|Wed 20th June 2018||
European Union (Withdrawal) Bill
Ping Pong: House of Commons
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|Tue 12th June 2018||
European Union (Withdrawal) Bill (Programme) (No. 3)
Programme motion: House of Commons
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|Wed 17th January 2018||
European Union (Withdrawal) Bill
3rd reading: House of Commons
Report stage: Second Day: House of Commons
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|Tue 16th January 2018||
European Union (Withdrawal) Bill
Report stage: First Day: House of Commons
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|Mon 11th September 2017||
European Union (Withdrawal) Bill
2nd reading: House of Commons
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European Union (Withdrawal) Bill DebateFull Debate: Read Full Debate
John BercowMain Page: John Bercow (Speaker) - Buckingham)
Department Debates - View all John Bercow's debates with the Department for Exiting the European Union
Legislation Debates - View all John Bercow's contributions to the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018
I beg to move,
That this House agrees with Lords amendments 19C to 19E, 19G to 19L and 19P, and proposes Government amendments to Lords amendment 19P.
I will turn in a moment to the issue at the forefront of many hon. Members’ minds—Parliament’s role at the conclusion of the negotiations with the European Union—but first I want to set out the other issues before the House for approval today. These are all issues where the Lords agreed with the Government on Monday: enhanced protection for certain areas of EU law, family reunification for refugee children and extending sifting arrangements for statutory instruments to the Lords. The Government set out common-sense approaches to those three issues in the Lords, who backed the Government, and the issues now return to this House for final approval.
The fourth issue is, as I have said, Parliament’s role at the conclusion of our negotiations with the EU. Before we turn to the detail, let us take a step back for a moment and consider the long democratic process we have been on to get here. It began with the EU Referendum Act 2015, passed by a majority of 263 in this House, at which point the Government were clear they would respect the outcome of the referendum. This was followed by the referendum itself, which saw a turnout of over 33 million people and 17.4 million people vote in favour of leaving the EU.
We then had the European Union (Notification of Withdrawal) Act 2017, which empowered the Government to trigger article 50. Despite the attempts of some in the other place to impugn the validity of this notification, the Act passed through both Houses, with a majority of 372 in this place on Third Reading. This was followed by a general election where both major parties, attracting over 80% of the vote, stood on manifestos that committed to respecting the result of the referendum: 27.5 million votes for parties that said they would respect the referendum—no ifs, no buts. We are now in the process of passing this essential Bill to get our statute book ready for the day we leave. It will ensure that we respect the referendum result but exit the European Union in as smooth and orderly a manner as possible.
We have already set out in law that this process will be followed by a motion to approve the final deal we agree with the EU in negotiations. If this is supported by Parliament, as I hope and expect it will be, the Government will introduce the withdrawal agreement and implementation Bill, which Parliament will have time to debate, vote on and amend if they so wish. Finally, as with any international treaty, the withdrawal agreement will be subject to the approval and ratification procedures under the Constitutional Reform and Governance Act 2010. And this is all before we even consider the other pieces of legislation we have passed and will pass as part of this process.
Anyone who questions the democratic credentials of this Government or this process should consider the steps we have taken to get to this stage and those which we have already laid out in front of us. I believe they are greater than any steps taken for any international negotiations ever in the history of this country. Furthermore, contrary to what was said in the other place on Monday, the Bill gives Parliament significantly more rights than we see on the EU side. The European Parliament simply has to consent to the withdrawal agreement—a yes or no vote—and the EU member states will simply have a vote in the Council on the withdrawal agreement. We have considerably more powers than them, too.
I turn now to the detail of the amendment at hand. We start with a simple purpose: how do we guarantee Parliament’s role in scrutinising the Government in the unlikely event that the preferred scenario does not come to pass? Our intention is straightforward: to conclude negotiations in October and put before both Houses a deal that is worthy of support. In approaching our discussions on this matter, the Government set out three reasonable tests: that we do not undermine the negotiations, that we do not alter the constitutional role of Parliament in relation to international negotiations, and that we respect the result of the referendum.
It is on that basis that we have tabled our amendments. This is a fair and serious proposal that demonstrates the significant flexibility that the Government have already shown in addressing the concerns of the House. Our original amendment provided that, if Parliament rejected the final deal, the Government must make a statement setting out their next steps in relation to negotiations within 28 days of that rejection. Our new amendments provide for a statement and a motion, ensuring that there is a guaranteed opportunity for both Houses to express their views on the Government’s proposed next steps. Not only that, but we have expanded the set of circumstances in which that opportunity would arise, to cover the three situations conceived of in the amendment tabled by my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Beaconsfield (Mr Grieve) last week. First, if Parliament rejects the deal, a statement must now be made within 21 days and a motion must be tabled in both Houses within seven sitting days of that statement. Alternatively, if the Prime Minister announces before 21 January 2019 that no deal can be agreed with the European Union, a statement must be made within 14 days, and a motion must be tabled in both Houses within seven days of that statement. Finally, if no agreement has been reached by the end of 21 January 2019, a statement must be made within five days, and a motion must be tabled in both Houses within five sitting days. That would happen whatever the state of the negotiations at that stage.
Break in Debate
Thank you, Mr Speaker. I am reading here in the media for the first time a ministerial statement from the Secretary of State purporting to explain how “neutral terms” would operate in practice, and I assume that you have seen the statement, Mr Speaker. It says:
“Under the Standing Orders of the House of Commons it will be for the Speaker to determine whether a motion when it is introduced by the Government under the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill is or is not in fact cast in neutral terms and hence whether the motion is or is not amendable.”
Therefore, Mr Speaker, my question to you is this: what discretion does that leave you in practice if such a motion is cast in time-honoured neutral terms in the first place?
I am very grateful.
Will my right hon. Friend commend our hon. Friend the Member for Bracknell (Dr Lee), who on the radio today, with his characteristic openness, said that he hoped that, if the amendment of our right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Beaconsfield (Mr Grieve) were passed today, the House would use that in order to suspend the triggering of article 50, which let the cat out of the bag as to what the motive is, which is to delay, frustrate or even stop entirely the UK leaving the European Union?
Break in Debate
No, I want to end.
We are facing some real difficulties at the moment. It is rightly said that those whom the gods want to destroy, they first render mad. There is enough madness around at the moment to make one start to question whether collective sanity in this country has disappeared. Every time someone tries to present a sensible reasoned argument in this House vilification and abuse follow, including death threats to right hon. and hon. Friends. There is a hysteria that completely loses sight of the issues that we really have to consider. There is an atmosphere of bullying that has the directly opposite consequence in that people are put into a position where they feel unable to compromise, because by doing so they will be immediately described as having “lost”—as if these were arguments to be lost or won. The issue must be that we get things right.
Right at the other end of the spectrum, we get some other ridiculous things. I have had Daily Mail journalists crawling over the garden of my house in France. I do not quite know, but I think they were looking for silos from which missiles might be aimed at the mansion of my hon. Friend the Member for North East Somerset (Mr Rees-Mogg). The area where I have a holiday home has a history of monsters and witches chucking megaliths backwards and forwards across the channel. Such is the state of our discourse, and that is the very thing we must avoid. We are going to have differences and, if there is no deal, those differences may extend to my taking a different view, as a Member of Parliament, from what the Government might wish. This House has a right to act if there is no deal in order to protect the interests of the British people, and the responsibility in those circumstances lies as much with us as it does with the Government.
I am grateful for the chance to take part in this debate.
Once again, we will be hearing the siren voices of the hard-line no deal Brexiteers, of whom there are some in this place, claiming that they, and they alone, have a monopoly on respect for democracy, on respect for Parliament and on a patriotic love for their chosen country.
They will demonstrate their regard for democracy by unilaterally and retrospectively changing the question that was asked in the 2016 referendum while assuming that the answer will stay the same. They demonstrate their respect for Parliament by doing their damnedest to keep Parliament out of playing any meaningful role in the most important events any of us is likely to live through. And they demonstrate their patriotic love for their country by pushing an agenda that threatens to fundamentally damage the social and economic foundations on which their country, and indeed all of our respective countries, was built.
There should be no doubt about what the hard-liners are seeking to achieve here. They tell us that the Lords amendments are about attempting to stop Brexit but, in their private briefings to each other, they tell themselves they are worried that these amendments might stop a cliff-edge no deal Brexit—that is precisely what I want these amendments to stop.
The hard-liners are seeking to create a situation where if, as seems increasingly likely by the day, a severely weakened Prime Minister—possibly in the last days of her prime ministership—comes back from Brussels with a miserable deal that nobody could welcome, the only option is to crash out of the European Union with no agreement on anything.
Although I hear the Secretary of State’s words of warning that a person should not go into a negotiation if they cannot afford to walk away, I remind him that the Government started to walk away on the day they sent their article 50 letter. From that date they had no deal, and the negotiation is about trying to salvage something from the wreckage of that disastrous mistake.
The far-right European Research Group would have us believe that its opposition to amendment 19P is just about preventing Parliament from being allowed to tell the Government what to do. I am no expert in English history, but I thought the civil war was about whether Parliament has the right to tell the monarch and the Government what to do.
Break in Debate
My hon. Friend and constituency neighbour makes a valid point. In fact, it is worth remembering that the only reason we had a referendum was to bring the Tory party together. That worked out well, didn’t it?
The reason why some Government Members get so hot under the collar about the danger of giving Parliament a meaningful vote is that, if the House approves something, rather than simply considering it, they claim it could subsequently be used as the basis for a legal challenge. I will not gainsay the words of the right hon. and learned Member for Beaconsfield (Mr Grieve) but, interestingly, both of the cases the Government quote in their document to prove that a meaningful vote could lead to a legal challenge resulted in rulings that actions of the House, whether they are a resolution, a Committee decision or an order of Parliament, do not have the status of an Act of Parliament. Interestingly, one of the cases was about a pornography publisher who sued Hansard for damaging his reputation as a publisher.
The ERG briefing contains a dark, dark warning about what could happen if the Government lose a vote at the end of the negotiating process. The briefing says it could undermine the Government’s authority and position. In fact, in the briefing’s exact words;
“This could produce an unstable zombie Government.”
The briefing gives no indication as to how any of us would be able to tell the difference. The real giveaway is the third of the three “practical problems” the briefing sees with amendment 19P:
“It effectively seeks to take no deal off the table.”
That is the real agenda here. I want no deal off the table, and the Secretary of State does not want no deal, so why is it still on the table? The intention is that under no circumstances will Parliament have the right to pull us back from the cliff edge. It is not just about keeping no deal on the table; it is about making sure that, by the time we come to make the decision, there is nothing on the table other than no deal.
In my younger days, which I can vaguely remember, I used to be a keen amateur mountaineer, and I loved reading books about mountaineering and hill walking. One book I read was an account of the first ascent of the Matterhorn in 1865. Unlike some cliff edges, the Matterhorn didnae have safety barriers. Edward Whymper and his six companions got to the summit, but during the descent four of the party fell over a cliff to their deaths after the rope holding the group together broke. There were suggestions of foul play and murder most foul, but the rope just had not been strong enough. If it had not broken, it is likely that all seven would have been killed. There are hard-line Brexiteers in this House who are determined to drag us over the cliff edge. I want Parliament to be allowed to erect a safety barrier, not to stop those who want to get to the bottom of the cliff reaching their destination, but to make sure that anybody who gets there is in one piece. As I have made clear before, I have no intention of usurping the democratic right of the people of England to take good or bad decisions for themselves, but no one has the right to usurp the democratic decisions of the people of Scotland. Let me remind the Government, once again, that if they seek to drag their people over the cliff edge, our people are not going to follow. The Government will find that there is not a rope in existence strong enough to hold Scotland to their country if their country seeks to take us over that cliff edge.
First, let me say that I very much agree with my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Beaconsfield (Mr Grieve) about the nature of political debate in this country. He is absolutely right to point that out and I agree with him wholeheartedly.
The second point I wish to make is that many people in this House seem to forget that there have been two meaningful votes. The first was when this House decided to give a referendum to the British people. The second was the referendum itself, in which the people voted to leave the EU. They were meaningful votes.
Break in Debate
Does not this compromise give enormous power to you, Mr Speaker? That is all very well, because you are a Speaker who has stood up for the rights of this House and of Back Benchers, and for the majority in this House to be able to have meaningful votes, but were you to fall under a bus in the next few months, what guarantee would there be that a future Speaker would stand up for the rights of this House in the same way that you have done?
It is not for me to advise you, Mr Speaker, but please do not cross any roads between now and the end of this process.
It seems to me that the Government’s intention throughout has been to seek to neuter this House when we come to the end of the process. We are talking about the possibility of facing no deal at all. In his speech from our Front Bench, my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Holborn and St Pancras (Keir Starmer) set the position out very clearly: first, not only would we be facing economic difficulty of the most serious kind—with impacts on trade, on our services industry and on broadcasting—but there would be impacts on the security of our nation, because with no deal in place, how would the exchange of information continue? These are not minor matters; they go to the heart of the Government’s responsibility to make sure that we are safe, that industry works, that taxes are raised and that public services are paid for. That is why people are getting exercised about this. It is not just some amendment to one Bill; it is the most important decision that the country has faced for generations.
As my right hon. and learned Friend pointed out, we are not ready to cope with the consequences. Members should contemplate this, for a moment: if, because the House cannot do anything about it, we fall off the edge of the cliff, and future generations look at us and say, “What did you do at that moment? What did you do? Didn’t you say anything?”, are we, as the House of Commons, really going to allow our hands to be bound and say, “Well, at least I took note of what was happening”? Our responsibility is not to take note; it is to take charge, to take responsibility and to do our job.
Break in Debate
I absolutely bow to the right hon. and learned Gentleman’s expertise, but I am afraid that, as my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Holborn and St Pancras pointed out earlier, under this Government, we have sat on these Benches on too many occasions, time and time and time again, on which the House has used the Standing Orders to debate a matter and pass a motion but the Government have sat there and said, “We’re not taking any notice of you whatsoever.” That is why the opportunity to ensure that we have the right to amend a motion is, in the next few minutes, in the hands of this House. There will be no further opportunity to take back control, so I hope the House will do so by voting in favour of the amendment of the right hon. and learned Member for Beaconsfield.
I am grateful, again, to the other place for sending us the amendment. I have been concerned about this issue since the referendum, and have been open in my views about the need for a meaningful vote and parliamentary sovereignty. This is about our country’s future and ensuring that we enhance, not reduce, our democracy. When I was re-elected last year, my constituents were under no illusions about how important I thought a meaningful vote was, as I had already made my concerns public and, indeed, voted for such a vote during the article 50 process.
Views may differ regarding the desirability of no deal. In my view, it would be utterly catastrophic for my constituents and the industries in which they work, but surely all sides should welcome the certainty that the amendment would bring to the process. We are often accused of wanting to tie the Government’s hands, but nothing could be further from the truth. How can the amendment tie the Government’s hands during negotiations when it concerns the steps that should be taken when negotiations have broken down? In other words, it concentrates on events after the negotiations.
Break in Debate
I will not give way.
I support the Government’s negotiation and strongly believe that the Prime Minister will succeed in her negotiation. However, it would be irresponsible not to have a process in place for what will happen should negotiations collapse. What is more, the amendment would ensure that, when the Prime Minister sits down to negotiate, our European partners know that she does so with the full backing of Parliament. Far from binding the Prime Minister, it would strengthen her hand. I encourage all my colleagues to recognise that the amendment would empower both Parliament and our negotiators. It lays out a contingency should disaster strike, and it delivers on the commitment to take back control to Parliament.
Thank you, Mr Speaker, for selecting amendment (a); my pleasure at being able to speak to it is enhanced by the fact that this opportunity came completely out of the blue, and I welcome that.
The principal purpose of my amendment is to provide clarity such that in all eventualities there will be the opportunity for people to have a final say on any deal that the Government strike, and such that Parliament will not be left stranded with no deal, with which would come the closure of our ports, food shortages, medicine shortages and general chaos. [Interruption.] If Government Members do not believe that, I advise them to talk to the people at the port authority at Dover to hear what they think no deal would mean. I make no apology for the fact that I do want to stop Brexit, which I do not think will come as a surprise to many people in the Chamber. I do not, though, believe that the amendment tabled by the right hon. and learned Member for Beaconsfield (Mr Grieve), or, indeed, my own amendment, would achieve that aim.
Brexit is a calamity. We are going to be poorer, more insecure and less influential, with fewer friends in the world and more enemies as a result of it, and that is happening already. Some Government Members know that and say it; some know it and keep quiet; and some know it and claim the opposite, although I am not going to embarrass those who shared platforms with me during the EU referendum campaign and said then that it would cause calamity, but now claim the opposite. Some Government Members deny it. Their life’s ambition has been to achieve Brexit and they could not possibly accept that it is now doing us harm.
Break in Debate
I am grateful for the opportunity to speak today. I will make just a couple of remarks.
I want to reiterate the comments that have been made that this is not about reversing Brexit or about tying the hands of the Government. This is about what happens and the role of Parliament if things go wrong. It is about clarity, about what will happen in this Parliament and to the interests of our country in the event of no deal, or no deal being agreed by this House.
It is incredibly disappointing to have reached this position. It could have been so different. A week after the referendum, I wrote to the then Prime Minister. I then wrote to the current Prime Minister. I made the argument that it was in the interests of our country that this House came together, that we had ways of working across parties, across this House and the House of Lords, and that we came to a solution together and worked through the issues together. But, step by step, we have seen a Government who have run and a Government who have hidden—a Government who have not even wanted to bring forward their own impact assessments so that we can take part in an evidence-based debate on the impact of Brexit on our country and get the answer right. A process by which this country comes together is essential if, in the autumn, we reach a situation in which what was unthinkable becomes thinkable. To have a way in which we handle that is our responsibility.
Every large Government project has a risk register and a response to those risks. This is a critical risk for our country and it is vital that, in advance of such a situation, we all know what is going to happen and that we have a say, on behalf of our constituents, about what could be an incredibly catastrophic situation for our economy, our country and our society.
I shall make the shortest speech here that I have made for very many years—[Hon. Members: “Ever!”]—and I shall take no interventions. [Interruption.] Well, the Government are restricting debate on this European issue as ferociously as they are trying to restrict votes and powers. I voted against both the previous timetable motions. With no explanation, we have been told that we have an hour and a half for this extremely important issue today. Presumably, it is to allow time for the interesting debate that follows, taking note on the subject of NATO, which could be tabled at any time over the next fortnight and has no urgency whatever. None of us are allowed to say very much about this matter.
The Government have been trying to minimise the parliamentary role throughout the process. That is only too obvious. I will try to avoid repeating anything that others have said, but the fact is that it started with an attempt to deny the House any vote on the invocation of article 50, and litigation was required to change that. A meaningful vote has been resisted since it was first proposed. The Government suffered a defeat in this House during the earlier stages of our proceedings before they would contemplate it, and then they assured us that they would not try to reverse that; there would be a meaningful vote. But actually, because that amendment needs amplification and the Bill needs to be made clearer, we now have this vital last stage of Lords amendments and the final attempt to spell out what meaningful votes and parliamentary influence are supposed to mean, and it is being resisted to the very last moment.
Last week, I thought that the Government would be defeated because of their resistance. I was not invited to the negotiations. I do not blame the Chief Whip for that in the slightest. I have not fallen out with him personally, but I think that he knew that I would take a rather firm line as I saw nothing wrong with Lord Hailsham’s amendment if nothing else were available. My right hon. and hon. Friends, including my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Beaconsfield (Mr Grieve), actually believed that they had undertakings from the Prime Minister, and I believe that the Prime Minister gave those undertakings in good faith.
My right hon. and learned Friend for Beaconsfield negotiated with a very distinguished member of the Government acting on the Prime Minister’s behalf, and they reached a firm agreement. That agreement is substantially reflected in Lords amendment 19P and my right hon. and hon. Friends expected that it would be tabled by the Government. It was not. And now the Government are resisting the very issue upon which last week a very distinguished member of the Government reached a settlement—to use the legal terms—because the Government are not able to live up to their agreement. We are being asked to substitute, for a perfectly reasonable Lords amendment, a convoluted thing that would mean arguments about the Speaker’s powers if it ever had to be invoked.
There are only two issues that come out of this debate. The first is about honour. The right hon. and learned Member for Beaconsfield (Mr Grieve) tried to ensure that he got a deal from the Prime Minister. He went with other Members to negotiate with her and she made a promise to him about an amendment, but that promise was not necessarily fulfilled in the interpretation of the Members who heard her say it, so the House of Lords had to send this issue back to us today. This issue is definitely about honour. Other hon. Members have said that they believe that the House can pass resolutions and motions, and that they will be honoured, even if they are not necessarily binding. I believe that the right hon. and learned Member for Beaconsfield is an honourable man, and he is again taking the Government at their word.
That brings me to the second issue, which is that this is also about Parliament. If the right hon. and learned Member for Beaconsfield has achieved anything, it is that he has moved the Government from where the Prime Minister was on “The Andrew Marr Show” on Sunday, when she said that Parliament cannot tie the hands of Government. The right hon. and learned Member for Beaconsfield has managed to extract a statement from the Government, who are now saying that it is open for Members to table motions, that parliamentary time will be provided, and that it is open for this House, through Mr Speaker, to ensure that motions and decisions can be made. The right hon. and learned Gentleman believes that that is worth having and it is indeed true that it is a step forward. The difference that I have with him is that he believes that the Prime Minister and the Government should be given the benefit of the doubt yet again; I would suggest that he should not and could not necessarily trust their word. That is where we differ.
There is just one fundamental point that I would like to make about this debate, which is that the decision that was taken in the European Union Referendum Act 2015—by six to one in the primacy of this House of Commons and in the House of Lords, which endorsed it—was to accept that the people of this country, not 650 Members of Parliament, would make the decision in the referendum. I need say only one word about this: our constitutional arrangements in this country operate under a system of parliamentary government, not government by Parliament.
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On a point of order, Mr Speaker. What means do I have to correct the record given that at Prime Minister’s questions today, my neighbour, the hon. Member for Wigan (Lisa Nandy), may have inadvertently cited my right hon. Friends the Prime Minister and the Secretary of State for Transport as being responsible for a timetabling issue that affects my constituency? The emails that she referenced were three years old, from a time when neither of my right hon. Friends were in their current roles. The timetabling issue and the current disruption are separate issues. I will continue to work with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport to ensure that the best service for my constituents is met. I felt that it was important to bring this point to the House.
Further to that point of order, Mr Speaker. I am sure that the hon. Member for Southport (Damien Moore) was as shocked as I was to read the content of many of the emails that were released both to him and to me under the Freedom of Information Act. Their content has had such serious implications for my constituents and his. Given that the Department has not released emails during the current Secretary of State for Transport’s tenure and has stopped at the point at which the current Secretary of State was appointed, I wonder whether I could seek your guidance as to whether it might be in order to direct the Secretary of State to release those emails and come clean about what he knew, and when.
European Union (Withdrawal) Bill (Programme) (No. 3) DebateFull Debate: Read Full Debate
John BercowMain Page: John Bercow (Speaker) - Buckingham)
On a point of order, Mr Speaker. You will be aware that on today’s Order Paper there is a Liberal Democrat amendment to extend from two to three days the debate on the Lords amendments. I understand the reasons why it has not been possible to vote on that amendment today. However, can you advise me on how in future it will be possible for this House to secure adequate time to debate critical amendments, take back control and avoid situations such as the one we are likely to face today where, by Government design, there will be no time at all to discuss critical Northern Ireland amendments and critical devolution amendments? [Interruption.]
European Union (Withdrawal) Bill DebateFull Debate: Read Full Debate
John BercowMain Page: John Bercow (Speaker) - Buckingham)
Department Debates - View all John Bercow's debates with the Department for Exiting the European Union
Legislation Debates - View all John Bercow's contributions to the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018
I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.
I rise to speak to new clause 1 and amendments 2 and 1, which stand in my name and those of my right hon. and hon. Friends. As you are aware, Mr Speaker, this remaining group contains a significant number of important issues, and while I want to spend time talking to each of our three amendments, I am conscious that time is limited, so I will endeavour to keep my remarks as brief as possible.
As my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield Central (Paul Blomfield) reminded the House yesterday, as far back as last March the Opposition set out six ways in which the Bill required improvement. The first was that it be drafted in such a way as to enable transitional arrangements after 29 March 2019 on the same basic terms as now—including being in a customs union with the EU and within the single market. The second was that the sweeping delegated powers in the Bill be circumscribed. The third was that it needed to contain clear and robust protection and enforcement mechanisms for all EU-derived rights, entitlements, protections and standards. Sadly, despite some small steps in the right direction, the Government have largely failed to respond in any meaningful way to the concerns we raised in relation to these three areas. The purpose of new clause 1 and amendments 2 and 1 is to press the Government once again to do something about each of them.
I turn first to new clause 1, the purpose of which is to ensure that retained EU law enjoys a form of enhanced protection from subordinate legislation contained in other Acts of Parliament. This is a highly technical matter but a crucial one for the rights and protections our constituents enjoy. Mr Speaker, you were not in the Chamber at the time, but hon. Members who were present will recall that the House debated clauses 2, 3 and 4 in great detail on day two of Committee, and I certainly do not intend to cover the same ground again today. As we heard again yesterday, however, there are very real problems that flow from the ambiguous and uncertain status of retained EU law—a problem to which we believe new clause 13, tabled by the right hon. and learned Member for Beaconsfield (Mr Grieve), provides a pragmatic solution, or at the very least a sensible starting point for a conversation about how the status of this new category of law could be more clearly defined.
Leaving to one side the issues relating to the status of retained EU law—issues that I have no doubt the other place will return to at some length—there is another, related concern, and that is the vulnerability of this new category of law to subordinate legislation and what that means in practical terms for the rights, entitlements, protections and standards our constituents currently enjoy. I want to be very clear as to the argument I am making at this point, because when I first did so on day two of Committee, the debate was prone to veer off on to other related but distinct issues.
The concern I am highlighting does not relate to the issue of how Parliament is to scrutinise and, where necessary, approve the hundreds of statutory instruments that will flow from clause 7, as well as clauses 8, 9 and 17. We welcomed the Government’s acceptance of the amendments tabled by the hon. Member for Broxbourne (Mr Walker) and other members of the Procedure Committee, although we still believe that they do not go far enough, particularly in relation to the new sifting committee’s inability to request that Ministers revoke and remake specific statutory instruments.
Nor does the argument that I am advancing concern how the powers contained in this Bill might be used to amend, modify or repeal retained EU law. The specific issue that I am highlighting, and what new clause 1 seeks to address, is our serious concern that the Bill as drafted leaves retained EU law vulnerable to amendment, modification or repeal by subordinate legislation contained in numerous other Acts of Parliament.
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My right hon. Friend and I have many friends in common. I am delighted that she went over to see Michel Barnier and others, whom I saw in slightly different company shortly before. I agree entirely with what she says, and I would add that the people she was meeting, people like Michel Barnier, are not Anglophobes. They are not just seeking to strike points off the UK. Every person of any common sense on either side of the channel knows that the minimum of disruption to trade between our countries is, for the reasons I was arguing with my hon. Friend the Member for Stone (Sir William Cash) a little time ago, of mutual benefit to those countries. They are looking to negotiate a serious, grown-up agreement that preserves, so far as is possible, the benefits of our present arrangement.
It will be extremely difficult. There is no getting away from the fact that the 27 countries will all have to be in agreement with whatever the eventual deal is and will all submit to their Parliaments a vote to approve that deal, and it is going to be very difficult to get them to agree. They will not surrender the basic tenets of the EU in order to leave us all the benefits of the single market without any of the obligations. Not only will they not agree that the British taxpayer should stop paying a penny towards the costs of market access so that the taxpayers of Germany, the Netherlands and other rich countries pay more to make up for our refusal to pay our share, but they will not let us get out of all the political implications of membership of the EU simply to have solely the trading benefits.
We saw this recently with the members of the European economic area and their perfectly comfortable arrangement. The Norwegians had to go into the EEA because they had negotiated a perfectly sensible arrangement to become full members of the EU—I had many happy discussions with my then opposite number, the Norwegian Finance Minister, who was looking forward to joining the EU—but then held a referendum. They got into the same mess that we have got into, so they put quite a good alternative together, which I still find quite attractive.
The fact is that what we get will be unsatisfactory compared with complete membership of the single market and customs union. Like my right hon. Friend the Member for Broxtowe (Anna Soubry), I do not think that anybody realised at the time quite what was involved in respect of what seemed a speech likely to be valuable politically in getting good write-ups in the right-wing press. We are now trying to get out of that and to slip back a little to get a more sensible arrangement. The House needs to know what expert advice the Government have on the implications of any deal, and new clause 17 provides a mechanism by which we can legally oblige the Government to produce it.
I have, and everybody still seems to be awake!
I congratulate the right hon. and learned Member for Rushcliffe (Mr Clarke) on warming up the debate so well. In a way, Mr Speaker, I feel sorry for you in the Chair, because it is perfectly ridiculous that the programme order is such that we have to conclude our series of debates at 4.30 pm when so many issues have not been properly aired on Report. I said that during yesterday’s debate on the programme motion, and I hope that Members in the other place will bear that in mind when they consider the Bill.
I tabled amendments on six issues that I did not think had been adequately covered in Committee. Being a dutiful Member, I felt it my responsibility to table amendments to cover those issues, but I must rush through them, because otherwise I will not exactly be flavour of the month with many of my colleagues.
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I am very grateful to the Minister for that helpful intervention. I am conscious, as I said, that the Solicitor General and other Ministers have done work on this, and that will shorten what I have to say. I hope that the Minister might meet me in due course to discuss the way in which the urgent procedure will operate so that we can get more detail. That is what I was seeking to achieve—to make sure that we have a means of dealing with something when a decision needs to be made pretty much in real time under these circumstances. That reassurance that the Government will find the means of doing that enables me to confirm that I shall not be pressing the matter. It does of course apply to situations in which, for whatever reason, something has been overlooked in the transition process, or in which something has cropped up that could not reasonably have been foreseen by means of the best endeavours. Against that background, I welcome the Minister’s clarification on that matter. I gather from his nod that he is happy to discuss the matter further with me, so I need not trouble the House any longer.
With the consent of the House, I rise to speak to amendment 59 in the name of my right hon. Friend the Member for Ross, Skye and Lochaber (Ian Blackford) and other right hon. and hon. Members, and to amendments 9 and 56 and new schedule 1.
Before I speak in more detail about amendment 59, may I commend the hon. Member for Nottingham East (Mr Leslie) for the amendments that he submitted? What he has done is to remind us of what a complete sham this entire process has been. Almost 90% to 95% of the way through these eight hours of debate, the Government who had promised, day after day after day, to listen to the debate and to take appropriate effective action still have not corrected some of the glaring deficiencies in their own Bill, the most serious of which, perhaps, is the fact that we still do not have any statutory guarantee that the Northern Ireland peace process, the Belfast agreement and all that that implies, will be protected in law. If the Government cannot be trusted to bring forward amendments to correct such a desperate deficiency in their own legislation, how can they expect this House to trust them with the draconian and unprecedented powers to use ministerial directive to correct deficiencies in domestic legislation after we have left?
Amendment 59 seeks to ensure that the withdrawal agreement can only be implemented when we also have an agreement to remain in the EU single market and customs union. Let us be honest: everybody knows that, on a free vote of this House, there would be a substantial majority in favour of remaining in the single market and the customs union. My plea this evening will be for all of those who know that that is in the best interests of their constituents to set aside the demands of the party Whips and to go through the Lobby in support of this amendment. We can win this vote this evening if all those who know that it deserves to win are able to set aside the demands of the Whips and vote for it. We can take a decision tonight that will keep us away from the cliff edge, not just for two years but for very much longer.
I am very grateful to colleagues from the Liberal Democrats, Plaid Cymru and the Green party who have signed this amendment. Although there have been no signatures from Labour Members, either from the Front Bench or the Back Benches, I appeal to all of them to support this amendment today.
Let me first deal with the question of the constitutional or democratic legitimacy of the amendment. One of the very disturbing aspects of the referendum debate, which has continued all the way through the process since then, has been the degree of hostility and open hatred that has been created against anyone who speaks, or even thinks, against the wisdom of the Government, the newspaper editor, the blogger or whoever. I have a good bad example: just a day or two ago, a group of MPs who had the temerity to go over to Europe to meet Michel Barnier were denounced as traitors—treachery with a smiling face—by one well known bloggist. Apart from the fact that such inflammatory and violent language has no place in any supposedly respectful debate, I want to remind the House of some facts of our membership of the single market—facts that I appreciate will be very uncomfortable to some Members, but that are still utterly incontrovertible.
It is a matter of fact that the people of the United Kingdom have never voted in a referendum about membership of the single market or the customs union. This House had the opportunity when the European Union Referendum Bill was on its way through Parliament. We could have decided to ask questions about the customs union and the single market, but the House and the Government chose not to. Having chosen not to ask the question, none of us—including me—has any right to decide that we know what the answer would have been.
It is a matter of fact that it is possible to be in the single market and the customs union without being a member of the European Union. Hon. Members will have different views as to whether it would be wise, appropriate or in our best interests to do so, and they have every right to debate the benefits of membership of the single market and the customs union. But anyone who insists that it cannot happen is not engaging in debate; they are engaging in fiction. We have had far too much fiction in this debate already—from both sides, it has to be said—as the right hon. and learned Member for Rushcliffe (Mr Clarke) mentioned earlier. The decision to leave the single market was a unilateral political decision taken by the Prime Minister without any prior consultation with the people or with Parliament. It cannot, under any circumstances, be described as an inevitable consequence of the vote to leave the European Union.
Finally, it is a matter of fact that when the Conservative party fought on a manifesto that said it wanted to stay in the single market, it won an overall majority of seats in this place—the only time in the last 25 years that it has managed such an achievement. It is also a fact that the Conservatives lost that overall majority two years later, when they stood on a manifesto saying that they wanted to take us out of the single market. Nobody can claim that that is clear evidence of a popular democratic mandate to stay in the single market, but it certainly blows to smithereens any nonsense that there is any mandate for us to leave.
I am conscious of the need for brevity from me as well as from others, so I will not go into the full and detailed argument for staying in the single market, as that would take us from now to Brexit day, if not beyond. However, the right hon. and learned Member for Rushcliffe referred to the latest analysis produced by the Scottish Government, entitled “Scotland’s Place in Europe: People, Jobs and Investment”. I certainly accept his caveats that we cannot be sure that the forecasts and projections in it are accurate. They are certainly not intended to be precise or definitive.
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I am grateful to my hon. Friend for the case that he has made. The Government are well apprised of the issue that he has brought to the House. It is absolutely right that we respect and uphold parliamentary sovereignty—
I was completing my speech by inviting the intervention that my hon. Friend is now making.
That is why in the Bill we treat retained direct EU legislation as primary legislation for the purposes of the Human Rights Act, and why we have taken the approach we have to challenges based on the general principles. Bearing in mind what my hon. Friend has said—and, indeed, what my right hon. Friend the Member for Clwyd West (Mr Jones) has said—and the view of the Select Committee, which he has just set out, we will of course listen carefully to him and his Committee, and the other individuals he has mentioned, as the Bill continues its passage.
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It is always a pleasure to be in the Chamber to hear the right hon. and learned Member for Rushcliffe (Mr Clarke). When I hear his rational, measured comments on the European Union, I wonder whether his memoirs will include a substantial chapter on how his party has been overtaken by the old guard ideologues on the fourth row and, indeed, the new, modern ideologues sitting on the Treasury Bench.
We heard from the right hon. Member for Wokingham (John Redwood), who is no longer in his place, that we have had adequate debating time for this Bill. As a Member who has made speeches often of only three or four minutes’ duration during the course of these eight plus two days, I would say that, while I believe people should be able to put the content of what they want to say into a concise speech, it is actually rather difficult to do that in three or four minutes on a subject of this nature. I would therefore challenge anyone who says we have had adequate time to debate this issue.
I support several amendments in this group. I support new clause 18, which would lock in the Government’s intentions to respect the environmental principles and to set up an independent environmental regulator, and new clause 21, which would provide continuity on environment powers.
I support new clause 20, which would establish a citizens’ jury. I mentioned that in an earlier debate. A citizens’ jury has already been held on this subject; it had a balance of 52% people who were leavers to 48% who were remainers. It had some really in-depth discussions on issues such as freedom of movement. Interestingly, they came to the conclusion that they were in favour of freedom of movement, albeit arguing—the right hon. and learned Member for Rushcliffe made this point—that the Government should apply the powers they already have to deal with the issue more effectively. Indeed, if the Government had sought to engage effectively with the other EU countries on the issue, I suspect they would have been able to achieve more than has been achieved.
I support new clause 2, which sets out what should be in the withdrawal agreement, and amendment 59. I thank the SNP for co-ordinating the Opposition parties—unfortunately, minus the official Opposition—in getting support for amendment 59. One of the positive things about the Bill, and there are not many of them, is that the Opposition parties and, on occasion, Conservative Members have worked quite constructively together to try to ensure that the Bill is better than it was at the outset.
I want briefly to mention new clause 11. Again, I welcome the cross-party support that the Liberal Democrats have received, with support from Labour Back Benchers, the SNP, Plaid and the Green party. What does new clause 11 seek to do? It seeks to achieve two things. I intervened earlier on the right hon. and learned Member for Rushcliffe when he was talking about the impact assessments. New clause 11 tries to ensure that the Government have to produce an assessment of the impact on the UK economy and each nation, province and region before we have a so-called meaningful vote. I cannot see any circumstances in which this Parliament and its Members can have a meaningful vote on an agreement or on no deal if we do not have an assessment of the impact.
I must say that departmental responses to my parliamentary questions about this have hidden behind the fact that there is something called an “Impact Assessment” to refuse to make available to Parliament an assessment of the impact. I point out to Departments that, to be grammatically correct, if I had meant the “Impact Assessment”, I would have used a capital I and a capital A, and I would then have received the impact assessments that have been done on Government Bills. However, I did not do so, and in common parlance I was entitled to expect the Government to provide an assessment of the impact, rather than to hide behind the niceties of the ways in which parliamentary Bills are dealt with.
The first purpose of new clause 11 is to force the Government to publish an assessment of the impact. Like the right hon. and learned Member for Rushcliffe, I have serious concerns about the reasons the Government would not want to make such information available. I cannot think of any other circumstances in which we, as a Government and as a Parliament, would be about to take a decision that will have the greatest impact on the economy, our security and our diplomatic profile and stature in the world without any impact assessment provided by the Government. I and other Members have been to see the so-called sectoral analyses—they were under lock and key for no reason whatsoever—and, frankly, there was nothing of any great substance in them that could not have been obtained from going online and googling the various sectors. We need to have this information.
I hope that the Minister who responds may for once be willing, when they respond, to explain why they do not want to make this information available to Members of Parliament. The Solicitor General has heard my comment. I am not sure whether he is going to respond, but I hope he will make a point—either by responding himself, or by getting the Box to provide him with an answer that can be put on the record—of explaining why the Government do not want to share with Members of Parliament an assessment of the impact that whatever deal they come up with, or indeed no deal, will have. We need that, and I would love to have it put on the record.
The second part of new clause 11 is about ensuring that, if Parliament does not agree to the deal or does not agree to no deal, either article 50 will be extended or—frankly, this is my preferred option—article 50 will be rescinded. Members who have looked at the new clause will see that, as I have said, it has two halves. First, there is the process of securing an assessment of the impact. If an agreement is reached, an assessment of the impact must be available. Equally, if no agreement is reached, such an assessment must be available.
Secondly, the Government would have to put a motion to the House that would allow Parliament to approve the intention to leave the EU without a deal. I guess the House could do that, although I hope we would not do so. If Parliament said no to that, however, other options would kick in requiring the Government to go back, in the very limited time still available, to try to secure a deal before March 2019; to go back to the European Council and request an extension of article 50; or to rescind the notice under article 50. It would clearly be very helpful to have the legal advice that the Government have received. I and many Members believe that the legal advice would have made it very clear that article 50 can be revoked, and the only reason why the Government do not want to make that information available is that it helps their case to pretend that it cannot be revoked.
I am aware, Mr Speaker, that several Members want to speak and there is very little time left. I hope I have put succinctly the reasons not only why I support several of the amendments—if they were pushed to a vote, I would be very happy to support them—but why I intend, subject to your agreement, to press new clause 11 to a vote.
Thank you, Mr Speaker. I shall endeavour to practise courtesy by act rather than by anything else, in being brief.
It is a pleasure again to participate in this afternoon’s debate, which is wide-ranging and has moved away from the rather narrow focus of some of the perfectly sensible amendments that have been tabled and that are designed to explore the undoubted deficiencies in the legislation; for example, the Opposition have put forward sensible proposals in new clause 1. Those are matters that we have looked at for a considerable number of days.
I wanted to focus on an issue that has arisen this afternoon and is a particular concern to me. In doing so I do not want to repeat what my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Rushcliffe (Mr Clarke) said. I agree with every word he said, and there is no point in my saying it again. There is a separate angle, however, on which we might pause and reflect. New clause 17 raises the issue of whether we should have continued participation in the single market and customs union.
If we look at the Bill as drafted and at its original intention, particularly now that the pernicious effects of clause 9 have been removed, we can see that it is about the legal order of the United Kingdom after we have left with no deal at all. So an argument can be made that this legislation is perhaps not the most satisfactory place to try to bring in the single market and customs union. However, that raises an entirely legitimate issue. Ultimately, as we trundle on with the legislation it becomes more and more apparent how different it is from the Government’s intention regarding the end product that they want the country to enjoy.
The Prime Minister set out her vision in the Lancaster House and Florence speeches. As I have said before, but it is worth repeating, if she succeeded in achieving everything that she set out, there might well be broad consensus in the House, because we would lose those aspects of EU membership that we do not like and at the same time we would retain all the benefits of EU membership that we—or at least many of us, the vast majority of hon. Members—consider desirable.
The truth is that most of us—again, I suspect—in the House know that that is unlikely to be achieved. We are asking our EU partners to engage in the bending of the rules of the legal order, which is not something that can be readily obtained. We started out on this negotiation with a major fallacy: the EU can somehow be twisted around from matters of self-interest into entirely changing its nature. In fact, it is an international treaty organisation underpinned by law: that is what it is. Having visited Brussels on Monday, it was brought home to me—I already knew it—very clearly that that is indeed the nature of the entity with which we are dealing. Unless we are realistic about that we cannot hope to secure a reasonable outcome to our negotiations.
What troubles me particularly is the timing of all this. The reality is that the EU, for very good reasons, wants order. It is a legal order, and it wishes order to exist, even when countries are leaving it. The point was made to us that ultimately it would negotiate according to our red lines and, if we decide to put red lines down that make it impossible to reach the sort of agreement that the Prime Minister wants, we will not secure that agreement—it is very simple. On top of that—I would like to add this point to the one made by my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Rushcliffe—all of this is likely to come to a head at a very late stage indeed for rational judgments by the House about what is in the national interest.
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My hon. Friend is right. It is immensely important that we get these decisions right. I have proposed, in amendment 10, that the date should be settled in Parliament in the statute that provides for a meaningful vote on the withdrawal agreement. It is the obvious and logical consequence of agreeing to the previous amendment 7, which requires a vote on a statute. Let us set the date for departure in that statute, rather than in this Bill. I propose that when we get to the withdrawal agreement, we confirm the date, because the terms and timing of departure should go hand in hand. In that way, we do not concentrate all the power in Ministers’ hands.
We need to make sure that when Parliament has a meaningful vote, we have proper transparency and a debate on the decision, and that is why new clause 17 is so important. The Government have ruled out membership of the single market and the customs union. Everyone recognises that the single market issues are complex, linked as they are to questions of immigration and how we deal with future rules. That makes it even more important for Parliament and the public to be able to scrutinise the Government’s decisions on those complex issues. To do so, we need to know the facts and the impact on the economy and our constituencies.
On the customs union, the issues are more straightforward, but the need for transparency is the same. Being in the customs union is immensely important not just for Northern Ireland, but for manufacturers across the country, especially across the north and the midlands. The Prime Minister, we understand, has had special meetings with City financiers about what they need from the Brexit deal, but what about Yorkshire manufacturers in my constituency? Where is their chance to have their say on the customs arrangements that they need? Where is the opportunity for us all to see the impact of not being in the customs union, the impact of decisions about the single market, and the impact on jobs in our constituencies before, not after, we vote on the withdrawal agreement? The ramifications of these decisions are immense.
The amendments are about strengthening the power of Parliament, no matter what kind of Brexit we think is best, and no matter what our politics or party membership. The amendments are about the health and resilience of our democracy, and about us all working together to get these crucial decisions right.
Thank you, Mr Speaker; I will keep my comments brief. I rise to oppose new clause 2 for the following reasons. By seeking full, comprehensive and sufficiently detailed agreements on several aspects of the future relationship between Britain and the EU, it ties the hand of Government. I am not sure that that is any way to negotiate future trading agreements. Furthermore, the new clause is impractical and inconsistent with article 50, for which the vast majority of this House voted last March.
The EU (Withdrawal) Bill is intended to ensure that EU legislation is transferred into UK law to deliver for the UK a smooth exit from membership of the EU next year, which I am sure we all hope for. Future trade agreements are a separate matter, and they will determine our future trading relationships throughout the world. I commend to the House the “Britain is GREAT” campaign, which is designed to open up a host of trading opportunities once we have left the EU.
Despite the comprehensive list of priorities—a total of 35—on which those who support the new clause want detailed agreements, the issues that concern my constituency are largely ignored. I am not willing to support the new clause, but I call on the Minister to commit, at an early stage, to a strategy that incorporates the economic and social cohesion principles derived from article 174 of the treaty on the functioning of the European Union. That is important for regions across the UK, including the county of Cornwall, so that we can have confidence that future support will be maintained for areas with high levels of deprivation, rural and island areas, areas affected by industrial transition, and regions that suffer from severe and permanent natural or demographic handicaps.
Brexit offers opportunities to further reduce inequalities between communities and regional disparities in development. Cornwall and Scilly has received considerable EU funding, but not every penny has been spent as intended. The region must be given far greater power over its own destiny and prosperity, and that is what the 2015 Cornwall devolution deal was intended to achieve. Work continues on thrashing out the detail so that Cornwall and Scilly has every tool needed to create a vibrant and successful economy, where wealth is shared across our population.
I do not believe that serious thinkers in Cornwall and Scilly believe that structural funding support of the sort that has been enjoyed, such as EU regional development funds and EU structural funds, continuing indefinitely is in our best interest; nor was it anticipated that Cornwall would be in receipt of the money even if the British people had voted in June 2016 to remain in the EU. Cornwall and Scilly and other areas across the UK need investment to create the infrastructure, jobs and skills that will assist long-standing pockets of deprivation, and an environment that offers opportunities and life chances to everyone, whatever their age or ability.
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I think I welcome that intervention. I hear what my right hon. Friend says, and it is true that, despite all the money and business support that Cornwall has received, it voted in favour of leaving the EU. What people in my constituency and across Cornwall want is us to get on with the job—to get the Bill through and then set out clearly how we intend to trade in the future.
We are asking for a level playing field, where that is possible. I welcome the creation of the shared prosperity fund, and although I do not support new clause 2, I seek an assurance from the Government that areas such as Cornwall and Scilly will enjoy special recognition, as we do now because of the challenges we face, which include deprivation and severe and permanent natural or demographic handicaps.
I will be brief, Mr Speaker. I rise to speak to new clause 17, on which I intend to test the will of the House later today. I will not repeat what the right hon. and learned Member for Rushcliffe (Mr Clarke) said, but I very much appreciate his support for the new clause, as I do the comments made by the right hon. and learned Member for Beaconsfield (Mr Grieve).
I tabled the new clause simply to inject some clarity, transparency and honesty in the debate. We already have a strong baseline of what the single market and the customs union provide the UK, and new clause 17 offers a straightforward way of comparing what we have now and what the Government come back with and put on the table before the House votes on the legislation to invoke our leaving the European Union.
I also tabled the clause to prompt another discussion about the single market and the customs union. I intervened on my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham East (Mr Leslie) to make the point that all these complicated issues—those relating to the island of Ireland are probably the most complicated—can be resolved by continuing to participate in the single market and the customs union.
My key point, on which I hope Ministers will reflect and which Michel Barnier has already stated clearly, is that the red lines that the Government have set themselves are completely and utterly incompatible with the conclusion they wish to reach. Until they are honest about that with the public and this House, we will be unable to move forward. That is part of the reason why the EU keeps demanding from the UK an explanation of the final destination—what the UK actually wants from the process. The Prime Minister’s Florence and Lancaster House speeches set out criteria that are completely and utterly undeliverable, given the red lines set. To take the customs union and the single market off the table so early as a red line was the wrong decision.
We need the Government to put to both Houses a full and independently assessed analysis comparing the impact on the UK economy of two conclusions to this debate: staying in the single market and customs union and coming out on the basis of the deal the Government propose. The Government will resist the new clause, however, not out of principle, but because they know that any negotiated deal they come back with from the EU will not be as good as the deal we have today, and that will be saying to the public that that deal will make the country poorer. For any Government, that is a dereliction of duty. They should put their money where their mouth is, support my new clause 17 and put in black and white the consequences of this country’s refusing, failing and no longer participating in the single market and customs union.
Will my hon. Friend give way?
I will be as brief as I can. I rise to speak in support of new clause 6 on the legal standing of article 50. I voted in the last Parliament to invoke article 50 because I believed it was the duty of the House to seek to deliver Brexit in the form in which it was sold to the British people, but it was conditional on it being in that form. I said that if it turned out to be materially different at the end of the process, the people would be entitled to keep an open mind on what should then happen. By that I meant they were entitled to halt the process and revoke the article 50 notification given by the Prime Minister to the President of the European Council, if that was what the people decided to do.
The core purpose of new clause 6 is to clear up this matter. On the issue of revocability—halting the process or extending article 50—Ministers have sought deliberately to pull the wool over the eyes not just of this House but of the people. They have given the misleading impression that legally we are not free to keep an open mind and that we cannot revoke article 50 if we so wish. For example, on 9 October 2017, when my right hon. Friend the Member for Exeter (Mr Bradshaw) asked the Prime Minister if it was possible to halt the article 50 process, she implied that it was not and said:
“The position was made clear in a case that went through the Supreme Court in relation to article 50.”—[Official Report, 9 October 2017; Vol. 629, c. 51.]
But it was not. The case she was referring to was brought by Gina Miller to stop this Government seeking to take back control for Ministers instead of for Parliament, as was intended.
The Prime Minster was pressed again on the same day by my right hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton South East (Mr McFadden) and my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham East (Mr Leslie) and each time gave a similar response. This gave a completely false impression of the reality, because what she said was not factually correct. The Supreme Court did not and has not opined on this issue in the Miller or any other case before it, though the author of article 50, the noble Lord Kerr, has made it clear that it may be revoked.
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I absolutely agree with my hon. Friend. I was not aware of her historical involvement in this matter. That is absolutely fantastic. I know that my hon. Friends the Members for Stretford and Urmston (Kate Green), for Walthamstow (Stella Creasy) and for Cambridge (Daniel Zeichner) and many others have been involved in this process as well.
Before I conclude, I want to draw attention to a recent example. The citizens assembly on Brexit was organised recently by a number of universities and civil society organisations, including the constitution unit at University College London, the centre for the study of democracy at the University of Westminster, the University of Southampton, Involve and the Electoral Reform Society. That citizens jury came up with some very interesting results. It concluded that our priorities for trade policy should be minimising harm to the economy, protecting the NHS and public services, maintaining living standards, taking account of the impacts on all parts of the UK, protecting workers’ rights and avoiding a hard border with Ireland.
Those are all sensible suggestions, and that is not surprising because they come from the British people. They do not represent the one monolithic view of the way forward that the Government are presenting. The public are presenting a sensible approach to Brexit, and that is what we need more than ever at this time. We do not need to hear wild claims about what the public think. It is a shame that we sometimes do not get these debates in this House, but I am thankful that Members on both sides have been brave enough to stand up in this debate and put forward their views. We need to listen to the public on this as well.
I rise to speak as the vice-chair of the British-Irish Parliamentary Assembly and the all-party parliamentary group on Ireland and the Irish in Britain. Despite the border being one of the principal issues in the phase 1 agreement, there has been very little debate or understanding in this House about the context of the border issue with Ireland, and that is a huge problem. Phase 1 is hugely welcome. Our Prime Minister has signed up to it on behalf of the United Kingdom, and there is to be no ambiguity or rowing back from it.
On day five of these debates, the hon. Member for North Down (Lady Hermon) said that she remembered exactly where she was when the Good Friday-Belfast agreement was announced. That is true for many of us. I am one of the millions of British children of Irish immigrants who grew up in the 1970s and 1980s. It was difficult. The violence and murder on the streets of Northern Ireland and Britain hung over our communities and fuelled anti-Irish sentiment here. That changed in the 1990s.
The Good Friday agreement is an exemplar across the world of dealing with long-standing conflict. The UK and Ireland are its guarantors, and our joint membership of the EU, our shared regulations and our customs union are the foundation on which it is based. The Good Friday-Belfast agreement was not just about Northern Ireland and it was not just about politics. It was about the relationship between all the people on these islands. We have more in common: until 100 years ago, we were one country. My grandparents were born in Mayo and Cavan under the auspices of this Parliament, just like me when I was born in London. Our legal and political systems are akin, which is why the Republic of Ireland is our greatest ally in the EU. For years, hundreds of weekly meetings have taken place between our officials and our politicians as part of the EU. These will cease, and the Good Friday agreement now needs to come into its own and deepen the north-south and east-west strands. The debate about the border is not about wandering cows and cameras. The absence of a border is about recognising our commonality and our mutual interest.
On the British-Irish Parliamentary Assembly, we are concerned that there is no longer the necessary knowledge and experience in this Chamber of the British-Irish relationship, and we have been considering how to support hon. Members to develop that understanding and to undertake greater cross-party and jurisdictional work. I hope that the House of Lords will have more debates on this issue than we have done.
In my early days as a Member, Mr Speaker, we had the privilege of hearing the noble Lord Bew speak in your rooms about Charles Stewart Parnell and the great arguments that raged in this place throughout the 19th century. We could perhaps arrange for more speakers from all communities, and we could encourage the Select Committees and the all-party parliamentary groups to share understanding across these islands and to develop those deep relationships. Most importantly, we need to build on what we have and not go back. Voices on both sides of the House are crucial to that.
This Bill is essentially about cutting and pasting the laws, protections and rights of the EU into British law, and the fundamental problems are that clause 9 gives sweeping powers to Ministers to strike out those laws, protections and rights and, quite simply, that we do not have the institutions to enforce those rights. In essence, new clauses 10 and 14 would ensure institutions are in place to enforce those individual, consumer, environmental and workers’ rights and protections.
The European Food Safety Authority, which responded to the horsemeat scandal, or similar agencies should be in place to prevent genetically modified, hormone-impregnated or antibiotic-impregnated meat, and so on, from coming from America. The European Chemicals Agency is charged with protecting us through REACH—the regulation, evaluation, authorisation and restriction of chemicals regulation—which prevents, for example, asbestos from being sold here when they can be sold in America. The European Environment Agency underpins our air quality and is taking the British Government to court. It has delivered blue flag beaches instead of low-tar beaches, and it is involved in ensuring biodiversity, etc. Euratom regulates nuclear power and research across Europe, including Britain. The European Medicines Agency ensures Britain can develop and sell drugs across Europe.
It is critical that institutions are in place to continue those processes, yet the White Paper said, for example, that protected habitats will continue without enforcement agencies after Brexit. In other words, we do not know there will be a guarantee that institutions will be in place to enforce the rights and protections we currently enjoy, which is why new clauses 10 and 14 are important.
We also know that Britain does not have the ready capacity to enforce rights and protections in the way those big institutions do. Enforcement would basically mean fining ourselves for not fulfilling air quality standards, which is meaningless.
New clause 14 essentially says that those rights and protections should also be instilled in new trade agreements, which the Government are hurtling ahead in agreeing in secret. Such rights and protections should therefore be frontloaded, so that people can be secure in the knowledge that Ministers will not sign off agreements that are perhaps in breach of domestic law and that will then be imposed by arbitration courts, whether through investor-state dispute settlements or through the investment court system.
Given the shortage of time, I will confine my remarks to amendment 59.
I find it almost unbelievable that, 18 months after the referendum and six months after the Government introduced this Bill, they still have not provided or commissioned any proper economic analysis of what Brexit will mean and of the various options we have. In that information vacuum, it has fallen to others to try to fill the gap. A recent report from the Mayor of London concluded that 500,000 jobs are at risk as £50 billion will be taken out of the economy.
The Fraser of Allander Institute in Scotland, which is no friend of my party or of the Scottish Government, has concluded that Brexit puts 80,000 jobs in Scotland under threat. Just this week, a new analysis from the Scottish Government concluded that each person in Scotland could lose £2,600 if we leave the single market.
If the Government disagree with those analyses, I have to wonder why they do not publish their own. I understand that the Government are, of course, divided at the highest level—God knows they need to find agreement among themselves before they can get agreement with other countries—but that cannot be the whole explanation.
I believe the reason we have not had this analysis from the Government is that they know anything they publish will not support and provide evidence for the path they have chosen. Given that degree of denial and political myopia, it falls to this Parliament to try to save this Government from themselves. We can do that by supporting amendment 59, because the truth is that there are no good options here, only less bad ones. Clearly, the least bad option we can do is remain in the customs union and single market to protect our economy. The time has come to call a halt on what is happening and say, “This is the direction we must go in.”
As the right hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington (Tom Brake) mentioned, this amendment has the backing of four parties. It is almost a united Opposition amendment, but there is an absentee friend—the Labour party. I say to Labour colleagues, even at this eleventh hour, not to chastise them but to welcome them in this campaign, “Don’t just participate. Come and lead the campaign against this Government. If you do not, you compromise the future.” In a few years’ time, when the consequences are clear, prices are going up and jobs are disappearing, the Leader of the Opposition will try to accuse the Government and they will look back and say, “You didn’t stop it at the time.” So I ask Labour colleagues to come with us and back amendment 59, and let us try to save this Government from themselves.
I wish to speak to new clause 17. We have learned several things in recent weeks. First, that the red lines set by the Prime Minister will handicap us in our negotiations; secondly, that those same red lines have removed important options from the table; and, thirdly, that the Government have not felt it necessary to do comprehensive qualitative and quantitative assessments on the implications of leaving. That is extraordinary. No large business, certainly no multinational business, would leave a market and abandon its investment in that market without fully evaluating the commercial and reputational consequences, but for this Government that lack of process is somehow acceptable. What new clause 17 offers, correctly, is a framework to properly evaluate the deal and arrangements proposed by the Government, so ensuring both transparency and a full public understanding, by area, of the consequences of leaving. That is why I support new clause 17.
I would rather be speaking on whether or not we should be leaving the EU. The more I hear, the more I fear the UK is heading over a cliff and on to rocks far below. Like everyone here, however, I am speaking on the specifics of how the UK withdraws from the EU, if withdrawal is to go ahead. I support new clauses 12 and 21, and others that seek to preserve our environmental protections and legislation. I particularly support new clause 12, which stands in the name of my hon. Friend the Member for Wakefield (Mary Creagh) and would require the Government to report on the “loss of environmental protection” as a result of leaving the EU and to introduce a new environmental protection Bill.
The Government have kept trying to reassure Parliament and the British people that Brexit will mean that EU law will be seamlessly merged in UK law and that we do not need to worry. Not only do I not believe that to be true, but I am concerned about the Government’s lack of urgency on taking sufficient legislative action before March 2019. We are still awaiting the long-promised policy statement on environmental principles which will underpin future environmental policy making. There will then be wide consultation, but even that will not be on the actual policies; it will just
“explore the scope and content of a new statement on environmental principles.”
That suggests there is a lot of law up for grabs and no sense of urgency.
On air quality, which matters greatly to my constituents, the Government are dragging their feet. The London Mayor, Hounslow Council and many other councils are using their limited powers to improve air quality, but there is only so much they can do. The Mayor has made it very clear that the UK will not bring pollution levels into line with existing EU air quality laws without serious and urgent action by the Government. But instead of this, the Government are using taxpayers’ money to defend themselves against yet another legal challenge by ClientEarth over illegal levels of air pollution in the UK and they have launched an environment plan that is weak to say the least. Given this lack of proven commitment to bringing the UK into compliance with even one aspect of existing EU environment standards, I have little faith that Brexit will mean anything other than an undermining of many protections and improvements that the EU has brought us to date. That is why I urge this House to support many of these amendments, particularly new clauses 12 and 21, and any others that protect our environmental rights and protections, which I, my constituents and many of us hold so dear.
I hope the Government will consider workplace protections in the Bill, because many of us do not trust the Government in that regard.
This has been a full and vibrant debate, with many excellent contributions and memorable moments, to which I shall try to refer at the end, if there proves to be time.
Two Members made particular requests. The hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Caroline Lucas), who is not in her place, asked about the timing and when we would take forward our policy. I will undertake to discuss that with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs later this week.
My hon. Friend the Member for St Ives (Derek Thomas) mentioned the shared prosperity fund. I assure him that we discussed it when I visited Cornwall and that the Government are well aware of the need in Cornwall and other areas. We will drive forward the design and implementation of that fund.
It might help the House to know that I intend to speak first to the Government amendments and, in a couple of cases, the related Opposition amendments. I will then ensure that I have dealt with the Belfast agreement, as it is so important, before working through some of the other amendments, if time allows.
Government amendment 33 builds on the exit-day amendments tabled by my right hon. Friend the Member for West Dorset (Sir Oliver Letwin), to whom we are grateful. This further amendment to schedule 7 makes the power to set exit day subject to the affirmative procedure, thereby fulfilling a commitment that I gave at the Dispatch Box during day eight in Committee. As the Prime Minister and the Secretary of State have made clear, we have always been committed to the proper parliamentary scrutiny of our exit from the EU. In line with our promise that Parliament will be given time to debate and scrutinise the legislation that implements the final agreement that we reach with the EU, it is appropriate that Parliament scrutinises any potential change to exit day. I hope the whole House will support the amendment.
Labour’s amendment 1 would allow the Government to amend the definition of “exit day” if it were not in accordance with any transitional arrangements agreed under article 50. I understand the intention behind the amendment, but I remind the House that, after the improvements to which I have referred, the Bill now provides for changes to the exit day, as set out in article 50, to ensure that the domestic situation reflects the international position. Furthermore, Government amendment 33 will ensure that Parliament has appropriate scrutiny of any change to the date of exit by making it subject to the affirmative procedure.
Amendment 10, which was tabled by the right hon. Member for Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford (Yvette Cooper), would require exit day to be specified in a separate Bill on the terms of withdrawal. It replicates an amendment that was debated in Committee in November, since when the Bill has benefited from the amendments I mentioned and, in particular, the changes suggested by my right hon. Friend the Member for West Dorset. Exit day will be set out in law as 11 pm on 29 March 2019, but we will have the technical ability to amend it if the UK, the EU and, indeed—to address the right hon. Lady’s points—the European Council, decide unanimously to change the date. The right hon. Lady referred particularly to the European Parliament, but I have the text of article 50 with me and it is clear that any change would require the
“European Council, in agreement with the Member State concerned”
to unanimously decide to extend the period, so I do not accept her argument about the European Parliament having more say than this Parliament.
We have always been committed to the proper parliamentary scrutiny of our exit from the EU, which is why, in line with our promise that Parliament will be given time to debate and agree the legislation that implements the final agreement that we strike with the EU, it is appropriate for Parliament to scrutinise any changes to exit day through the affirmative procedure. In the unlikely event that the power to change exit day is used, it will simply be a technical change to ensure that our domestic legislation reflects the reality of international law. It is certainly not necessary, and would be disproportionate, to make such a change via primary legislation.
The House agreed in Committee to Government amendments regarding explanatory statements and to the Procedure Committee’s amendments to establish a sifting committee. We have tabled two technical amendments, Government amendments 35 and 36, to ensure that these amendments best function alongside each other. Government amendments 35 and 36 will ensure that the requirement for a Minister of the Crown to make an explanatory statement applies before a draft instrument is laid before the House for the purposes of sifting, as well as in other cases. They will also ensure that, where an explanatory statement has been made before the House of Commons for the purposes of sifting, there is no need to make a further statement after sifting when an equivalent instrument is laid again before both Houses of Parliament after being made or as a draft affirmative instrument. That will ensure that the committee has all the necessary information at its disposal and will avoid confusing double statements when nothing has changed.
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Well, would my hon. Friend give way? [Laughter.]
Voices of inspiration, I trust.
My hon. Friend mentioned the withdrawal Bill several times. Am I right—to be absolutely clear—that the withdrawal Bill will come forward and be considered, and probably approved, by this House before any withdrawal agreement is ratified, that we will not be presented with a Bill to implement an agreement that is already binding on the United Kingdom, but that actually the Government will not ratify any agreements until the House of Commons has first given its support and approval?
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Question put, That the clause be added to the Bill.
New Clause 11
Meaningful vote on deal or no deal
“(1) The Prime Minister must publish and lay before both Houses of Parliament an assessment of the impact on the economy of the United Kingdom, and on each nation, province or region of the United Kingdom, of any unratified agreement between the United Kingdom and the EU under Article 50(2) of the Treaty on European Union which sets out the arrangements for the United Kingdom’s withdrawal from the EU.
(2) Any agreement between the United Kingdom and the EU under Article 50(2) of the Treaty on European Union which sets out the arrangements for the United Kingdom’s withdrawal from the EU may not be ratified unless—
(a) subsection (1) has been complied with,
(b) the House of Lords has considered a motion relating to the unratified agreement,
(c) the House of Commons has approved the unratified agreement by resolution,
(d) the statute mentioned in section 9 (approving the final terms of withdrawal of the United Kingdom from the European Union) has been passed, and
(e) any other legislative provision to enable ratification has been passed or made.
(3) If no agreement has been reached by 31 December 2018 between the United Kingdom and the EU under Article 50(2) of the Treaty on European Union setting out the arrangements for the United Kingdom’s withdrawal from the EU, the Prime Minister must publish and lay before both Houses of Parliament within one month an assessment of the impact on the economy of the United Kingdom, and on each nation, province or region of the United Kingdom, of leaving the EU under Article 50(3) of the Treaty on European Union without an agreement.
(4) If no agreement has been reached by 31 January 2019 between the United Kingdom and the EU under Article 50(2) of the Treaty on European Union setting out the arrangements for the United Kingdom’s withdrawal from the EU,
(a) a Minister of the Crown must propose a motion in the House of Lords relating to the lack of an agreement, and
(b) a Minister of the Crown must propose a motion in the House of Commons approving the intention of the United Kingdom to leave the EU under Article 50(3) of the Treaty on European Union without a withdrawal agreement.
(5) Unless the House of Commons approves by resolution after 31 January 2019 the intention of the United Kingdom to leave the EU under Article 50(3) of the Treaty on European Union without a withdrawal agreement, the Prime Minister must either —
(a) reach an agreement before exit day between the United Kingdom and the EU under Article 50(2) of the Treaty on European Union which sets out the arrangements for the United Kingdom’s withdrawal from the EU, or
(b) request the European Council for an extension of negotiation under Article 50(3) of the Treaty on European Union, or
(c) rescind the notice of intention under Article 50(2) of the Treaty on European Union to withdraw from the EU given in accordance with the European Union (Notice of Withdrawal) Act 2017 and request the European Council to accept that rescission.”—(Tom Brake.)
This New Clause would ensure that the Government assesses the impact of either an agreement or no deal on the UK economy and regions before a meaningful vote, and that if Parliament does not agree to the agreement or to no deal, then the Government must request a revocation or extension of Article 50.
Question put, That the clause be added to the Bill.
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Queen’s consent signified.
I beg to move, That the Bill be now read the Third time. Taking a leaf out of the Liberal Democrat book, I do so enthusiastically.
The Bill is essential to preparing the country for the historic milestone of withdrawing from the European Union. It ensures that on day one we will have a statute book that works, with this Government delivering the smooth and orderly exit desired by people and businesses across the United Kingdom. It is a complex piece of legislation, which is unsurprising given that it seeks to put into British law the entire acquis of European law—established over 40 years or more of membership—and to do so in a few years while active negotiations are going on.
The House has spent more than 80 hours discussing the Bill’s principles and why they are necessary. We have scrutinised each clause and schedule in detail, and we have debated the merits of more than 500 amendments and new clauses. I thank the Members who took the time to table amendments, and I thank them for the spirit in which they have engaged with the debate throughout. I pay tribute to the Clerks and officials in the Public Bill Office who have provided invaluable support for Members in all parts of the House, advising on the drafting and tabling of those hundreds of amendments.
I pay special tribute to several colleagues for their individual contributions. I thank my right hon. Friend the Member for West Dorset (Sir Oliver Letwin) and my hon. Friend the Member for Broxbourne (Mr Walker) for tabling amendments that will undoubtedly enhance this legislation by providing greater certainty over the timing of exit day and how secondary legislation will be scrutinised. I also pay tribute to other Conservative colleagues for their contributions throughout the debate, notably my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Torridge and West Devon (Mr Cox), my hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Robert Neill), my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Beaconsfield (Mr Grieve), my right hon. Friend the Member for Wantage (Mr Vaizey), my hon. Friend the Member for Harwich and North Essex (Mr Jenkin) and my right hon. Friends the Members for Basingstoke (Mrs Miller) and for Chingford and Woodford Green (Mr Duncan Smith). I am grateful to them all for their hard work—[Interruption.] I have not finished yet. I am grateful to them all for their hard work in effectively scrutinising this legislation and their tireless work in representing their constituents.
I also thank Opposition Members for their contributions. We heard impassioned and eloquent contributions from the right hon. Member for Birkenhead (Frank Field), the hon. Member for Vauxhall (Kate Hoey), the hon. Member for Wakefield (Mary Creagh), the right hon. Members for Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford (Yvette Cooper) and for Leeds Central (Hilary Benn), and the hon. Members for Brighton, Pavilion (Caroline Lucas) and for North Down (Lady Hermon) among many others, who all played—[Interruption.] I will take nominations, Mr Speaker, if you really want, but I think I just picked out the highlights; many others made fantastic contributions. In the interests of brevity and to allow others to speak, I would like the House to take as read the detailed thanks to the Front Benchers of both sides.
I said on Second Reading that I would
“welcome and encourage contributions from those who approach the task in good faith and in a spirit of collaboration.”—[Official Report, 7 September 2017; Vol. 628, c. 343.]
All of us, as elected representatives, have a shared interest in making this Bill a success in the national interest. The Government have said time and again that we would listen carefully to all suggestions put forward and that, where hon. Members made a compelling case, we would respectfully consider it and act accordingly.
I hope that Members agree that in this debate we have often heard the very best of what this House is here to do. We have tabled amendments to provide extra information about equalities impacts and the changes being made to retained EU law under the powers in the Bill. We published a right-by-right analysis of the charter of fundamental rights, setting out how each substantive right found in the charter will be reflected in UK domestic law. It looks at how the right flows through retained EU law and how it is otherwise protected by existing domestic law or international law after exit.
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On a point of order, Mr Speaker. I seek your advice on how to inform the House of some breaking news coming out of the Welsh national Parliament. Assembly Members have unanimously supported the introduction of a Welsh continuity Bill to put a halt to the Westminster power grab. So great is the constitutional encroachment of the Westminster Government that this Bill to support Welsh democracy is supported by not only Plaid Cymru, but the Welsh Conservative party and the UK Independence party. This is of great constitutional significance, with implications for the passage of the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill, which has just received its Third Reading.
European Union (Withdrawal) Bill DebateFull Debate: Read Full Debate
John BercowMain Page: John Bercow (Speaker) - Buckingham)
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I beg to move amendment 57, page 2, line 42, leave out clause 4.
This amendment is linked to NC19, which would aim to preserve, more comprehensively than the existing Clause 4, rights, powers, liabilities, obligations, restrictions, remedies and procedures derived from EU law and incorporated into domestic law via the European Communities Act 1972.
Amendment 57, which would leave out clause 4, is linked to new clauses 19 and 21. Many of the amendments I tabled in Committee have been proposed by Greener UK, a coalition of many environmental organisations that are concerned about the possible impact of Brexit on environmental protections. They see it as one of the biggest threats: I know other people see it as an opportunity, especially when it comes to rejigging how we subsidise agriculture once we leave the common agricultural policy. The concern is what protections would remain, given the importance of our membership of the EU for everything from cleaning up water pollution and protecting biodiversity to improving recycling and reducing waste. It is hard to believe that we used to allow untreated sewage to flow into our seas before the EU’s bathing water directive forced the UK Government to make our bathing waters fit for swimming and to test for bacteria such as E. coli. In 1990, only 27% of our bathing waters met minimum mandatory standards; by 2014, 99% complied.
When the then Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs gave evidence to the Environmental Audit Committee’s inquiry on the natural environment after the EU referendum, she told the Committee that approximately a third of the more than 800 pieces of EU environmental legislation will be difficult to transpose into UK law. The Committee also identified a considerable governance gap, which the Government have acknowledged, and I support new clause 18, which would enshrine what the Government have said they want in relation to carrying over environmental principles and establishing a new environmental regulatory body.
My amendment addresses the substantial flaws, gaps and democratic deficit in the Bill that were not addressed in Committee, in particular to fully transpose current EU environmental legislation in all areas effectively into UK law to avoid any weakening or loss of existing environmental protection during Brexit. The Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs has been encouraging in saying that:
“We must not only maintain but enhance environmental standards as we leave the EU. And that means making sure we secure the environmental gains we have made while in the EU even as we use our new independence to aim even higher”.
Opposition Members share the same aspirations and visions, but we cannot just take his word for it. We need those promises written into the Bill and concrete measures to deliver on those aspirations. This has to last longer than he is in post.
Amendment 57 would leave out clause 4, with a view to replacing it with new clause 19 which would preserve—more comprehensively than clause 4—rights, powers, liabilities, obligations, restrictions, remedies and procedures derived from EU law. The new clause seeks only to properly realise the Government’s stated ambition for the Bill—they have repeatedly assured us of this during the process—that the same rules and laws will apply after we leave the EU as before.
In their White Paper, the Government sought to reassure us that this Bill will mean that
“the whole body of existing EU environmental law continues to have effect in UK law”.
The Prime Minister has promised:
“The same rules and laws will apply on the day after exit as on the day before”,
but that is simply not the case. As drafted, the Bill will not properly capture and convert all EU environmental law into stand-alone domestic law.
Clause 4 appears to deal with full transposition. In Committee, the then Minister of State for Courts and Justice described it as a sweeper provision that
“picks up the other obligations, rights and remedies that would currently have the force of UK law under section 2 of the European Communities Act 1972.”—[Official Report, 15 November 2017; Vol. 631, c. 498.]
But it fails to do its sweeping properly, because some inexplicable and unnecessary restrictions in clause 4(l)(b) and (2)(b) mean that important aspects of environmental law will be lost. Those exceptions include rights that have not been recognised by a court before exit day. Effectively, the basic rights that everyone accepts but that have not been litigated on are at risk. Those rights have been hardwired into EU law and do not need enforcing, but once we no longer have the safety net of the EU, they could fall.
The Government’s defence of the limitations in these subsections in Committee was far from convincing. The Minister essentially argued that they were necessary because directives do not produce directly effective rights until they have been recognised as such by courts. However, if a provision in legislation creates directly effective law, it does not need a court to confirm that that is the case. If a piece of legislation creates a legal position, it does not need a judge to verify that that is the case. In fact, the Government have often not transposed certain provisions of directives on the basis that they function adequately directly from the directives without any need to transpose them into national law. That clearly demonstrates that there are parts of directives that currently form part of UK law that will be removed by subsection (2)(b).
Clause 4 does not adequately engage with failures to properly transpose EU law. An obligation should be placed on the Government to remedy incorrect and incomplete transposition. The powers to do so are contained in clause 7(2)(f), but there is a significant difference between a power to do something and a duty to use that power.
To summarise, amendment 57, in getting rid of clause 4 and replacing the linked new clause 19, seeks to rectify those errors. New clause 19 is simpler and more comprehensive than the existing clause 4. It would ensure that rights arising under EU directives are preserved and that a mechanism is in place after exit day to deal with problems arising from the incomplete or incorrect transposition of EU law before exit day.
If clause 4 is not amended, we could lose vital EU law provisions, including requirements to review and report on the adequacy and implementation of laws that are crucial to ensure the law is complied with and up to date. That includes the requirements contained in article 20 of the marine strategy framework directive, article 17 of the habitats directive and article 32 of the air quality directive. Without reported data under the latter, ClientEarth would not have been able to hold the Government to account through the courts on air pollution.
We will also lose obligations on the Government to report and send information to the European Commission, which is then able to aggregate it and use it for considering the appropriateness of laws and their implementation. On day 6 in Committee, I gave an example of how losing reporting requirements under article 10 of the birds directive could, for example, present a barrier to future investment in, and the roll-out of, marine renewable energy and other developments. The Government still have not said whether they intend these reporting requirements to disappear.
Without amendment, we will also see a loss of environmental standards and conditions. Some obligations on member states have not been transposed into UK law, such as article 9 of the water framework directive, which requires water pricing policies to provide adequate incentives for users to use water efficiently, or article 5 of the energy efficiency directive on energy performance requirements for publicly owned buildings. We have been promised a green Brexit, and we are told that leaving the EU will not threaten the health of people or nature, so why is there opposition to amending the Bill to make those promises legally binding?
Let me turn briefly to the other new clause tabled in my name. New clause 21 would ensure oversight of the transfer of functions from EU institutions to domestic institutions. It would do that by requiring the Government to establish a publicly accessible register of environmental governance functions and powers exercised by EU institutions and to make regulations that ensure that all relevant environmental powers and functions are continued. The register would allow the public to monitor and hold the Government to account on their plans for robust arrangements to be in place on exit day to deliver their ambition for a world-leading environmental justice system. The new clause also reflects strong public concern that the environmental governance gap that would arise on leaving the EU is filled as quickly as possible.
To conclude, I am simply saying that if the Government want the Bill to match their stated intentions, they need to accept these provisions.
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I agree with my right hon. Friend the Member for Wokingham (John Redwood) that in the end, because we are a sovereign Parliament, we are the only guarantor of our people’s rights. However, I am interested in what my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Beaconsfield (Mr Grieve) is saying about this matter, because the other danger that is lurking here is the fact that our courts may well decide that they have an obligation to maintain EU law even in the face of an Act of Parliament, and might strike down an Act of Parliament because, from reading the Bill, they see it as their obligation to retain certain principles of EU law. I like the declaration of incompatibility that my right hon. and learned Friend is suggesting as a very suitable compromise that enshrines what we have.
Thank you, Mr Speaker.
My hon. Friend makes a perfectly good point, which reinforces my impression that it is inadequate simply to say, “Because we are leaving we shall leave this to a later date.” I will return to that later.
We did actually, Mr Speaker, talk about this at some length in Committee. In Committee, as hon. Members may recall, I emphasised that one way out of this difficulty might be to move away from the charter and look at the general principles of EU law. We could allow them to continue to be invoked, in respect of retained EU law, which would include issues such as the laws which we have under the charter, until they were replaced. That seemed to me to be a stopgap. I emphasise that I put it forward as a stopgap—not as a long-term solution, but as a way of getting the Government off the hook of having to accept any part of the charter, because I know that one or two of my hon. Friends choke when they even mention that word. I have never shared that view—I think they should actually go and read the charter, because then they would realise it is rather a reasonable document. My suggestion provided a way forward, and my hon. and learned Friend the Solicitor General very kindly said that he would go away and give the matter some thought, the consequence of which was Government amendments 37 and 38.
I am sorry to start this Report stage with a bit of carping, because later I shall say some very nice things about the response of my hon. Friends on the Treasury Bench to some of the representations that I made to them in Committee. Some very good things indeed have been done, for which I am grateful—I will talk about those when we come to the right point—but I think that the response on this matter is, frankly, rather paltry. They have provided a mechanism by which for three months—the period in which it is possible to carry out judicial review—after the exit date it will be possible to invoke these rights, but not in a way that challenges any primary legislation. It is a minuscule change, but minuscule though it may be, it is actually a little wedge in the door, because it represents quite a major surrender or change of principle on the part of the Government towards this issue, and to that extent I am delighted to welcome it. Nevertheless, as I think the Solicitor General knows very well, the proposal is not what I was asking for. The problem is that although it starts to remedy the situation, it does not go anything like far enough, particularly when it is not linked to a wider statement from the Government about how they want to go ahead and deal with this.
I had to make a decision about whether to table a further amendment to put to the House on Report. Having rebelled—there is no other way to describe it— against the Government, because that was what I undoubtedly did on clause 9, and indeed incited some of my colleagues to join me in doing so, because I thought that clause 9 was so deficient, it is not my desire to cause further stir, in the harmonious atmosphere of early January, by doing that again if I can possibly avoid it. It crossed my mind that two things appeared to me to militate against doing it. The first is this.
I have to say to the Solicitor General that I do not think that the Bill will pass through the upper House without this issue being considered. It has nothing whatsoever to do with whether Brexit takes place; it has to do with the state of certainty of law in this country, which is a matter to which plenty in the other place are capable of applying their minds. I very much hope that when the Bill goes to the Lords, they will look at the amendment that the Government have tabled and understand its spirit—it is well-intentioned, so I must welcome it—but perhaps decide that it might be capable of a little bit of development. Or, indeed, they may apply their legal minds to this matter and come up with an alternative that does respect—I want to emphasise this—some of the reasons, which I understand, why the Government do not wish to entrench these laws after we have gone.
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As ever, it is a genuine privilege to follow the right hon. and learned Member for Beaconsfield (Mr Grieve), whose integrity and honesty have shone through every day we have been debating this Bill.
I will seek to live up to that expectation, Mr Speaker; I do not intend to speak for long.
Amendment 4 addresses one of the six key tests that we set out for the Bill before we could support it. Those tests were not set out simply on Second Reading or in Committee, but 10 months ago, when the White Paper outlining the Government’s approach was first published.
The tests drew support across the House, but sadly the Government have made no significant concessions. In Committee, a meaningful vote for Parliament on the final deal was secured, of course—but against the wishes of the Government and only by decision of the House. Our five amendments at this stage address those other tests: facilitating a transitional period; protecting the devolution settlement; protecting workers’ rights; reining in the Henry VIII powers; and, in amendment 4, retaining the EU charter of fundamental rights in UK law.
The objective of amendment 4, which would retain charter rights in UK law and afford them the same level of protection as those in the Human Rights Act, has wide support on both sides of the House. It is part of a sensible and responsible approach to Brexit that respects the referendum decision but does not sacrifice jobs and the economy or rights and protections on the altar of ideology. It is a sensible approach for which I believe there is a majority across the House—one that goes well beyond those who voted for amendment 7 in Committee. It is also a consensus that I think is reflected in the other place, from which I suspect we might see the Bill return with some improvements, as the right hon. and learned Member for Beaconsfield indicated.
The Opposition support amendments 42 and 43, which would enable UK courts to continue to refer matters to the Court of Justice and to consider CJEU decision to be persuasive. As well as amendment 55, we also support new clause 13, amendments 40 and 41, on clarifying the status of retained law, and new clause 16 on enshrining equality rights, which stands in the name of my hon. Friend the Member for Enfield, Southgate (Bambos Charalambous). We also support new clause 7 on animal sentience and new clause 9 on the acquired rights of Anguillans—an indication of the enormous complexity and range of the issues we face with Brexit. We accept that Government amendments 37 and 38 improve the Bill, but we fear that they do not go anywhere near far enough on legal challenges based on the general principles of EU law, which is why we prefer and support amendment 57, which was moved so ably by my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol East (Kerry McCarthy).
Amendment 4 addresses the concerns we raised in Committee around the charter of fundamental rights and provides an opportunity for the Government to think again. Human rights should not be a dividing line between parties in this House, so even at this stage we hope that the Government, either here or in the Lords, might accept our approach in the amendment and perhaps even accept the amendment today and avoid the vote that we will otherwise be seeking. As we said in Committee, the charter has been critical in developing, strengthening and modernising human rights in the UK. To abandon it risks reducing protections for UK citizens and leaving a gaping hole in our statute book.
The Government claim that the Bill is about legal continuity and certainty in what will become the new category of EU retained law, but all of that EU law is interpreted through the charter, so excluding it would leave our legal system inconsistent and incoherent. To avoid defeat on this issue in Committee the former Justice Minister, the hon. Member for Esher and Walton (Dominic Raab), committed to publishing a memorandum that he claimed would confirm the Government’s case that the charter was unnecessary by identifying where all of these rights could be found in EU retained law or existing domestic law.
Obviously that argument overlooked the main point of the charter, which was to bring all of these rights together in one codifying document, but as an Opposition we were willing to be helpful and awaited the memorandum with interest. We wanted to see a comprehensive document that identified not only the source of each right in the charter but—crucially—how the existing level of effective recourse would be guaranteed. The memorandum was published on 5 December, and it acknowledged that the Government envisaged all these rights being scattered back to their original sources. They are removing the material source of the rights, in the form of the charter, and leaving citizens with the formal source. Now that is a legal way of describing the problem, but I am not a lawyer. It means in effect that it will become more difficult for any UK citizen to assert their rights post-Brexit.
In their defence, the Government insisted that nothing would be lost if we dropped the charter because it created no new rights.
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I congratulate the hon. Member for Fareham (Suella Fernandes) on her appointment, but I am very much looking forward to her speech, which will perhaps wind up one of the sections of this debate, because Parliament will want to scrutinise her views, past and present. I will conclude with that because I have taken up more than half an hour and other Members will want to contribute.
I rise to discuss amendment 7, which is in my name and those of my hon. Friends and other Members and relates to the charter of fundamental rights, and amendments 42 and 43, which are in my name, and to give support to amendment 55, which was tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Cumbernauld, Kilsyth and Kirkintilloch East (Stuart C. McDonald), who will be addressing it in due course. The amendments raise issues relating to the protection of fundamental rights, about which we have already had quite a degree of discussion today, and to the justiciability of those rights and their legal certainty in this country and its jurisdictions after Brexit. The amendments tabled by the Scottish National party have the support of the Law Society of Scotland, and those that relate to the charter have widespread support, including from the Equality and Human Rights Commission. I am also interested in the wording of amendment 4, which was tabled by the official Opposition, and if I do not press my amendment, they can count on the SNP’s support should they press amendment 4 to a vote.
The questions raised by the amendments have all yet to be answered adequately by the Government. As the right hon. and learned Member for Beaconsfield (Mr Grieve) alluded to earlier in his erudite contribution, the Government’s approach to the detailed and widely held concerns about aspects of the Bill tends to be rather dismissive or deals with them airily and in generalities. At this stage, before the Bill goes to the other place, which is unaccountable and undemocratically elected, it is incumbent on the Government to address the questions about clauses 5 and 6 that were directed to them in Committee, rather than to continue to deal in the generalities that they have used so far.
The hon. Member for Hove (Peter Kyle), who is no longer in his place, made a valid point earlier. When we hear constant reassurances from Government Members that this Parliament could not possibly do anything to contravene fundamental rights, we do not need to look back very far into our history, or into the lifetimes of many in this House, to see a prolonged period when the rights of gay people were denigrated by a Conservative Government through the use of section 28.
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After all, this Bill should not be that difficult or divisive. To remind everyone, what it does is to keep all the European laws that we currently have as they are, so that there is legal certainty. As someone who believes that Brexit will be very positive and good for this country, I wish us to go on and make major changes to our fishing laws, our farming financial system and our VAT system, which we are not allowed to do under European law—we are not allowed to take VAT off things that should not be charged VAT, for example. There are quite a few positive changes I want made to our law codes. We can do so once we have taken back control. On this Bill, however, everyone should be reassured because all the things they love about European law are simply being rolled over into British law.
I rise to speak to new clause 7, which is in my name and is supported by Opposition Members. I hope to push it to a vote. The new clause would transfer article 13 of the Lisbon treaty into UK law, so that the obligation on the Government and devolved Administrations to pay due regard to the welfare requirements of animals as sentient beings when formulating law and policy is not lost when the UK leaves the EU.
You will be glad to hear that I can be brief, Mr Speaker, because there is no need to set out again the case for transferring this obligation under EU law into domestic law. In Committee, the then Justice Minister, the hon. Member for Esher and Walton (Dominic Raab), rejected my similar new clause and, I would suggest, inadvertently misspoke in the House in the process by stating that the sentience obligation
“is already recognised as a matter of domestic law, primarily in the Animal Welfare Act 2006.”—[Official Report, 15 November 2017; Vol. 631, c. 499.]
That was simply incorrect, and there can be no disagreement about that because the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs has since published a new draft Bill providing for the transfer into UK law of the obligation on animal sentience set out in article 13.
The Government therefore accept that they need to do what my new clause provides for, and the simplest thing would be for the Minister to accept it or, if the specific wording is considered deficient in some way, for him to bring forward a revised version as a Government amendment. As this has not yet happened—I will gladly give way to the Minister if he wants to say that the Government will accept the new clause—I can only assume he will say that the Bill is not the right legislative vehicle for the new clause: in other words, that a Bill to transfer the body of EU law into UK law is not the right legislative vehicle to transfer an important piece of EU law into UK law. To me, at least, that does not make sense.
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I rise to support the speeches made by my right hon. and learned Friends the Members for Beaconsfield (Mr Grieve) and for Rushcliffe (Mr Clarke). The idea that three months is sufficient protection in terms of somebody launching a legal action, while a welcome concession from the Government, does not go far enough. I urge the Government to listen to the proposal to retain the Francovich right throughout the transition period or implementation period—however it is described.
I also support the points made on the charter of fundamental rights. When the charter was brought into effect, it said that it codified existing rights—rights that UK citizens already had. I know that the Under-Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union, my hon. Friend the Member for Fareham (Suella Fernandes), takes a different view. I do not really care which view is right; the fact is that we have moved on as a society, and these protections have now become important in UK law. I would very much urge the Government to consider that when approaching this matter in the Lords.
Finally, it is eminently sensible that the Government look at new clause 13, which will not be moved to a vote today. It provides a very good mechanism for distinguishing between primary and secondary legislation in terms of the appropriate protections that will apply to UK citizens. I do not want my constituents to be in a worse position in a few years’ time than they are in now when it comes to their rights, so I urge the Government to listen to the debate today—I know they have their listening ear on.
Thank you, Mr Speaker. I want to speak briefly to amendments 55 and 56 and to probe one simple issue: in short, what happens if there is a failure to correct a deficiency in EU law, so that it cannot operate effectively after exit, and how can we maximise the chances that such a thing does not happen?
We have had plenty of debate on how we can restrict Government powers to correct deficiencies so that such powers cannot be used to undermine the incorporation of EU rules and so that we do not end up with some sort of watered-down or dysfunctional version of the original. However, perhaps the more realistic possibility, and just as much of a danger, is that we end up with a watered-down or dysfunctional version of EU rules not because of the inappropriate use of those powers of correction, but because of a failure to use them at all in appropriate circumstances, either by accident or design, or if various incorporated rules and regulations are simply allowed to fester away uncorrected and unable to operate effectively. So, I asked at Committee stage, “What happens if there is a citizen before a court in this country, seeking to establish rights under retained EU law when that retained EU law is actually riddled with deficiencies? Is the court supposed to try and make that work? Does the person simply lose their ability to exercise that right?”
My amendment 55 simply requires the court to interpret retained EU law—as far as possible—in such a way as to make it function effectively, borrowing shamelessly from the language of the Human Rights Act. I fully acknowledge that that in itself would not take us very far, but it is there to prompt a response from the Government. What should the court do in those circumstances? There are alternative courses of action that this Parliament could take, not just in amending clause 6 but in other parts of the Bill. We could expressly require EU law to be interpreted so as to be given effect “as if the UK were still a member state”, with further provisions about how that should be done. We could put in place a procedure to allow courts to flag up rules that they have found cannot operate effectively. We could put Ministers under an obligation or a duty to ensure that retained EU laws operate effectively; indeed, amendment 57 and new clause 19 are of that nature. Alternatively, as amendment 56 suggests, we could simply require the Government to publish a list of all the deficiencies they found in retained EU law that they are not seeking directly to rectify.
In short, the task of ensuring that we have a functioning rule book or statute book on exit day is twofold. Parliament must protect important rights, not only by preventing inappropriate use of Henry VIII powers, but by providing a means of ensuring that deficiencies are rectified where necessary, either by the Government, or by Parliament or by our courts, and I still think we have a long way to go in that regard.
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I thank the Minister for praising me as a shining example on animal welfare, but that does not quite make up for my disappointment that he has failed to address the issues in my amendments. I therefore seek to press amendment 57 to a vote.
Debate interrupted (Programme Order, this day).
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I beg to move amendment 49, page 17, line 13, leave out “appropriate” and insert “necessary”.
This amendment would ensure that Ministers can only bring forward regulations when it is necessary to do so.
The amendments I have tabled go to the heart of concerns that many Members have about the wide powers afforded to the Executive by clause 9, schedule 2 and other parts of the Bill in relation to secondary legislation. The purpose of my amendments is to ensure that Ministers can only bring forward regulations under clause 7 and the like when it is “necessary” to do so, rather than when it is “appropriate”. The word “appropriate” is too wide.
These issues were discussed in Committee, but—surprise, surprise—it was very difficult to get a straight answer from Ministers about why they were so wedded to the word “appropriate” and were not interested in changing it to the word “necessary”, as supported by many organisations including Justice and the Law Society of Scotland. The change would also reflect judicial concerns about the breadth of discretion that the judiciary would be given if they had to determine whether something was “appropriate” rather than “necessary”. This will be subject to judicial review because we are talking about secondary legislation. I tried in vain in Committee to get the Minister to say what was meant by “appropriate”. He referred me to the dictionary definition, but that is simply not good enough.
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Did the hon. Gentleman watch the programme? The entire session was about Brexit. Andrew Marr asked the First Minister about independence—she was asked by someone else. You have just spent about five minutes talking about it, but suddenly it is the SNP banging on about it.
I was not talking about the questions asked but about the answer given. That is the broken record. The First Minister has always had the opportunity to accept the result of 2014. She never has and she never will. That is why independence transcends everything else for the SNP. It does not speak in the national interest, but only ever in the nationalist interest.
To conclude, powers will come back from Europe and will be exercised directly in Scotland by the Scottish Parliament and Scottish Government Ministers. I know that the Scottish Government do not have a great track record when it comes to managing things in Scotland, so I understand their trepidation about any other powers going to the First Minister. That is no doubt why they want to keep all those powers in Brussels.
At least those of us on the Government side actually want devolution—not the kind of crazy centralisation that we have seen from the SNP. That is the hallmark of its Government and of the party here. That is why on this side we will stand up for Scotland and deliver for Scotland.
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As usual, my hon. Friend makes a very good point.
I want to make it clear that the points I make about the House of Lords have no bearing on its Members’ personal characteristics. Rather, I am referring to the anti-democratic situation in which we find ourselves. I presume that we are now in a situation in which a Scotland Office Minister, appointed after losing an election, will debate these matters with Lords who are there by accident of birth or as a result of political patronage, and that this will happen after Third Reading. That is absolutely shameful. It should shame everyone involved. “Bring back democracy”, Vote Leave supporters cried. “Return our independence”, they cried. They also cried, “Bring back our blue passports”, even though they could have had those all along. After this, we can even have commemorative stamps. Does no one see the irony for democracy? I know that the Speaker wants me to make some progress on this—
I will. I know that the Minister wants to respond and pick up on some of the points that have been raised, but as I represent the governing party of Scotland, I would also like to make some points on where we are with this—
I should like to thank the Speaker for his guidance on that—
Thank you, Mr Speaker.
Let me make these points. What accountability is there on the promises that were made during the EU referendum? The Secretary of State for Scotland told us that we would have a “powers bonanza”, but there has been nothing. The Environment Secretary said that we would get powers over immigration, but there has been no accountability over that. The Foreign Secretary said that there would be £350 million for the NHS, and quite remarkably, he doubled down on that last night. No shame whatever. Is it any wonder that the latest NatCen survey shows that, rather than 59% of people in Scotland thinking that the Government are handling this badly, the figure has shot up to 67%? The hon. Member for Stirling (Stephen Kerr) mentioned this earlier.
Let us compare that to the attitude of the Scottish Government on this. The amendments that have gone down have been drafted by their working with colleagues from across this House and across the Administrations. We published our amendments in due time. Even yesterday, the Scottish Government used the economists that they have at their disposal to publish—not keep secret—their analysis of Scotland’s place in Europe. It showed an 8.5% loss in GDP, equating to £2,500 for every person in Scotland, through losing the value of EU nationals. Leaving the single market will be devastating. On this, I make a gentle point to our Labour colleagues, many of whom have stuck out their neck on the single market. This Government are on the ropes and we could have a majority that could achieve a sensible outcome. I urge my colleagues on the Labour Benches to reconsider some of their options on this. We can stay in the single market.
In conclusion, compromises can be reached but we must see the amendments. All of this is happening even though we were told that the only way to stay in the EU was to vote no. Two thousand years ago, the first Scot in recorded history, Calgacus, was said to have told his followers about the Romans:
“They are the only people on earth to covet wealth and poverty with equal craving. They plunder, they butcher, they ravish, and call it by the…name of ‘empire’.”
As we leave the European Union, we have nothing on clause 11, nothing on the rights of EU citizens, nothing about what will happen to our trade, and nothing on the opportunities for young people. That leads me to conclude that the only plan that the Brexiteers have is to create a desert and call it Brexit.
European Union (Withdrawal) Bill DebateFull Debate: Read Full Debate
John BercowMain Page: John Bercow (Speaker) - Buckingham)
Question again proposed, That the amendment be made.
This is a necessary Bill; 52% of the population voted to leave the EU, and each of us who have been voted here by our communities to represent them in this debate need to respect democracy, which is why we need to get on with the job of ensuring a smooth exit from the EU. This Bill is a necessary part of that overall process. For the Labour party to vote against the Bill at this early stage—[Interruption.]
The Labour party voting against this Bill at such an early stage could easily be seen as a blatant attempt to frustrate the Brexit process. I urge its right hon. and hon. Members to consider their position on that. I listened carefully to the hours of debate on Thursday, and I have yet to hear a single Opposition Member say that this measure is unnecessary; if it is not unnecessary, they should vote for it. There are strong arguments to say that this Bill needs amending, but none that says that it is unnecessary. I shall vote for the Bill on Second Reading, but it is clear that a number of issues need to be addressed during Committee.
The Secretary of State made very compelling arguments in his opening address on Thursday, and from what he said, his intention is crystal clear: he wants this Bill to deliver maximum certainty. He was also clear about his openness to hearing of improvements and making changes to achieve them. I can understand his clear frustration that the Opposition’s concerns have not been coupled with specific solutions. I hope that he and the Minister on the Front Bench today can, in their summing up, respond to the specific recommendations that the Women and Equalities Committee made seven months ago to the Government on how to handle the charter of fundamental rights. My Committee is still awaiting a response from Ministers to that report.
The Select Committee did a detailed analysis of how to make sure that, when it comes to equality laws, the same rules apply after exit as do today; that is exactly what the Secretary of State has said that he wants to do. When it comes to equality laws, we need certainty. We need not only to transpose the laws, but to acknowledge the effect and the impact of EU institutions and the framework currently provided by the charter of fundamental rights. People voted last June to take back control of our laws and how they are interpreted, and for the UK Parliament and the UK courts to be the final arbiter, but they did not vote for a diminution of their rights.
It may not be possible or even desirable to preserve the charter of fundamental rights, and that we should retain the charter is certainly not the case that I am making, as it is so clearly dependent on EU law and institutions. I am saying that we need to ensure that its effect is captured; otherwise the backstop on equality rights would be removed, and that would not be the status quo that the Secretary of State is demanding.
There are many examples that I could use to demonstrate the importance of protecting this absolute right, and if I had more time, I would talk about its importance to pregnant workers. If we do not have a clear statement in the Bill on what basis exactly the courts and the law will be on, we need to ensure that we know on what basis the Supreme Court will be able to stop future Acts of Parliament from reducing individuals’ equality rights that are protected under the Equality Act 2010.
In effect, the current structures act as a free-standing right that cannot be overridden by domestic legislation. I am arguing not for the retention of the EU Court of Justice’s role, but for an acknowledgement that the removal of its jurisdiction needs to be addressed. The Women and Equalities Committee has put forward three recommendations, which could be easily accommodated in the Bill: first, that a clause be added to the Bill that explicitly commits us to maintaining current levels of equality protection when EU law is transposed into UK law; secondly, that the Government commit to an amendment to the Equality Act, mirroring provisions in the Human Rights Act, to make it clear that public authorities must act in a way that does not contravene the Equality Act; and last but by no means least, that when presenting a new Bill to Parliament, Ministers must make a declaration of compatibility with the Equality Act in exactly the way that they do for the Human Rights Act; that would give the courts a clear direction about the importance of safeguarding equality rights.
In summary, it is imperative that the Bill be given a Second Reading tonight to allow those important changes to progress. It is regrettable that some of the matters being debated, particularly those raised in Select Committee reports, have not been addressed before now. I am simply holding the Government to their own intent of ensuring that
“the same rules…apply after exit”
as do today. I am absolutely sure that this Government, under the leadership of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, have only the intention of safeguarding and strengthening equality rights, and particularly workers’ rights. As a nation, we have a proud track record on equality—it is part of our DNA—but to keep the status quo, as the Secretary of State says he wishes to, we need to indelibly embed equality in our approach to law, and in the interpretation of that law by the courts.
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Ah, there we go! I give way.
The hon. Gentleman has mentioned several times now that this Bill represents a power grab; that is the new in-fashion statement from the Scottish National party. Can the hon. Gentleman name one power that the UK Government will grab back from Holyrood?
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I am so sorry, but I will not give way.
That body would provide the necessary oversight that Members on both sides of the House, but particularly Opposition Members, are looking for to try to ensure that the right checks and balances are in place—as my right hon. Friend the Member for Chingford and Woodford Green (Mr Duncan Smith) mentioned—and we have the right use of statutory instruments—
I will vote against the Bill tonight, for the slightly quaint reason that that is what I told my constituents I would do back in June —that is partly why I have been sent here—and for other reasons, some of which we have heard from Members on both sides of the House. The hon. Member for Gloucester (Richard Graham) mentioned the House of Lords Constitution Committee. Coming from Cambridge, I had the privilege on Friday of spending an hour talking to the highly respected Professor Mark Elliott, who advises that Committee. He said:
“The fact that the central aim of the Bill—that is preserving EU law post exit—is a necessary one does not place the Bill beyond criticism.”
He went on:
“The Bill in its present form is profoundly problematic in legal and constitutional terms. It is an affront to parliamentary sovereignty. It eviscerates the separation of powers principle and it risks destabilising the UK’s increasingly fragile territorial constitution.”
He says an “affront to parliamentary sovereignty”, but what does he know? He is just the leading expert on the issue.
I will also vote against the Bill for another reason, which has not been stated loudly enough in this debate, except by my right hon. Friend the Member for Tottenham (Mr Lammy). It is increasingly said in parts of the country that we should not withdraw from the European Union at all, because it is not in our national interest to do so. I fully understand that opprobrium will probably be heaped on me for saying that, but, actually, I am only stating the obvious. As the farcical non-negotiations continue to fail to proceed, it is clearer and clearer that the most likely outcome is a last-minute fudge that will satisfy no one. It is also clear that, at the end, the choices open to us must include the possibility that all the alternatives on offer are worse than staying in, and that is putting it at its most negative. We should negotiate on the key issue that we all know is at the heart of this, which is migration, and securing the changes that would satisfy the concerns of many who voted leave, without doing the undoubted economic damage that we risk by continuing on this path.
To those who say that the decision was made more than a year ago, I say that the world has changed. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Derby South (Margaret Beckett) and my hon. Friend the Member for Ynys Môn (Albert Owen) so powerfully said, we have all been through a general election. The Prime Minister went to the country, demanding a mandate, and we know what happened—she did not get it.
The wider world has changed as well. A year ago, it could have been plausibly argued that we could negotiate reliable, mutually beneficial trade deals with the United States in a way that now seems wholly unlikely when that country is governed by such an unpredictable and difficult President. In the rest of the world, we see China becoming more authoritarian, Russia hardly more helpful and North Korea a real threat. In a world that seems so increasingly volatile, whom should we look to in times of need? Our wisest option would be our European neighbours, who increasingly look like the most sensible major players. What a foolish path to be embarking on in such dangerous times.
I will not support the Bill, but I would like to make one comment about one of the more detailed provisions that profoundly concerns me. On Thursday, my right hon. Friend the Member for East Ham (Stephen Timms) explained very eloquently the danger of leaving the charter of fundamental rights. In particular, he mentioned the consequences of not including the clause relating to the protection of personal data. As he rightly said, there is a danger that we will struggle to achieve a data adequacy agreement, which in turn would have severe consequences for UK businesses and data users. The hon. Member for Chelmsford (Vicky Ford), speaking from the Government Benches, made a similar point this afternoon. But it goes further than that, because securing an adequacy agreement depends not just on the ability to use article 8, but on the perception on the part of our neighbours that the UK is not prepared to diminish data privacy, because in the end this will be a political decision, and it will give others the opportunity to say that we are weakening our position, making it easier for them to deny us that vital adequacy agreement.
That is one of the many detailed points that could be made. I fear that we are in danger of sleepwalking into a calamity. Our task as Members of this Parliament is to look into our consciences and reflect on the best way forward for our country. I suspect that there are many in this Chamber who will vote for the Bill tonight who know in their heart of hearts that we are on the wrong path. Let us try and find a way back.
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Question again proposed, That the amendment be made.
I would, very briefly, like to conclude. Thank you very much, Mr Speaker. The pause, if anything, has given me new breath and I shall seek to expend it.
I was saying that the Government have introduced the Bill with the words, “Trust us, we’ll put it right.” Nowhere has the Bill been more eruditely or expertly criticised than on their own Benches by the right hon. and learned Member for Beaconsfield (Mr Grieve), who unfortunately is not here for these latter stages. He has exposed it as being a shoddy Bill that should never have been brought forward.
We say very clearly to the Government tonight that, as far as the negotiation goes, a transitional arrangement is vital. Soft terms are equally important for our manufacturers, traders and financial companies—everybody on whose livelihood the wellbeing of this country depends. If we go for the mess the Government are currently promising us, I regret to say that we will have a very hard Brexit and the citizens of the whole country will take a very hard economic knock to their wellbeing. I want to avoid that, so I say take the Bill away. Bring back a corrected Bill that is decently presented and does not try to wrench power away from Parliament for ends that we cannot yet even specify. Bring it back in a shape fit enough that we could be justified in voting for it.
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On a point of order, Mr Speaker.
I merely ask for guidance on the relevance of the hon. Gentleman’s speech on greenbelt and the Scottish Government to the topic of debate.
Thank you, Mr Speaker.
Many of my constituents in Dunblane and Bridge of Allan are rightly angry at this power grab by the SNP. That is one of many such examples.
I have no hesitation in telling the Government, whom I am proud to support, that I want them to get on with Brexit. It will bring opportunities, and we must make the best of them. I want to get on with those free-trade deals across the world. We already know that customers globally have an insatiable appetite for Scottish food and drink, including Scottish salmon, and since Stirling is now the UK’s centre of excellence and innovation in salmon, and finfish aquaculture in general, I declare a vested interest. Those in the House who gleefully seize on every statement by EU negotiators, at the supposed expense of Her Majesty’s Ministers, should consider how their antics appear to the voting public. We must work together across parties to get the best deal for the British people, and I have the utmost faith and confidence in my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union and his ministerial team to do just that. We must be, among ourselves, united.
The Bill represents the best kind of pragmatism, for which this country is rightly renowned around the world. It will efficiently allow us to leave the European Union, it will allow our devolved Administrations to make more decisions about the lives and livelihoods of the people whom they serve, and it will allow us to have a statute book that functions on the day we leave the European Union. I celebrate its British pragmatism.
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No, I am not giving way again; I have given way three times, and many Members want to speak in this debate.
Let me summarise by saying this: the Bill is shoddy, and undermines the parliamentary democracy that it was meant to enhance. It is not worthy of support, and I urge colleagues not to support it tonight.
It is an honour to contribute to this historic debate, and to follow the hon. Member for Torfaen (Nick Thomas-Symonds), who made an impassioned contribution.
I would like to start with a sober analysis of what the Bill is really about. It is about an overall approach. It is essential for a smooth and orderly exit from the European Union and provides the continuity that is needed for businesses and individuals alike. It is badly named, too—in the early stages of its progress it was called a repeal Bill, and the press call it that, but is much better seen as a continuity Bill. It is more notable for what it does not do than for what it does.
I suggest that it is incumbent on those who propose to vote against the Bill—rather than those who feel that it needs amending—to say what they would do instead to transfer EU law into British law. We have heard nothing from Labour Members about how they would achieve that. There are, of course, options. We could in theory simply ignore EU law, but that would lead to chaos, and I am sure no hon. Member would want that. Or we could vote on every measure that we need to transpose from EU to British law. But as we have heard, if we spoke 24/7 on such matters from this day onward, we would need 200 days of parliamentary time. That is not a practical option. That is why we need the Bill.
This is a necessary Bill that will perform the sensible task of providing continuity by moving the acquis of EU law into British law on the date of leaving. Essentially, it will turn off the tap on further EU regulations, but will not pull the plug and drain away any of the existing regulations.
We need some sober analysis of the Bill’s purpose, because it is not intended to give the Government sweeping new powers. It will not give the Government powers to pick and choose which regulations to keep or dispose of. That will be a matter for this sovereign Parliament in the years that follow. The Bill simply seeks to change, on a technical basis, references to EU bodies that will no longer be relevant into references to the relevant British bodies. As the Secretary of State said, it is not for Ministers to change laws because they do not like them. The Bill is also—this is a crucial point—strictly limited by the sunset clause to two years after the exit date.
We have heard about scrutiny, and parliamentary scrutiny is essential. The Government have said that all substantive policy changes will be strictly the preserve of the Bills to follow on trade, agriculture and immigration. As we all know, statutory instruments have been used for many years to deal with less contentious regulations. They are a parliamentary procedure. Members will be able to pray against them, and it is not true to say that that will bypass Parliament. Every regulation will be subject to parliamentary procedure, particularly in cases where the affirmative procedure is used.
The Secretary of State has made it clear, and I welcome this approach, that when constructive suggestions are made on drafting and scrutiny, the Government will listen, but the appropriate time for such observations is in Committee. None of those points, many of which have been very constructive, are any reason to vote against the Bill tonight. That would lead to chaos and induce exactly the hard Brexit that so many Opposition Members have mentioned.
This is an important Bill and I urge the House to support it. We will look at constructive suggestions in Committee, but now is not the time.
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I have not got time for the hon. Gentleman’s intervention, so he should sit down. On this side of the House, we have been trying to outdo each other in describing this Bill. I would describe it as a “Hammer House of Horror” Bill: it gifts unprecedented power to this Executive, drives a coach and horses through the devolution settlement and presents a profound threat to our human rights. It is hard, if not impossible, to conceive of a Bill that more undermines this “taking back control” mantra of all those who parroted it ad nauseam when they were talking about leaving the European Union.
I would not vote for this Bill in a month of Sundays. The UK is engaged in an almost unprecedented exercise of national self-harm with this whole Brexit project. We are indulging in a grotesque episode of economic, political and cultural self-flagellation and, by God, we are determined to give ourselves a damn good thrashing! We are opting for the hardest of hard Brexits, reaching for the most painful implement in the box, and the scars and pain will be there for decades to come.
Turning to the negotiations, I will put my cards on the table when it comes to these tricky conversations. I will try to lay them down as delicately and sensitively as I can. Never before has an enterprise of such political significance been prosecuted with such delusional cluelessness, which is approaching a national embarrassment. It is hard to think of any major international negotiations being handled so ineptly and chaotically; it is almost as if we have put the clowns in charge of the Brexit circus and their huge clown footprints are all over all of this. We are becoming a national embarrassment with our negotiations, and this Government have to start to get real and drop their delusions. This repeal Bill is only throwing salt on the wounds.
What interests me more than anything else about this is what the Bill tells us about how Scotland is now perceived in this union of nations. Today, we celebrate 20 years of the vote that delivered the Scottish Parliament: 20 years of really taking back control—Members may wish to see it like that. This Bill presents the biggest challenge that our Parliament has ever had to confront, as it undermines the very foundation and ethos of the development of our national Parliament: if something is not listed in the reserved powers, it is devolved. That approach was designed elegantly by Donald Dewar as a means to determine and shape our national Parliament, and it has served us so well since then. This Bill drives a coach and horses through that. Indeed, it is worse than that, as the Law Society of Scotland tells us:
“The effect of the Bill would be to remove the legislative competence of the Scottish Parliament in relation to any matter in retained EU law. This would be the case even if it related to areas of law not reserved to the UK under the Scotland Act, such as agriculture or fisheries.”
Then we must consider the Henry VIII power, an innovation so spectacular in its political audaciousness that one of Henry’s executioners would baulk at the whole experience. We have our own powers, which I refer to as the Robert the Bruce powers. We are actually compelled to exercise them as part of this Bill, even though we might have fundamental concerns in respect of democratic oversight. We are sailing towards the big Brexit iceberg, but Scotland has an opportunity. We can get down below decks, get on that lifeboat labelled “Scotland”, get out on to the ocean and row as quickly as we can to the shores of sanity.
First, let me make it clear that people in my constituency voted leave in the referendum, but they did not vote to risk the regulations and protections that they have to safeguard them. I want to talk about not clauses and regulations, but practicalities. My constituency has suffered serious problems arising from two landfill sites. Last year, we had three months of—not to put too fine a point on it—stench from one of the sites. The year before, we had a serious litter escape that blighted the local rural landscape.
The House will not be surprised to hear that many of us want greater environmental controls, not only on landfill sites, but to protect our rivers, air and natural environment. My constituents are worried about and want to retain all the employment and health and safety rights that they have under European regulations. It is crucial that Members of this House have the opportunity to examine the process of bringing those regulations into domestic legislation and how they are to be carried forward. In its reliance on secondary legislation, the Bill takes away the House’s ability—the ability of all us Members—to ensure that existing protections remain. I want to make sure that not only environmental but other protections from European legislation remain; if they will not, I want to be able to raise those issues with the Government and in the Chamber.
Government statements have said that they are going to transfer all regulations—everything is going to be okay, and it is all going to be incorporated into UK law—but as more than one Member has said today, the devil is in the detail. It is that detail that we need the opportunity to deal with. To use another well-known phrase, fine words butter no parsnips. The Government have come forward with fine words, but we need them to come forward with practical mechanisms to allow the proper scrutiny of regulations in this House, and they must do so.
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I thank the hon. Gentleman for giving way. Will you tell the House what powers will be taken away from Scotland with this Bill? Will you detail the powers that we are taking away—
I find it incredible—Members on the Government Benches have had the answer to this question on three occasions. The point is that there is an opportunity in this place, in this month, in this debate to transfer powers from Brussels to Holyrood, and it is not being taken. Government Members invite us to trust them, but I fear that we cannot do so; if we could, they would have made clear their intention in the Bill. That is one reason why I will vote to decline giving this Bill a Second Reading tonight.
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It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for East Antrim (Sammy Wilson). It was interesting to hear him say that he does not wish to give the Government carte blanche; I think he omitted the phrase, “Unless they give us £1 billion.”
My constituents voted overwhelmingly to remain in the European Union, and I have been clear in my commitment to continue to speak up for their views. In Dulwich and West Norwood, we are deeply concerned about the impact of Brexit on the economy, on our public services, on our rights and protections at work, on our justice system, on our environment, and on our local communities. We are concerned about the practical impact of Brexit on the number of nurses in our NHS, on the number of construction workers building the homes we so desperately need, and on rising inflation as a consequence of the fall in the value of the pound. We are also concerned about the impact of Brexit on our British values of tolerance, diversity and internationalism.
Over the past year, this Government have done nothing at all to reach out to the 48% of voters who voted to remain—nothing to reassure us that our legitimate concerns are being listened to and will be addressed. The Prime Minister sought to strengthen her mandate to implement Brexit on her terms at the general election, but her mandate was weakened. If one thing is absolutely clear from the general election result, it is that the Government absolutely do not have a mandate to implement Brexit on any terms. They do not have a mandate to implement a harmful Brexit. They do not have a mandate to be dishonest with the British people about the impact that Brexit will have, or to skirt over the detail of important constitutional change, yet the Government persist in running scared of parliamentary scrutiny, and have responded to criticism and the clear feedback of the UK electorate not by engaging, reaching out and reassuring, but by closing down debate. The Bill as drafted would put huge and unaccountable power into the hands of Government Ministers and put crucial rights and protections at risk. It is nothing less than a power grab for Tory Ministers, and it fundamentally undermines parliamentary democracy.
The single biggest commitment made by the leave campaign was to spend an additional £350 million a week on our NHS. There is no sign whatsoever that the Government are even close to being able to fulfil this commitment. The longer the negotiations progress, the less confidence many people will have that the Government are capable of negotiating a Brexit deal that will protect our national interests. Yet in the EU withdrawal Bill, this minority Conservative Government are seeking permission to implement Brexit on any terms, at any cost, and that is simply not acceptable.
The article 50 process has already eroded Parliament’s role in relation to the Brexit negotiations, denying a meaningful vote on the Government’s proposed final deal, and we are now being asked to surrender control over the future direction of legislation that derives from the EU. This EU withdrawal Bill is designed to set a baseline of legislation for erosion and dismantling, with no mechanism for keeping pace with future developments in EU law, rather than a foundation for further development and a strengthening of rights and protections. The Government cannot expect the British people to have confidence that they will still be able to rely on the protections and regulations we currently receive from the EU when the EU withdrawal Bill, as currently drafted, would give the Government the power to vary regulations at will.
The promises made by the leave campaign and the Government in relation to Brexit are fast proving to be the emperor’s new clothes, and I, for one, am not afraid to say that I cannot see them. My constituents did not vote for Brexit, and they certainly do not accept it on any terms. The Brexit negotiations must take place in an open and transparent way, and they must be accountable to Parliament. If, as I suspect, these promises cannot be delivered by Brexit, we must have the opportunity to reject the Government’s deal and go back to the drawing board. I urge Members across the House, whether they are in favour of Brexit or not, to reject this Bill because it places too much power in the hands of too few Ministers, it compromises the sovereignty of Parliament, and, in doing so, it works—
“We will scrap the Conservatives’…White Paper and replace it with fresh negotiating priorities that have a strong emphasis on…the Single Market”
and putting “the economy first”. That was the manifesto on which Labour Members stood only a few months ago. We said that we would scrap this Bill and send it back. I beg Labour colleagues who are thinking about voting with the Government to consider that they stood, only a few months ago, on scrapping the White Paper, and I urge them to stand by the manifesto they stood for.
Some Conservative Members would, like ostriches, like to shove their heads into the sand—they want Brexit on any terms—but they are a minority. I believe that the majority of Conservative Members genuinely want a decent Bill that will aid the transition between our being in the European Union and being out of it.
I am a remainer. Just like most of my constituents, I would love to remain in the European Union—we will make that case—but I am also a democrat. However, being a democrat is not about just handing all powers to the Executive; it is about holding them to account each step of the way.
I have listened to lots of the arguments from Members on both sides of the House about how the Bill could be improved. There is a strategy—a legitimate strategy—of saying, “Let us pass it tonight and amend it in Committee.” However, I think that that is incorrect, because the flaws in the Bill are so huge and fundamental that if we followed that strategy, we would be fiddling with the deckchairs on a sinking ship. Unfortunately, what we must do is to send this Bill back.
I will outline a few areas in which the Bill fundamentally fails to live up to decent democratic principles and restricts the rights of our people. It removes the charter of fundamental rights from UK law. Let us be very clear that that charter provides digital rights, asylum rights, pension rights for LGBT people and safeguards for maternity rights. At the moment, for example, it ensures that a gay couple who marry here in the UK have their marriage recognised elsewhere in Europe.
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Does my hon. Friend agree that we should not trust the party that refused to implement the social chapter at all, with all its rights at work that come from Europe?
I agree. The Bill also—[Laughter.] I wanted to move on quickly.
The Bill also fails completely to mention or touch on how some of the soft-law mechanisms will be brought into the UK framework, such as the open method of co-ordination. It does not even mention that area of EU co-ordination. We will clearly want to adopt significant parts of it, but the Bill is completely quiet about it.
Of course there is a need to give Ministers certain powers, but even the emergency powers provided during the second world war were not powers for Ministers to spend unfettered amounts. This Bill gives Ministers the power to spend such amounts and gives them unheard-of powers. It is not a democratic Bill, and it cannot be classed as bringing power back to this country or to this Parliament. Clearly what we need to do tonight is to vote against this Bill. We need to send it back and get the Government to give us a decent Bill that will preserve our democratic rights for our people and for our Parliament.
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My hon. Friend makes my point for me.
The point I was about to make is that 20 years ago in Scotland, people from all political walks of life voted for the devolved settlement. It is the settled will of the Scottish people. The question for the 12 new Scottish Tory MPs is: will they make their presence felt in this Parliament, and will they protect the democratic will of the Scottish people, including their own constituents, who voted for devolution 20 years ago by 75% and voted to remain in the European Union by 62%? Tonight is a test of their mettle. Will they represent their constituents’ views? Will they defend the devolved settlement in Scotland? Will they follow what their leader in Scotland, Ruth Davidson, has said, or will they troop through the Lobby like lobby fodder to undermine the settled will of the Scottish people and their constituents?
I join the House only 48 hours after the birth of my son, Bobby James. Dads on this side of the House proudly change nappies before coming to Parliament; we do not get out of changing nappies because we are in Parliament.
Having considered how we exit the baby, I am now considering how we exit the European Union. As many Members have said, this is not about whether we leave but how. For me, opposing the Bill is scrutiny, not mutiny, on Brexit. I maintain a commitment that I made to the people of Bury North in my election victory to fight for a practical Brexit. I do not trust the Government to show Britain the best exit, let alone set it out with vision and aplomb. Bombastic swagger, yes; vision, zero. It was going to be easy, we were told, but I ask for more grace in negotiation. Perhaps Ministers could remember the 48% as well as the 52% when handling Brexit. The referendum result was clear, fair and decisive, but in exiting we need a deal that works for the 48 and the 52, not the 1922.
I stood at the election with a clear view on Brexit that, as a remainer, I would fight for a Brexit that worked for everyone in Bury North. Whether people were leavers or remainers, it was time for unity—a practical Brexit that kept uppermost in people’s minds jobs, skills and opportunities for all. The result of the election did not change the Government’s instincts overnight. They have not changed their position on workers’ rights, on access to justice, on working time, or on security and safety at work. Those measures were bombarded on their way into law, and they will be picked apart by Government Members in the transition. The repeal Bill should be a copy and paste exercise, but instead the Government seek measures that would allow them not to copy and paste but to copy and cut. Decades of social progress, enshrined in law, are at the mercy of the pick-and-choose brigade who run the Tories. If foxhunting and grammar schools are back on the agenda, what of workers’ rights? I urge Members to vote against the motion. They should accept Brexit, but how we leave matters: they should not support the Government on the Bill.
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Those principles of human rights and non-discrimination are embodied in United Kingdom legislation and given effect by our courts. That was the situation 40 years ago, before we entered the European Union, it has remained the situation throughout our membership, and it will continue to be the position, unaffected by this Bill.
As for devolution, every single decision taken by the devolved Administrations will continue to be taken by them. The only question is how we best allocate to the UK Government and to the devolved Administrations the competencies and powers that will return to this country, because the devolution Acts were drafted in the context of this country’s membership of the European Union and the lists of devolved and reserved powers were drawn up against that background. For example, the common fisheries policy includes matters relating to the detailed management and regulation of fisheries, but it also covers EU agreements with third countries, such as the EU-Morocco fisheries agreement, and includes such matters as the UN convention relating to migratory fish stocks—international agreements that one might think should fall naturally to the United Kingdom Government. That will be a matter for continuing discussion between the United Kingdom Government and the devolved Administrations.
We shall need to come forward with some common frameworks to ensure, for example, that a Scottish farmer can sell some of his produce to customers in England or Northern Ireland without having to worry about two different sets of hygiene and food safety regulations, or that a Welsh paint manufacturer can sell freely anywhere in the United Kingdom without having to be concerned about different rules on the regulation of the chemicals in that paint. I am confident that the outcome of negotiations and continuing discussions with the devolved Administrations will be a significant increase in the powers being exercised by those devolved Administrations. That remains the Government’s intention. I can also say to my hon. Friend the Member for East Renfrewshire (Paul Masterton) that, yes, Ministers in the Department for Exiting the European Union and across Government will continue to talk to and listen carefully both to the views of Ministers in the devolved Administrations and to parliamentarians in the Scottish Parliament, the Welsh Assembly and soon, I hope, in the Northern Ireland Assembly.
Above all, the debate has centred on delegated powers, and I emphasise that the Bill already contains significant safeguards, which the debate has sometimes tended to overlook. Each of the four clauses that authorise secondary legislation has a defined purpose, and a statutory instrument made under such a clause cannot be made to do something else. It has to deliver something that is within the purpose defined in that clause. If we look at clause 7, for example, the power to make a statutory instrument is limited to something that will put right a failure or deficiency in retained EU law
“arising from the withdrawal of the United Kingdom from the EU.”
That power cannot be exercised for any other purpose. A Minister cannot make regulations because he dislikes the underlying policy or indeed because he dislikes the underlying EU law, but only when there is a problem with the operability of a piece of EU law that has been brought about by this country’s departure from the EU.
A similar condition applies to clause 8, which deals with our international obligations. There has been a lot of debate about clause 9, but its powers can be used only for the purpose of implementing the withdrawal agreement. The powers in clause 17 are limited to consequential amendments, and “consequential” has a long-established, tightly defined meaning in parliamentary practice and in law. The idea that there is some sweeping power in the Bill to rewrite the law of the United Kingdom is simply wrong. The statutory instruments may be used only for the purposes set out in the Bill.
In addition, the Government have included sunset clauses. The powers in clauses 7 and 8 lapse two years after exit day, and those in clause 9 lapse on exit day itself. The Bill also includes further safeguards in a list of exclusions from the scope of any delegated legislation, so none of the powers that grant secondary legislation can be used to make retrospective provision, to increase taxation, to create criminal offences or to affect the scope and application of the Human Rights Act 1998.
Despite the assurances incorporated in the wording of the Bill, very genuine, sincere concerns have been expressed on both sides of the House about whether there is sufficient parliamentary control over and scrutiny of how the powers will be used. [Interruption.]
It strikes me that there have been constructive comments and suggestions from a range of Members, including my right hon. and learned Friends the Members for Rushcliffe and for Beaconsfield (Mr Grieve), my right hon. Friend the Member for Broxtowe (Anna Soubry), my hon. Friend the Member for Totnes (Dr Wollaston), the right hon. Member for Birkenhead (Frank Field) and the hon. Members for Vauxhall (Kate Hoey) and for Blackley and Broughton (Graham Stringer). Between Second Reading and Committee, the Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union and his team intend to discuss those suggestions further with colleagues on both sides of the House.
We accept that we need to get the balance right—for example, between negative and affirmative procedure and between debates in Committee and debates on the Floor of the House—and, as my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union has already pledged, we wish to discuss further the issue first raised by the right hon. Member for Leeds Central (Hilary Benn) about linking the timing of SIs under clause 9 to the date of debates on the withdrawal agreement, although we will have to bear in mind the possibility that that agreement might be concluded only very shortly before the date of exit.