European Union (Withdrawal) Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 3:09 pm on 7th September 2017.

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Photo of Yvette Cooper Yvette Cooper Chair, Home Affairs Committee 3:09 pm, 7th September 2017

I am not comfortable with the right hon. Gentleman’s enthusiasm for giving the Government blank cheques. Even if he is happy to support the Government and let them do whatever they want on the negotiations, he should be deeply uneasy about giving Ministers unrestricted powers to implement the withdrawal agreement in whatever way they so choose.

The Prime Minister has no mandate to do it this way. To be fair, she asked for one—that is what the election was all about; it was about subverting the Cabinet, her party and this Parliament—but she did not get one. In fact, the Conservative party lost seats. We now have a hung Parliament, and it would be even more irresponsible for a hung Parliament to hand over such huge powers to the Executive than it would be in any other circumstances.

We do not need to legislate like this. This is about more than just Brexit. It is about the precedents we set. Many hon. Members have quoted precedents about different kinds of secondary legislation, but that only strengthens the argument: we should not be setting a precedent in Parliament that hands this stonking great lump of powers into Ministers’ hands without any safeguards. This is about who we are. It is about what kind of democracy Britain should be.

Even before the Brexit legislation, the former Lord Chief Justice warned about the steady diminishing of Parliament, about the handing over of power and control, year after year, to the Executive—to be fair, that includes previous Governments, not just this one—and about the number of statutory instruments and the fact that since 1950 Parliament has said no to only one in 10,000 of those laid before it.

Henry VIII’s Parliament had an excuse. The man had a habit of chopping off people’s heads. What is the excuse for this Parliament? How can we possibly, in this generation, allow ourselves to become the most supine Parliament in history by handing over powers on this scale? We sit in the Chamber and listen to maiden speeches with great respect because we all still think that there is something special about being sent here by our constituents—sent with the power of democracy; sent on the wings of all those many thousands of ballot papers folded up with the crosses by our names. We think that we have a responsibility to hold the Executive to account, and not to hand over to Ministers, in an unrestricted way, all the power given to us by our constituents to do what they like with. Yet that is what the Bill is doing.

History will judge us for the decisions that we make now, for the precedents that we set and the choices that we make. Six months ago, I voted for article 50 because I believe in democracy, but now it is that same faith in democracy that means I cannot vote for the Bill. Let us not choose to be the most supine Parliament in history. Let us be the parliamentary generation that stands up for Parliament: the generation that pursues the article 50 process, but does so in a way that holds Ministers to account.