2nd Day

Part of European Union (Withdrawal) Bill – in the House of Commons at 7:15 pm on 11th September 2017.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Daniel Zeichner Daniel Zeichner Labour, Cambridge 7:15 pm, 11th September 2017

I will vote against the Bill tonight, for the slightly quaint reason that that is what I told my constituents I would do back in June —that is partly why I have been sent here—and for other reasons, some of which we have heard from Members on both sides of the House. Richard Graham mentioned the House of Lords Constitution Committee. Coming from Cambridge, I had the privilege on Friday of spending an hour talking to the highly respected Professor Mark Elliott, who advises that Committee. He said:

“The fact that the central aim of the Bill—that is preserving EU law post exit—is a necessary one does not place the Bill beyond criticism.”

He went on:

“The Bill in its present form is profoundly problematic in legal and constitutional terms. It is an affront to parliamentary sovereignty. It eviscerates the separation of powers principle and it risks destabilising the UK’s increasingly fragile territorial constitution.”

He says an “affront to parliamentary sovereignty”, but what does he know? He is just the leading expert on the issue.

I will also vote against the Bill for another reason, which has not been stated loudly enough in this debate, except by my right hon. Friend Mr Lammy. It is increasingly said in parts of the country that we should not withdraw from the European Union at all, because it is not in our national interest to do so. I fully understand that opprobrium will probably be heaped on me for saying that, but, actually, I am only stating the obvious. As the farcical non-negotiations continue to fail to proceed, it is clearer and clearer that the most likely outcome is a last-minute fudge that will satisfy no one. It is also clear that, at the end, the choices open to us must include the possibility that all the alternatives on offer are worse than staying in, and that is putting it at its most negative. We should negotiate on the key issue that we all know is at the heart of this, which is migration, and securing the changes that would satisfy the concerns of many who voted leave, without doing the undoubted economic damage that we risk by continuing on this path.

To those who say that the decision was made more than a year ago, I say that the world has changed. As my right hon. Friend Margaret Beckett and my hon. Friend Albert Owen so powerfully said, we have all been through a general election. The Prime Minister went to the country, demanding a mandate, and we know what happened—she did not get it.

The wider world has changed as well. A year ago, it could have been plausibly argued that we could negotiate reliable, mutually beneficial trade deals with the United States in a way that now seems wholly unlikely when that country is governed by such an unpredictable and difficult President. In the rest of the world, we see China becoming more authoritarian, Russia hardly more helpful and North Korea a real threat. In a world that seems so increasingly volatile, whom should we look to in times of need? Our wisest option would be our European neighbours, who increasingly look like the most sensible major players. What a foolish path to be embarking on in such dangerous times.

I will not support the Bill, but I would like to make one comment about one of the more detailed provisions that profoundly concerns me. On Thursday, my right hon. Friend Stephen Timms explained very eloquently the danger of leaving the charter of fundamental rights. In particular, he mentioned the consequences of not including the clause relating to the protection of personal data. As he rightly said, there is a danger that we will struggle to achieve a data adequacy agreement, which in turn would have severe consequences for UK businesses and data users. Vicky Ford, speaking from the Government Benches, made a similar point this afternoon. But it goes further than that, because securing an adequacy agreement depends not just on the ability to use article 8, but on the perception on the part of our neighbours that the UK is not prepared to diminish data privacy, because in the end this will be a political decision, and it will give others the opportunity to say that we are weakening our position, making it easier for them to deny us that vital adequacy agreement.

That is one of the many detailed points that could be made. I fear that we are in danger of sleepwalking into a calamity. Our task as Members of this Parliament is to look into our consciences and reflect on the best way forward for our country. I suspect that there are many in this Chamber who will vote for the Bill tonight who know in their heart of hearts that we are on the wrong path. Let us try and find a way back.