I beg to move,
That this House recognises that leaving the EU is the defining issue facing the UK; believes that there should be a full and transparent debate on the Government’s plan for leaving the EU; and calls on the Prime Minister to ensure that this House is able properly to scrutinise that plan for leaving the EU before Article 50 is invoked.
I will start with something I think we can all agree on. The decisions that will be taken by the Government over the next few months and years in relation to exiting the EU will have profound implications for the future of this country, its economy, its people and its place in the world. We have probably not seen a set of such significant decisions since the end of the second world war. Today’s debate is about the proper role of Parliament, and this House in particular, throughout that process. It is about scrutiny and accountability.
There was one question on the ballot paper on 23 June:
“Should the United Kingdom remain a member of the European Union or leave the European Union?”
The majority of those voting voted to leave. That result has to be accepted and respected, notwithstanding the fact that many of us, including myself, campaigned for remain. However, that is not the end of the matter. The next question, and one that is increasingly pressing, is: on what terms should we leave the EU? That question was not on the ballot paper. Nor was it addressed in the Conservative party’s 2015 manifesto—there was no plan B in the event of the referendum concluding with a leave vote. Nor did the Prime Minister set out her terms for Brexit before assuming office, because of the nature of the exercise by which she assumed that office. Nor do we have a White Paper setting out the proposed terms. Instead, hiding under the cloak of the prerogative, the Secretary of State has, until now, declined to give the House a meaningful role in scrutinising the Government’s opening terms for negotiations, and that matters.
I am glad to see that a Government amendment—amendment (b)—has been tabled. This implies that the Government are taking a step in the right direction towards scrutiny.
I am sure that, like me, the hon. and learned Gentleman welcomes the half U-turn from the Government, allowing a debate before article 50 is invoked, but what about an actual vote? I am concerned that the amendment does not mention a vote in this House before article 50 is triggered, and that is crucial.
I will come on to the important question of a vote, but let us take one step at a time.
There is scrutiny and there is accountability. The first question is whether the Secretary of State is prepared to put the plans before the House so that Members can see them and debate them. The next question is what the House can do about them, and that is a matter of accountability. I hope that amendment (b) indicates that the Government will go further down the route of scrutiny than they have been prepared to do so far. If they are, I will not crow about it, because it is the right thing to do and it is in the national interest. We all have a duty to ensure that we get the right result for the country.
I will answer the first intervention, please.
We are not in government and our manifesto did not have a referendum without a plan for exit. We need to be clear at the beginning of this exercise where responsibility for the position in which we find ourselves lies. It lies with a previous Prime Minister and a Government who had no plan for a no vote. That is why we are here today.
The hon. and learned Gentleman mentioned the terms of our exit and also national interest. I come from a business background, and I would love to get a sense of his approach to a successful negotiation. Does he believe that the national interest would be best served by the Government coming to this place and explaining in precise detail all their negotiating positions before we have even walked into the room?
I will not give way, no. We are debating a fundamental question, which is whether the basic plans for the negotiating position will be put before the House. That really matters. Of course there is a degree of detail that cannot be discussed. Of course there is a degree of flexibility that must be there in any negotiation. Of course the starting position may not be the end position. We all accept that; we are all grown up. The question here is whether the basic terms should be put before the House.
Like the hon. Member for Richmond (Yorks) (Rishi Sunak), I also have a business background, as of course does the director general of the CBI, Carolyn Fairbairn, who said:
“At the moment if the commentary was to read into what we’ve heard so far, it’s that we’re heading to something of a cliff edge in two and a half years.”
Does my hon. and learned Friend recognise, as I do, that there are many people in business who are very, very concerned about the lack of commentary and lack of direction from the Government?
I am grateful for that intervention. There are two aspects to today’s debate. Partly, there is the political aspect: what is the role of Parliament. There is also the question of uncertainty. It is absolutely clear that, across business, across EU citizens and across the population as a whole, there is great uncertainty about what the plans are, and that uncertainty simply cannot be kept in place for the next three years. It is growing uncertainty.
There is different scrutiny for different treaties and provisions. One example is the scrutiny that was provided in relation to the original decision to go into the European Economic Community, because then, as I am sure the hon. Gentleman knows, Command Papers were put before the House. An economic impact assessment was also put before the House, and some of the Command Papers were voted on. The idea that scrutiny cannot be done and that it was not done in the past is wrong.
My hon. and learned Friend mentions uncertainty. I have been contacted by a business in my constituency that has, until recently, been growing very rapidly, and had plans to announce a £100,000 expansion this autumn. That has now been cancelled because of the uncertainty about our future in the single market and because of what it sees as the Government’s headlong rush to a hard Brexit. What can he say about Labour’s position to reassure those businesses across the whole of Britain that are worried about our future in the single market?
I will make some progress if I may. I have only got to page 2, and I have taken about 10 interventions already. If Members will bear with me, I will press on.
On Monday, the Secretary of State confirmed that the Prime Minister will invoke article 50 no later than the end of March next year. Unless Parliament has a meaningful role in shaping the terms of Brexit between now and then—a maximum period of just five-and-a-half months—it will be too late. I can see what will happen. Once the negotiating process has started, there will be a claim by the Secretary of State that it would be inappropriate to put anything before the House by way of detail. Once the process is over, the risks of any debate will be purely academic.
On a point of information, that is not correct. I have already said that it is not correct. In talking to the Lords Committee in September, I said that the House would have at least the information available to the European Parliament. What the hon. and learned Gentleman says is just not the case.
I am grateful for that intervention. I read the transcript of the Secretary of State’s evidence to that Select Committee. What was put to him was that, on one view, the European Parliament would have more answers than this Parliament. In 2010, as he knows, there was a framework agreement between the Commission and the European Parliament. It states:
“Parliament shall be immediately and fully informed at all stages of the negotiation and conclusion of international agreements, including the definition of negotiating directives.”
That goes a long way further than I understood the Secretary of State’s position to be on Monday, and in his first statement. I would be very pleased to hear from him if he can confirm now that at least that part of scrutiny is guaranteed.
This is a matter not just of process, but of real substance. Both those who voted to leave the EU and those who voted to remain recognise that different negotiating stances under article 50 could provide radically different outcomes, each of which carries very significant risks and opportunities. That is undoubtedly why there is a keen debate going on behind the scenes on the Government’s side. Everybody recognises the potential consequences of adopting the wrong opening stance.
My hon. and learned Friend is making an excellent case. Does he agree that the British people may have voted to leave the European Union, but what they did not vote for is for their food to become more expensive, for the wages of low-paid workers to be hit and for jobs to be lost in the manufacturing, agricultural and banking sectors, which is what we are in danger of if we choose the wrong exit from the European Union.
I am halfway through a sentence. There are different concerns from different businesses and different individuals. I certainly have not met anyone without them—if there are MPs who have, well, so be it—and I think that the Secretary of State would recognise the deep concern across the business community and among a number of individuals, groups and communities about the uncertainty about the future .
I am sure that I am not alone in having many representations from individuals among the millions of EU citizens living in this country and, of course, Britons living abroad who are deeply insecure about their position. Does my hon. and learned Friend agree that it is deplorable to discuss those individuals in terms of being bargaining chips and cards that we need to play in negotiations? Do we not need to make a priority of ensuring that those individuals, with their businesses and their lives, have the security that they deserve?
My hon. Friend makes a very good point, and again, many of us have had anxious conversations with EU citizens who simply want to know what their position is and want some guarantees about the future.
I will make some progress. Some models for exiting have been much discussed. The most cited are the Norwegian model, the Swiss model, the Turkish model and the Canadian model. It is unlikely that any deal reached between the UK and the EU will replicate any of those models—nor should it—but in negotiating our future relationship with the EU, the Government will be defining the future of our country, so the terms matter hugely. It is frankly astonishing that the Government propose to devise the negotiating terms of our exit from the EU, then to negotiate and then to reach a deal, without a vote in this House. This is where my opening remarks become important because, in the absence of anything in the manifesto, in the absence of anything on the referendum ballot form and in the absence of any words from the Prime Minister before she assumed office, where is the mandate? Nobody—public or in the House—
No, the referendum is not the mandate for the terms. We have been round this block and everybody understands the distinction. I have stood here and accepted that there is a mandate for exit. There is no mandate for the terms. It has never been put to the country; it has not even been put to the Secretary of State’s political party; and it has not been put to the House. Where is the mandate on the terms?
Reference has been made to the Lisbon treaty, which may provide a rather useful precedent. Is the hon. and learned Gentleman aware that the policy on that treaty was debated repeatedly on the Floor of the House, beginning with the abortive European constitution. The then Government were accountable to the House for the view that they were taking towards the treaty, and the treaty itself was then debated for days on end on the Floor of the House, with repeated votes at several stages in that process. Nobody mentioned the words “royal prerogative” throughout the entire process.
Is not the prerogative absolutely key here? In 1924, when there was a Labour Government, we insisted that all treaties would be laid before the House for 21 days, so that the House and the House of Lords could take a view on them. That was the Ponsonby rule. When there was a Conservative Government, they got rid of it. When there was a Labour Government again in 1929, we put it back, and in 2010, we put it on the statute book. Is it not really worrying that Ministers have been going to the House of Lords and this Chamber and relying solely on the prerogative in relation to treaties?
It is, and I will deal with the prerogative in some detail because it is not fixed. The prerogative changes over time, and in any event, even if it may legally allow the Executive to proceed without scrutiny and accountability in the House, it does not prevent that scrutiny and accountability. It does not require the Government to proceed in that way. It is being used as cloak to avoid the scrutiny that is needed.
Some of us were here during the Maastricht treaty debates, when there were many votes and the Government forces of the day were brilliantly whipped by the present Secretary for Brexit in favour of the Maastricht treaty. Just to be quite clear, is the hon. and learned Gentleman—I am very much minded to support his motion—calling for a vote, not just an examination, on the terms before we send the Secretary of State off to negotiate?
Absolutely, but I take this in two stages because both are important. Scrutiny—putting the plans before the House—really matters. There is a separate argument about a vote, and I say that there should be a vote, but we must not get to a situation where, to resist the vote, the Secretary of State will not even put the plans before the House.
Is not the convention very clearly established that a major treaty change has to be triggered by an affirmative resolution of the House? The fact that that may only be a convention is still something that must be respected. After all, there are lots of conventions, such as the convention that a Government resign if they lose a vote of no confidence. That is no more than a convention, but Members might be a bit surprised if a Government were not to go in those circumstances.
The prerogative has come up so often that I will deal with it now in substance. Prerogative powers, of course, developed at a time when the monarch was both a feudal lord and Head of State. That is the origin of prerogative powers, but they have changed over time, yielding where necessary to the demands of democratic accountability. There are plenty of examples, as the Secretary of State will know, in the courts of that change in accountability, but there is also the example of the prerogative power to commit troops in armed conflict. In theory, the Prime Minister and the Cabinet retain the constitutional right to decide when and where to authorise action, but in practice Governments in recent times have ensured parliamentary debate and a vote.
Responding to the Chilcot report earlier this year, the then Prime Minister made the point during Prime Minister’s questions when he said:
“I think we have now got a set of arrangements and conventions that put the country in a stronger position. I think it is now a clear convention that we have a vote in this House, which of course we did on Iraq, before premeditated military action”.—[Official Report, 6 July 2016; Vol. 612, c. 881.]
A strong political convention modifying the prerogative has thus been set.
I will just complete this section on the prerogative.
The underlying premise of the development of the prerogative is clear and obvious. The more significant the decision in question and the more serious the possible consequences, the greater the need for meaningful parliamentary scrutiny. That lies at the heart of this, and it is hard to think of a more significant set of decisions with very serious possible consequences than the terms on which we leave the EU.
I will press this point because all this is well known to the Secretary of State. After all, he tabled a ten-minute rule Bill in June 1999 that was concerned with
“the exercise of certain powers of Ministers of the Crown subject to control by the House of Commons”.
I shall quote his approach to the prerogative. When he introduced that Bill on 22 June 1999, the right hon. Gentleman, now of course the Secretary of State, said:
“Executive decisions by the Government should be subject to the scrutiny and approval of Parliament in many other areas... The Bill sets out to...make”
“subject to parliamentary approval, giving Parliament the right of approval over all Executive powers not conferred by statute—from the ratification of treaties to the approval of Orders in Council, and from the appointment of European Commissioners, some ambassadors, members of the Bank of England”.—[Official Report, 22 June 1999; Vol. 333, c. 931.]
So he has changed his position. Back then, he recognised that the prerogative ought to be subject to Parliament. It was 20 years ago, but progressive movement with the prerogative is usually in favour of greater accountability, not less, so the fact that he argued that 20 years ago is not an argument against doing it now. That Bill did not proceed, but the principles are clear and set out. The prerogative is not fixed; parliamentary practice and convention can change the prerogative, and have done so in a number of ways. In any event, I fall back on my primary point: even if the prerogative permits the Government to withhold the plans from Parliament, it does not require them to, and political accountability requires the Government to put their plans before Parliament.
The hon. and learned Gentleman misses one rather important fact: there has been a vote of the British people—a vote delegated to them by the terms of the European Union Referendum Act 2015. This is the question that he has to answer: suppose there was a vote in this House; how would he vote? Would he vote against article 50 invocation, or in favour? Just give a straight answer to that.
I will not take long responding to that, because I have made the point, which is that the mandate on 23 June was not a mandate as to the terms, and I think that most people understand that; I cannot put it any clearer than that.
There is the question of how Members would vote, what they would vote on, and what happens if Parliament does not like the terms. The Secretary of State, in his statement on 5 September, emphasised that he would consult widely, including the devolved countries, which of course are very important in all this, and which deserve scrutiny of how exit will impact each of them. He also said he would
“strive to build national consensus around our approach.”—[Official Report, 5 September 2016; Vol. 614, c. 38.]
The question for the Secretary of State is: how will he build consensus around his approach if he will not tell the House what his approach is?
The hon. and learned Gentleman is, of course, a first-rate lawyer of international renown, and it is a real pleasure to hear him develop his argument. I am interested in what he said about the devolved Administrations. Does he agree that the Scottish Government and other devolved Administrations should have a central role in negotiations on the UK’s terms for exiting the European Union, and will he and his party throw their weight behind that argument?
I do agree with that, absolutely, and we will throw our weight behind it. In fairness, the Prime Minister signalled that by her early visits as soon as she assumed office. I was hesitant to answer that question in case I got relegated from second to third or even fourth-rate lawyer. I will press on—
I am going to. May I unreservedly withdraw the allegation that I made on Monday, only on the basis that it was clumsy? It was not meant about him; it was meant about advice. I do not for one moment doubt the hon. and learned Gentleman’s capabilities as a lawyer.
The hon. and learned Gentleman said that it was important for the Government to come before Parliament, specifically to lay out their negotiating position. He says that there was a simple question on the ballot paper on whether we should leave the European Union or not. Will he tell us what the simple definition is of leaving the European Union? Is it the non-application of European law?
No. There are very different models for leaving. We have to be clear about what is actually happening, because that is important when we come to the point about treaties; we are leaving one treaty and almost certainly signing new treaties, so this is not just about exiting one treaty. I have not yet met anybody who suggests that there should be no relationship between the UK and the EU. [Interruption.] No, seriously, speaking as someone who has spent five years dealing with counter-terrorism and serious criminal offences across Europe, it is inconceivable that we will not sign new treaties with the EU; to do otherwise would undermine our security.
I will press on, because I am conscious that very many people want to come in on this debate, and I have sat on the Back Benches and been irritated by Front Benchers taking up all the time.
We are talking about a matter of parliamentary sovereignty, but this is not just a political point, albeit an important political point. By proceeding in this closed and secretive manner, the Government are causing huge anxiety. In the 2015 Conservative manifesto, there was a commitment to
“safeguard British interests in the Single Market”,
yet in recent weeks, the Government have emphasised that membership of the single market may not be a priority for Brexit negotiations. On Monday, the Secretary of State said that it was “not necessary” for the UK to remain a member of the single market. Then there was a telling exchange between him and my hon. Friend the Member for Ilford North (Wes Streeting), who put to him the words of the Foreign Secretary on EU citizens. The Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union answered—I will give the full answer, because I was struck by this at the time—as follows:
“The simple answer is that we will seek to get the most open, barrier-free market that we can. That will be as good as a single market.”—[Official Report, 10 October 2016; Vol. 615, c. 65.]
It is always hard to know when the Secretary of State is busking, but if that is the position, that is a significant statement and position, and it elides with the approach apparently taken by the Prime Minister, who increasingly appears to have extrapolated from the leave vote that there is an overwhelming case for a hard Brexit that does not prioritise jobs or the strength of our economy.
I congratulate the hon. and learned Gentleman on taking a factual tone in this important debate. I would like to reassure him that many of us on the Government Benches will do all we can to preserve the benefits of access to the single market for our local businesses. May I remind him that seven out of 10 Members from his party represent constituencies that voted to leave the EU? The pragmatic, rather than procedural, approach is in the Government’s amendment, which suggests that it would be negotiating madness for this House to give blow-by-blow scrutiny to the terms of exit. Why does he not vote for the Government’s amendment, which achieves what we all want—not a hard or a soft Brexit, but a smart Brexit?
I am grateful for that intervention, and for the indications about the single market. I know that there is a lot of shared concern across the House about the terms of exit. Obviously, I have looked at the amendment; may I make it plain that nothing in the motion is intended to undermine or frustrate the vote on 23 June, or frustrate the negotiations? We all understand that negotiations have to take place. There will of course have to be a degree of confidentiality, but that does not prevent the plans—the basic outline and broad terms—being put before the House. That is why I am waiting to hear what the Secretary of State says. I heard the tail end of Prime Minister’s questions, and the Prime Minister indicated that we have had two statements from the Secretary of State, and there was a Select Committee—
I said two statements. [Interruption.] Oh, two Select Committees; well, whatever. If all the amendment means is that we will get similar statements to the two that we have already had, that does not give me much comfort. If we will get more than that, then we shall see.
I am grateful to the hon. and learned Gentleman for giving way, and for some of the points that he has made. Will he use this opportunity to outline clearly the Labour party’s position on single market membership? Yesterday in the Evening Standard, there was a warning from the Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, against a “hard Brexit”, and he has said that a departure from the single market would be “deeply irresponsible”; I agree fully. Two weeks ago, in the National Assembly for Wales, we had the Labour Government voting with the Tories and the UK Independence party against single market membership. What is the Labour party’s policy on single market membership?
Best access to the single market.
I was on the subject of uncertainty. There has been understandable uncertainty in business, universities, and trades unions, and among investors, including among people on both sides of the referendum divide. The head of the CBI has warned that hard Brexit could
“close the door on an open economy”.
An open letter signed by business leaders cautioned last week that
“leaving the EU without any preferential trade arrangement and defaulting to trading by…WTO rules would have significant costs for British exporters and importers”.
It is not just institutions that are concerned. So far, the Government have made broad statements on the principle of protecting the rights of EU citizens already living here. In his statement to the House on Monday, the Secretary of State suggested that the Government are doing everything possible to underwrite and guarantee the position of EU citizens resident in the UK, and at the same time seeking to do the same with British nationals living in other parts of the EU. That constructive tone is at odds with statements made by other Government Ministers, most notably the Secretary of State for International Trade. Speaking at an event at the Conservative conference in Birmingham last week, he told party members that
“we would like to be able to give a reassurance to EU nationals in the United Kingdom”,
but that that depended on the way in which other countries proceeded. He said that
“to give that away before we get into the negotiation would be to hand over one of our main cards”.
That is treating EU citizens as bargaining chips. That is not good enough: many EU citizens have been in the UK for years or even decades, and they deserve better treatment.
The Government should end this uncertainty in the market and among the people. They should set out their plans before the House at the earliest opportunity. We accept that concern about immigration and freedom of movement was an important issue in the referendum and that, in light of the result, adjustments to the freedom of movement principle have to be part of the negotiating process. We must establish fair migration rules as part of our new relationship with the EU, but no one voted on 23 June to take an axe to the economy or to destroy jobs and livelihoods.
A clear majority in Ashfield voted out, and I respect that. Ashfield is an ex-mining community. The good economic times never felt as good up there; the bad times were felt. We do not have enough good jobs, so is it not imperative that we do not lose the good jobs that we do have?
I really do not think I can be criticised for not taking enough interventions.
Concerns over freedom of movement must be balanced by concerns over jobs, trade and the strength of our economy. Striking that balance and navigating our exit from the EU will not be an easy process, and it will require shrewd negotiating. The Government must not give up on the best possible deal for Britain before they have even begun. They must put the national interest first and not bow to pressure from Back Benchers for a hard Brexit. That means prioritising access to the single market, protecting workers’ rights, ensuring that common police and security measures are not weakened, and ensuring that all sectors of our economy are able to trade with our most important market. It also means bringing the British people together as we set about leaving the EU.
I touched on the tone of discussions on Monday. Many people are appalled at the language that has been used in relation to exiting the EU. An essential step in that process is to publish the basic plans for Brexit and to seek the confidence of the House of Commons. The motion is intended to ensure that scrutiny and accountability. I will listen, of course, to what the Secretary of State says about his amendment.
The motion before the House is clear about scrutiny, which is the first part. There is a question of a vote, and I will make it absolutely clear that I am pressing for a vote. This exercise will obviously go on for some time, and we will have plenty of skirmishes. I am anxious that, first, we have proper scrutiny and also a vote. What I do not want to do is jeopardise the scrutiny by a vote against the vote. Anyone on either side of the House who wants scrutiny can happily support the motion, and I will listen carefully to what the Secretary of State says about the amendment.
This is a serious challenge, and these are the most important decisions for a generation. The role of the House is a fundamentally important issue, and we have to ensure that it is compatible with scrutiny and accountability.
Another day, another outing. [Interruption.] I knew they would like that.
I beg to move amendment (b), at end add
‘; and believes that the process should be undertaken in such a way that respects the decision of the people of the UK when they voted to leave the EU on 23 June and does not undermine the negotiating position of the Government as negotiations are entered into which will take place after Article 50 has been triggered.’.
I am glad to hear that the Labour spokesman accepts that we must respect the decision of the people. That is important progress. Of course, it comes from somewhere, but where is not at all clear. I will come back to that in less than a minute. He went on to say that he did not want to see point scoring, and I rather agree: this issue is too important for point scoring.
The House should know that this morning I received a letter, signed by the shadow Secretary of State and his predecessor, which was extremely flattering about my history of standing up for the rights of Parliament and so on. It went on to pose 170 questions about our negotiating strategy. To give the House an idea of how much of a stunt that is, it is one question a day between now until the triggering of article 50. Worse still, some of the questions in that long list are requests pre-emptively to concede elements of our negotiating strategy.
I am grateful to the Secretary of State for giving way—the shadow Secretary of State would not give way—so I can now ask my question. I have listened carefully to the debate. The shadow Secretary of State talked about respecting the vote on 23 June, which made it clear that we are to leave the European Union. We cannot leave the EU without triggering article 50, when the negotiations will begin and the details that he wants to scrutinise will emerge. Should it not be the Government’s right to trigger article 50 as the instruction of the British people to go ahead, and then we begin the negotiation?
My hon. Friend is exactly right. That is the premise on which we are advancing. That is not to say—[Interruption.] If the hon. Member for Chesterfield (Toby Perkins) waits a moment, I will give way. We will have proper scrutiny, and I will deal with that in a minute. We will not allow anyone to veto the decision of the British people—that is the point.
If it is really the case that article 50 is the start of the process and we begin scrutiny after that, why is it being triggered nine months after the vote? Surely that is because a huge amount of preparatory work is required, and that is what we want to scrutinise.
If there is no parliamentary assent for the negotiating position that the Secretary of State takes into the negotiations, how can there possibly be parliamentary assent for the result of the negotiations, unless he pulls off the remarkable trick of getting a better deal than he is asking for?
As a long-standing Brexiteer not wishing to make points, may I take the Secretary of State back to the reasons the Government want to trigger article 50 so early? What is behind that, and is there any possibility that that statement might take on the colour of the Home Secretary’s statement about foreign workers?
No, I do not think so. The right hon. Gentleman asks a serious question. Part of the reasoning is that the Prime Minister feels, quite reasonably, that the people want the process to be under way. Indeed, if one believes opinion polls, that is what is going on. However, we do not want to do it immediately, unlike the leader of the Labour party, who said on 24 June that we should trigger it immediately—of course, now he has changed his mind. What we are doing is putting together our negotiating strategy, which requires an enormous amount of work—I will come back to that point—and some of it will become public as we go along.
I am determined, as would be expected, that Parliament will be fully and properly engaged in the discussion on how we make a success of Brexit. I therefore broadly welcome the motion, but with important caveats, and that is why the Government’s amendment is necessary. The first key point is that we must ensure that the decision that the people made on 23 June is fully respected. We also need to be explicit that, while we welcome parliamentary scrutiny, it must not be used as a vehicle to undermine the Government’s negotiating position or thwart the process of exit—both are important.
The negotiation will be complex and difficult, and we should do nothing to jeopardise it. As I said in my statement on Monday—the hon. and learned Member for Holborn and St Pancras (Keir Starmer) quoted me several times—the sovereignty of Parliament and its restoration is at the very heart of why the UK is withdrawing from the European Union. For decades, the primacy of the UK Parliament has been superseded by decisions made within EU institutions, but now, following the clear instruction of the voters in the referendum on 23 June, we can finally change that and put Parliament unequivocally in charge.
That is exactly why we announced plans for a great repeal Bill last week; it is a clear commitment to end the primacy of EU law. It will return sovereignty to the institutions of the United Kingdom, because that is what the referendum result was all about: taking control. Naturally, Parliament will oversee the passage of the Bill, which will allow us to ensure that our statute book is fit for purpose on the day we leave the EU. It will then be for Parliament alone to determine what changes to the law best suit the national interest.
I have long heard the right hon. Gentleman voice his support for parliamentary scrutiny. Will he therefore bring forward a vote in Parliament on the Government’s opening position and the terms that they will present for negotiation to the European Union?
I find this argument that Parliament somehow wants to thwart the will of the people a complete straw man. As has already been pointed out, seven out of 10 Labour MPs represent constituencies where a majority of people voted to leave. As a democrat, I cannot ignore that and I accept the result. Therefore, why is the right hon. Gentleman running scared of parliamentary scrutiny?
I am hardly running scared of parliamentary scrutiny. As has already been noted, I have made two statements to the House and appeared twice before Select Committees, and today there is this outing, and all within two and a half weeks of the parliamentary Session.
Let me return to a comment from the hon. and learned Member for Holborn and St Pancras. Let us be clear that we agree that leaving the European Union is a momentous decision. With such a huge turnout—72%, with over 33 million people having their say—there is an overwhelming mandate to put the will of the British people into practice. I have spoken at length about our plan to make a success of Brexit. As I set out in my statement on 5 September—it, too, was quoted by the hon. and learned Gentleman—our plan has four aims.
First, we want to build a national consensus around our position. I have already promised more than once to listen to all sides of the debate and ensure that we fight in our negotiation for the best deal for the country. We cannot do that in an air of secrecy, but I will come back to that later. Secondly, we will put the national interest first and listen carefully to the devolved Administrations. Thirdly, wherever possible—it is not always possible—we should minimise uncertainty. That is what the great repeal Bill is about: bringing existing EU law into domestic law upon exit day, and empowering Parliament to make the changes necessary to reflect our new relationship. Finally, by the end of this process, when we have left the European Union, we will have put the sovereignty and supremacy of this Parliament beyond doubt.
Fundamentally, the issue is that although we all want scrutiny, the eyes of the world and of the financial markets are upon us. I am extremely concerned about what has happened to sterling and interest rates since the Prime Minister’s comments at the party conference last week. The problem that the Secretary of State is not acknowledging is that many people in this country do not think that there is a policy to put the national interest first; they think that there is a policy to put people’s narrow ideological interests first. He should be setting out clearly how we will protect British jobs and businesses and putting ideology in the past, where it belongs.
I am grateful to the Secretary of State for giving way a second time. Does he agree with the Italian Prime Minister, Matteo Renzi, when he says that we have to make Brexit work for the EU and for the United Kingdom, because if we do not it will make a mockery of democracy? That is not ideology.
He is right. Nobody involved in this exercise from the other side of the argument has ever pointed out quite how odd it is that fellow democracies—indeed, allies—threaten to punish each other for the exercise of democratic rights.
I want to take up the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Devizes (Claire Perry), because there is undoubtedly a big task ahead of us and people naturally want to understand where we are headed. We have been pretty clear on the overarching aims—not the detailed aims, because we are not yet at the point at which that is possible. The overarching aims are: bringing back control of our laws to Parliament; bringing back control of decisions over immigration to the UK; maintaining the strong security co-operation we have with the EU; and establishing the freest possible market in goods and services with the EU and the rest of the world. I cannot see how those are not very clear overarching strategic objectives.
It would help businesses to have as much clarity as possible on the likely future trading arrangements. I was concerned to hear VTB Bank’s announcement yesterday that it intends to locate its activity outside the UK. The more clarity we can give—without, of course, prejudicing our negotiating position, the better it will be for British businesses, because there is a danger that some may make decisions in the next three or four months.
I take my hon. Friend’s point. The issue that we must bear in mind, however, is that we can give clarity as we go along in the negotiating strategy—in grand terms but not in detailed terms—but what we cannot do is tell anybody, businesses or others, where we will arrive at the final stage, because it is a negotiation. We have to face the fact that it is a negotiation and, therefore, it is not entirely under the control of one country.
The hon. Member for Camborne and Redruth (George Eustice) said on “The Politics Show” at lunchtime that it is likely that the Government will publish a Green Paper or a White Paper with their proposals to form the basis of consultation before triggering article 50. Is that the latest handbrake U-turn? What does the Secretary of State have to say?
The answer is no. By the way, I think that a half U-turn is a right turn. One of the reasons I gave way to the hon. Gentleman was to say that one of the things that we have sought to clarify early on, and that does not have an associated cost in negotiating terms, is the treatment of employment rights for workers. We made that very clear very early, just as I tried to do with the status of EU migrants here. We can do those things earlier, but we cannot, as he well knows—he has negotiated any number of deals in his time—give away all our negotiating strategy early.
Not at the moment. Let me just finish this section of my speech before giving way to one of my colleagues.
We have these fairly obvious, overarching strategic aims. They are very clear; they are not remotely doubtful. It must be that Labour does not want to recognise that because it finds some of those aims uncomfortable. I am not entirely sure what Labour’s policy is on European immigration. It is completely unspecified.
The hon. and learned Gentleman can wait until the later part of my speech, when I will give him the exact answer. He will have to wait for that.
The reason this has not been promised before the end of March is that it takes time, as the hon. and learned Gentleman will understand. We are meeting organisations from across the country, from the creative industries, telecoms, financial services, agriculture and energy, including the National Council for Voluntary Organisations, Universities UK and the TUC. All those organisations are putting their concerns to us. Some of those are incredibly serious concerns, which we have to deal with. We are focusing on dealing with those concerns, establishing what opportunities there are—there are significant opportunities, too—and then devising a negotiating strategy that serves the interests of the whole country: all of them, not one at a time.
My constituency has the third highest level of financial sector employment in the UK. Does the right hon. Gentleman share my concern that while employees in that sector do not hear the detail of the Government’s position on negotiations, they do hear—as we have just heard from his party’s Back Benchers—from employers who are looking, over time, to move out of this country?
I am afraid that in the immediate aftermath of the vote to leave there was an extraordinary outpouring almost of grief—a “blame Brexit” festival, if you like. It ranged from the Italian Finance Minister blaming us for the state of his bond markets to, more significantly, banks in this country saying that they were laying people off because of Brexit, which, of course, turned out to be entirely untrue. I would have sympathy with employees made nervous by employers who are guessing the worst outcome.
I urge the Secretary of State to take a more constructive approach with those who have sincere anxieties about the future. Some 58% of the north-east’s exports go to EU countries. However people voted in the referendum, they did not vote to lose jobs. The terms of Brexit are absolutely essential. Does the Secretary of State not recognise that parliamentary scrutiny is therefore also essential?
I started by saying that I was in favour of parliamentary scrutiny; I will widen that out later. Part of the reason for that—not the only reason, by any means—is a recognition of people’s concerns about their job futures. There is no doubt about that. That is why we said in terms that we want a free trade arrangement that is at least as good as what we have now, with both the European Union and outside.
May I tempt the right hon. Gentleman to put some flesh on the bones of the immigration issue? Have the Government arrived at a decision to give EU citizens currently here the rights that they had on 23 June? Have they agreed to break the automaticity between trade and people? Have they agreed that EU citizens should have the same conditions for immigration as non-EU citizens? There must be some very broad principles that he could share with the House now.
Let me deal with the first issue that the right hon. Lady raised: the treatment of current EU migrants. I have said in terms—I was quoted by the shadow Secretary of State—that we seek to give them guarantees as good as they have now. The only condition is that we get the same guarantees for British citizens. Far from making people bargaining chips, treating them as a group, collectively, avoids making them bargaining chips.
On other aspects of immigration policy, my task is to bring control back to the UK, not to decide what eventual immigration policy will be. It must be decidable here, in this House, by the British Government, subject to parliamentary oversight and control.
I will make some progress and give way again in a moment.
I return to the Opposition’s motion. They say that there should be
“a full and transparent debate on the Government’s plan for leaving the EU”.
I agree. At the same time, I am sure that we can all agree that nothing should be done to compromise the national interest in the negotiation to come; I think the shadow Secretary of State said that in his opening speech.
I could list the 100 questions that we have answered, the oral statements, the appearances before Select Committees; the House knows all that. As a Department, we are not being backward in appearing in front of the House. The House may not be overwhelmed with the detail of the answers yet—that is hardly surprising: we are only a few weeks into the process and six months away from the end of it. The simple truth is that we are appearing regularly in front of the House and seeking to give as much as we can.
The right hon. Gentleman said a moment ago that the great repeal Bill will give us some certainty, so may I ask him for certainty on environmental legislation in particular? Even when EU legislation has been enshrined in UK law, we need to know, first, the extent to which any future changes to environmental safeguards will be subject to parliamentary scrutiny and vote; and, secondly, what kind of accountability mechanisms he imagines will be in place. Once we are out of the EU, we lose access to the European Court of Justice and the Commission. How will that environmental legislation become judiciable?
The legislation is judiciable and subject to amendment in this House. It will be entirely subject to the will of the House. Any Government seeking to alter it will have to get the permission of the House through a vote in the House. That is very plain. It will also be under the jurisdiction of the British courts; that is the other aspect that the hon. Lady asked about.
To follow up on the question asked by the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Edgbaston (Ms Stuart), I seek a bone. Will my right hon. Friend please tell us whether the Government have turned their backs on membership of the single market? Yes or no, please.
I am afraid that that intervention is rather a demonstration of one of the problems that we have with the language on this issue. People have been talking about “hard Brexit” and “soft Brexit”, which mean very little. Attempts have been made to pigeonhole what could be any one of a whole range of outcomes in market terms. We have not yet started a negotiation with the European Union and there is a whole spectrum—from free trade area, to customs union, to the single market arrangement. The shadow Secretary of State was laying out some of those possibilities. We are not going to go for a Norwegian, Turkish or Swiss option—we are going for a British option, which will be tailored to our interests and better for our interests than any other option.
The right hon. Gentleman’s non-answer to the reasonable question asked by the right hon. Member for Broxtowe (Anna Soubry) illustrates the point. The reason he is struggling today can be found in the words of Sir Andrew Cahn, who said in September:
“I find it…shocking…that David Cameron as Prime Minister prohibited the civil service from doing preparatory work…I think it was a humiliation for this country that our partners in Europe should say: ‘You’ve voted for this, but you have no idea what you want’”.
Can the right hon. Gentleman give any plausible explanation for that serious dereliction of duty by the former Prime Minister?
I am most grateful to my right hon. Friend.
May I nail this lie once and for all? The other day, the Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee took evidence from Sir Jeremy Heywood, who confirmed that senior civil servants were meeting before the referendum to discuss the outcomes, including the possibility that the country would vote to leave the European Union. Plans and preparations were being made by the British civil service before the referendum.
I will now move on to the question of scrutiny itself.
The House already has plans to put in place the so-called Brexit Select Committee, which will take effect next month, and we will be appearing in front of it regularly. It would be surprising if we appeared in front of that Committee and did not talk about some of our plans. I expect to attend the Committee regularly, just as I will attend the Lords Committee—its equivalent, effectively. We do not shy away from scrutiny; we welcome it. Members will know that I have continually welcomed and championed the extension of Select Committee powers since the publication of the Wright Committee report in 2009. The public expect Ministers to engage with Parliament in this way, and we will continue to do so.
In a moment.
I also made a commitment in September that this Parliament will be at least as informed of progress in our negotiations as the European Parliament. The hon. and learned Gentleman did not appear to believe it when I told the Lords, but it was also made plain to the Foreign Affairs Committee. We are setting up administrative procedures to ensure that, when this becomes relevant in a month or two, these things happen and happen quickly, so that we do not have to go to an EU website to find what we want to know. That will be the minimum, but Members should understand that we will be going considerably beyond that.
In a moment—a very Scot Nat way of getting attention.
I made the commitment that Parliament be kept at least as informed as, and better informed than, the European Parliament. I have also asked the Chief Whip through the usual channels to ensure that we have a series of debates so that the House can air its views. Again, it would be very surprising if we had those debates without presenting to the House something for it to debate.
I refer back to the question from the right hon. Member for Broxtowe (Anna Soubry), which I do not think the Secretary of State answered adequately. You are either a member of the single market or you are not. It is clear now that the Government need to spell things out: are they in favour of being members of the single market or are they not? Inform the House.
It is astonishing how linear, or black and white, some Members think this is. We have Norway, which is inside the single market and outside the customs union; we have Turkey, which is inside the customs union and outside the single market; and we have Switzerland, which is not in the single market but has equivalent access to all of its productive and manufacturing services. There is not a single entity, but a spectrum of outcomes, and we will be seeking to get the best of that spectrum of outcomes.
The Secretary of State will know that, throughout the country, when this issue was being discussed, the British public knew that membership of the single market meant free movement of labour. That was one of the basic principles behind why people, in their millions, voted to leave. Is it not time that we straightforwardly said that we want the fullest possible access to the single market, but that we cannot, if we are going to stop free movement, which is what the people of this country wanted, be members of the single market?
Broadly, the argument about full access and control of our borders is an argument that the Prime Minister has already made in the last few weeks, so I do not think I need to elaborate on it. However, let us understand something about this—sometimes, we seem to be arguing over which end of the egg we open first. The argument between us is where the dividing line is on what we tell Parliament about. The hon. and learned Member for Holborn and St Pancras recognised in terms, I think, that we could not give every detail to Parliament and that, despite his letter, we could not give a blow-by-blow account—that we could not have Parliament dictate how we dealt with the trade-offs, the terms and so on. [Interruption.] Despite the noise to his right, it is fairly plain that that is what the criterion is; that is where the problem is.
Let us be clear how this applies. If someone tells their opposite number in a negotiation exactly what their top priority is, that will make that top priority extremely expensive. Ordinary people, in their ordinary lives, probably do one big transaction themselves, and that is the purchase of a house. If someone went to buy a house, and they looked at only one house, told the owner that they were in love with that house and made a bid for it, I suspect the price would go up.
In a moment—I have a lady over here who wants to make an intervention.
Similarly, if someone makes pre-emptive indications that they are willing to make a concession on something, they reduce the value of that concession. Therefore, in many, many ways, we cannot give details about how we will run the negotiation.
My right hon. Friend is right that negotiations are a fragile process. I welcome his support for scrutiny. My Select Committee—the Women and Equalities Committee—is looking closely at the impact of Brexit on equality protections, which I am sure is not high on his list at the moment. We want to do some of the work on that with him. Will he undertake today to work with us on that and to contribute to our Select Committee inquiry? At the moment, we are finding it difficult to secure that contribution from his Department.
I see no reason not to help the Select Committee on that basis; that seems an eminently sensible use of time and of the Select Committee’s expertise, so of course we will do that. However, this will be an issue right across the board; pretty much every Select Committee in the House of Commons will have an interest, one way or another, in the progress of Brexit and in what the outcome will be.
May I ask the Secretary of State about timing? As I understand it, the Government intend us to have left the European Union by 1 April 2019. The two years allowed for in article 50 will transpire during that period, but he has already laid out loads of different areas that will have to be legislated for as a result of the negotiations. After the negotiations have happened, he might be overturned in this House or at the other end of the building. How will he make sure that he carries the whole country with him on each of the bits and pieces of the detail if he has not produced a draft of what he is aiming for in the first place?
That is why we made it plain at the beginning of this process that we would have the great repeal Bill, which will put into UK law—or domestic law, more accurately—what is currently the acquis communautaire. That is the start position. Then it comes down to the House to amend that under the guidance of the individual Departments. There may be, for example, a fisheries Bill; there may be some other legislation of that nature. That will have to be argued through at the time. It is pretty straightforward.
The Secretary of State said a moment ago that it would be a mistake for the Government to illustrate what its top priority in the negotiations was, but is it not the case that every speech at the Conservative party conference indicated that the top priority was the control and limitation of immigration from within the European Union?
That, frankly, will be within our own control. If you leave the European Union, that gives you control over that issue. How you deal with the European Union, and trade with it, then comes on from there, so that is not an issue that actually meets that.
The simple demonstration of the point I am making is this: in Northern Ireland, where we have the really important issue of soft borders to resolve, both sides of the decision-making process—the Northern Ireland Executive and the Irish Government—have a similar interest. As a result, we can be very open about that issue, and we have indeed been very open about it; indeed, the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland was quoted in The Guardian on Monday in detail about what he is trying to achieve in terms of customs arrangements, cross-border arrangements and the common travel area. All of those things were very straightforwardly laid out in some detail. Why? Because that does not give away any of our negotiating cards, as this is between two people with the same aim. That is a much better example of how we have to be careful about what we say as we go into the negotiations.
The Secretary of State mentions taking back control of fisheries, so is it an area that might be devolved to the Scottish Parliament after the United Kingdom leaves the European Union? Will he rule out—unlike the Secretary of State for Scotland, who seemed to be unable to do so earlier today—any power being repatriated from the Scottish Parliament to this place as part of the Brexit process?
I would not expect that as part of the Brexit process. To take the serious point, we need to discuss with all the devolved Administrations how to address sectors—such as fisheries, farming, hill farming—the legal basis of which will alter as we bring things back to the United Kingdom.
The position or the status quo, as the Secretary of State well knows, is that everything is devolved to Scotland unless it is reserved. Agriculture and fisheries are not reserved; therefore, they are devolved. Unless the Government intend to change that position, agriculture and fisheries will automatically go to the Scottish Government.
This is an area on which we have not talked to the devolved Administration yet. We will do so before we get to bringing such things back.
Such an attitude on the details of the negotiations is not taken simply by the Government. The Lords European Union Committee concluded:
“It is clear…that parliamentary scrutiny of the negotiations will have to strike a balance between, on the one hand, the desire for transparency, and on the other, the need to avoid undermining the UK’s negotiating position.”
This is hardly rocket science. It should hardly be controversial; it should be straightforward. At every stage of this process, I want this House to be engaged and updated. As I have made clear, we will observe the constitutional and legal conventions that apply to any new treaty on a new relationship with the European Union.
I will give way in a moment.
I want to address the final part of the motion about this House being able properly to scrutinise Government plans for leaving the EU before article 50 is invoked. Article 50 sets out the process by which we leave the EU, which has been decided by the British people. Invoking it is a job for the Government. Leaving the EU is what the British people voted for on 23 June, and article 50 is how we do it.
I welcome the terms of the Government amendment, which seems entirely sensible. Does my right hon. Friend therefore agree, and is my understanding right, that he now accepts that those of us raising concerns about the level of debate necessary ahead of the triggering of article 50 are by no means seeking to frustrate the will of the people—we recognise the instruction from the British people that we should leave the European Union—but seeking a full understanding of the Government’s broad negotiating aims?
I am glad to hear my right hon. Friend say that. In truth, scrutiny of our strategic aims is what debates such as this are about, as is parliamentary engagement of the kind I have mentioned—debating the issues that will inform our negotiating position, and holding the Government to account. However, such scrutiny has to be at the strategic level; it cannot be at the tactical level or enter into the detailed negotiation.
Is this not one of those strange debates in which both sides actually agree with each other—in this case, that we will have parliamentary scrutiny? If the Opposition are against such an approach, they can have Opposition days, hold Back-Bench business debates, table urgent questions, ask questions during statements and have Westminster Hall debates. All those are in the power of Parliament. We are absolutely not disagreeing; in the end, we will all agree with the amended motion. There is a lot of general noise, but Parliament is actually agreeing that the process should go forward, and we will scrutinise it properly. Does the Secretary of State agree that that is the gist of it?
The right hon. Gentleman mentioned hill farming, the agricultural sector and the fisheries sector. I happen to be a crofter, and many crofters will be wondering whether there will still be financial support for hill sheep farmers and the rest post-Brexit. Indeed, fishermen will be asking the same about the assistance for purchasing and upgrading fishing boats. On those two things, can we be sure that the money coming from Europe will be replaced by the UK Government?
I think the hon. Gentleman will know that we have already made undertakings in relation to the 2020 round, which is of course the end of the European guarantee. Beyond that, I am quite sure the Treasury will be looking very hard at the necessary economics of such industries in all the devolved Administrations and, indeed, in England.
No, I will not give way.
Let me be clear: the Opposition spokesman said that the British people did not vote for any particular model of Brexit—I think that is pretty much what he said—but they voted to “leave the European Union”, which were the words on the ballot paper. It is reasonable to think that they did not make an assumption about soft Brexit or hard Brexit, or any other specification of Brexit; they assumed that the British Government would set about negotiating to get the best possible result for all parts of society, all parts of the United Kingdom—including all the devolved Administrations—and all industries, sectors, services, manufacturers and so on. [Interruption.] The hon. Member for Islington South and Finsbury (Emily Thornberry) says, “Yeah, yeah”. We know her view of the British working class. She has really had a very good time on that, has she not? I take a much more serious view of the fate of the British working class under a Government that she would support.
The simple truth is that the British Government are setting out to achieve the best possible outcome on security, on control of our borders and in democratic terms, as well as for access to markets across the whole world: the European Union and all the opportunities outside it. The British people voted for that—17.5 million of them.
I welcome the new Opposition spokesperson, the hon. and learned Member for Holborn and St Pancras (Keir Starmer), to his role. We very much look forward to working with him during these crucial few months. I thank him for bringing this motion to the House. The Secretary of State has shown that he still has a long way to go to meet the doubts and questions that the hon. and learned Gentleman raised, but securing such a debate is a step in the right direction.
The talks and negotiations during this crucial period will have an impact across every policy area in every part of the country, but we are seeing very little in the way of detail. I fear that this lack of detail has more to do with a Cabinet who cannot agree among themselves than with any ideas about the negotiating strategy. I am a new Member of Parliament, but other hon. Members may be able to tell me whether it is normal for a Secretary of State—we welcome him—to spend so much time at the Dispatch Box without actually telling us anything. He spent a lot of time at the Dispatch Box, and I am none the wiser about where we are at the moment, which seems remarkable.
I wonder whether the Government can tell us something else about the negotiations. They tell us they will have the negotiations, but when my hon. Friend the Member for Airdrie and Shotts (Neil Gray) brought up the issue of the single market—other hon. Members have asked other key questions—they have shown that they cannot answer a simple question. That is striking. When they sit down with our European partners and start the negotiations, what will they say? What can they possibly tell our European partners? We do not even have a starting point.
I just want to make this point. The Secretary of State told my hon. Friend that this is like buying a house. It is not; it is a democratic process that will have a significant impact on our citizens, and it should be subject to the most intense scrutiny of this place and of the devolved Administrations.
I know that the hon. Gentleman and his party are resisting the will of the people as expressed across the United Kingdom in this referendum, but what does he find difficult about the Secretary of State’s assurance that when it comes to trade—just to take the single market issue—the Government are seeking to ensure maximum exposure to the European market for British manufacturers and service industries, which is the aim of the negotiations? What is so difficult about that?
Many of the hon. Gentleman’s own constituents—57% of the people of Northern Ireland, in fact—voted to remain part of the EU, for many reasons, one of which was an act of irresponsibility committed by the Secretary of State and others, who campaigned to leave the European Union based on a blank sheet of paper. I have said in this House before, and will say again, that when we campaigned for independence my right hon. Friend the Member for Gordon (Alex Salmond) had the decency to produce a 670-page White Paper. People knew what they were voting for, and it was not the kind of mess that we are seeing today.
I am sure that the farmers and fishermen of Northern Ireland will be as worried and concerned as the crofters and fishermen of the Outer Hebrides that there are no guarantees for their funding post 2020. That is a real case of material concern for people in all parts of the UK.
My hon. Friend raises a very good point. Funding is a significant concern for fishermen, farmers, universities and others who rely on our relationship with the European Union. We are dealing with an act of negligence from the Government, who are providing us with no detail; that builds on an act of gross irresponsibility by the Vote Leave campaign.
I am very grateful. The hon. Gentleman has mentioned that his party produced a 600-page dossier ahead of the Scottish vote, but when asked which currency would be used under independence, it simply had no idea, nor any clue about the consequences of independence.
That is remarkable. My right hon. Friend the Member for Gordon set up a fiscal commission working group to look into that, covering a whole range of arguments. I am sure we can make that available to the hon. Gentleman. We had all the details. There were two Nobel laureates on that group. How many Nobel laureates do the Government have? Zero. [Interruption.]
Order. Mr MacNeil, you are an exceptionally boisterous fellow, and in the course of your boisterous behaviour appear to be chewing some sort of gum. It is very eccentric conduct. I have great aspirations for you to be a statesman, but your apprenticeship still has some distance to travel.
I will come to the hon. Gentleman in a moment.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Gordon raised a very significant point about the devolved Administrations that, like most points put to the Secretary of State, was not answered. Fishing and farming are not a matter of negotiation in these islands, so will responsibility for fishing and farming go straight to the Scottish Parliament after Brexit? Or is there going to be a change to schedule 5 to the Scotland Act 1998? There is no answer. But that is not a matter of negotiation. It is a matter of fact—and it is facts that the Secretary of State cannot give us.
The situation is extraordinarily disappointing for the devolved Administrations, who have gone from being involved to being consulted. Will the Secretary of State tell us, as the Prime Minister told us previously, whether there will be an agreed position with the devolved Administrations? Perhaps someone will take a note of that for him. What will be the formal role of the Scottish Parliament?
This place and the UK Government do not have a particularly good track record when standing up for fishermen, farmers and others. The right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr Carmichael) has raised the point, as has my right hon. Friend, that when we went into the European Union Scotland’s fishermen, and fishermen across these islands, were described as expendable.
This intervention will give the Secretary of State the opportunity to consider my hon. Friend’s question. In the days after she took office, the Prime Minister met Scotland’s First Minister and seemed to assure Scotland that article 50 would not be triggered until there was an agreed position with the Scottish Administration. It is very fair for my hon. Friend to ask whether that is still Government policy or whether the Prime Minister has been countermanded by the Secretary of State for Brexit.
I apologise for having to intervene to give this answer. The Prime Minister showed very clearly how important she considered the devolved Administration in Scotland. She went to Scotland first after coming to power, and said, plainly, two things. One was that we will consult and have detailed discussions with the Scottish Administration, and those in Wales and Northern Ireland, before we trigger article 50 and bring the great repeal Bill to the House. But we cannot give anyone a veto. We consider ourselves bound by the decision of the British people. No one can say, “No, you can’t do this”, but we will do everything possible in our power to meet the needs of the Scottish people and the other devolved Administrations.
Yet more time at the Dispatch Box for the Secretary of State, but with even less information. We were told that there would be an agreed position with the devolved Administrations. He seems to be backtracking on that. Perhaps in due course he will tell us whether there will still be that agreed position. However, I do not want to get him into trouble yet again, so will leave him to chat to the Prime Minister about that.
I will make some progress. There is a valuable point that this place has to learn. Democracy in the United Kingdom does not begin and end in this Parliament, and has not done so for some time. Yet at the moment, we are in a situation where the unelected House of Lords along the corridor will have a greater say on what happens next than the elected devolved Administrations.
I will set out some questions that I know those in the devolved Administrations will be asking themselves. What happens to the coastal communities fund, upon which fishing communities depend? What happens to the CAP—an issue raised not least by my hon. Friend the Member for Na h-Eileanan an Iar (Mr MacNeil)? What happens to the renewables obligations, where Scotland is streaking ahead of the rest of the United Kingdom, along with our climate change obligations? What happens to our world-leading universities—I have to mention the University of St Andrews and its outstanding work in this field?
My hon. Friend is clearly in need of a better education.
What happens to the environment and our air pollution targets? What happens to the social protections? All those questions are unanswered—and we still do not have an answer on what will happen on the single market or to European nationals.
I chair the Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee. The hon. Gentleman is raising very legitimate points on the very legitimate basis that democracy exists in other parts of the United Kingdom somewhat independently of this House. We therefore need a respectful and constructive dialogue between the United Kingdom Government and the Administrations in the other parts of the UK, as well as between this Parliament and the other Parliaments of the United Kingdom. I have already visited the Scottish Parliament with my Committee to that end, and am offering to give evidence to the Scottish Parliament on those questions and how we should address them. I hope that the dialogue he wants will be in that spirit of co-operation.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for raising those points and for visiting Edinburgh. I encourage him and his colleagues on the Committee to interact with their colleagues on the Committees of the Scottish Parliament. I am glad to be able to say this time that I think he has made a very fair point. I agree that that is what should happen.
I want to make some progress.
Key questions need to be answered, for example, on the single market. I want to talk about European nationals for a moment. European nationals have made this country their home. They contribute significantly to our social and financial wellbeing. They make our society all the richer by being part of it. For the International Trade Secretary to describe them as “cards” was utterly unacceptable, although I note the Brexit Secretary is rowing back from that.
Does the hon. Gentleman agree that the Government cannot even be straight on the structural funds, which he mentioned? The Chancellor’s letter earlier this year refers only to funds allocated already, but not to the huge amounts of funding for the north-east, for example, that is yet to be allocated. Even on that there is confusion. If it is not the full amount, the north-east, like other regions, could lose hundreds of millions of pounds.
The hon. Gentleman makes a valid point, and that situation affects universities, businesses and so many others, including cultural organisations such as St Athernase church in Leuchars in my constituency, which is 850 years old, and which was looking for European funding to help keep that jewel standing. It must now think about where it goes next, without any answers. We need to plan well beyond 2020, so he makes an excellent point.
Not at the moment.
That point reminds me that the Institute for Government has said:
“There is a gaping void in the Government negotiating strategy.”
There is also a gaping void in their policy. They are responsible for negotiating on behalf of all of us, which should concern us. We have not seen any more details. We have not seen a Green Paper, although I am not sure whether Ministers have.
We should think about the impact. The Fraser of Allander Institute says that in Scotland alone—I know hon. Members from elsewhere in the United Kingdom have concerns—there will be 3% fewer jobs by the time we leave the European Union, which could mean 80,000 jobs. Real wages could be 7% lower, which will affect households. The Treasury—these are the Government’s own figures—warns that the cost of leaving the European Union could be £66 billion.
My hon. Friend will be aware that the financial services sector in Scotland supports 150,000 jobs, many of which are in my Edinburgh South West constituency. He will also be aware that there is concern in the sector about whether passporting rights will be lost or kept as a result of Brexit. Does he agree that, if the Government are not successful in negotiating passporting rights for the financial sector, many jobs are likely to leave Scotland and go to the European continent?
My hon. and learned Friend rightly makes an excellent point on the effect on her constituency. Professor Graeme Roy from the Fraser of Allander Institute has said that leaving the EU would have a
“significant negative impact on the Scottish economy”,
which rings true with my hon. and learned Friend’s point.
The hon. Gentleman mentioned a moment ago that people wanted certainty beyond 2020. Is he aware that the multi-annual financial framework will not be renewed until 2020, and therefore that there is uncertainty even if we remain within the European Union as to how funding will continue after that date, including for the crofters of the hon. Member for Na h-Eileanan an Iar (Mr MacNeil)?
I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on referring to my hon. Friend the Member for Na h-Eileanan an Iar correctly. The hon. Gentleman is right about 2020, but universities, businesses, regions and local authorities will negotiate and collaborate with one another well beyond that. They are currently not certain of membership of the European Union, the single market and the continued benefits of those programmes. I therefore do not agree with him on that point. That is a significant amount of uncertainty.
I will not give way yet.
Over the coming little while, much of the debate should be about scrutiny—we should be able to talk about our constituents who are affected—but it should also be about vision and the kind of country we want to see if the rest of the United Kingdom leaves. I was proud, as I am sure every member of my party was, that 62% of people in Scotland voted to remain.
I will not give way at the moment.
That 62% represented the biggest gap between leave and remain in any part of the United Kingdom. For me, that speaks of a positive vision. That is the vision of a country that wants to take its place in the world. I joined the Scottish National party because I believe in a Scotland that is equal in this family of nations throughout the European Union. I believe in a Scotland that should co-operate on an equal basis with our partners in the Netherlands, Norway, Germany, France, England and Wales—[Interruption]—and indeed Northern Ireland, which is among our closest friends and partners. I believe that the EU nationals who have made Scotland their home are welcome and should stay and make a contribution.
I am proud to be part of a group that draws members from across the United Kingdom and beyond. We want a country that is outward looking and co-operating with our European partners. That is why so many people in Scotland and elsewhere are turning away from the United Kingdom and a Conservative Government who are being led by the nose by UKIP, talking about EU nationals as “cards”, and talking about firms drawing up and putting out lists of foreigners. I do not subscribe to that, and nor does any SNP Member.
We want more scrutiny, but I fear that it will be insufficient. I want to hear the Minister answer my questions and the valid points made by the hon. and learned Member for Holborn and St Pancras.
Sadly I was not able to attend the Conservative party conference this year, but I followed its proceedings very closely, or as closely as I could, through reports in the media. I was rather surprised to find that some very clear statements of policy on the subject of Europe were made from the platform that I was not totally expecting. One was that we would not trigger article 50 before the end of March at the latest. I rather approve of that. This is such a portentous decision that a long and careful preparation of a policy within the Government, whom I fear probably do not yet have an agreed policy, is important. When I say that they should take as long as possible about it, I do not mean to be sarcastic. I do not underestimate the sheer scale of the task facing them to agree the strategy.
Other announcements were made, however. It was made absolutely clear that freedom of movement of labour with other European countries will be over. That conjured up the vision of work permits and so on, and possibly quotas. It was made perfectly clear that the control of all the rules and regulations that currently enable free trade within the single market will be taken back into our jurisdiction. No Brexiteer at the moment is able to name any very important rule that they wish to change, but we are taking it back into the British Parliament, and will then be free to change such rules of the market as Parliament agrees it wants to change.
We will also no longer submit to the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice. The way in which the European Union has worked, and the reason it has lasted and still lasts as a 28 nation state organisation with common rules, is that there are institutions for enforcing those rules. Indeed, Britain used the European Court of Justice extremely successfully to preserve the passport for financial services when attempts were made to take it away by some of the new eurozone members.
I assure my right hon. and learned Friend that there are a number of things we want to change pretty quickly. The common fisheries policy needs to be changed in the interests of Britain, and we would like to impose our own VAT on the products we think appropriate.
If anybody has an alternative fisheries policy that they have worked out, I look forward to a full debate on the subject, but I will not go into that area at the moment.
The point I am making is that those three decisions were all interpreted as making it clear that it was the Government’s intention to leave the single market and leave the customs union. Those three decisions, on the face of it, are totally incompatible with the principles defended by successive British Governments, alongside other nation states, ever since the Thatcher Government took the lead in creating the single market. We have always been extremely forceful in our demands that other member states should follow the principles that we were repudiating at the party conference.
I have right hon. and hon. Friends in this House who agree strongly with all three of those propositions, but what surprised me was that those propositions were announced as Government policy without a word of debate in this House of Commons, and, I think I know, without a word of collective discussion in any Cabinet or any Cabinet Committee. They were just pronounced from the platform. That was not a very good start, in my opinion, on this difficult subject. We all saw the consequences of the perfectly sensible reaction outside: that this meant the starting point of the negotiations was leaving the single market and the customs union. I take them to mean that. The three statements are incompatible with everything that has been there before. If I was a French, German, Polish, Spanish or Italian politician, I would look at that list and declare to my Parliament, “Well, that makes it perfectly clear that the British are going out of the single market and the customs union, and we are going to have to determine on what basis we can go back to some lesser access.”
The reaction in the markets was only too obvious. It has continued ever since with continued pronunciations of uncertainty that are holding things back very badly. The pound has devalued to an extent that would have caused a political crisis 30 years ago when I first came here, and not for the first time.
Well, that was regarded as a political crisis. I am sure my hon. Friend did not welcome the ERM and say what a triumph it was to see sterling collapse as it did.
The present position is uncertainty. Although we have to go to March, we need to clarify some things. The uncertainty is not helping. Nobody is going to invest in this country in any international project until there is some clarity about our relationship with the outside world. To anybody who just thinks that devaluation is a good thing and Black Wednesday was White Wednesday, I could not disagree more. The situation is that we have now devalued by 40% since 2006 and we have the biggest current account deficit in this country’s history. So the stimulating effect on exports has had its limitations so far. I think we should ask ourselves the question: what is raised by all this?
It is said that it does not matter: we have had the referendum, the public have spoken and all these things were determined. Indeed the Secretary of State, who shifted quite a bit from where I thought he was going to be a couple of days ago when I first saw the Government’s motion, still starts by saying, “The people have spoken” and that all these things have been decided. Well, I do not accept that. These issues were not addressed during the referendum. In the national media, the debate on both sides was pathetic. The questions about how many millions of Turks were going to come here and how far income tax was going to go up and health service spending be cut, depending on which way you went, achieved rather more prominence than the details of the customs union, and the single market and its effect on any part of our economy.
No two Brexiteers agree, even today on these Benches. There are firm Brexiteers who think that we obviously need the single market, and there are firm Brexiteers who think, “Oh no, we don’t have to do that. It is so important to German car manufacturers and wine exporters that we can stay in the single market.” Actually, that more reflects the debates I have had with Eurosceptics over the years. The one thing I have never previously disagreed about with any of my Eurosceptic friends in the Conservative party is free trade. They absolutely enthuse with their belief in open markets, free trade and the removal of barriers. Indeed, the other new Secretary of State, who will be responsible for trade relations with the rest of the world, made a speech about the benefits of free trade and globalisation, which made me sound like a protectionist only a few moments ago.
I do not think there is a mandate for saying we are pulling out of the completely open access we have at the moment to a market of 500 million sophisticated, wealthy consumers, and that we feel perfectly free now to go on a voyage of discovery to see how much of that we can retain. My constituency voted in favour of remaining, but anybody who tells me there was a mandate in favour of that, among the leave camp and the 17 million people who voted to leave, is, I think, going to be greeted with a certain amount of disbelief. I therefore think it is a pity that the Secretary of State was obviously still quite unable to say whether the objective of the Government is to stay in the single market and the customs union or not. He gave great assertions. I am delighted to hear that they will be seeking to negotiate to maximise the best interests of the UK and the British people—that is very reassuring—and he hopes to get the best terms he can possibly get on access. Every other member state, however, will make it quite clear to its Parliament and its people what attitudes it is taking during these negotiations towards the single market. We are not.
We are making progress—I will conclude on this point and keep to my limit—and the Government amendment is a step forward that I did not expect to see. I welcome that. I would have voted for the Labour party’s motion. We still have no offer of a vote and we need clarity on the policy the Government are going to pursue, because the Government are accountable to this House for the policy it pursues in negotiations.
It is a pleasure to follow the right hon. and learned Member for Rushcliffe (Mr Clarke). I will try to pick up where he left off because of the time limit. I congratulate my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Holborn and St Pancras (Keir Starmer) on, if I can put it this way, a first-rate speech from the Labour Front Bench. I also welcome the progress that has been made, as the right hon. and learned Member for Rushcliffe said, in the past 48 hours. In my view, however, we still have a significant way to go. I believe that nothing less than a vote on the Government’s negotiating strategy before the commencement of the negotiations will do. I want to explain why to the House.
The hon. Member for Wellingborough (Mr Bone) intervened earlier and said that this is a fuss about nothing, or that some people might say it is a fuss about procedure. This is not about procedure; this is about the country and whether Brexit works for the country or not. I want to address those on the Government Benches in particular, because they, along with those on my side, will have a decisive role in determining whether we get the scrutiny and the vote.
I want to start where we should begin, which is with the state of the country. Let us be honest about this: the state of the country is deeply divided. We were divided by the referendum and we still are divided. Many leavers were delighted by the result but are anxious about what is going to come next. Many remainers are desolate about the outcome and fearful of the demons that have been unleashed. Both sides have reasons for their feelings. Let us be honest: this is not a good state of affairs for the country.
The Secretary of State and the Government say they want to create a national consensus. I agree that we need to create a national consensus. It is up to all of us to try to heal the divisions and create a consensus of the 52% and the 48%. Let us be honest, that will be difficult, but it is what we should try to do. From my side, remain, and for my part, I believe it means we should accept the result of the referendum as part of trying to bridge that divide. People voted and we should accept the result. But, if I can put it this way, the humility of those who lost should be matched by the magnanimity of those who won. So as I think about my responsibilities, I absolutely do think, as my hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton North East (Emma Reynolds) said, about my constituents who voted to leave the European Union. I say to the people who voted for leave and were successful that they should think about the remain people in our country—I am sure they do—who feel lost and wonder whether there is a place for them in Britain after Brexit.
Responsibilities lie on both sides and, if I may say so in passing, we should stop impugning each other’s motives. The vast majority of people who voted to leave did not do so because of prejudice. And, if I can put it the other way, those who are now advocating proper scrutiny and consent from this Parliament are not doing so, as the Daily Mail says today, because we want to reverse the vote. It is for much deeper reasons than that: it is about the mandate from the referendum. We need to put the labels of remain and leave behind us, but that is the beginning, because if the Government are serious about creating a national consensus, then how do we that? We have to take the country with us on this new journey. This cannot be the political equivalent of the country being put to sleep for two years with an anaesthetic and waking up in a magical new land. That has never been the way our democracy worked and it will certainly not work on an issue as big as this.
We need a Government willing to be transparent and consultative with the people and, indeed, this House. The Secretary of State is not here now, but I think even he believes that, because it is significant that three days before his appointment he was saying that we should have a pre-negotiation White Paper. He even implied in that article, which bears reading, that that would strengthen the Government’s negotiating hand. I think it actually would, particularly if there was consent from this House for the Government’s position. Would it not also be an irony if the main act of those who argued in the referendum for the sovereignty of Parliament—I do not doubt their motives and beliefs—was to deny the sovereignty of Parliament in determining the outcome of the Brexit negotiations?
I want to deal with the four arguments that have been adduced for why Parliament should not get a vote over this referendum, because I do not think any of them stands up to scrutiny. The first argument is, “Well, we’ve had a referendum.” Correct: we have had a referendum, but as my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Holborn and St Pancras said so eloquently, the referendum determined that we are leaving the European Union. To those who say that the form of Brexit we would have was absolutely clear, I point this out. The Secretary of State himself advocated in 2012 that we should remain a member of the customs union. If it was so clear that we were leaving the customs union and the single market, why was he advocating the opposite position just four years before the referendum took place?
The second argument is an Executive power argument. Of course, the Secretary of State cannot make that argument with a straight face, because he published a Bill—it is an extraordinary Bill, as my hon. and learned Friend said, and should be distributed to all Members of the House—all about the need to control the Executive and the fact that, unless it was set out in statute that the Executive had this power, the consent of this House would be necessary. On something as big as this, with these huge questions about our membership of the single market and our place in the world, surely the consent of the House is necessary.
The third argument is the secrecy argument. I think this is, as the Foreign Secretary might say, baloney as well, because the reality is that, as sure as anything, these negotiations will leak and we will end up in the position where the only people not knowing what our starting position is will be us. We will find out by reading it in the newspapers. If there was ever any abuse of the House of Commons and its place, that would be it.