European Union (Withdrawal) Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 3:58 pm on 7th September 2017.

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Photo of Dominic Grieve Dominic Grieve Conservative, Beaconsfield 3:58 pm, 7th September 2017

First, I congratulate Rosie Duffield on her maiden speech, which I greatly enjoyed. Canterbury is a city I know well: it is where I spent many of my early years at the Bar, cutting my teeth as an advocate. I hope I can remind myself of some of the lessons I learned there in contributing briefly to this debate.

I shall support the Government in the vote on Second Reading. The Bill is vital: we cannot leave the European Union sensibly without such a Bill on the statute book. The Government need support, and they will have it from me. Nevertheless, I regret to have to say to my right hon. and hon. Friends that unless the Bill is substantially improved in Committee, I will be in no position to support it in its current form on Third Reading.

In many respects, it is an astonishing monstrosity of a Bill. Its first failing is its entreatment of EU law itself. I do not much care for EU law—I did not much enjoy practising it, although I had outings to the European Court of Justice when I was Attorney General—but it is a different form of law from our own, which we imported, and which, in many ways, has filled vast areas that otherwise we would have developed in our own domestic law. So we need to nurture it, because we cannot get rid of it overnight without leaving enormous gaps. In addition, there are safeguards within EU law that do not exist within our law and need to be retained, because otherwise EU law will act unfairly. Again, they are different from our own.

I have a number of areas of concern. The Bill does not deliver clarity. Its importation of EU law is hedged around with ambiguities that undermine one of the key pillars of the rule of law, which is certainty about what the law is. One example is given by my right hon. Friend Sir Oliver Letwin, but there are numerous others. For example, Clause 2(1) is so widely drawn that retained EU law will include domestic law that was implemented entirely domestically but has a link to the EU. That would then make something like the Equality Act 2010 susceptible to change by statutory instrument in clause 7—something which I suspect everybody in this House would regard as completely unacceptable.