Customs duties

Part of European Union (Withdrawal) Bill – in the House of Commons at 7:00 pm on 20th December 2017.

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Photo of Ian Murray Ian Murray Labour, Edinburgh South 7:00 pm, 20th December 2017

May I start by paying tribute to Mr Clarke? He is one of the very few voices of sanity on the Government side of the House with regard to Brexit. When the history books are written about this damaging period for the United Kingdom, his name will be right at the top as the person who tried his very hardest to save Britain from doing damage to itself when leaving the European Union. That is what the vast majority of Members on the Opposition side of the House have been trying to achieve with their amendments to the Bill, and certainly with the amendments in the names of my hon. and right hon. Friends this evening.

May I also pay tribute to the Clerks of the House, who have marshalled this Bill incredibly well through the last eight days in Committee? The emails that have come to many of us who submitted amendments have been detailed and helpful, and great tribute goes to the Clerks. They thoroughly deserve their Christmas break, but they should rest assured that we will be back in January to work them just as hard on Report and Third Reading. So merry Christmas and thank you to the staff in the Clerks’ office of this House.

I am slightly confused by the Minister’s approach to new clauses 54 and 13—the two new clauses I would like to concentrate on this evening. That is particularly true of new clause 54, because I thought the whole point of legislation was to put Government policy on the statute book. I thought Government policy would come forward—whether in a manifesto or in a speech, as in the Florence speech—and would then be codified in legislation in order that the Government’s wishes were put into law. That seems to be the process that this Parliament has been going through for several hundred years.

For the Minister to come to the Dispatch Box and say, “Yes, this is Government policy, but we don’t put it into law” seems to be an excuse not to put it into law. I think we could all draw the same conclusion from that excuse: as the right hon. and learned Gentleman has indicated, the Cabinet does not agree on the Florence speech—it is trying to change the dynamics and the content of the Florence speech—and the Prime Minister is desperately trying to hold the extreme right wing of the Conservative party within this process and to manage her party rather than this process. Otherwise, as the right hon. and learned Gentleman said, there was nothing in new clause 54 that the Prime Minister did not say in her Florence speech that should not be codified in the Bill to enable this Parliament and the country to be comfortable that the Florence speech is the direction of the Government.