European Union (Withdrawal) Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 3:53 pm on 7th September 2017.

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Photo of Chris Leslie Chris Leslie Labour/Co-operative, Nottingham East 3:53 pm, 7th September 2017

Mr Paterson talks about promises made, but I think we all remember the promises made by those campaigning to vote leave in the referendum, resulting in the Bill we have before us. They promised £350 million a week for the national health service, and I am still waiting to see that clause in the Bill. The Secretary of State for International Trade said that it would be the easiest thing in the world for us to have all these fantastic trade deals and that by now we would be halfway towards trade deals 10 times the size of the European Union. And yes, as Mr Paterson helpfully repeated, they promised that if we held that referendum and got that result, we could take back control. Well, here we are, with this Bill before us, and it is indeed the case that some are taking back control, but it is not Parliament; it is the Prime Minister and the Executive—those on the Crown payroll.

As my right hon. Friend Yvette Cooper said earlier, it is unacceptable with respect to the British constitution that we should be asked almost to create one of the most supine Parliaments that has existed around the world, as we are in the shape of the provisions set out in the Bill, particularly clauses 9 and 17, which will gift such wide-ranging powers to Ministers. As I indicated when the Secretary of State opened the debate, it is all very well for Ministers to promise, “Don’t worry, I give you an undertaking that we won’t misuse this power in this particular way. Just because it says that we can take any order-making power if we deem it appropriate, we won’t abuse it in any way,” and it is all very well that the legislation says the Government will use the super order-making power, which will allow them to make an order for a month without reference to Parliament even through a negative statutory instrument, only if it is urgent, but that definition is entirely in the hands of Ministers, and of course Ministers are here today, gone tomorrow.

Ministers can come and they can go. Members from all parties need to imagine their worst-possible scenario for who could be Prime Minister. Stranger things have happened. They should think about whether they want to vest in the hands of that individual—he or she—those massive and sweeping powers, perhaps for a prolonged period. It is true that clause 9 says there might be a two-year limit for some of these powers, but of course that clause will allow a Minister to reform this Bill itself when it is an Act. The Minister can simply say, “Two years—no, I have changed my mind, let’s go for three. Let’s go for five years.” It is a completely ridiculous open-ended measure.

We will not have much time to debate the Bill. We have a ridiculous programme motion that gives only eight days for scrutiny in Committee. The Bill gives carte blanche in so many ways. By the way, the Ways and Means and money resolutions on which we will vote on Monday grant powers for “any expenditure” under the withdrawal agreement, possibly including that £30 billion, £40 billion or £50 billion—who knows?—divorce alimony settlement. It is ridiculous that Parliament would take away its own powers in this way. We have to be able to see the withdrawal agreement and the seven pieces of Brexit legislation before we hand to Ministers such sweeping order-making powers.

The Bill is not just about process and processology in this place. I sometimes wonder whether the public look at us and think, “Why are you officiously checking the air pressure on the tyres before you get in a vehicle and drive it over the cliff edge?” The debate is very much about whether Britain leaves or stays in the single market, because the Bill will delete the European Economic Area Act 1993. It is very much about whether we have a good free trade arrangement without tariffs and customs barriers, because the Bill will take away many of the arrangements we have for a common commercial alliance with our European partners. It is about jobs, business and austerity, because the Treasury needs the revenues from a decent economy to pay for public services. That is what we are fighting for, so the Bill needs to be opposed.