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I congratulate the shadow Secretary of State, my right hon. and learned Friend Keir Starmer, on the common-sense position that Labour has adopted on EU withdrawal and on this democratic travesty of a Bill. We certainly look forward to seeing him in my constituency, where his appearance next month is eagerly awaited.
Following the referendum, it is sadly clear that we will end our formal membership of the European Union. The question is how and what the future holds. As far as our country’s future relationship with our neighbours is concerned, Brexit should never become synonymous with “break it”, which, thankfully, only a minority of people want. There has to be a transitional agreement with the EU, as it will be impossible to reach a comprehensive deal at all levels by the end of March 2019. Common sense says that such an agreement should include us remaining in the single market and the customs union. The Prime Minister’s policy stance means that the Bill is inimical to that common-sense course. That is the effect of clause 9, and that is a good, substantial reason to oppose the Bill.
The Government have not yet allowed a meaningful vote in Parliament on the terms of our withdrawal before the Bill implements those terms. That is another good, substantial reason to oppose the Bill. I voted consistently against triggering article 50 in the absence of assurances about that, about the rights of EU nationals who are already here and of our citizens on the continent, and about much more besides.
Like Mr Clarke, I did not vote for the referendum legislation in the first place, because I thought it was a thoroughly bad idea, as it is certainly proving. I certainly will not vote to give this dreadful Bill a Second Reading tonight, but I will respect the referendum result by voting for the reasoned amendment. This flawed piece of legislation, with its flawed approach, needs to go back to the drawing board and return in better shape in October.
I will not dwell on clause 7 or any other clauses for too long—they have been well and truly dissected by many good speeches already—but I will show my constituents, to whom I will have to explain my votes, that I have indeed read the Bill by saying that when I got down to clause 7(2)(f)(ii), my jaw, which I had already prised off the ground, bounced off terra firma again. I will explain to my constituents why. To take one example, that clause proposes—in a modern parliamentary democracy, not a feudal, despotic monarchy—that a Minister of the Crown will have the power to issue regulations, which could not be changed, to correct parts of law that he or she does not consider
“it is appropriate to retain”.
And so the Bill goes on. That is not just profoundly undemocratic; as hon. Members have already pointed out, that approach to vesting such sweeping powers and discretion in this particular Executive flies in the face of the message sent by the British people in June.
The Prime Minister called that opportunistic, unnecessary election, confident that it would deliver her an increased majority, a highly personalised vote of confidence and a mandate to do what she pleased. But she was rumbled and found wanting—it did not. The country said, “No way” to “My way or the highway.” Our country would certainly not want us to vest in a minority Government the powers in the Bill, which might affect so many lives with minimal parliamentary oversight. If we do grant them, people will ask us—they are already—what is the purpose of electing MPs in the first place.
Let us take a look at some of the Ministers of the Crown whose sparkling judgment and impeccable intentions we are asked to trust. We are told that they would include in a blizzard of regulations only technical amendments and would not try to slip through anything more fundamental or controversial. As examples, let us take Michael Gove and his one-time friend then victim, Boris Johnson. At the very top of the tree, our people gave their verdict in the general election on the Prime Minister’s powers of judgment. Every fortnight, there is a very funny column in Private Eye from the headmistress of “St Theresa’s Independent State Grammar School for Girls (and Boys)” now incorporating the “William III Orange Academy”. Just where are the two right hon. Gentlemen I mentioned who gave such a tour de force of alternative facts with bravado during the referendum? Well, they are back at the heart of the staffroom. What successful school rewards bad behaviour? It would be in special measures. What governing body would put the sort of trust that the Bill asks for in such a headmistress and her senior—I use the term loosely—“leadership team”?