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I regularly meet ministerial colleagues, including the Prime Minister, to discuss issues of common interest, including EU law matters, but I am not able to talk about the legal content of those discussions, because, by convention, whether Law Officers have given advice is not disclosed outside Government.
Of course, I cannot discuss the legal ramifications of an agreement that has not yet been reached. When the agreement is reached, the House will, of course, be able to see it and form its own judgment, including on its legal aspects, on which we will be able to say more. The hon. Gentleman will recognise, however, that the final say on the matter will come from the British public, who will have a referendum to determine their verdict—a referendum that a Labour Government would not have given them.
Article 50 of the Lisbon treaty states that, on announcing its intention to withdraw from the European Union, the withdrawing state will automatically be excluded from all meetings of the European Council and, if agreement is not reached within two years, the withdrawing state will be automatically excluded from the negotiated terms. Does the right hon. and learned Gentleman agree that a withdrawing state is therefore liable to suffer what would amount to a punishment beating to dissuade others from withdrawing, and that therefore there is no such thing as a soft Brexit?
These matters will be discussed in the course of the referendum campaign. The hon. Gentleman is several stages ahead of where we are now. The first thing that needs to happen is a renegotiation. Conservative Members believe that the renegotiation is necessary, and we wish the Prime Minister all success in achieving it. When he has, there will be a referendum to determine whether or not the British public believe it is a good enough deal. Both the renegotiation and the referendum were opposed by the hon. Gentleman’s party. We believe that they are the right things to do.
The plan appears to be to have an agreement as a first stage, which would later be confirmed in a treaty change. As the voters in Denmark and Ireland have shown in the past, the outcome of national referendums cannot be taken for granted. How can the Government be certain that any proposed treaty change in the future would actually be approved by each of the other 27 EU states?
My hon. Friend, too, will recognise that these matters will be debated fully in the course of the referendum campaign. I know he will play a full part in that campaign. Of course, in relation to both Ireland and Denmark, international agreements were reached and subsequently enacted. The Government and the public will of course wish to consider that, if that is the outcome of the renegotiation.
My hon. Friend will recognise that we are some way away from that. I know he will also recognise that, as I said in my initial answer, I cannot discuss in the Chamber or elsewhere legal advice that I may or may not give to the Prime Minister. I hope my hon. Friend will therefore forgive me for not doing so now.
I am afraid that I am going to sound like a broken record. I think the hon. and learned Gentleman, like most Members of the House, understands full well that I cannot discuss in the Chamber the advice that I may or may not have given to the Government, and I am not going to do so.
In my view, the legal position surrounding the so-called renegotiation is confused at best. It appears to me that this confusion may be delaying potential withdrawal from the European convention on human rights. Do the Government intend to hold the EU referendum before addressing the UK’s membership of the ECHR?
I do not accept what the hon. Gentleman says about the position being confused. As I have already said, I cannot comment on the legal status of an agreement that has not yet been negotiated. In relation to the ECHR, he will know that my ministerial colleagues in the Ministry of Justice are working very hard on the Government’s proposals, and he will hear them in due course.