European Union (Withdrawal) Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:18 pm on 7th September 2017.

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Photo of David Davis David Davis The Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union 12:18 pm, 7th September 2017

No, I will not give way at the moment.

The Bill gives time for us to work with the devolved Administrations to determine where we will continue to need common frameworks in the future. Crucially, it will not create unnecessary short-term change that negatively affects people or businesses. Before the summer recess, my right hon. Friend the First Secretary of State wrote to the Scottish and Welsh Governments to begin intensive discussions about where common frameworks are and are not needed. In the current absence of a Northern Ireland Executive, equivalent engagement has taken place at official level with the Northern Ireland civil service. We will bring forward further detail on the process underpinning these discussions in due course for Parliament to decide on.

Certainty in devolved legislation affected by EU exit is also vital. The key delegated powers in this Bill are conferred on the devolved Administrations so that the task of preparing the devolved statute books for exit can rightly be led from Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

The Government are committed to ensuring the powers work for the Administrations and legislatures. For instance, I have already confirmed that we will always consult the Administrations on corrections made to direct EU law relating to otherwise devolved areas of competence. I firmly believe that the outcome of this process will be a significant increase in the decision-making powers of each devolved Administration and legislature. It will mean that decisions and powers sit in the right place and closer to people than ever before. Crucially, the Bill means that our UK businesses and citizens have confidence and certainty that the laws will allow them to live and operate across the UK as we exit the EU.

As the Prime Minister said in January, the historic decision taken by the British people in June last year was not a rejection of the common values and history we share with the EU but a reflection of the desire of British people to control our own laws and ensure that they reflect the country and the people we want to be. The Bill is an essential building block. It lays the foundation for a functioning statute book on the basis of which future policies and laws can be debated and altered. The Bill itself is not the place for those substantive changes to the frameworks we will inherit from the EU—we will have many more opportunities to debate those, both before and after we leave.

I hope that all Members on both sides of the House will recognise that we are acting responsibly in leaving the EU by prioritising, first and foremost, a functioning statute book. In bringing forward the Bill, we are ensuring the smoothest possible exit from the EU—an exit that enables the continued stability of the UK’s legal system and maximises certainty for businesses, consumers and individuals across the UK. As we exit the EU and seek a new deep and special partnership with the EU, the Bill will ensure that we do so with the same standards and rules. In the Bill, we are not rejecting EU law but embracing the work done between member states over 40 years of membership so that we might build on that solid foundation once we return to being masters of our own laws. I hope that everyone in the House recognises the Bill’s essential nature: it is the foundation on which we will legislate for years to come.

We have seen this morning the Opposition’s reasoned amendment. I have just emphasised the critical nature of the Bill. A vote for the Leader of the Opposition’s amendment is a vote against the Bill, a vote for a chaotic exit from the EU. It suggests that the Bill provides a blank cheque to Ministers. That is a fundamental misrepresentation of Parliament and our democratic process. Using the Bill’s powers does not mean avoiding parliamentary scrutiny. Secondary legislation is still subject to parliamentary oversight and well established procedures. In no way does it provide unchecked unilateral powers to the Government.

The Government agree that EU exit cannot, and will not, lead to weaker rights and protections in the UK, as I have just said to hon. Members. We have been clear that we want to ensure that workers’ rights are protected and enhanced as we leave the EU. The Bill provides for existing legislation in this area to be retained. After we leave the EU, it will be for Parliament to determine the proper level of rights protection. On devolution, I have just explained in detail the approach we will take.

Finally, the argument that the Bill undermines any particular approach to the interim or transitional period for the implementation of our new arrangements with the EU is completely wrong. It will provide a clear basis for our negotiations by ensuring continuity and clarity in our laws without prejudicing those ongoing negotiations. Without the Bill, a smooth and orderly exit is impossible. We cannot await the completion of negotiations before ensuring this legal certainty and continuity at the point of our exit. To do so, or to delay or oppose the Bill, would be reckless in the extreme.

I have in the past witnessed the Labour party on European business take the most cynical and unprincipled approach to legislation I have ever seen. It is now attempting to do the same today. The British people will not forgive Labour if its end is to delay or destroy the process by which we leave the EU.