There have been 6 exchanges between Sir Iain Duncan Smith and Attorney General
|Wed 25th September 2019||Legal Advice: Prorogation||3 interactions (125 words)|
|Tue 9th April 2019||Section 1 of the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2019||3 interactions (97 words)|
|Fri 29th March 2019||United Kingdom’s Withdrawal from the European Union||16 interactions (1,183 words)|
|Tue 12th March 2019||Withdrawal Agreement: Legal Opinion||3 interactions (151 words)|
|Mon 3rd December 2018||Withdrawal Agreement: Legal Position||3 interactions (181 words)|
|Wed 15th November 2017||European Union (Withdrawal) Bill||3 interactions (63 words)|
If the right hon. Member for Delyn (David Hanson) is so confident that his electorate will consider that his moral right to sit here is so strong, why does he not submit it to them now? All we need—I offer this to the Labour Front Bench—is a one-line Bill, which we could put through with Mr Speaker’s help, to fix the date of a general election by a simple majority, and we could have the election. Why does he not tell his Front Bench to put his confidence in his constituents to the test?
I entirely agree with my right hon. Friend. In our constitution, when a Government can no longer govern because Parliament has withdrawn its assent, the moral and constitutional thing to do is to have the courage of your convictions, which this spineless gang on the Opposition Front Bench do not, and to table a motion of no confidence, but they have not got the guts to table that motion of no confidence because most of them do not want their own leader in power.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend. I think he is absolutely right about the way in which the European Parliament is constituted. It is due, I think, to rise on 18 April, but it does not cease to exist—it does not dissolve in the way that we do. That is important in terms of ratification, because section 13 of the withdrawal Act that we passed obviously includes that requirement as well.
My right hon. Friend is right to ask about that detail. I think that we are obliged, as a matter of law, to prepare for European elections, but if we have exited the European Union by the end of June, we are no longer a member but a third country. Therefore, the requirement to take our seats in the European Parliament would have ended.
I very much agree with my hon. Friend. Indeed, I will go further and say that the change of gear between 26 June, when the withdrawal Act received Royal Assent, and 12 July, when the White Paper that followed the Chequers proposals was published, demonstrated bad faith, because it must have been pre-planned while the withdrawal Bill—which I thoroughly agreed with and gave the Government every conceivable assistance in getting through––was going through Parliament. The reality is that it was produced only 10 days later, so we need only ask how the Government could write an 80-page White Paper without planning it some months in advance.
My right hon. Friend makes a very good point. That is why I have just asked the Attorney General for an assurance—he did not answer my question—that if the withdrawal agreement is not approved today, the Government will bring in the Bill anyway. A lot of people are telling me, as Chair of the European Scrutiny Committee—I am pleased to see the Leader of the House shake her head—that if this agreement is rejected, it will not be followed by a Bill. Is that crystal clear? I look to the Leader of the House for confirmation? Is it quite clear that there will be no Bill if this agreement is rejected? She does not answer.
The European Council decision is yet another example of the manner in which this great country has effectively capitulated to the demands of the European Council. That is one of my greatest objections to the motion. Last March—a whole year ago—the European Scrutiny Committee produced a report stating that we should never have accepted the sequencing or the terms of reference laid down by the European Union. That was capitulation, not compromise. It is so important that the House recognises that in the vote today.
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Order. An eight-minute limit on Back-Bench speeches applies with immediate effect.
On 3 March the right hon. Gentleman stated on his website:
“British Governments have lied about the EU for decades. This deal is the final deceit”.
Yet he is going to vote for it.
What a shambles this has been, Mr Speaker. Today we see desperate measures by a desperate Government. We hear that the Cabinet is riven, and Government Members are at loggerheads. To add insult to injury, this hugely important constitutional issue—the biggest issue of my lifetime—is now the centre of a Conservative party leadership contest. That tells us what we need to know: this stopped being about the 2016 referendum or the British people a long time ago, and it is all about the party that purports to be in government today.
We have seen repeated mistakes. A referendum was passed with no rules and no planning—not even half a dozen civil servants in the basement of the Treasury or the Cabinet Office working out what might happen if the vote went the way it did. The Prime Minister triggered article 50 in March 2017 to rush into a process, again, with no plan. She then recklessly called a general election a month later and lost even the fig leaf of a majority. Now we see a Prime Minister who has been incapable of negotiation over that two-year period and a Government who were secretive.
I am Chair of the Public Accounts Committee, and my Committee has worked hard, along with other Committees, to try to get information about what was happening to prepare for Brexit, and answer came there none. I met the late head of the Cabinet Office, and he said it would damage our negotiating position if the Government revealed that information—information that is flowing around Brussels like there is no tomorrow, information that sectors of industry and the community know about.
Break in Debate
I am always willing to consider compromise, but, as I said before, compromise has to come from a settled intention to respect an outcome. I have to say that there is no such settled intention, certainly among many Members on the Government side of the House. I listened to the speech of my right hon. Friend the Member for Chingford and Woodford Green (Mr Duncan Smith). It was quite clear from what he said that his purpose will be to use the passage of the WAB to re-order entirely the future relationship in the way he wants. I do not disagree with that—it is his right—but it highlights why separating the two is plainly, in my judgment, impossible. Yet that is what we are being asked to do.
But the Bill was intended to implement the agreement for the future relationship on which we had voted. It has now been transformed into something entirely different: as I understand it, a free-for-all opportunity—although I suspect that the Government do not really intend that—for MPs to pile in their ideas as to not only the future relationship, but caveats in respect of Brexit which, in my view, are incompatible in many cases with the withdrawal obligations themselves.
We have to be clear about these things, and here I speak as an ex-Law Officer. Of course there will be differences of view in this House, but we have to be honest in our purposes. I do not intend to sell my constituents short, however tempting it might be for party political advantage. In any case, if we ultimately fail the country, we as a party are not worth existing. The national interest in this matter must come first.
The hon. Gentleman asks me about my opinion. He knows that my opinion is that there is no ultimate unilateral right out of this arrangement. The risk of that continues, but the question is whether it is a likelihood, politically. One thing that we did not hear from him is what the Labour party’s position is on the backstop. Does they accept the backstop? Do they think it is a good thing? If they think it is a good thing, why on earth are they criticising it? Or is this just the usual political opportunism that one expects to hear from the Front Bench of the Labour party?
The hon. Gentleman says to me that there is nothing new in this agreement, but that is not so, and some of the authorities that he has quoted are saying that this morning. There are material new obligations—for example, in relation to alternative arrangements. There is now a heavy emphasis upon a swift and expedited track to negotiate them, and it would be unconscionable if, having made that emphasis and having said that time was of the essence, the European Union simply refused to consider or adopt reasonable proposals relating to alternative arrangements. That is new. What this document does is address the risk that we could be kept in the backstop by the bad faith and deliberate manipulation of the Union. This makes significant reductions in that risk.
I say to the hon. Gentleman that it would be a good thing if we could hear from the Labour party just occasionally not only political shenanigans but some sincere engagement with the real issues that this withdrawal agreement now raises. The question now is: do we assume our responsibilities as a House and allow not only this country—yearning as it is for us to move on—but the entire continent of Europe to move on? To do that, the time has come now to vote for this deal.
My right hon. Friend has got paragraph 16 wrong, if I may respectfully say so. What it says was that I advised in the past that that was so. What I now consider, at paragraph 17, is:
“that the legally binding provisions of the Joint Instrument and the content of the Unilateral Declaration reduce the risk”
that we would be held involuntarily and by the bad faith. Why? Because these new provisions make it easier to facilitate an effective claim to the arbitrator that that conduct is being exhibited. Those are cumulative. If one looks at the agreement as a whole, one sees that the obligations on the Union are to treat with urgency the negotiation of alternative arrangements. There is a new obligation that has not existed before in any document that the Union has agreed to, which is that it must aim to do this within 12 months of our withdrawal. That is an important obligation, because it makes time of the essence. If that deadline is passed, as in any legal jurisprudence on such matters relating in a domestic context to breach of contract, for example, that means that the parties must demonstrate that they are intensifying their efforts. If they do not, they could be in breach of their best endeavours obligation.
I have the greatest respect for the hon. and learned Lady. She has put her case rationally and reasonably, and I will deal with her points one by one. She asked whether there was anything to prevent the protocol from becoming permanent in the event of no agreement. As a matter of international law, no there is not—it would endure indefinitely, pending a future agreement being arranged—but that does not exhaust all the matters of law. As a matter of EU law, it would, in those circumstances, be highly vulnerable to legal challenge. It is widely accepted, including by the EU Commission and taskforce 50, that article 50 is not a sound legal foundation for permanent arrangements between states. If negotiations irretrievably broke down, the protocol would de facto become permanent and therefore seriously challengeable in the Court of Justice of the European Union for being invalid. That legal uncertainty by itself is sufficient to promote to the EU the need to do a deal with us. It would be profoundly detrimental to thousands—indeed millions—of traders throughout the single market. That is one factor that convinces me that this is a risk worth taking.
The duty of good faith and to use best endeavours is a legally enforceable duty. There is no doubt that it is difficult to prove—[Interruption]—as I hear from a sedentary position, but that is not to say that it has not been proven. The case reports of the International Court of Justice, as well as arbitral tribunals throughout the world, have recorded decisions where tribunals have found breaches of good faith duties. There would need to be clear and convincing evidence that the breakdown of communication was due to bad faith—I fully accept that—but if the EU refused to engage with us, strung out negotiations in a thoroughly unreasonable way or failed to observe reasonable time limits, those would be hallmarks of a possible case of breach of good faith. It is a meaningful legal obligation.
I remind the House that we are dealing here with the United Kingdom on one hand and the European Union on the other. Their reputations in international forums, and their reputations as a question of international law, are at stake. If you put your name to a solemn legal obligation to negotiate something in good faith within a certain time limit, it is a very serious obligation of which to acquit yourself: it cannot just be played fast and loose with.
There are certainly several amendments in the group that I will support, if they are pressed to a Division. I very much welcome new clause 55, which was tabled by the right hon. and learned Member for Beaconsfield (Mr Grieve) and relates to enhancing scrutiny. That is clearly something that we need, as it was much debated on Second Reading, and is now being discussed in Committee. If new clause 22, which was tabled by the hon. Member for Lewisham East (Heidi Alexander), is subject to a vote, we will certainly support that.
I welcome the return of the right hon. Member for Witham (Priti Patel), who is clearly making herself the standard bearer for Brexiteers on the Back Benches. I am sorry that she is no longer in the Chamber, but she said in her speech that Brexit was not about cutting regulations. However, that does not quite sit with what she has said previously about Brexit being an opportunity for widespread deregulation. I am afraid I must ask why we should believe what Government Front Benchers are now saying about their intentions when many members of the Cabinet, Ministers and Back Benchers are on record as stating very clearly that Brexit will provide opportunities for deregulation. Members will be pleased to hear that I will make only some brief remarks.
I remember that clearly. The right hon. Gentleman and I—and, I am sure, Labour Members—can confirm that there are regulations, such as those relating to the British Government’s role in running the railways in India, that it would be appropriate to get rid of, because frankly they are no longer relevant. I suspect that there are quite a lot of other examples.
I want to focus briefly on the EEA. At the start of the referendum campaign, those involved in the leave campaign advocated the Norway model. As it became clearer to them that that was not what they wanted, they moved on to the Switzerland model, with its 150 or so different agreements. Once they realised that that was quite complex, Peru emerged as the model they wanted to emulate, before they eventually settled on the idea of a bespoke deal. As we heard earlier, no one anywhere is willing to identify how such a bespoke deal would work or, indeed, whether it is even possible to put one together.
As other Members have said, it is clear that membership of the EEA does not in any way, shape or form match the benefits we get from being members of the European Union. It might provide an alternative—a step down from our current position, but without the consequences of our leaving completely—to the no-deal scenario. It is a poor substitute, but it is better than no deal. It would keep us in the single market but out of the customs union, and—this major sticking point was, I think, the reason why the leave campaign moved away from the Norway model—it would probably require a financial contribution. It would allow trade deals to be struck, so there are some advantages to it, which is why we will support new clause 22 if it is pressed to a vote.
I want to finish by focusing on the question of whether leaving the European Union automatically means that we also cut our links with the EEA. Articles 126 and 127 of the EEA agreement have already been mentioned. I have been involved in an interesting exchange of parliamentary written questions and answers about the EEA. When I asked what was required to formally withdraw from the EEA agreement, the parliamentary answer stated:
“As the Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union said when he addressed the House on 7th September, there is agreement that when we leave the EU, the European Economic Area Agreement will no longer operate in respect of the UK.”
I followed that up by seeking to identify who that agreement was with and why that would happen. The response stated:
“It is Government policy that we will not be a member”,
so it seems as though the Government have reached an agreement with themselves that we will automatically be out of the EEA. I would suggest that that is not a particularly high bar. Although article 126 makes it clear that we will leave the EEA, article 127 requires us to give notice in order to do so.
As an aside, if we are leaving the EEA, it would probably be courteous for the UK Government to at least talk to its other members, particularly EFTA members, just so that they are aware that that is what we are doing. As of last week, no contact had been made with at least one of the EFTA members. It might be appropriate for the Government to inform them as a matter of courtesy.
New clause 22 is very good, as it would provide us with an opportunity to keep some of the benefits of our EU membership without crashing out of the EU completely, and without seeking the mythical bespoke deal that I do not think anyone believes can be delivered in the timescales that the Government have to work towards. I look forward to the vote on that new clause.