With this it will be convenient to discuss Lords amendment 2, and Government motion to disagree.
We introduced the most straightforward possible Bill necessary to enact the referendum result and respect the Supreme Court’s judgment. This Bill has a simple purpose: to allow the Prime Minister to notify under article 50 and start the two-year negotiation process. The House of Commons has already accepted that, voting overwhelmingly to pass this Bill, unamended, last month. The House accepted that the majority of people, no matter which way they voted in June, want the Prime Minister to get on with the job at hand, and to do so without any strings attached. Despite the simple purpose of this Bill, it has generated many hours of debate in both Houses—quite properly, I say to those who debate whether it should have.
Over the past five weeks, we have seen Parliament at its best. Hon. and right hon. Members and peers have spoken on this subject with passion, sincerity and conviction. However, I was disappointed that the House of Lords voted to amend the Bill. The Bill is just the next step in the long, democratic process surrounding our exit from the European Union. That process will continue with future legislation, ranging from the great repeal Bill, which will convert EU law into UK law at the time we leave, to a range of specific Bills that we expect to introduce, such as on immigration or customs arrangements. Parliament will be closely involved in all of those important discussions and decisions.
As we embark on the forthcoming negotiations, our guiding approach is simple: we will not do anything that will undermine the national interest, including the interest of British citizens living in the European Union, and we will not enter negotiations with our hands tied. That is not to say that I do not appreciate the concerns that lie behind these amendments. It is not the ends that we disagree on, but the means, and I will attempt to address these individually—
The Secretary of State will have heard that many Members in this House, and a huge majority in the House of Lords, want a meaningful vote on the Government’s terms of negotiation, which he defined yesterday as meaning accepting either the Government’s terms or World Trade Organisation terms. When does he expect that vote to come to this place, and indeed to all the other Parliaments that it will come to? When roughly, within the two-year period, does he expect the House to get a vote, even on his terms?
If the right hon. Gentleman will forgive me, I will come to the detail of the answer to that later, but in broad terms, although it is impossible to predict the month, the form of words that I crafted earlier was this: we intend and expect it to be before the European Parliament votes on the same matter. It will fit in at the beginning of the ratification process, as soon as the negotiation is complete. It is too soon to know when that will be.
Lords amendment 1 seeks to require the Government to act unilaterally to bring forward plans within three months to secure the status of European Union and European economic area citizens and their family members living in the United Kingdom. On this matter, the Government have been consistently clear: we want to secure the status of EU citizens already living in Britain, and the status of British nationals living in other member states, as early as we can.
I will give way to my hon. Friend, but, as many Members wish to speak and time is tight, I will limit the number of interventions that I take.
As somebody who is married to an EU citizen without a British passport, may I say that I wholeheartedly support this Government’s approach to this matter? [Interruption.] It is absolutely right that we get reciprocity before we go ahead with any agreement with the rest of the EU.
I thank my hon. Friend both for his intervention and for warming up the House.
European citizens already resident in the United Kingdom make a vital contribution to our economy and our society, including working in crucial public services such as the national health service. Without them we would be poorer and our public services weaker.
I will give way in a moment.
However, the European Union has been clear that we cannot open these discussions until the Prime Minister has given formal notification that the UK wishes to withdraw from the EU. That is why we must pass this straightforward Bill without further delay, so that the Prime Minister can get to work on the negotiations, and we can secure a quick deal that secures the status both of EU citizens in the UK and of UK nationals living in the EU, of which there are around 1 million.
We take very seriously—I take very seriously—our moral responsibility to all 4 million UK and EU citizens. The Prime Minister has been clear that this issue will be one of the top priorities for the immediate negotiations. I also welcome the encouraging words from across the channel, particularly from Poland and Sweden, which fill me with confidence that we will reach a swift agreement with our European partners. Indeed, as Beata Szydlo, the Polish Prime Minister, has said:
“Of course, these guarantees would need to be reciprocal. It’s also important what guarantees the British citizens living and working in other member states of the European Union will have.”
Is the right hon. Gentleman aware of the survey by the General Medical Council that shows that two thirds of EU doctors are thinking of leaving the UK? In general, EU citizens tend to be younger and working compared with their counterparts abroad who are older and retired. Does he not accept that there is an immediate need unilaterally to act in good faith to set the agenda to get reciprocation, rather than holding out until the final moment?
I hear what the hon. Gentleman says. As I have said before, these issues are serious and important and people hold their views passionately and with good reason, but the simple truth is that the Government have been very plain about what they intend. They intend to guarantee the rights of both British and European citizens and they will do so as quickly as possible.
I am delighted to hear what my right hon. Friend has had to say about prioritising the negotiations as far as EU and British citizens are concerned. He has said that the negotiations could take up to two years, but there is no reason at all why an agreement on those citizens should not come a lot earlier. Will he give a guarantee that, once an agreement is reached, it will be made public to put out of their misery all the people who are going through this trauma at this moment in time?
My hon. Friend makes a good point. It may well be that we need treaty change to put in law the guarantees that we want in place, but I aim to get all the member states, the Commission and the Council to commit—even if it is in an exchange of letters—so that everyone knows what their rights are and what their rights will be, which, therefore, deals with the issue that has quite properly been raised: that of people being afraid of things they should not be afraid of.
Please forgive me for a moment.
That is very dependent of course on the commitment not just of ourselves, but of other member states. As I said, Beata Szydlo, the Polish Prime Minister, has made that point publicly here. Every single Minister of every member state that I have spoken to, either on the continent in their own countries or here on a visit, have reinforced the point that they want this matter to be at the top of the agenda. They want this to be dealt with first, and that is what we intend to do to help achieve what my hon. Friend wants.
Forgive me, but I do have to make some progress.
The proposed amendment may well force the UK to set out unilateral plans in any case. Such an approach would only serve to undermine the very attempts that I have just been talking about, and hamper a quick resolution for all those concerned.
In a second.
I want to reassure people that Parliament will have a clear opportunity to debate and vote on this issue in the future, before anything else happens. The great repeal Bill will not change our immigration system. That will be done through a separate immigration Bill and subsequent secondary legislation. Nothing will change for any EU citizen in the UK without Parliament’s explicit approval beforehand.
I am very grateful to the Secretary of State for giving way. This Government’s track record on contingency planning is as bad as their handling of the Brexit process, so if it is the case that they are not going to protect the position of EU nationals and it therefore becomes the case that the position of EU nationals is not protected, has the Secretary of State given any consideration to a deportation process then?
That is the point. It is, frankly, incredible to me that anybody would imagine that I, of all people, would sign up to a deportation process. The answer here is simple, and I make the point again: I take as a moral responsibility the future guarantees of the future of all 4 million citizens—European Union and UK together.
If I may move on, I will now address the issues created by the proposed additional second clause to the Bill. Let me be clear from the outset that this amendment does not seek to simply put what we have already promised on the face of the Bill, as was suggested by some. In fact, it seeks to go much further. But let me begin with proposed subsections (1) to (3), which do simply seek to put our commitment to a vote on the face of the Bill. I will repeat here our commitment: the Government will bring forward a motion on the final agreement to be approved by both Houses of Parliament before it is concluded. We expect and intend that this will happen before the European Parliament debates and votes on the final issue. This commitment could not be clearer, so proposed subsections (1) to (3) are wholly unnecessary. Our clear intention—an intention stated more than once at this Dispatch Box—and by far the most likely outcome, by the way, is that we will bring a deal back to the Houses of Parliament for them to approve.
No, I will not give way.
On the more general point about votes—and I say this with some personal interest—we should not underestimate the mechanisms at Parliament’s disposal to ensure that its voice is heard. To paraphrase the wise words of Lord Howard of Lympne during the debate on the amendment in the other place, this place “will have its say” and “will have its way.” We do not need to put this into legislation, and making legislation when none is required only benefits lawyers.
My right hon. Friend is a Member of long standing in this House, and he recognises—as, I think, other hon. Members do—that Parliament will find a way to have a say, whether a deal is reached or whether no deal is reached. If he recognises that, does he agree that it would be better for the Government officially to recognise that position from the Dispatch Box?
I reiterate the point: of course, Parliament can, if it wishes, have a vote and debate on any issue. That is a matter for Parliament. It is not for a Minister to try to constrain that, least of all this Minister, who has used those opportunities before this day. But let me get to the point behind this. I agree with my right hon. Friend, but what we cannot have—I am coming to the second aspect of this amendment—is any suggestion that the votes in either House will overturn the result of the referendum. That is the key point.
Is that not exactly the point? It would completely cripple the Government in trying to get a really good deal for the UK. This is the time for Parliament to get behind the country, which made a decision, and to get the best deal. We cannot do that if the EU thinks it can undermine us.
That point brings me to subsection (4), so let me deal with that in a little more detail. This new clause, effectively, seeks to prohibit the Prime Minister from walking away from negotiations, even if she thinks the European Union is offering her a bad or very bad deal. As I will get on to, the impact of this is unclear, but even the intent goes far beyond what we have offered or could accept. The Government will be undertaking these negotiations and must have the freedom to walk away from a deal that sets out to punish the UK for a decision to leave the EU, as some in Europe have suggested.
Of course, we are seeking a mutually beneficial new relationship, which we believe can and will work for everyone, but tying the Government’s hands in this way could be the worst way of trying to achieve that deal. And let us not forget: in December, this House passed a motion that nothing should be done to undermine the negotiating position of the Government.
I said before, and I will say it again: I take statements at this Dispatch Box as binding.
The important point here is that the idea that Parliament could force the Government to accept a bad deal will only incentivise those on the other side of the negotiating table to deliver just such a deal. As the Lords European Union Select Committee—hardly a Tory front organisation —said:
“The Government will conduct the negotiations on behalf of the United Kingdom, and, like any negotiator, it will need room to manoeuvre if it is to secure a good outcome.”
No one in this House, as far as I am aware, wishes to fetter the Government’s hands in negotiations, or indeed the Government’s right to walk away from the negotiations; the issue in subsection (4) is whether the Government come back to this House to explain their plan and policy in the event of that happening. I would expect that to be inevitable, and yet, curiously, when we have sought an assurance from the Government—no more than that; not this amendment—that they would do that, which seems to me to be blindingly obvious, we keep being told that they will not give that assurance. I do find that, I have to say to my right hon. Friend, a bit odd, and I wonder whether he could clarify that.
My right hon. and learned—and old—Friend makes a good point. The simple truth here, however, as I have said before, is that nothing can constrain this House’s right to debate and vote on anything it sees fit, and that meets this.
What I am dealing with here is subsection (4), and there are even bigger problems with it. During the debate on this issue in the other House, the author of the amendment, Lord Pannick, himself admitted he did not know what would happen if Parliament voted against leaving the EU without a deal. This uncertainty is itself a strong argument against putting this amendment into statute.
However, a significant number of Lords supported this amendment—that may not be true in this House—such as Lord Wigley and Baroness Kennedy, and they made their intentions clear: if Parliament were to vote against leaving without a deal, the UK should seek to remain in the EU and reverse the result of the referendum. I should say to my hon. and right hon. Friends that the European Union member states and the European Union institutions read the proceedings of this House very closely; they will have read that, and it will have raised their interest, because that is precisely what they would like to happen. So while this has been badged as a meaningful vote, the reality is that there are some who would seek to use it to overturn the result of the referendum. [Interruption.] “Good idea” comes from across the Floor. That is exactly, I am afraid, what concerns us.
The Government and the Prime Minister have been crystal clear. The people of the United Kingdom have decided to leave the European Union. The Government will seek to implement this decision in the way that is most beneficial to both the United Kingdom and the European Union. What we will not do, however, is accept anything that will put the intention to leave the European Union in doubt.
Will hon. Members forgive me if I do not give way, because I am coming to the end of my comments?
Any prospect that we might actually decide to remain in the European Union would only serve to encourage those on the other side to give us the worst possible deal in the hope that we will do exactly that. This amendment would not only restrain the negotiating power of the Government but would create uncertainty and complications throughout the negotiating process while lessening the chances of the mutually beneficial deal we are seeking.
I reiterate the three key points. First, the Bill was brought forward to implement the referendum result, respect the Supreme Court judgment, and nothing else. Secondly, these amendments are unnecessary as the Government have already made firm commitments with regard to both of the two issues, and we will deliver on those commitments. Thirdly, these amendments will undermine the Government’s position in negotiations to get the best deal for Britain, and that cannot be in the national interest. Therefore, it is clear to the Government that we should send back to the House of Lords a clean Bill. This House has already expressed its support of this view in Committee, and I ask us all to repeat that support once more.
I rise to support both of the amendments that have been passed in the other place. They started life as Labour amendments at the Committee stage in this House, Labour peers led on them and voted for them in the other place, and they will be supported by Labour MPs here today.
The question is this: are Conservative Members willing to listen to the arguments in favour of the amendments, to which I know many are sympathetic and have concerns about, or will they go along with the Prime Minister’s increasing obsession to pass a clean Bill, unamended, even if that means ignoring amendments that would improve the Bill and provide much better protection?
I will make some progress because lots of Members want to speak, and the more I give way now, the more irritating it is for those who want to make their own contribution.
The Government are about to embark on the most complex and challenging undertaking of any British Government since the second world war. The decision the Government make and the deals they strike will have profound consequences for almost every aspect of British life. It is therefore essential that the Government do not fail or take the country down the wrong path. Starting negotiations by guaranteeing the rights of EU nationals and ending negotiations with a meaningful vote will help guard against that fate.
Let me turn to the amendment on EU nationals. My question for the Secretary of State and for the Government is this: what is the problem? This is not about delay. The way to prevent delay is to accept the amendment and get on with it. The purpose of the amendment is to bring forward proposals
“Within three months of exercising the power” to trigger article 50. The Secretary of State says that we want an early deal—well, if it is within three months, there is no problem with the amendment. The amendment only affects the Government’s approach if they do not get an early deal. That is why it is so important. To portray this as a delaying tactic is not to read the amendment and not to appreciate what it says: that the purpose is to bring forward proposals “Within three months”.
I have listened carefully to the argument the hon. and learned Gentleman is making. Four million people are affected by this. I put it to him that all 4 million should be dealt with fairly and on a level playing field, that we can only get that from reciprocity, and that this amendment is not that.
I am grateful for that intervention: let me deal with it straight on. Of course there is a shared concern about UK citizens living in the EU, but this is a matter of principle. Are we prepared—
I have not even set out the principle yet. Are we prepared to use one set of people—those who are living here—as a bargaining chip to get the right settlement for people in the UK? [Interruption.] That is exactly what it is. The whole argument about reciprocal rights is about bargaining and saying, “We will not do what we should do by this group of people until we get something in return for it.” That is a bargaining chip.
The Secretary of State seeks to persuade us that, simply because he has stated from the Dispatch Box that this will all be fine and dandy, that is the end of the matter. He said several times, quite inaccurately, that a ministerial statement from the Dispatch Box is legally binding. Surely the truth is that saying that something said from the Dispatch Box is legally binding does not make it so.
The Secretary of State said that it was binding so far as he was concerned. That is not the same as a legal commitment, and Secretaries of State and Governments can change. That is why we need a commitment on the face of the Bill.
Let me fast forward to the second amendment. If there is really no problem with proposed subsections (1), (2) and (3), why not accept them along with proposed subsection (4) and put them on the face of the Bill? This is becoming an obsession with having a clean Bill: “Our Bill must not be amended, even when it is proper, right and decent to do so.”
How does my hon. and learned Friend answer the Brexit Secretary’s point that if and when we pass the Bill and it is given Royal Assent, the Government’s first priority will be to negotiate the rights both of people here who are from Europe and of our citizens abroad? Does my hon. and learned Friend not accept that if we pass this amendment and give those rights to European citizens here, there will be no incentive whatsoever for other European countries to concede those rights to our citizens?
I am grateful for that intervention, but it is important to focus on the words of the amendment, which asks Ministers to bring forward proposals within three months. That does not tie anybody’s hands or make anybody’s task more difficult. If the issue is resolved within three months—and I hope that it is, for the sake of EU citizens living here and of UK citizens living abroad—the amendment represents no problem. It represents a problem only if the Government do not succeed in an early settlement of the issue.
The Labour party has been pushing the Government for many months to guarantee EU rights. My right hon. Friend Andy Burnham first tabled a Labour motion on the issue back in July 2016, just weeks after the referendum, but the Government have refused to take unilateral action. I remind the House that the International Trade Secretary, who is sitting on the Government Front Bench, said last year that to guarantee those rights to EU citizens
“would be to hand over one of our main cards in the negotiations”.
I am going to make progress. I have taken interventions on the issue and it would not be fair to take more.
We do not believe that EU nationals are bargaining chips, and I think many other hon. Members agree. There are 3.2 million EU nationals who have made their homes and careers in the United Kingdom. Thousands do vital jobs in the NHS and in our universities and public services. They are our friends, colleagues and neighbours—they are valued members of our communities. It is often said that they make a contribution to our society; they do. They are also our society. This is a matter of principle and decency.
I am going to make some progress. We should not bring unnecessary uncertainty and distress into their lives, but that is exactly what is happening as a result of the Government’s approach.
The Brexit Select Committee’s report states that it has heard
“a wide range of concerns of EU nationals since the referendum, including stress, and anxiety and feelings of depression to practical concerns about pensions and healthcare, children being abused in the school playground and worries over the ability to work in the UK in the future.”
What have we come to, if we cannot deal with those levels of anxiety and stress? Many Members will have seen that in their own constituency surgeries. I certainly have: families have come to me in tears about the situation in which they find themselves. It is time for the Government to act; increasingly, it is only the Prime Minister and the Government who think otherwise. Trade unions and campaigns such as the3million and New Europeans have made a very powerful and compelling case for this issue to be dealt with, as of course has the Brexit Select Committee in its report’s conclusions.
I am going to make some progress.
Labour supports Lords amendment 1 not only because it is the right thing to do in principle, but because it would help the negotiations by setting the right tone. We have to make it clear to our European partners that although we are leaving the EU, we are not severing our ties. We want a collaborative and co-operative future with our European partners. We want our closest and nearest allies to be strong, and for the European Union to succeed and prosper. We know that citizens will be richer and happier in the future if we work together with our EU partners to meet common challenges. That message is vital in securing our nation’s future.
Does my hon. and learned Friend agree that given our Foreign Secretary’s mixed record—both in committing to the £350 million a week of savings for the NHS, and in failing to deliver on that—and the Government’s poor relations with EU partners, it is right that we should show leadership and commitment by standing up for EU migrants and supporting this amendment?
I agree. I have said in the House on a number of occasions that the tone that the Government set is very important as we come up to the beginning of the negotiations. From my direct discussions with representatives of other countries in Brussels, I can tell the House that some of the jokes that have been made about the reasons why our EU partners feel so strongly about the EU have not been well received. Agreeing to the amendment would help to set the right tone.
I am going to move on to the question of the meaningful vote in Lords amendment 2. I remind the House that as recently as December the Prime Minister was refusing to guarantee that Parliament would be able to vote on whatever agreement the Government reach with the European Commission. Under pressure, that position changed early this year, but it was only when Labour tabled an amendment to the Bill in Committee that the Government made a set of commitments on the Floor of the House.
Those commitments, which were set out by the Minister of State and have now been repeated by the Secretary of State, are, first, that Parliament would be able to vote on the final draft agreement; secondly, that Parliament would get a vote not just on the so-called divorce settlement—the article 50 agreement—but also on the agreement on the future relationship with the European Union; and, thirdly, that the votes in this Parliament would take place before any votes in the European Parliament. Lords amendment 2 will simply put those commitments into the Bill, which is why it is so wrong for the Government not to accept it in principle.
I have seen that poll, which is of course important, but this is a matter of principle. This is a question of whether this House should be able to vote on the deal reached in two years’ time before the European Parliament votes and should be able to have a meaningful say, and that is what it has been, in principle, from start to finish.
The amendment does not simply give this House the right to vote on these matters; it also gives the other place the right to vote on these matters. Will the hon. and learned Gentleman explain what would happen if this House voted to accept what the Government want to do, but the other place dug in and rejected it? What would happen then?
There is a reason why the amendment spells that out in detail: it is precisely what the Minister said at the Dispatch Box should be the position last time this was debated. Lords amendment 2 carefully reflects what the Government say is their assurance, so such a question about the amendment should be put to the Secretary of State.
Does my hon. and learned Friend agree that, given the high level of uncertainty, the only sage and proper thing to do is to give us one more chance before the European Parliament has an opportunity to—[Interruption.]
I would not put it as “one last chance”. The negotiations will lead first—I hope—to an article 50 agreement; secondly, to transitional arrangements; and thirdly to a final agreement between ourselves and the EU. That will define the future of the UK for generations in Europe and beyond Europe, and it is imperative that this House has a vote on that at the end of the two-year exercise.
I am grateful to my hon. and learned Friend for giving way. The discussion so far has been about a parliamentary vote in the event of the Government reaching a deal. Is it his interpretation of the Secretary of State’s speech today that, in the event of no deal, the Government seek the authority to default to WTO rules—which are not used by any major economy alone to trade with the EU—without this House having a say?
I am grateful for that intervention. That is my interpretation and it causes me great concern. We need to be clear: reaching no deal is the worst of all possible outcomes for Britain. The president of the CBI has described it as the
“worst case scenario” for which many firms cannot even prepare because
“the cost of change is simply too high to even consider it”.
Just yesterday, the director-general of the CBI, Carolyn Fairbairn, emphasised that no deal should not be “plan B”, but “plan Z”. I could not agree more.
Research published today by Open Britain warns that leaving the EU without a deal would leave Britain facing greater barriers to trade with the EU than any other G20 country. The cross-party Foreign Affairs Committee warned on Sunday that
“a complete breakdown in negotiations represents a very destructive outcome leading to mutually assured damage for the EU and the UK. Both sides would suffer economic losses and harm to their international reputations.”
That is why having a vote not only on a deal if there is one, but on no deal, is so important. It represents a check on the Prime Minister deciding to take the country down the most dangerous path. That is why I urge Members, including those on the Conservative Benches, to vote for the amendment.
Does the hon. and learned Gentleman accept, at least in principle, that this Parliament made a contract with the British people at the referendum to respect their wishes with or without a deal? Does he agree?
There was one question on the ballot paper, and that was whether we should stay in the EU or leave the EU. There was no second question about the terms of leaving. It is impossible to extrapolate, but I would be staggered if most people thought that this House should not have a proper grip of the available options in two years’ time and hopefully beyond. I expect that they would have said, “Of course we want Parliament to be fully involved. We would expect accountability and scrutiny, and we would expect votes.”
I shall conclude, because we only have two hours and other people wish to speak. These are simple amendments that would improve the article 50 process. They have obtained cross-party support and large majorities in the Lords, they are the right amendments on vitally important issues, and the obsession with the idea of a clean, unamended Bill should not triumph over decency and principle.
I agree with what my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State said about amendment 1, but I wish to speak about amendment 2. The operative subsection is subsection (4) which states—I want to remind the House as it is material to what I am about to say:
“The prior approval of…Parliament shall…be required in relation to any decision by the Prime Minister that the United Kingdom shall leave the European Union without an agreement”.
I have already argued in past debates exactly what my right hon. Friend argued today—namely, that if that subsection were to have its intended effect, it would be inimical to the interests of this country, because it would have the undoubted effect of providing a massive incentive for our EU counterparts to give us the worst possible agreement. I agree with him about that. However, I think that the situation is worse—far worse—than he described, because the operative subsection is deeply deficient as a matter of law. The reason for that is not just the one that Lord Pannick admitted, or half-admitted, in the House of Lords, but because under very plausible circumstances this subsection will not have anything like its intended effect. Let me briefly illustrate why that is the case.
Article 50 of the treaty on the European Union is, for once in treaties, entirely clear. Paragraph 3 of the article states:
“The Treaties shall cease to apply to the State in question…two years after the notification…unless the European Council… unanimously decides to extend this period.”
Let us imagine that what the Secretary of State, the Government, all my hon. Friends and, I suspect, all Opposition Members hope will not be the case—namely, that the negotiations for a proper comprehensive free trade agreement break down—actually happens. We all hope that will not happen, but we cannot preclude the possibility that it will happen. If it does happen, I think all Members on both sides of the House must have the emotional intelligence to recognise that in all probability that would be under circumstances of some acrimony.
How likely is it that under such circumstances, with agreement having broken down in some acrimony, the European Council would be able to achieve a unanimous agreement to allow the UK to remain a member beyond the two-year period? I speculate that it is very unlikely. If we assume that that were to occur, we need to ask ourselves what would actually happen under those circumstances. One thing can be predicted with certainty: there would be litigation. The litigation would ask, ultimately, the Supreme Court to decide the question, “What has happened here? Has the Prime Minister made a decision, or has the Prime Minister not made a decision?” That could be decided in one of two ways. I rather think that Members on both sides of the House would agree with me that the Supreme Court must decide either that the Prime Minister has made the decision or that the Prime Minister has not made the decision.
Let us suppose for a moment that the Supreme Court decides that the Prime Minister has not made a decision, because it has been made instead by the European Council—a perfectly plausible outcome of the Court’s proceedings. In that case, subsection (4) is totally inoperable. It has no effect whatsoever, because what it does, purportedly, is to prevent the Prime Minister from making a decision without a vote. If the Prime Minister has, in the ruling of the Court, made no decision, it is impossible for her to have made a decision without a vote; therefore, the law has been conformed with, and Parliament is not given any ability to vote on the matter.
I entirely agree with my right hon. Friend, and there is a further point. When it comes to the competing legislation at that point, it would be a question for the courts to consider whether or not the provisions in the Lisbon treaty that dealt with the question of article 50 had somehow been qualified, amended or repealed by a subsequent enactment.
I entirely agree with my hon. Friend, but it seems to me that for this purpose we do not even need to raise that question, because there is only one other possibility in this Court action—that the Court decides that the Prime Minister has implicitly made the decision. I do not quite know how the Court would get to that answer, but we could speculate that if the Prime Minister had acted differently in the course of the negotiations, the European Council would have acted differently, so implicitly the Prime Minister has made the decision.
Under those circumstances, subsection (4) would, purportedly, come into effect. That is, I suppose, what its authors intended. However, if the European Council has not by the end of the two-year period made a unanimous decision and if the courts decided that the Prime Minister had thereby implicitly decided, the courts would be requiring Parliament to do something that it is impossible to do—namely, to get the Prime Minister to reverse a decision that, as a matter of ordinary language, the Prime Minister would not have made at a time when the Prime Minister could not undo a decision that, as a matter of ordinary language, the European Council had made.
I am perfectly aware that it is of the greatest importance for Members of this House to show due deference to the other place, and I also genuinely admire the skills of the authors of the amendment, but I put it to them that even the House of Lords in all its majesty cannot compel the Prime Minister to do something that is impossible. That is beyond the scope of any human agency.
I agree with my right hon. Friend, although the Supreme Court went to great pains not to refer the matter to the European Court of Justice, for very good reasons, so we can leave even that argument aside.
My point is very simple. Either subsection (4) would have its intended effect or it would not. If it did, it would be inimical to the interests of this country, because it would induce the worst possible agreement to be offered—as a matter of fact, it will not have that effect in plausible circumstances—and if it did not, it would be bad law. I put it to you, Mr Speaker, that this House should not be passing legislation that either is inimical to the interests of this country or constitutes bad law, and that we should therefore reject the amendment.
This is a very timely debate about amendments that go to the heart of the situation in which we find ourselves. The Scottish National party has made it very clear that we want to see much more detailed reassurance—perhaps the odd detail or two from the Government—and that is where parliamentary scrutiny should have been involved. We should also be having a debate about the kind of country in which we want to live, and the kind of country that Scotland becomes and the United Kingdom becomes. That is where the amendment on EU nationals comes in.
The Secretary of State may have caught the First Minister’s statement earlier today, in which she made it very plain that this was not the situation in which we wanted to find ourselves. In fact, the Scottish Parliament voted by 92 votes to zero, across political parties, that we should look at ways of securing our relationship with Europe. It is a critical relationship that we have with our European partners, one that has an impact on, and benefits, each and every one of us; but, nearly nine months after the EU referendum, we still do not have that much in the way of detail from an increasingly clueless Government.
The most detailed response to the referendum so far came in the form of a compromise proposed by the Scottish Government just before Christmas. That compromise—let us not forget this—would have meant Scotland leaving the EU against its will to protect our place in the single market. It was a big compromise, and it took a lot from the Scottish National party to put it forward, especially given that Scotland had voted overwhelmingly to remain part of the European Union. We did it in order to protect jobs, the economy, and opportunities for young people and their environment in the face of a hard Tory Brexit.
The Fraser of Allander Institute has suggested that we could lose up to 80,000 jobs in Scotland alone as a result of the Government’s plans. We have a responsibility to protect those jobs, we have a responsibility to think about opportunities for young people, and we have a responsibility to think about the rights that we receive from our membership of the European Union. We have a responsibility not to just roll over in the face of a disastrous Tory plan.
Last Friday I met representatives of a major bus company in Scotland, who said that 17% of the company’s bus drivers were EU immigrants. They said that the only reason they were not experiencing the haemorrhaging of talent that their counterparts down south were experiencing was the First Minister’s reasonable, sensible and inclusive message that EU nationals were welcome. Does my hon. Friend agree that the UK Government could benefit by conveying such a message?
My hon. Friend makes an excellent point. I want to come on to the point about EU nationals shortly. It is not just in Scotland that jobs are threatened.
That is the extraordinary basis on which this is debated. My honourable colleague from the Foreign Affairs Committee forgets that it is his own Government who have already told the people of Ireland that they need not choose between the European Union and the UK, just as Scotland need not choose between trading with the UK and the rest of the EU.
No, I will make progress.
If we pass the Bill today, we will be passing this Government a blank cheque on one of the most crucial issues that this Parliament has ever discussed, an issue that will have an impact on each and every one of us and each and every one of our constituents. Let us not forget that we will be handing a blank cheque to a Government who are forced to deny their own tweets, who corrected a White Paper that had already been published and who are trying to defend yet another shambolic Budget. That is the Government that this place would be handing over a blank cheque to. Frankly, I am not sure we could trust them to run a bath, or a bidet for that matter, never mind a complex set of negotiations.
The Secretary of State said that he has seen the best of parliamentary debate in this place over the course of the Bill. It is nice to hear him say that because he spent millions of pounds trying to prevent us from having that debate in the first place. The basis of a parliamentary democracy is that we can scrutinise and do not roll over and acquiesce in the face of damaging plans. That is exactly what we would be doing by handing over a blank cheque.
Not at the moment.
The lack of respect for the devolved Administrations, and the promises that were made and subsequently broken during the independence and EU referendums have led us to the situation we are in today. During the independence referendum, we were told that the only way Scotland could guarantee remaining part of the EU was to vote against independence. We were told that the only way to bring in powers over immigration was to vote to leave the EU—more costly and broken promises. That is why the First Minister is right to be looking at the electoral mandate that the SNP was given last year to hold another independence referendum.
The Government may not be big on manifesto commitments, but the SNP is. The SNP was returned to power with the largest number of votes since devolution was established, with 47% of the constituency vote, compared with a Tory Government who have brought us to this situation with 36% of the vote in the UK and less than 15% of the vote in Scotland.
Let me move on to EU nationals. This is critical. We must not forget the human element of this.
My hon. Friend is talking about the human element for EU nationals. On Friday afternoon, my constituent, Diemanta McDuff, a Lithuanian, attended my surgery in hysterical tears, saying that the uncertainty caused by this Government and this Parliament is making her feel worse about her personal situation in Britain than she did in Lithuania under the Soviets. [Interruption.] Those are the words of a constituent. Does my hon. Friend agree that this Parliament should be ashamed to be causing such uncertainty?
I thank my hon. and learned Friend for raising that point, which is important. Many of us have listened to EU nationals, who contribute so much financially and culturally and who would be a loss to this country—to the whole of the UK. Therefore, I am not sure why the Government cannot give us what we seek.
As the hon. Gentleman knows, I feel very passionate about the fact that EU citizens living in the United Kingdom should be allowed to continue doing so; they add so much to our economy and culture, and it would be a human tragedy if they were forced to leave. However, I suspect that hundreds of thousands of Scottish people are living in other EU countries. Does he not believe that they too ought to be given the same guarantee at exactly the same time?
The hon. Gentleman makes my point for me: the Scottish Government are looking to protect Scotland’s relationship with Europe, and, what is more, if EU nationals are as important to Conservative Members as they are to us, they will vote with us tonight, to give them the certainty they need and deserve. I look forward to the hon. Gentleman joining me in the Lobby.
EU nationals who have made Scotland and the rest of the UK their home contribute much: they make this a better place in which to live and work, and they make our communities better. These are people with families and jobs. If the Conservatives care so much about them —and to give these people certainty—there is something very simple they can do: they can join us in the Lobby tonight, for a change. The House of Lords has given them another opportunity.
This goes to the heart of the question of the kind of country—[Interruption.] Conservative Members would do well to listen to the point being made this time. This goes to the heart of the question of the kind of country in which we would like to live. Do we want to live in a country that is open and inclusive, working in co-operation and collaboration with our European partners, or in a UK that is increasingly isolated in Europe and abroad? It now seems like this is a choice that people in Scotland are going to get.
Today, we are sitting on the edge of the abyss with this vote; the question is whether or not Scotland is going to be taken into the abyss with this Tory Government. I am glad that SNP Members have an alternative, and the alternative is clear. It is one that respects the will of the people of Scotland, that seeks to work with our partners on these islands and across Europe, and that will allow us to prosper as an equal and normal partner in the international community of nations. Therefore, we will be opposing the Government tonight.
I am going to keep my comments as brief as possible so that as many Members as possible can speak. I spoke when we last considered, effectively, amendment 2 in its new form, and I just say this: it is surely perverse that we are in a situation whereby if there is a deal it comes back to this place and we debate it and vote on it, but if there is the worst scenario—which is no deal—we are not entitled to that say or that vote. That simply cannot be right.
This is not a debate about Brexit. We have had that vote; I voted against my conscience in accordance with the promise I made to the people of Broxtowe that I would honour the referendum result, and I voted for us to leave the EU. So we have had that one; we are moving on.
This debate is actually all about parliamentary sovereignty, and there are some uncomfortable truths that need to be said. It took a few brave souls—and they were brave—to go to the High Court and then the Supreme Court to establish parliamentary sovereignty. That is why we now have this Bill—not because we did it in this place, and history will record all these things, but because of what they did. But to the credit of the Government, they accepted that.
I understand that there is a good argument to be made that this is a short and simple Bill, but the difficulty, and the reason why I found myself for the first time voting against my Government, is this intransigence—this inability to accept that in the worst-case scenario this place is not going to be allowed a say. And for this Secretary of State, of all Members of this place, with his fine track record of establishing, and fighting at every opportunity for the sovereignty of Parliament, to be standing up and denying us that on this particular issue is deeply ironic.
But does my right hon. Friend not accept the simple point that this place made a contract with the British people at that referendum—[Interruption.] The Scottish National party might not like it, but it is true. Therefore, whatever the deal, if there is a good deal, we will take it, and if there is not, the Prime Minister has made it very clear that we will not accept a bad deal, so we move on, and we move out of the EU.
My hon. Friend forgets that there was just one question on the ballot paper—did we want to remain in or leave the EU—and 52% of the people who voted chose to leave. That is what we are doing. We—some of us—on this side have honoured that result and voted for us to leave. Now, however, we are talking about the sovereignty of this Parliament and about what would happen in the event that our Prime Minister does not strike a good deal. I trust our Prime Minister to do everything that she can, and I will support her in her efforts to get that good deal, but let us be under no illusion that if she does not do so, there will be no alternative but WTO tariffs, regulations and rules, and the people in my constituency certainly did not vote for that—
My hon. Friend says “So?” I can assure him that it is not only me but our Prime Minister who takes the view that falling off a cliff edge would be the worst possible outcome for the people of this country. That is the one thing that we must ensure does not happen. In the light of that, we in this place must assist the Government with what happens next.
There is going to be a remarkable set of negotiations to achieve three bespoke deals—on trade, customs and security—in what will actually be an 18-month timeframe. But let us say that that worst-case scenario happens and that there is no deal at the end of that. If I may, I should like to say to Opposition Members, especially those in the north of Ireland—
Northern Ireland. The right hon. Gentleman needs no lessons on my support for the efforts and work of Northern Ireland Members. The real danger that we face is the cliff edge and, as a result, the hard border in Ireland that none of us wants.
In two years’ time, things might well have changed remarkably in this country, not just politically but economically. Economically, having had the buoyancy of a devalued pound and people actually spending on the basis of their savings, inflation might then have kicked in and we could find that our economy was no longer in the fine fettle that it appears to be now. Politically, we could be facing great harm in every way possible through the break-up of the Union, with the Scots going their own way following a referendum and, tragically for Northern Ireland, with talk of a united Ireland or a breakdown of the peace that has lasted for some years. In the light of that, all the options must remain open for us to debate and decide upon. We could, for example, decide to restore the free movement of labour and consider the benefits of the single market, which would solve the problem for Northern Ireland and for Scotland.
Does the hon. Lady agree that this is not only an issue of principle, in regard to parliamentary sovereignty and having a meaningful say, but an issue of good practice? We should not swallow the argument of an incentive to offer the worst possible deal. Lords amendment 2 would instil discipline and accountability in the Government as well as among our negotiating partners, because at any stage the Prime Minister would be able to say, “I can’t agree to that, because I have to sell it to Parliament.”
I want to close by saying this, Mr Speaker. The idea that, by doing the right thing and allowing us to have a vote and a say in the event of no deal, we would somehow be weakening the Prime Minister’s negotiating hand is absolutely perverse. It is as though all these deliberations and all the divisions that still exist in our country are not being reported throughout the whole of Europe. It is as though all this is taking place in some kind of silence. Everyone in Europe knows how divided our nation is. They know about the deliberations in this place and in the other place. They also know that, of those who voted, only 52% voted for us to leave the European Union. I urge the Government, for the sake of bringing unity not only to our party but to the country at large, to allow Parliament’s sovereignty to reign and, in the event of no deal, to allow us to have a vote and a say.
I must declare an interest, because the political is personal for me on the issue of EU citizens in the United Kingdom, as I suspect it is for many other Members in this House. The two most important women in my life—my mother, who is Dutch, and my wife, who is Spanish—are directly affected by this. While they are of course special to me, I none the less think that their fate, and the uncertainty that they have endured, is typical of the constituents of many across the House. My mother has lived here for more than 50 years. She has raised four children. She has worked as a teacher. She has paid her taxes. My wife loves this country—most of the time. She does not love the weather, but she loves this country. She is raising children, paying taxes, and working as a lawyer. It simply beggars belief that people like them and millions of others have had a question mark placed over their status, their piece of mind, and their wellbeing in our great country because of the action, or rather the shameful inaction, of this Government.
The right hon. Gentleman would start blaming bad traffic on the EU if he could. It is absurd. We picked the fight, not the EU. His party picked the fight; the EU did not.
I have one observation that I want to press the Secretary of State on. Even if he gets the deal on the issue of EU citizens here and UK citizens there, which I sincerely believe he wishes to seek, and even if that goes as smoothly and quickly as he has suggested today, there is no earthly way that this Government can separate the 3 million EU citizens who are already here from the millions who may, after a certain cut-off date, want to live, study, and work here without creating a mountainous volume of red tape.
Remind me, was freeing ourselves from red tape not one of the principal reasons why Mr Duncan Smith and so many others told us that we should leave the European Union? Yet this Government are going to create a tsunami of red tape, which EU citizens, including my mum and my wife, will rightly resent just as much as this Government have always resented red tape in Brussels. The particular irony is that the Secretary of State and I worked closely together in this Chamber as Opposition party spokespeople 12 years against the then Government’s attempts to impose ID cards, yet I predict that he and his Government will have to introduce something not identical but strikingly similar to the paper trail behind ID cards.
I must make progress; there is very little time.
Turning to the other, perhaps more meaningful amendment, the double standards that we have just heard about red tape are duplicated several times over by the double standards of Brexiteers saying, “We should free ourselves”—at any cost—“from the lack of democratic accountability in Brussels,” when the first thing they do is undermine and weaken the principle of democratic accountability in this House. I have listened closely to the Government’s case for rejecting that amendment, including today, and there is no first principle argument against it, because they concede to the principle of a vote; they just do not like us having the freedom to decide what that vote should be on.
The Government have come up with laughable arguments, which we have heard repeated here today, including that if we have just the bog-standard, plain vanilla accountability exerted by the House of Commons and the other place on any announcement made by the Prime Minister in two years, that will serve as an incentive for the EU to give us a bad deal. By that logic, the only Governments that can successfully negotiate good international agreements are dictatorships. They are not; they are democracies. Democracy can co-exist with good international agreements.
I have come to the conclusion that the reason the Government are digging their heels in as stubbornly as they are is that they somehow think that they will strut their stuff and impress our soon-to-be EU negotiating partners by indulging in parliamentary and procedural machismo here. Who do they think they are kidding? Do they think that Angela Merkel has put everything aside to look at this debate this afternoon? Do they think that she has said, “Oh, look at the way that No. 10 unceremoniously evicted Lord Heseltine and other venerable parliamentarians from their jobs. We had better give them a good deal.”?
Does the Secretary of State think that Michel Barnier, whom I know well and know the Secretary of State knows well—a hardened EU negotiator if ever there was one—is saying, “Oh well, we’d better lower the price tag because they are being so tough with their own people”? It is a ludicrous assertion. So I simply say to Government Members, at this last, 59th second of the eleventh hour of this debate on these amendments: stubbornness can be a sign of suspicion and weakness, not strength; rejecting the rightful, conventional role of the House of Commons and the other place to apply democratic accountability to the actions and decisions of the Executive can be a sign of weakness, not strength; and this specious argument that condemns the lack of democratic accountability in Brussels while undermining it here, in the mother of all Parliaments, is a sleight of hand that should not be lightly forgotten.
It is a particular pleasure to follow Mr Clegg, as he and I spent a number of years working together in coalition government. I know that was not enormously fruitful for all those on my side, but I thank him for his remarks.
Let me deal with one opening point and then refer to the amendments, rather than making a general speech. One observation to make, which comes back to the right hon. Gentleman’s point about process, is that we sent to the House of Lords a short, well drafted and tightly focused Bill. Usually, the House of Lords argument and its criticism of this House is that we send it long, badly drafted and ill thought through legislation, which the House of Lords then has to improve. In this case, we sent the other place a short, tightly focused, well drafted Bill that does one very specific thing; it then made the Bill longer and reduced the quality of the drafting. We should help their lordships out this afternoon by getting rid of their poorly drafted amendments and sending the Bill back to them in the same expertly drafted form in which it started.
The simple truth is this: deal or no deal, vote or no vote, positive vote or negative vote, this process is irreversible; we are leaving the EU and that is what the people want.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that.
Let me now deal with the two Lords amendments that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State is inviting the House to disagree with. The first one relates to EU nationals, and I have listened carefully to the debate we have just had on it. I believe I heard Ms Ahmed-Sheikh suggest to the Secretary of State during it, from a sedentary position, that he could put people’s minds at rest by accepting the amendment. I fundamentally disagree with that.
If we read what the amendment actually says, as opposed to what people have asserted it says, we find that all it says is that the Government should bring forward proposals within three months to deal with people who are legally resident in Britain. I think this is faulty for three reasons. First, the inclusion of “three months” puts in place an arbitrary time limit, which will be decided by judges if people challenge it. This may happen in the middle of the negotiation process that the Secretary of State is going to carry out to secure the rights of British citizens and it could well disrupt that process.
The second and more important point is about the fact that the amendment refers to those who are “legally resident” in the country today. Two groups are involved here, and I would like to be more generous to one and less generous to the other. The first group comprises those whom we have discovered perhaps did not understand EU legislation, which says, “You are legally resident here if you are a student or you are self-sufficient only if you have comprehensive health insurance.” Many people fail that test; I think it would be sensible for us to take a generous approach when legislating for people to be able to stay here, but the amendment, as drafted, does not suggest we do that. I think the Government could be more generous to EU nationals who are making their lives here than the amendment proposes—I think that would be welcome.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that if we get to the point where all our proceedings, debates and votes have to be put into legislation and are subject to court action, we cannot proceed—we will cease to be sovereign?
That point is very well made and it leads me on to my next point. There is another group of EU nationals, who are unlike those we have already been talking about, whom we all want to protect and who are here working and contributing. A significant number—although they are only a small percentage—of EU nationals in Britain have broken the criminal law. There are four and a half thousand EU nationals in prison. They are legally resident in this country. Lords amendment 1 would mean that when they were released from prison after they had served their sentence, it would be very difficult for my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary, who is sitting on the Front Bench, to remove their right to stay in this country and deport them to their home country, which is what I want us to do. I would like us, as a country, to be more generous to those who come here to work, contribute and study, but to be less generous to those who come here to break our laws and violate the welcome we give them and the trust we place in them. I do not want to fetter the hands of Ministers in doing that. The amendment is poorly drafted and does not provide that reassurance, so I ask the House to reject it.
The final thing I shall say about EU nationals relates to the point made by Joanna Cherry. I listened carefully to what she said about her Lithuanian constituent—I hope her constituent will forgive me, but I did not catch her name. I hope that when she was talking to her constituent, the hon. and learned Lady was able to reassure her by explaining the clear assurances that the Prime Minister of her country has placed on the record about wanting to make sure that people like constituent are able to say.
I am very happy to confirm exactly what my constituent said, as the right hon. Gentleman has brought it up. She cannot apply for permanent residency because she does not have comprehensive sickness insurance. I advised her that the Exiting the European Union Committee, on which I serve, has asked the Government to rectify that matter and that, as yet, they have not done so.
I am pleased that the hon. and learned Lady made that point. Had she listened to my remarks, she would have heard me say that there are constituents who thought they were here legally, but who, because they do not have comprehensive health insurance, are not actually legally resident. As drafted, Lords amendment 1 would not provide such people with reassurance. I said that, as a former Immigration Minister, I would be minded to be generous to constituents like the hon. and learned Lady’s, which is why I want a deal and for my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary to introduce immigration legislation to sort out the situation. The amendment would do no such thing, and people should not mislead anyone by telling them that it would. My hon. Friends should reject it.
If my hon. Friend will forgive me, I shall move on to Lords amendment 2, because I am conscious that other Members wish to speak.
Lords amendment 2 is about a meaningful vote. Essentially, the issue falls into two parts. The Government have already said that they will bring decisions before the House if the Prime Minister strikes a good deal both on our article 50 divorce negotiations and on our future trade relationships. There is, though, a good reason for not putting this in statute: as soon as we do, we enable people to challenge the process—to go to court and frustrate the ability of this House and the Government to conclude the negotiations.
On the final part of Lords amendment 2, which my right hon. Friend Sir Oliver Letwin set out very carefully, there are two parts to my objection. First, I do not agree with the Labour party. If we say that either the House of Commons or the House of Lords is able to frustrate our leaving the EU by getting a deal that we do not think is a good one, I think they will absolutely do so. I listened carefully to what my right hon. Friend Anna Soubry said, and I could not help but think that the conclusion to her remarks was that she wanted us to stay in the EU if we got a bad deal. That seemed to be the conclusion of what she said.
I am grateful for the opportunity to make myself clear. I said that if we do not get a deal, the matter should come back to Parliament and we should consider all options, given the circumstances that we would find ourselves in. It may well—[Hon. Members: “Ah!”] I am so sorry; I thought we lived in a democracy, but I have obviously got that completely wrong. It is hard to see how we would go back on our decision to leave the EU.
I listened carefully to my right hon. Friend. As I have said before in the House, the referendum asked an unconditional question: whether we should remain or leave. We did not say to the public—though some people think that we should have done—“If we get a really fabulous deal, we should leave.” I was on the remain side of the argument, but I accept that the people of the United Kingdom made a different decision. It behoves us all to support the Prime Minister in getting the best possible deal, given that we are leaving. Even if there is a bad deal that we cannot accept, we are still leaving the European Union. That is why I urge my hon. and right hon. Friends to disagree with both Lords amendments.
Only 40 minutes remain. I am keen to call as many hon. and right hon. Members as possible, but I need Members to help each other.
Mr Harper argued that we should not support the two amendments because they are justiciable; on that basis, we might as well pack up and go home, because everything that we put in legislation is justiciable.
I rise to support the two amendments, and I draw the House’s attention to the unanimous recommendation of the Select Committee on Exiting the European Union, which I have the privilege of chairing: it said that the Government should now make a unilateral decision to safeguard the rights of EU nationals in the United Kingdom. I say to the Secretary of State that the only argument against doing that, and against the Lords amendment, is that someone might be prepared to put the status of those 3 million EU citizens into play in the negotiations. That raises the question of how exactly that would be done, and to what purpose. It is precisely because the Secretary of State, and indeed the Prime Minister, have been so clear in saying to the House “We intend to ensure those people’s status and rights” that no one in the Chamber believes that the Government would be prepared to put those people’s status into play in the negotiations. If the Government are not prepared to do that, why not do the right thing now, and tell those people that they can stay?
Is the Government’s position on EU citizens not based on a fiction? If they did not grant EU citizens the right to stay, presumably they would remove those who could not stay from the United Kingdom, but the Minister for Immigration has said that the Government do not know where EU citizens are in order to remove them from the United Kingdom. It is an empty threat, so why cause all this stress?
I agree with my hon. Friend entirely. The whole House knows that that course of action cannot be contemplated, so the Government should follow the advice of the Select Committee.
On Lords amendment 2, I listened carefully to the arguments that the Secretary of State advanced, but I say to him gently that I do not think they would have persuaded him in his previous incarnation, before he became Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union. Let us just pause for a moment on the point that Mr Clegg raised about the incentive to offer a bad deal. If that argument holds any sway, it held sway when Ministers said at the Dispatch Box, “Yes, we will give you a vote on a draft deal.” It cannot be the case that if the Government offer a vote on a draft deal, it does not raise the possibility of a bad deal being offered, whereas if we in this House vote to put that vote on a deal on the statute book, it does raise the possibility of a bad deal being offered. The two arguments are wholly inconsistent, and the House is not persuaded.
I also listened carefully to the language used by the Secretary of State, who I see is engaged in earnest conversation. He talked about our being able to act without our hands being tied, and to pass the Bill “without any strings attached”. We in this House are not strings; we are part of our democracy, and we are very attached to that democracy. Lords amendment 2 is not about seeking to reverse the decision of the referendum. Like Anna Soubry, I and many others voted for this legislation because we respect the outcome of the referendum, but it is about Parliament deciding, in either eventuality, on how we leave the European Union. There is a terrible irony here. We are hearing the voices of those who, in the course of the referendum, used the restoration of parliamentary sovereignty as one of their principal arguments for voting to leave the EU, but whose enthusiasm for that sovereignty disappears in a puff of smoke when the House is asked to put that sovereignty on the statute book.
Finally, I say to the right hon. Gentleman that it is now time to put behind us the matter of who voted leave or remain in the referendum. We should come together and put aside division, including the division that is being urged on us by others in this Chamber. I say to him that having Parliament behind him in these negotiations and knowing that, in the end, the Government must account to Parliament for what they are able to achieve in those negotiations is not a weakness for this country, but a strength, and the sooner the Government recognise that, the better.
I campaigned for remain in last year’s referendum, believing that it was in the best medium-term economic interests of my constituents. I did so having stood on a manifesto that promised the British people a vote on our membership of the EU and that promised to honour the result of the referendum whatever the outcome.
We must remember in this place that a record number of people—a massive 72% of electors—turned out to vote on
No, I will not give way, because there are so many Members who wish to speak.
The Bill before us is the legal mechanism by which the Prime Minister can begin withdrawal negotiations. All Members, on whichever side of the House they sit and whichever nation they represent, must wish that these negotiations are successful. There is no doubt that those negotiations will be protracted and difficult, but it is in the best interests of our constituents that we give our Prime Minister and her team of Ministers the strongest hand possible. Lords amendment 2 hampers that ability.
If the hon. Lady listens, I will elucidate.
The preconditions required would mean that whatever the British negotiating team were to say, our EU counterparts would think that they could frustrate, delay or even veto any deal. Certainty was the No. 1 priority in the Prime Minister’s Lancaster House speech. How can there be any certainty for our businesses, our constituents or even our European partners if there is a prospect of endless review by this place?
I have already said that I will not give way.
Lord Hill, who is a man of great experience in EU negotiations, said this of our European counterparts:
“They need to know that what our negotiators say our negotiators can deliver.”—[Official Report, House of Lords,
Vol. 779, c. 32.]
I therefore urge all right hon. and hon. Members to reject the Lords amendments and give the Prime Minister the strongest possible hand in her negotiations.
I have only three points to make in the time that I have available.
When my hon. Friend Ms Ahmed-Sheikh asked the Secretary of State whether he would be prepared to deport these European nationals in our midst, he said, rather significantly, “No, of course not, not somebody with my liberal credentials stretching over so many years.” That is the case, and it would be the case for every Member here—with perhaps one or two exceptions whom we shall not name. The vast majority of this House would not countenance ever doing that, which is why, as Hilary Benn has just said, those European nationals cease to be any sort of bargaining chip. Even if we thought that the International Trade Secretary was right to say that they were an important card to play—even if we thought that that was acceptable language—they are not a card that we can play. It is like a nuclear deterrent: if we are not going to press the button, it is not a deterrent. If we are not prepared to follow through on deportation or to use people in that way, it cannot be a bargaining chip or a card to play. Therefore, the correct course of action for the Government is, unilaterally, to accept and secure the position of our fellow citizens working and contributing among us. There is no possibility of their being effective as a bargaining chip in negotiations. I call on the Government to do the right thing and accept the Lords amendment.
Yesterday, the nation was transfixed as we tried to interpret the latest Government policy on Brexit. Should we follow the advice of the Foreign Secretary, who was on one channel, when he said that it would be no problem if we had to resort to World Trade Organisation terms? Or should we follow the advice of the International Trade Secretary, who on another channel was saying, yes indeed, it would be a problem? In fact, we were all watching the wrong people. We should have been watching the Brexit Secretary on the “Andrew Marr Show”, because he was actually getting to the guts and the nub of the problem. Andrew Marr asked, “So what happens if they don’t accept it?”—referring to our voting down the deal that the Government bring to us in a meaningful vote. The Brexit Secretary answered, “That is what’s called the most favoured nation status deal with the World Trade Organisation.”
When this Bill was in Committee, the right hon. Member for Leeds Central and others were trying to tempt a commitment out of the Minister of State when he appeared at the Dispatch Box with a flourish—with as much of a flourish as the Minister’s parliamentary style allows—and told us that the Government intend us to have a meaningful vote. Member after Member asked him what would happen in this meaningful vote if we decided to reject the Government’s terms. We had the answer yesterday from the Brexit Secretary: WTO terms. It is absolutely clear: our deal or no deal; our way or the highway. No vote can be described as meaningful if the alternative is the damage of WTO terms.
Given your injunction to be brief, Mr Speaker, I will come to my final point. We are asked why we do not just accept the word of the Brexit Secretary and these other chaps and chapesses in the Government when they tell us that we do not need to put things into legislation. Can I quote a little bit of history here and show Members what assurances we have been given in Scotland on this legislation? On
“Theresa May has indicated that…she said she will not trigger the formal process for leaving the EU until there is an agreed ‘UK approach’ backed by Scotland.”
I admit that that does not come from Hansard, but surely The Daily Telegraph is the nearest the Tories can have to an Official Report. That promise has been swept away. That commitment has been broken, as indeed was the reaction to the Scottish Government’s argument to keep us all within the single market. It was not regarded seriously, and we were not even consulted before the Prime Minister dismissed that as an alternative.
Then there was the compromise: let Scotland stay within the single marketplace, even if this Government are determined to drag the rest of the UK out of it. That was not even given serious consideration. We have had no substantive reply in the past three months, because, in their arrogance, this Government believe that the views of the 48% across the UK, of the Members of the House of Lords, of the Tory Back Benchers who have their doubts, and of the nations in this country, two of which voted for remain in the referendum, do not matter. They can be swept aside as we proceed headlong to the hard Brexit cliff edge. Today, in Scotland, perhaps the Government were disabused of that notion, because there might not be a meaningful vote in this Chamber, but there shall be a meaningful vote in Scotland about protecting our millennium-long history as a European nation.
Order. With extreme brevity now from both sides of the House, I call Sir William Cash.
First, this is a very simple Bill that is merely about notification and triggering. It is as simple as that. Secondly, the plain fact is that judicial review, which my right hon. Friends the Members for West Dorset (Sir Oliver Letwin) and for Forest of Dean (Mr Harper) dealt with so well, would be a gift to the courts and the lawyers. It really is completely inappropriate. My third point is on the question of parliamentary sovereignty. The fact is that the issue today is not about parliamentary sovereignty. In fact, it is about undermining a decision that has been made by a referendum of the British people that was itself conferred by a sovereign Act of Parliament. That is the distinction and that is what we need to concentrate on.
My last point is simply this: we cannot tie the Prime Minister’s hands. It is inconceivable that we would legislate, make that judicially reviewable and, at the same time, pass amendments the effect of which would be to introduce a Committee of Parliament that would decide on questions that have to be decided on by the Government. Our constitution operates by parliamentary government, not by Committee of Parliament, otherwise we would go back to the 17th century; and I invite people to look at the Barebones Parliament.
I rise to make two brief points. First, if we do not deal, now or in the next three months, with the issue of EU nationals here or UK nationals in the EU 27, those people will get caught up in the negotiations, because the Council is due to respond to the triggering of article 50 in May or June, after the French elections on
Secondly, I reiterate something said by Anna Soubry in her eloquent speech. Some hon. Members on the Government Benches want us to leave without a deal, but what deal is worse than no deal? I find it difficult—in fact, impossible—to conceive of one. There is not one, and the right hon. Lady said that very clearly. Is falling back on WTO rules, with all the tariffs and obstructions to trade that go with that, better than some other deal that the Government can conceive of? What is this weird deal that they are talking about? There simply is not one. This House needs to have a say, whether there is a deal or not.
The Government have given very little clarity about what happens if—and we are told that they are preparing for this eventuality—a deal is not agreed between the UK and our European partners. That would be the very worst situation. The Secretary of State has spent his political career espousing and promoting parliamentary scrutiny and sovereignty—well, he used to, before he got his current position. Could we really leave the EU without a deal and without this Parliament having a say? Of course we could not. Why do the Government not just admit that and put it on the face of the Bill?
I want to support the Government in carrying out an efficient and effective Brexit but, after listening to some of the contributions this afternoon, I think I am living in wonderland.
I will focus solely on Lords amendment 2, particularly subsection (4). The first thing to understand is that, as matters stand, there will be a need not for resolutions of this House, but for primary legislation to complete the process. In fact, there will be a need for primary legislation even if we have no deal at all. I do not know when the Government want to deal with that. They could conceivably try to do it during the course of the great repeal Bill, but they have not suggested that that is what the great repeal Bill—which is, in fact, an entrenchment Bill—is all about. So it seems that if there is no deal at the end of the process, there will have to be primary legislation by this House, if that has not already been done.
Interestingly, far from the Lords trying to lead to great litigation, their view—if the Government bother to read Lord Hope’s speech—was that litigation could be avoided by tabling the amendment and providing for a resolution mechanism at the end. I can promise my hon. and right hon. Friends who think that there is some whizzo way of getting around the litigation that, if they do not follow proper constitutional process, there will be litigation, and that litigation will hold matters up.
Now, I am not so concerned about amendment 2. I am concerned about getting an assurance from my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union that, if there is no deal at the end of the process, which will be a very significant moment in this country’s history, Parliament has an opportunity to debate and vote on that. Far from that being an obstruction of the process, I would expect it to be part of the normal constitutional process and the Government to seek the endorsement of the House for that very significant act. I worry that my right hon. Friend—who, I think, personally may well agree with me—has been prevented from saying that at the Dispatch Box. I am afraid that I am not prepared to follow processes that appear to be, frankly, deranged.
There is a clear way of doing things. If we follow them, we will come up with the right decisions at each point; if we do not, we will mire ourselves in chaos. I want to support the Government, but I have to say, most reluctantly, that if we persist with this, I cannot support the Government this evening when it comes to amendment 2. I am very sorry about that. I would like to be able to support the Government because the critique of the Lords amendment has some force, but someone has to put down a marker that we have to follow a proper process in the way in which we carry out Brexit.
I commend Mr Grieve for his speech. Notwithstanding my obvious support for the Lords amendment on EU nationals, I urge Government Members to think carefully about what they are being asked to do by Ministers today. The Lords have already inserted into the Bill the amendment to give Parliament a meaningful vote, and Ministers are asking hon. Members tonight to wrench that out of the Bill and delete it. As the Bill stands, it provides that parliamentary scrutiny and authority. Government Members should ask themselves whether they really want actively to go through the Lobby and delete that from the text of the Bill.
Ministers have asked hon. Members to do a number of things. They say, “Don’t tie the hands of the Prime Minister. Whatever you do, give her unfettered power to negotiate in whatever way she likes.” I say to those Ministers and to hon. Members that we should not be putting power entirely in the hands of one person—the Prime Minister—without any insurance policy whatever. With the greatest respect to Ministers, the Prime Minister decides who is on her Front Bench, and parliamentary democracy is the insurance policy that we need throughout the process. We should not be frightened or shy of that. We should welcome it because it is a strength and it is a part of the process.
The Government say, “Take back control.” Yet at the same time they are asking us to muzzle Parliament for the next two-year period by saying, “Well, whatever happens, Parliament may not have a say on that.” We could find ourselves in circumstances where the European Union offers a really good deal but the Prime Minister, singularly, on her own—or his own, of course, because it depends on who the Prime Minister is in two years’ time—could say, “Absolutely no deal.” This Parliament would have no choice but to accept that. We would have no say on the matter.
Ministers ask us to accept their verbal assurances. Well, Ministers are here today, but could be gone tomorrow. May I speculate that we could have a different Prime Minister by the time we get to spring 2019? Who knows? It is possible that Boris Johnson—the Foreign Secretary, no less—could be Prime Minister one day. He said at the weekend that it would be
“perfectly okay if we weren’t able to get an agreement.”
He could be Prime Minister—Government Members do not know—and that would be the situation we would have to face, with no votes and no rights for Parliament. Verbal assurances are not sufficient.
Under your instructions, Mr Speaker, I am going to be brief. I want to deal specifically with the first amendment—I thought the second amendment was well dealt with by my right hon. Friends the Members for West Dorset (Sir Oliver Letwin) and for Forest of Dean (Mr Harper).
We have heard a lot in this debate, and we heard a lot in the other place, about the emotional end of what it is to give EU citizens some kind of reassurance, and I myself am publicly on the record as saying I would like to have done that by this point. However, I remind people that we also have UK citizens. The ex-leader of the Liberal Democrats, Mr Clegg, rightly went on about his own family, but I have a sister who has lived and worked in Italy pretty much all her life, and she has retired there. It behoves this place not to dismiss the concerns and worries of such UK citizens quite as lightly as they were dismissed in the other place and have been dismissed here today. I actually heard it said from the Opposition Benches that the reason we should not be so concerned about those UK citizens is that many of them are older and, therefore, pensioners, so they are less important. That is wrong, and I encourage the Government to stick to their plans to deal with the two issues together.
However, the thing about the amendment is that it is not actually what all this emotional argument is about. For those who want to guarantee these rights, this is not the amendment for doing so—it actually does the exact opposite, and that is for two reasons. First, it does not reassure EU nationals over here. I have had conversations with various EU nationals, and they do not feel in the slightest bit reassured by the idea that we are going to call the Government back three months after we have triggered article 50 to ask them what they plan to do. That is no reassurance, and it does not give EU nationals their rights, so we are not voting to reassure them at all.
The second element is that the amendment actually damages the Government’s position in the negotiations. Let us imagine there has been no agreement about what to do with UK citizens. On the three-month mark, the European Commission knows full well that the Government will be dragged back to the House to explain publicly what their plans are, regardless of the negotiations. I can think of nothing worse than to bind their hands in the worst way possible and make sure that UK nationals do not get reciprocal arrangements.
My point tonight is that, whatever the realities of what people want, neither amendment satisfies the requirement to protect EU nationals or to give this Parliament a meaningful vote without damaging the prospects for the Government’s negotiations. I urge the House not to vote for the amendments, and I remind those on the Opposition Benches who talk endlessly about parliamentary sovereignty that, for the 25 years I have sat in this place, all the arguments about the EU have been dismissed on the basis that we were not allowed to amend a single European treaty.
I wish to speak particularly to amendment 2, which is very similar to new clauses 99 and 110, which we debated about a month ago.
Conservative Members have complained about Lord Pannick’s drafting. When Ministers make that complaint, I feel it is slightly disingenuous, because they had the opportunity to amend the amendment. If they really felt the other place should not be involved, they could have changed the drafting to say not “both Houses of Parliament” but only “the House of Commons”, or they could have taken out subsection (4), which provides for what we do if there is no agreement with the EU. They have not done that, so they are making the bar higher for their colleagues behind them. In any case, either it is a problem that the House of Lords has a veto, because it is an unelected chamber, or it is not a problem. It seems the Prime Minister made a promise that the vote would come to both Houses, so she does not seem to think it is a problem, and I do not know why it is being put up as a problem now.
Sir Oliver Letwin took us on a long perambulation about what might or might not happen. That was completely unnecessary: if we put the amendment on the face of the Bill, we would, in effect, make it part of the constitutional arrangement, which, under article 50, has to be respected by the EU counter-parties in the negotiation.
The hon. Lady makes a very good point, because in the last debate we had, we discussed the possibility of being up against the wire. However, it seems to me on reflection that, in actual fact, if our own constitutional processes are not finished, we could not simply fall off the edge of the cliff until we had finished them, and I believe that to be the view of the lawyers in the European Commission as well.
I am very grateful to the right hon. and learned Gentleman for that intervention.
The point I was going on to make was that it is obviously reasonable for us in this House to have a vote, not just because we all believe in democracy, and not just because the campaigners for leaving argued on the basis of parliamentary sovereignty, but because the European Parliament will have a vote. How can Ministers stand at the Dispatch Box and say it is all right to have constitutional arrangements that give Members of the European Parliament a vote and do not give us a vote?
There is one final thing I want to say about the risks of leaving without an agreement. Anna Soubry set out extremely well what the problems are, but I think they could be even worse than leaving on WTO terms. For us to have an agreement with the WTO, we require every member of it to agree that we should have one. After everything that has happened, does the Minister really think that the President of Russia is going to do us that favour?
Order. I would like to accommodate a number of other colleagues. It is not compulsory to speak for the full three minutes. There is a prize for anybody who can do it in a minute.
Until Alex Salmond spoke, I was afraid I was the only person who was having a bit of a flashback to the endless nuclear arms control negotiations of the 1980s, and there are, indeed, a couple of parallels, to which I will allude very briefly.
The first, on amendment 1, is that the question we are asking ourselves is whether we should make a one-sided gesture, regardless of the fact that it would leave our own citizens exposed. We made it clear from the outset that we would agree to guarantee the rights of EU citizens here if other countries would do the same for our citizens in those countries. Why is it that that suggestion has not been seized with both hands? One has to say that that indicates that there are some problems with the way in which the EU intends to go about its negotiations with us.
No, I will not.
The way forward would have been for the EU to say straightaway, “Yes, you’re making this offer. We accept it. No problem.”
However, the second point, on the second amendment, is the more important one. We have heard it said repeatedly from the Opposition Front Bench and from elsewhere in the Chamber that no deal is the worst possible outcome for Britain. Put another way, that is like saying that any deal at all is better than no deal, and I would like to draw a parallel with those arms negotiations in the 1980s. The most successful negotiations were those that led to the treaty in 1987, when we got rid of all the cruise missiles and Pershing missiles on our side, and the Russians got rid of all the SS-20s. It happened like this: we carried out our threat in the negotiations, and the other side walked away from the negotiating table, but when they saw we meant it, they came back, and they gave us a better deal. What we have to remember is this: no deal may lead to a better deal a year or two down the road. If you are determined to take any deal rather than no deal, you will end up with a much worse deal than you might otherwise have had.
I shall vote against all the amendments on the simple basis that this Bill has one purpose and one purpose only: to give legal effect to the decision of the people on
However, I look to the Secretary of State to give firm assurances that his top and first priority will be the rights of EU citizens; that he acknowledges that that will require a bespoke EU citizenship right to remain, to accommodate such problems as health insurance; and that we will act on that as our opening gesture in the negotiations, to set the right tone.
I will vote against the amendments tonight. I want briefly to address amendment 2 on the final vote. As others have said, it is quite wrong for the noble Lords to abrogate for the other place a right of unelected peers to veto Brexit at the eleventh hour. But more than that, it would be entirely counterproductive as a matter of diplomatic practice, with Jean-Claude Juncker talking about the possibility of the UK rejoining the EU, to start these negotiations signalling that a lousy deal might lead the UK to reverse its decision. That would be surest way to elicit the worst terms. I understand the legitimate concerns and anxieties in all parts of the House at this very delicate moment for our country’s history, but the truth is that we cannot legislate away legitimate concerns that we have, whether we voted leave or remain, and we cannot legislate for every permutation of these negotiations. We have to trust the Government and support the Government. Yes, scrutinise this, but for heaven’s sake do not weaken it at the very outset of these crucial negotiations. We have debated a one-clause Bill for six weeks.
In summing up, I want to draw approvingly on the view expressed in other place by the noble Lord who headed up the remain campaign—Lord Rose. He made it very clear that in his view the Government should be given the flexibility they deserve and need to get the best deal for the country, and that it is incumbent on all politicians on all sides to rally behind the Government so that they can get the best deal for the whole country. I commend the noble Lord, and I will vote against the amendments.
We live in very strange times. The campaign to leave the EU was based to a very great extent on the idea of restoring parliamentary sovereignty. Indeed, the Government’s White Paper asserts:
“The sovereignty of Parliament is a fundamental principle of the UK constitution.”
Yet Ministers seem set on opposing any attempt to guarantee a meaningful role for Parliament in the process of withdrawing from the EU. Instead we are being asked to write a blank cheque to give Ministers power to withdraw the country from the EU on whatever terms they like—or worse, on no terms at all. Ministers seem to regard their colleagues as little better than lemmings. Faced with the prospect of falling off the cliff edge, we are apparently meant to suspend all judgment and blindly follow wherever they lead. But to allow Ministers to proceed in this way would be an extraordinary and unforgivable abdication of parliamentary responsibility. The manner and terms on which we withdraw from the EU will have implications for the rights and interests of every citizen and business for many years to come, and Parliament must take responsibility for these decisions.
The final deal on trade with the EU will almost certainly need to be ratified at both national and federal level of each EU member state. Lords amendment 2 simply gives the UK Parliament the same power. Do Ministers really want this Parliament to be the single most underpowered of all European Parliaments during that process?
I appeal to my colleagues to defy the whipped-up anger of the anti-European press, and to stand up to the ridiculous notion that any and every attempt to give Parliament a role in the Brexit process is somehow a betrayal of the will of the people. It is no such thing—it is simply the exercise of the judgment that we were elected to bring to this House. We were not elected to be lemmings.
With the leave of the House, in 60 seconds, Mr Speaker. I start by thanking hon. Members for their valuable contributions. We have heard some formidable speeches. Perhaps that reflects on me. I liked best the ones that were made at my expense.
I will deal very quickly with some of the more important issues. The right hon. Members for Wolverhampton South East (Mr McFadden) and for Sheffield, Hallam (Mr Clegg), and Stephen Gethins, spoke passionately about the rights of the 3 million. I agree. I care equally passionately about the 4 million. I am afraid that I do not agree with the Chairman of the Brexit Committee or Alex Salmond in saying that we are using these people as bargaining chips. We are not. By treating them as 4 million, we are stopping any of them being bargaining chips and getting an outcome that will reflect well on this House and on the European Union.
With regard to amendment 2, my right hon. Friend Sir Oliver Letwin, in a brilliant exposition of the Alice in Wonderland consequences of subsection (4), told us why my right hon. Friend Mr Harper was right to say that we should stay out of the law in these matters.
The simple truth is that last time round we in this House passed this Bill unamended by a majority of 372. I hope that we will send it back with a similar majority and that the House of Lords respects that rejection of the amendments.
Two hours having elapsed since the commencement of proceedings on consideration of Lords amendments, the debate was interrupted (Programme Order, this day).
The Speaker put forthwith the Question already proposed from the Chair (
The House divided:
Ayes 335, Noes 287.
Division number 178
Question accordingly agreed to.
Lords amendment 1 disagreed to.
The Speaker then put forthwith the Question necessary for the disposal of the business to be concluded at that time (
Question put, That this House disagrees with Lords amendment 2.
The House divided:
Ayes 331, Noes 286.
Division number 179
Question accordingly agreed to.
Lords amendment 2 disagreed to.
Motion made, and Question put forthwith (
That James Berry, Paul Blomfield, Stephen Gethins, Mr David Jones, Jessica Morden, Christopher Pincher and Jeremy Quin be members of the Committee;
That Mr David Jones be the Chair of the Committee;
That three be the quorum of the Committee.
That the Committee do withdraw immediately.—(Graham Stuart.)
Question agreed to.
Committee to withdraw immediately; reasons to be reported and communicated to the Lords.