European Union (Withdrawal) Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 1:05 pm on 7th September 2017.

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Photo of Keir Starmer Keir Starmer Shadow Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union 1:05 pm, 7th September 2017

I beg to move, to leave out from ‘That’
to the end of the Question and add ‘this House respects the EU referendum result and recognises that the UK will leave the EU, believes that insisting on proper scrutiny of this Bill and its proposed powers is the responsibility of this sovereign Parliament, recognises the need for considered and effective legislation to preserve EU-derived rights, protections and regulations in UK law as the UK leaves the EU but declines to give a Second Reading to the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill because the Bill fails to protect and reassert the principle of Parliamentary sovereignty by handing sweeping powers to Government Ministers allowing them to bypass Parliament on key decisions, without any meaningful or guaranteed Parliamentary scrutiny, fails to include a presumption of devolution which would allow effective transfer of devolved competencies coming back from the EU to the devolved administrations and makes unnecessary and unjustified alterations to the devolution settlements, fails to provide certainty that rights and protections will be enforced as effectively in the future as they are at present, risks weakening human rights protections by failing to transpose the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights into UK law, provides no mechanism for ensuring that the UK does not lag behind the EU in workplace protections and environmental standards in the future and prevents the UK implementing strong transitional arrangements on the same basic terms we currently enjoy, including remaining within a customs union and within the Single Market.’.

The Secretary of State is keen to portray the Bill as a technical exercise converting EU law into our own law without raising any serious constitutional issues about the role of Parliament. Nothing could be further from the truth.

I will start with clause 9. As the Secretary of State and the Prime Minister know, the article 50 negotiations are among the most difficult and significant in recent history. Under article 50, the agreement will cover all the withdrawal arrangements and take account of the future relationship between the UK and the EU—a backwards look and a forwards look on something that might last for decades. We know that phase 1 will have to cover EU citizens, Northern Ireland, UK citizens in the Europe and the money, and that phase 2 will cover security, cross-border crime, civil justice, enforcement of judgments, fisheries, farming, Gibraltar—you name it, we hope it will be in the article 50 agreement. We want it to succeed; we need an agreement. It will also include our future trading arrangements—hugely important—including any transitional arrangements, if there are any, and much more.

Arguably, the arrangements will extend to every facet of national life—not my words, but I will come back to them. The article 50 agreement will be voted on, but it will then have to be implemented. It is a colossal task likely to involve a host of policy choices and to require widespread changes to our law—on any view. So how will that be done? Enter clause 9:

“A Minister of the Crown may by regulations make such provision as the Minister considers appropriate for the purposes of implementing the withdrawal agreement if the Minister considers that such provisions should be in force on or before exit day.”

It is very likely to have to be in force before exit day, because otherwise there will be a gap, so that means the whole of the agreement, including transitional measures, being implemented under clause 9. It cannot be implemented after exit day, otherwise there will be a gap.

Let us be clear about how widely clause 9 is drawn. We have had some discussion about Henry VIII. Subsection (2) states:

“Regulations under this section may make any provision that could be made by an Act of Parliament”— it is a true Henry VIII clause; it can modify Acts of Parliament

“(including modifying this Act).”

The delegated legislation can amend the primary Act itself. That is as wide as any provision I have ever seen.

What are the limits and safeguards? Under clause 9(3), the regulations may not impose taxation, make retrospective provisions—they are usually a very bad idea—create a criminal offence or amend the Human Rights Act. Everything else is on limits under clause 9.