Let me start by giving some context to this EU withdrawal Bill. Just a few months ago, the Prime Minister went to the country. What was the purpose of going to the country? It was because she wanted a bigger mandate, given the ups and downs to come over Brexit. Let us remind the Government what happened in that election. Did they win? Did they increase their majority? No, they did not. They lost seats and their majority went. With this Bill—and, indeed, tomorrow’s proposed Committee changes—we have a Government believing they have a mandate to act as though they had won the election and their views had been endorsed by the British people.
A Government who were offering true leadership to the country would now be saying, “We recognise the closeness of the referendum and we will respect the result, but our country, which we seek to govern, is divided. Our people are divided”—we heard some of that just before I spoke. A Government showing true leadership would seek to bring the country together and say to people, “We have to find a way through.” But what has the Government’s starting point been for this? Their starting point has been, “How do we get this EU withdrawal Bill through Parliament, given that we don’t have a majority?” We now see this Bill constituted in the way that is, with respect to SIs and the grabbing of power.
Let me be clear: my constituency voted to leave—I respect that—but what my constituents did not vote for was leaving at any cost to jobs, business, workers’ rights, the environment, welfare or the unity of our country. I have absolutely no problem going back and arguing to my constituents that, yes, I respect what people said and how they voted, but also saying, “I cannot, as your representative, stand up in this Parliament and say that what is on offer from the Government in this EU withdrawal Bill will be of benefit to you and your family.” This is not about trying to ignore the will of the people; it is about trying to give expression to it in a way that works—not to block Brexit, but to get the best for it.
We have only limited time today, and some of these further debates will obviously happen in Committee, but let me just say one thing to the Government. We have heard calls for amendments but, in many respects, the whole Bill needs to be rewritten. Clauses 7, 8, 9 and 17 give the Government huge powers. Indeed—this is absolutely astonishing, and I have never seen it, although a constitutional expert would no doubt tell me that it has happened before—the Government are giving themselves secondary legislative powers not only to deal with many of the things that may arise, but to modify the primary legislation itself. This legislation could be modified by a Government-stacked Committee on the basis that it was not working. It is unheard of; it is an affront to our democracy and to the way this Parliament works. It is not what people who voted leave voted for, and nor is it something I believe the people of this country would want to see.
Ministers should not take my word for it. In its interim report, the House of Lords Constitution Committee absolutely lambasted the Government for using its original report to say that the Committee supported the Government’s use of statutory instruments. Let me read the summary conclusion of the interim report, which was published on
“Overall, we conclude that the Bill is highly complex and convoluted in its drafting and structure. This is not to deny that it must inevitably grapple with a set of difficult legal issues. But it is a source of considerable regret that the Bill is drafted in a way that renders scrutiny very difficult, and that multiple and fundamental constitutional questions are left unanswered. We will consider all of these issues in greater detail in our forthcoming inquiry on the Bill.”
What an absolute lambasting and castigation of the Government’s position by a cross-Bench, cross-party House of Lords Select Committee. Ministers will have to respond to that report by actually taking account of it.
I will finish where I started: a Government showing true leadership would seek to bring the people together, would seek to bring this Parliament together and would seek to bring the country together. Instead, we have a Government who are dividing everyone.