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2nd Day

Part of European Union (Withdrawal) Bill – in the House of Commons at 5:38 pm on 11th September 2017.

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Photo of Conor Burns Conor Burns Conservative, Bournemouth West 5:38 pm, 11th September 2017

We are here today debating this Bill as a direct consequence of the free vote of the British people in the referendum last year, when they gave us their explicit instruction that we were to withdraw the United Kingdom from the European Union. There was an extraordinary article in The Mail on Sunday yesterday by a Member of the other place, who said the Government were rushing this decision because they were afraid that the people would get their hands on the decision, but it is because the people did get their hands on the decision and decided to leave that we are here today.

Many of us who campaigned in the referendum to leave did not do so out of any sense of flippancy. I came to the conclusion over a long period. I came to it disappointed, after decades of listening to successive Governments and Prime Ministers talking about how we were going to reform the European Union from the inside, with subsidiarity and all the rest of it. That body gradually acquired all the attributes of statehood and citizenship: a flag, an anthem, a currency, a Parliament and a supreme court. For me, it became the antithesis of what an independent nation state was all about. Those of us who campaigned to leave were clear in our objectives: we wanted to make our own laws in this country; we wanted to sign our own trade deals; and we wanted to end the massive payments to the European Union and decide our own immigration policy.

That is what the Bill sets us on the road to do. Clause 1 makes it clear that the European Communities Act will cease to apply on the day we leave the European Union, and it provides that, the day after exit, the House and our courts will be supreme in making the decisions that affect us in this country. It is the mechanism to transpose the body of law under which we live, much of which emanated from the European Union over a period of almost 45 years, into United Kingdom law. It rightly makes little mention of some of the fundamental things that affect us as a country. Correctly and properly, the Government have committed to introduce legislation on the Floor of the House on some of the big matters. Bills that will be put before Parliament include a customs Bill, a trade Bill, an immigration Bill, a fisheries Bill, an agriculture Bill, a nuclear safeguards Bill, and an international sanctions Bill, all of which were announced in the Gracious Speech after the general election this year.

The Bill also puts specific limits on the powers that are laid down. The Government cannot make regulations to impose or increase taxation; to make retrospective provisions; to create relevant criminal offences; or to make regulations to implement the withdrawal agreement. Crucially, there is a sunset clause, so that two years after we leave the European Union the measure will cease to apply. I will be 45 in two weeks’ time. Her Majesty gave Royal Assent to the European Union Communities Act 1972 just a month after I was born. Although I gained political awareness reasonably early, I have not been politically aware throughout that entire period of nearly 45 years. I do not recall, in the period in which I was politically aware, great complaints emanating from every part of the House about the constant stream of legislation from the European Union that was implemented unscrutinised and which we had to obey.

The Government are putting that sunset clause in place. I am sorry that Mr McFadden said that there was confusion among Government Members, and a difference of opinion about our policy on leaving the European Union. He could easily, and perhaps more effectively, direct that at his own Front-Bench team. The shadow Home Secretary supports free movement. The Leader of the Opposition and the shadow Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union say that it must end. The deputy leader of the Labour party says that we would stay in the single market forever. The shadow Chancellor says that we should leave the single market to respect the referendum. The shadow Secretary of State for International Trade has said that staying in the customs union would be a disaster; the shadow Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union supports the UK staying in a customs union; while the deputy leader of the Labour party says that we could stay in the customs union indefinitely. One could be forgiven for thinking that Opposition Front-Bench spokespeople are getting their inspiration from Heinz, with 57 varieties of Brexit on offer. While the Government have introduced a sunset clause in the Bill to make sure that its provisions cannot last for more two years, Labour policy on Brexit can barely last two days. If it lasts two weeks it appears to be a long-term policy indeed.

Before the general election, the House voted overwhelmingly in favour of the European Union (Notification of Withdrawal) Bill. Tonight, it should do the same on Second Reading of the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill. In the words of one of my more succinct correspondents, who wrote to me yesterday and urged me to tell the House:

“For goodness’
sake just get on with it”.