Customs duties

Part of European Union (Withdrawal) Bill – in the House of Commons at 5:00 pm on 20th December 2017.

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Photo of Dominic Grieve Dominic Grieve Conservative, Beaconsfield 5:00 pm, 20th December 2017

I thank my right hon. and learned Friend. Yes, it is a self-denying ordinance, but it was taken for what I think is a good reason, and partly because I did not wish to inflame the debate into something more general. However, despite my best endeavours and making speeches of what I thought was studied moderation, I seem to have been singularly unsuccessful, but that is merely a reflection of the fevered atmosphere in which this Committee meets.

I have to accept that I did raise the temperature a bit on amendment 381, because when it was first presented to the Committee, I expressed myself in respect of it in very strong terms indeed. I did so not because I was making some statement that I refused to contemplate the day of exit as being 29 March 2019 at 11 pm, but because I considered that to introduce that date into the Bill as a tablet of stone made absolutely no sense at all for the very reason that I sought to highlight in my intervention on my right hon. Friend Sir Oliver Letwin. In actual fact, that amendment would make it harder to move the date forward if we had wish to do so at the conclusion of the negotiations, because that would require a statute. I know that statutes can be implemented quite quickly in this House, but that process would nevertheless take significantly longer than the alternative. I could not see why we were losing the sensible flexibility provided by the way in which the Bill was originally drafted.

Underlying all this, there appears to be a sort of neurosis abroad that the magical date might somehow not be reached or, if it were to be reached, might be moved back. I am afraid that I cannot fully understand that neurosis of my right hon. and hon. Friends, but it is there nevertheless. It may give them some comfort to have in the Bill this statement of the obvious. However, it is worth bearing in mind that we are leaving on 29 March 2019 as a result of the article 50 process, unless the time is extended under that process, and we are doing so as a matter of international law even if the European Communities Act 1972 were to survive for some mistaken reason, which would cause legal chaos and put us in a very bad place.

In order to try to reassure my right hon. and hon. Friends and to give out the message that this is a process Bill, I am prepared to go along with things now that my right hon. Friend the Member for West Dorset and my hon. and learned Friend Mr Cox have so sensibly and creatively come up with a solution that appears to provide what my hon. Friends want and, at the same time, removes what I consider, perhaps in my lawyerly way, to be an undesirable incoherence in the legislation.