Monday 17 October 2016
[Phil Wilson in the Chair]
UK Exit from the European Union
I beg to move,
That this House has considered e-petitions 133618, 125333, 123324, 154593, 133767 and 133540 relating to the UK’s exit from the European Union.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Wilson. These petitions have now closed and have been on the books for a few months. Some of them have been overtaken by events and by subsequent debates in the Chamber, but it is important that we continue to discuss these matters over the coming months.
Three of the six petitions are essentially about the timing of our invocation of article 50, if we invoke it at all. The Prime Minister has said in recent weeks that the Government intend to invoke article 50 by the end of March 2017. Why has she picked that date? The Department for Exiting the European Union did not exist just a few months ago, so a lot of the Department’s work has to be about building capacity. As far as I understand it, the Department has 180 staff in the UK and can call upon 120 people in Brussels for advice.
We obviously need to build a strategy through conversations and discussions with devolved Assemblies, small businesses, large plcs, councils, local government associations and major metropolitan bodies. There have been, and continue to be, meetings with business groups and representatives of universities, the charitable sector, farming and fishing. There are ongoing roundtable discussions with a number of cross-cutting organisations and people, too.
The Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union and his Department have been performing sectoral and regulatory analyses and are looking at more than 50 sectors and cross-cutting regulatory issues. It is important that we invoke article 50 when, and only when, we in the UK are ready to do so. Martin Schulz, the President of the European Parliament, has said something indicative:
“I consider it to be very possible that the Brits will know exactly what they want at the start of negotiations, but that Europe still won’t be able to speak with a single voice”.
It is important that we know exactly what we want when we invoke article 50 by the end of March.
I suspect that the petitioners who want us to invoke article 50 immediately signed that petition because they do not believe it will happen. The petitioners who want us never to invoke article 50 effectively buried their heads in the sand after the referendum and are trying to replay the debate we had before 23 June. Some petitioners want Parliament to vote on article 50, which is a continuing debate—we debated it in the main Chamber last week.
There is an ongoing case in the High Court. I read an interesting article in The Daily Telegraph by my hon. Friend the Member for Esher and Walton (Mr Raab), who has a significant Government legal background from before his election to this place. He surmises that the Government negotiate and sign treaties and that Parliament makes sure that we can comply with international obligations under UK law. The Government take the view—and I agree with their position—that the royal prerogative is the right way to invoke article 50, which is effectively the Government negotiating and signing treaties. Parliament will be able to scrutinise the Government’s discussions as we seek to leave the EU, and it will also have a significant say over the coming two years in shaping our exit from the EU through the great repeal Bill. Parliament will also have a significant say on shaping our future relationship with the EU, which will involve a separate negotiating process.
It is all very well our saying what we want before article 50 is triggered, but after that point the EU will tell us what we are going to get. We will not have any negotiating power. Before we pull the trigger, would it not be better for us to have an idea of what we are likely to get and then to have a referendum on the exit package? That is very different from what people reasonably understood when they voted on 23 June.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his intervention, but I disagree with him because I do not believe that the European Union will tell us what we will get; rather, this will be part of an open negotiation. Why? Because there is not one body. There are 27 different voices within the European Union, excluding ourselves, and they will each be fighting for their patch. Each country will be fighting for its own important sectors and will have those sectors in mind when it comes to the joint negotiations. The one that is often cited is the German automotive industry, which sells 10% of its cars to the UK market. Germany will not want BMW, Audi and Volkswagen—all those major brands—to suffer as a result of the Commission in Brussels burying its head in the sand during the negotiations. Each corner and each country will fight for its own sectors, as will the UK.
I am grateful for the hon. Gentleman’s generosity. Does he agree that it is striking that the 27 countries will decide among themselves what they will give us? We will not decide. They will have a big argument about it, as he says, but then they will say, “This is what you’re getting.” If the German car manufacturers think it is better to keep out the Japanese through tariffs and to sell more Mercedes to Spain and fewer to Britain, that is another decision. Ultimately, those 27 countries will decide collectively and then tell us what we are getting.
By invoking article 50 we will effectively be working out how to separate the UK from the rest of the EU—that is, dividing up the assets and liabilities and deciding how we move forward with the institutions. Although that is intertwined, it is also slightly separated from our future relationship with the EU. Article 50 says that we have to take our future relationship into account, but there is plenty of time and we need to use the full two years to work out our future relationship.
I would not want to see our future relationship being hamstrung by waiting to invoke article 50 because we are trying to limit our negotiations on our future relationship with the EU. Frankly, that is what hamstrung David Cameron in the first place. If he had asked for more and had not limited himself in his renegotiations with the EU last year, we might have been in a very different place in the lead up to the referendum. We might have voted to remain. We should not limit ourselves in our negotiations on how we move forward once we have left the EU just so we can get to the point of invoking article 50 and starting the process next March.
The hon. Gentleman mentioned devolved Assemblies, Parliaments and Governments a moment ago. Will he be clearer about the role he feels they should have? A crucial factor is that when we went into the European Communities, as they were then, we did not have devolution. A significant amount of the responsibilities have now been devolved to Northern Ireland, Wales and Scotland. The people of those devolved Administrations and Governments must have a clear say on this process. What role does he think they should play?
That is why my right hon. Friend made a big effort to visit Edinburgh very soon after she was elected Prime Minister: to show her intention to engage with the devolved Parliament in Scotland and with the Assemblies. Speaking to the devolved parts of the UK, and also with councils and metropolitan bodies, going right down to smaller units of government, will be integral to the discussions over the next few months. That is crucial.
In July, the Prime Minister mentioned that Scotland will be “involved” in the negotiations. In October, the Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union said that we would be “consulted”. Which one is it?
We will all be involved in the negotiations, because we will all—parliamentarians, devolved bodies and business—be involved in the debates and discussions held here over the next couple of years. We need to involve the country in this important debate.
As was said during the debate on the referendum, and as I said when I was campaigning to leave, this is a 40 to 50-year decision. Frankly, that is why I, as someone who has wanted to leave the EU for 20 to 25 years, am quite happy to be patient for six months before we invoke article 50. We need to get our exit right, and then spend the two years ensuring that we get our future working and trading relationship with the EU right as well. This is an absolutely crucial period for the UK to get it right for the economy, for immigration and for control and sovereignty within this country—the three pillars that I was talking about.
We will have our chance to vote as parliamentarians on the great repeal Bill, which will come into effect the day we finally leave the EU. It will transpose EU law into domestic law. We can then choose; we will be taking control. That vote and the votes on subsequent Bills will determine how we leave the EU. That is Parliament ensuring that we are complying with international obligations under UK law.
One of the petitions mentions freedom of movement; its title is “Not to allow freedom of movement as part of any deal with the EU after Brexit”. The Prime Minister has been clear that we need to restrict freedom of movement. By doing so, we can create a system that allows us to control numbers and encourage the brightest and best, but at the moment we are limited in that ambition.
To my mind, one of our biggest pull factors for migration, especially from within the EU, is not benefits or the other things that people talk about, but the jobs that we have created over the last few years. The UK has been a success story in creating many jobs in difficult conditions. Youth unemployment is 48% in Greece, 43% in Spain and 39% in Italy. We can and should attract skilled workers and entrepreneurs from around the world. Naturally, EU citizens on our doorstep are likely to be the most numerous coming in, due to their location. I want to end that sense of entitlement and ensure that skilled workers from around the world, whether from Bangladesh, Australia, America, Canada or India, are on an equal footing with unskilled workers coming into this country from other parts of the EU.
To expand on the pull factors, does my hon. Friend agree that they are not benefits or the obvious things that people refer to, or even what he referred to, but the English language and the national living wage created by this Conservative Government? Those are two other pull factors that we simply cannot change.
My hon. Friend makes a fantastic point. He is absolutely right. That is why I believe the UK will be on a sure and steady footing when we come to negotiate with the EU. Due to the rule of law, our language and the trading history and trading relationships we have built up around the world, we are still an attractive location for businesses and inward investment.
The hon. Gentleman mentioned the importance of attracting skilled workers. What would he say to the skilled workers in the United Kingdom who form a huge part of our national health service and include many of our teachers, given that this Government can give them no guarantees about their continued ability to stay in this country to teach and keep us well?
When one talks about huge numbers in the NHS, it is important to remember that, although they are an absolutely valued part of our health service, EU citizens make up 4% of NHS staff. Some 15% come from outside the UK, and a third of those come from within the EU.
None the less, it is important to value skilled workers and entrepreneurs. We need to attract the brightest and the best. This is effectively taking control, because it means that the UK can determine our own immigration policy. That may involve no change, or it may involve radical change, but that decision will be taken here, after full consultation with the UK public, rather than with one arm effectively tied behind our back by rules and regulations and the determination of Brussels. That does not limit our compassion or our ambition. We should ensure that we never confuse or conflate immigration of the type that I have been talking about with our responsibilities to refugees.
One of the petitions calls for designating 23 June independence day and celebrating it annually. It must have been a joke in Hollywood to premiere “Independence Day 2” on the day of the referendum result, Friday 24 June; I think someone in one of the movie studios had a sense of humour. However, 48% of people voted to remain. There are 27 countries considering their trading relationship with the UK, and expats around the EU considering their future. The world is looking at what we are doing.
The hon. Gentleman just referred to trading relationships. Obviously, as part of the negotiations, individual trade agreements will need to be made with each of the other 26 European countries. Is he aware how long it takes to obtain a trade agreement and then an export certificate with countries outside the EU? We have been waiting for an agreement with China on pork exports since October or November last year, when the original temporary approval was given.
The hon. Lady mentions individual trading agreements with each EU country. That is not possible. The point of being a member of the EU is that member countries cannot negotiate their own trade deals. If we leave, we will have to have a single trade deal with the remaining European Union countries. We will also then need to negotiate our own trade deals—we will be free to do so for the first time in 40-odd years—with other countries around the world, and not only the ones with which the European Union already has a trading deal but also, significantly, the many countries with which it does not. There are 168 countries outside the EU, and they get on fine.
The point that I was trying to illustrate is that it already takes an inordinate length of time to negotiate trade deals with countries outside the European Union. How does that bode for the situation in terms of trade deals and trade agreements post-Brexit?
If I may, I shall use what might seem like a slightly odd analogy. I have been in business for 20 years. Two years ago, I negotiated a lease for an office. It cost me £2,000 or £3,000 in solicitor’s fees, and about three months to organise. When I got my constituency office, I already had a nice lease to use as a template. It cost me exactly zero pounds and took me a week to organise. When we come to leave the EU, we can start either with a blank sheet of paper or with things that already work. I do not envisage—
The hon. Gentleman is grossly over-simplifying the complexity of negotiating trade arrangements; I say that as somebody who has worked on them in Government. However, he mentioned his business experience; the volatility in the value of the pound is causing a great deal of uncertainty for businesses. For example, the value of the scrap used by the steel industry in my constituency is fluctuating due to the value of the dollar, but its exports are also being falsely boosted by the current value of the pound. Does he agree that we need to consider carefully whether the uncertainty created by the Government is giving a false impression of how the economy or different businesses are performing before we get into the detail of any fixed trade arrangements, particularly in certain sectors and with certain countries?
My analogy of the lease was an extreme one. I am not expecting these things to take five minutes; nobody has ever expected organising trade deals to take five minutes. We cannot just transpose the words on one sheet of paper on to another, but my point is that we do not necessarily need to start with a blank sheet. We ought to look at a bespoke model for the UK, but that does not mean starting again from a blank sheet; we can take a little from here and a little from there, depending on what we want and on our mix of businesses, which is different from that of Switzerland, Canada, Turkey or any other of the countries often cited.
In his speech last week, the Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union said:
“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.”—[Official Report, 12 October 2016; Vol. 615, c. 332.]
That still leaves us building blocks that we can use to do that.
The hon. Member for Cardiff South and Penarth (Stephen Doughty) spoke about uncertainty. We need to come at the issue with a sense of mutual respect, co-ordination and co-operation in order to build a national consensus, without political point scoring or people burying their head in the sand about the referendum—I am not referring to today’s debate, but I am concerned that that is happening in the court case that is going on. As the hon. Gentleman says, business does not like uncertainty; I know that from my own business experience. I do not mind risk, because business is based on it, but it is about being able to control as much of the risk as possible. We will never be able to control 100% of the risk, but the more of it we can control and the more certainty we can bring into the equation, the better the outcome will be.
The hon. Gentleman’s speech is developing in quite a fascinating way. May I take him back about 30 seconds, to his point about consensus, openness and involving the public? Should that involvement and openness extend to Parliament? If so, precisely what role ought Parliament to play in the process?
I said that there would be votes on the great repeal Bill and on subsequent Bills to bring into UK law many of the laws currently in place on a European level. We may scrap some of those laws, keep some, and even enhance some, but it will be down to Parliament to vote on those matters and to tackle them. That is coming up soon. We parliamentarians will continue to have these discussions about leaving the EU. The Secretary of State said just last week that he would ensure a number of debates through the usual channels when we have particular matters to consider.
May I double-check what the hon. Gentleman said about the great repeal Bill? I think he said that, when it comes before Parliament, some areas of European law may well be negotiated away—that when we bring things over from European legislation, some areas of them may well be dropped.
The great repeal Bill will effectively domesticate all European law. There is a lot of legislation, so after that it will be up to Parliament over time to decide what to do with it. That is very much a role for Parliament.
Of all the European regulations that the great repeal Bill will incorporate into UK law, which does the hon. Gentleman most look forward to reforming or eradicating?
What I really look forward to is being able to take control and make the Government accountable, so that we can look our electorate in the eye and say, “You know what? If you don’t like what we’re doing—if you don’t like the legislation we are pushing through—we are not going to sit there and blame Brussels, or any number of presidents who sit in Brussels and Strasbourg. It is our responsibility; we are accountable to you.” That is what I most look forward to: taking control.
Will the hon. Gentleman give way?
No. I have taken a good few interventions, and I know others want to speak.
My view on Brexit is not insular—quite the opposite. I am really excited about the prospect of a bright future in which we lift our head up to the world, trade with every continent, including Europe, and grab the opportunities that follow. Let us be patient, get it right and show the world how democratic accountability, global free trade and a fair, controlled immigration system are not mutually exclusive. Let us all follow the path set for us by the British people, and debate and discuss our independent future in a civilised and positive manner. Instead of being a semi-detached tenant of the European Union, carping from the sidelines—out of the eurozone, out of Schengen and out of the social chapter—let us work on being friendly neighbours, working for our common economic good, while remembering that there is a whole world beyond the political construct of the European Union.
I speak as a member of the Council of Europe—like your good self, Mr Wilson—and of the European Scrutiny Committee. The first thing to point out is that, although the petitions under discussion are all very important and have been signed by tens of thousands of people, they are dwarfed into insignificance by the petition signed by the 4.1 million people who thought that the referendum should have had a turnout of 75% and a pass mark of 60%.
Obviously the referendum has happened and we acknowledge it, but it is important to remember that it was based on what were basically a lot of false promises. In practice, many people I have spoken to about the vote say that what they anticipated was lower costs; £350 million a week to the NHS, for example; less migration; and market access. It now transpires that in the short term we are seeing much more migration and that costs will be phenomenally higher. The Chancellor and the Government have abandoned the deficit targets, and we are going to see a colossal increase in borrowing and expenditure in the autumn statement, in anticipation of dropping revenues. As for market access, the hard Brexit approach that emerged at the Conservative party conference and that the public did not vote for—they only voted to leave the EU—has sent the pound to a 30-year low. That might be okay in the short term for some exporters, but it will generate inflation and problems.
People are increasingly realising that much of the inward investment that the hon. Member for Sutton and Cheam (Paul Scully) spoke about was from businesses such as Japanese car manufacturers, which wanted to be here not only because we speak English but as a platform into the biggest marketplace in the world. But Nissan, for example, is now saying that if tariffs rise they should get compensation. If other inward investors need that, it will be a nightmare for the national accounts and for attracting businesses. The country will be borrowing more. What is more, the Prime Minister criticised the Bank of England—although she has no control over it—on quantitative easing and borrowing, which have moved up interest rates. From a business point of view, we will borrow more at a higher cost because of those pronouncements. We will have less access to a big market and less access to skills.
Like the hon. Member for Sutton and Cheam, my background is in business—multinational business, as it happens; I was in charge of developing products for Colgate across Europe. Such companies will move production into the marketplace to avoid those tariffs. Businesses such as Tata Steel may be enjoying some short-term benefit from the exchange rate, but they know that 60% of their steel exports are into Europe, so in the long term obviously they will be looking to move. It is a nightmare.
Given that the reasonable expectations of people who voted for Brexit are not being borne out, it is reasonable to ask for a referendum on the actual exit package that we will get, rather than saying, “In principle, we’d like to go if we got this. Oh, it looks like we’re not going to get it, so let’s have a referendum on that.” We should do that before article 50 is triggered, because as soon as we trigger it, we have no negotiating power. The EU will then decide the terms of our exit within two years. Yes, the 27 countries will argue about what is best for them, but they will come to some consensus and say, “These are the terms of your exit.”
The hon. Member for Sutton and Cheam mentioned negotiating deals. As I said, he has been in business like I have. In business, someone with more power is in a better position. If the EU is negotiating with any country on behalf of Britain, it is in a much more powerful position to get the best deal than Britain negotiating individually with that country. What is more, if that country knows that we are desperate for deals because we are leaving the EU and wanting to expand, particularly if it is a very powerful country like China, it should hold back on its pork deal or whatever and say, “This is what you’re getting.” Britain will say, “We don’t like that,” and the Chinese will say, “Well, where are you going to go? You cannot go to Europe because you have shut the door behind you.”
Will the hon. Gentleman comment on the fact that the simplest way of showing we were desperate for a deal would be to limit ourselves to a negotiating position that was so slim that we would effectively be saying, “We want the single market, we want to keep freedom of movement, and we want to carry on paying into the EU—we effectively want to be in the EU, in all but name”? That would be very limiting and smacks of desperation.
To be clear, I want to stay in the EU. I have a Bill on the terms of withdrawal that I hope will be given a Second Reading on Friday. It basically says that we should get the exit package—or at least a good understanding of what it will look like with regard to the balance between migration and tariffs and all the other costs—and, if the British public think that it is a reasonable representation of what they thought they were going to get, then fine, we will go ahead on that basis, before the triggering of article 50, after which it is a one-way street and we have no power. If the British public do not think it is reasonable, the default position would be to stay in the EU because it had all been a dreadful mistake. Frankly, it has been a dreadful mistake.
I am listening to the hon. Gentleman with great interest. Frankly, I think he is in the wrong job. I am sure he is an excellent Member of Parliament, but he has not understood the message of the 17.4 million people who voted to leave. He would be better suited to a job on the business section of the “Today” programme, because the first five minutes of his speech have been unremitting doom and gloom. Why would the EU want to negotiate with us? One reason is that they sell us £70 billion a year more than we sell to them, so it is in their interest to have a good deal with the United Kingdom post Brexit.
On the hon. Gentleman’s second point, rather than his first comment, there are only two countries in the EU that sell more to us than we sell to them: Holland and Germany. The other 25 nations have an interest in tariffs, because they obviously have a trade deficit. Germany might say, “We have all these Mercedes cars we’re selling,” but we know that when they block out the Japanese—who are primarily here because they want a platform for their car industry—and sell more cars to Spain, because the Japanese cannot, even they might agree with tariffs.
The simplistic proposition that was put forward by the purveyors of “It’s going to be all right; we’ll take control,” is farcical. That campaign was led by the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, the one and only right hon. Member for Uxbridge and South Ruislip (Boris Johnson), who—a recent article has disclosed—was in favour of remaining in the EU. I was saying as much well before that article came out, because all his family were in favour and it is rational to stay in. He made a calculation because his primary objective was to become the leader of the Conservative party and Prime Minister. He was going to be up against the then Chancellor, the right hon. Member for Tatton (Mr Osborne), who was pro-remain. The majority of Conservatives—more than 60% of party members—are for Brexit, so his plan was to go on about how great it was going to be to take back control, while hoping that we would narrowly remain. He would then have become the great leader standing up to Europe within Europe. But it all failed.
From that article, it is clearly true that that is what it was about. The Foreign Secretary has claimed that the article was some sort of script for “Blackadder”, or whatever his latest claim is, but when I approached him just before the Brexit campaign, I asked him a question—which the hon. Member for Sutton and Cheam was asked and did not answer—and which I used to ask cab drivers, or anybody else. I said, “Name me one law in Europe that you don’t like.” The right hon. Gentleman said, “Erm, there are four directives on bananas.” I said, “This is not some sort of joke. Can you think of anything?” Eventually, after some consternation, he said, “REACH.” Members will no doubt know that REACH—the regulation for the registration, evaluation, authorisation and restriction of chemicals—applies the precautionary principle to endocrine disrupting chemicals in manufactured products. I said, “What’s wrong with that?” and he said, “Oh, well, I don’t really know,” and he walked off. His heart was not in it; his heart was in becoming the leader of the Conservative party. We are in this farcical position where we are going to lose out economically because the people of Britain have been sold a false promise.
On the point made by the hon. Member for Kettering (Mr Hollobone), if someone goes to a shop and buys a phone that they are told works in a certain way, and they go home and it simply does not work in that way, they have the right to go back and say, “Hold on, I was told that this worked in a certain way but it doesn’t. I want my money back.” We need another referendum.
We seem to have turned this debate into some sort of attack on the Foreign Secretary. Were we to expand on that, we could equally talk about the Leader of the Opposition, the right hon. Member for Islington North (Jeremy Corbyn). Because he was actually in favour of Brexit, he was so lukewarm when campaigning for remain that it caused a leadership challenge in the Labour party. We would be better moving on from the personalities and getting back to the substance laid out so eloquently by my hon. Friend the Member for Sutton and Cheam (Paul Scully).
It is fair to say that the Foreign Secretary is not completely responsible for a narrow victory and that, had the Labour party and its leader done a better job of explaining the fact that we have inward investment because we are a platform into a big market, and we have good rights at work because they are collectively agreed, and that all that might be lost and so on—I will not run through all the arguments—we might not have ended up where we are. Indeed, had the Prime Minister not been so complacent about staying in the EU that he decided not to give 16-year-olds the right to vote in the referendum and not to allow British people living abroad to vote, we would be in a different place. It is obviously not all the fault of the Foreign Secretary; I am simply saying that his primary objective was to become, essentially, the leader of Britain, and that as a result our destiny has changed. It is a great tragedy of Greek proportions.
The hon. Gentleman has very honestly said that he wants us to stay in the European Union. Does he accept the result, or is the logic of his argument that he would vote against any deal in a second referendum and then seek to maintain our membership?
I am holding back my cards. It is certainly the case that I view the referendum as advisory, not mandatory. We are here as part of a representative democracy to look at things in detail on behalf of our constituents. It was an acclamation at the time, but, as the disaster is emerging, the opinion polls suggest that were people to be asked again next week, they would not want it. I am here to represent the best interests of my constituents, the majority of whom voted to remain. On a local scale, Wales will lose thousands of jobs and billions of pounds. I hope that people will be allowed another chance to take a more considered view with more information, before we go ahead and trigger article 50, after which we will have no negotiating power.
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his generosity in giving way. When he talks about the referendum being advisory, does he remember that £9.4 million leaflet that went to every household? When I led the Westminster Hall debate on the petition related to that leaflet, I said that people were likely to forget all the words in it but remember the £9.4 million cost. I cannot remember the exact wording, but there was a line in there that said that the Government will accept the will of the people and will implement the result of the referendum. That was clear and unambiguous to every member of the public who received and read that leaflet.
Sadly for myself and indeed the country, I am not part of the Government. [Interruption.] There we are.
Do not misunderstand me—it was an extremely serious vote and the will of the electorate needs to be respected. However, one has to remember that the referendum vote was quite a narrowly defined vote and the suggestion is that now, if more information was available, people would act differently.
If it is increasingly obvious that the economic impact, in particular, and the other impacts will be so disastrous that they will be outside of what people expected, and if what is being offered—namely the hard Brexit—is not what people anticipated, it is reasonable that we should have another look at what will be a long-term change.
Regarding the spectrum of people voting, the hon. Member for Sutton and Cheam and others will know that only 15% of people over the age of 65 did not vote—85% of them did vote—whereas only a third of people aged between 18 and 24 voted. Now, people might say, “Well, that’s their fault”—I understand that point—but people of that age have more to lose, in terms of the length of time and all the rest of it.
The whole thing was sort of hurtled through and the reason we had this referendum—let us face it—was because David Cameron, the then Prime Minister, thought before the general election, “Well, I’ll offer a referendum to stop UKIP, so the Labour party won’t win”, and we have ended up in a situation with this referendum that he thought he was going to win but cackhandedly messed up. Obviously, we had this deception at the same time, and we have ended up in this position. In the light of what is happening, should we as responsible representatives just sit back and say, “Oh, what can you do?”
I wonder if, like me, my hon. Friend has had conversations with his constituents and found that, regardless of which way they voted, they feel very much in the dark at the moment about the actual practicalities of where we are and where we will be in the future. I know that he too has a significant proportion of constituents who working in the higher education sector and who are wondering whether their research projects will be able to continue, and many who work in the aerospace industry—Airbus operates in the defence space and aerospace sectors across Europe, with multiple sites, so what is the future for that industry?—or in the steel industry. People want to know the practicalities—the pragmatic results—regardless of whether they respect the vote or otherwise. Does he feel, four months on, that he has any clearer answers about where we are to give to the constituents asking these questions?
Well, no. As I have said, I would like to think we would look again, because, as my hon. Friend has just pointed out, there is enormous uncertainty in all those industries and all those delivery systems, so the inward investors and co-operators cannot come in.
My hon. Friend mentioned higher education. In Swansea West we have seen the building of a second university campus, with hundreds of millions of pounds of European money. This institution is internationally acclaimed and networked, in particular, into research and development across Europe. Now, all of that networking and those partnerships will say, “Sorry, you can’t do that now, because you’re not going to be here”. So, after all those partnerships, we will have to do our own research on our own, rather than having this global space or platform in Europe to do it.
My hon. Friend also mentioned hospitals. Sadly, my mother has been very unwell and she is in a hospital in Portsmouth. As I left the hospital, I saw that there was a board showing six of the top surgeons in that hospital and none of them had “British names”. What that means is that some of the best people in the world have trained and are giving their services here, and the suggestion that after five years we will just ship people off because they have got the wrong name is ridiculous. We have always been an international place that attracts people who get Nobel prizes. We have seen a number of Nobel prize-winners recently saying, “It is appalling that we’re now going to pull up the drawbridge and become Fortress Britain.” As for the point about uncertainty, business and other service sectors simply do not know what will happen.
Of course, in the community of people who are EU citizens, the referendum result is a disaster, and not only because xenophobia is being sped up and people are in the streets, saying, “Go home”, and all the rest of it, but because the economic fact is that the average EU citizen contributes 34% more in tax than he or she consumes in public services. If we swap those people for retired Brits in Spain, France or wherever it is—I know there are about 2.2 million of those people living abroad and we have got about 2.6 million or so people from the EU living here—we would be swapping hard-working, tax-contributing, working Polish people and all the rest of it for people who have retired to the sun, and who would be more of a cost on the health service and make less of a contribution. How does that make economic sense, and was it debated?
The whole thing is a nightmare and what the Government are saying to those people is, “Well, we won’t allow you to have permanent residence here until we know everybody else isn’t going to send our people back”, and when will we get that assurance? So, the point about uncertainty is at the heart of the problem. Who will invest? Who will have these academic partnerships?
A dreadful situation is emerging. I realise that some of the opponents of this view want “Independent Trump Day”, or whatever they want here, and some people still think this is going to be a great idea, and are sure “Only Fools and Horses” and all that sort of stuff is fantastic. However, the reality is that this is an issue of such immense strategic importance that Parliament should look at it again and not simply say, “Well, that’s what they said. It’ll be unfortunate if it doesn’t turn out as we hoped.”
We realise we cannot negotiate; we realise now that, if we go along to a country, we will not represent the EU; and we realise that we already trade with the rest of the world. In total, 56% of our trade is already with the rest of the world; it is not like we were not trading with the rest of the world before.
Finally, on being desperate for any deal, I am particularly concerned about and engaged with issues around the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, and the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement, in terms of new trade arrangements that would give companies particular powers to sue Governments. As the Minister will know, tomorrow the Council of Ministers is due to agree the provisional agreement of CETA in Slovakia. What that will do is immediately invoke powers for companies to sue Governments who pass laws that will affect their profitability in the future. By way of example, there is a sugar tax coming in now, assuming that the ideas on that have not changed, and fizzy drinks manufacturers are currently suing Mexico over a similar situation. So we could be in line for all sorts of things. I know that the Minister has said to us, “We haven’t been sued before”, but that is because at the moment we are the investor in small economies. Now the gun will be given to Canada, and the American subsidiaries will work through that. The point I am really trying to make is that we will be desperate to have trading agreements and we will want to sign up to virtually anything, at any cost, in the future, once we are out of the warm home of the EU.
I hope that there is still space politically to think again, and with those words I will give other people time to speak.
I apologise for being late, Mr Wilson; I had other parliamentary business, unfortunately.
Before I became an MP, I worked on the “Let Britain Decide” campaign. I really believed that the British public should have a vote in a referendum, so I was delighted when the Prime Minister at the time, David Cameron, agreed to it. During the referendum campaign, I was the Vote Leave co-ordinator for Yorkshire, so this issue is something that I am incredibly passionate about. At the same time, I am also very balanced and I understand that this issue rouses passions whichever side of the argument people are on. What I find frustrating, though, is that it is coming up to four months since we had the referendum and I cannot understand why we are still talking about the result of the referendum, harking back to the campaign and throwing stones—“He did this during the referendum campaign”; “Brexit did this”; “Remain did this”. We were elected to Parliament to do what is right for Britain. Is it not time that we actually did that? Over 17 million people voted to leave, and in my opinion their decision must be respected. We should pull together, whether remainer or Brexiter, and listen to the will of the British people, do what is right now and get the best deal for Britain.
Does the hon. Lady understand that many people who voted, whichever way they voted, and who respect the result feel very confused about the Government’s strategy on the actual practicalities? That is where a lot of the concern is coming from and why we as representatives are taking part in these debates and asking these questions, because we do not know where we are headed. Whether we are pragmatists and whether we like the result or not, we simply do not have the answers yet or even a clear sense of direction. Does she not accept that that is a problem?
I can understand the hon. Gentleman’s point exactly. I have worked in business for many years and I was disappointed that in the re-negotiation process we, as a country, revealed our hand before negotiations took place. That does not make good business sense to me, or to anyone else who has been in any negotiations, even at a micro-business level. It is wrong to have a blow-by-blow account of every step of the process.
We want what is right for Britain. The public voted for this. I know that lots of work has been going on in the background, with people pulling together and looking at everything, including trade deals. It is such a big area—I am involved in the all-party group on music and we have to look at things such as copyright laws. It is massive, as we all know. A blow-by-blow account will not be useful for Britain—in my personal opinion it could harm us in the long run—although I respect why the hon. Gentleman would ask such a question.
We should pull together and start to focus on four key things, one of which is trade. I recently got back from Taiwan and even met with Health and Trade Ministers there. Their door is open already and they are keen to set up some trade deals, and other countries are falling in line. We are not just about Europe; we should be looking at trading globally and also at supporting some of the rising BRIC nations, ensuring that their economic wealth helps to lift them into being economic powerhouses too.
Trade is one thing we need to look at; the others are control over our borders, control over our laws and control over the contributions to the EU budget. Trade barriers have been becoming increasingly obsolete. The EU has become increasingly protectionist in its outlook and slow to negotiate free trade deals. We need only look at the situation with Canada and how long that took, and it is not yet fully rectified. We cannot get over the fact that immigration is a primary concern for voters, and we must listen to them. Issues of mass migration have been ignored for too long. Having lived in Lincolnshire for a while, I can see how migration can be very good for our economy, but it should be about doing what is right for Britain, based on the skills we need and on any skill deficit we may have. Any Brexit deal will have to address a tailored immigration model that truly takes back control for Britain and is truly right for the country. Never mind looking at other models out there; it should be a model that is right for Britain.
The EU eroded the sovereignty of our Parliament and EU Commissioners face no accountability, so Brexit must bring back people’s rights to choose who is elected.
Can the hon. Lady name the first of all these hated European regulations that she would like to see repealed after the great repeal Act takes effect?
I can name one. As an ex-retailer, who started at Gregg’s bakery at 16 and had a retail management career and various other business careers, I was speaking to the high street shops in my constituency. They say to us, “Why can we not have a two-tier VAT system, where VAT is cheaper on the high street and if people want to buy online they pay higher VAT, in order to help save our high streets and drive footfall into our towns?” I wrote to the Chancellor last year asking whether that could be a possibility, but we cannot do it because of EU legislation. We need control over such things, so that is one area I would like to look into.
Will the hon. Lady give way?
I am sorry but I have nearly finished, so I would like to carry on.
The hon. Lady’s party has put VAT up to 20%.
Is the hon. Gentleman trying to intervene, or can I finish talking? [Interruption.] No, I am not offering, thank you very much. [Interruption.]
In 2015, membership of the EU required us to contribute £6.5 billion a year—almost £18 million a day. That money should be spent on our own people. I urge colleagues on both sides of the House to listen to the British public, move on and accept the results of nearly four months ago. We must pull together to ensure that we do the best for this great nation of ours and get the deal that is right for our fantastic country. We have no choice: Britain must finally come first.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Wilson. I suppose that it speaks to the chaos that reigns that we are debating a number of e-petitions this afternoon. Unfortunately, as we have heard in the speeches made, which I have found interesting, entertaining and astonishing in equal measure, we are no further forward, four months on. I absolutely respect how people voted in England and Wales, and I expect the Government to respect how the people of Scotland, and indeed of Northern Ireland, voted.
I cannot understand why the likes of Scotland want to be the tail that wags the dog. Yorkshire has the same population size, and we voted out, so surely Yorkshire also has a big say in this; why should it be just Scotland that does?
I thank the hon. Lady for that interesting intervention. As for the likes of Scotland, first, Scotland is a country and a nation in and of itself, and I ask that the hon. Lady treat it—[Interruption.] Does she wish to make a further intervention?
Thank you, Mr Wilson. I ask that the hon. Lady treat my country with respect.
As I am sure my hon. Friend remembers, at no point was Yorkshire told, in an independence referendum, that if it voted to stay in the United Kingdom, it would also be voting to remain in the European Union. That is exactly what Scotland was told, and it has been denied the fulfilment of that promise.
I thank my hon. Friend for answering the question asked by the hon. Member for Morley and Outwood (Andrea Jenkyns). It is worth reminding everyone that during the independence referendum, the people of Scotland were told repeatedly that if they wanted to remain members of the European Union, they needed to vote no. Regardless of whether Members like to be reminded of that, it remains a matter of fact.
In Scotland, 62% of people voted to remain in the European Union. We have heard that “Brexit means Brexit”, but we do not know what that means, and it has become a matter of international jocularity; no one knows what it means. However, let us remember that the vote was on whether to stay in the European Union or come out, and that within the leave proposition, there were various visions. If the Government were to abide by any one of those visions, it would have to be the one that was in the manifesto upon which they were elected, and that was to remain members of the single market. Likewise, my party, the Scottish National party, is entitled to rely on the manifesto upon which it was resoundingly elected in May, which says, on page 23—I am sure that Opposition Members are very familiar with the SNP manifesto—that if Scotland finds itself being taken out of the EU against its will, it is absolutely right that its people be offered the opportunity to choose a different path for themselves.
Would the hon. Lady like to say why the SNP would like to pull away from the relationship with the UK and become self-governing, but wants to cede more powers to the EU? That does not make sense, from where I am sitting.
I thank the hon. Lady for that intervention, but it makes no sense, unless she is suggesting that she wishes for the UK, in coming out of the EU, to pull out of relations with it. We keep being told that relations with the EU will remain, but will be different, which makes absolutely no sense to me, though I am not surprised to hear it. It would serve the Government well if they spent a bit more time understanding what the people of Scotland are saying, understanding the relationship between Scotland and the rest of the UK, and listening to what I thought the Prime Minister said, which was that she wanted to be Prime Minister for the whole of the UK.
At the SNP conference, we heard Nicola Sturgeon saying that she wanted an independence referendum, and wanted to pull away from the UK but still be part of the EU. Can the hon. Lady say why someone would want to deny Scotland a huge market in the UK, when the two have great inter-dependability, if, as speakers have said, there will be an intransigent lack of negotiation with the UK on the part of the EU?
I would be delighted if the hon. Gentleman afforded me the opportunity to forward to him what the First Minister actually said about the relationship in her speech. She was perfectly clear: Scotland voted a certain way, with 62% of voters in favour of remaining in the EU. I hope that the hon. Gentleman understands the mandate that the First Minister of Scotland has to implement the will of the people of Scotland. The First Minister has been clear in her statements that she wants the best deal for the whole United Kingdom, because that benefits everyone. We believe that that best deal is to remain part of the single market—and, indeed, that was a commitment in the Conservative party manifesto.
Will the hon. Lady explain something? The SNP continues to campaign to stay in the EU, because the vote was 62% in favour of remaining, but when the Scottish people voted to remain part of the United Kingdom, the SNP continued to campaign for Scotland to leave the UK. The two things are inconsistent.
It is very important that we get the chronology and the history right on when the referendums were held. In 2014, there was a referendum on Scottish independence, and 55% voted to remain in the UK, but that UK is no longer the same entity.
The hon. Lady mentioned the 2014 result. I spent a lot of time in Scotland arguing for Scotland to remain in the UK alongside Wales. I think we are better off together. Does she not agree that the polling today shows that if there were another referendum in Scotland, there would be the same result? We were both on the same side in the EU referendum debate, and the people who voted remain did not do that to give a mandate for Scotland to become independent. It is grossly misleading to take the argument forward in that way.
I do not believe that I have suggested at any point in any of my remarks that anyone is taking the referendum as a mandate for Scottish independence. Indeed, the only people who talk about Scottish independence in the Commons Chamber—I have witnessed this for myself—are the Government and the hon. Gentleman’s party. The First Minister has set up a standing council to come forward with a number of solutions to this unfortunate situation whereby the UK has accidentally found itself being required to leave the EU. If we are talking about current polling and straw polls, that does not now seem to be the wish of the majority of people in the United Kingdom.
The suggestion is that we look at the options available to us. First, let us find the best option for the UK as a whole. If that is not possible, the First Minister will of course look at the other options available to her—options that she has a mandate for in the manifesto on which she was elected. That brings me back to my point: the Government were elected on a manifesto that said that we would remain part of the single market. That is what business is saying it wants. At the Dispatch Box a few weeks ago, the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy waxed lyrical about mass-engagement and the number of businesses he had visited up and down the country. I asked whether he could name a single business that was in favour of leaving the single market. Surprisingly enough, no answer was forthcoming, but that seems to be a common state of affairs with the Government.
That leads me on to where we find ourselves. Just today, the Prime Minister was required to state that she had confidence in the Chancellor of the Exchequer, as there are again differing positions in the Government on the single market. The Prime Minister was required to change statements and rebut the Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union, the Secretary of State for International Development and the Foreign Secretary, because they are not singing from the same hymn sheet. It is no wonder that the country is in absolute chaos and the pound is in this position; no one knows what is happening. In such times, we should look at who has a plan. Who is the woman with a plan? I have clearly laid out Scotland’s position, and I expect Members in all parts of the Chamber to accept and respect that position.
In addition, because of the manner in which that referendum campaign was fought, we have had an exponential rise in hate crime. People who have come from other places and made this country their home are feeling vulnerable. It seems perfectly feasible for Members in this debate to talk about how we should encourage people with expertise from other countries to make this country their home, while in the same breath saying that we are unable to guarantee to EU nationals who have chosen to make this country their home that they, their families and their children, who are in our schools, can continue their life here. That is a shocking state of affairs. We cannot have one set of rules for one group of people, and one set for another. We should respect the people who have chosen to make this country their home.
Our position is clear: the democratic interests of the people of Scotland must be taken into consideration. The First Minister is happy to work with the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom. The Prime Minister said that Scotland would be involved. Involvement in the negotiations is key; consulting is not enough. If the Prime Minister wants to keep Scotland on board, that is very much in her hands.
I should make it clear that I am not in favour of Scottish independence. If Scotland became independent and became part of the EU, it would be trading within the EU and so would not face any tariffs. Does the hon. Lady accept that that would, sadly, provoke a lot of industry in England and Wales to simply migrate up the road to Scotland? It would be a disaster for England and Wales if Scotland were to go, and take with it all the industry, so that it could work in the EU.
That is why I made the point that the cards are on the table. The Prime Minister gave her word to our First Minister, in Scotland, after the vote that Scotland would be involved in the negotiations, and she should act on that. On the hon. Gentleman’s point, if the good people of England and Wales wanted to make Scotland their home, we would be absolutely delighted to welcome them, as we are a country of inclusion.
The Government are asking the people of this country to trust them with the negotiations, but it is important to note that we have conflicting points of view among Ministers. How can we be asked to trust a Government when they do not even trust each other? That is the position we find ourselves in. The contrary position is taken in Scotland. We made our views clear: 62% of us voted to remain in the EU. Business knows that it is a disaster for us to leave the EU and the single market. The ball is very much in the Prime Minister’s court: she should act on the manifesto on which the Conservative party were elected to government, albeit by an extremely narrow majority. It is clear that the party is nervous about the majority and what it might mean in the future.
In closing, what develops is entirely within the Government’s hands, but let us ensure that Scotland and the other devolved Parliaments are involved in the conversation, the debate and the negotiations. If the Prime Minister wants to be the Prime Minister for the whole United Kingdom, she should include the whole United Kingdom in all the arguments. In the Opposition day debate last week, the Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union said, “I have been at the Dispatch Box a number of times. I am accountable.” Yes, he is, but we are still debating this issue because we have no answers. Let us be clear: the UK Government may have a mandate to leave the EU from England and Wales, but not from Scotland and Northern Ireland. Moreover, they do not have a mandate on the terms of that exit, because differing positions were offered during the referendum debate and the Government do not have a confirmed position.
This has been an unexpectedly exciting debate that has raised some of the long-standing issues on both sides, and the wounds of those issues will not easily be healed without some answers.
I will focus my comments on the petition that calls for an immediate repeal of the European Communities Act 1972. Colleagues might be aware that I have a private Member’s Bill before the House that would protect in UK law all of the workers’ rights that are derived from the European Union. I fear that some of the most fundamental of those rights would simply fall away were the Act repealed today, including equal rights for part-time and agency workers, the right to annual leave and parental leave and the protection of employment upon the transfer of a business or the outsourcing of services. That is not to mention all the other areas of law that have been implemented through the Act. The Prime Minister has said that the Government will not address that. Instead they will look to pass a great repeal Bill to come into force once we have left the EU; only then will the European Communities Act be repealed. But where will that leave workers’ rights?
According to the Library, the great repeal Bill will likely seek to secure all legislation passed through the European Communities Act in the same form as it currently exists—namely, in secondary legislation. This comes to the point about which I clumsily sought to intervene earlier in the speech by the hon. Member for Sutton and Cheam (Paul Scully). As Members are aware, using secondary legislation means that each law or directive can be changed through a statutory instrument. The Bill would therefore give this and any future Government the ability to amend or repeal fundamental rights without necessarily holding a debate or even a vote in the House.
The Prime Minister said at her party conference last month:
“Existing workers’...rights will continue to be guaranteed in law”.
However, there appears to be disagreement in her Cabinet. The Transport Secretary told the press on the same day as the Prime Minister’s speech that the Government want to keep only some workers’ rights measures. He, along with several other Cabinet members, are on record calling for the scrapping—or in one case halving— of employment protections. Arguments within the Conservative party aside, and whatever the intentions of this particular Government, the fact is that by maintaining employment protections in secondary legislation while removing Britain from the common floor of minimum rights that the EU ensures, the great repeal Bill will leave workers’ rights hanging by a thread.
My hon. Friend is making a strong speech and I wholly support her efforts because I share her concerns. The matter goes beyond employment rights and into areas such as environmental protection. Whatever the Government say, the fact that secondary legislation will be used for employment protection opens the measures up to more malevolent forces to attempt to amend or weaken them. Does she agree that we should not rely on the assurances that the Government have given in public so far?
I could not agree more with my hon. Friend. He has mentioned precisely the concerns that led me to introduce my Bill.
The other way in which the European Union has helped to secure and protect the rights of British workers is through the courts. A huge number of rulings from the Court of Justice of the European Union protect employees in our country. For example, the requirement for overtime and commission payments to count towards holiday pay is because of a European court ruling, as is the requirement to pay care workers a full wage for sleep-in shifts.
My hon. Friend is making a powerful case. If businesses face tariffs in the EU, they will argue that they need to get their costs down and will say to the Government, “Hold on. Why don’t we have three weeks’ paid holiday instead of four? Why don’t we reduce environmental standards? That will give us all sorts of other benefits.” They will take rights away from workers so that inward investors will face lower costs to platform into Europe, given that we face tariffs. Is there not a real risk to people across Britain from that?
We must be careful not to paint all business in that way. However, the reality is that throughout the whole discourse on the referendum, workers’ rights have been portrayed as red tape and therefore cumbersome things that people would want to do away with. Companies’ bottom line is also an issue. If they need to save money somewhere, it is likely to be in areas where they see wiggle room, as we have seen in the past, so my hon. Friend makes a valid point.
The Transport Secretary—I feel as though I am picking on him, so I apologise for that—said last month of the great repeal Bill that decisions made by the European Court of Justice on the United Kingdom will cease to apply, so that is one thing that will change. So while some workers’ rights will be made more vulnerable, others will effectively be repealed, and it will be left to judges to decide whether to maintain them. It certainly does not feel like the sovereignty of Parliament is being restored: it is merely taking control from one unelected judiciary and giving it to another unelected judiciary.
The Minister needs to clarify things today. Will the great repeal Bill transpose existing EU case law into UK law, or was the Transport Secretary accurate in his description of the Bill last month? If the Government do not plan to do that, does the Minister agree that the Prime Minister’s promise that existing workers’ rights will be protected was misleading to say the least?
If the Government were serious about protecting existing workers' rights, they would secure them in primary legislation, not secondary legislation. That is exactly what my Workers’ Rights (Maintenance of EU Standards) Bill would do, so can the Minister say whether the Government will support my Bill when it comes before the House later in this Session?
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Wilson. I congratulate the hon. Member for Sutton and Cheam (Paul Scully) on introducing this debate in which we have this six-pack of petitions of very different strengths and flavours, which, as other hon. Members have said, reflect the range of views, concerns, doubts, hopes and frustrations out there since the referendum vote. Other hon. Members have touched on questions raised in relation to Scotland and were kind enough to touch upon the fact that Northern Ireland also voted to remain. I want to address some of the questions raised in respect of the Northern Ireland position and the implications for the Good Friday agreement. Too often too many people here assume that the issues of Northern Ireland are taken care of with assurances of consultation with the joint First Ministers and pledges that people will do everything to avoid a hard border. There are more serious implications for the Good Friday agreement than just the possible profile of the border in future.
In an article penned by the Irish Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade in yesterday’s Observer, he gave an undertaking that the Irish Government will work for special arrangements that take account of Northern Ireland’s unique circumstances. Does the hon. Gentleman agree that, given the delicacy of the peace process, the UK Government should take the same approach in giving a guarantee that the interests of Ireland, north and south, will be treated with the utmost importance? Does he agree that the exclusion of the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland from the Cabinet Office Brexit Committee is a disappointing signal that that will not be the case in reality?
I thank the hon. Lady for raising those issues. She is right to reflect on the fact that Charlie Flanagan, the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, and the Taoiseach have reflected that they want to make sure that Northern Ireland’s very distinctive position is recognised and reflected in the future. Not only those in government, but all the parties in the Oireachtas have reflected that in the work of the Joint Committee on the Implementation of the Good Friday Agreement—a Committee that Northern Ireland MPs have the right to attend and speak at. It has set out a programme of work in relation to Brexit to look at the trade implications that might arise, and at the dangers of the incipient borderism that may emerge once we have one jurisdiction in the EU and one jurisdiction out. Once we have differential legislation coming in, we will have the tensions and difficulties of borderism. Whether customs posts are introduced or not, borderism will be an increasing problem. The problem will not only be in border areas and constituencies such as mine and that of my hon. Friend the Member for South Down (Ms Ritchie), but across the north. Indeed, it will affect the south as well.
Before I touch on those particular questions, I want to address questions that are reflected in the petitions, not least the question of the role of Parliament. It seems strange that people who led a campaign in the name of taking back control to the UK Parliament now want to bypass that Parliament as far as considering next steps are concerned. It is clear that the people who are meant to be steering us forward have no plan, map, app or satnav for where they are going. The rest of us are being told that as far as the devolved institutions are concerned, we just have to tailgate wherever London’s impulses take them next—whatever whims, prejudices and fancies emerge, so long as there is some sort of consultation, we can safely tailgate London—but if people do not know where they are going, it is not sensible to follow them blindly. People in Scotland and Northern Ireland who voted to remain have the right to say that our position should be reflected. Members of Parliament from Scotland and Northern Ireland at least should have the opportunity to record their position here and in Scotland. The Conservative party imposed the new construct of English votes for English laws in this Parliament, but perhaps the compromise should have been English votes for English exits. We should let them decide to take themselves out of the EU and let those of us who want to remain retain membership of the single market and have access to EU measures and programmes.
People seem to forget that we had a referendum to endorse the Good Friday agreement. It was almost unique internationally, because it was a double referendum: it had to be held not just in Northern Ireland but in the south, and a majority was needed in both. It was John Hume’s great idea. It was a way of recruiting and respecting both senses and sources of legitimacy in Northern Ireland—the Unionist sense and source of legitimacy, which was bound up in the wishes of the majority of people in Northern Ireland, and the nationalist sense of source of legitimacy, which was bound up in the wishes of the majority of people in Ireland.
In that referendum, huge numbers of people overwhelmingly endorsed the Good Friday agreement. It was the high water mark of Irish national democratic expression—a form of articulated self-determination. It is part of the very delicate constitutional understandings that are at the heart of the Good Friday agreement, whereby we brought people to accept the principle of consent. Some Unionists used to resent the principle of consent because they thought it put Northern Ireland on the window ledge of the Union. Many republicans, of course, rejected the principle of consent because they said it created a Unionist veto and was partitionist. The Social Democratic and Labour party—a constitutional nationalist party that was the first nationalist party to put the principle of consent at the heart of our constitution—worked hard to consolidate the idea, and we got a span of acceptance around the principle of consent.
The principle of consent states that Northern Ireland’s future will be determined by the wishes of the majority of people in Northern Ireland, so it is confounded by the way in which Northern Ireland is being taken out of the European Union against the wishes of the majority of people there. The dual referendum is being confounded, too, because when people in the north and the south voted for the Good Friday agreement, they took Irish and UK common membership of the EU as a given.
The preamble of the agreement between the two Governments in the Good Friday agreement clearly makes significant reference to common membership of the European Union. Strand 1 of the Good Friday agreement, which deals with the institutions in Northern Ireland, refers to the European Union. Strand 2, which is about institutions for north and south—for the island as a whole—refers to the European Union. Strand 3, which is about relations throughout the islands of Britain and Northern Ireland, and takes in all the devolved Administrations plus the Ireland Administration, also refers to the European Union. So people cannot say that the European Union was not a conscious factor in people’s understanding when they voted for the Good Friday agreement.
The improvement in British-Irish relations, in the context of our common membership of the EU, was a major part of the backdrop to the Good Friday agreement. Without the experience of common membership of the EU and the improved relations in that regard, we would never have got the Anglo-Irish agreement in 1985, which was signed by Margaret Thatcher and Garret FitzGerald, and set the context for the subsequent peace process.
People need to be very careful about what they are undoing here. They need to understand the difference between a mere stud wall and a supporting wall. When people talk about blindly taking Northern Ireland out of the EU against our wishes and about removing the Human Rights Act, which was a key pillar in the support for and understanding of the Good Friday agreement, they are dangerously knocking through a supporting wall. I am not saying that there will be a collapse straight away, but if other issues create pressure later we will regret this move. That is why people need to look more fundamentally at some of these issues.
People do not seem to realise, particularly in respect of the workings of strand 2 of the Good Friday agreement, which is about north-south arrangements, that a large part of the traffic and the programme of work of the six implementation bodies that were set up under the agreement relate to EU moneys or programmes. The Special EU Programmes Body, which, as its name implies, manages the EU programmes north and south, would disappear. The work of InterTradeIreland is in large part to do with encouraging businesses north and south to engage with European challenge funds, to understand opportunities in European markets and to understand European directives. It also uses EU money to help businesses and academia to take part in research consortia and alliances. That work would be affected. The food safety body largely deals with EU health and food directives and ensures they are transposed in a consistent and compatible way, north and south. Similarly, Waterways Ireland has channelled EU funding in a lot of its work.
We could end up with Brexit meaning that the workings of strand 2 are, in effect, hollowed out, which is a matter of gross insensitivity—to nationalists in particular, but to all who bought into and supported the agreement as a balanced package, in terms of the institutions in the north, the north-south arrangements and the British-Irish east-west arrangements. It will not be good enough if strand 2 is hollowed out in a way that suits the Democratic Unionist party, the largest party in Northern Ireland currently. It never supported the agreement, it opposed it in the referendum, it voted no and it campaigned against it. It just so happens that it would suit the DUP for Brexit to hollow out that key aspect of the Good Friday agreement by default.
People may say, “Well, that can happen. It’s just a matter of luck and happenstance,” but that is not what the people of Ireland understood when they endorsed the Good Friday agreement in overwhelming numbers, and the people of southern Ireland changed the terms of the Irish constitution specifically to reflect that. We cannot turn around and say, “You’re unilaterally being taken out of the EU. We are unilaterally going to weaken strand 2 by pulling out the underpinnings and all the key bolts, because people in England voted in a UK vote.”
The Good Friday agreement made it very clear that some decisions are for the people of Ireland north and south alone, without external impediment. The way in which the Government are conducting Brexit—they are saying it is a one-size-fits-all, for all parts of the United Kingdom—is potentially going to constitute an external impediment to the due workings and development of the Good Friday agreement in the longer term. People need to recognise that just giving assurances about trying to avoid a hard border will not be enough.
I am listening very carefully to the hon. Gentleman’s excellent speech. Is he saying, given what has happened, that the Government should undertake to ensure that all the rights that are currently enjoyed—whether rights at work or environmental rights—the economic grants and even the subsidies to counteract the tariffs that will be introduced should now be given to Northern Ireland so we can sustain what the people who signed up to the Good Friday agreement across Ireland understood to be the case?
I thank my hon. Friend for that point. Yes, essentially I believe that is what the people of Northern Ireland voted for when they voted to remain. They want to maximise our opportunities within the EU, such as our access to programmes and funding. We have had generous access to significant funding from the EU and we have taken advantage of particular programmes, not least some of the cross-border measures. When people voted to remain, I believe they were also voting to preserve the Good Friday agreement. They wanted to try to keep it intact and do the least damage to it. Of course, people who voted against the agreement in the first place had no care about that. They do not care what damage is done to it; they just feel, “Well, somebody else will have to look after it,” and maybe literally pick up the pieces.
The other issues that the hon. Gentleman touched on go back to some of the points made by the hon. Member for Sutton and Cheam and others about the whole question of the great repeal Bill. Last week I described it as the great “download and save” Bill, because it will simply download and save existing EU law, but the significant question then is, who will subsequently control the delete key? Will the great repeal Bill make it clear that only Parliament may repeal or amend those key EU laws, or will powers be given to Ministers to make significant change to that legislation by regulation?
[Mr Charles Walker in the Chair]
That is a significant issue, because a number of Ministers would be happy to joyride around some of those laws, once they had said, “Oh, we’re behind the wheel,” and away they would go. Perhaps, as indicated last week, it would be a bit more like clowns with chainsaws or axes, as they go after particular environmental standards, employment rights, women’s rights or other things, just so they can demonstrate the powers under the great repeal Bill. I worry about what some people might do, in an excess of showing control, and the sort of joyriding that would take place.
Other hon. Members have talked about what should be repealed given the choice. May I ask the hon. Gentleman about his thoughts on when we tried to repeal the unwanted, unfair and sexist VAT on women’s sanitary products? We could not do that through Parliament, but we would be able to do so if we had control in our Parliament. Is that one of the things he would be happy to repeal?
My view on that is clear, and I have been consistent. The hon. Gentleman has given the example of women’s sanitary products, but let us also remember that this Government have often cited EU restrictions against a lot of policy initiatives that many of us would want. EU obligations were quoted in favour of the unfair pension changes for women born in the 1950s, with Ministers and Government MPs insisting, “Oh, it’s because of the EU that we have had to do that, equalising in this sort of way and not adjusting.” It will be interesting to see how many of the Members who used that rationale in the past will say, “Now we are getting control, we can have a different take on the whole question of the pension changes and transitions.” Such excuses have been used in different ways and, similarly, were cited against having VAT concessions for hospitality or tourism, even though about 24 EU member states clearly have such variations in their rates.
The other question that I wanted to ask the Minister about the great repeal Bill is, as well as indicating whether any changes made to EU laws incorporated into domestic law will be under primary legislation or regulation, whether the Bill will automatically devolve powers that should go to devolved institutions, or will it have them retained for a period and subject to subsequent devolution legislation? In the particular context of Northern Ireland, some of us worry that under a so-called great repeal Bill powers would, in essence, be transferred to London, but not devolved before they have been exercised in London, perhaps to change some of the legislation or the standards on rights.
Doing that might be in the interests not only of the Government party in Westminster but, unfortunately, of the largest party in Northern Ireland, the Democratic Unionist party. A change in a law before subsequent devolution to Northern Ireland would mean that those of us who want to change it back might do so only by avoiding a veto from a political party such as the DUP. However, if under a great repeal Bill the functions and powers over legislation in the relevant areas automatically devolve to Northern Ireland, then anyone trying to remove those rights and protections, or to reduce the standards, could do so only with sufficient cross-community support and no veto from anyone else. That is a significant political difference, so again the Government need to be careful about what they are treading on and dealing with in such areas.
A final and fundamental point that I want to make about this in respect of Northern Ireland is to do with the Good Friday agreement and the particular provision at the heart of its delicate constitutional understanding. The agreement is a special political and constitutional hologram—Unionists can hold it up to a certain light and see things according to their principles, and nationalists in Ireland can hold it up to a certain light and see things according to our political ethic and outlook—but the fact is that it provides clearly for the possibility of a referendum on Northern Ireland removing itself from the United Kingdom into a united Ireland. That is provided for not only in the agreement, but in schedule 1 to the Northern Ireland Act 1998, which translated the Good Friday agreement into law.
I want the Minister to address whether those specific provisions will be part of any new UK-EU treaty. Will there be specific provision for a UK that has left the EU to still respect and recognise that the Good Friday agreement provided for Northern Ireland to have the option of moving into a united Ireland? Such a provision needs to be included in any UK-EU treaty, if there is to be one, so that in Northern Ireland we are not hit with the kind of question that was used to vex and confuse people in the debate in Scotland, which is to say: “If you want to go into a united Ireland, you might not be able to go into the EU as well. You will be a new territory going into the EU, and therefore you will have to have new negotiations for Northern Ireland, and they could be very complicated.” People might also say, “A united Ireland will change the member state,” so even the Republic’s terms would be up for renegotiation and need a whole new negotiation.
That sort of scare was clearly used in Scotland, but it is one that we cannot allow any possibility of in future options for Northern Ireland. Some of us worked hard to get those provisions into the Good Friday agreement, and to get sufficient understanding around them. We cannot afford for those delicate understandings to be wounded or lost by the way in which the Government go about Brexit.
Some people have tried to say, “There is a precedent”—the German example is the perfect precedent—“so we don’t need anything in the new treaty.” However, the difference was, first, the weight of political interest in making that happen for Germany at the pace at which it happened and, secondly, the understanding that, because the original European Communities treaties specifically recognised the West German constitution—the basic law—which purported to apply to all of Germany, all that reunification did was to make de facto what, in recognising the basic law, was originally deemed de jure. That was the Germans’ equivalent of the old articles 2 and 3 in the Irish constitution—but the territorial claim of those articles was changed as part of the Good Friday agreement.
As diligent constitutional nationalists, we cannot afford for there to be any dirty work at the crossroads. There were understandings about the direct and straightforward premise of a referendum option for a united Ireland, and about how well it would be accommodated, and we cannot allow that to be confounded in any way by the terms of Brexit. The terms need to be specific, because we are also working in the context of different EU treaties from when German unification happened.
We also need specific provision so that no one in other EU member states will misunderstand that referendum option when it emerges in Ireland. People might say, “We, too, want the principle of regions being able to member-state hop, or to switch from one side of a border to another.” It needs to be clear that we are looking not for any wider or more general precedent for anyone else in or around the EU, but for specific recognition of the Good Friday agreement.
I am listening carefully, but is the hon. Gentleman putting the case that there should be a referendum now across Ireland about whether there should be a unification of Ireland, in order that the people of Northern Ireland who want to remain in the EU can do so as part of Ireland? He probably has not considered this, but will he consider extending that to Scotland—and indeed Wales, while he is at it—so they can join a unified Ireland?
Order. I would not want the hon. Member for Foyle (Mark Durkan) to expand too widely on referendums about Irish reunification.
I am not advocating such a referendum in the short term. We have to deal with the challenges and issues of Brexit and reflect what people in Northern Ireland and Scotland voted for, just as other hon. Members want to emphasise what people in England and Wales voted for. I want us to do that in a way that takes care of the premises and promises that people signed up for and committed to in that great democratic compromise that was the Good Friday agreement. We want the specific provisions that I have mentioned to be in any new UK-EU treaty, and that will be a test of whether the Government properly stand by the Good Friday agreement. We need to be able to say to people that the option for a referendum is still there—that it is no lesser and will be no lesser than was intended when people committed to it in the Good Friday agreement. That is why the terms of any new UK-EU treaty have specifically to take care of that.
I am certainly not trying to say that something in Ireland or Northern Ireland should automatically be bolted on to Scotland. Scotland will clearly advocate, consider and deliberate about its own choices and issues in all these matters. I am not calling for a referendum in the short term—that would not answer a lot of the short-term issues and challenges—but I certainly want to ensure that nothing that is done now weakens that option in the longer term. If certain changes happen, we will not be able to pretend that the tyre is merely flat at the bottom. If we lose on some key points now, serious longer term damage will be done, and that will have delicate political consequences. I hope the Minister will do more than just recite the usual mantras about consulting Ministers in devolved Administrations and hard borders.
It is a genuine pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Walker, as it is on the Procedure Committee. The hon. Member for Great Grimsby (Melanie Onn) said that we were having an unexpectedly exciting debate. She is clearly not a regular at debates in Westminster Hall, which we should really start referring to as “Brexit Minister Hall” because we are graced so frequently with the presence of the Under-Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union, the hon. Member for Worcester (Mr Walker). Several of us are regulars at these debates, and we are joined by other Members who make contributions. One strength of the petitions system is that we get to hear regularly about the issues that are of concern to our constituents, and as we can see from the six petitions that we are dealing with today, Brexit has been and will continue to be one of those.
I note that we still have not had the debate on the Floor of the House in Government time that we asked for, though we had a debate last week in Opposition time. There have been statements and all the rest of it, and it is clear that regular debates will continue to take place in all kinds of guises in this Chamber and on the Floor of the House. The question is when there will actually be votes, and when the House can have its say and make its voice heard.
Does the hon. Gentleman agree that there was an opportunity for a vote following the Opposition day debate last week? I made a bit of an effort to get here—from Strasbourg, ironically—to find that the Opposition had dealt away their right to a vote.
I am not privy to the usual channels, but I know that several colleagues were travelling here, and several of us were trying desperately to get away for our party conference. For some reason, people in this part of the world seem to think that the party conference season has finished before it actually has. There was a certain amount of confusion about whether there would be a vote last Wednesday afternoon, but perhaps we will have one some other time.
Three key points have arisen from the debate and the petitions that we are considering: when and how to invoke article 50 and Parliament’s role in that; the repeal of the European Communities Act 1972 and the question of a hard or soft Brexit; and the question of an independence day, which perhaps gives us an opportunity to consider in a bit more detail the role of Scotland and the other devolved nations.
On the question of when and how to invoke article 50, we were originally told that it would be triggered on 24 June 2016. That was the UK Government’s position going into the referendum, and that was abandoned by the Prime Minister without any shame whatever as he resigned that morning. We can therefore probably understand why, when the new Prime Minister says that article 50 will be invoked by the end of March 2017, several Members—and probably the public at large—might take that with just a pinch of salt. We might have to wait for the court case that was mentioned to come to an end before we know whether it is entirely possible for the Government to trigger article 50 under the royal prerogative.
The question of parliamentary approval for the article 50 process is very real. I believe in the popular sovereignty of the people of Scotland, but I well understand the frustration of Government Back-Benchers who thought they were taking back control only to find that it appears to have been handed directly to Ministers without any opportunity for the House to have its say. There seems to be a clear consensus that the broad outline of the Government’s negotiating position should be brought to the House before the article 50 process begins. We keep hearing Ministers say, “We don’t want to show our hand and give away our negotiating strategy.” Stating the objectives of a negotiation is not the same as stating the negotiation strategy. Perhaps the real reason why the Government have not set out their position is that so far they simply do not have one.
That brings us to the bigger question of what the Government’s negotiating position should look like. That is the question of a hard Brexit or a soft Brexit—or as I heard on the radio last night, a “clean” Brexit, which apparently involves withdrawal from the single market. I suppose that means there must be the option of a messy Brexit, too. We have also heard about a full English Brexit and a dog’s Brexit, so I expect that in the not-too-distant future there will be scrambled, poached, boiled and fried Brexits on offer as well. For Scotland, of course, it will be a deep-fried Brexit to go along with the Mars bars.
In any event, parliamentary debate and scrutiny is so important because the leave campaign gave us no prospectus for what Brexit would actually look like, beyond a bus with a promise that £50 million a day would be spent on the national health service. It is all too clear that the UK Government had done absolutely no preparation whatever. The only certainty and clarity in the debate about Brexit has come from the Scottish Government, whose position stands in contrast with the UK Government’s chaos and confusion. That position was outlined again by the First Minister of Scotland at the Scottish National party’s conference this weekend. There is no mandate for any part of the United Kingdom—certainly not Scotland—to be taken out of the single market. The Foreign Secretary apparently told the Foreign Affairs Committee that many people do not understand the term “single market”. That possibly includes him, given the press coverage that has been referred to during this debate. Anyone can access the single market; the key question is whether we are inside or outside—whether we are trading with the single market or within the single market. Those are two very different issues.
That is also why freedom of movement, which is the subject of one of the petitions, is so important and needs to be protected. In Scotland, our problem has been emigration, not immigration. We are clear that we want to welcome all those who can contribute to our society, and more importantly, that those who are already here are valued and welcome to stay.
The Government say that the European Communities Act will be abolished through a great repeal Bill. The First Minister of Scotland made it clear at the weekend that SNP Members of Parliament will vote against that Bill when it comes to the House. The mandate that I have from 78% of voters in Glasgow North and 62% of voters in Scotland is for Scotland to remain in the European Union. The Scottish Parliament will of course be required to give its assent to any Act passed by this Parliament that affects its powers.
The hon. Member for Foyle (Mark Durkan) raised many important questions about the impact of Brexit on the devolved powers of the different Assemblies and Parliaments across the United Kingdom. My right hon. Friend the Member for Gordon (Alex Salmond) made the point in the main Chamber last week that the principle of devolution to Scotland is that anything that is not reserved is devolved, so it stands to reason that once all the powers held by the European Union come back to the United Kingdom, they should be devolved to Scotland. The Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union was not able to respond to that point in the Chamber last week, and I do not know whether his Minister is any more prepared to do so at this stage.
As has been clear from the debate, the great irony of the great repeal Act is that the first act of taking back control will give a democratic mandate for, and enshrine in UK law, all the hated regulations that the Brexiteers have campaigned against for so many years—regulations that protect our beaches, our air quality and, indeed, as the hon. Member for Great Grimsby said, all our workers’ rights. While Brexiteers might delight in the thought of eventually getting to unpick those regulations, when it came to what was actually going to happen, it was pretty thin gruel: it was various tweaks to VAT on sanitary products, some of which could probably have been done by negotiating a derogation in the first place. The notion of a two-tier VAT system will be very interesting to manufacturers in other parts of the world who want to import their goods to the United Kingdom.
On the so-called tampon tax, I heard the hon. Member for Darlington (Jenny Chapman) say, from a sedentary position, “Is that it?”. The point is that the then Chancellor of the Exchequer faced a near parliamentary rebellion on the issue, and then had to take it to the European Union Finance Ministers and wait six months. Then the Prime Minister had to go to the Committee of Ministers with a begging bowl, effectively—and still there was not a result on that single, small issue, which should have been so simple to resolve. That shows why it is important to invoke article 50 and take back control.
Some of that is about the political will of the UK Government. As the hon. Gentleman said, they took those actions only after coming under massive amounts of parliamentary pressure here in the House of Commons.
That was not the first time the tampon tax issue had been brought to the House’s attention. If women’s issues and rights were put at the heart of every single policy at the outset of negotiations on them with the EU, we would not have been in that position in the first place.
Absolutely. A lot of it goes back to the case we were making before 23 June. We were saying not that everything was sweetness and light and that the European Union was perfect, but that there was an opportunity to play a constructive, more reforming role. That is certainly the role we see Scotland playing, if and when it becomes an independent member of the European Union.
On taking back control, what we are actually talking about is taking back control and giving it to a Tory Government, who will have unfettered control over what to do. Whenever there has been an opportunity to deal with VAT, all Tory Governments have done is increase it. That does not give us much hope that if they did have control, they would reduce it.
Indeed. I am sure the Brexit Minister will feed back to his colleagues in the Treasury how keen Back Benchers are to liberate us from punitive VAT. The point touched on by my hon. Friend the Member for Ochil and South Perthshire (Ms Ahmed-Sheikh), and also mentioned by the hon. Member for Foyle, is about where the powers will lie once the great repeal Bill becomes law. Will they be held by this Parliament, or will the Government take more powers to make decisions by regulation?
Once that Bill has passed, that will be the so-called independence day. Of the 21,292 signatories to the petition that states that
“23 June should be designated as Independence Day, and celebrated annually”,
two were residents of my constituency. I therefore do not feel any particular need to speak strongly in favour of that petition. I suspect that in years to come, 23 June will not be a day for celebration. It may indeed end up as a day of deep regret, even for those who voted, earlier this year, to leave.
I sometimes wonder if I have woken up in a parallel universe and the independence day referred to is the day of Scotland becoming independent, because look at what has happened: the currency is plummeting; there is uncertainty for universities and industry; and we cannot even get our favourite brands from supermarket websites. That is what we were told would happen if Scotland became an independent country. That is why we had to vote no and stay in the United Kingdom. Perhaps I have completely misread the political situation.
On 18 April, the then Chancellor cited Treasury analysis that stated that the effect of Brexit would be to make every household £4,300 worse off, and to make Britain and its families permanently poorer. How much poorer does the Conservative party believe people in Scotland will be if we are pulled out of the EU? Is there an ongoing total?
That is a fair point. Again, we were told of all the doom, destruction, plagues and apocalypse that would come upon us if we became independent, much of which would be a result of us coming out of the European Union, and then it turns out that it has all happened as a result of us staying in the United Kingdom. The process is very contradictory. That is why Scotland reserves the right to look forward to its own independence day, should we choose that route.
We in the Scottish National party have always understood our independence to be defined by our inter-dependence. Independence in Europe is not a contradiction; it ought to be the definition of a modern, outward-looking country that wants to play its part in building a fairer society, at home and around the world. That—I have said this several times in this Chamber and elsewhere—is the difference between Scotland’s position in the Brexit debate, and the position of counties in the rest of the United Kingdom, and in England in particular. The previous Prime Minister gave his example of Oxfordshire, and we heard the example of Yorkshire mentioned, but as far as I am aware, neither Oxfordshire or Yorkshire has recently sought independence, neither has had a referendum, and neither has an Edinburgh agreement that says that it will be a valued, respected and equal part of the United Kingdom.
Scotland retains a right in principle to choose its own future, and indeed that was the subject of my debate here on the claim of right for Scotland. Instead, Brexit Britain risks becoming insular, inward-looking and closed in on itself, putting up barriers to people and seeing barriers to trade being put up against it. That is why the Scottish Government will do everything in their power to protect Scotland’s place in Europe.
We know that in the coming weeks serious proposals will emerge to show how Scotland could stay in the single market even if the rest of the United Kingdom leaves. The First Minister’s Standing Council on Europe continues to provide expert advice and work through the options. That is why the Scottish Government and all the devolved Assemblies’ genuine involvement in the Brexit process is so important. The question about it seeming to have been downgraded from some kind of involvement to some kind of consultation has come up time and again. If the Minister can respond on those points, I look forward to hearing what he says. The same goes for the question of the Scottish Parliament’s right to give or withhold its consent to a great reform Act. As my hon. Friend the Member for Rutherglen and Hamilton West (Margaret Ferrier) said, the exclusion of the Secretaries of State for the constituent nations of the United Kingdom from the Cabinet Committee on Brexit is yet another slap in the face. The one Conservative MP for Scotland is invested with responsibility as Secretary of State for Scotland, yet he is still excluded. That heaps insult on insult on the voters of Scotland.
A lot of the petitions were signed in the heat of the aftermath of 23 June. They are unlikely to be the last to be brought to us in Westminster Hall, but eventually we will have to stop debating and decide. The UK Government should not stand in the way of giving MPs a say, on behalf of their constituents, on the Brexit process. Waiting for the great repeal Bill—the great incorporation Bill is a more accurate name—is not enough.
The hon. Member for Sutton and Cheam (Paul Scully), in his opening remarks, which were a helpful introduction to the debate, mentioned the “Independence Day” movie released the day after the European Union referendum. I am not sure how many hon. Members saw that movie, but I inform them that London, and the Palace of Westminster in particular, do not come off well. I suspect that the independence day the Brexiteers think they achieved on 23 June may end up proving to be similar.
It is an honour to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Walker. Before I begin, may I say what a great process this is by which the public not just send us here but tell us what we ought to be discussing? I commend the excellent work of the Procedure Committee on bringing that about.
The hon. Member for Glasgow North (Patrick Grady) asks whether and which EU laws will be devolved as part of the so-called great repeal Bill. I caution the Minister that the Bill will not really repeal anything and may turn out to be not so great. I congratulate him on his appointment, but he has a great deal on his shoulders as a newly appointed Minister—talk about being thrown in at the deep end. I wish him well, because it is in the interest of us all that he should do well in his post.
We have had some fantastic contributions this afternoon, and everyone spoke with heart. Rarely is there such quality and consistency in our debates. My hon. Friend the Member for Swansea West (Geraint Davies) talked about the impact on the steel industry and said that he wants a second referendum. For various reasons I spent some time this summer trying to persuade members of my party that a second referendum would be a good idea. Now I consider that if we are to invoke article 50 quite as soon as the Prime Minister has suggested, that may not be practical. However, I fully understand the rationale for making that case. The reason is that we have no idea on what terms we intend to leave the European Union. I am not trying to be cheeky, but I wrote down what the hon. Member for Morley and Outwood (Andrea Jenkyns) said, and I shall read out what I have written. She said that she does not recommend a blow-by-blow account, but she does not recommend doing it in the dark either. Well, I do not recommend doing it in the dark.
The hon. Lady did say that. I think what we need from the Government is an understanding of the opening terms of debate of their negotiation. We understand that the terms with which a negotiation is opened may well not be what parties walk away with at the end; but surely if control is being brought back to Parliament, parliamentarians need some understanding of the Government’s opening position. I do not think that that is too much to ask. A White Paper, as suggested by the Secretary of State, seems to me a good idea, so that Members can debate and perhaps vote on the terms. We do not ask—just for clarity—to vote on invoking article 50; but we want to see the terms on which the Government intend to proceed.
My hon. Friend the Member for Great Grimsby (Melanie Onn) spoke well about workers’ rights. She sees clearly that they are not red tape, and I completely agree with her. To her credit, she is introducing a Bill along those lines, and has asked the Minister to support it. I hope he might consider doing that, and perhaps he will let us know his position on the Bill.
The hon. Member for Ochil and South Perthshire (Ms Ahmed-Sheikh) talked about chaos in Government, and she is right. There are conflicting statements coming from different Ministers. At Conservative conference the position, to be polite, appeared somewhat confused, with a lot of clarification after speeches. Perhaps the reason we do not have a clear idea from the Government of the opening terms is that they have not yet decided what they will be.
Does my hon. Friend accept that the triggering of article 50 will be a once-in-a-lifetime change and we will be out? Then there will be some discussion about the terms. In the light of that, does she agree that a case can be made for delaying the triggering of article 50, so that the emerging picture that the British public will have to confront is much clearer? I think they will have an increasing appetite for a referendum on the exit package and those terms. We are just being rushed through the door only to find that the other side is full of gas and fire.
My hon. Friend makes a good point. What matters is that we get some consideration of the opening terms before article 50. That is the point. Whether that is done through a referendum or a debate and a vote in the House, the Government can proceed in various ways. However, my hon. Friend is right that to invoke article 50 before we have had that consideration would be irresponsible. It is for the Minister now to explain how he intends to involve parliamentarians and elected representatives in the devolved Administrations.
I thought that the hon. Member for Foyle (Mark Durkan) made some extremely interesting points, and not just about the border. We are all concerned about issues of customs and the border with Ireland. I know that Ministers will be keenly considering the possibility of the Republic’s becoming part of Schengen. However, as the hon. Gentleman explained, there is a host of other issues to do with the delicate—that was his word—democracy in Northern Ireland and the Republic. That alone is worth considerable debate, and I expect that colleagues from Northern Ireland will insist on time being given to that set of issues.
I thank the hon. Member for Sutton and Cheam (Paul Scully) for his helpful introduction on behalf of the Petitions Committee. He did a good job of balancing the conflicting opinions posed in the petitions, but it was an impossible task, because they are so contradictory. That brings home to me the level of interest in the issue that there is in the country, and the tricky balancing act that the Government will have to perform to satisfy those conflicting concerns. I suggest to the Minister that one way in which he might like to go about things is with a little more transparency and by being a bit more forthright in explaining what he thinks is the right position for the UK Government.
As a point of clarification, the only petition that had reached the signature threshold that would normally mean it was considered for debate was the first one, about invoking article 50 immediately. However, we wanted to make sure that the views of as many as people as possible were included.
It is to the Committee’s credit that it sought to reflect wider public views, including some that had not attracted as many signatures. However, having reflected on some of today’s contributions and some from last week’s debate, I want to be clear that Labour Members, above all else—and those of us present for the debate would have favoured a remain outcome—are democrats. The referendum result requires that we leave the European Union. Labour respects and accepts that, and so do I; no caveats.
On the issue of freedom of movement, as my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Holborn and St Pancras (Keir Starmer), the shadow Secretary of State, said last week, there was just 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?”
It would be wrong for any Member here, or campaigner elsewhere, to read into the result a blank cheque for their own policy prescription on immigration. The referendum result is not a mandate to remake Britain in Nigel Farage’s image, and, as the Foreign Secretary said last week, it is not a mandate to “haul up the drawbridge”. It would be foolish for the country to turn its back on the great talents of the world who want to contribute to our prosperity and way of life. Equally, it would shame the Government should we turn our backs on the EU citizens in our towns, cities and rural communities who already contribute to our prosperity and way of life.
My hon. Friend says that we should respect the referendum. Everybody does respect it, but does she agree that it is not inconsistent both to respect that judgment and, when we have the exit terms and know precisely what we are getting—in terms of the balance between migration, market access and cost—to put it again to the British people: “Is this what you had in mind, because this is a once-and-for-ever decision”? It is consistent to respect the first referendum and have an exit package referendum.
It is. I am not arguing that my hon. Friend is being inconsistent. I am just suggesting that it may not be practical, given the situation in which we find ourselves, and given the timetable on which the Government seem to be embarking. Had the Prime Minister suggested that article 50 be invoked after we agreed terms, perhaps in a year or in 18 months’ time, there might have been more chance of what my hon. Friend desires. I am grateful to see him smile.
On immigration, we feel strongly that people from the EU who are here, working and contributing, should be welcome to stay. However, just as it would be wrong to read a UKIP-shaped mandate into the referendum result, it would also be wrong to deny that concern over free movement was one of the major reasons that many people voted to leave the European Union. It is clear that the status quo on free movement cannot continue, and Labour accepts the need for managed migration. Establishing rules on fair migration will need to be a central part of our Brexit negotiations, and Labour will hold the Government to account to make sure this difficult and sensitive issue is addressed with far greater decency and respect than was displayed at their Birmingham conference earlier this month.
On the timing of the triggering of article 50, a lot can be said on the lack of forethought shown by those who presented a referendum to the British people but who prepared no strategy for the eventuality of a leave vote. Similarly, a lot can be said on the standing of those who brought us to this position and then exited stage right into early retirement. We are now in a position in which the United Kingdom is readying itself to enter into an incredibly important negotiation process, the twists and turns of which will have a lasting impact for decades to come, yet we have no agreed plan for how to proceed in the national interest, to safeguard what we value most and to achieve the changes most desired by the people we are here to represent.
In their official response to the petition, the Government said:
“The British people have voted to leave the EU and their will must be respected and delivered. We should not trigger Article 50 until we have a UK approach and objectives.”
I emphasise the bit about having a “UK approach and objectives” to the Minister. He needs to explain exactly what the “UK approach and objectives” might be; he needs to tell us how he will reflect the will of the House —the whole House—in his approach and his objectives; and he needs to tell us how he intends to involve Parliament in that process.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Walker. May I also thank the hon. Member for Sedgefield (Phil Wilson) for his earlier chairmanship of this wide-ranging debate? When studying these petitions, I recognised there was a wide range of views reflected in them. My hon. Friend the Member for Sutton and Cheam (Paul Scully) did an excellent job of reflecting on those views in his introduction. As we have seen, the debate has gone even wider in some respects, touching on a number of things beyond even the six petitions we are debating.
I thank the hon. Member for Darlington (Jenny Chapman) for her kind welcome and assure her that I take the responsibilities she referred to very seriously. As someone who, like probably the majority of Members in the Chamber, campaigned on the remain side in the referendum, but who now recognises that we have to reflect on the mandate of the British people and deliver on that, I am determined to make sure we do that in a way that addresses some of the concerns that I and other Members raised during that campaign, but that delivers on what the British people have voted for.
As others have pointed out, it is a healthy development in our democracy that petitions that receive substantial support should be debated in Parliament. This is not the first petitions debate we have had; indeed, we have had some excellent debates already on issues such as the devolved Administrations and on having a second referendum. I am sorry that my hon. Friend—sorry, the hon. Member for Swansea West (Geraint Davies); he was my friend when we served together on the Welsh Affairs Committee—was not there for the debate on the second referendum, because he might have been the only speaker in that debate to support what the petition called for. There were 13 speakers, including many from Labour and the Scottish National party, who all accepted that rerunning the referendum was not the right approach. Perhaps we missed his eloquent advocacy on that occasion.
I did not speak in that debate because I was speaking on behalf of socialists from 47 countries, as a member of the Socialist Group in the Council of Europe in Strasbourg. I spoke about the monstrosity and disaster of Brexit—the hon. Member for Sutton and Cheam (Paul Scully) was there as well—and explained the reason we might need a second referendum, if what is negotiated by the Minister and his Department does not resemble in the slightest the reasonable expectations of those who voted to leave.
I am grateful for that illustration of the hon. Gentleman’s views, but I think it is important that, in responding to this debate, I focus on the six petitions before us today, which were described with typical eloquence by the hon. Member for Foyle (Mark Durkan) as a “six pack”, with a wide variety of flavours.
To cover the full Government response, let me first reiterate the Government’s approach to this important process. It is a process we have only one opportunity to get right, so it is right to take the correct amount of time over it. We have been consulting with a broad range of stakeholders following the referendum result, which it is right to do, as my hon. Friend the Member for Sutton and Cheam pointed out. We are consulting with the devolved Administrations, with the overseas territories and crown dependencies, with businesses and with other interest groups to build a national consensus across the whole of the United Kingdom on our negotiating position. We will continue to involve the devolved Administrations in preparing the UK’s position.
The Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union and the rest of the ministerial team have already heard from a wide variety of sectors and stakeholders. We will also be holding a series of roundtables in the coming weeks on a variety of topics, including aviation, life sciences, financial services, agriculture and fisheries and many more. Engagement will continue through a range of bilateral meetings, visits across the United Kingdom, and the Joint Ministerial Council, which engages senior figures from the devolved Administrations. That process is about building an informed and strong negotiating position for the whole UK, and I do not share the pessimism of the hon. Member for Swansea West on that position. I would gently point out, to a colleague for whom I have great respect, that the petition he spoke to, which had 4 million signatures, was not advocated or defended by any Member who spoke in that debate and does not appear to have the support of his own Front-Bench team or many Members of the House.
Three of the petitions we are discussing today concern article 50, when we will invoke it and how. Let me be clear: the British people have voted to leave the European Union, and their will must be respected and delivered on, but the process for leaving the EU and determining our future relationship is complex. I acknowledge that the largest petition we are debating—as my hon. Friend the Member for Sutton and Cheam pointed out, it is the only one that would have reached the attention of the Petitions Committee on its own—calls for us to exercise article 50 with immediate effect. However, by not triggering article 50 immediately after the referendum—as the leader of the Labour party, the right hon. Member for Islington North (Jeremy Corbyn), originally suggested—we have given ourselves the time to develop a UK-wide negotiating strategy and to avoid setting the clock ticking until our objectives are clear and agreed.
It is also right that the Government should not let things drag on too long. We have had pressure both internally, as we can see from the petition, and externally, from some of our counterparts on the continent, who are clear that they want us to get on with the process. As the Prime Minister made clear, we will trigger article 50 before the end of March next year. That should reassure those who, as my hon. Friend the Member for Sutton and Cheam probably rightly said, signed the petition thinking article 50 might never be invoked that we are getting on with the process and preparing the ground to make sure we can do that in the most effective way possible.
If I could ask for some clarification about the timing, is the objective of the Minister’s Department to try to reach certain negotiating goals, which are private at the moment, before the March deadline? If they do not reach those goals, is there any flexibility to manage the deadline in order to maximise the benefits for the British people, or is it just a hard Brexit—“You get what you get; that’s tough”?
I am grateful for the hon. Gentleman’s intervention, but as for setting out negotiating goals, he should be clear about what the Commission and Council have said about the article 50 process: that they do not want negotiations before it has started. Of course we need to prepare the strongest possible position for the UK, and we will engage where we can to make sure we set the terms for those negotiations, but it is not possible to pre-negotiate any particular deal ahead of the formal article 50 process, so I think he is perhaps setting unrealistic expectations.
Will the hon. Gentleman give way?
No; I think the hon. Gentleman has had plenty of opportunity to speak already.
In terms of Parliament’s involvement—this is important; the hon. Member for Darlington rightly challenged us to make sure Parliament has an important role to play—we had an excellent debate last Wednesday, in which there was wide agreement that parliamentary scrutiny will play an important role in this process. I welcome the Opposition’s acceptance of the Government’s amendment, which made it clear that we should come forward, engage with the House and listen to the views of the House, but also ensure that we do nothing to prejudice the Government’s negotiating position—if I can paraphrase it that way. That was a sensible compromise in the debate last week.
As hon. Members will be aware, the Government’s position is that triggering article 50 is a prerogative power that can be exercised by the Government. My hon. Friend the Member for Morley and Outwood (Andrea Jenkyns) spoke about her work in the campaign to let Britain decide, and that is certainly a campaign I recognise. Even though I ended up on the remain side of the argument, I voted early on in my career for the British people to have their say through a referendum. Trusting the people has been a key part of the Government’s policy and the right approach to take. It is notable that the European Union Referendum Bill achieved cross-party support and passed through both Houses—I think by six to one. Parliament was clear, as were the Government, that it was for the people to decide whether to remain in the European Union or to leave, which the Government’s leaflet set out clearly, as my hon. Friend the Member for Sutton and Cheam pointed out.
However, Parliament will clearly have a role in ensuring we find the best way forward. The Department for Exiting the European Union will consider the detailed arrangements to provide for that. We have already enjoyed a number of excellent debates in both this Chamber and the main Chamber. While I am grateful to the hon. Member for Glasgow North (Patrick Grady) for his suggestion that this Chamber be renamed, I think it might be early in the day for that.
I am grateful to the Minister for his response to my query about the role of Parliament, but he is still being rather vague. He has said that his Department will come back with some more clear ideas about how Parliament will be involved. When should we expect that?
My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has set out that he is approaching the usual channels to ask how that can be done. We have had some queries about Government time. We would certainly like to look into that and see how it can be dealt with. I am about to come to the important role of the European Communities Act 1972 repeal Bill and the role Parliament will have to play in that. It is clear from the cross-party views expressed in last week’s debate that Parliament has an important role to play in scrutiny as we prepare for this process.
The second largest petition we are dealing with today calls for the immediate repeal of the European Communities Act 1972. The Prime Minister and the Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union have set out that we will introduce primary legislation in the next parliamentary Session that, when enacted, will repeal the European Communities Act 1972 on the day we leave the European Union. The Bill will transfer current EU law into domestic law, while allowing for amendments that ensure we have a functioning statute book at the point at which we leave the European Union.
Repealing the ECA now, as some have suggested—although nobody has suggested it in this debate—without having a withdrawal agreement in place would simply not work. It would be a breach of international and EU law to withdraw unilaterally from the EU. Such a breach could create a hostile environment in which to negotiate either a new relationship with the remaining EU member states or new trade agreements with non-EU countries. We are clear, therefore, that while ECA repeal is a necessary part of the process, it should be consequent to the legally correct article 50 process.
The hon. Member for Great Grimsby (Melanie Onn) mentioned her proposed Bill on workers’ rights. We will need to engage with that at the appropriate time, but I direct her to the clear statement from the Secretary of State on 10 October, in which he said:
“I have given an undertaking that there will be no reversal of the protection of workers’ rights, as has the Prime Minister. Indeed, she has gone beyond that and said that there will be an expansion of that protection.”—[Official Report, 10 October 2016; Vol. 615, c. 66.]
The Prime Minister has set out the ambition of enhancing the workers’ rights we have. We will come to debate the Bill proposed by the hon. Member for Great Grimsby at the appropriate time, but we should certainly ensure we enshrine those rights as we move forward in this process.
On the point about bringing forward legislation and amendments to ensure that law will be functional, does that not risk opening the gates to other areas of legislation and going beyond making the law functional in this country? It could put some of our legislation at risk from further debate by people who might not support some European legislation.
Whenever a Bill is put before Parliament, there is an opportunity for further debate about the premises of that Bill, but the Government’s intention in this process is to translate the existing body of law. The advice we have taken to date, which is not necessarily the final advice, is that European Court of Justice jurisprudence would continue to apply in domestic law unless or until it is overturned following withdrawal. I hope that provides the hon. Lady with some assurance. We will debate that issue at another time.
Free movement was one of the key issues debated in the EU referendum. I recognise the point made by the hon. Member for Darlington that we cannot necessarily read into the result of the referendum every possible interpretation. I also welcome her statement that the Labour party wants to engage in this debate. That represents significant progress from where we have sometimes been in the past. As the Secretary of State and the Prime Minister have made clear, as we conduct our negotiations, it must be a priority to regain more control of the number of people who come here from Europe. The precise way in which the Government will control the movement of EU nationals is yet to be determined, and we are carefully considering the options open to us.
I recognise many of the views expressed today. My hon. Friend the Member for Sutton and Cheam made it clear that we will want to continue to attract the brightest and the best. In my own Department, we have plenty to keep us occupied and to be working on. This will not be our decision in isolation. The whole range of Government, including other Departments such as the Home Office and the Treasury, will want to look at this, and we will want to come up with a system that works.
As the Prime Minister has said, there is no single silver bullet that is the answer to dealing with immigration. We have to look at the whole range of issues, from the rules we have for people coming into the country to how we deal with abuse of the system. That will be an important part of our considerations.
While the Minister is on the topic of immigration, has his Secretary of State enabled him to say anything about EU nationals currently resident and working here?
I will reiterate what the Secretary of State has said: it is absolutely his intention to secure the rights of EU nationals who are currently working here, but we must also secure the rights of British nationals working in the EU. That will be a priority as we go into the negotiations. I can reassure Members that Parliament will continue to have a very important role in scrutinising this and the Government’s further policies on immigration.
Finally, I come to the idea of having a new bank holiday called independence day. There have been a number of references to the film of that name. Alas, I am afraid that the Government have no current plans to create another permanent UK bank holiday. Tempting though it might be, an independence day would face fierce competition from the likes of Saint George’s day, Trafalgar day and many more. Within this context, it is hard to commit to 23 June over its many rivals. Unfortunately, it is just too costly, in the view of the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, to introduce another holiday at this stage. When that Department analysed the impact of an additional holiday for the diamond jubilee, it was found to cost employers more than £1 billion.
We had questions from two Northern Irish colleagues—the hon. Members for South Down (Ms Ritchie) and for Foyle—about the position of the UK Government with regard to the Good Friday agreement, or Belfast agreement, and subsequent agreements of that sort. That is not the subject of this debate, but I refer them to the detailed evidence that the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland and I gave to the House of Lords EU Select Committee last week. I assure the hon. Member for Foyle that the UK Government stand by all their commitments under the Good Friday agreement and subsequent agreements. I have been out with the Secretary of State to the Republic of Ireland, where we had very good and useful talks on a number of matters of shared interest. I assure the hon. Gentleman that we will continue to work as closely as we can with the devolved Administrations and our friends in the Republic of Ireland.
To sum up, I reassure Members that the Government are committed to getting the best deal for Britain, and that the Department is working hard to develop our negotiating position as we prepare to commence the formal process of exiting the EU. Our instructions from the British people are clear, and we must move ahead. This debate has provided a valuable opportunity to discuss some of the issues and the process, but what is most important is that we make a success of our negotiations. I welcome the role that this debate will play in supporting that. As my hon. Friend the Member for Sutton and Cheam said, we must create certainty for businesses and investors as we go through this process, and I am confident that we will continue to do that.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Walker. I thank and congratulate everyone who has contributed to this fantastic, wide-ranging, informative and, as was mentioned, entertaining debate. We must be optimistic and, as I said in my opening remarks, we must lift our heads and look up to the world as a whole, trading with Europe and every other continent. We must do what we can as parliamentarians to reduce the uncertainty for business and for the population as a whole.
We have heard the rhetoric, post-referendum, that leaving the EU will be a disaster, and there is an idea in some quarters that we should rerun the referendum. The rhetoric was that because the campaign was divisive, terrible and low grade, we should do it all again, but that is the wrong way to proceed. Let us make the most of it.
When I was asked during debates what my Brexit would look like, I said, “If we win the campaign, we need to include everyone in the discussion of what Brexit should look like.” Let us continue to do that, and let us work together to make this work for everyone: the 48% who wanted to remain, the component parts of the UK, the devolved Assemblies and Parliaments of all its countries, every area, every industry, and not least—we have talked about freedom of movement—people from all countries, to make sure we do not have the Faragist Britain that has been described.
I notice that I am wearing the British Bangladeshi Power and Inspiration 100 badge that I had on last night. It celebrates the achievements of Bangladeshis who have come here, integrated, had fantastic success and achieved so much in their life. There are people around the world whom we need to attract to make sure that we have the best and the brightest in the country.
Question put and agreed to.
That this House has considered e-petitions 133618, 125333, 123324, 154593, 133767 and 133540 relating to the UK’s exit from the European Union.