European Union (Withdrawal) Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 4:24 pm on 7th September 2017.

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Photo of Stephen Timms Stephen Timms Labour, East Ham 4:24 pm, 7th September 2017

I agree with a number of the points that Richard Benyon has just made. George Osborne was right in his headline in the Evening Standard yesterday to describe the effect of the Bill as “rule by decree”. That headline was prompted by an article written by Mr Grieve, and I pay tribute to him for his article and his interventions in this debate. I agree, in particular, that this is

“an astonishing monstrosity of a Bill.”

Unlike him, however, I do not intend to vote in favour of it.

The right hon. and learned Gentleman is right to raise concerns about the explicit intention in the Bill not to put into our law the charter of fundamental rights. My right hon. Friend Yvette Cooper was right to tackle that earlier. Ministers have told us that they do not intend the Bill to dilute employment rights, environmental protections or other things that we have, but there is no assurance at all in the Bill that those dilutions will not go ahead. We need much more reassurance than we have been given.

I want to raise with the House a very practical example of a problem with not putting the charter of fundamental rights into UK law. Article 8 deals with the protection of personal data. It says:

“Everyone has the right to the protection of personal data concerning him or her…
Such data must be processed fairly for specified purposes and on the basis of the consent of the person concerned or some other legitimate basis laid down by law.”

That article underpins data protection law, and it underpins the legal frameworks permitting the free flow of data across European borders. It is absolutely essential that the Government secure an adequacy agreement from the Commission, confirming that data protection in the UK is adequate from a European standpoint, so that UK businesses can continue to exchange personal data with EU countries.

If Ministers do not achieve such an agreement, they will have removed the basis for the lawful operation of countless British businesses. TechUK has pointed out the extent of UK leadership in this field: 11% of global data flows pass through the UK and 75% of that traffic is with the EU. But Ministers will not get an adequacy agreement if this commitment is not contained in UK law. We need article 8, or an equivalent affirmation of the same principles. I see no justification whatever for not taking that article or, indeed, the rest of the charter into UK law.

It is a real mystery to me why Conservative Ministers have become so impervious to the basic needs of British businesses in their handling of Brexit. My right hon. and learned Friend Keir Starmer was absolutely right to point out in his response to the Secretary of State at the start of the debate that we have to stay in the single market and customs union for at least the duration of the transition phase. On taking office, the Secretary of State told us that his negotiation would secure “barrier-free access” for UK businesses and consumers to the EU single market. He does not say that any more.

The Under-Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union, Mr Baker, who is in his place on the Front Bench, said at Brexit questions earlier today that we will have the “minimum of frictions” in our trade with the European Union. The reality is that we need barrier-free access. We need access to the single market for UK businesses and consumers that does not involve tariffs or non-tariff barriers, and the only way that we will get that before the conclusion of the negotiations is if we stay in the single market and in the customs union. I very much regret that Ministers have rejected that idea—the Secretary of State told us that they did think about it—and I think that that is one of the reasons why we need to reject the Bill.