It is a pleasure to follow Sir Edward Leigh and his constructive and positive contribution.
There is no doubt that Brexit poses a great number of challenges to the Government and to MPs of all parties, not least the challenge of replacing European Union laws and jurisdiction with equivalent UK laws and regulations under UK jurisdiction. That is the purpose of the Bill. It is not really a repeal Bill; rather it is the “great adoption” Bill, as it incorporates a huge swathe of EU laws that the UK signed up to into UK law. That is needed so that there will be a legal basis for a whole range of economic, environmental and social activity on the day after we leave the EU in March 2019. For that reason, I do not regard the Bill as hugely controversial—it would be different if it were to abolish workers’ rights, abandon paid holidays and end pollution controls, but it does not. However, it is undoubtedly the case that the Bill needs amending for many of the reasons outlined by my right hon. and learned Friend Keir Starmer.
First, on the Henry VIII clauses, transferring all EU laws and regulations into UK law is an unenviable task. It would also be impossible to put every change or updated regulation before Parliament as primary legislation. This House, as we know, passes many statutory instruments, but in this case the Government need to back a mechanism for providing a filter to separate the routine, or the modest, from the more important changes that Governments may wish to make in the coming years. If a mechanism—a scrutiny Committee, for example—could provide a path for Members by ensuring that important measures would be brought before the House for debate and a vote, the Government could remove any suspicion that they seek a ministerial power grab.
Secondly, the Government should be open to suggestions about how they can guarantee redress for individuals who feel that their transferred rights are not met by companies or government. Clarification about the provision of redress would, again, remove suspicion during the process.
The truth is that whomever was in government would have to pass a Bill of this kind to prepare for leaving the EU in March 2019. There can be little disagreement about that, unless the ambition is to thwart the result of the EU referendum and to prevent or delay the UK leaving the EU. I believe that Labour’s job is to improve the Bill by amending it, not to kill the Bill at the beginning of its passage through Parliament. Labour’s reasoned amendment
“declines to give a Second Reading to the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill”.
If that amendment is successful, it will kill the Bill. According to the Public Bill Office, if this Bill is defeated today, a new Bill would have to be introduced in a new Session, or the measure would need to reintroduced in a sufficiently different form as to not fall foul of the same-question rule. Either way we look at it, defeat for the Bill implies a substantial delay in transferring EU law into UK law, thereby increasing the uncertainties while the Brexit clock ticks towards midnight.
I voted and campaigned for the UK to remain—not in a metropolitan city or university town, but in a seat where I knew a leave vote was the likely outcome. I invite colleagues who were not campaigning in such seats to visit mine. Since the result, I have argued that leave and remain supporters should bury our differences and get on with it. Complex issues such as trade will require more time, hence the need for a transitional period of minimum change while future arrangements are put in place. Some leavers say, “We don’t need any transitional plans,” while some remainers say, “Any deal must be worse than staying in.” To them I say this: life post-Brexit is not a choice between nirvana and a living hell. Some changes will be better and some will be worse, and much will pass unnoticed. We either work to make the best of it, or simply damn it for not being perfect. This calls for honest endeavour and compromise on all sides.
Whatever side of the debate Members fall on, if they honestly accept the will of the British people, they are honour bound to see this through and make the best of it. Some suggest that the general election on
“When Britain leaves the European Union—I will work for a deal that works for Doncaster. That means easy trade, protecting workers’
rights and tough immigration controls with strong borders”.
“I don’t support a second referendum. We need to bring people together, whether they voted Leave or Remain and make a success of Brexit.”
I repeat those words today because I have no intention of breaking my word to the voters who have returned me to this House on six occasions.
I hope that Ministers will listen to concerns about the Bill. Their lack of openness, collaboration and foresight to produce a better Bill has not helped. To the Government I say: treat Parliament with respect and be open to constructive suggestions to improve the Bill. I will work with others to improve the Bill, but tonight I cannot vote to block it; I shall be abstaining to allow it to be further discussed and amended. We have a job to do to ensure a smooth, orderly Brexit—for the British people, for British businesses, and for our continuing friendship and partnership with the EU.