Only a few days to go: We’re raising £25,000 to keep TheyWorkForYou running and make sure people across the UK can hold their elected representatives to account.

Donate to our crowdfunder

Customs duties

Part of European Union (Withdrawal) Bill – in the House of Commons at 4:45 pm on 20th December 2017.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Paul Blomfield Paul Blomfield Shadow Minister (Exiting the European Union) 4:45 pm, 20th December 2017

It is, on this occasion, a real pleasure to follow Sir Oliver Letwin, who was at his erudite best in critiquing Government amendment 381, echoing many of the points the Opposition made on day one of the Committee stage. It was also very helpful that he spoke so clearly on the flexibility provided in the article 50 process, in contrast with the remarks he directed against my hon. Friend Matthew Pennycook who made exactly that point only last week. It is good to see the right hon. Gentleman moving on.

I rise to speak in favour of amendments 43 to 45 and 349, which are tabled in my name and those of my right hon. and hon. Friends. Let me, however, turn first to Government amendment 381, which revives, on this last day of the Committee stage, the issues that we debated on the first. The two solitary names on the amendment say everything about its purpose: the Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union and Mr Bone, neither of whom is present. We are seeing an alliance between the Government and, on this issue, one of their most troublesome Back Benchers.

As I think the right hon. Member for West Dorset made clear, it is not as though the amendment adds anything to the withdrawal negotiations. Indeed, it hampers the process. It is just another example of the Government’s throwing red meat to the more extreme Brexiteers on their Benches. As we said on day one, the amendment is not serious legislation. It is a gimmick, and it is a reckless one—in relation not just to the flexibility on the departure date to which the right hon. Gentleman referred, but to the wider aspects of exiting. It reaches out to those who want to unpick the Prime Minister’s Florence speech and the basis for a transitional period.

Setting exit day “for all purposes” as one date means the end of the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice at the point at which we leave the European Union. As we warned the Government, that would make a deal with the EU on the transitional period impossible. We also warned the Government that they could not deliver the support of the Committee of the whole House for the amendment, and that was confirmed by the tabling on Friday of amendments 399 to 405. Just as the Government have caught up with the Labour party on the need for a transitional period, by cobbling together this compromise in the face of defeat they have caught up with us on the need for flexibility on exit days for different purposes. The Solicitor General is raising his eyebrows at me. Perhaps it would be fairer to say that the Government have caught up with themselves. The Bill as originally drafted did not include amendment 381. The Government have recognised that it is nonsense, and are seeking to find a way out. We will go for the more straightforward way by seeking to vote it down.

Amendments 399 to 405 give Ministers the power to set exit day through secondary legislation. We would give that power directly to Parliament, for all the reasons that we set out last week. We will therefore support amendments 386 and 387, tabled by my right hon. Friend Yvette Cooper along with members of five parties, and new clause new clause 54, tabled by Mr Clarke. As the right hon. and learned Gentleman said earlier, he tabled it helpfully to allow the Government to embed the Prime Minister’s Florence commitments in the Bill.

Let me now deal with our amendment 43 and consequential amendments 44 and 45. On Wednesday evening, Parliament sent a clear message to the Government: we will not be sidelined in the Brexit process. The passing of amendment 7 was a significant step in clawing back the excessive powers that the Government are attempting to grant themselves through the Bill, and in upholding our parliamentary democracy. As with the final deal, Parliament must have control over the length and terms of the transitional period, and our amendments would provide that. The Prime Minister has eventually recognised that she was tying her hands behind her back with her exit day amendment, but amendments 399 to 405 are not the solution. They simply loosen the legislative straitjacket that the Government unnecessarily put on themselves. The Government must respect the House and accept that Parliament, not Ministers, should set the terms and length of a transitional period.

As I said in our earlier discussion this afternoon, there is a clear majority in this House for a sensible approach to Brexit and to the transitional arrangements. That brings together business and the trade unions and many other voices outside this place, just as it brings together Members on both sides of the House.

The Prime Minister knows we are right on the transitional arrangements, as her Florence speech made clear:

“As I said in my speech at Lancaster house a period of implementation would be in our mutual interest. That is why I am proposing that there should be such a period after the UK leaves the EU…So during the implementation period access to one another’s markets should continue on current terms”.

But every time she reaches out for common sense, and tries to bring the country together and to build the deep and special partnership she talks about, the extreme Brexiteers step in, trying to unpick our commitments, and setting new red lines, whether on the Court of Justice or regulatory divergence, which they know will derail the negotiations and deliver the complete rupture they dream of. So the transitional arrangements, which are important both for the interim and in positioning us for our longer term future, must be in the hands of this Parliament.