2nd Day

Part of European Union (Withdrawal) Bill – in the House of Commons at 8:28 pm on 11th September 2017.

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Photo of Geraint Davies Geraint Davies Labour/Co-operative, Swansea West 8:28 pm, 11th September 2017

I am pleased to follow Luke Graham, who knows that people who voted for Brexit did so for a number of reasons. Some of them wanted, and expected, more money, which they were promised—£350 million a week—but now they face a debt of something like £50 billion. Some of them voted leave because they thought that they would still have a job, as we would have access to the single market, but now we know that we will not have unfettered access. Some of them voted for Brexit fundamentally because they thought that we would take back control with enhanced parliamentary democracy and with enhancement and supremacy of our courts.

The Bill does the opposite of what people expected for parliamentary democracy and the enhancement of our courts. What have been referred to as Henry VIII powers—new powers given to Ministers to change legislation as they deem appropriate, without consultation or reference to Parliament—mean that there will be fundamental changes without MPs having a look-in. Moreover, the legislation is drafted so broadly that it does not allow the courts effectively to use the right of judicial appeal to limit and constrain Government. There are no mechanisms to enforce the rights and protections we currently enjoy from Europe.

In practice, this may influence workers’ rights. The workers’ agency directive, which was pooh-poohed by the Government and the Beecroft report, is likely to be ruled out. On the environment, where 80% of the law is decided at EU level, the Government are currently in court under EU legislation in relation to the air quality directive and face fines if they do not fulfil their obligations. Under clause 17 of the Bill, a Minister can simply say, “Well, those EU regulations are inappropriate so we’ll get rid of them.” As for human rights, the fundamental charter is not assured. Any of our rights can be just crossed out by Ministers. On consumer rights, my hon. Friend Mary Creagh mentioned REACH. The directive requires all chemical companies to prove that a chemical is safe before they market it. A Minister could cross that out and introduce the American system, which instead requires an agency to prove a chemical is hazardous. That is why asbestos is still legal in the United States and it might become so here. Far from enhancing Parliament, we are open to having our rights and protections stripped away.

The Bill’s aim was supposed to be to cut and paste, or transfer, rights, protections and laws. Nobody is arguing that that should not happen. The question is: can it occur without a massive power grab and so-called Henry VIII powers? I suggest that it can, but it needs four changes. I hope the Minister is listening. Several changes are need to be able to achieve the transfer without the use of those draconian powers. The changes are: first, to ensure that the Bill enshrines the continuation of rights and protections in EU law; secondly, to have enforcement mechanisms in place for those rights which will be taken away when the EU institutions are taken away; and thirdly, to state in the Bill that the measure is not intended to impact on human rights and to ensure that, in any case where our rights and protections are challenged, they are referred to a Select Committee process. Most measures will be technical, but when there is a challenge to basic rights and protections we need something akin to a turbo-charged European Scrutiny Committee. I hope the Secretary of State is listening. That Committee can currently refer for debate any new EU legislation. That right should be enhanced, so that measures can be referred, amended and voted on here.

Fundamentally, we are talking about British values. The Prime Minister talks about British values and there are no more fundamental British values than parliamentary democracy and the rule of law. They are both unnecessarily under threat. If the Bill goes through as currently drafted, it will be a Trojan horse for well-armed Brexiters to get rid of parliamentary democracy and the rule of law as we know it. That is why they need to be disarmed.

There is no justification for the way the Bill is currently drafted. It should be taken back in its entirety. It can be brought back in October to cut and paste the particular safeguards. My own view, as hon. Members will know, is that as people voted for Brexit in good faith for a number of reasons that have not now materialised, they should have the right to have the final say on the exit package, to judge whether it stacks up against their reasonable expectations. That is what democracy is about. The Bill is about the destruction of democracy and I will vote against it wholeheartedly tonight.