[1st Allocated Day]
Considered in Committee
[Mr Lindsay Hoyle in the Chair]
New Clause 49
Date of exit from the European Union
‘The United Kingdom ceases to belong to the European Union on 30 March 2019.’.—(Frank Field.)
Brought up, and read the First time.
With this it will be convenient to discuss amendment 79, in clause 1, page 1, line 3, at end insert—
“(2) Regulations under section 19(2) bringing into force subsection (1) may not be made until the Prime Minister is satisfied that resolutions have been passed by the Scottish Parliament, the National Assembly for Wales and the Northern Ireland Assembly signifying consent to the commencement of subsection (1).”
This amendment would make the repeal of the European Communities Act 1972 on exit day conditional on the Prime Minister gaining consent from the devolved legislatures.
Clause 1 stand part.
Government amendments 383 and 381.
Amendment 386, in clause 14, page 10, line 25, leave out from “means” to “(and” in line 26 and insert
“the time specified by an Act of Parliament approving the final terms of withdrawal of the United Kingdom from the EU”.
This amendment would require ‘exit day’ to be specified, for all purposes, in a separate bill seeking approval for the final terms of the withdrawal of the UK from the EU. It would therefore have the effect of requiring a statute on the withdrawal terms - whatever they might be - to be passed by Parliament before ‘exit day’.
Amendment 43, page 10, line 25, leave out
“a Minister of the Crown may by regulations”
“Parliament may by a majority approval in both Houses”.
This amendment together with Amendments 44 and 45 would empower Parliament to control the length and basic terms of transitional arrangements, and would allow Parliament to start the clock on the sunset clauses within the Bill.
Amendment 6, page 10, line 26, at end insert
“but exit day must be the same day for the purposes of every provision of this Act.”
To prevent the creation of different exit days for different parts of the Act by SI.
Government amendment 382.
Amendment 387, page 11, line 24, leave out from “Act” to end of line 32 and insert
“references to before, after or on exit day, or to beginning with exit day, are to be read as references to before, after or at the time specified by an Act of Parliament approving the final terms of withdrawal of the United Kingdom from the EU”.
This amendment is consequential on Amendment 386 and ensures that references to exit day in the Bill and other legislation operate correctly in relation to the time as well as the date of the United Kingdom’s withdrawal from the EU.
Amendment 44, page 11, line 25, leave out
“a Minister of the Crown”
and insert “Parliament”.
This amendment together with Amendments 43 and 45 would empower Parliament to control the length and basic terms of transitional arrangements, and would allow Parliament to start the clock on the sunset clauses within the Bill.
Amendment 45, page 11, line 30, leave out
“a Minister of the Crown”
and insert “Parliament”.
This amendment together with Amendments 43 and 44 would empower Parliament to control the length and basic terms of transitional arrangements, and would allow Parliament to start the clock on the sunset clauses within the Bill.
Amendment 81, in clause 19, page 14, line 32, at end insert—
“(a) section 1(2);”.
This amendment is a consequential amendment resulting from Amendments 78, 79 and 80 to Clause 1 requiring the Prime Minister to reach an agreement on EEA and Customs Union membership, to gain the consent of the devolved legislatures and to report on the effect leaving the EU will have on the block grant before implementing section 1 of this Act.
I rise to speak to the new clause in my name and all the other names that still remain on the amendment paper. Although I am limited to speaking to new clause 49, it is linked to new clauses 50, 51 and 52, for reasons that I will develop.
I wish to begin by declaring my sentiments in tabling this new clause and supporting the new clauses that are umbilically attached to it. I am a reluctant Brexiteer. I am too old to feel that I was born to bring us out of Europe, and I have not had one of those evangelical revivals in thinking that somehow life began again once we entered the Common Market and that my aim, purpose, being, and everything I breathed was towards getting us out of that organisation. That is not so.
In my own constituency and in the small amount of work I did nationally, I stressed that things were on a balance: we had to make a decision about Europe. We did not need more facts about Europe, but had to draw on our very natures—all that we had been taught in our culture and where, in our very being, we felt we stood in this country—to make the decision about whether we wished to leave or not.
On a point of order, Mr Hoyle. In this new clause we are debating an exit date of 30 March 2019, yet grouped with it there are Government amendments to be voted on at a later date that put the exit date at 11 pm on 29 March 2019. There is a difference of an hour, and as far as I am aware the clocks only go forward on Sunday 31 March. Could you give some guidance to the movers of these amendments so that the arch-Brexiteers on both sides get their clocks and house in order?
That was a good intervention. My new clause decides on British time when to leave, whereas the Government’s amendments are at the beckoning of Europeans. We have a very clear choice. I will willingly take interventions that are trying to trip me up in making this short contribution.
I fought the referendum campaign, as much as I could, as a reluctant Brexiteer. On balance, I thought that our country’s future would increasingly thrive outside rather than inside the European Union. I have always wanted to make a deal, although it is immensely sensible, in any negotiations, to make sure that the other side knows that one may be banking on and planning for no deal.
The next factor—I will touch on this again when we think of what the House of Lords might do to a Bill of this size—is that it has been very difficult for most of us to come to terms with what our role has been as MPs in a representative democracy, and with how we digest the fact that a referendum has taken place and the British people have spoken. How do we react in those circumstances, which I believe are unique and in no way comparable with any other parliamentary procedure that we deal with in this House?
As I said at the beginning, before I was helpfully interrupted, this new clause stands with three other new clauses. Together they present the Government with a clean, small, slimline Brexit Bill. By the time we get to the end of this process, they will thank the Lord that this life raft is in the Bill and they are able to get on it. In the new clause, we decide on the date—by British time, not European time—when we actually leave. That is our choice. It is about the beginnings of the freedom that we hope will flow—with difficulties, of course—from setting us on the course of leaving the European Union.
The second new clause simply ensures that all the laws and regulations come on to our statute book at that point in time—British time, not European time.
Can I just finish this point, and then I will willingly give way?
The third new clause is on how Parliament reviews those laws—those we wish to keep fully, those we wish to amend, those we wish to add to, and those we wish to kick out. It says that this House will decide how that process is done. I am sure that before we have finished our debate on this Bill in Committee, the Government will be agreeing with me on that. The Henry VIII stuff is an absurd way of going about this business, although as we get down to the mega-task of reviewing this, we may beg the Government for a touch of Henry VIII to get through a task of the size that will be before us.
Finally, given that we have real difficulties in completing a negotiation—
Will my right hon. Friend not concede that an arbitrary date for Brexit could risk damaging the British economy if clear evidence emerges, as it already is, that hurrying Brexit may badly damage our manufacturing sector, our agricultural sector and our financial services sector?
I am supported by people whose constituents largely agree with my views, not theirs. How they deal with that is not my problem. I agree that it is a difficult problem, but that does not mean to say that one should have any particular solution to it. Generally speaking, the larger the majority, the more clearly Labour voters spoke about Brexit. [Interruption.] No, that is absolutely true. I will deal with my hon. Friend’s point in a moment, but it comes down to who we think we are dealing with. Are we playing a game of cricket, or have we got people who are trying—
I am confused by my right hon. Friend’s suggestion that all Labour voters supported his position, because the majority of them did not. The majority of Labour Members do not support his position either. That is an important point, so will he correct the record?
I happily add to the record. It makes some people’s circumstances more difficult, but I said that generally speaking, the larger the Labour majority in the general election and the bigger the turnout in the last general election, the one before that and the one before that, the more likely constituents were to vote leave.
My right hon. Friend is making a case that I do not agree with, but he is doing so with his usual reasonable approach. I think he is probably right that at the moment, most people have not changed their minds. The reasons why they voted to leave are still, as far as they are concerned, unresolved, and they think that those things will be resolved by leaving. Suppose, however, that it emerges in the next 12 months that all the reasons why they voted as they did will not be realised, and that, on top of that, the economic consequences will be disastrous—what then?
I have only four small sheets of paper, and it has taken me all this time to get this far. I have an answer for my right hon. Friend—[Interruption.] Indeed, it seems to me that the Labour side needs educating about where Labour voters are. If my right hon. Friend can contain himself, I will take account of that. I emphasise his wisdom in saying that we do not know where these negotiations will end up. They are fraught, particularly because we are negotiating with a group of people who do not want us to succeed because they fear what will happen in their own countries if we do.
Did the right hon. Gentleman receive a pamphlet—paid for by the taxpayer—from the Government during the referendum, on the back of which they stated that they would carry out the wishes of the people via the vote in the referendum? Does he believe that by having a fixed date, which everybody knows, we will deliver what the people voted for?
I have to confess to receiving the pamphlet and throwing it in the bin immediately. I never believed that the sort of campaign we fought, with false truths on both sides, enhanced our standing as a political class. Neither did it address the very serious issues of what people thought about their own identity, their community’s identity, their country’s identity and their country’s position in the world, on which we all know that people take different views. The idea that a Government pamphlet was going to help us—dear God!
I note that my right hon. Friend qualified his earlier statement, but does he accept that at the last general election, more than 85% of Liverpool, Riverside constituents voted for the Labour candidate, and that 73% of them voted to remain? Does he accept that the people of Liverpool, Riverside have great wisdom, and that that ought to be followed?
No, I have given way once. This is a serious debate and, if I can make progress, I will willingly bring people in as we go along.
I wish to express disappointment with the Government’s strategy and their handling of the situation. I do not think it has the sense of importance, drive or coherence that the issue merits. I have argued, publicly and privately, that anyone who seriously compares this historic event to our fight for survival in world war two would follow the move that Churchill made on taking over from Chamberlain, when he established a war Cabinet in place of the existing ramshackle institutions. As I will explain in a moment, the new clause represents the beginning of a new negotiating hand, and I think we need a Brexit Cabinet. It should be small, and the Opposition should be offered places in it. The Opposition were offered places in the war Cabinet, and Mr Attlee and Mr Greenwood accepted those places. We should try to act in the national interest—[Laughter.] Hon. Members may laugh—
I thank my right hon. Friend and neighbour for giving way. Does he agree that the reason why we ought to have such cross-party co-operation is that this issue is not funny or a joke; it is about the future of our country? That is why we should listen to everyone in this place, and not just act in the narrow interests of the Tory party.
Well, try another point of order and see if it works.
I have a sense of disappointment. We have ceased the aerial bombardment of this Bill, and we are now engaged in hand-to-hand fighting over the nature of our leaving. The sentiments of my hon. Friend the Member for Wirral South (Alison McGovern), my constituency neighbour, about our trying to steer this debate in the national interest are crucial.
No, I will not give way. I want other people to be able to contribute to the debate.
The second reason why I feel disappointment at the Government’s stance is that they are misreading the other side with whom we are negotiating. A British assumption is always to allow give and take, but we now have the Barnier rule of all take and no give. I will in a moment comment on how we should respond to that. Anybody who is serious, as all of us in the Committee have been, about wishing to award equal status and citizenship to EU citizens in this country know that those negotiations could have been over in half an hour. It was never ever the intention but for the other side to tick that off and say it was very good. Millions of people could have been put at their ease about their lives—both Britons living in the European Union and European citizens, as they will become, living in Britain—and we should consider that very carefully in our negotiations from now on.
The third disappointment is that the Government have produced such a Bill. When we were campaigning to leave, I thought we would have a Bill with two, three or four clauses to get us out. I know that the Government have been beguiled by its first title—the great repeal Bill—with some group of clever people thinking it can be great only if it is large, rather than aiming to be effective. I do not believe that a Bill of this size, timetabled as it will be to deliver it for the Government, actually stands much chance of getting through the House of Lords. Hence, my emphasis on the rescue launch waiting in the form of my four new clauses, including this new clause, which I have had such pleasure in moving.
Does the right hon. Gentleman accept that the House of Lords, which is of course unelected and which itself decided to pass the European Union Referendum Act 2015, really has no justification whatsoever for attempting to obstruct, delay or undermine this Bill?
A very important lesson needs to be learned by some of those in the House of Lords who think they can wreck the Bill and wear us down so that Brexit never takes place. There is a very important convention—the Salisbury convention—and there is a very important difference between a referendum and a party’s manifesto. The Salisbury convention allows us to give and take on the important parts of a manifesto—the parts to which Governments rightly feel committed, and which they wish to pursue in Parliament so that when they stand for re-election they can say they have done the job they promised to do.
This is a different ball game. As I tried to say at the beginning, it is difficult for us all to come to terms with the role we have as MPs and the role we have in a post-referendum debate. I think their lordships should know that if they try to wreck the Bill, many of us will push the nuclear button. Labour wants to see the House of Lords go—I am surprised there was not a cheer at that point—but their lordships will sound their own death knell. Not one of them is elected, and none of them has any standing whatsoever in preventing the Government from inviting the House of Commons to implement the referendum decision, as we are doing today.
I am following the right hon. Gentleman’s argument with close attention. Part of the leave argument was to take back control—not just to the House of Commons, but to the country and Parliament as a whole. Is he now trying to undermine the bicameral system?
No, not at all. We will be going late on days such as this, so if the hon. Gentleman would like to read my website, he will see I have outlined my views on House of Lords reform. They are different from those of most others. They are about its being elective, but through electing the great powers in this country—influences such as trade unions and so on—and certainly not through decisions by the party Whips. However, I dare not go down that path because it would take me away from the my new clause.
So do I.
I think new clause 49 should be the start of a new negotiating position. Mr Barnier has told us that we have to put our money on the table and get serious within two weeks, and I think we should jump at this opportunity. In two weeks’ time, the Government should lay the outline of our agreement. I believe they should say over which decades they are prepared to meet our commitments, and at the end of the two weeks, we should say that at that point we will cease to pay any contributions to the European Union. I want the balance of power to move swiftly from their boot to our boot. From that date, two weeks hence, at the invitation of Mr Barnier, we should say, “Fine. Here’s the outline of the agreement. Here’s the beginning of the money settlement”—paid over a period of time, because there are pensions contributions and so on—“but from this day, until you start seriously negotiating with us”, which they have not, “there will in fact be no more money.”
It is wrong to think that all the £17 billion a year will be coming back to us. The £5 billion that Mrs Thatcher negotiated from the unfair formula is already coming back to us. That was watered down—by whom I will not say, but there is only so much one can say from the Labour Benches—but, nevertheless, £5 billion is coming back. There is also £4 billion coming back to promote anti-poverty programmes in this country. I wish to tell the Committee that I applied for money from those funds to feed people who are hungry and may be starving, but what did Mr Barnier and his group do? Nothing. We supposedly have huge sums of money coming back—spent at their direction—but that does not actually feed people who are hungry.
I want to end by saying that I shall push the new clause to a Division for a number of reasons. One is that it always seems to me better to gain an advantage when one can, rather than later: a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush. The Government are introducing their own timetable, as set by the European bureaucrats— whoever they are—instructing us when we might take leave of them, but I think we should decide today to leave on our terms and at a time of our choosing.
As I have said, the new clause should not be read in isolation, because it and the other three new clauses provide us with an alternative way of exiting without all the claptrap the Government have put in the Bill. I believe that, before the end of the negotiations, something like such a four-clause Bill will be adopted.
On the first and civilised intervention—the point of order—about timing, it is perhaps a fallacy to think of terms for oneself applying to terms for the nation, but I have never bought a house without having in the contract the date when it will be mine and on which I can actually move in. When I was elected to the House of Commons I knew that I would have a contract of up to five years, and I have never had a job without being given a starting date.
My right hon. Friend’s analogy about buying a house falls down at the first hurdle, because nobody commits to a date to buy a house before they know what it is they are buying. My substantive point, however, is about the fatal weakness of his proposal, even though, as always, I respect the way in which he argues his case. When the Secretary of State appeared before the Select Committee, he told us that it is possible that the negotiations may go to the 59th minute of the 11th hour. That is undoubtedly possible. In those circumstances, does it really make sense to bind the hands of the country and those who are negotiating on its behalf to get the best possible deal, which is also the weakness of the Government’s own amendment 381?
I have been corrected and I withdraw my comment, but the idea that the biggest decisions of our lives, such as that to buy a house, are the ones that we take the most time over is not borne out by any research whatsoever. I do seriously apologise to my right hon. Friend.
The right hon. Gentleman has been a political ally of mine in previous cross-party arrangements, but not on this occasion. He has dodged answering the perfectly serious point that the right hon. Member for Leeds Central (Hilary Benn) just put to him. As things stand, article 50 will take effect in March 2019 and we will leave. Anything in the Bill is superfluous to that. A problem could arise only if—and this is possible—28 member states all agree that they are near to a conclusion but that they require a few more days or weeks to settle it. Once we are going they will not want us to stay in much longer, because they will not want us around for the European Parliament elections. However, it would be utterly foolish if 28 Governments all agreed to extend the process and the British representative had to say, “But we’ve put into British law a timing that says, to the second, when we are actually leaving.” That seems to me a rather serious flaw in the proposed new clause.
The right hon. and learned Gentleman is such a good lawyer, but I wish he had read my new clause, because it notes the day rather than the minute that we will leave. Despite all the encouragement from Members behind me, I was so anxious to withdraw what I said about my right hon. Friend the Member for Leeds Central (Hilary Benn) that I forgot to address his substantive point, and the right hon. and learned Gentleman has reminded me to do so. If we look over our whole history in Europe, we will see that the idea that we finish any negotiations other than at the very last minute is almost unheard of. By including the time, we will be saying, “You will have to begin your shenanigans the month before rather than the month after.”
In conclusion, I am grateful for being allowed to move the second reading of this new clause, to remind people that it is part of a short exit Bill.
I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for giving way, because I know he is concluding. I want to make a simple point. The whole argument about having flexibility falls when we look at article 50 itself. It was very specific for a very simple reason, which is that the timescale determines that those who are negotiating must reach, or agree not to reach, an agreement. Simply changing the timescale will not allow them to reach an agreement; they have the time to do it. That is the whole point about compression—to get an agreement. That is why the date was prompted by article 50.
I have one last point to make. I thought that my proposed new clause merely implemented article 50, which we all voted for, to tell our constituents that we had—[Interruption.] Well, apart from one Member who voted against triggering article 50. [Interruption.] Apart from two or three—[Interruption.] Were there any more than four? Perhaps there were five, six, seven or eight.
I thought that what I had to say was so uncontentious that my speech would last only five minutes. I apologise to the Committee for the time I have taken. All the proposed new clause does is put on the statute book the actual timing of article 50, which we voted for in overwhelming numbers almost a year ago. I move the new clause in my name and the names of those on the amendment paper.
I am extremely grateful to you, Mr Hoyle. I very much hope that my voice makes it through these remarks.
I rise to support clause 1 stand part and to speak to Government amendments 381, 382 and 383. It may help the House and members of the public if I say that the decisions on those amendments will be taken on days seven and eight.
Clause 1 reads:
“The European Communities Act 1972 is repealed on exit day.”
It is a simple clause, but it could scarcely be more significant. In repealing the European Communities Act 1972, the clause will be a historic step in delivering our exit from the European Union, in accordance with last year’s referendum. I hope that all people on all sides of this issue can agree that the repeal of the Act is a necessary step as we leave the European Union.
Does my hon. Friend recall that the official Opposition voted against the Bill on Second Reading and therefore the repeal of the 1972 Act? They still claim that this Bill is not fit for purpose and that it usurps parliamentary sovereignty, when in fact it does exactly the opposite.
I am very grateful to my hon. Friend and I look forward to seeing whether Opposition Members support clause 1 stand part.
If we were not to repeal the European Communities Act, we would still, from the perspective of EU law, exit the European Union at the end of the article 50 process, but there would be confusion and uncertainty about the law on our own statute book. For example, it would be unclear whether UK or EU law would take precedence if there was a conflict between them. The status of new EU law would also be unclear once the UK left the EU.
I intend first to set out briefly the effect of the European Communities Act on our legal system and the implications of its repeal. The UK is a “dualist” state, meaning that a treaty, even when ratified, does not alter our laws unless it is incorporated into domestic law by legislation. Parliament must pass legislation before the rights and obligations in a treaty have effect in our law. The European Communities Act gave EU law supremacy over UK law. Without it, EU law would not apply in the UK. The 1972 Act has two main provisions. Section 2(1) ensures rights and obligations in the EU treaties and regulations are directly applicable in the UK legal system. They apply directly without the need for Parliament to pass specific domestic implementing legislation. This bears repeating in the context of the clauses to follow.
EU regulations and certain EU treaty provisions have effect in the UK without further parliamentary intervention, thanks to the European Communities Act. Section 2(2) provides a delegated power for the implementation of EU obligations, such as those in directives. Over 12,000 EU regulations flow into our law through section 2(1) of the Act, none of which could be refused by this House or the other place. These range from chemical classification rules to rules about the rights of passengers travelling by sea.
Does the Minister agree that this simple crucial clause is the way in which our democracy is completely restored and that once it has gone through and been implemented any matter that worries the British people can properly be the subject of parliamentary debate and decisions, no laws and treaties withstanding?
I am very grateful to my right hon. Friend. He has perhaps anticipated my speech by a few paragraphs.
UK Ministers and Ministers in the devolved Administrations have made nearly 6,000 domestic regulations under section 2(2) on topics as disparate as air fares, public contracts and preserved sardines. The House, of course, has not remained supine in absorbing all this legislation. We have benefited from the tireless work of the European Scrutiny Committee, chaired so ably by my hon. Friend the Member for Stone (Sir William Cash). It has scrutinised a vast number of EU documents, supporting this House in holding Ministers to account when representing our interests in the EU. Its work has been of paramount importance in holding Ministers to account and maximising the voice of this House on EU matters. On occasions, deliberations in this House have influenced the laws adopted by the EU, but ultimately this House was, on every occasion, obliged to implement our EU obligations. We could not refuse new EU law because of our obligations to the EU.
Does my hon. Friend accept that most of this legislation is proposed by the Commission, considered by the Council of Ministers, including a British Minister, and, nowadays, approved by the European Parliament before it becomes law? Can he name a significant European law or regulation that was opposed by the British Government at the time, which the Government are now proposing to repeal? Most Brexiteers cannot think of one.
I am most grateful to my right hon. and learned Friend. I think the question at stake here is not whether there are legitimate processes in the EU; it is whether we approve of them. The one that I am always glad to bring to people’s attention is, of course, the ports regulation, which we will have to stick with all the while we are within the EU. It is perhaps unique in being opposed by the owners of ports, trade unions and, it seems, all parties involved with our strategic interests in ports. They are all opposed to that regulation. I very much look forward to the day that we can make our own decisions about how our flourishing private sector infrastructure works.
Does my hon. Friend agree that those who accuse the Government of a power grab would be very happy for unelected EU officials to continue to exercise these powers, rather than an elected Government accountable to this elected Parliament?
In response, vicariously to my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Rushcliffe (Mr Clarke), may I point out that most decisions taken by the Council of Ministers are effectively made by consensus behind closed doors, with no record of who said what, how the decision was arrived at, or, unlike this House, with no record of any of the proceedings either?
I am most grateful to my hon. Friend. I thoroughly recommend the report of his Committee relating to that subject.
I think what has been established in this sequence of interventions is that clause 1 could scarcely be of greater constitutional significance. It will repeal the 1972 Act on exit day, removing the mechanism that allows EU law to flow automatically into UK law, and remove one of the widest-ranging powers ever placed on the statute book of the United Kingdom. The repeal makes it clear and unarguable that sovereignty lies here in this Parliament.
If the 1972 Act is repealed before the end of what Ministers call the implementation period but what I prefer to think of as the transition period, what will be the legal basis for our relations with the EU and our free trade agreements with the 57 third countries?
Not just now. [Hon. Members: “Ooh!] I have given way quite a few times. I am now going to make some progress and get on to the amendments.
How we exercise this restored power in the future will be a choice for this place. The Government are clear that we want a smooth and orderly exit, achieved through continuity in the law at the point of exit, as we shall discuss at later stages. For now, I hope that all Members can agree that it is essential that clause 1 stand part of the Bill.
I now turn to today’s amendments. It is fitting that the first amendment debated in Committee is from the right hon. Member for Birkenhead (Frank Field). He has got to the heart of the matter of when we leave the EU.
I will come to that point.
I listened carefully to the right hon. Gentleman’s speech, and I have great sympathy for the case he makes. I will just pick up on two points. First, on using our time, he has not of course given a time of day in his new clause. One thing I learned during my service in the Royal Air Force is the ambiguity that arises when one implies or deliberately specifies midnight, which of course can be taken as the beginning or end of a day. For that reason, his amendment is technically deficient. I hope that in due course he will choose not to press it to a Division, but will instead accept the Government’s set of amendments, including the consequentials.
I do not accept that at all. When the Prime Minister wrote to the President of the European Council in March, she set in train the defined two-year process of article 50, which, unless extended by unanimity, will conclude on 29 March 2019. That is why the Prime Minister said in her Florence speech that the UK would cease to be a member of the EU on that day. That is the Government’s policy.
As I said, I would like to make some progress.
The Government have, however, listened carefully to the debate about the setting of exit day for the statutory purposes of the Bill. There has been some uncertainty about whether the exit day appointed in the Bill would correspond to the day the UK leaves the EU at the end of the article 50 process. The Government sympathise with this uncertainty. This is also an issue on which the Lords Constitution Committee opined in its report in September. It stated:
“We are concerned that the power to define ‘exit day’—a matter that is pivotal to the operation of the Bill—is unduly broad in its scope and flexibility, and that it is not subject to any parliamentary scrutiny procedure.”
Such concerns were further voiced by the hon. Members for Feltham and Heston (Seema Malhotra), for Cardiff South and Penarth (Stephen Doughty) and for Wakefield (Mary Creagh) on Second Reading, not least regarding the breadth of the power potentially to set numerous exit days. In fact, there has been a notable disconnect, as we perhaps saw earlier, between Labour Front and Back Benchers on this issue. While several of its Back Benchers have submitted amendments and raised concerns about exit day, its Front-Bench team seem to have refused to acknowledge the need to establish clarity.
We would like to put this issue to rest. We recognise the importance of being crystal clear on the setting of exit day and are keen to provide the certainty that the right hon. Member for Birkenhead and others are seeking. In the light of this, the Government have tabled amendment 381 to clause 14, along with the consequential amendments 382 and 383, which will set exit day at 11 pm on 29 March 2019. Of course, this is slightly different to his amendment, in that it sets a time as well as a date for exit.
I am sorry that the Minister is not feeling well, but does he understand how impossible it is for me to explain to my constituents that they can have certainty about nothing in relation to Brexit as the Government plan it, except, according to him, the date when it will happen?
I wonder whether the Minister is going to admit to the Committee that setting a date for exit is mere political window-dressing. The Prime Minister has told the House that if there is to be a transitional deal, which she wants, her understanding is that it will be under article 50. That means that we will be staying in the single market, staying in the customs union and subject to EU law during the transitional period, so this exit day is simply a sop to Back Benchers. When is the Minister going to tell them the truth?
I will come to the implementation period in a moment, but one of the crucial points is that we need to become a third country in order to conclude our future relationship agreement. The Prime Minister set out in her Florence speech the outline of that implementation period, which would allow practical continuity under new arrangements that would enable us to be a third country and conclude the future relationship agreement.
I am most grateful to my hon. Friend. Does he recognise that there are two different issues relating to exit day? Some of the amendments were tabled to express the fear that there might be multiple exit dates. That is very different from fixing a day. Obviously, under article 50 there is an expiry date, but, as my hon. Friend knows, article 50 itself contains provision for a possible extension of the period if that is what is needed to conclude an agreement. That is why I find the Government’s amendment so strange. It seems to me to fetter the Government, to add nothing to the strength of their negotiating position, and, in fact, potentially to create a very great problem that could be visited on us at a later stage.
My right hon. and learned Friend has made his point with considerable clarity. Of course I accept that the article 50 process involves certain provisions, but I should say to him that a number of learned voices in private expressed concern about the existence of a degree of elasticity in the sunsetting of the powers in the Bill, and, for that reason, were anxious for us to fix the exit date. I should also say to him that, while he made his point with his usual clarity, other Members expressed the view that we should put beyond doubt the time and the date when we leave the European Union, and that is what our amendment does.
The Minister is making a very good speech, but what is not clear—and there is some media speculation about this—is whether, if amendment 381 is passed with the exit date confirmed as it is, the Bill allows that date to be changed subsequently by means of regulation.
The answer to that is no. The point has been raised specifically in respect of the powers in clause 17, which relate to the consequences of the Bill’s enactment. I look forward very much to a full debate on those powers when we reach clause 17, but the short answer to my hon. Friend’s question is no.
No. I did say to my right hon. and learned Friend, and the Committee, that I was going to get on with it. If I give way to him, I will not make the progress that I need to make.
We said on Second Reading that we would listen to the concerns of the House, and our amendment delivers on that promise. Ultimately, the Government want the Bill to provide as much certainty as possible, and we are happy to consider amendments that share that goal. I hope that in the light of this the right hon. Member for Birkenhead (Frank Field) will be willing to withdraw his new clause, and hon. and right hon. Members with related amendments will withdraw them, too.
I now want briefly to turn to amendments 386 and 387 in the name of the right hon. Member for Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford (Yvette Cooper). These amendments are ill-conceived and could result in chaos. Following a majority vote in this House, the Prime Minister wrote to the President of the European Council to trigger article 50. That set in train the article 50 process whereby, as the treaty on European Union says:
“The Treaties shall cease to apply to the State in question from the date of entry into force of the withdrawal agreement or, failing that, two years after the notification…unless the European Council, in agreement with the Member State concerned, unanimously decides to extend this period.”
That is why the Prime Minister said in her speech in Florence that the United Kingdom will cease to be a member of the European Union on 29 March 2019.
The Government have always been clear that the purpose of the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill is to ensure that the UK exits the EU with certainty, continuity and control. This is an essential Bill in the national interest, which will ensure that, whatever the outcome of the negotiations, the statute book can continue to function. The right hon. Lady’s amendments would destroy the Bill’s capacity to function if a withdrawal agreement was not concluded. As a consequence of these amendments, the Bill’s crucial provisions could not come into effect until a second Act was passed; the consequence would be legal chaos if the second Act was not passed before 29 March 2019.
Furthermore, no one should fall into the trap of thinking that these amendments would keep us in the EU if no withdrawal agreement were concluded. We would leave under article 50, and the treaties would no longer apply, but our domestic law would be in an unfit state and we could have legal chaos. As a responsible Government, we must be ready to exit without a deal even though we expect to conclude a deep and special partnership.
I am grateful to the Minister for being pretty frank with the Committee now, because if what he says is right, his Government’s set of amendments pave the way for no deal. If I am wrong about that, why did his predecessor, Lord Bridges of Headley, say that he did not believe it would be possible to sort out the divorce bill, the implementation period and the final deal on our withdrawal within the timeframe envisaged? What the Minister is planning for—he should be absolutely frank with the British people about this—is no deal, and he has no mandate from the British people to do that.
I responded on this subject in a recent debate, and I refer the hon. Gentleman to everything I said on that occasion. He is wrong: we are planning to secure a deep and special partnership with the EU, and we intend to achieve that within the implementation period, which the Prime Minister described and set out in her Florence speech, and we look forward to passing the necessary legislation to do it.
Is the Minister aware that the chief financial officer of Aston Martin has said that it would be a semi-catastrophe if the UK went for no deal? Also, why will the Minister not allow the option for article 50 to be extended, to ensure that there was a deal if we were very close to reaching one on the date he has set?
As a responsible Government, we are going to go through the process of making sure that our country is ready to leave the EU without a deal if that proves necessary. We will take the steps to be prepared, as a responsible Government should.
However, this Bill cannot pre-empt the negotiations by putting things into statute before they have been agreed. The Government intend the UK to leave the EU on 29 March 2019, and that is why we intend to put that on the face of the Bill, but we have always been clear that we will bring forward whatever legislation is necessary to implement the agreement we strike with the EU, which is why yesterday my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State announced the Withdrawal Agreement and Implementation Bill, which we will introduce once Parliament has had a chance to vote on the final deal.
This Government take their responsibilities seriously and are committed to ensuring that the UK exits the EU with certainty, continuity and control. It makes no sense to legislate for one piece of legislation on the face of another, and I therefore ask the right hon. Member for Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford not to press her amendment to a vote. With that, I recommend that clause 1 stand part of the Bill.
I am pleased to speak to amendments 43, 44 and 45, which would give Parliament control over the length and basic terms of the transitional arrangements and allow Parliament to set the clock on the sunset clauses. These are the first of many amendments tabled by the Opposition that we will consider over the next few weeks, all of which have one purpose, which is to improve the Bill. Frankly, it is not helpful when Ministers—and, indeed, the Prime Minister over the weekend—seek to characterise scrutiny and accountability in this House as an attempt to thwart Brexit. It is not. We accept that the British people voted to leave the European Union. It might have been a close vote, but it was a clear vote. That is why we voted to trigger article 50. Whether we leave the European Union is not a matter for debate, but how we do so is crucial for the future of our country. The British people voted to pull out, but they did not vote to lose out. They look to Parliament to secure the best deal, and that includes not stumbling over a cliff edge in March 2019.
I am surprised that such an ardent Brexiteer as the right hon. Gentleman does not understand what leaving the European Union involves. We do.
Until last Thursday, the debate on clause 1 looked fairly straightforward. The article 50 notification made our exit from the European Union in March 2019 a legal certainty, so, for the purposes of the Bill, exit day could be left in the hands of Parliament. But then the Government did something needless: they tabled amendments 381 and 382, putting a specified exit date—and, indeed, a specified exit time: 11 pm, or midnight Brussels time—into the Bill. Their consequential amendment 383 seems to contradict the other amendments in some regards, which underlines the chaotic way in which the Government have approached the Bill, but taken together, the intention of the three amendments is clear.
The rather mysterious explanation that the hon. Gentleman gave to my right hon. Friend the Member for North Shropshire (Mr Paterson) needs some elucidation. Would he be good enough to explain whether leaving the European Union means repealing the European Communities Act 1972, and why Labour voted against the Bill on Second Reading?
I would have thought that it would be as clear to the hon. Gentleman as it is to me that leaving the European Union does involve revoking the European Communities Act. I will go on to explain why we have concerns about the Government’s amendments and the different decisions within them.
I did indeed, and I will come to that point later in my remarks.
I said that the intention of the three amendments is clear despite the confusion caused by amendment 383. It is clear, but it is needless because article 50, triggered on 29 March 2017, provides for a two-year exit timetable.
No, I will make some progress.
There is therefore no question about whether the UK will leave the EU at the end of that period in accordance with the article 50 notification. So what is the purpose of the Government’s three amendments? Is it simply to appease extreme elements within the Conservative party, not thinking of the consequences for the country, or is it a deliberate decision to unpick the Florence speech, demonstrating that the freelancers in the Prime Minister’s Cabinet are actually in charge of policy?
I suspect that it may be the latter. Given the chaos that the negotiations are in, the public will be wondering about the lack of progress. When the Government suddenly want to impose a guillotine, rather than use the article 50 process, the public may have good reason to be suspicious.
No, I will not. I want to make some progress, but I am sure that I will give the hon. Gentleman the opportunity to intervene later.
Whatever the reason for the Government’s decision, it is reckless and represents an extraordinary U-turn. The Minister said a few moments ago that it was important to give clarity on the issue of departure and that it was the Government’s fixed view, but that is not the view they held before last Thursday. In fact, for the past four months their position was represented by clause 14(1)—page 10, lines 25 and 26—which says that
“‘exit day’ means such day as a Minister of the Crown may by regulations appoint”
and by clause 19(1)—page 14, lines 41 to 42—which states that
“different days may be appointed for different purposes.”
Now, the Opposition thought that that was a sensible principle. We wanted Parliament, not Ministers, to agree the dates, which is why we have tabled amendments 43, 44 and 45. That principle makes sense, and I will outline why.
As I have said, our departure from the European Union is a settled matter. However, the Bill deals with three different issues: the date that the 1972 Act will cease to have effect; the cut-off point for the use of delegated powers; and the ending of the jurisdiction of the Court of Justice of the European Union. On that last point, there is a fundamental impact on the transitional arrangements. Labour has been clear about the need for a transitional period in order to prevent a cliff edge and to ensure that businesses do not have to adapt to two new customs and regulatory arrangements in quick succession. We need a transitional period on the same basic terms that we currently have in the single market and in the customs union.
Businesses and trade unions support that transitional period, and we were pleased when the Government caught up with us on that in September. In her Florence speech, the Prime Minister finally recognised its importance and said that
“people and businesses—both in the UK and in the EU—would benefit from a period to adjust to the new arrangements in a smooth and orderly way.”
She went on to say:
“Clearly people, businesses and public services should only have to plan for one set of changes in the relationship between the UK and the EU. So during the implementation period access to one another’s markets should continue on current terms and Britain also should continue to take part in existing security measures. And I know businesses, in particular, would welcome the certainty this would provide.”
Her spokesperson reiterated just yesterday that she gave businesses reassurance on agreeing a time-limited transitional or, as she prefers to describe it, implementation period as soon as possible. However, amendment 383 blows the prospect of a transitional deal on current terms out of the water. Put simply, if there is no role for the Court of Justice of the European Union, we will not be operating on current terms and the Prime Minister will be unable to secure an agreement with the EU27 for the transitional arrangements that she set out in her Florence speech.
Is not the difference between an implementation and a transition the whole point? If it is an implementation, we are implementing the consequences of having left; if it is a transition, we are transitioning from being inside the European Union to being, at the end of the process, outside. Therefore in the transition we would be de facto members of the European Union, on the basis that the hon. Gentleman is setting out, defeating the whole purpose of this Bill.
I wanted to make this intervention on my right hon. Friend the Member for Birkenhead (Frank Field), but he would not take it.
I commend the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield Central (Paul Blomfield), and I seek his opinion on new clause 49. The new clause is linked to other new clauses, but if it is agreed there is no guarantee that the other new clauses will be agreed. Passing new clause 49 would therefore do a grave disservice to this country. Will he make clear the Opposition Front Bench’s position on new clause 49?
I believe that the Labour party wants to have a smooth transition to a good quality future relationship, but I draw to the hon. Gentleman’s attention what the Prime Minister said in her Florence speech:
“Neither is the European Union legally able to conclude an agreement with the UK as an external partner while it is itself still part of the European Union.”
My point is that we need to become a third country before we can conclude the kind of future relationship that I think the hon. Gentleman would like us to have.
The hon. Gentleman is making a powerful point, and I wonder whether I might help. I asked the Prime Minister what she thought the legal basis of any transitional deal will be, and she said that the EU takes the view that it will be article 50. When I was in Brussels with the Exiting the European Union Committee last week, I raised this issue at the highest level of the EU and was told that, yes, it is envisaged that during the transitional deal Britain will stay in the single market, in the customs union, within EU law, within the acquis and under the jurisdiction of the Court of Justice of the European Union.
I am listening carefully to the hon. Gentleman. Is not part of the difficulty that there is a sense of people being disingenuous about the reality of the process of Brexit? Of course it is possible that, at the end of this, despite how we pass this legislation, the Government will come back with a withdrawal agreement Bill—the statute they have promised us—that does the very thing they will not admit at the moment: keep us within the jurisdiction of the Court of Justice of the European Union during a transitional period. Would it not be better, and would it not help us in our debates on this Bill, if we had a bit of honesty and clarity from all sides about the implications of withdrawal, about how we have to go about it and about the options—sometimes the lack of options—that may be open to us?
Further to the point of my hon. Friend the Member for North East Somerset (Mr Rees-Mogg) on the difference between transition and implementation, we know for sure that it will be an implementation period because we will have to implement the withdrawal agreement. We do not yet know whether it will be a transitional period because we do not know, and will not know at the point of Brexit, whether we will have any final deal to implement.
The hon. Gentleman makes a fair point, and I will now make some progress.
I was at the point of talking about why closing down the opportunity for effective transitional arrangements would be deeply self-harming. As the director general of the CBI, Carolyn Fairbairn, said just last week,
“The message from us, from business, is more certainty quickly particularly around transition, particularly in the next four weeks”.
The Government amendments undermine the prospect of a transitional deal and create more uncertainty. The CBI, the British Chambers of Commerce, the EEF, the Institute of Directors and the Federation of Small Businesses came together to call for a transitional deal, saying:
“We need agreement of transitional arrangements as soon as possible, as without urgent agreement many companies have serious decisions about investment and contingency plans to take at the start of 2018”.
“Failure to agree a transition period of at least two years could have wide-reaching and damaging consequences for investment and trade”.
It will also mean lorries backing up at Dover, because the adjustments necessary to avoid that cannot be physically put in place within 15 months, as I am sure everyone would agree. For the same reason, it will mean a hard border in Northern Ireland, with all the problems that that would create.
The Government’s approach is simply not in the national interest, and it closes down the flexibility that we might need. If negotiations go to the wire, both we and the EU 27 might recognise the need for an extra week, an extra day, an extra hour, an extra minute or even an extra second, as the right hon. and learned Member for Rushcliffe (Mr Clarke) pointed out, in order to secure a final deal. But that agreement would be thwarted by the Government’s having made it unlawful for themselves to do what they would want to do at that point.
The Prime Minister has consistently talked about parties working together in the national interest, and we are up for that—we have tried to be constructive; we have scrutinised and identified gaps; we have offered solutions; and on this crucial issue we seem to be in the same place as at least some members of the Government on the need for an effective transitional period. So let me make an offer to the Government. If they withdraw amendments 381, 382 and 383, and work with us on an alternative that affirms a departure date in line with the article 50 process but without destroying the chances of transitional arrangements, we are happy to look at that and work with them on it. If they do not—
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. The reckless ideological red line on the ECJ has got us into many problems—not only on this, but on the membership of Euratom and in many other ways.
If the Government cannot withdraw their amendments and engage in that process with us we cannot support them, because of the impact on the economy, jobs and livelihoods, as we would plunge over the cliff edge. I should also say that we cannot support amendment 79. We believe the Bill should operate on the presumption of devolution. My hon. Friend the Member for Darlington (Jenny Chapman) will set out our position in greater detail in subsequent days.
The Government have had months to repair this deeply flawed Bill. They could have come forward with amendments on workers’ rights, environmental protection, the charter of fundamental rights and limiting the scope of delegated powers, but instead they have chosen to come to this House with a gimmick on the departure date. This gimmick is about the Prime Minister negotiating with her own party, rather than trying to get a Brexit deal that prioritises jobs, the economy and the livelihoods of our people. The Government’s amendments are a product of the divisions at the heart of this Government on their approach to Brexit—divisions that are causing chaos, and this chaos is threatening our economy. We have a Prime Minister so weak that she is trying to tie her own hands behind her back to appease the extremists within her party.
No, I will not.
Rather, I should say that the Prime Minister is letting the Foreign Secretary and the Environment Secretary tie her hands for her. She is putting internal party management before the national interest. This country deserves better, and we are offering it.
I abstained on Second Reading and I voted against the timetable motion. I felt it was not possible to vote against Second Reading because a technical Bill of this kind is certainly required for when we leave the European Union, to avoid the legal hiatus and total uncertainty that would otherwise occur about what law actually applies in this country. I abstained rather than supported the Bill because I feel that, for many reasons that will become clear in the days of debate to come, the Bill goes far beyond its original purpose and is drafted in such a way as to try to deprive Parliament of a proper vote and say on perfectly important features. I hope that all that will be corrected by a Government who we have been assured—I accept this—are going to listen to the debate and see what is required and what is not.
I wish to touch briefly on two features of this debate, the first of which is the repeal of the European Communities Act 1972. There are only two Members left in the House of Commons who were here when the European Communities Act was passed, and I am glad to say that we are both consistent. The hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr Skinner) and I continue to vote against each other on all matters European, and we always have done. I always assure the Conservative Whips that they can look forward to the hon. Gentleman supporting them on most of the issues on which I vote against them, and I am sure that that will continue to be case.
On a serious note, the European Communities Act was passed on a bipartisan basis, which I helped to negotiate as a Government Whip—that is, Labour rebels supported the majority of the Conservative party to get us in. Before everyone deplores it, let me say that I do not think it has turned out to be a harmful piece of legislation at all. Apart from the predictable people—my right hon. and hon. Friends on the Back Benches—no one has ever sought to repeal it. The idea, which is very popularly put forward by the UK Independence party and others, that the Act has led faceless grey Eurocrats to produce vast quantities of awful legislation and red tape, is one of the biggest myths of our time. I pay tribute to Nigel Farage’s campaigning abilities. There is absolutely no doubt that he is the most successful politician of my generation, because he has persuaded a high proportion of the population that that is exactly how it runs. No doubt they are all looking forward to having bent bananas again once we have repealed all these pieces of legislation. I once fought an election in which quite a lot of my constituents had been persuaded that the Eurocrats were about to abolish double-decker buses. It took some considerable time to try to refute that rather worrying belief.
I look forward to seeing what a British fisheries policy is going to comprise. This is outside the scope of the debate, so I shall be as brief as I can be, but the average fisherman I meet seems to believe that if we exclude foreign ships from our waters, we can give up all this scientific stuff about conserving stocks and there will no longer be any quotas. That is the usual argument put to me. Of course, most British fish is sold in the European Union—it is a very important market for us—and it is of course inconceivable that EU countries could be so vicious as to react to our throwing their ships out by not buying the fish that we catch. No doubt in due course a more rational British fisheries policy will emerge, and no doubt we will debate it in a more comfortable context.
My right hon. Friend the Member for North Shropshire (Mr Paterson) is a very sensible Brexiteer. We had more sane debates in British halls than we ever did during the referendum campaign on television, on the radio or in the newspapers. On facing a question from me about what regulation, which had been opposed by the British Government, he would repeal if we left the European Union, he came up with a list of chemicals and pesticides that he thought the farmers in his constituency would look forward to using again. He was on vulnerable ground, because it is highly unlikely that this House of Commons would wish to repeal that legislation. The British like high regulatory standards on product quality, health and safety, consumer protection, the environment, and animal welfare.
During the highly successful 45 years in which we have been one of the leading influential players in the European Union, the British Government have been the advocates of more regulation and higher standards. No British Government have ever taken up the cause of deregulating in Europe. The Barroso Commission, which was very sensitive to what appeared to be public feeling, was very keen to be a deregulatory commission. It gave it up. As one of the commissioners explained to me, it could not get any European Government, including the British Government, to come forward with any deregulatory proposals. Vice-President Tindemans, who was a very keen deregulator, was extremely anxious to get proposals. We tried to get some deregulatory proposals when we were in coalition. Not one Department could produce any that it was anxious to repeal. The joy that some people feel over the repeal of the European Communities Act is splendidly symbolic.
Indeed. I wish to challenge my right hon. and learned Friend on his assertion that the manner in which the Council of Ministers has been operating has been adequately democratic and transparent. Can he please explain to us, from his own extensive experience, how it works and will he deny that, for the most part, it is done behind closed doors and that it is done by consensus, so nobody knows who decides what, how and when?
Under the Major Government, we introduced a process whereby parts of the European Council meetings were held in public. The Council of Ministers do hold public sessions, and an attempt was made to reach decisions in public sessions. It probably still goes on. [Interruption.] It does not amount to very much.
No, let me finish my answer. We did try to tackle this criticism. What happened was that each of the 28 Ministers gave little speeches entirely designed for their national newspapers and television, and negotiations and discussion did not make much practical progress. When the public sessions were over, the Ministers went into private session to negotiate and reach agreement. I used to find that the best business at the European Council was usually done over lunch. I have attended more European Council meetings than most people have had hot dinners. The dinners and the lunches tended to be where reasonable understandings were made. There were very few votes, but Governments made it clear when they opposed anything. When the council was over, everyone gave a press conference. It was a slightly distressing habit, because some of the accounts of Ministers for the assembled national press did not bear a close resemblance to what they had been saying inside the Council. I regret to say that some British Ministers fell into that trap. British Ministers and Ministers of other nationalities who had fiercely advocated regulating inside the Council would hold a press conference describing their valiant efforts to block what had now come in, which confirms some of my hon. Friend’s criticisms.
The fact is that most British Governments made it clear what they opposed and what they did not. If a regulation was passed in their presence, they had to come back here to explain why they had gone along with it. Now, that is enough on the European Communities Act.
Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that, notwithstanding what happened in the past, the reality is that we have had the referendum and 52% have voted to leave, so it is now imperative that we all come together as much as we can to get this right? We need to get the best deal and the best legislation to deliver that deal. Most importantly, we must return sovereignty to this Parliament, which should have its proper meaningful vote and say—deal or no deal.
I will in a second. I can assure the hon. Gentleman that I am trying to be brief.
I made this point once in an intervention, but it is an extremely serious matter. When the Government produced this technical Bill to stop the legal hiatus, they saw no reason to put any reference in it to our departure date from the Union. They had reason: there was no reason to put it in. Article 50, supported—despite my vote against—by a large majority of the House of Commons, sets the date of 29 March 2019, and the whole Bill proceeded on that basis. But in the past few days, partly in response to the new clause of the right hon. Member for Birkenhead (Frank Field), the Government have suddenly produced the most precise amendments, tying down our departure to the second.
With great respect to the right hon. Gentleman, his new clause could easily have been defeated: the Labour party would have voted against it; I would have voted against it, for what it is worth; and the Scot nats and the Liberals would have voted against it. Even the Government trying to apply their Whips to get it carried—if they had been foolish enough to do so—would have had a job getting a majority for his new clause. So I do not think that it was fear of the right hon. Gentleman, despite his formidable oratory, that caused the Government to table their amendments. What has happened is that they tried to make a concession to the pro-Europeans—the more moderate Government Back Benchers—by conceding the obvious common sense that, when we get there, we will have to have a meaningful, lawful vote on whatever deal is produced and that we will have to have legislation to move to the final period. It is not a great concession.
With great respect, the Government have not quite got it right yet, as we discovered the other day. All these great processes could take place after we have already left, particularly if the Government’s amendments are passed, which increase that risk. But they made what might have been seen by some as a dreadful concession to—of all people—my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Beaconsfield (Mr Grieve) and my right hon. Friend the Member for Broxtowe (Anna Soubry). Shock! Horror! What kind of press would that produce; what kind of reaction from the fourth row below the Gangway behind me? So somebody was urged to bring something that could be thrown as a sop to the Foreign Secretary and the Environment Secretary, and produced this ridiculous Government amendment. But it is not just ridiculous and unnecessary; it could be positively harmful to the national interest.
Despite what the right hon. and learned Gentleman just said, is not it fortunate that the Government have time to rethink this? It has already been made clear that the Government and the Opposition will oppose the new clause of my right hon. Friend the Member for Birkenhead (Frank Field). The Government amendment on the matter will not be considered until the eighth day in Committee. Therefore, is not there ample time for the Government—without losing face—to listen to the right hon. and learned Gentleman’s good sense and withdraw their amendment before that time?
I will not try to emulate the hon. Gentleman’s eminently sensible advice. By the time the Government have to concede this point, which I trust they will, we will all have forgotten the slightly odd circumstances in which this amendment was produced. He sums up the situation.
It is quite unnecessary to close down our options as severely as we are with this amendment, when we do not know yet what will happen. It is perfectly possible, on all precedents, that there is a mutually beneficial European and British need to keep the negotiations going for a time longer to get them settled and not to fall into the problems this Bill was designed to address.
I am going to conclude now. I apologise to my hon. Friend.
Other things that have come up in this debate are extremely important and need to be returned to—and will be returned to—many times in the Bill’s Committee stage. The whole question of the obvious need for a transition stage, and the obvious need for a transition stage to continue with our relationship on its present terms, until the new terms have been clarified and so business can run smoothly, must be reflected in every word of this Bill, and we must not seek to put obstacles in the way.
The Florence speech was a most significant step forward—indeed, it was the only significant step forward that the British have so far taken in the whole negotiating process. I do not know—I suspect, but I do not know—whether there are amendments to the Bill whose main efforts are devoted to trying to step back again from the Florence speech, but just in case, I hope that the Government will welcome all efforts to put the spirit of the Florence speech, and indeed its content, into the Bill.
I hope that we will not have these necessary and detailed discussions, of which this debate is just our first, somehow interfered with or shot down when the criticisms get difficult by people saying, “Oh, you’re remoaners. You’re trying to reverse democracy. You have been instructed by the people to leave Euratom. You have been instructed by the people to reject the European Court of Justice.” The referendum—I have no time for referendums personally—certainly settled that the majority wanted to leave the European Union. It settled nothing else. As nobody expected leave to win—including the leave campaigners, who would have taken no notice of the referendum had they lost it—nobody paid any attention to what leaving actually meant in practical, legal, economic policy and business terms, which it is the duty of this House to debate. We had no instructions.
When anybody mentioned problems of trade, investment and jobs, which are only part of the problem, although a hugely important part, they were waved away by leave campaigners, including the leading leave campaigners. The present Foreign Secretary dismissed all that—it was the politics of fear. Trade would carry on just as before. Investment would flow just as before. That was what the public were assured and what most of them believed, whichever way they eventually voted.
Well, even the Foreign Secretary is going to have to read his brief and study the basis upon which international trade is conducted in the modern, globalised economy. We are going to have to avoid a House of Commons, which universally expresses a belief in free trade, quite needlessly putting protectionist barriers, by way of tariffs, customs procedures and regulatory conditions, between ourselves and our biggest and most important market in the world.
I look forward to hearing my hon. Friend the Member for Stone as the debate continues. I have listened to him, and greatly enjoyed listening to him and debating with him, for many years on this subject. He now represents orthodoxy and party loyalty. He now argues there is too much parliamentary debate and that we should not have votes on this—it has all been settled by the voice of people. I am the rebel. I espoused the policies that the Conservative party has followed for the 50 years of my membership of it until we had a referendum 18 months ago, and I regret that I have not yet seen the light. He and I, like the hon. Member for Bolsover, remain consistent; we are probably each of us wrong. In the course of this, there are some very, very serious issues to be settled in this Bill. I ask the Government to reconsider silly amendments that were thrown out because they got a good article in The Daily Telegraph but might eventually actually do harm. [Applause.]
It is an absolute privilege to follow the right hon. and learned Member for Rushcliffe (Mr Clarke). I welcome the applause from those on the Labour Benches. [Interruption.] Yes, some of them.
Over the weekend, we passed the halfway mark between the EU referendum and actually leaving the European Union. It is difficult to argue that over those 500-plus days we have spent that time well, that the Government have a clearer idea of where we are, or that the promises made by the Minister and his colleagues in Vote Leave have come to pass or are any closer to reality than they were when they made them. We are certainly no closer to the post-Brexit utopia that we have been promised.
Those looking back on these debates in years to come will, as well as admiring the speech by the right hon. and learned Member for Rushcliffe, do so with a sense of bewilderment. Not only is this Parliament set to approve a Bill, if it goes through, that most Members seem to think is a bad idea—most Members think that leaving the EU is a bad idea—but we are being asked to make significant changes with an extraordinary paucity of information. No other piece of legislation may have been forced through on the basis of such a small amount of information. It is astonishing that 500 days on the Government remain clueless about the impact of their plans. We have still not seen the impact assessments that this Parliament voted for and that we were promised. That would have been quite useful ahead of this debate, had this Government been listening to Parliament.
All this is coming from Conservative Members who wanted to bring back decision making, power and so-called sovereignty to the House of Commons. Clearly, after all this time, either the impact assessments are being hurriedly rushed together right now or the Government are too feart to share them—that means too scared to share them, for the benefit of those on the Front Bench. Last night’s botched efforts to try to win support illustrate the desperate situation in which the Government—and, frankly, this Parliament—find themselves. We have been given a choice between approving a really bad deal or a really, really bad deal. That is no choice at all and one that we should avoid at all costs.
The right hon. and learned Member for Rushcliffe raised an important point about promises that were made. There is a point here about accountability. Good governance in any Parliament—any legislature—relies on being accountable. The whole idea of why those of us from Scotland travel down here while those from elsewhere have to make their way here every single week is to hold the Government to account. One of the principles laid out in the Parliamentary Control of the Executive Bill brought forward in 1999 by the Secretary of State for Leaving the EU, who is not in his place at the moment, was that Government could not sideline this place. I wonder whether this Government would be in their current pickle had the Secretary of State’s Bill been passed in 1999. Accountability is sadly lacking. Parliamentary control should go deeper than even beyond June 2016. All of us here should be accountable for the commitments that we make ahead of any election or any referendum. All of us should do our best to implement the manifesto on which we were elected. Regardless of how much we may disagree with each other, we have a responsibility to our electorates and we are accountable to them.
I am left in a quandary. I will happily take an intervention from a Government Member if they can tell me this: if this place is accountable—if only!—who is accountable for providing £350 million a week to the NHS? The Government deny that they are. Who is accountable for giving Scotland lots of new powers, including powers over immigration? And who is accountable for the full access to the single market that many in Vote Leave promised? If only the EU had been successful in getting rid of double-decker buses, it would not have been so easy to splash promises across the sides of them. I would happily take an intervention about accountability for those things.
The hon. Lady makes an excellent and principled intervention. To double down on that, I will quote the leader of the Scottish Conservatives. The problem is that I cannot quote her directly; I will have to paraphrase what she said, because if I read out the quote, I would be held to be out of order in this place. She called into question the veracity of claims on costs in terms of the EU, and the veracity of claims made by people who are in government about Turkey’s EU membership and an EU army. I am sorry that I cannot quote her directly, but I would find myself in a bit of bother if I did.
Is the hon. Gentleman aware of the work done by Economists for Free Trade, which states that the £350 million promised to the NHS is fundable? Is he aware of the agreement yesterday at the European Union on a European army? Both those things can easily be answered.
If only the Government had seen the hon. Gentleman’s talents, he could have been in government implementing these changes. When it comes to increasing funding for the NHS, I look forward very much to the conversations that he and I will have as we pass through the same Lobby in an effort to get the health funding that was promised by people who are now in government.
Is the hon. Gentleman aware that, as we have seen today, the hon. Member for North East Somerset (Mr Rees-Mogg) has his supporters in the Cabinet? The Department for International Trade was gleefully retweeting—until it deleted the tweet—the speech that he made earlier, which called for a race-to-the-bottom, low-regulation Britain.
The hon. Gentleman makes an excellent point, as he always does on these matters, even though he and I may not agree on much. Ruth Davidson and I do not often agree on much either, but she was right that we deserve the truth. This place deserves accountability over the promises that have been made. I wonder whether the Minister, who is in his place and who made those promises as part of Vote Leave, will address the question of what will happen about these promises. They were made to the people before they voted in a plebiscite, and he has some responsibility for that.
I hope that the hon. Gentleman will read the report published by the Treasury Committee during the referendum campaign. The report, which has my name and that of my hon. Friend the Member for North East Somerset (Mr Rees-Mogg) on it, calls into question the veracity of claims on both sides of the campaign.
The Minister is trying to absolve himself of responsibility for spending on the health service. If only he had done that before the EU referendum. If only he had stopped people putting it on the side of a bus. It is extraordinary, because those Vote Leavers are Ministers now. They are in the posts that they wanted, and they need to take a bit of responsibility and deliver on their promises. If Labour get into government, Conservative Members will quite rightly expect them to deliver on their promises.
Not at the moment, because I made a promise. Surely Members from all parts of the House must recognise the damage that has been done to politics as a whole by the empty promises that were made by Vote Leave. Frankly, that is one of the many reasons why this Bill deserves to fall.
The right hon. Member for Birkenhead (Frank Field) made a good point about compromise. In a Parliament of minorities, we need to have compromise. It is almost a year since the Scottish Government published their compromise, under which we would have remained part of the single market—the single market was mentioned by the hon. Member for Eddisbury (Antoinette Sandbach). Leaving the European Union is not something I want or wanted, and it is not something for which my constituents or my nation voted, but the nature of compromise is one of give and take.
Remaining part of the single market is a compromise suggested not just by the SNP but by experts—on these Benches, we still listen to experts—and by members of other political parties, and it was pushed for by the Secretary of State for Scotland and the leader of the Scottish Conservatives as well. I urge Members to look at that suggested deal. Under our amendment 69, instead of our crashing out of the European Union, we would retain membership of the EU until we can sort this out. We will also be backing amendment 79, from our Plaid Cymru colleagues, because it is important that democracy does not begin and end in this place, and the devolved Administrations should have a key role as we go through this process. We are now in the situation where no deal is becoming more and more of a reality, as I will mention in my concluding remarks.
The hon. Gentleman will remember that the former Chancellor said during the referendum campaign that should we leave the European Union, we would be leaving the single market. That was made absolutely explicit. The hon. Gentleman has spoken about future referendums, and he wants a second referendum in Scotland. Should the Scottish people vote in such a referendum by 52% to 48% to leave the United Kingdom, will he, after much discussion, argue for a third referendum?
This is extraordinary, isn’t it? Something the Scottish Government had the decency to do before the independence referendum was to produce a 670-page White Paper. There are Members in the Chamber—I am looking at the hon. Member for Edinburgh West (Christine Jardine)—who did not agree with it. She campaigned for a no vote, and I respect her for doing so, but we had the courage of our convictions and laid out what we stood for. The mess we are in today is because the Conservatives did not have the courage of their convictions and did not lay out what voting to leave the European Union would mean.
A no deal would mean 80,000 jobs gone in Scotland. A city such as Aberdeen would lose £3.8 billion, and Edinburgh would lose £5.5 million, while there would also be an impact on rural areas. I welcome what the Prime Minister has said on security issues—that we should pull together—but with no deal we would lose access to EU security databases in combating cross-border crime, which would be grossly irresponsible.
May I just say that from the perspective of Northern Ireland, no deal would be absolutely disastrous? It would inevitably mean a hard border. As one of those who grew up in Northern Ireland through 32 years of violence, killing and mayhem, I am not prepared to sit in this Chamber and allow the House to go down a no deal route, which would endanger people, UK border officials and Police Service of Northern Ireland officials along the border. It is imperative that we have a deal.
I thank the hon. Lady for her intervention. Hon. Members on both sides of the House would do well to listen carefully to her words. Northern Ireland has been vastly overlooked and it continues to be overlooked, and the hon. Lady makes an excellent point. One thing that concerns me and should concern Members on both sides of the House is that we have a no deal scenario, with Ministers playing Russian roulette with our futures—the futures of people in Northern Ireland and across the United Kingdom—as well as a slash-and-burn approach to politics that will profit absolutely nobody whatsoever.
I will conclude by saying that we may disagree on many issues, but we come to this place hoping—I respect Members as they do this—that we will leave our constituencies, our respective nations and the UK a little bit better off. By backing the Bill with such a lack of preparedness, we will be doing no such thing: we will not be leaving future generations better off. So weak are the arguments of those who back leaving the EU—I have heard this not so much from SNP Members, because Scotland voted to remain, but from Labour, Conservative and other colleagues—that they question why we are tabling amendments rather than challenge us on their substance. We will seek to amend this Bill as it goes through the House and to find common cause with colleagues from across the House. However, we know that what we are trying to achieve, even if we do get common ground, is to make this situation not better, but less bad. That is not a situation in which any Member should ever find themselves in this House.
I urge Members to reconsider and I urge the Government to press the reset button. There is far more at stake than the future of this Government or, indeed, that of any Member of this House.
I want to start by simply outlining that, contrary to what the hon. Member for North East Fife (Stephen Gethins) has just suggested about there being weak arguments for why we should leave the EU and repeal the European Communities Act 1972, it is absolutely essential that we do so if we are going to have a self-respecting, self-governing democratic country. The Bill and this whole issue are about one main question, namely democracy, which is what everything else necessarily flows from. All the economic arguments and questions relating to trade and other matters are ultimately dependent on the question of whether we have the right to govern ourselves in this sacred House of Commons. That is the basis on which the people of this country make decisions, of their own free choice, in general elections—whether it is to vote for the Labour party, the Liberal Democrats, the SNP or the Conservative party—and then a decision is made in this House as to how they will be governed.
I repeat what I have said: we have just had Remembrance Day. I simply want people to reflect for one moment on the fact that those millions of people who died in both world wars died for a reason. It was to do with sustaining the freedom and democracy of this House.
Does not democracy presume that a Government would listen to the will of the House of Commons, whose Members are individually elected by their constituencies? Would it not be slightly odd, therefore, to proceed with the Bill without taking out the Henry VIII powers?
Put simply, on the European Union Referendum Act 2015, which was a sovereign Act of this House—the point that the hon. Gentleman has just made—the House of Commons agreed, by six to one, that it would deliberately transfer to the people the decision whether to leave or remain in the European Union. Unless that Act is repealed, I do not believe that that decision should be returned to by the House.
The hon. Gentleman has referred to the millions of people who died in two world wars. Those two world wars took place before the existence of the European Union and we in Europe, including this country, Germany and France, have lived in peace for decades. Is not it the case that France, Germany and other countries will now never, ever go to war because of the European Union?
The answer to the hon. Gentleman’s question is that no two democracies have ever gone to war with one another. I declare a personal interest in this issue because my father was killed in Normandy, fighting for this country, and I am proud that he got the Military Cross for that reason. This is something that many people in this country really understand and believe. It is not easy to explain, but it is to do with the fact that people understand the real reasons that self-government is so important.
The proposal in the European Communities Act 1972, which we are now repealing, was the greatest power grab since Oliver Cromwell. It was done in 1972 with good intentions. I voted yes in 1975 and I did it for the reason the hon. Gentleman mentions: I believed it would create stability in Europe. The problem is that it has done exactly the opposite. Look, throughout the countries of the European Union, at the grassroots movements and the rise of the far right, which I deeply abhor and have opposed ever since I set about the Maastricht rebellion in 1990. I set out then why I was so opposed to the Maastricht treaty: it was creating European Government and making this country ever more subservient to the rulemaking of the European Union. As I said in response to my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Rushcliffe (Mr Clarke), that has been conducted behind closed doors. We have been shackled by European laws. He asked at one point if we could give one example. The ports regulation is a very good example. We fought that in the European Scrutiny Committee and in the House of Commons, but we were not allowed to make any difference to it. It was opposed by the Government, it was opposed by the Opposition, it was opposed by all the port employers and it was opposed by the trade unions. What could we do about it? Absolutely nothing!
Does my hon. Friend agree that once Parliament has passed the repeal of the 1972 Act, Ministers will only be able to do things that this Parliament permits them to do? Today, Ministers have to do many things that the European Union insists on, which this Parliament cannot discuss or overturn.
There are at least 12,000 regulations, every one of which would have required a whole Act of Parliament, with amendments and stages in both Houses. A transcript would have been available. People would have known who voted which way and why, and known the outcome of what was a democratic process. Instead, as I said to my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Rushcliffe—even he conceded that I was right on this—the process is conducted, over bibulous lunches and in the Council of Ministers, in a manner completely lacking in democratic legitimacy, yet, because of consensus arrangements behind closed doors, it becomes part of our law through section 2 of the 1972 Act. It is imposed on us by our voluntary consent. It is therefore up to us and the people of this country to decide, by their voluntary consent and their freedom of choice, to get out of this, just as it was brought in by an Act of Parliament, without a referendum, in 1972.
Has the hon. Gentleman not shown a deep misunderstanding of how the European Union works through consensus and participatory democracy? Rather than one country dictating to another, that is the whole spirit of the European Union. No one country is sovereign, but decisions are taken in the round.
I am sorry to disillusion the hon. Lady. I have been in this House for 33 years and I have been on the European Scrutiny Committee for 32 of them. I can absolutely assure her that what she says is simply not reflected by the practice of the European Union: the system is essentially undemocratic.
My hon. Friend might just reflect on the fact that there is no other way of transposing the legislation. I drafted the original repeal Bill, so I understand it very well. I did so before the referendum, in fact, because—I say this to my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Rushcliffe—I believed we would win. In reality, once we have brought this into UK law, we will be able to have our own Bills—on agriculture, fisheries, customs, immigration, and various other parts of our constitutional arrangements—that can be properly discussed and amended.
Yes, the reality is that the Bill, if and when it goes through—and I believe it will—will incorporate into UK law EU legislation already consented to in the way that my hon. Friend mentions. We have agreed to them, but unfortunately they have not had the democratic legitimacy that will be conferred upon them when the Bill goes through.
I proceed now to the important question of the European Court of Justice. I made this point to the Prime Minister about 10 days ago and again to the Brexit Secretary last week. I wish to mention three pieces of case law that we inherited when the treaties that had accumulated after 1956 came upon us through section 2 of the 1972 Act. The first two are Van Gend en Loos in 1963 and Costa v. ENEL in 1964. In its judgment in the first case, the European Court asserted that
“the Community constitutes a new legal order in international law for whose benefit the states have limited their sovereign rights”.
In Costa v. ENEL, the Court ruled:
“The transfer by the States from their domestic legal system to the Community legal system of rights and obligations arising under the Treaty carries with it a permanent limitation of their sovereign rights”.
In 1970, in the Handelsgesellschaft case, the Court said that community law should take precedence even over the constitutional laws of member states, including basic entrenched laws relating to fundamental rights. It does not get more profound than that. Those decisions are mere assertions by the Court, yet under section 3 of the 1972 Act, we agree to abide by them.
Will my hon. Friend agree that all treaties involve a pooling of sovereignty? We gave up immense sovereignty when we joined the United Nations and NATO, membership of which we would never dream of renouncing. The European Court exists to enforce treaty rights, including obligations on members. Does he recall probably the most important case there of modern times, when the British Government took the European Central Bank there to assert our treaty rights so that the City of London and our financial services industry could have a passport to financial services in the eurozone? It was worth thousands of jobs and showed the benefit of the Court in upholding treaty rights, including the most important treaty rights of the UK.
I also remember the case of Factortame, when Lord Bridge made it clear that by Parliament’s voluntary consent, given by virtue of the 1972 Act, an Act of Parliament—namely, the Merchant Shipping Act 1988—could be struck down. I am not trying to be disingenuous. The fact is that the 1972 Act empowers the European Court to strike down UK Acts of Parliament. That is what sovereignty is all about.
The hon. Gentleman talks about sovereignty and the pooling of sovereignty. Building on the point from the right hon. and learned Member for Rushcliffe (Mr Clarke), how does the hon. Gentleman think we will achieve new trade deals without ceding sovereignty, given that all trade deals—like EU membership, as the right hon. and learned Gentleman just pointed out—require the ceding of sovereignty?
I must say to the hon. Gentleman, and to my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Rushcliffe, that there is a world of difference between that and having agreements by virtue of treaties in international law, which are actually matters on which it is possible to make decisions without being absorbed into and entangled in a legal order. That is the difference. It is the acquis communautaire and its principles that completely undermine the sovereignty of this House. I am prepared to concede that some people—
I am sure that my hon. Friend will be making this point, but I will try to anticipate it. There are circumstances in which the pooling of sovereignty by virtue of, for example, NATO is claimed to be a genuine pooling, but it is not, because it is possible to withdraw from it. The whole point about the European Communities Act is that it is not possible to withdraw from it except by repealing it in this manner. That is what we are doing now.
My hon. Friend has strongly emphasised the importance of the sovereignty of the House, and I agree with him. Is it not all the more important that, as we leave, this sovereign House should have a meaningful vote on the terms on which we leave, rather than there being a “take it or leave it” vote at the end of the process? Is that not the ultimate expression of sovereignty, and will my hon. Friend therefore support it?
On a point of order, Dame Rosie. Delightful though it is to sit listening to the hon. Gentleman expatiate on all manner of things, I am struggling to discover what this can possibly have to do with new clause 49—or, for that matter, any of the amendments and new clauses linked to it.
I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his point of order. We are also debating clause 1, which is fairly wide-ranging, so the hon. Member for Stone (Sir William Cash) is in order.
I had actually spotted that, Dame Rosie, and I am most grateful to you for confirming that I am in order.
Let me now touch on some of the issues that arise from this continuous emphasis on the virtues of the European Court of Justice. There is the constitutional principle, which I have already explained, and there is the case law, which I have also already explained. But it goes further than that. The very great Lord Justice Bingham, in chapter 12 of his book “The Rule of Law”, describes the relationship between the courts and Parliament. He comes down unequivocally in favour of Parliament. He makes it clear that when Parliament passes a Bill such as the one that we are to enact, it will override all the laws in the European system that have shackled us so far, and also all the Court judgments, save only that we have agreed, by virtue of the retained law, to transpose some aspects of the process to which we have become used, and which we can decide what to do with at a future date.
I do not think my hon. Friend can have it both ways. A moment ago, he was talking about direct effect. There is no doubt that if we leave the European Union, direct effect will cease on the day we go; but, as I am sure he knows, we are signed up to about 800 treaties with arbitral mechanisms that can lead to judgments affecting the United Kingdom, which we then undertake to implement, sometimes by changing our own laws. I do not quite understand why my hon. Friend has such an obsession with the Court of Justice of the European Union if its direct effect will be removed, although we will have to be subject to it during the transitional period as we are leaving.
I do not think that matter has been entirely settled, by any means. The hon. and learned Member for Edinburgh South West (Joanna Cherry) earlier referred to a lunch she was at, where it appears that she was told we were going to be subject to the European Court of Justice, and my right hon. and learned Friend has made exactly the same point.
I have to say that there are serious questions about the nature of the European Court. The problem is that the European Court is essentially not an impartial court at all. It has never discharged the function impartially, and from the early 1960s it developed a range of principles, such as those of the uniform application and effectiveness of EU law, that it then expanded of its own volition into the general principles of the supremacy and direct effect of EU law over national law. These judge-made principles had no basis in the EU treaties until the Lisbon treaty, which my right hon. and learned Friend, who was then Attorney General, opposed. The fact is that until Lisbon—
I am afraid not, as I really must proceed.
None of these judge-made principles had any basis in the EU treaties, and the principle of the primacy of EU law is a judicial creation recently codified, and no more than that. However, because we have accepted judgments of the European Court under section 3 of the European Communities Act 1972, which we are going to repeal, we are saddled with this, and that is one of the things we are going to unshackle.
Interpretation is done in the European Court by what is known as the purposive approach. In fact, as has been well said, there are many different purposes that can be in conflict with one another, and the methods of interpretation applied are anything but satisfactory. I therefore say to those who want to advocate the European Court, whether in the transitional period or in general, “Beware of what you wish for,” because the European Court can create havoc in relation to our trading arrangements.
If the hon. Gentleman is so opposed to the European Court of Justice, what is his dispute resolution mechanism going to be? Independent states need a dispute resolution mechanism where they cede sovereignty; they give some of their sovereignty and get some of somebody else’s sovereignty. What is that going to be?
Order. I been generous in allowing the hon. Gentleman to range over a number of subjects, but I gently remind him that there are a lot of speakers in this debate, so I am sure his list about the European Court of Justice is now a little shorter than it was before.
I shall conclude my remarks on this point. The European Court is seriously deficient in a whole range of matters. On the question put by the hon. Member for Na h-Eileanan an Iar (Angus Brendan MacNeil), the idea has been put forward by Martin Howe QC, and I have put it forward myself in the House, of a system of jurisdiction that would be more in the nature of an arbitration, where there might be, for example, retired European Court judges or whoever, who would adjudicate—but on a bilateral basis, not on the basis of a decision taken by the European Court. It is possible to come up with a solution, therefore, but I do recognise the problem.
We are now embarked upon a massive restoration of self-government in this country. This Bill is essential to achieve that, and should be passed without any of the obstacles and frustrating tactics being put in its way.
I rise to speak to amendment 386, which has cross-party support and which I tabled late last night. The Minister said that it was somehow introducing “chaos” into this process. With the greatest respect, after a fortnight in which we have seen the Foreign Secretary, the International Development Secretary, the former Defence Secretary, the current Defence Secretary and the Cabinet Secretary all subsumed in controversies, I think the Government are doing quite well on the chaos front without any help from me. Also, the idea that taking the exit date out and putting it into a different Bill would create chaos when, just five days ago, Ministers did not want it in any Bill at all, makes the Government’s argument look rather silly.
The amendment would require Parliament to vote on the terms of withdrawal through primary legislation before Brexit day. That would mean that exit day would be set in UK law not in this Bill but in a future Bill, either in the withdrawal agreement and implementation Bill that the Government announced yesterday or, if there is no deal at all, through an alternative Bill setting out the terms of departure and presumably whatever implementation plan would be needed in those circumstances.
The purpose of the amendment is not to dispute the Government’s intentions about the timing of exit day; it is simply to ensure that there is a proper parliamentary and democratic process before we get to that date. The central focus is not the date itself but a requirement on the Government to do as they have promised and set out a meaningful vote for Parliament in advance of that date. The amendment would also ensure that P