European Union (Withdrawal) Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 2:35 pm on 7th September 2017.

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Photo of Bill Cash Bill Cash Conservative, Stone 2:35 pm, 7th September 2017

In British constitutional history, there are few examples of Bills of such historic significance as this. Since the mid-1980s, I have been arguing for our legislative sovereignty in respect of EU legislation, even under the premiership of Margaret Thatcher, as was seen in my amendment of 12 June 1986. Even then, I was not allowed to debate it, let alone move it. Then we had Maastricht, Nice, Amsterdam and Lisbon. Together with other colleagues—I pay tribute to them all again—we fought a huge battle and here we are now.

Today, at last, we have the withdrawal and repeal Bill, an original draft of which, as my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State knows, I circulated in the House of Commons even before the referendum. It said two very simple things: we need to repeal the European Communities Act 1972 and transpose EU law into UK law when the treaties cease to apply to the United Kingdom under article 50. However, contrary to the reasoned amendment tabled by the official Opposition, this Bill—the Government’s Bill—will emphatically protect and reassert the principle of parliamentary sovereignty precisely because it is an Act of Parliament, or will be if it goes through. It will repeal the European Communities Act, sections 2 and 3 of which asserted the supremacy of EU law over UK law. That is the central point.

Indeed, the referendum Bill itself was authorised by an Act of Parliament, by no less than six to one in the House of Commons, and as my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State pointed out, the article 50 withdrawal Act was another reassertion of sovereignty, which was passed by 498 to 114 votes in this House. All or most Members of the Opposition voted for it. That result was reinforced in the general election, when 86% of the votes for all political parties effectively endorsed the outcome of the referendum. This is democracy and sovereignty merged in its fullest sense and acquiesced in by the official Opposition, who are now putting up a reasoned amendment against endorsing the very decision that they themselves have already not merely participated in but agreed on. We should therefore be deeply disturbed that they should now seek to decline to give this Bill a Second Reading, cynically claiming that they respect the EU referendum result. In fact, their amendment defies belief. As the snail asserts in “Alice in Wonderland”, they

“would not, could not, would not, could not, would not join the dance.”

This is a serious dance. This is not Alice in Wonderland, but a real dance implementing the democratic decision of the British people—the United Kingdom as a whole.

The Opposition’s reasoned amendment fails to comprehend the simplest fact, which is that parliamentary sovereignty is no less embedded in this Bill than in the European Communities Act itself, which, in the very pursuance of parliamentary sovereignty, repealed our then voluntary acceptance under sections 2 and 3 of the 1972 Act. Indeed, Lord Bridge in the Factortame case made the basis of that Act crystal clear even to the point of the House of Lords striking down an Act of Parliament—namely the Merchant Shipping Act 1988—because of its inconsistency with the 1972 Act.

In 1972, therefore, by virtue of the historic invasion of our constitutional arrangements, we acquiesced in the subversion to the European Union of this House—and all without a referendum, which we did have this time when we got the endorsement of the British people under an Act of Parliament passed by six to one in this House.

Furthermore, the 1972 Act absorbed into our jurisprudence not only a vast swath of treaties and laws but the dogmatic assertions made by the European Court of the supremacy of EU law over our constitutional status. I would mention Van Gend en Loos, Handels- gesellschaft and so on—a whole list of cases asserting, through the European Court, EU constitutional primacy over Parliaments, including our Parliament and its sovereignty. That was made even worse by the White Paper that preceded the 1972 Act and pretended—I almost say by deceit—that it would be essential to our national interest to retain the veto and never give it up, because without it the fabric of the European Community would be impaired. The then Government understood what it was all about; they knew that it would destroy the European Union if a restriction was imposed on our ability to veto legislation. Since then, the EU’s competencies have been vastly extended.

As for the Henry VIII procedures in the Bill, I hear what my right hon. Friend Anna Soubry said about what I said in 2013, but I am talking about the EU-specific legal jurisdiction and the context in which we are discussing the subject, which is the 1972 Act. Yes, we could have reservations about elements of Henry VIII procedures, but the biggest power grab of all time in British constitutional history has been the 1972 Act itself. It incorporated all the EU laws made and accumulated from 1956 right through to 1972, and my right hon. and learned Friend Mr Clarke was running around as a young Whip cajoling people to move down the route of subverting our entire history and constitutional arrangements through these new arrangements. They subverted the constitutional supremacy of this House.