Legislating for Uk Withdrawal from the EU

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:08 pm on 30th March 2017.

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Photo of David Davis David Davis The Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union 12:08 pm, 30th March 2017

At the end of my statement, I said that I hoped the House would come together in making this task happen. I reiterate that point to Keir Starmer, my opposite number. He says that no change should be made to rights through delegated legislation, but I would have thought that that almost goes without saying. [Hon. Members: “Then say it!”] While I say that it almost goes without saying, I actually said that in my statement, if hon. Members read it.

Let me reiterate that the use of delegated legislation will be for technical changes—the sort of alteration whereby, for example, a reference to a regulatory body in the European Union clearly has to be replaced with a reference to a body in the UK. Frankly, I think that that is as plain as a pikestaff. The hon. and learned Gentleman changed his wording slightly by talking about “all relevant rights”, and he is quite right to do so, because things such as the right to stand as an MEP, the right to elect an MEP and, indeed, the right to make a direct application to the European Court will go automatically. He is a reasonable man, so I take it that he accepts that.

On charter rights, let me remind the hon. and learned Gentleman of what happened with the Lisbon treaty in 2007. The Labour Government of the day negotiated that treaty and a protocol to it, about which the Prime Minister of the day said:

“It is absolutely clear that we have an opt-out from both the charter and judicial and home affairs.”—[Official Report, 25 June 2007;
Vol. 462, c. 37.]

Actually, Mr Tony Blair was wrong to say that; he had misunderstood the Labour Government’s own protocol, which guaranteed that no new rights arose as a result of the charter of fundamental rights. That was reiterated later by the then Government in court and by their then Europe Minister, who said:

“The Protocol confirms that since the Charter creates no rights, or circumstances in which those rights can be relied on before the courts, it does not change the status quo.”

The 2007 White Paper said the same thing, and only last year—I think in December—the Joint Committee on Human Rights reiterated that understanding.

We looked at that matter very carefully because, as the hon. and learned Gentleman might appreciate, it is an area that I take very seriously indeed. Aside from the undertakings that he has asked for, I make this offer to him: if, in the next two years, we find something that we have missed, we will put it right. On that basis, I do not think that we have an argument. I do not think that that will happen either, because a clause-by-clause search through the whole charter did not throw up any significant issues, other than things such as the MEP matter.

In terms of the treatment of the devolved Administrations, the first thing to say is that no powers currently exercised by them will be taken away. We have said that time and again. We also expect that there will be a significant increase in the powers exercised by the devolved Administrations. However, I say this to the hon. and learned Gentleman: we have to maintain the United Kingdom internal market, too. That market is four times as important to Scottish businesses, for example, as the European market, and it is incredibly important to Northern Irish and Welsh businesses as well. The Administrations understand that. We will be holding discussions with them at length—we have already started those discussions—about how we execute this. I will be happy to talk to the hon. and learned Gentleman about the matter as well, if that would be useful to him. I reiterate that this is a difficult task, but it is by no means beyond the ability of the House to achieve this properly, respecting our democracy and delivering for the British people.