European Union (Withdrawal) Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 2:48 pm on 7th September 2017.

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Photo of Kate Hoey Kate Hoey Labour, Vauxhall 2:48 pm, 7th September 2017

It is a pleasure to follow Sir William Cash, who has spent more time scrutinising EU legislation and directives than all of us. I am pleased to have been a member of the European Scrutiny Committee for some years now, although we have often felt very alone. We have been up in the Committee Rooms going through documents after documents, realising that we could change very little. The public watching us today will see all this interest. They will look at the time we are spending discussing intense scrutiny and worrying about Henry VIII clauses and statutory instruments, and they may well think, “If only a quarter of that time had been spent by Parliament examining some of the thousands of EU directives and regulations that have simply been imposed on the country.” We have had very little say. As the hon. Member for Stone said, much of what happened in the European Union was behind closed doors. As just one of 28 countries, we were always being outvoted. We had to take those decisions on board many times without being able to change them.

There is genuine concern among many of my colleagues and some Conservative Members about the scrutiny process, including the use of some Henry VIII clauses and statutory instruments. I agree very much with Mr Duncan Smith that there are mechanisms by which we could bring people together. One problem is that those of us who voted to leave and were pleased with the result genuinely feel that, although a lot of people are saying, “Oh yes, we accept the result of the referendum”, they are doing every little bit of work they can behind the scenes not necessarily to prevent us from leaving, but to make it as difficult and tedious as possible. They want the public to think, “Oh dear. Have we done the right thing?” That comes through from the media and all the people who were strongly in the remain camp, and it does a disservice to our country because, when we are negotiating with the EU, we need to show that both this country and this Parliament are united.

Whatever happens and whatever people in my party say, we will be leaving in March 2019. We want to leave in a way that will maximise certainty and confidence in business. We want to maximise the confidence of the people, many of whom voted remain but who have now decided that they want to get on with it and are saying, “Let’s just do it.” Let us speak up for all the positive things that are happening. We should now recognise that all the dire warnings about the things that would go wrong were, in fact, wrong themselves. We need to be as positive as possible.

I look back on the last Labour Government in which many current Members of Parliament served. In that time, we actually doubled the number of statutory instruments to introduce new laws, so Labour Members are being a little hypocritical. I know there are people in the Labour party who are genuinely so upset that we are leaving the EU, but we should be putting the country’s interests first at this time. We should be deciding that we want to work with the Government, which means that the Government also need to want to work with us. That requires a positive attitude from the Opposition Front Bench. I have been pleased to say that there have been positive attitudes over the past few months, but I now worry about us going against the principle by voting against Second Reading. No matter whether some people genuinely feel that it is the right thing to do, it will be seen by Labour voters in the public—many of whom came back and voted for us, having fraternised with the UK Independence party for some time—as though we are not really serious about leaving the European Union.

I am very disappointed that we will not be supporting the Bill on Monday night. During the course of the debate, I hope that some of my colleagues will actually feel that they should support the Bill, even if they are going to support the reasoned amendment because this Second Reading is the principle. We can then probe with our amendments and new clauses some of the problems—undoubtedly, there are some—with the scrutiny process.

Michel Barnier goes on about the clock ticking, and many people have mentioned that today. It is ticking. But it is actually ticking for the European Union just as much as it is ticking for us in the United Kingdom. It now seems that the only thing at the top of the European Union negotiators’ minds at this moment is money. That is not necessarily true of the individual countries. Over the next few months, I think we will see changes in some European Union countries that really want to get a good deal with us because they know it is in their interests. But the European Union negotiators know how much they will miss our money, and that tells us something about what the European Union has been all about. They want to keep our money coming in for as long as possible. I will accept any kind of transition period only if we stop paying any more money from day one that we leave the EU. That is not to say that there might not be some really legal things, but I would like to see the detail—I would like the European Union to come up with every dot and comma of why it thinks we should pay something back. We need to be clear that we are not going to pay anything more after we leave the European Union.