There have been 12 exchanges between Sir Robert Neill and Attorney General
|Thu 3rd October 2019||Oral Answers to Questions||7 interactions (212 words)|
|Wed 25th September 2019||Legal Advice: Prorogation||3 interactions (135 words)|
|Tue 9th April 2019||Section 1 of the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2019||3 interactions (124 words)|
|Tue 12th March 2019||Withdrawal Agreement: Legal Opinion||3 interactions (79 words)|
|Mon 3rd December 2018||Withdrawal Agreement: Legal Position||3 interactions (139 words)|
|Mon 3rd December 2018||Points of Order||3 interactions (107 words)|
|Thu 29th November 2018||Withdrawal Agreement: Legal Advice||3 interactions (76 words)|
|Tue 13th November 2018||EU Withdrawal Agreement: Legal Advice||5 interactions (55 words)|
|Wed 13th June 2018||European Union (Withdrawal) Bill||3 interactions (530 words)|
|Thu 10th May 2018||Belhaj and Boudchar: Litigation Update||3 interactions (128 words)|
|Wed 15th November 2017||European Union (Withdrawal) Bill||17 interactions (1,648 words)|
|Thu 29th June 2017||Oral Answers to Questions||3 interactions (68 words)|
I very much appreciate the hon. Lady’s concerns and those of the industry, as I have already said. The Secretary of State, in fact, spoke to the Musicians Union earlier this week. We are acutely mindful of the concerns that exist, but I will say yet again that the best way through this is to have a deal and, when there is the opportunity to vote for one, I encourage her to please do so.
As my hon. Friend will know, I am new to this post, but I very much look forward to talking to representatives from the opera sector and making sure that we continue to support this hugely successful part of our economy as we leave the European Union.
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May I tell the hon. Gentleman that I do believe in the law and I have spent 37 years of my life adhering to those professional values? As for the advice I may or may not have given to any member of the Government, he will know I am bound by the convention. I cannot tell him whether I have. I understand the purport of his question, and I do not criticise him for it in the least, but I regret that I cannot help him as to the content of any advice I have given.
I completely agree with both parts of my hon. Friend’s question. Plainly, the Law Officers’ convention is not a question of personal ownership by any particular Attorney General. It is a long-standing convention that protects all Governments on often extremely sensitive, complex and difficult subjects, sometimes affecting the most important interests of this country. Of course I agree that the Supreme Court’s judgment must be respected. It is final and binding as a matter of law, but it is peculiar to its circumstances.
I do not think that it was a constitutional coup. I know the right hon. Gentleman will know that I do not, and I do not believe that anybody does. These things can be said in the heat of rhetorical and poetical licence, but this was a judgment of the Supreme Court of a kind that was clear and definitive. It often happens that Governments lose cases. We did not agree with it, because of course we argued against it, but we accept the ruling of the Supreme Court, and we are proud that we have a country that is capable of giving independent judgments of this kind.
I am grateful for my hon. Friend’s question. I do of course agree with him that legal advice, and particularly the role of the Attorney General, is always difficult, because one polices and intersects a very difficult line between giving advice of an impartial, and politically impartial, character, and being a political Minister, but I hope that I have endeavoured to do that with all the conscience and candour at my disposal—and when I say to the House, as I do today, “I accept that we lost; we got it wrong on the judgment of the Supreme Court; but it was a respectable view on the law to take, and that view was taken by four of the seven judges who had opined up to the point of the Supreme Court.”
The Supreme Court has made new law. Let us be absolutely clear: from now on, the prerogative power of Her Majesty, advised by the Prime Minister, can be the subject—the justiciable subject—of the court’s control, and that was a judgment that the Supreme Court was perfectly entitled to make. What the implications are for the future of our constitutional arrangements will have to be reflected upon in the coming months and years, but it is never wise to reflect upon a court case and its implications in the immediate aftermath of that case. It will have to be done carefully and deliberately, and this House will have to decide, ultimately, whether these matters and these powers are for this House to regulate and control, or whether they are for the judiciary; but, at the moment, the Supreme Court has spoken, and that is the law.
As the hon. Gentleman knows, negotiations will carry on in the Council tomorrow, and I think it would be idle speculation for me to try and anticipate what might be agreed. Some people take offence at the word nebulous; I do not. [Interruption.] I really do not. What I have tried to do, at all stages of this process, is to find a way forward and to seek a solution. It is in all our hands, and I say that in a spirit of friendship and co-operation to all hon. Members.
I 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.
I am extremely grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for his question, which I will deal with point by point. First, my opinion has changed in connection to this country’s ability to prove bad faith if it occurred. There is now a new contextual framework for judging whether the other party is using best endeavours or good faith.
Time has been made of the essence in specific connection to negotiating alternative arrangements. A specific work track and a specific timetable are set out, and it would be unconscionable, as I say in my opinion—I forget the paragraph, but the right hon. Gentleman will have it—if having said to this country that it will set up a specific, discrete work track on alternative arrangements, which are defined in this new document as meaning facilitative techniques, technologies and customs procedures, and if having set up a timeline for negotiating those alternative arrangements by saying “12 months, or we must intensify our efforts,” it never agreed to use a single one, and if it refused every proposal reasonably adjusted to its core interests. That would be extraordinary.
I say in my written opinion, and I stand by it, that it would be a potential breach of best endeavours and good faith. Best endeavours are now defined in this joint instrument as requiring the EU to consider adverse interests and matters that are adverse to its interests. Even if these facilitative technological and customs measures were adverse to the EU’s interests, the duty still requires it to consider them. Therefore if there were a pattern of refusal, a systematic refusal, to consider these alternative arrangements, we would have a case before the arbitration panel, and it would be a potentially serious breach of good faith.
I say to the right hon. Gentleman with all candour that I believe that, and he knows I would not say it if I did not mean it. It is there in my written opinion, and I urge him to consider it.
I entirely agree with my hon. Friend; the legal ingredient in any political question must be subordinate, and particularly in connection with this political question. The fact is that there are always legal risks of various kinds. We walk among legal risks all the time—some of us more than others, perhaps—but we do not determine our behaviour by them. We take practical judgments every minute of the day, every day of the week about whether the legal risks we are engaged in are ones that are worth taking. I say to my hon. Friends, as I say to all hon. Members, that we must come to a decision on this question today. I urge the House to consider carefully this: there is no real legal basis to be seriously troubled that the European Union will never reach agreement with us. If it occurs through bad faith, we have further improvements in the deal now. But just because we cannot reach agreement, when the alternative arrangements are now cemented into this deal in a manner they have not been before? I think not, in all candour.
The Attorney General, by definition, is only called upon to advise on matters that are exceptional or in exceptional circumstances. The question here is what requires the advice of the Attorney General to be disclosed. In Lord Goldsmith’s case, the issue was whether the action of the Government was lawful. The action of the Government could not be taken if the Attorney General had not signed off on it, because it would be contrary to the ministerial code.
The circumstance here is that the House has available to it a wide range of highly competent legal advice that is just as good as mine and as those who advise me. There is nothing essential, I suggest to the House, about the advice of the Attorney General being disclosed in this case, but there is something that could lead to severe damage to the public interest. One hon. Lady on the Labour Benches said that I was being arrogant. I am not. I am trying genuinely to protect the public interest. The last thing I want to do is to be at odds with this House. I have been a Member for 13 years. I would very much like to ensure that the House is satisfied, which is why I am here today, answering these questions.
I am grateful for my hon. Friend’s question. As I have said, I think that there is unquestionably a risk. There is a legal risk because there is no unilateral means out of the backstop. The question is with what degree of probability one thinks it would arise. My view is that it is not probable, but other Members will have their own views.
Well, I await—[Interruption.] Order. I note what the Attorney General has said, and, of course, I shall be interested to see any letter that he chooses to send to me. It is important that this matter is dealt with in a timely fashion. That is a highly relevant consideration for me to take into account, but I have heard, with respect, what the right hon. and learned Gentleman has said, and I wait to see what emerges.
It is always best if letters sent to me are received and seen by me before they are seen by others, but I will address the substantive responsibility that is invested in me—that is frankly a different and on the whole rather more important matter, but I always treat the hon. Gentleman and all Members with courtesy. I note what he said and I issued my response in the first sentence of my reply to him.
I am disappointed that the hon. Gentleman did not listen to the answer I gave. The Attorney General will be here on the next sitting day. He will make a statement and answer questions. Then the hon. Gentleman and other right hon. and hon. Members can form a judgment on whether the motion that was carried by this House has been satisfied. My argument is that the Attorney General will meet the spirit and intention of the motion passed, but preserve the important constitutional convention relating to Law Officers’ advice.
My hon. Friend, the Chair of the Justice Committee, is absolutely right. The right hon. and learned Member for Holborn and St Pancras (Keir Starmer) is more familiar than most with the position of the Law Officers and their role within the constitution. I would have expected him to do better.
The House has resolved this matter, in that the motion has been put to it and approved without dissent or objection by it. The right hon. and learned Gentleman is absolutely entitled—both in the course of his speech, as he did, and now via the ruse of a point of order—further and better to explain what he seeks, and there is nothing wrong, exceptionable or disorderly about that.
The ruling I give is simply that the motion is effective—I have been advised thus. It is not just an expression of the opinion of the House; it is an expression of the will of the House that certain documents should be provided to it. It is then for the Government to respond, and we await that response, which it is to be expected will be swift. I hope that that is helpful to colleagues.
One can always rely upon a lawyer to have a “further to that point of order”.
The resolution is as agreed, and I do not think any violence to the position of the Law Officers has been done.
In response to the Solicitor General, who concluded the debate with his characteristic courtesy and good humour, I feel sure that the hon. Member for Banbury (Victoria Prentis) will treasure his tribute to her. It is to be expected that it will be framed, and I rather imagine that she will give it pride of place in her sitting room.
I will focus my remarks on the customs union and the single market. There may well be differences of opinion on our Benches, but I respect all my right hon. and hon. Friends; I know they are trying to do the right thing by the country and by their constituents. But our differences are nothing compared with the divisions on the Government Benches, and it is a bit rich of the hon. Member for South Thanet (Craig Mackinlay) to lecture us on being divided.
The truth is that the Government are making a huge mess of Brexit. Two years after the referendum, we still do not know what their position is. The truth is that kicking the can down the road cannot continue to be the Government’s strategy. The clock is ticking and time is running out; we cannot leave everything to the October summit.
I shall vote in favour of the customs union amendments because I believe that to remain in it is vital to manufacturing. Jaguar Land Rover is on the border of my constituency and has recently announced job cuts and the movement of facilities to Slovakia, which I am very concerned about; those announcements were partly down to concerns about Brexit uncertainty.
Today, the CBI president warned that manufacturing sectors, including the car industry, will face extinction if we leave the customs union. He also said:
“There’s zero evidence that independent trade deals will provide any economic benefit to the UK that’s material.”
That is borne out by the Government’s own leaked economic analysis. In trade, geography matters. The EU is on our doorstep and our economy is deeply integrated with its economy.
That brings me to Lords amendment 51 and the Labour Front-Bench amendment (a) to it, both of which I shall support, after careful consideration. These may be complex issues—as a member of the Brexit Select Committee, I have spent many hours hearing evidence about the customs union, the single market, the EEA and the other different models—but my approach to this question is simple: the economy has to come first. The economics are clear, and I feel I have a duty to prioritise jobs, livelihoods and public services for my constituents. I acknowledge that the EEA is not perfect, but, for the minute, the combination of the EEA and the customs union is the only way to avoid a hard border on the island of Ireland.
I acknowledge that my constituents and others have serious and sincere concerns about immigration, but another motivation for voting leave among people in my constituency was a sense that the economy is not working for them. We need a new settlement for working-class communities in our country. We need targeted investment in public services in areas such as mine. We need more teachers in schools and much better early years childcare. Austerity was one reason why we lost the referendum; people really do feel that their economy is not working for them.
Mr Speaker, I am going to help you by being brief and I am going to speak from first principles.
I really wish, Mr Speaker, that I could fly you and Members on both sides of the House north into Scotland, north over the unedifying scenes that we saw earlier today and north into the clear sky of Caithness. I would take you to Scrabster, the small harbour that serves Orkney and Shetland and sits beside Thurso. At Scrabster, I have a constituent, Mr Willie Calder. He and his son, William, run Scrabster Seafoods Ltd, a highly successful company that indirectly employs 100 people in an area where jobs do not grow on trees.
I met Mr Calder and his son a few days ago, and he put the situation to me very clearly. It takes him two days to get his fish products to the markets in the south of France. It takes him one day to get to his markets in the north of France. One day’s extra delay, or even half a day’s extra delay, at customs or a port would ruin him. It is as simple as that. The bottom line—this is where I am keeping it short, Mr Speaker—is this: Mr Calder’s business, Scrabster Seafoods Ltd, matters to me a very great deal. My story is based on first principles, but it explains precisely where I am coming from. I sincerely hope that Members on both sides of the House and both sides of the argument will see where I am coming from. I say to them: please work for the best interests of the people whom I represent. I would be letting them down and betraying them if I did not stand up here and say that.
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his comments. On his first point, he is right that consolidated guidance should be kept under review. As I indicated to the shadow Solicitor General, the hon. Member for Torfaen (Nick Thomas-Symonds), we will certainly seek to do that. The hon. Gentleman will know that the current ISC inquiry on detainees will, we hope, feed into a proper look again at whether the consolidated guidance is in the right place. It is worth making the point, which the hon. Gentleman will recognise from his experience of these matters, that the UK is unusual in the publication of such guidance. It is of course important that we recognise our failures on a day like this, but it is also important that we recognise where we lead the world, and there are some aspects in which we do. It is important not just that this information is available to those who participate in the work of the intelligence agencies, but that the public can see it and that the kind of debates we are having can be held in public.
On the hon. Gentleman’s second point, he will understand that Jack Straw, who was Foreign Secretary at that time, was an individual defendant in this case. I have made it clear that the claim against him has been dropped and there is no further pursuit of those allegations. I understand that Jack Straw will make his own statement later today. The points I have made are about the system more broadly, as are the points made by the hon. Gentleman. In relation to the system more broadly, it is important that we make what changes we can to ensure that we have the safeguards that we need to get as close as we can to a position in which we can answer the questions that the hon. and learned Member for Edinburgh South West (Joanna Cherry) asked earlier, in the most absolute terms that we can give.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his kind words. I can give him that reassurance. I indicated one element in which that reassurance manifests itself—full membership of the National Security Council for the Attorney General, which is a significant change—but there are others. I hope that I speak for my hon. and learned Friend the Solicitor General in saying that we believe that our participation in these decisions is where it should be. We have the opportunity to get our points across and will make sure that that continues to be the case.
I am sorry. I need to press on.
Clause 3 converts the text of direct EU legislation, as it operates at the moment immediately before we leave the EU, into our domestic law. Such existing EU law is currently given legal effect in our law via section 2(1) of the 1972 Act. Without clause 3, those laws would no longer have effect in domestic law when we leave and repeal the 1972 Act. Again, that would leave holes within our domestic law. More specifically, the clause converts EU regulations, as well as certain decisions and tertiary legislation, into domestic law. It also converts adaptations to instruments made for the EEA. The clause is necessary to ensure that we fully keep existing EU laws in force within the UK.
In general, these instruments, or parts of them, will be converted only if they are already in force before exit day, meaning that an EU regulation set to come into force six months after we leave will not be converted into UK law. However, some EU instruments will be in force but will apply only in a staggered way over time, with different parts applying at different times. In those circumstances, only those parts that are stated to apply before exit day will be converted.
I will deal briefly with my hon. Friend’s amendment 356. As I was saying, we have some examples here, such as the EU’s fluorinated greenhouse gases regulations, which are stated as applying from 1 January 2015. They include prohibitions on placing certain substances on the market from specific dates, several of which fall after exit day. With respect, however, his amendment could create further confusion, because there needs to be one standard cut-off point at which the snapshot of law is taken, and that is why exit day should apply. When it comes to measures affected by the cut-off point, we will do whatever is necessary before exit day to provide certainty for business, including by bringing forward further legislation, if required, to cater for those particular situations. If I may return to develop—
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I will not give way any further.
It is our policy that we will not be a member of the EEA or the single market after we leave the EU, so introducing an obligation to produce a report on membership of the EEA, as new clauses 9 and 23 seek to do, is simply unnecessary.
I will now try to deal fairly with the Scottish National party amendments 200 and 201, which the hon. Member for Glenrothes (Peter Grant) spoke to. While we do not accept that the amendments are necessary, I welcome the chance to set out clearly the meaning of clause 2. Amendments 200 and 201 seek to provide clarity on precisely what is meant by “passed” in the context of the clause. Some have questioned the effect of clause 2 in relation to an Act that may have been passed by the Scottish Parliament, but which has not yet received Royal Assent when the clause is commenced.
We do not believe that there is an ambiguity. Clause 2(2) states that “EU-derived domestic legislation” is an enactment. As enactments can only mean something that has received Royal Assent, an Act of Scottish Parliament that has only been passed cannot fall within this definition, and it would therefore not be categorised as EU-derived domestic legislation for the purposes of the Bill. The reference to “passed” in clause 2 is therefore a reference to the purpose for which the enactment was passed, not the fact of whether it was passed. I hope I have been able to shed light on that area for the hon. Gentleman, and I invite him to withdraw the amendment.
Turning now to Plaid Cymru’s amendment 87, which is in the name of the hon. Member for Arfon, we do not accept the premise that lies behind the change. In trying to circumvent the provisions of clause 11, the amendment pays no heed to the common approaches that are established by EU law or to the crucial consideration that we—the UK Government and the devolved Administrations—must give to where they may or may not be needed in future. What is more, it undermines our aim to provide people with maximum certainty over the laws that will apply on exit day. The amendment would also be practically unable to achieve its underlying aim. The enactments that it takes out of retained EU law would also be taken outside the scope of the powers that this Bill confers on the devolved Administrations to allow them to prepare them for exit day. It would hamper their ability to address the deficiencies that will arise, and it would leave it likely that the laws would remain broken on the day of exit.
The process of making the statute book work for exit day is a joint endeavour between the different Governments and legislatures of the whole United Kingdom. This is an important project that entails a significant workload before exit day, which is why we are actively engaging with the devolved Administrations to build up a shared understanding of where corrections to the statute book would be needed. On that basis, I hope that the amendment will be withdrawn.
I hope I have dealt with the amendment in the name of my hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Robert Neill), the Chair of the Select Committee on Justice.
I am always happy to engage with my hon. Friend and with my hon. Friend the Member for Wimbledon (Stephen Hammond). I know the spirit in which they tabled the amendment, and I look forward to the dialogue to come.
I commend clauses 2 and 3 to the House.
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My hon. Friend has issued a very timely reminder to me. If it were possible, I would like that to happen.
I do not see the problem with that. If the piece of legislation is as benign and generally agreed as my hon. Friend says, it will go through the House quickly. If it is not actually agreed and there are lots of issues to tease out, should not we put it through a proper democratic process?
Will the hon. Gentleman elaborate on that in the Scottish context? Further to what he has just said, we can imagine the discussions that would take place between Holyrood and Westminster. How would those be timetabled in terms of what he has just said?
I rise to speak to my new clause 25, which has cross-party support. The Minister has already praised me from the Dispatch Box for the clarity with which I have spoken to it, but I can reassure him that now this really is me doing so. I also support new clauses 55 and 58. All these new clauses relate to retaining enhanced protections after exit day. As will be evident from other measures I have tabled, including new clause 28, which is in today’s second group, my main concern is retaining the valuable environmental protections that flow from our EU membership. However, of course, employment rights, equalities, and health and safety standards, as set out in new clause 58, which was tabled by Labour Front Benchers, are also vital, and the same arguments apply to them.
Again, the hon. Lady asks a general question about the merits of particular cases. If indeed there are grounds—for example, a judicial review procedure might be appropriate in particular cases—that application can be made. The important point in the context of this question is whether we can do more for families and bereaved relatives. I think we can, and the precedent set by the horrific events at Grenfell will allow us all to learn important lessons: that families have to be put first.
I thank my hon. Friend for that question. It is vital that we get these details right as we develop the policy. It is clear, certainly to the Government, that having quality advocacy so that the right documents are obtained and a proper challenge is made at all stages of the process is important, and it is what we seek to achieve. Therefore, fulfilling article 6 has to be at the heart of this.