European Union (Withdrawal) Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 2:23 pm on 7th September 2017.

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Photo of Hilary Benn Hilary Benn Chair, Committee on Exiting the European Union 2:23 pm, 7th September 2017

That would be one possibility. I hope that the Government will listen to all these suggestions and come forward with a proposal. I welcome what the Secretary of State said in response to my point about the relationship between Parliament voting on the withdrawal agreement and the exercise of the powers under clause 9. He was kind enough to say it was a logical point, so will he reflect on putting it in the Bill?

On how EU principles will be incorporated into our law and interpreted, I agree absolutely with the point made by my right hon. and learned Friend Keir Starmer about the charter of fundamental rights: it needs to be brought across into our law not least because, as we have heard, the Secretary of State relied on it in the case that he brought. The same argument applies to the environmental principles that were set out in the Lisbon treaty. If Members look at the explanatory memorandum, they will see that it has an illustrative list of directly effective rights that derive from EU treaties that the Government say they intend to bring across under clause 4. However, it does not include the provisions of article 191 of the Lisbon treaty, which cover environmental principles and protection, and that will need to be remedied.

Finally, I want to turn to the state of the negotiations, which will have a huge impact on the way in which the Bill is used. The Secretary of State told Andrew Marr last Sunday that this is

“the most complex negotiation probably ever, but certainly in modern times.”

He is of course right, which raises the question: why do ministers, I am sorry to say, still pretend that a comprehensive relationship can now be negotiated in the 10 and a half months that now remain. Here we are, 15 months after the referendum and six months on from the triggering of article 50, and, as we know from the Secretary of State’s statement on Tuesday, the Government have not yet sorted out the money, citizens’ rights or Northern Ireland.

Michel Barnier has been absolutely clear that the negotiations must be completed in 10 and a bit months’ time, so that everyone involved can look at the deal. We have to take a view, as do other bodies such as the European Parliament and the Council of Ministers. The Government must now have realised that it was never going to be possible to negotiate a special bespoke deal that will cover all the issues that need to be addressed. Given that there will inevitably be many outstanding issues come the end of the talks in October 2018, and given that leaving without a deal would mean falling off a cliff edge, with all the disastrous consequences for the British economy, surely it is now plain that we must have transitional arrangements and that they will have to involve staying in the customs union and the single market for a period if we want to avoid the kind of disruption that businesses have repeatedly warned the Government about.

I realise that this self-evident truth will come as a shock and a bitter disappointment to some people. I do not know how Ministers will break it to them—presumably, gently bit by bit—but it will have to happen because only by doing this will we as a nation have the chance and the time to negotiate a comprehensive free trade and market access agreement that our businesses want and on which our economic future depends.