[2nd Allocated Day]
Further consideration of Lords amendments
With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:
Lords amendment 51, amendment (b) thereto, and Government motion to disagree.
Lords amendment 1, amendment (a) thereto, and Government motion to disagree and Government amendment (a) in lieu.
Lords amendment 2, amendment (a) thereto, and Government motion to disagree and Government amendment (b) in lieu.
Lords amendment 5, and Government motion to disagree.
Lords amendment 53, Government motion to disagree, and Government amendment (a) in lieu.
Lords amendment 4, and Government motion to disagree.
Lords amendment 3, motion to disagree, and amendments (c), (e) and (d) in lieu.
Lords amendment 24, Government motion to disagree, amendment (i) and Government amendment (ii) to Government amendment (a) in lieu, and Government amendments (a) and (b) in lieu.
Lords amendments 32, 6 to 9, 33 to 36, 38, 40 to 42, 159 to 161, 163, 164, 166 to 168 and 170.
I rise not only to move amendment (a) to Lords amendment 51, but to support the other Lords amendments that we are considering today. May I start by thanking the other House for its work? In particular, I wish to record our thanks to our Labour Lords team, led by Baroness Hayter and Baroness Smith, who have worked extremely hard to improve this Bill.
The amendments in this group this afternoon, as with yesterday, cover a number of crucial issues, such as enhanced protection for EU-derived rights, environmental safeguards and the charter of fundamental rights. In many respects, that should not be controversial, and I will return to those issues later on.
Let me start with Lords amendments 1 and 2. These amendments, if upheld here, would require a Minister to lay before both Houses of Parliament a statement outlining the steps taken in the article 50 negotiations to negotiate our continued participation in a customs union with the EU. I do not suppose that it is the making of a statement that the Government object to; it is the negotiation of a customs union with the EU. In fact, so determined are the Government not to accept a customs union with the EU that they have gone to extraordinary lengths to dream up alternatives.
When the so-called partnership agreement and the so-called maximum facilitation options first saw the light of day last summer, nobody really took them seriously, not even the Brexit Secretary. Within two weeks, he was describing the customs partnership as blue-sky thinking. Thus, when the Prime Minister resurrected them in her Mansion House speech earlier this year, many of us, including myself, were genuinely surprised. Since then, it has become increasingly apparent that neither option is workable, that neither is acceptable to the EU and that neither will get majority support across this House. The Foreign Secretary calls the customs partnership “crazy”. The Business Secretary says that the maximum facilitation option would cost thousands of jobs in manufacturing. It is no wonder that a Cabinet peace summit is planned for July.
The proposal in Lords amendments 1 and 2 that the Government should seek to negotiate a customs union with the EU as part of the future arrangement is a sensible one for many reasons.
Is the right hon. and learned Gentleman prepared to accept free movement as the cost of a customs union, or is he not?
Given the reports that we are hearing just now that No. 10 has rejected the agreement that was made yesterday with sensible Conservative MPs on the Grieve amendment, at least the third part of it, there is no guarantee now—absolutely none—that there will be a meaningful vote. Is it not absolutely essential that a loud voice goes out from this House today to say that we want the least damaging Brexit possible—in the customs union and in a single market?
I am grateful for that intervention. I have not seen the news that is just coming through. If that is the case, it is extremely concerning. A strong message needs to go out from this House about the proper role of Parliament in the article 50 process and one that argues for the best possible outcome in terms of a close economic relationship with the EU.
I thank the right hon. and learned Gentleman for giving way. We need to be very clear about this. Something may have happened, but I heard the Prime Minister saying very clearly from the Dispatch Box that an amendment would be forthcoming, that it would largely incorporate much of the amendment that my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Beaconsfield (Mr Grieve) tabled yesterday, that discussions and negotiations are continuing, that that amendment will be tabled in the Lords in due course and that the job will be done on a meaningful vote involved for this House.
I am grateful for that intervention. I have not seen whatever news is coming out, but having observed the proceedings yesterday and the various interventions, it seems to me that what the right hon. and learned Member for Beaconsfield (Mr Grieve) was saying was very clear for us all to hear. He spoke about the specific paragraphs that were of huge importance, and we heard about what the proposed amendment in the Lords would contain. Obviously, we will have to wait and see what the wording is, but, from my point of view, as someone who was observing it, I thought that it was pretty clear what was being said from the Front Bench about what was likely to happen in the course of next week.
I could not help noticing yesterday that, as my hon. Friend the Member for Greenwich and Woolwich (Matthew Pennycook) was spelling that out, the Government’s position was that, should article 50 be voted down, they guarantee that they will make a statement within 28 days and that that was not particularly convincing—the Brexit Secretary himself found that to be a cause of some amusement. That is certainly not enough. What is needed is the opportunity for this House not only to vote on the article 50 deal, but to have an appropriate and proper role if the article 50 deal is voted down. I am afraid that we are rehearsing yesterday’s argument, but we on the Labour Benches voted for the amendment, which would have given not only a meaningful vote, but a proper role for Parliament afterwards to decide what happens next.
Order. The right hon. and learned Gentleman is completely innocent in this matter, but he has, almost unavoidably, been diverted from the path of virtue as a result of interventions. I simply want to remind not just him but the House that we are supposed to be focused on amendments that relate to the European economic area. What we must not do is have a replay of yesterday’s proceedings.
Well, the right hon. Member for Wantage (Mr Vaizey). Well, my cup runneth over today. I am having moral support from sedentary positions both from the right hon. Gentleman and from the right hon. Member for Broxtowe (Anna Soubry) to boot. It is clearly my lucky day.
I will press on, make my case and take some further interventions later on.
I was saying that the proposal in Lords amendments 1 and 2 that the Government should seek to negotiate a customs union with the EU as part of the future arrangements is a sensible one for many reasons. The first is the economy. Over a number of decades, our manufacturing model has adapted to the arrangements that we currently have with the EU, including the customs union. Thus, typically, we see, across the UK, thousands of manufacturing businesses that operate on the basis of a vital supply chain in goods and parts from across the EU. The car industry is an obvious example, but not the only one.
Such businesses operate on the basis of a just-in-time approach. Whereas years ago there were stockpiles of parts and so on, these days there is a just-in-time approach. Parts come in and are assembled, and the finished product then goes quickly and seamlessly across the UK and/or out to the EU. That is the manufacturing model that this country has operated for many years, and MPs across the House know that that is what goes on in their constituencies.
The outgoing president of the CBI said today that manufacturing sectors, particularly the car industry, would be severely damaged if the UK did not stay in a customs union with the EU. Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that those comments are very concerning?
One of the risks for Members taking interventions is that the very next point we are about to make is stolen, but my hon. Friend is absolutely right. I will just remind the House that the president of the CBI this morning said:
“If we do not have a customs union, there are sectors of manufacturing society in the UK which risk becoming extinct... Be in no doubt, that is the reality.”
This is at the heart of the debate. If we destroy the manufacturing model that I just described, we destroy a vital part of the economy and job losses will be considerable. That is why there are such high levels of concern across the business community about the Government’s current approach.
For the benefit of the House, I am going to go through the customs union argument before moving on to discuss the EEA and the single market, and then I have other remarks to make. If the hon. Gentleman will forgive me, I will deal with his point when I deal with the EEA. I am currently dealing with the customs union.
Is Labour in favour of staying in the customs union, or a customs union that approximates to a customs arrangement that would allow us to make free trade deals with states other than the EU—the customs union, or a customs arrangement?
The current customs arrangements are in the membership treaty. Therefore, if they are to be replicated and if there is to be a customs union that does the work of the current customs union, there needs to be a new treaty. That is why we are in favour of a customs union, but a customs union that does the work of the customs union that we are currently in. Although this was a point of great heat and discussion weeks and months ago, I think most people now understand that there will have to be a new agreement that replicates and does the work of the current customs union.
I am going to make some progress; I have taken a lot of interventions and I will take others later.
The concern about the customs union is not confined to the business community. It inevitably extends to trade unions, on behalf of those they represent; those who depend on the manufacturing sector; and those who work in and operate our ports and places of entry and exit. I have visited Dover to look at the operation there and to talk through with management and staff the impact of any change to the current customs arrangements. I have also visited Holyhead, the second biggest port, where there are high levels of concern.
I know that the right hon. and learned Gentleman wants to separate out the customs union from the single market, but we cannot separate those two things if we are talking about frictionless trade and just-in-time deliveries. Checks would be required not just for customs and rules of origin, but for product regulations and conformity with standards. Further to the question from my hon. Friend the Member for Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland (Mr Clarke), is the right hon. and learned Gentleman therefore willing to accept free movement of people as the price of access to the single market?
I assure the hon. Gentleman that I will discuss the single market and the EEA, and I will deal with his question then. At the moment, I am making a case on the customs union, although I accept the proposition that the customs union on its own does not produce frictionless trade, and nor does it answer the question, “How would you prevent a hard border in Northern Ireland?” I will specifically deal with this matter later in my speech, and I will take further interventions then.
Is my right hon. and learned Friend aware that the Dutch Government and the European Commission have begun to advise businesses not to take car parts produced in the UK for export because of concerns about rules of origin. Will today’s proposals address that?
My right hon. and learned Friend has already reminded the House that the Cabinet has not made up its mind on what sort of customs arrangement it wants. Is it his understanding, as it is mine, that the maximum facilitation option would entail infrastructure on the border in Northern Ireland, so it would get us back to the hard border that everyone says we want to avoid?
The main problem with maximum facilitation is that it involves technology yet to be invented and certainly yet to be made to operate. Nobody knows quite what it is, whether it can be developed and delivered, and if so, when. On the Northern Ireland border—although I will speak about Northern Ireland later—the commitment is to no infrastructure, no checks and no controls. I will come to that point specifically when I deal with Northern Ireland.
My right hon. and learned Friend will be aware that the permanent secretary of Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs indicated that the implementation costs of maximum facilitation would be £17 billion to £20 billion a year. This information was shared across Whitehall, so Ministers are well aware that it would be damaging to our economy.
Yes, I did see that figure. It is deeply concerning that those sorts of costs are even contemplated for that option in relation to technology that has not been developed or, in many respects, even invented. That is why there is such a bitter dispute going on in the Cabinet.
I am going to press on, if the hon. Gentleman does not mind. I will take other interventions later.
I realise that all sorts of fanciful promises about new customs arrangements were made during the referendum and have been made since, but we have a duty to protect our economy, jobs and the manufacturing sector across the UK. That is at the heart of today’s debate. The only way to uphold that duty is to negotiate a customs union with the EU.
There is, of course, another important aspect. In December last year, our Government made a solemn promise in the phase 1 agreement: no hard border in Northern Ireland. And that was spelt out—no infrastructure, no checks and no controls. Now, in all the to-ing and fro-ing yesterday, what may have been missed is that one amendment that went through, without any dissent from the Opposition, was a Government amendment to Lords amendment 25 for that obligation to be legally binding in UK law. That is a very significant amendment; after the political commitment in December to no hard border, no infrastructure, no checks and no controls, we now have a binding law to that effect. This goes to the issue of maximum facilitation, because if maximum facilitation does involve infrastructure, checks or controls, it would be unlawful under the provision passed yesterday. Therefore, it cannot happen.
The right hon. and learned Gentleman is right. We did not get to debate that amendment because we ran out of time yesterday, but it is huge. It means that, logically, we will have to come to a customs union agreement, partnership—[Interruption]—I’ll do that. I do not care what we call it, but that is what we will need to avoid any border at all in Northern Ireland. It is great progress.
It also goes further than that, does it not? Not only will we have to stay in a form of customs arrangement amounting to a union, but we will also have to have a high level of regulatory alignment. Otherwise, the life that takes place along the border will be impossible because of different regulations on either side.
I will not repeat what my hon. Friend the Member for South Cambridgeshire (Heidi Allen) and my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Beaconsfield (Mr Grieve) have said, because I was about to make the same point. It was the most significant thing that happened yesterday, but given the circus that surrounded everything and the timetable that stopped us debating it, nobody so far has taken any notice. However, it does bear on today’s debate, because yesterday’s legally binding commitment extends the needs of the Irish border to the whole United Kingdom. We are talking about Dover—and we settled that yesterday—and we are not having a border down the Irish sea. The United Kingdom has therefore got to negotiate an arrangement with the EU as a whole that has no new frontier barriers. Effectively, we are going to reproduce the customs union and the single market, and the Government will be unable to comply with yesterday’s legal obligation unless it does so.
I am grateful for that intervention. When the phase 1 agreement was reached in December, I thought that commitment was the most significant thing that had happened since the referendum, with regard to indicating what our future relationship with the EU would be. I think that it is clear to everyone who has considered this and visited Northern Ireland to talk it through that the only answer to having no hard border, in the end, is a customs union and high-level single market alignment, and that is why yesterday was so significant. The fact that that was accepted by the Government and turned into domestic law gives it a status that it did not have until yesterday, because previously it was a political agreement at international level. I am not suggesting for one moment that it was not solemnly entered into by the Government, or indeed that they would resile from it as a matter of international negotiation, but it will now become a matter of domestic law. It is probably the most significant thing that happened yesterday.
May I just remind the right hon. and learned Gentleman that the vast majority of people, not only at the referendum but at the general election—85% of those who voted—voted to leave the customs union and the single market? It was a very clear result. Let me ask him this one straightforward question, for clarity: in their search for a customs union, are the Opposition willing to sacrifice our ability to negotiate trade deals outside the EU in order the achieve that customs union with the EU?
We all want new trade deals. At the moment we have got an excellent trade deal with the EU, and we have 37 additional agreements with 67 countries through our membership of the EU. The first thing we need to do is preserve that. Lots has been said about new trade agreements and how they will be fast and how we will get much better terms than would be offered to any other country in the world. In fact, we are told that they will be queuing up to give us preferential treatment, and quickly. I think the Brexit Secretary said that by March next year we will have had trade deals with countries in an area that is geographically 10 times larger than the EU. Well, he has only a few months left to pull that one off. The Opposition consider that if new trade deals are struck together and jointly with the EU, we have a better chance of getting quicker and better trade deals.
On Monday I was in Ireland with the British-Irish Parliamentary Assembly, and I think that what happened yesterday will be welcomed across the island. I remind the House that many things that happened in Northern Ireland over the past 40 years did not necessarily arise because of a border; they arose because of civil rights discussions across the island. The House must be mindful that, as we go forward in these discussions, we need to be careful when talking about our relationships across the island, both north and south, and within the United Kingdom.
This is a matter that I know every Member across the House is really concerned about. The commitment to having no hard border in Northern Ireland, which was set out in the Good Friday agreement, was not just a question of how technically one might get people or goods across a line in the road between the Republic and the north, and nor is it as we go forward; it is a manifestation of peace. I had the privilege of working for the Policing Board in Northern Ireland for five years, implementing some of the Good Friday agreement. Having talked to both communities consistently over those five years, I know that this is deep in the hearts of everybody there. This is more than a technical issue; it goes to the heart of what was achieved 20 years ago. We must always bear that in mind.
My right hon. and learned Friend speaks truthfully and eloquently about preserving peace in Northern Ireland, and of the centrality of the border to that. He also says that in order to achieve that we must effectively be in a single market and a customs union. Does he accept that one of the concrete ways we might deliver that is to be in the customs union and the European economic area, which is entirely possible, as Michel Barnier pointed out yesterday?
I am grateful to the right hon. and learned Gentleman for allowing me to intervene. He referred, quite rightly, to his service to the people of Northern Ireland through the Policing Board in earlier years. I am aware that he visited Northern Ireland recently and met the present chief constable of the Police Service of Northern Ireland. He will therefore be aware that the chief constable has recently withdrawn from sale three unused border police stations and asked for funding for an additional 400 police officers to deal with the border arrangements after Brexit. Can he throw some light on why on earth the chief constable would do that if we are not going to have a hard border?
I did go to Northern Ireland recently and I did have a meeting with the chief constable, who I know in any event. We spoke in confidence, and I will not break that confidence, but the facts about staff, posts and buildings, as the hon. Lady has just laid out, are right. Although having no hard border was a political commitment made in December, and it is now a legal commitment, there is a concern that that should be delivered. That is not a concern solely of the Police Service of Northern Ireland; it is a concern across the piece.
May I just bring the right hon. and learned Gentleman back to the question from my hon. Friend the Member for Basildon and Billericay (Mr Baron)? My understanding from his answer, as it tailed off, is that he is only in favour of trade deals severally and jointly with the European Union. Is he not aware that currently the EU has trade deals in operation with under 10% of the world’s economies? Is he saying that under Labour’s vision we would be unable to secure trade deals with the other 90%? Does his vision also include the fact that at the moment four fifths of the tariffs collected under the customs union are paid to Brussels? Does he want to see that sort of arrangement continue under his vision?
The EU has trade deals with 67 countries through 37 agreements. It has a further 49 agreements with developing countries. There are 200 countries in the world, 28 in the EU, and 67 are already in extra agreements with the EU, and there are 49 in the developing country agreements. That is a considerable number of countries in the world.
Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that the crux of today’s debate is whether we want a close working relationship with our neighbour and social, cultural and economic partner, the European Union? Ultimately, that is why so many of us—including the business community, trade unions and many Opposition Members —want a customs union.
Order. I am extremely grateful to the right hon. and learned Gentleman. There was a less than wholly polite chunter from a sedentary position. I warn the hon. Member for Wyre Forest (Mark Garnier) that I might need to have a word with family members of his who live in my constituency, who would expect him to behave in a seemly manner. I simply say to the shadow Brexit Secretary that I am listening to his disquisition with great interest, and will do so, but I know he will be sensitive to the fact that although we have six hours for debate, there is a very large number of Members wishing to contribute.
I am grateful for that, Mr Speaker.
To finish my point about Northern Ireland, I think that the conclusion of the vast majority of people who have considered this in great depth and with concern is that there is no way of delivering on the solemn promise that there should be no hard border in Northern Ireland unless the UK is in a customs union with the EU and there is a high level of single market alignment. The so-called backstop argument that has been going on in recent weeks is testament to that, because the Government are trying to find a post-implementation period phase when in truth we will be in a customs union and in high-level regulatory alignment with the single market. For our economy, and to enable us to keep our solemn commitments on Northern Ireland, I urge hon. and right hon. Members to vote to uphold Lords amendments 1 and 2.
I now turn to the EEA and amendment (a) to Lords amendment 51, which is in my name and those of other shadow Front Benchers. I understand why their lordships have become so concerned about the state of negotiations that they want an amendment to cover the single market. The Prime Minister’s red lines of October 2016 were a profound mistake. If we are to keep to our duty of protecting our economy, including the manufacturing sector and the services sector, and our solemn promise in relation to Northern Ireland, we need a customs union with the EU, and we also need a strong single market deal based on shared regulations and institutions.
Can my right hon. and learned Friend explain the tangible difference between us being in a customs union with full access to the single market and our being members of the EU, other than the fact that we will not be electing Members of the European Parliament?
Obviously, politically, we will not be in any of the institutions, and we will not be a member of the EU. We are dealing with the question of whether we should have a close economic relationship with the EU, which everybody recognises is a critical issue, and working through the best configuration for that. I do not think that the mere fact that there has been a vote to leave the EU can be interpreted as the wish of anybody who voted to make our economic relationship with the EU any worse. I do not think that anybody was voting to harm the ability of businesses in this country to do business.
I am going to press on and then I will give way again.
The EEA has a number of real benefits with regard to shared regulations and shared institutions, but it also presents real challenges. I have taken this option very seriously. I went to Norway to discuss it with that country’s political leaders, trade unions and businesses, and I also visited an EEA border—the Norway-Sweden border—to see what it was like.
The EEA undoubtedly works well for Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein, but their economies are very different from ours, as is their size—Norway has 5 million people, Iceland has 300,000 and Liechtenstein has 37,000. Those countries chose not to be in a customs union with the EU. The European Free Trade Association is, after all, a free trade association, and those countries have struck trade deals in their own right as a group. I am sure that those trade deals work well for them, but I think that the 37 trade deals that the EU has struck work better for the UK than the EFTA trade deals would.
I will just complete this point.
The EEA excludes agriculture and fisheries, which presents a problem in relation to the solemn commitment to no hard border in Northern Ireland. When I went to the border between Sweden and Norway, there was infrastructure, checks and controls—not for people, but for goods. The EEA also provides very little flexibility on the four freedoms, including freedom of movement and the way in which single market rules are implemented. Some say that those challenges can be overcome. I will continue to listen to those arguments, because there is no doubt that, in addition to a customs union with the EU, we need a strong single market deal, but I do not think we can ignore those challenges.
Despite their small populations, Iceland and Norway represent the two biggest catch sectors in Europe’s fishing industry. If the exclusion of the common fisheries policy is so bad in terms of UK membership, how on earth is it that Iceland and Norway, which depend heavily on fishing, are still in the EEA and benefit from it?
I am obviously not making my point in the right way. If the question we are trying to answer is how we ensure there is no hard border in Northern Ireland, it is very difficult to see how we can answer that by adopting the EEA model as it is, because agriculture is outside of the agreement that Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein have struck. That is the point I was trying to make.
It seems to me that the right hon. and learned Gentleman is, in effect, making the same argument on this issue as the Government, which is that we want to negotiate a free trade deal without the bureaucracy or the regulations—in other words, to have the best of the EU and the single market but without the downside. That is a very valid position to take, but can he confirm that he is in concurrence with the Government’s position on that?
No, our position is not the same as the Government’s at all. I recognise that we need a strong single market model. All I am saying is that I think there are challenges in the EEA model, which is not the only model, and that we would be better off with a model that does not tie us to a particular deal that another country has done. However, and this is why our amendment is important, that model should ensure full access to the single market and no new impediments to trade, with common rights, standards and protections as a minimum, underpinned by shared institutions and regulations. That is a long way from the Government’s position because they are not prepared to sign up to those commitments. The frustration in the negotiations is that nobody yet knows, because the Cabinet is still divided, whether the Government really want to negotiate something that is close economically to the EU, which will require shared regulations and institutions, or if they want to negotiate something else altogether.
I hope that all of us who support Brexit wish the UK to have access to the single market on the terms we have now, with the conditions about regulation that will follow from that. A key part of the campaign was that we should have control of our borders and not be subjected to foreign courts. Does my right hon. and learned Friend accept that we might have to pay for the privilege of gaining free access to the single market but controlling our borders?
I accept that freedom of access was bound up with the referendum, and that is why every time I have stood at this Dispatch Box, I have said that we accept that freedom of movement will end when we leave the EU. The question is: what comes next, what does it look like and how do we negotiate it with the EU? That does not make things easy, but I think the Government’s approach, which was to abandon any argument for the customs union or the single market at the outset for fear of having that discussion with the EU, was wrong in principle.
I absolutely agree with my right hon. and learned Friend that, when we leave the European Union, freedom of movement should end, and this is about what comes next. Does he agree that the EEA Norway-Liechtenstein-Iceland model does not allow us to have control over how freedom of movement will change and ties us in to “no say”? Norway, Liechtenstein and Iceland have signed up to having no say over freedom of movement.
I have looked very carefully at the provisions in the EEA agreement, and there has been a lot of discussion about articles 112 and 113 in particular. I have to say that my reading of those articles is that they are what are called “in extremis” provisions, which actually do allow some flexibility on all obligations under the EEA agreement, but only in extreme circumstances and for a short period. The argument that others have put to me is that there is a different interpretation, but we are still discussing that matter.
Order. I say very courteously to the hon. Member for Chelmsford (Vicky Ford) that we cannot have an intervention by what I would call “proffered chunter” from a sedentary position. If the right hon. and learned Member who has the Floor wishes to give way, it is open to him to do so. [Interruption.] Order. The blame game taking place between the right hon. Member for Wantage (Mr Vaizey) and the hon. Member for Wyre Forest (Mark Garnier) about who else chuntered, with each pointing at the other, is not altogether seemly.
I am going to press on because I have taken lots of interventions and engaged with them. I have been on my feet for nearly 45 minutes, which is not fair to colleagues on both sides of the House who want to speak.
Our amendment is a strong single market proposition. It sets out the kind of new relationship we want to achieve with the EU—a close economic relationship, with full access, while ensuring there is no lowering of common standards and protection, and recognising that shared institutions are required to achieve that. It is a million miles away from the Government’s position on the single market. It does not set a narrow route; it sets the parameters of the new single market relationship we want to achieve, and it leaves options open to achieve that. I urge all Members on both sides of the House to support it.
Let me turn to the question of human rights and other protections. Lords amendment 4 sets out enhanced protections for employment, equality, health and safety, consumer standards, and environmental rights and standards. The argument is very simple; it was very simple at the start and it is very simple now. At the moment, these rights have enhanced status because we are members of the EU. They are being converted into our law—the Government said they would convert them and they are converting them; I will come on to the charter of fundamental rights in a minute—but not with any enhanced protection. All the amendment says is that if those rights and protections are to be changed, that should be done by primary legislation.
The amendment is not contentious, and it does not even say that the Government cannot change those rights. It just says that if they believe in these rights and think they should have enhanced protection, they should for heavens’ sake put them into a form that means that if they want to change them, they have to use primary legislation to do so. The only reason I can think of for resisting that is that somebody thinks it might be a good idea to chip away at these rights without doing so through primary legislation.
The Solicitor General shakes his head. If that is not the case, he should accept Lords amendment 4 and get on with it. This is the same argument we have been making since the Bill started its life back in September 2017.
There is good reason to be concerned. I know these are old examples, but they are real ones. The Foreign Secretary has complained of “back-breaking” EU workers’ rights, and the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs has claimed that the Government should
“have the potential to...if necessary rescind”
employment protections after Brexit. Such examples give Opposition Members, trade unions and working people across the country huge cause for concern that, in the absence of enhanced protection, these rights will be vulnerable.
The right hon. and learned Gentleman is making a very powerful case. I can tell him that Government Members should also be concerned about this matter. I am sure he agrees that it is perfectly possible to carry out Brexit—without incorporating the charter of fundamental rights, which I know is a subject of difficulty—while at the same time securing these rights through this perfectly sensible amendment.
I am grateful for that intervention. I would have thought that this is not controversial. The Prime Minister said that she did not want to reduce these rights, and we take her at her word, but if the Government convert them into a form in which they lose their protection, they make them vulnerable. I would have thought that any Government who want to change these rights would have the decency to do that through primary legislation so that this House can carry out the proper scrutiny process. It is very straightforward.
I now turn the charter of fundamental rights. Through the Bill, thousands of EU provisions are being converted into our law—only one is not being converted. All the others can be converted, changed, modified or brought into our law in some shape or form, but the charter apparently cannot be converted, and that is wrong in principle.
I am very interested in my right hon. and learned Friend’s point, particularly in relation to the charter of fundamental rights. Does he agree that amendment (c) in lieu of Lords amendment 3 —it talks about environmental principles, and potentially rights, being put into primary legislation—may leave us in the anomalous position of having more environmental rights after Brexit than social and civic rights? Is that not a disgrace?
I will make this point about the charter and then I will give way.
The charter has enabled the evolution of important rights, adding significantly to the fields of equality and non-discrimination, especially lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender rights, and the rights of children, workers and the elderly. As Liberty, Amnesty International and the Equality and Human Rights Commission have argued, excluding the charter from the Bill
“will lead to a significant weakening of the current system of human rights protection in the UK”.
Human rights develop over time. This country and the House have played long and distinguished roles in that development. Brexit should not be used to end that tradition or to reduce our human rights protection in the UK. We therefore call on right hon. and hon. Members across the House to vote for Lords amendments 4 and 11.
I shall now come on, briefly, to the environmental provisions. Lords amendment 3 seeks to maintain environmental principles and standards as we leave the EU. The amendment has our full support. The EU’s environmental principles are hard-wired into the treaties, and they underpin all its environmental policies and laws, which are then enforced by EU institutions and agencies. These environmental principles and the enforcement mechanisms that uphold them must be retained and replaced if Brexit is not to weaken protection for our natural environment.
I know that amendment (c) in lieu, tabled by the right hon. Member for West Dorset (Sir Oliver Letwin), is designed to address some of those concerns. If it is supported by the Government—I assume it will be—it will introduce some helpful developments in the Government’s policy, including proposals to enable the watchdog to initiate legal proceedings. However, it does not go far enough, so we urge Members to support Lords amendment 3.
Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree with me that the amendment, as it stands, asks the Government not to act in accordance with the duty on them, but only to have regard to it, which is a much less stringent legal test? Does he also agree that while it creates the ability to initiate legal action, it does not provide a legal remedy or access to justice for UK citizens?
I agree with my hon. Friend, which is why I am saying it is a step in the right direction, but it is not enough on its own and more is needed.
I turn finally to the question of refugee family reunion. I am pleased that Lords amendment 24 is before us, and I pay tribute to Lord Dubs for his tireless campaign on this issue. Labour supports Lords amendment 24, which is long overdue. We recognise that some concern has been raised about the scope of family reunion that qualifies under the Government’s clause, and I would welcome any clarification from the Minister on that issue. However, in general, Labour will support the amendment.
In conclusion, the Lords amendments address crucial issues. Along with Labour’s single market amendment, they would be a huge step forward in improving the Bill and protecting jobs and rights. I hope that right hon. and hon. Members will support them today.
It is a pleasure to rise in this debate to set out the Government’s stance on these important amendments. The right hon. and learned Member for Holborn and St Pancras (Keir Starmer) was properly concerned about the effluxion of time. I share that concern; there is a lot to go over, and I will do my very best to cover all the amendments before us and, of course, to take interventions, as I always strive to do.
May I first echo the opening remarks made yesterday by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, who talked about the important role of the other place as a revising Chamber? There is no doubt that in some instances the other place has made some constructive improvements to the Bill, which the Government have every reason to support. However, on other matters, which were debated at length and agreed to by this elected House, the other place chose to ignore decisions that were taken here. Instead, we have a set of amendments that, I am afraid, are not properly thought through and would have a negative impact on our plan for a smooth and orderly exit.
We heard from the right hon. and learned Member for Holborn and St Pancras that the Opposition do not accept Lords amendment 51, which seeks to make continued participation in the EEA a negotiating objective for the Government. Well, we are sure about his position, but we are not so sure about that of certain other Opposition Members. However, on this issue, we are certainly in broad agreement.
This country is party to the EEA agreement by virtue of its membership of the EU. After the implementation period ends, that agreement will no longer apply to the UK. Seeking to participate in the EEA agreement beyond that period does not pass our test—that our future partnership with the EU must respect the referendum result. It does not deliver the control over our laws, and indeed other aspects of our domestic policy, that we seek. On borders, it would mean that we would have to continue to accept all four freedoms of the single market, including the free movement of people.
May I just pick my hon. and learned Friend up on his point about law? We are signed up to thousands of treaties in international law that bind us, and including on international tribunals. Membership of the EEA does not require any direct effect of that law in this country, so I fail to see how, on that point, the Government can be right. It is perfectly plain that we can be a member of the EEA without any direct effect from the European Court of Justice.
I am sorry, but with respect to my right hon. and learned Friend, I do not agree. He knows that the EEA is a creation that came after what were the European Communities. As I will go on to explain, we have significant concerns about what will happen not just to the EEA as it stands now, but with the inevitable development of EU rules, which will mean that we have little say. The issue of being law takers rather than lawmakers is particularly important to me.
No, I will not give way.
I made that point during the long debates in the referendum campaign. As a dedicated and fervent remainer, I said that when we leave the EU, it means we leave the whole shebang—there is no cherry-picking when it comes to not only the attitude of the UK but, importantly, the position of our negotiating partners.
I entirely agree with the Solicitor General. Does he agree that a customs partnership—a customs union—is a non-negotiable nonsense that the EU thinks comes with all four freedoms? Will he further confirm that we have many fine industrial companies in this country, with complex supply chains operating just in time, importing components from non-EU countries?
My right hon. Friend is absolutely correct to draw our attention to the wider world and the reality of trade in the United Kingdom. I absolutely understand the point about just-in-time supply, representing, as I proudly do, large motor manufacturing companies in Swindon. I get the point, which is why the Government’s policy to seek trade that is as frictionless as possible has been at the very heart of everything we have set out to do right from the beginning of the negotiations.
Representing a constituency that voted by a margin of almost seven to three to leave the EU, I am getting a little tired of hearing people who lost the referendum try to write the terms of our exit. To be totally clear on this, the Solicitor General is absolutely right that it was not just the issue of free movement that was of concern to my constituents and others in the north of England who voted in huge numbers to leave the European Union. There was also the issue of parliamentary sovereignty— being in control of our own laws. Therefore, I am afraid that being a rule taker has to be 100% out of the question on our exit.
My hon. Friend makes a powerful point about democracy. One of the complaints that was constantly levelled against our membership of the EU was the lack of democracy, and I am pretty sure that if we end up in the position of a rule taker, those arguments will only grow louder and longer.
Therein lies the problem with amendment (a) to Lords amendment 51, tabled by the Labour Front Benchers. What precisely does that amendment mean? Everybody should ponder that question, because I do not think that even they can answer it. The truth is that we are back to the old chestnut of access to the single market, and that in truth means subjection to the four freedoms.
During my time chairing the Internal Market Committee in the European Parliament, there were many occasions when Norwegian officials came to ask me to lay amendments to legislation on their behalf, particularly in areas such as offshore oil and gas and financial services. There were other sectors where their interests and our interests were more closely aligned with those of Europe, and alignment made sense. Does my hon. and learned Friend agree that the Government’s position of continuing close alignment on issues such as medicines, chemicals and aviation makes complete sense, but that having regulatory co-operation and dialogue in other areas also makes sense?
My hon. Friend speaks with considerable experience from her time in the European Parliament. I agree with the approach that she urges; that is, of course, the Government’s approach, and it is understood not just here but, importantly, by those with whom we negotiate. It is vital in these debates for us never to forget that we have to put ourselves in the shoes of our negotiating partners and to understand what they will accept, before we become too carried away with positions that quite frankly—I say this with respect to Members on the Labour Front Bench, and particularly to the right hon. and learned Member for Holborn and St Pancras—just cannot be sustained.
I thank my hon. and learned Friend for giving way. Does he accept that disrupting complex supply chains in the motor industry can lead to economic disaster, but when we disrupt complex supply chains in medicines, I am afraid it means that people will turn up at their pharmacy and the drug they need might not be available on the shelves? The public will never forgive us for that. I am really sick and tired of hearing some colleagues say that those who “lost” the referendum have no right to have any say in the type of Brexit we have.
As my hon. Friend knows, I was one of the 48%, and I do not forget that. That means that I do listen to the voices of concern about the supply of important goods and life-saving medicines. That is the Government’s position. That is why we are striving to make sure that we achieve trade that is as frictionless as possible.
I have to say, I have never been given quite such a greeting for an intervention, but I am very grateful to the Solicitor General for giving way. Will he confirm that this is all about immigration? Immigration is the cold beating heart of his Brexit. What is he going to do about nations such as Scotland, which require immigration to keep our economies competitive?
Welcome back. The hon. Gentleman clearly does not know me very well when he describes the Brexit that I and many other colleagues want to achieve as some sort of cold Brexit. We want to achieve the openness and willingness to trade that embodies the spirit of what it is to be British. That includes immigration that we can truly control in a way that the British people will accept. Frankly, although it is nice to see him back, I do not think I will be taking any more interventions from him.
I am very grateful to the hon. and learned Gentleman. Since one of the Government’s objectives is to maintain membership of the European Medicines Agency, to which the hon. Member for Totnes (Dr Wollaston) referred a moment ago, will he confirm that that will require the United Kingdom to abide by the rules of its operation and to accept judgments of the European Court in respect of its operation? If that is the case, has he not just confirmed that we are in fact going to be a rule taker?
The right hon. Gentleman, as ever, makes a pertinent point. [Interruption.] Well, I am being polite to the right hon. Gentleman, because I think that is what he deserves. I say to him that questions about participation in international institutions will be made on the basis of the United Kingdom being a third country and the status of the United Kingdom becoming somewhat different from that which it currently enjoys. The point is that the consent to such further international ties will lie here in Westminster. That answers the point that has been raised, quite properly, by my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Beaconsfield (Mr Grieve), on the signing of treaties and the fact that the United Kingdom has, on many occasions in its history, chosen to share the power it has enjoyed and participate as a full and vigorous member of the international community.
I ask that the record be corrected.
As my right hon. Friend knows, the White Paper published some months ago sets out the options the British Government have been looking at. Option 1 is the proposed new customs partnership, and option 2 is the streamlined customs arrangement. Currently, two ministerial groups are taking forward work on those models. We accept that the precise form of any new customs arrangements will of course have to be the subject of negotiation.
It is obvious, as we listen to the debate, that there is a real tower of Babel in this place in Members’ different views. I listened very carefully to my hon. and learned Friend yesterday, when he was replying to questions posed to him by my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Beaconsfield (Mr Grieve). Is my hon. and learned Friend quite clear—this is a very serious and important question—that there is no way, given the complexity of the negotiations and the likely outcome, that the Government will allow the House of Commons, by a voteable resolution, to influence, unpack or defeat those negotiations?
Mr Speaker, I might risk straying into yesterday’s business, but I will briefly say that my hon. Friend knows that I have said repeatedly that we do not support or endorse the notion of this House mandating or directing the Government by resolution. We believe in full, vigorous democratic accountability, but that, frankly, is not the way that negotiations are conducted or treaties signed.
The shadow Secretary of State dealt with the question of Northern Ireland in some detail. We of course recognise the unique circumstances that apply to the border with the Republic of Ireland, and we have been consistent in our commitment to avoid a hard border. We believe that our joint report commitments can be fulfilled through the overall UK-EU future partnership, but it is necessary to ensure there is a backstop solution for the Northern Ireland border that avoids a hard border and protects the constitutional integrity of the UK internal market. No Prime Minister could ever sign up to the solution for Northern Ireland and Ireland that, I am afraid, the Commission has set out, because it threatens the constitutional and economic integrity of our United Kingdom. We are Unionists and we are proud to be so.
Does the Solicitor General accept that if we were to leave with no deal and we were trading under World Trade Organisation rules, that would necessitate a border, and that leaving with no deal is therefore inconsistent with Government policy as he has just stated it?
I am very grateful to the Solicitor General for his remarks. Indeed, the Prime Minister’s remark about no British Prime Minister being able to accept the EU version of the backstop was also what the shadow Secretary of State said, when he said that the Labour Front Benchers could not accept such a proposition. I welcome that. Yesterday’s amendments apply to the powers in the Bill itself. Having said that, nobody in Belfast, among all the parties in Northern Ireland, or in London or Dublin, is advocating a hard border in the island of Ireland. Our point has been that what is agreed must not come at the expense of a border down the Irish sea, or of hiving Northern Ireland off into a special set of rules. In terms of taking back control of our borders, laws and money, the EEA proposition is clearly defective. Does the Solicitor General therefore share my surprise that one of the parties in Northern Ireland that does not want a hard border is actually advocating that proposition, despite what the shadow Secretary of State has quite properly enunciated today?
The right hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. I am surprised that there can be that level of divergence on what is a most important point. He makes the vital assertion, which I think is right, that the important amendments considered yesterday, which were outlined very carefully, relate to the powers in the Bill and how the Bill will operate. Of course they are consistent with Government policy, and there is absolutely no question but that their terms are entirely consistent with what the British Government want to achieve. It is important to note, however, that they relate to the powers in the Bill: a correcting power, the withdrawal agreement power, consequential powers and transitional powers.
Does the Solicitor General not accept that the answer he has just given to the right hon. Member for Belfast North (Nigel Dodds), on the nature of the border between Dublin and Belfast, necessitates similar arrangements between Dublin and Holyhead if we are to sustain the Union between Northern Ireland and the rest of Great Britain?
The issue of the border will apply to the length and breadth of our United Kingdom. I have no doubt about that. I think the right hon. Member for Belfast North (Nigel Dodds) made the proper point that we do not want a hard border in the Irish sea between one part of our kingdom and another. That is a different point, I think, from the one made by the hon. Member for Arfon (Hywel Williams).
In the light of what the Solicitor General has just said in response to the right hon. Member for Belfast North (Nigel Dodds), and given that no one wants a hard border on the island of Ireland—the new IRA dissidents would become very active along the border, it would agitate Sinn Féin to campaign for a border poll and it would do the United Kingdom no good at all—may I urge him to tell the Prime Minister to stop using the phrase “no deal is better than a bad deal”?
I was with the hon. Lady until her last point. We need to make sure in these negotiations that the other side understand where we are coming from. When negotiating, one must negotiate hard, one must negotiate tough and one must negotiate in a way that advances the interests of the whole United Kingdom. She is absolutely right to talk about a border poll. I am not glib about that—I am far from complacent about what might happen. Both she and I understand that.
I am very clear: I do not want to see a hard border on the island of Ireland or down the Irish sea, not least because of the implications it would have for Welsh businesses and ports. Is the Solicitor General aware that Labour’s sister party, the Social Democratic and Labour party, which does not have a voice in the House at present, has made it very clear that it urges the House to support Lords amendment 51 because EEA membership allows the regulatory alignment that would enable us to avoid a very hard border?
I say to our friends and colleagues in the SDLP—I think in particular of Margaret Ritchie, the former Member for South Down, who, as we know, is rather unwell, and who was a dear friend and colleague prior to the election—that I must respectfully disagree with them on this issue. A commitment to the EEA is, I am afraid, a problem in the sense that I have outlined—it is a gateway to the four freedoms.
I want to deal with the issue of Liechtenstein and other countries. Liechtenstein has, of course, negotiated an immigration quota system, but it is a country of only 37,000 people. It is probably less than half the size of most of our constituencies. I do not see a permanent exemption on free movement being afforded to a country of the size of the United Kingdom, and that is why the intervention from the right hon. Member for Don Valley (Caroline Flint) was so important. For all those reasons, we cannot accept amendment (a) or the original Lords amendment on the EEA.
One consequence of free movement is that we restrict unskilled migration to Europe. Is it not the case that if we no longer have free movement but have a single immigration system, unskilled migration will, by definition, have to be open to people from anywhere?
Sir Martin Donnelly, the former permanent secretary at the Department for International Trade, said recently in a speech:
“To provide UK business with guarantees of full and equal access to the single market without equal acceptance of EU regulatory structures would require not so much a skilled negotiating team as a fairy godmother specialised in trade law.”
Is that not the truth? Is it not the truth that the EEA exists, whereas the Solicitor General’s negotiating stance and wish list do not and will not?
The hon. Gentleman is normally a great optimist and a man of sunny disposition who never lets anything get him down, least of all some of his local issues, which I know he has undeservedly suffered from in the past. He needs to have the courage to understand that in these negotiations there are interests on both sides—the UK and our friends in Europe—that must drive us towards the sort of arrangement or deal that will not only facilitate trade from our country to theirs but will protect, preserve and enhance the important business in goods and services that exists between us and other EU members.
One group that has made its position very clear is the North East England chamber of commerce, which represents 3,000 businesses in my region. It has said that the north-east is hugely reliant on the EU for global trade, that 62.3% of exports go to the EU and that remaining in the EEA will reduce barriers and give chamber members the best chance to make a success of Brexit. Should the Government not be listening to the creators of thousands of good jobs in my region?
Of course we are listening to the job creators—I have mentioned that in the context of my own constituency experience, which is not dissimilar to the hon. Lady’s—which is why we have committed ourselves to the most frictionless possible trade. That said, any deal will have to represent Britain’s position as a third country rather than a part of the EEA structure.
May I return the Solicitor General to what seems to have been the Opposition’s first admission that they are seeking a customs union that would not allow us to negotiate trade deals with countries outside the EU? They might be pessimistic about the way forward—they have quoted the CBI—but many people out there are saying that, provided we can negotiate trade deals with countries outside the EU, the future is very bright. It is a vital point that Labour would let down the electorate by not allowing us to trade.
Not yet. I always enjoy interventions from the hon. Gentleman, who is a king of YouTube, but I will stop there—and perhaps draw a veil of charity over that.
On the customs union, I want to reiterate the commitment given by my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House last week that the Trade Bill and the Taxation (Cross-border Trade) Bill will be brought back to the House by mid-July at the latest, which will give all right hon. and hon. Members the opportunity to have the debate that I know they are itching to have on these important issues. I am sure that they will therefore forgive me if I move on to deal with the other important points the amendments raise.
I want to deal with amendment (c) in lieu of Lords amendment 3, which was tabled by my right hon. Friend the Member for West Dorset (Sir Oliver Letwin) and which we support, as I think I have already indicated to him. It enjoys support from many corners of the House, and I would commend it as a clear commitment to what is after all the Government’s policy. It respects the position their lordships took about the need for a report, and we urge the House to vote for it.
I had better not. I have to move on, I am afraid, and I have taken an intervention from my hon. Friend already.
I want to deal with the charter of fundamental rights, which was mentioned by the right hon. and learned Member for Holborn and St Pancras. We continue to strongly believe that it would not be right to retain rights of action based on incompatibility with the charter or the general principles of EU law after we have left. To keep these in our domestic law, as Lords amendments 5 and 53 seek, would undermine two crucial principles. First, it is not consistent with the proper restoration of parliamentary sovereignty if legislation, including primary legislation, can continue to be disapplied or quashed by the courts on the basis of elements of the EU legal system intrinsically linked to our membership and obligations.
I will deal right away with the comparison made with the Bill’s treatment of the principle of the supremacy of EU law. It is not a comparison that I accept. I would draw a clear distinction between the need to maintain, in a strictly limited sense, a rule that has been central to the hierarchy and interpretation of our statute book for over 40 years and the charter itself.
The latter document came into effect in 2009. It was expressly intended only to reaffirm rights that exist elsewhere, as protocol 30—signed up to by the United Kingdom and Poland—made clear. Suddenly to remove the principle of supremacy would have significant and unintended consequences and would be likely to result in a confused and incoherent statute book. It would merely introduce more uncertainty to the law’s meaning and effect.
Has my hon. and learned Friend not just highlighted the problem himself? Supremacy carries with it implications that the law, by its very nature, can override other laws. The reason why the general principles of EU law existed before they were incorporated in the charter was a wish to ensure in part that such laws could not apply abusively; yet we are keeping the supremacy and removing the mechanism by which the abuse can, in exceptional cases, by challenged. That seems a very strange thing for a country that wants to enhance its freedoms to do.
My right hon. and learned Friend and I have debated this matter before, and I do not want to repeat the issues that were raised then. Let me simply say to him that what we are doing is bringing back retained EU law, which will be an ever-dwindling body of law. It is not now the case that, as was feared by my hon. Friend the Member for Stone (Sir William Cash) and others, the law will constantly expand and increase to fill the spaces. I think that certainty must trump other considerations here.
As I was saying, the charter is really a catalogue of rights, rather than something that is integral to the way in which the entire legal system functions. Those very points were made with considerable eloquence and persuasive force by many experienced and expert peers, not least a number of former Law Lords. I cannot put it better than Lord Brown of Eaton-under-Heywood, a former Justice of the Supreme Court, who strongly opposed what he called both the “constitutional incongruity” of keeping the charter when we leave the EU and the “striking vagueness” of many of its articles. Lord Brown argued that, if the amendment were passed,
“certainty and clarity…would be very far from advanced. This would be wonderful for the lawyers, but frankly, for few others.”—[Official Report, House of Lords, 23 April 2018; Vol. 790, c. 1350.]
I entirely agree.
Those arguments were echoed by a considerable number of other Members of the other place from all sides, including Lord Hope of Craighead, Lord Faulks, Lord Howarth of Newport—from the Labour Benches—Lord Judge, the former Lord Chief Justice, Baroness Deech and, of course, the former Lord Chancellor, Lord Mackay of Clashfern. Lord Mackay said:
“once we are out of the EU, surely the fundamental part of our constitution should be respected—that is, that the courts of Westminster Hall, as they were, and the courts of justice of our land have no jurisdiction to set aside Acts of Parliament.”—[Official Report, House of Lords, 23 April 2018; Vol. 790, c. 1361.]
I wish that I could replicate Lord Mackay’s wonderful Scottish brogue, but I dare not do so in the presence of true Scots.
In the Exiting the European Union Committee, we heard that absolutely the opposite was also the case: that not retaining the charter would create a great many legal uncertainties. The position remains that if we are taking EU law into our law, the underpinning of that EU law—the charter—should be part of that as well.
I hear what the hon. Lady says, but I disagree with her. I think that the arguments in the Lords were very finely balanced. I am sure she has read parts of the Lords Hansard and will have noted the force of the arguments that were put against the position that she occupies—and, indeed, the view of the House of Commons when we dealt with this issue in Committee and on Report.
I was disappointed that the Lords were not even willing to consider our own significant amendment in respect of the general principles, which I will come on to. I understand fully the concerns that have been raised about the protection of rights. It is, of course, vital that as we leave the EU, we do not see any dilution of domestic protections for our rights and liberties. I do not, however, accept that these amendments are necessary to the realising of that aim.
The charter did not create any more rights. It reaffirmed the rights that were already recognised in EU law—the law being retained in the UK under the Bill. The charter applies to EU institutions and member states only when they are acting within the scope of EU law. It is not—I repeat, not—as broad a body of law as the European convention on human rights and should not be compared to it.
Article 26 of the charter concerns disability rights. Liberty and Amnesty International specifically say that it
“goes further than domestic laws and provides for specific measures to ensure the ‘independence, social and occupational integration and participation’ of disabled people in community life.”
That provision is stronger than domestic law. How will the Government ensure that it is protected?
The hon. Lady and I share an interest in—indeed, a passion for—the position of people with disabilities in this country. However, I think that that analysis is wrong: I do not think that article 26 enhances rights in the way that both she and I would understand. It does not give any extra domestic remedy to people with disabilities who might face discrimination or other injustices. I know that she is familiar with recent important Supreme Court decisions relating to benefits. We already have an important and vigorous domestic legal system whereby people who live with lifelong conditions or, indeed, other disabilities can challenge the authorities and seek redress of grievance.
With respect to the hon. Lady, I must press on.
I am concerned that some people—including no less than the former Attorney General, Lord Goldsmith—seem almost to be contradicting themselves 10 years on. Lord Goldsmith, who was the Attorney General, made his position absolutely clear to Parliament:
“The United Kingdom’s position, like my position, has always been that the charter affirms existing rights, it does not create any new justiciable rights in any member state and does not extend the power of the courts.”—[Official Report, House of Lords, 9 June 2008; Vol. 702, c. 427.]
It was not the noble Lord but, I think, the right hon. Member for Leicester East (Keith Vaz) who described the charter as having no more significance than a copy of The Beano. I simply ask: what has changed? For that reason, I do not accept that the rights contained in the charter will add anything to the rights of individuals in our country. Equally, I do not accept that rights saved by the Bill will not be justiciable if general principles challenges are excluded. Other sources of rights will continue to exist and operate in UK law.
None the less, we have listened to the concerns that have been raised, particularly in relation to accrued rights. We want to get the balance right. When we last debated the matter here, I agreed to a change that delayed the prohibition of certain rights of challenge on general principles grounds, when the cause of action arose before exit day, for three months after exit. This week, we tabled an amendment in lieu that goes considerably further. It delays that prohibition for three years, subject, of course, to the normal statutory limitation periods, which will continue to apply.
Having had a gentle dig at my hon. and learned Friend a moment ago, I now thank him, because I know that it was his personal intervention which at least secured that. It is a great improvement, and I think it will be greatly valued. It is likely to apply in very few cases, but it provides a higher level of support.
I am grateful to my right hon. and learned Friend. I have listened to representations from him and from other Conservative Members on the issue. I believe that we have now struck a reasonable and fair compromise between the concerns and arguments raised by Members in all parts of the House, and I urge Members to support the Government’s amendment.
It is the Government’s ambition to leave our environment in a better state than that in which we found it. That is what we owe to our children and our grandchildren, and that is why the Prime Minister said in January:
“We will use the opportunity Brexit provides to strengthen and enhance our environmental protections—not to weaken them”.
On 10 May, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs launched a consultation on the development of a new independent statutory body to safeguard the environment alongside approaches to embed EU environmental principles in our own domestic law. However, the Government have listened to concerns raised in both Houses that certainty is required more quickly, and we recognise the intentions behind the amendments tabled.
The trouble is that there is a huge gulf between the lovely statements that the Environment Secretary has made and the reality of this amendment. The hon. Member for Wakefield (Mary Creagh) has already pointed to some of the criticisms of it, but there is also a major criticism that it only focuses on the role of central Government; it does not cover local authorities or arm’s length bodies, and moreover it seems to address only policies, not day-to-day activities. Those are two big problems.
The hon. Lady deals with the nub of the issue, and I shall address those particular points in turn. While she makes an important point about the reach of this provision, my main intention is to try and replicate what were general EU principles in the same way, to create the framework in domestic law that both she and I would embrace and which will allow the development of statutes here in Parliament and the policies that will I think in very large measure deal with the issues she is concerned with. [Interruption.] I am sorry that she is shaking her head; I am doing my very best and I will explain in further detail.
My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State announced that we will bring forward an environmental principles and governance Bill in draft form in autumn of this year to deliver those proposals, with the introduction of a Bill early in the second Session of this Parliament. For this reason we warmly welcome the amendment tabled by my right hon. Friend the Member for West Dorset (Sir Oliver Letwin) in lieu of the amendment tabled by Lord Krebs. Despite the good intentions behind Lords amendment 3, we cannot accept it. It would create legal uncertainty; it does not take into account that a significant proportion of environmental legislation and policy is devolved.
That is one of the issues I wanted to address directly to the hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Caroline Lucas). As we have seen today, we have already had a number of tensions about devolution, and the Government therefore tread very carefully in the field of domestic law before expanding too widely upon policy areas that are rightly the province of Edinburgh, of Cardiff and indeed, when the Assembly sits, of Stormont.
Not at the moment.
Lords amendment 3 would create a risk-averse approach to the design of better and more effective environmental standards. For example, it would require the Government to extend the scope to all public authorities—the hon. Lady’s point. That goes much further than the European Commission, which can take action only against a member state, not individual public authorities within that state. The Government therefore have instead proposed that the body should focus on national Government, to retain that focus on the most significant national issues. The requirement of a direct duty in Lords amendment 3 to apply those environment principles listed in the amendment across a wide range of Government activities goes far beyond the way it works at EU level currently. Such a far-reaching duty does not exist anywhere in EU law, so instead of replicating and bringing down those principles, we are in danger of creating some intended consequences that would cause concern to Members across this House. However, we recognise that an early reassurance of our intentions is needed, and we therefore move to support the amendment in lieu.
I was tempted by their lordships’ amendment, but I do think we have managed to produce something that can satisfy everybody in this House, because, as my hon. and learned Friend has just said, there is subsequent legislation that we can build on. This is the framework; the principles will be in the Bill and we will be able to construct a national policy in the way that my hon. and learned Friend has just outlined.
My right hon. Friend is right. He was an outstanding Minister in the Department and I am grateful to him for his continued passion for the causes he represents so eloquently.
The amendment in lieu provides further reassurance for the House and sets out that the Government will publish draft legislation no later than six months after Royal Assent to this Bill.
On that point of timing, there is a real problem, particularly if we end up with no deal, because then we would not have a watchdog and the principles in place fast enough; we would have a yawning governance gap. What measures is the hon. and learned Gentleman planning to put in place as a contingency in the event of no deal, and in particular will he look at having a shadow body, just as there was a shadow climate change committee, that would get up and running as soon as possible?
As I have said, the backstop is six months—no later than—rather than the full period, and in any event I can reassure the hon. Lady that the domestic framework of environmental law, which is, rightly, among the most stringent in the world, will continue to apply. What we are talking about here are the general principles of EU law, which will be replicated domestically; it is not about the directly effective remedies, very analogous to the position regarding disability, that I know she and others will be concerned about. So I have no doubt that those existing frameworks carry on, whether there is a deal or no deal.
Order. Before the Solicitor General does so, I gently remind him that he had indicated to me that he might speak for up to an hour, and if that is his intention, so be it, but he will realise that he is now into the last quarter of that allocation. He is a very courteous and considerate fellow and would not want a situation to evolve in which significant numbers of hon. and right hon. Members who wish to speak in the debate were prevented from doing so on account of too lawyerly speeches, whose eloquence and erudition were equalled only by their length.
I call Mary Creagh.
Thank you, Mr Speaker; I have almost forgotten my point now, but I will try to grab it back. The Solicitor General raised a couple of issues. The first is the applicability to local government. At present, all agencies of government have to act in accordance with the environmental principles. Can he confirm that that will be the case with the new body?
The Solicitor General also mentioned the issue of fines. At present the Government are taking action on air pollution only because of the threat of fines from the European Court of Justice. What remedy will citizens in this country have if the Government pollute with waste and water pollution after we leave the EU?
I am grateful to the Committee Chair and I reassure her that we are seeking to replicate the framework that currently exists. There is going to be legislation and the consultation is, of course, a vital part of that. I know that the hon. Lady will play a vigorous and active part in that. We can get this right and deal with many of the concerns and issues she so strongly puts forward, not only today, but on all occasions when she speaks on these matters.
Does the Solicitor General accept that with the new powers of Ministers to change things as appropriate they could reduce our air quality standards to below that required by the EU, and we would not have the institutional framework to fine the Government and enforce those standards even if they were lower?
No. That is not true, I am afraid. Perhaps I will be a bit more polite to the hon. Gentleman and say that he raises a proper concern, but I can reassure him that that is not the case, and it is certainly not the approach of this Government.
May I now deal with the issue of the protections?
Will my hon. and learned Friend give way?
No; may I develop this point?
This amendment will deliver robust protections. In particular, it acknowledges that there may be circumstances where the new environmental body should be able to take the Government to court; this is the important enforceability point. That power will be proportionate and appropriate, and used only as a provision of last resort, supplementing established processes including parliamentary scrutiny.
The amendment also requires that the Government list the environmental principles, such as the “polluter pays” principle and the precautionary principle, in the proposed draft Bill. The draft Bill and forthcoming policy statement will provide further details of how these principles will be interpreted and how they will apply. It will also set out that the principles should have an effect in the UK after we leave the EU that is equivalent to that before we leave. It will ensure that their primary focus will be on the formation of policy at a national level. In addition, the statutory policy statement will set out how, as at EU level now, the environmental principles will be considered in the context of the Government’s wider policy objectives. That includes the applicability of the principle of proportionality.
A policy statement will be presented here in Parliament for scrutiny before it comes into effect. As at EU level, the principles will also be considered in the context of wider objectives to ensure balanced decision making, meaning that Ministers of the Crown will also be required to give proper consideration to other important policy objectives, such as delivering a thriving economy and building the homes that people need, when making decisions. I thank my right hon. Friend the Member for West Dorset for tabling his amendment, and I urge hon. Members to support it.
I want to move on to the important issue of refugees—
Please forgive me, but I need to press on.
The Government recognise and share the strength of feeling in this House and beyond on the important matters of asylum and refugees, not least in relation to unaccompanied asylum-seeking children. I should be clear that what we are discussing here is the situation concerning asylum seekers—that is, people who have made an application for international protection and have not yet had their claim decided. That is entirely distinct from the equally important issue of refugees: people who have had their claims considered and been found to be in need of protection.
We as a country can be proud of the role that we have played in supporting children affected by the migration crisis. Since the start of 2010, we have granted more than 51,000 children resettlement, refugee status or alternative forms of protection. Our resettlement schemes have provided protection to more than 6,500 children. These are among the most vulnerable refugees, who the Government, with the UNHCR, have brought directly to the UK from conflict regions, together with their family members, so that they do not have to make appalling, perilous journeys to Europe, often in the hands of traffickers or smugglers.
I am pleased that the Government have decided to back the amendment tabled by the right hon. Member for Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford (Yvette Cooper), which mirrors the amendment that I tabled on Report to extend the provisions on family members in accordance with the Dublin III regulations. Does the Solicitor General also realise that there is a further amendment here that the Government have not yet backed? It would ensure that children seeking asylum could be reunited with their brothers or sisters who might be under the age of 18, who might be their only surviving family members and who might be in good, stable, loving foster care in this country? Under the current terms, those children would not qualify. Surely it must be the intention of the Government to extend this?
I will deal with that important point in a moment if I may, because I want to do justice to the amendment tabled by the right hon. Member for Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford (Yvette Cooper).
In addition to providing protection through those schemes, we have taken a leading role in international efforts to address the root causes of the global crisis with our £2.46 billion of humanitarian aid in response to the Syrian conflict. We have also pledged £30 million to the Education Cannot Wait fund, to deliver better education to more than 4.5 million children in crisis regions. Leaving the EU will not change our international obligations under the UN convention on refugees and the European convention on human rights. We are absolutely clear that our co-operation with our EU partners on the important issue of asylum will be critical in order to ensure that those in need of international protection are able to access it effectively.
Before I address the substance of the amendment, I must remind hon. Members that we are dealing with the arrangements for negotiating a reciprocal agreement, so nothing in the Bill will directly confer leave to enter or remain in the UK. It is the basis on which we will enter negotiations with the EU, and nothing can be achieved unless and until we reach an agreement. It is the terms of the agreement itself, and if necessary its implementing legislation here, that will dictate who shall enter the UK and on what terms.
I want to place it clearly on record that this Government will seek a new reciprocal agreement with the EU to allow unaccompanied asylum-seeking children present in an EU member state to join close family members here in the UK, and vice versa, where it is in their best interests to do so. Any such agreement will be to allow an unaccompanied asylum-seeking child to reside with family members while their claim is being considered. That will not automatically confer long-term status here, or mean that that person will be granted refugee status. As with all claims, the UK will examine those claims in line with our international obligations and domestic rules and legislation—the due process that is such an important element of this.
Turning to Lords amendment 24, I know that Lord Dubs tabled this amendment with the very best of intentions, and I share the tributes that have been paid to him. However, we wish to ensure that the clause is phrased in such a way as to best enable the Government to deliver the intended outcome. We have a number of issues with the current drafting of the amendment, which is why we have proposed alternative wording.
First, as a consequence of leaving the EU, it is likely that we will no longer be a participating state in the Dublin III regulation. Indeed, the EU is currently finalising the negotiations on what will probably be the fourth iteration of the Dublin scheme. The clause as currently drafted would tie the UK into negotiating to maintain access to part of, but not all of, the current regulation, which would create uncertainty as to what would happen when the EU moved on to the fourth iteration. We remain absolutely committed to providing a safe, legal route for unaccompanied asylum-seeking children to join close family members in the UK, but, with the greatest respect, setting up a negotiation that ties the UK to a specific outcome—specifically, one part of a regulation that is likely to be replaced soon—is not the way to do that. What we envisage with this amendment, and what we have committed to on numerous occasions, is to seek to establish a new, bespoke arrangement that safeguards our commitment to these children, while being distinct from what is after all an internal EU process.
Secondly, even if the Dublin regulation were not undergoing significant renegotiation, there is no capability within Dublin’s article 8 mechanism—which covers family connections—for it to be applied in isolation to a third country, as will be the UK’s status when we leave the EU. While the EFTA states do participate in the regulation, they do so in its entirety, rather than in the partial manner envisaged by the noble Lord’s amendment. When we leave the EU, it will be more sensible and far more effective to have a new relationship that deals specifically with these issues. It is no good trying to shoehorn us into the existing system.
Finally, the amendment as drafted implies that the UK Government must take further actions in addition to negotiation with the EU, but it does not specify what these actions are. This House has a responsibility to pass legislation that is clear and unambiguous. We need to avoid costly litigation wherever possible and provide maximum legal certainty. I go on about legal certainty a lot, Mr Speaker, but as a Law Officer, I believe that it is very much at the heart of our constitutional obligations, and I make no apology for that.
For these reasons, the Government have tabled their amendment in lieu. We have listened to concerns in the other place, and we do not disagree with the substance of Lord Dubs’s amendment. Indeed, we have provided assurances in this House and in the other place that it will be our priority in the negotiations to safeguard the rights of unaccompanied asylum-seeking children, and I am pleased to confirm that we will accept amendment (ii) to Lords amendment 24, tabled by the right hon. Member for Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford, the Chair of the Home Affairs Committee.
I welcome the Solicitor General’s acceptance of my amendment (ii). I also pay tribute to Lord Dubs for tabling the original amendment, and to my colleagues on the Home Affairs Committee and to Members on both sides of the House who have pressed for this change. May I urge the Solicitor General again, however, to accept amendment (i) as well? I have a case involving a 12-year-old from Eritrea who was in an adult hostel in Italy and whose 17-year-old brother was in foster care here in Britain. The foster carers had said that they would take his 12-year-old sister as well, so I wrote to the Home Office. It accepted that, under the Dublin III arrangements, those two siblings should be reunited. They have been through all sorts of awful things that none of us would want our teenagers to go through. Under the Solicitor General’s current provisions, however, those teenagers would not be covered, so I urge him to accept amendment (i) as well.
I anticipated that the right hon. Lady would come back for more, and I quite understand the position that she and my hon. Friend the Member for East Worthing and Shoreham (Tim Loughton) have put forward, but the key consideration here must be the best interests of the child. Bringing children to join underage relatives might well be in their best interests sometimes, but not always. It is highly unlikely that the relative would be able to provide care, and there is an issue about pressure on our domestic care system—[Hon. Members: “Oh!”] No, no—we have to be careful to maintain the balance between the need to support families and allow family reunion, and unintentionally incentivising the sort of dangerous journeys that everyone in this House is extremely familiar with. That is why it is important to understand, as we approach the negotiations on the basis that is currently the requirement under the Dublin regulation, that extended family members—grandparents, aunts and uncles—will need to be able to demonstrate that they have adequate resources to care for the child effectively in order for a transfer to be made.
While I understand that the interests of the child should be at the heart of everything we do, this is just about a little piece of legal text to say that if it is in the best interests of the child, they should be able to join their sibling. For the limited number of cases that the Solicitor General is talking about, I can see no reason whatsoever why that would not be a kind, compassionate, logical thing to do.
My hon. Friend is kind and compassionate, and I think that all Members of the House are kind and compassionate people, but the interests of the child in our domestic law lie at the heart of the courts’ consideration. The paramountcy of the best interests of the child is what the Children Act 2004 is all about, and I have to apply that.
The best interest test still applies. It is still in our legislation. Nothing in my amendment (i) removes the best interest test; all it does is replicate the existing arrangements, which are already covered by the best interest test. All the Solicitor General’s arguments are completely spurious.
I respectfully disagree with the right hon. Lady. There is still an issue with the applicability of that particular amendment and with how it would mesh with our domestic law. We must not forget that such changes are not about the conferral of rights. The passage of such amendments does not confer direct rights upon people. This is about the Government’s negotiating position. [Interruption.] I cannot give way anymore, because I must bear in mind the Speaker’s strictures. I have gone a minute beyond the hour and still have more work to do.
Moving on to Lords amendment 4, one of the key principles of the Lancaster House speech and, indeed, the Government’s manifesto was to maintain and enhance workers’ rights—[Interruption.] I have been more than generous in giving way. I pride myself on giving way to Members from whichever corner of the House they may come, and I am sorry if hon. Members feel that I am being ungenerous, but I must respect time, too. That is why I want to press on.
The Bill deals in many places with the status of retained EU law, but much of our debate has turned on how that retained EU law is amended once we have left the EU, hence the core of the concerns about Lords amendment 4. The Government and Opposition are more united than divided here. We both clearly want to maintain the protections and rights that are established in EU law. Our amendments in the Lords have done this for EU regulations and for all the directly effective rights established in the treaties by making them akin to primary legislation—the highest protection we can possibly give in the UK system.
I cannot give way, because I really must press on.
We are committed to proper scrutiny and engagement with Parliament and the public on our corrections to EU law and future changes. In addition to all the changes we have already made to the Bill, there will be a presumption in favour of engagement or consultation where it is proportionate and sensible to do so. Of course, Departments will consult where there is a statutory duty to do so. Departments across Whitehall have already undertaken engagement or consultation with stakeholders for active discussions on areas where that has been proportionate and sensible, and that will only increase.
Most of those who have supported Lords amendment 4 are well intentioned, but some must have known that it would have hugely detrimental effects on how we could deliver a functioning statute book ahead of our exit and in the future. Instead of protecting the law in the crucial areas of employment, equality, health, consumer standards and environmental protection, it would weaken it. By calling this amendment “enhanced protection”, some are seeking to hide a great danger.
By limiting the changes that delegated powers could make to retained EU law relating to the specified policy areas to only those that are deemed technical, the amendment would fundamentally limit our ability to properly correct deficiencies. That risks dramatically increasing the amount of primary legislation that needs to be enacted ahead of our exit, putting more pressure on this place ahead of Brexit. Even the changes deemed to be “technical” enough to be achieved through delegated powers would still face a lengthy enhanced scrutiny process, which the Lords could force to be as long as the 18 months required for legislative and regulatory reform orders. In other words, our statute book could not be made ready for exit by 29 March 2019.
I note and understand the points made by my hon. and learned Friend, but the intention behind the amendment was not to create difficulty for the Government, but to find an easier way of providing enhanced protection for areas of law. That suggests that the Government should have come back with an amendment in lieu.
I hear my right hon. and learned Friend. Both he and I have had anxious discussions about the definitions within the amendment. We are seeking to allow protections to be carried forward through our existing framework, so that the sort of changes that need to be made can apply to a whole range of areas. Changes could relate to the trade in seal products—cruelty to seals—or to protecting people on offshore oil and gas installations from fire and explosions, which is in the working time regulations, or to the protection of the marine environment. We need that element of flexibility.
That is not a way of avoiding the procedures of the House; it is about making the law clear, certain and usable to protect all the different categories that we are dealing with. I am worried that we would be kneecapped, not just as a Government, but as a Parliament. There is a lot of work to be done ahead of Brexit, and we need to concentrate on what is fundamental and what will involve change. Lords amendment 4 fundamentally affects how we can do that, so we must oppose it.
My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union left the House in no doubt yesterday of the importance of this legislation. The Government listened in the other place and showed flexibility by tabling amendments that genuinely improved the Bill, but we rightly held firm on those areas where amendments proposed would have an adverse effect. I am somewhat downhearted that the House of Lords has not shown the same level of respect that we show to them and has sought to overturn decisions taken here on important issues relating to the protection of rights. I therefore ask the House to stand behind the Government tonight in ensuring that this legislation is fit for purpose, respects the referendum result, and respects the constitutional role of this House.
Thank you, Mr Speaker—[Interruption.] As you can tell, there is huge strength of feeling on this issue across the House of Commons, and that is right, because what happens here has a significant impact outside this place. That is why SNP Members will continue to make the case for our constituents in this place. This matters. We have a clear and coherent position on such issues, unlike the two biggest parties in this place. We know that the customs union is important to trade, that the single market is important to jobs, as the UK Government’s own analysis has demonstrated, and that the fundamental rights that we enjoy as European citizens are critical to our constituents. People deserve their voices to be heard well outside this place.
I have heard from Government Members that this is just procedural, that we should just roll over and that we should not have a voice in this particular debate. Well, that is not what we are here for. Even if we just left this to the Government, they are not making much of a job of persuading even their own MPs.
The hon. Gentleman and I share a friendship as members of the Foreign Affairs Committee, and I welcome him back to the Chamber. People watching these proceedings will have seen that the Minister took more than an hour to make the Government’s case.
We have to be here to represent our constituents, and the hon. Member for North East Fife (Stephen Gethins) will be as disappointed as I am that the Scottish National party had five questions at Prime Minister’s questions today that, incidentally, went to Government Members, because SNP Members had walked out and were not here to ask them.
Thank you, Mr Speaker.
I remind the hon. Member for Edinburgh South (Ian Murray) that, in 1987, Scottish Labour Members marched out of this Chamber because they did not think the Government were taking Scotland’s interests seriously. It is remarkable: the Government have not changed in their attitude, but the Labour party certainly has. That is why there are so many fewer Labour MPs.
What my hon. Friend will see, as I see and the people of Scotland will observe right now, is representatives from Scotland being shouted down the minute they get to their feet to put the Scottish interest. It is no surprise and no wonder that the people of Scotland find all these unedifying scenes appalling and repellent. That is why we will continue to put the voices of Scotland.
I will teach Members a lesson on the matter at hand, and maybe they will learn something. If the Government are proposing a very significant change that affects everybody—it affects generations to come much more than it affects anybody in this Chamber—which is what is happening with the EU withdrawal Bill, they should have the courage and the confidence to campaign on more than a blank sheet of paper, which was all the leave campaigners did. They should set out their arguments in a detailed White Paper, for example, and get experts together—maybe even some Nobel laureates—to discuss the key issues, perhaps in a fiscal commission working group. They should then look at the challenges we have, and bring politicians and practitioners together in, say, a sustainable growth commission. That is a sensible way of preparing.
We are in this situation now because two years—two years!—have passed since the EU referendum, but we still do not know what leave looks like. We still cannot get agreement from Government Members. I know that we are to blame the Prime Minister for all this, but I will briefly say something kind about her. Regardless of her failings, those who spent years arguing for leave have had their entire political careers to prepare for this moment, yet they did not lay the groundwork, which has led us into the mess that not just this place and the devolution settlement have been left in, but our economy has been left in, according to the Government’s own analysis.
I take the hon. Gentleman back to the question about immigration that the hon. Member for Perth and North Perthshire (Pete Wishart) raised earlier. Perhaps this was in the Sustainable Growth Commission’s report but, when we have net migration to the United Kingdom of over 200,000 people, why are so few of them choosing to make their home in Scotland?
My constituency is rich in immigrants who make our community richer, and not just financially—we welcome them. The hostile environment created by the Government is an abomination that should shame us all.
From the very start—from before the 2015 general election—this has been nothing but an exercise in Conservative party management, and not a terribly successful one at that, yet we all pay the price. Farmers do not know whether they should plant their crops for next year—indeed, the National Farmers Union of Scotland has called for the UK to remain in the customs union. Young people do not know whether they will have the same opportunities that we had, with uncertainty about programmes such as Erasmus. Researchers do not know the kind of collaboration they will be able to rely on, but we all benefit from such collaboration.
Just this week I opened a conference at the University of St Andrews, where Professor Stephen Gillespie, Dr Wilber Sabiiti and Dr Derek Sloan are at the forefront of the international fight against tuberculosis—the conference was held using EU funding. We know that Brexit will be economically devastating—the Treasury has told us that. The Scottish Government have shown that every single Brexit scenario makes us worse off. The Fraser of Allander Institute has also reflected that Scotland is set to lose £8 billion over the rest of the decade.
Before we get catcalls from Government Members, I should say that FAI director Professor Graeme Roy says that the rest of the UK could be even harder hit. That is not something that we or others want to see. That means less cash for public services, and the situation is made worse by the Government’s other policies on immigration, with 2,500 doctors refused visas in the first five months of this year. It is a hostile environment. That is why the Lord Dubs amendment—it is being debated today—on the rights of unaccompanied minors and child refugees, the most vulnerable in society, is so important.
Scotland voted to remain, and we know that every Brexit scenario is damaging. That is why the Scottish Government proposed the compromise—the least worst option—of staying in the single market and the customs union. Last night, we had 19 minutes to discuss devolution in the context of legislation that will have the biggest impact on the devolution process since its establishment. That smacks of a lack of respect.
The 2017 general election gave all Members an opportunity. When the Prime Minister asked UK voters for their views on Brexit, they returned a hung Parliament. Only the SNP—and the Democratic Unionist party, to be fair—was returned in a majority of the seats in which we stood. But there should be an opportunity to reach out. Some of the SNP’s best policy achievements came during a period of minority Government between 2007 to 2011, when Scottish Government Ministers were required to work constructively with other parties and needed other parties to work constructively with them. No one got everything they wanted in that particular set of circumstances—I know that the hon. Member for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross (Jamie Stone) was in that Parliament—but that is something that we can all learn from. [Interruption.] I hear chuntering from Government Members saying that we lost. Actually, the SNP gained an unprecedented majority having pursued those particular policies.
There has been a particular impact on Ireland—[Interruption.] Government Members would do well to listen to this. The Good Friday agreement has been undermined by Government Members, and right now, we should be listening to Ireland. The best friends anyone can have are honest and we all rely on critical friends. Frankly, right now the UK has no better friend than Ireland. In fact, the UK has benefited from Ireland being a full member state of the EU, as it would if Scotland were a full member state. I have heard so much about how canny the Commission is and how we cannot trust its negotiating position. No one is trying to pull the wool over Brexiteers’ eyes; it is just that they have come up against the brick wall of hard reality, and that is clear two years on.
All this comes at a time when politics in this place, as has been demonstrated today, could not be poorer. Notwithstanding some fine individuals whom I respect on both sides of the House, we have the most ineffective and incompetent Government in living memory, and they are let off the hook only because they are shadowed by the most ineffective Opposition most of us have ever known, and hopefully will ever know. We want Labour Members to be doing better and we rely on them to be doing better, but at just the time when we need an effective Opposition and Government, we have neither. Given the devastating impact that leaving the EU is having on jobs, the economy and those who have made the UK their home, the UK is on the cusp of becoming a failed state that does not represent its constituent parts and, for the first time ever, leaves the following generation worse off than the ones that came before it. One way or another, there is a better way to do this.
Mr Speaker, an English Member may restore some of the calm that has not accompanied the Scottish exchanges—thank you very much for calling me. I will try to be as brief as possible. We have a ridiculous situation thanks to the programme motion—we have about three hours left to cover amendments on a whole variety of different subjects that have all been lumped together. In the interests of time, I will confine myself to discussing the future trading arrangements of this country with Europe and the rest of the world, and the Government amendment seeking to get rid of the reference to “a customs union”. Obviously I will not follow all the Front-Bench spokesmen in being extremely generous in giving way. I apologise in advance, because I do not think I will give way much, if at all, because otherwise a large number of other Members will wind up speaking, as they did yesterday, with three-minute time limits and other absurdities that this House has inflicted on itself by accepting the programme motion.
I come to the issue that we are currently addressing most vigorously, although there are many, many more to come: our future trading and economic arrangements with the rest of Europe and the world. My views are well known, and I set them out in Committee. I wish to see absolutely no new barriers to trade and investment erected between ourselves and the rest of continental Europe. I do not think such barriers are necessary to fulfil Brexit. I certainly do not go along with some of the more extreme advocates, who seem to be positively relishing the idea that we should erect new barriers of all kinds between ourselves and 27 nation states on the continent, while having the most open and exotic free trade approach to the rest of the world, reducing barriers of every kind to other trading nations. In today’s globalised world and rule-based order, free trade is particularly essential to the British, and we have to minimise the damage that might otherwise be caused when we implement Brexit.
Let me deal briefly with the argument that is bound to be raised by some—“the moment you mention this, you are defying the referendum.” Again, I shall not repeat what I said yesterday, but I do not think the referendum remotely addressed the important subjects we are debating today; it was a yes/no question on a very broad-brush issue. I took part in a lot of debates up and down the country, doing one or two against Dan Hannan MEP, whom I know well. He is a difficult man to debate against. In my opinion, he is one of the most articulate and informed of the Brexiteer campaigners. I disagreed with him, but I got the clear impression that Dan Hannan was not against the single market and the customs union—that was not his view at all. None of that came through in the debate.
Unfortunately, the national media reporting of the referendum debate was pretty pathetic; it was all about Turks and how much money was going to go to the health service and so on. All this argument about trading arrangements was brought to a head only after the referendum, when the Prime Minister was induced by her then special adviser, Mr Timothy, to give the unfortunate speech at Lancaster House. Suddenly, new red lines were introduced: we were leaving the single market, leaving the customs union and rejecting the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice. I will not go further on that, as I made the same point yesterday.
I do not remember any ordinary member of the public asking me anything during the campaign about the customs union and the single market. To this day, when I go to my constituency nobody is quizzing me about the customs union and the single market. Nobody is following these debates, except when there is reference to the fact that if we get this wrong, we could do immense damage to the livelihood and wellbeing of very many people. If we do get it wrong and unintentionally create borders to trade, we will make the prospects for future generations even more difficult. In this debate we have heard great vehemence about the customs union and “the single market” and how appalling they are, but the arguments used against them are very narrow.
The Prime Minister has been absolutely consistent for months. She does not say, “Oh, we’re against the single market”—and not surprisingly, because it was the Thatcher Government who created the whole institution in the first place. Although the Prime Minister is not a Thatcherite entirely, on economic policy she and I both believe in open, free markets. There is nothing undesirable about the single market arrangement, except that it allows the freedom of movement of labour. That is the only objection to it that most Conservative Brexiteers ever raised, unless they are of the hard-line head-banging variety, who go much further than that. That is the only objection that they have.
On the customs union, to which today’s amendments are most relevant, nobody says that there is anything wrong with it. Nobody says that it is undesirable that we currently have open borders. Presumably, they all accept that it is hugely beneficial to wide sectors of our economy. The only thing wrong with it is that we cannot do trade deals with the rest of the world. I would have thought that the debate should concentrate and focus on those two points.