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 am filled with my hon. Friend’s Christmas spirit, and very much wish that it may be carried through to the new year, and for many years to come. For that reason, I am prepared to support the Government on amendment 381, on the obvious condition that we have the other amendment, and with the assurance from the Under-Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union, my hon. Friend and neighbour Mr Baker, that we will get the necessary further change on Report to make the matter subject to the affirmative procedure. I fully understand why we cannot have that today—it is too late. We should have acted earlier if we wanted to get that into the Bill during Committee.

I want to put on record an argument that was made to me against this course of action: what we are doing has an impact on clause 9, as amended by my amendment 7. The intention behind amendment 7, which the House voted for, was always that the powers in the Bill for removal should not be used until after the final statute had been approved. That included the power to fix exit date. As a consequence of the amendments before us, those powers are removed from the ambit of clause 9, and therefore have a stand-alone quality that could mean that they could be invoked by making the date earlier than 29 March—so early that we would not have considered and implemented the statute approving exit. Some have expressed concern to me about that.

I have given the matter careful thought, and while I understand those concerns, they appear unrealistic. It would be extraordinary if we were in such a state of chaos that a Government—I am not sure which Government, or who would be the Ministers in government—decided to take that course of action in breach of our international obligations to our EU partners, because that is what that would involve. In truth, that would still involve getting an affirmative resolution of the House, hence the assurance that we needed from my hon. Friend the Minister, and this House would be most unlikely to give permission for such a chaotic outcome. I wanted to respond to what others, including individuals outside the House, had represented to me, but we should not lose sleep over that aspect of the matter. In truth, my amendment 7 was never aimed at exit day. It was aimed at the other powers that the Government might wish to start using before a withdrawal agreement had been approved.

I had an amendment 6, which was about multiple exit days, but that issue has been resolved, so the amendment can be safely forgotten about. I also had amendment 11, which dealt with whether retained EU law was to be treated as primary or secondary for the purposes of the Human Rights Act 1998. My hon. Friends on the Government Front Bench know very well that that is part and parcel of a wider issue that we have debated on many occasions. I have chucked the ball—delicately, I hope—into their court to see how they respond to some of the many anxieties expressed by Members on both sides of the House about how fundamental rights that are derived from EU law that I think most people now take for granted can be safeguarded properly. I look forward very much to hearing a little more about that on Report.

I want to bring my remarks to a close. I am personally delighted that the problem that I could see coming down the track has been so neatly averted by the intervention of my right hon. Friend the Member for West Dorset and my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Torridge and West Devon.