:
“Special advisers should not disclose official information which has been communicated in confidence in government or received in confidence from others.”
Does my right hon. and learned Friend not realise that his motion today sets all special advisers in conflict with the code that they have signed up to?
Mr Speaker, may I first associate myself with the many comments about your role as Speaker in this House and the way in which you have performed it, certainly since I have been here? I did not have the chance to speak earlier, but I want to associate myself with those comments.
I rise to support this application in the name of the right hon. and learned Member for Beaconsfield (Mr Grieve). At the heart of the application is the simple principle that the Executive should be honest and open with Parliament so as to enable this House properly to scrutinise the Government’s policies and decisions. That should be a given, but it is not, and I am afraid that that speaks volumes. Two important decisions underpin this application. The first is the decision to prorogue the House for five weeks, at what should be the most important and intensive part of the Brexit negotiations. The second is the decision to deny the House the assessment of the preparations for a no-deal Brexit—the Yellowhammer analysis.
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In his speech, the hon. Member for Wrexham (Ian C. Lucas) answered his own question. He explained that I had said to Dermot Murnaghan on Sky News exactly when I knew about these payments. He can ask as many times as he likes for me to repeat the answer, but I gave the answer months ago.
Talking of politicians who cannot see what is in front of them, we come to Yellowhammer. The point has been made that it is critical that we share with this House as much as we can, and I am absolutely committed to that. In the evidence that I gave to the Exiting the European Union Committee last Thursday—
No. In the evidence that I gave, I made it clear—I am grateful to the Chairman of that Committee for allowing me to do so—that we wanted to publish and would publish a revised Yellowhammer document. It is also important to recognise that the shadow Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union, the right hon. and learned Member for Holborn and St Pancras (Keir Starmer), described Yellowhammer as both an “impact assessment” and a “likely scenario”. I was clear in the evidence, which was accepted by the Chairman in that Committee, that it was neither an impact assessment nor a likely scenario. The right hon. and learned Gentleman says that he wants scrutiny of our no-deal assumptions, but when that scrutiny is given and when the facts are in front, he seems not to be interested, not to read it or not to know what has been said. He says he wants scrutiny, but when he gets scrutiny, he cannot be bothered to take account of it.
I know what the right hon. and learned Gentleman suspects, and he has been fair in laying it out clearly, but the question that this House has to ask is, are we prepared—[Interruption.] The question before the House is this—[Hon. Members: “Answer the question!”] I am answering the question. The question before the House is this. We know what the right hon. and learned Gentleman is concerned about, and we know what his concerns are, but are we willing, in order to satisfy his curiosity on this point, to make sure that data protection legislation, the EHRC and the standard practices of government are overturned? I should say to the right hon. and learned Gentleman that we have published in unprecedented detail, in conformity with the duty of candour, all the information required—
May I tell the hon. Gentleman that what the people of this country want to see is us come together to come out of the EU on 31 October with a deal? We are making great progress with our friends and partners in Brussels and Dublin, and even in Paris, but I am afraid those talks are currently being undermined by the absurd Bill before the House today. I urge him to reject it. If he must pass it, will he have a word with his right hon. Friend and ensure that that Bill is put to the people, in the form of a general election?
Order. A six-minute limit now applies with immediate effect.
Will my right hon. and learned Friend give way?
My right hon. and learned Friend speaks of consequences. He also speaks of those who had hitherto not participated in our democratic process but who participated in the referendum. What does he think the consequences will be outside this House if it tells those people that their voice did not matter and that we will not deliver what they voted for?
It is a privilege to follow the right hon. and learned Member for Beaconsfield (Mr Grieve). I very much agree with what he had to say. Like him, we have no objections to the Irish backstop. It is one of the redeeming features of the Government’s agreement—their having foolishly and unnecessarily drawn red lines around the customs union and the single market, it was an inevitable and necessary measure to protect Ireland from a new, disruptive frontier. Our concern is much more fundamental—the fact that Brexit, as currently devised, will make this country poorer, weaker and less secure.
We have all heard a lot of general rhetoric about this issue, so I want to home in one particular aspect of the economics of it—the nature of the single market and how it originated. Thirty-five years ago, there was an insight in this country around the Prime Minister of the time, Mrs Thatcher. I do not know whether it was her or her advisers who saw that the future of business and trade rested on two s’s—standards and services—and that the traditional preoccupation with tariffs and quotas was of course very relevant, particularly for agriculture and manufacturing, but the future lay in another area.
For three decades, successive Governments—Conservative, coalition and Labour—have beavered away trying to create this structure of a single market, recognising the importance of those key drivers. That has been done on two levels. It was attempted at a global level through the World Trade Organisation, which is often called in aid by Government Members. That achieved virtually nothing, because the World Trade Organisation is essentially a weak organisation that brings together countries with massively divergent standards. It was also pursued through the European Union, with very great success.
One of the central problems of Brexit is that it potentially unravels much of the regulatory framework that has been put in place over those three decades. I have a very simple example, which gives us an indication of what is coming down the track. It actually relates to one of the Government’s success stories. The Government have been trying to roll over the 30 or 40 association agreements we have with the European Union. It would be disastrous if they were not rolled over. Quite a few important countries, including Japan and Korea, are making it very clear that they are not willing to get a move on, as the Foreign Secretary instructed them to, but one of the countries that did is Switzerland.
Switzerland is an interesting case. It is a British success story, with rapid growth in exports of 40% over five years. Britain has a big trade surplus with Switzerland. That is all under the existing arrangements. The Secretary of State for International Trade presented the roll-over agreement as a great success, and indeed it was. It is one of the few things that has actually worked for the Government in this area. But when some of the trade federations affected by the agreement started unpicking it, they noticed that it is not the same agreement that the European Union had.
Central to the European Union agreement was that it brought together about 19 key technical standards across the European Union and Switzerland, which enabled European countries to trade on a common basis. In the revised agreement, there are only five such standards. The companies in the UK that will have to deal with Switzerland in the future will do so at a competitive disadvantage. I have no way of knowing how important that is or how many jobs are at stake, but that small experience will be reproduced on a massive scale as Brexit proceeds, and we should take note of it.
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Of course I will reflect the will of the House and give way, but what is interesting is that what we see on the Opposition Benches is a desire not to get into the substance but just to play politics with what is one of the most crucial decisions in our country’s history.
Rather like economists, lawyers can always find issues on which to disagree. As I said, the issue here is that we are dealing with unlikely circumstances. What came through in the Attorney General’s statement is the fact that, ultimately, this is a political judgment, not a legal judgment. It is for Members of this House to assess the political risk. Indeed, as the Attorney General himself said—
The discussions I have had in the European Union with EU leaders and, indeed, with the European Commission are very clear: they are entering into those talks with us with the intention of finding a resolution to the issue that this House has raised and that the right hon. Gentleman has just referenced again—that is, to ensure we have that legally binding change that ensures that people can have the confidence that the issue that the House raised about the potential indefinite nature of the backstop has been addressed and resolved. That is what we are working on. I recognise that the right hon. Gentleman has always been consistent in his references to the need for the right legal status for that change, and that is what we are working for.
My right hon. and learned Friend says that there are diverse views around this House and that there has been no indication, therefore, why the withdrawal agreement was rejected. Indeed, the House did indicate why the withdrawal agreement was rejected. It did so in a majority vote on 29 January that indicated that it was an issue around the backstop, that changes to the backstop were required and that the House would support the withdrawal agreement with the necessary changes to the backstop. It is not right to say that this House has not indicated the result that it wishes to see. He also aims slightly to chastise me on the options that I have put before the House today, but I say to him that a second referendum does not change the fact that ultimately, the three options open to us are to leave the European Union with a deal, to leave it with no deal, or to have no Brexit. Those will remain the options.
We are well aware of the timetables that businesses are working to. That is why we have been pressing and working hard to get the deal agreed by the House and the European Union. It is also the case that we are working on those trade agreements. A number of continuity agreements have been signed with trading nations around the world to ensure that we can continue to trade on the current arrangements.
As my right hon. and learned Friend said, the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018 makes clear that the provisions of the 2010 Act apply to the withdrawal agreement and require it to be laid before Parliament for 21 sitting days. In most circumstances, that period may be important for the House to have an opportunity to study a piece of legislation, but in this instance, MPs will already have debated and approved the agreement as part of the meaningful vote. While we will follow normal procedure if we can, where there is insufficient time remaining following a successful meaningful vote, we will make provision in the withdrawal agreement Bill, with Parliament’s consent, to ensure that we are able to ratify on time to guarantee our exit in an orderly way.
The hon. Gentleman has an opportunity today to agree the negotiating mandate for going back to Brussels by supporting the amendment tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Altrincham and Sale West (Sir Graham Brady).
Let me say first that we have that opportunity today. I, and others, have been listening and talking to Members on both sides of the House about the issues that they have raised—apart from the Leader of the Opposition, who did not want to come and talk to me. I shall mention a number of those issues later in my speech, but one of them, which has been raised consistently by Members, is the backstop. We have an opportunity to give a clear message to the European Union on this matter today, and I also say to my right hon. and learned Friend that I am sure he has thought through very carefully the longer-term implications of the moves proposed tonight in the amendments that he and the right hon. Member for Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford have put forward and the implications they have for the relationship between the Executive and Parliament in the future.
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Will my right hon. and learned Friend give way?
Somebody who refers to national suicide, as my right hon. and learned Friend did the other day, is now moving towards a proposition that involves constitutional homicide, but let me put it another way. Does he agree that he voted for the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018, which states unequivocally that the European Communities Act 1972 will be expressly repealed? Therefore, is what he is now saying going to contradict that, because he does not want the 1972 Act to be expressly repealed—yes or no?
I think we all realise that today’s debate is predominantly about process, but that cannot hide one essential truth: we are facing a crisis; our country is in a state of suspended animation because of that crisis; and the intemperate nature of the debate—partly here today and certainly outside the Chamber—is a consequence of that crisis, because in truth every single one of us present is anxious about what is going to happen to our country.
Following the defeat of the Prime Minister’s withdrawal agreement and political declaration, she said that she would reach out, and I welcomed that, although it would have been much better had it been done two years ago. We now know that she is not for turning on the political declaration but seeks somehow to change the backstop. I am all for optimism, but I somehow doubt that the EU is for turning on this issue either. Unless the Prime Minister knows something that we do not, I do not see how it is going to be changed.
The issue on which we were very clear with the European Union in relation to the Northern Ireland border was that there could not be a customs border down the Irish sea. In February, the EU’s proposals were that exactly that should happen. By October, we had persuaded it to enable a UK-wide customs territory to be in the protocol rather than a Northern Ireland-wide customs territory. That was the key issue in relation to the border that we had set as something that was unacceptable to the United Kingdom and we negotiated that out of the proposal.
Every Member of this House who has raised this issue of going back to the public on this matter needs to consider very carefully the impact that that would have. I believe that it would lead to a significant loss of faith in our democracy, and to many people questioning the role of this House and the role of Members within this House. We gave people the decision. The people have made that decision; we should deliver on it.
That is absolutely right, and none of us should be under any illusion that this issue is going to die in March next year. As my hon. Friend points out, we will have five or 10 years of continued negotiation about what type of trade relationship we have, and there will be bitter divisions around that. We will have a great deal of disillusionment with the costs that Brexit will inevitably entail and continued demands to return to the issue. Let us agree to have another vote on Brexit now that we know what it is. That is the least damaging and least hurtful way that we can proceed as a country.
This House has, fundamentally, a duty to respect the clear will of the people of the United Kingdom as delivered in the referendum and to deliver our exit from the EU as one United Kingdom. I regret to say that the withdrawal agreement put forward by the Prime Minister and a majority but not all of the Cabinet falls short of that objective. To enter into this arrangement, first through the transition period, as proposed, and then the backstop provisions, means we enter a twilight world where the EU is given unprecedented powers over the UK, certainly in the transition period, and massive leverage in the negotiations on the future trade relationship. And we would have to rely on the good will of others to let us ever leave these arrangements. Under these terms, the UK’s future as a strong and independent global trading nation, standing together, is in real and imminent jeopardy; this is an outcome that does not honour the result of the referendum or take back control of our laws, money and borders.
That is not the case. I think the right hon. Gentleman was quoting the minute of the Council meeting of the 27, which has in it a number of issues that actually show—[Interruption.] Yes, other member states do have concerns in relation to a number of these issues. They have those concerns partly because they were not able to arrive at the position that they would have preferred to have in the political declaration that we have agreed with the European Union, because we have resolutely stood up for our fishermen.
Of course it is the case—I explained the reason why earlier—that we have to negotiate the full legal text of the future economic partnership and the future security partnership, and I know that my right hon. and learned Friend will understand the reason for that. What is important is that we have in the political declaration the set of instructions to the negotiators in respect of the basis on which the future relationship will be set, which is one that in trade terms is ambitious and unlike any other given to any other third country and that in security terms is also unlike any other given to any third country, because it is more ambitious, closer and a better partnership than any other country has.
I responded on the issue of the second referendum when I responded to my right hon. Friend the Member for Putney (Justine Greening). On the question of the economy, this is a deal that protects jobs and livelihoods across the whole of the United Kingdom.
My right hon. and learned Friend has heard my response about asking the people in a second referendum what their views are. What we have negotiated is an arrangement with the European Union that continues a close partnership between the United Kingdom and the EU. I believe that that is the right thing for us to do and that coming out of the EU will enable us to develop even closer partnerships with other countries around the world through our trade deals and, indeed, through other means of support and the work we will be able to do with them on security and defence. It is also important, given our geographical position and given that the EU is our nearest trading neighbour, that we continue to have that good relationship with the EU, and that is what this delivers.
We continue to work for a good deal for the whole of the United Kingdom.
I say gently to my right hon. and learned Friend that I think I recall the time when he was in favour of the Government negotiating an implementation period for our withdrawal from the European Union, to bridge the point between our leaving on 29 March 2019 and the point at which the future relationship would come into place. We have set out the reasons why it is important for us to ensure that at the heart of our future relationship is a free trade deal that has frictionless trade at its heart—that is a good trade deal for the United Kingdom, but also enables us to undertake good trade deals with others around the world.
I thank the right hon. Gentleman for the tone of his response and his support for the Government’s work. He mentioned the emergency services. As I said, and he also said, we send our immense thanks to all those in the emergency services, the police, our security and intelligence agencies and the national health service who responded to these incidents, and for the work of the police and the intelligence agencies that has enabled us to identify these two individuals and to issue the Interpol red notice and the European arrest warrant. The armed forces were also present in the clean-up and made their expertise available. We are grateful to them, too.
The right hon. Gentleman asks about Scottish limited partnerships. The Home Office has been looking at this issue with the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy. We intend to introduce legislation to cover a range of abuses, and I am sure that the Security Minister would be happy to speak to him about that.
I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his understanding and acceptance of what I said in my statement about the role of the GRU and the culpability of the Russian state. I also thank him for his clear condemnation of the Russian state. I only wish that such a clear condemnation might be possible from the leaders of all parties in the House.
I thank my right hon. and learned Friend for his comments. As I said in my statement, we will indeed ensure that further detail is available for the Intelligence and Security Committee. As I understand it, the individuals came into the United Kingdom under valid passports that were issued by the Russian Government. We have already stepped up our powers by introducing an ability to stop people at ports to consider and investigate whether they are involved in hostile state activity. Of course, we look continually to ensure that we have all the powers necessary to deal with these issues, and my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary will continue to do that.
None. How do we— [Interruption.] Well, look. I am trying to be— [Interruption.] I see the hon. Member for Chelmsford (Vicky Ford) waving her arms. I have already made the point, as the hon. Member for Wells (James Heappey) would know if he had been listening to what I have been saying, that I do not expect the Government to have to share intelligence information with Members of Parliament. Let me also be clear, for the absence of doubt: I accept the case that has been put that the Syrian regime is responsible for the chemical weapons attack. I am happy with the explanation that has been given, and, in my case, I have been made aware of some of the intelligence information.
Let us not say that Parliament cannot take action on the basis of being told what it can be told. But it does not need to be told what is sensitive intelligence information. That is the way Parliament has worked, and we are asking that parliamentary democracy continues to take place.
Taking military action is not easy; we accept that. Finding a way through the morass in Syria and offering hope to the people is more difficult, but that is an issue that, as part of any plan for military action, has to be discussed.
I am grateful for that intervention, but no one is asking for the Government to be specific to that degree about the action being proposed.
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I have just said that these Christian leaders are under great pressure from the Assad regime to toe the party line, as it were, but the fact is that their responsibility is to protect their own communities, which are under unprecedented pressure. We have to take some account of the pressure on Christian communities.
Last week, when the Vatican all-party group was in Rome, we had a meeting on persecuted Christians in Syria. We met every single expert from the refugee services and from all around the world who look into this issue, and they all told us that bombing was a dangerous thing to do with regard to opinion in the middle east and pressure from Muslims on the remaining Christian communities. I was struck when the representative of the Catholic Church in Pakistan said that the Catholic communities there would get it in the neck even more because, unfairly, so many Muslims do not differentiate between Russian bombs, American bombs, French bombs and British bombs. They say that the misery in Syria has been caused by foreign Christian powers raining bombs on their communities. That might be an unfair point of view, but it is generally held in the middle east.
This point has not been made by anybody else in the debate so far: I accept that the Government were right to act, and that they have powers under the royal prerogative to act, but I do not believe that we should pursue any more our objective of trying to change the Assad regime. If we then do act for humanitarian reasons—if we intervene to deter a possible chemical attack—we will have much more credibility in the middle east, because we would not be seen to be taking sides. That is the way forward.
Unfortunately I cannot give way because I am running out of time.
I have agreed with my right hon. and learned Friend, but I hope that when we debate these matters in future, we will remember this and avoid all hypocrisy. The fact is that as much as we detest Assad and as much as he is a dictator, none of us, as Christians, would want to live in an area of Syria that was outside Assad’s control, because he would protect us. That is a difficult thing to say in Parliament and not everybody will agree with it, but I have to say what I have to say.
I set out in my statement the basis on which we took this decision. I recognise the importance and significance of Parliament and of Parliament being able to make its views known on these issues, but it is also important that the Government are able to act. There will always be circumstances in which it is important for the Government to be able to act and, for the operational security of our armed forces, to be able to do so without a debate having taken place in Parliament. There will be circumstances where that is the case, and the Government have consistently set that out. If those are the circumstances, as I have said, it is right that the Prime Minister comes to Parliament at the earliest opportunity.
In relation to potential future action, as I said in response to the right hon. Member for Twickenham (Sir Vince Cable), this was a targeted attack. It was targeted at degrading the chemical weapons capability of the Syrian regime. We now look, alongside that, to undertake international work through diplomatic and political channels to ensure that we reinforce the international norm of not using chemical weapons. Nobody should be in any doubt about our resolve to ensure that we do not see a situation developing in which the use of chemical weapons is normalised.
I absolutely agree with my right hon. and learned Friend. If we were to say that we are prepared to act only when we have the support of the United Nations—given that, as we have seen in this circumstance, a member of the UN Security Council is willing repeatedly to veto the ability to investigate these issues—any tyrant could determine that they can act and use these weapons with impunity. We must not allow that. The use of these chemical weapons must be stopped.
We have asked Foreign Ministers to look at what steps they think it is important for us to take. We, as the UK, have already been at the forefront of the economic sanctions that have been put in place in relation to Russia following the illegal annexation of Crimea, and of course the European Council will want to be looking at those sanctions for the future.
My right hon. and learned Friend is absolutely right about the importance of the alliance, both in the strength of the signal that it sends but also in the very clear message that we are not resorting to any sort of, as he says, unlawful methods. We are actually acting in full sight of and in accordance with the law.
As I have made clear before, we have no disagreement with the Russian people who have achieved so much through their country’s great history. Indeed, our thoughts are with them today, especially the friends and families of those who died in the awful shopping centre fire in Kemerovo in Siberia. Neither should we wish to be in a permanent state of perpetual confrontation with Russia. Many of us, as I said in answer to an intervention, looked at a post-Soviet Russia with hope. We would much rather have in Russia a constructive partner ready to play by the rules. But while we should continue to keep open this possibility, we must also face the facts. President Putin’s regime is carrying out acts of aggression against our values and interests within Europe and beyond.
The challenge of Russia is one that will endure for years to come. As a European democracy, the United Kingdom will stand shoulder to shoulder with our allies in the European Union and NATO to face down these threats together. We will defend our infrastructure, our institutions and our values against attempts to undermine them, and we will act to protect our national security and to keep our people safe. I commend this motion to the House.
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May I start my remarks by repeating the welcome I gave to the Prime Minister earlier for the efforts the Government have undertaken to secure this impressive level of solidarity and support from our European friends and others? I welcome any personal role the Foreign Secretary played in that. This shows that they certainly have no doubt of Kremlin culpability, and I am sure they would have been given access to information that most Members have not had access to, which has helped them arrive at that conclusion, along with the clear evidence from Porton Down and elsewhere.
I warmly welcome the clear statement by my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition that he accepts Russian culpability. I deprecate the barracking he received from some Government Members, most of whom are no longer here, having just popped in to barrack him. They have never been here for debates on Russia before and they did not even listen to what he had to say. That was deplorable behaviour, and I want to put that on the record.
I have been raising my concerns about Russia for many, many years. Indeed, when I first started raising concerns about 18 months ago about Russian interference in our democracy, I was treated as a bit of an eccentric, a crank and a conspiracy theorist. I started raising those concerns because of the evidence of what had happened in the United States presidential election. Having expressed those concerns, I found myself to be the recipient of a great deal of very interesting information, some of which has since come out. I have to tell hon. Members that a great deal more that is very serious is still to come out. I shall confine my remarks to my concerns about Russia’s propaganda and interference in democracy as part of its hybrid war against the west. This is not just about the direct interference in elections or electoral systems; I want the Government to take seriously the attention paid by the Kremlin to political parties, think tanks and our educational establishment.
First, on elections, we know from the US about the extent of Kremlin interference in its presidential election and there is growing evidence here. I have to commend the Chair of the Select Committee on Digital, Culture, Media and Sport for the work he and his Committee are doing to look into what happened here in terms of social media. I hope that when the Intelligence and Security Committee commences its work, it will look into that in even greater detail. I first raised this issue in a question to the Prime Minister in December 2016, and I wonder whether the Foreign Secretary could tell the House what action the Government took in response to my raising those concerns. Did they just leave the matter to the ongoing investigations of the Electoral Commission, or did they make their own inquiries and take up their own responsibilities for ensuring that our electoral systems are safe and secure?
That is extremely good news, and I very much welcome the fact that the right hon. and learned Gentleman’s Committee is doing that.
I would also like the Foreign Secretary to comment, if he can, on what the Government and their agencies are doing to take down Kremlin operations that seek to influence and infiltrate our political parties. He has a particular responsibility in this area, for example, to have satisfied himself that all those who have donated to his political party and to individual Conservative MPs, including some wealthy Russians here who give the impression of being Putin opponents, are in fact as stated. I hope that the Foreign Secretary and the agencies that serve under him are working very hard to make sure that he can feel confident on that.
I invite the Foreign Secretary to task the agencies to investigate the United Kingdom Independence party—this is much more serious. We already know that there are close political ties here involving Farage, who has been named as a person of interest in the Mueller investigation; that Aaron Banks is also under investigation by the Electoral Commission; and that of course Jim Mellon, the co-founder of Leave.EU, has extensive business background and current investment interests in Russia. So I would be grateful if the Foreign Secretary confirmed that as part of their investigations to counter criminal activities in this country, the Government are looking at some of the allegations that have been made around UKIP. Again, I first raised these concerns months and months ago.
Also, about 10 months ago, I highlighted concerns I had picked up about collusion between the leave campaign and these others bits of the leave campaign, such as BeLeave, to get around our strict electoral spending laws. At the same time, I also raised concerns about the role of Cambridge Analytica, and we have now seen the most extraordinary and shocking revelations this week from The Guardian, The New York Times, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, “Channel 4 News” and others. I hope that the Foreign Secretary will tell us whether the Government took the concerns I raised back then seriously and what they did about them.
Of course the other concerns that many of us have expressed was about the huge donation to the Democratic Unionist party for the leave campaign, whose source we are not allowed to know because, shockingly, the Government did not make the transparency of political donations in Northern Ireland retrospective. I hope that they will think again on that .The Electoral Commission has asked them to make that decision retrospective. It is always open to them to bring another motion to this House, so that we can do that and so that we can know and have confidence in the source of that huge donation. Again, a lot of that was spent on this digital advertising and digital work.
The United States has a powerful judicial investigation into Russian interference, under special counsel Mueller. Compare that with the farce this week of the Information Commissioner trying to get a warrant to search Cambridge Analytica’s office, which she finally managed to do late on Friday evening, having been trying all week. That clearly shows that our Electoral Commission, independent Information Commissioner and Select Committees do not have the powers they need to tackle this problem adequately. I hope that special counsel Mueller’s investigation will come up with more evidence and that the Foreign Secretary can reassure the House that all the various investigations into Russian interference in Britain are getting the full co-operation and support of all the Government’s agencies, because I have been told in the months past that that was not the case. I have since been reassured by Ministers that it is happening now, and would be grateful if the Foreign Secretary assured the House that he, the intelligence services and our other agencies are helping the Electoral Commission, the Information Commissioner and the Select Committees and providing them with anything that they ask for.
I could say a lot more on this subject, and I wanted to say more about the role of educational institutions, so I hope that the Foreign Secretary takes that on board. I have had a frustrating time trying to get some sense out of our universities—for example, those that employed Professor Mifsud, who has disappeared since being exposed in a Mueller indictment.
Let me say one more thing. On the issue of money, Bill Browder gave 12 other countries the dossiers that he has given to the British authorities. Those 12 other countries have prosecuted the people responsible; will the Secretary of State find out why that has not happened here and have a word with his fellow Ministers, to make sure that they act on the evidence with which they are provided?
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No, they cannot imagine that because Kiev is the source of the Rus’ people and the thousand-year-old history of the Russian Orthodox Church, to which Kiev is as much an integral part as Canterbury is to the Anglican communion. They cannot understand Ukraine as an independent entity.
None of this is to condone or in any way defend Russia. What are we going to do about this situation? First, as I said to the Prime Minister, we need to create a coalition of peace through security. Russia would not have been too concerned about the expulsion of 23 diplomats —that is tit for tat—but it would have been very concerned about the fact that the Foreign Secretary and the Prime Minister have made alliances throughout Europe, that we have been listened to and that these expulsions have been going on today. Russia will be extremely concerned about that.
Secondly, we should not seek to copy Russia’s methods or attack it in the way that it attacks. We should be careful. I know that some Members want to close down RT. I do not defend RT in any shape or form, but we should leave it to Ofcom. We should leave it to due process, not political interference from this place. We should also be careful about what we do in respect of the City of London. It has a reputation throughout the world for fair dealing. We act on evidence. If there is evidence of criminality and dirty money, we must act on it, but we cannot attack Russians who invest in our country and in the City of London simply because they are Russian. That would be a mistake.
What do we do? We make alliances, which we have done, and we expel the diplomats. The point I have been making again and again, with the Chair of the Defence Committee, my right hon. Friend the Member for New Forest East (Dr Lewis), who went way back and quoted Palmerston, is that Russians historically respect strength. We currently have just 800 men in the Baltic states. We have 150 in Poland. It is simply not enough. Surely, history proves to us that in dealing with Russia, words are not enough. Russians want to see action on the ground.
Why did we defeat the USSR in the cold war? It was not with words, but with solid determination to spend what needed to be spent on defence. We have heard the former Secretary of State for Defence, my right hon. Friend the Member for Sevenoaks (Sir Michael Fallon), and we know the stresses on the defence budget. The Foreign Secretary should echo the words of the Under-Secretary of State for Defence, my right hon. Friend the Member for Bournemouth East (Mr Ellwood), who said in the estimates debate not three weeks ago that spending 2% on defence was not enough. We should make a solid and real commitment to the Baltic states. That is what will concern Mr Putin: the determination to put troops on the ground. I know about all the pressures on the Government that are arising from health and many other things, but unless we are prepared to make that commitment—to do what Mrs Thatcher and President Reagan were prepared to do to bring down the Soviet Union—we will never counter the Russian threat.
Russia is not a natural enemy of our country. It is sometimes difficult to say that in this Chamber. We have had speech after speech condemning Russia. We are two powers at either end of Europe. From the days of Queen Elizabeth I, we have traded together. Russia is not and should not be an existential threat to this country. There has been a lot of talk about cyber-warfare. I have no doubt that Russia is attempting and engaging in cyber-warfare, but I do not believe that it could seriously affect our democracy. We should be proud of our democracy and determined that it is resilient. We must not indulge in Russophobia. We must be proportionate and determined, and we must be prepared to spend on defence what we need to spend.
I was going to conclude, but I shall take my right hon. and learned Friend’s intervention before I sit down.
Of course, I would not want for a moment to disagree with my right hon. and learned Friend the Chairman of the Intelligence and Security Committee. He knows what is going on and I echo what he says: the Russians are indulging in some attempt to destabilise our values. I make no defence of what they are doing; I just think that we are a sufficiently robust economy and democracy that we can weather it and that they will not change things fundamentally in our country. We should be aware of it, but we should have confidence in our self-reliance.
It is terribly important that we are serious about this subject. There is absolutely no point in our having this debate and attacking President Putin, only for all our attacks to completely wash off the Russian people, who do not want to be an extension of western Europe in their values, economy or anything else. What will have an effect on them? Is it words in this Chamber, or actions on the ground? Are actions on the ground enough? There may be no absolute real and present danger to our country, but there is to the Baltic states, not least because of their very sizable Russian minority.
I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his remarks and for the Democratic Unionist party’s support for the Government’s action. On actions to be taken by international allies, they were, of course, waiting for us to announce the various actions that we will take following the decision taken by the National Security Council this morning. We will hold further discussions with our allies about how they can support what we are doing through taking actions themselves.
My right hon. and learned Friend is absolutely correct that we need to address this issue in that wider sense, because it is about the way in which the Russian state is acting—it believes, with impunity—in a whole variety of ways, and the way in which it is flouting the international rules-based order. We must come together as allies to ensure that we support that international rules-based order and that we have not just a collective agreement, but a collective approach that ensures that we can challenge what Russia is doing. He is also right that one of the points we should be making to our allies is that while this may have happened in the United Kingdom, it could be happening in any of those states.
Of course, we are aware of the need in the United Kingdom to ensure that our financial system cannot be used for illicit money flows, that appropriate action is taken by law enforcement and other bodies to ensure that we identify such flows and that we make the appropriate response to them. As the right hon. Gentleman will know, we are already putting in place a number of measures to improve the information that is available in a transparent way in relation to the holding of certain assets here by those from overseas, and that is something we will continue to work on.
It was very good that the ISC had already announced that it would be considering issues around Russian activity against the UK that requires investigation. I look forward to the work that my right hon. and learned Friend’s Committee will be doing on that, and the Government will work with the ISC to share relevant information that is within its remit.
A lot of detail will be involved in this Bill. That matter will probably be dealt with in Committee —I just hope that it will go through to Committee so that we can deal with that then. The Minister who is responding later will have picked up on that point.
That is another intervention that I greatly welcome and that accords totally with my thinking. It is damaging, yes. We have moved away from the principle of having any restriction at all, which is sensible. I want to come on to that point, but, first, I will take another intervention.
I sincerely hope that that will not be the outcome, but I have to admire the hon. and learned Lady’s ability to spot an opportunity and take it.
The Government have never argued that these powers need to be in London or that they intend to hold on to them permanently. Rather, it seems that they feel that tackling the undoubted complexities of considering how to make new arrangements with the devolved Administrations post Brexit belongs in the “too difficult” pile—something to be put off until there is more time and there are fewer distractions. However, there are no time limits on when the Government will cease to hoard the powers. While the hard-line Brexiteers on the Back Benches are promised a time and date—to the very nanosecond—for when they will see powers returned from Brussels, the nations of our Union are told to wait indefinitely. The people of Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland deserve better from the Government.
The Government agree with Labour and the devolved Administrations that frameworks are needed—I think—and new clause 64 assists them by outlining how that can be achieved. The presumption should be that powers remain devolved as is the case now, and that UK frameworks are created to co-ordinate policy in some areas through negotiation with the devolved Administrations. To do anything else would turn back the clock on devolution—impossible—and cause untold damage to important relationships between Parliaments.
As well as having the motivation and attention to address this issue, the Government need to trust the devolved Administrations. That is why our proposal makes explicit the obligations on each Government and the nature of the frameworks needed. So far, the Government have not exactly shone in their endeavour to develop a UK-wide approach to Brexit, so new clause 65 helps by putting the Joint Ministerial Committee on a statutory footing.
It is important to reflect on the absence of representation from Northern Ireland on the JMC. The suspension of the Executive is deeply regrettable, and permits the neglect of the needs, concerns, ambitions and hopes of the people of Northern Ireland. Their voices must not go unheard at this most critical of moments, but need to be amplified, as it is they who have the most to lose from a chaotic departure from the EU.
The new clause is not intended to cause conflict—we already have a certain degree of conflict between the Administrations—but, rather, to remove that conflict, and to provide a mechanism by which issues can be resolved. Hearteningly, the JMC seems to have started to function rather better than it did when we last went around this particular issue. It has issued statements that explain how it wants these frameworks to be established, so it does not seem to be too much of a leap to write that into the Bill.
The right hon. and learned Gentleman will probably remember our attempt to put the JMC on a statutory footing when we considered the article 50 Bill, but this time the Brexit negotiations are upon us. The Government have lost their majority since our last attempt, so I encourage Ministers to take a more conciliatory approach this time. New clauses 64 and 65 would force the Government to respect both the devolution of decisions, and those who are responsible for taking the decisions.
Break in Debate
I am surprised at that intervention from the hon. Gentleman. I expressed right at the outset of my speech that we recognise that progress was made, but that progress has not been sufficient to justify the SNP supporting this Bill tonight. The whole point about our position is that we want to see frameworks in place, but we can move forward on that only when the UK Government are prepared to negotiate. Why was there a six-month period when the Joint Ministerial Committee did not meet? If there is any blame in this matter, it lies with those on the Government Benches.
I can tell the hon. Gentleman that there is not a fag paper between the position of the SNP on these Benches and that of our colleagues up the road in Holyrood. We are united, which is more than can be said of the Conservative party, because Ruth Davidson is delivering a very different message from the one that is being delivered by the Conservatives down here. Ruth Davidson recognises the threat to Scotland of being out of the single market and the customs union. The Scottish Conservatives would serve the interests of the people of Scotland if they recognised that there is an economic threat from being outwith the single market and the customs union.
I thank my right hon. and learned Friend, if I may call him that, for that intervention. I always listen carefully to what he has to say, and I think that, in some respects, he makes my point. Way back last December, the Scottish Government published a paper about achieving compromise, and that is the position we have always taken. We fully recognise that we have to get to a situation where we can compromise and where we need to have joint frameworks. The nub of this argument is where the powers should lie when they come back from the EU. It would be far better if they came back to the Scottish Parliament, so that we could agree a framework; as it is, the UK has grabbed the powers and is failing to discuss these matters adequately—not just with the Government in Edinburgh, but with the Government in Wales.
The Bill returns powers solely to the UK Government and Parliament, imposing new restrictions on devolved legislatures. Scotland is getting used to Labour and Tory politicians promising all sorts of things during referendums but never delivering them. It is astonishing that just three years ago the Conservative and Labour parties were telling the people of Scotland that the biggest threat to the economy and EU citizenship was an independent Scotland—“Vote no to protect the UK’s EU membership!” Let us think about that for a minute. Now we are losing our EU membership. The economy is already seeing the effects, inflation is up and the fall in the pound and living standards has been the consequence.
The reality is that Brexit is making us poorer before it even takes hold. Our prosperity is under threat. Meanwhile, the UK Government are attempting the biggest power grab since 1999.
The opening speeches—although they were, of course, of undiluted magnificence—have taken a little longer than I might reasonably have expected, and therefore it might become necessary before long to impose a formal time limit. There are, I ask the House to accept, good reasons why I do not wish to impose a formal time limit at this point, but I would ask for a degree of self-restraint and for Members to consider the merit of a speech not exceeding 10 minutes. I feel sure that that exacting test can be met with ease by someone of the consummate intellectual brilliance of the right hon. and learned Member for Beaconsfield (Mr Grieve).