European Union (Withdrawal) Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 3:47 pm on 7th September 2017.

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Photo of Owen Paterson Owen Paterson Conservative, North Shropshire 3:47 pm, 7th September 2017

I join Mr Howarth in congratulating Rosie Duffield on her excellent maiden speech. We were all thoroughly in tune with her on the abuse she has suffered and I hope she will work with other Members on that. She paid a generous tribute to her predecessor, Sir Julian Brazier, who was a fine parliamentarian for many years.

Some 17.4 million people voted in the referendum to leave the European Union and 16 million voted to remain. Polls show clearly that a large percentage of the 16 million now want us to get on with it. If we do not, catastrophic damage will be done to confidence in the integrity of all of us and the UK political establishment. We must progress taking back control to our democratic institutions of our laws, borders and money. In February, 494 Members voted to trigger article 50, and we will exit at midnight on 29 March 2019. What we are debating today is a crucial stage in that process, because article 50 states:

“Any Member State may decide to withdraw from the Union in accordance with its own constitutional requirements.”

That requires us to repeal the European Communities Act 1972—good riddance to it; we will be a better country without that Act.

Today, we have seen a strange mixture of “Project Fear” morphing into “Project Humbug”. I had the pleasure and honour of serving as a junior member on the European Scrutiny Committee for several years. I clearly recall being shocked by the piles of papers imposing burdens on our citizens, which we could not debate or amend. One day, a couple of Labour members were ill and a Lib Dem member got stuck in the lift, so we were able to vote for a most pernicious measure affecting the dairy industry in my constituency to be debated on the Floor of this House. We could not have amended it, but we could at least have debated it. However, the then Leader of the House, Margaret Beckett, stood up in business questions and cancelled the debate. All that will stop; from now on, we will have the power to debate these measures. We will not impose law on our benighted citizens that we have not debated.

There is all this talk about “Project Fear”. As a founder member of Vote Leave—I was one of the first three MPs to join—I remember discussing changes to employment rights with the hon. Members for Vauxhall (Kate Hoey), who is in her place, and for Bassetlaw (John Mann). I reassured them that at absolutely no stage had any Tory Member considered changing employment rights. I cannot remember any discussion, private or public, where it was raised. It is pure “Project Fear”. Employment rights will be brought back into the control of democratically elected politicians in this House.

I thought the Opposition spokesman, Keir Starmer, made a very interesting argument, taking the very worst case. I hope that the Government will listen to concerns about how some of the so-called Henry VIII clauses might be amended. I suggest that clause 7(7) brings in a sunset clause of two years. I think more judicious use of sunset clauses might be valid, but we must press on, because we need a smooth transfer of power. According to EUR-Lex, 3,055 agriculture measures may need transposing. In fisheries, one of my previous responsibilities, there are 786 measures. In total, there are 20,319 measures. Businesses need smooth continuity.

Some years ago I looked at the history, having had a private Member’s Bill on the disapplication of EU law, the European Communities Act 1972 (Disapplication) Bill, and there are many historical precedents. The colonies of Virginia, Delaware, Pennsylvania, New York, North Carolina and Massachusetts all took the then English and Welsh common law into their corpus of law. When Australia and New Zealand left our jurisdiction, they also did that. Interestingly, India did exactly the same in 1947, and it is still amending its law. Only in 2016 did it pass an Act amending 90 Raj-era Acts, including the Elephants Preservation Act 1879.

What we are doing is setting up a continuous process, and Labour’s position is wholly ludicrous. Some 162 Labour Members voted for article 50. Labour’s manifesto said:

“Labour accepts the referendum result.”

That manifesto also said that Labour wanted to leave the internal market and the customs union. The Labour leader has to be the most contumacious leader of any party.