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2nd Day

Part of European Union (Withdrawal) Bill – in the House of Commons at 4:53 pm on 11th September 2017.

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Photo of Vicky Ford Vicky Ford Conservative, Chelmsford 4:53 pm, 11th September 2017

In last year’s referendum I and many others warned of the risk of uncertainty. That risk has not gone away, but we can work together to reduce it, which is why the Bill is needed. Businesses need legal certainty to trade, create jobs and generate taxes, and the laws that govern our businesses are important. For the past 40 years or so, many of those laws have been agreed at European level. In my time in the European Parliament, I saw how those laws often cover important areas: consumer rights, copyright, product safety, even counterfeit medicines and data protection.

In my constituency of Chelmsford there are about 2,000 jobs in the insurance sector. The UK is home to the world’s largest insurance market, and we provide insurance for airline crashes, cyber-attacks and even to clear up after the horrific hurricane that is raging across the Atlantic today. Our insurance companies can offset such risks by re-insuring with others in the industry, and the industry is governed by the European regulations. Our companies do not want to scrap their rulebook, and the Bill will enable those rules to be moved into UK law; it will help avoid a legal vacuum, which is important. Many laws cannot be directly copied across; technical changes are needed, and Ministers need the powers to make those technical decisions.

The Bill is not perfect; there are many areas where decisions are not technical and policy decisions will need to be made. In the insurance sector we see that the devil is in the detail. Article 16 of the insurance distribution directive says that European insurers can only redistribute their risk to others that are regulated in the EU. We cannot just cut and paste that into our rulebook, as it would cut us out of our own market. Dealing with such examples is not straightforward; policy decisions are needed, and they could affect real jobs. The companies concerned want to be consulted, as will regulators in other countries, and such decisions deserve proper scrutiny.

Other sectors also have concerns. The Bill exempts the charter of fundamental rights, but the tech sector points out that article 8 of the charter is crucial because it underpins data protection laws, which enable the free flow of data. TheCityUK asks what is happening to the level 2 decisions, which are important in implementing much of our financial services law and many of which will arrive only after the date of exit. The consumer organisation Which? points out that EU directives provide not only consumer protection, but product standards and the networks for sharing information on things such as dangerous toys and dodgy electrical goods. What is to happen to those after Brexit?

It is important that stakeholders can raise their concerns, and significant decisions deserve to be properly debated. The statutory instrument mechanism does not give confidence to stakeholders or future trading partners that issues will be properly scrutinised. Some 3,500 statutory instruments are laid before this House every year, yet only eight have been annulled since world war two. The rest of the world is watching us. As a British Conservative, I have spent years working with Ministers, championing the cause of better regulation; we have told legislators all across the EU that before they change laws they should consult those who will be affected, address the impact and make sure that decisions are not just taken behind closed doors. Now is not the time to drop the ball on that at home, because if we are to get deep trading partnerships with Europe and other parts of the world, we need to retain their trust. Where decisions have an impact on other countries, our future trading partners need to know that we are open to listening to their suggestions.