Legislating for the Withdrawal Agreement

Part of Yemen – in the House of Commons at 6:21 pm on 10th September 2018.

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Photo of Peter Grant Peter Grant Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Europe), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Exiting the European Union) 6:21 pm, 10th September 2018

I am pleased to be able to contribute to this debate. First, I invite Members to spare a thought for our good friend, my hon. Friend Marion Fellows, whose husband passed away recently and his funeral is taking place today. I have no doubt that otherwise a lot more of my colleagues would have been here. Certainly, my thoughts are very much with Marion and her family today.

We are talking about legislating to leave the European Union, but I find it very difficult to know how even the best drafter of legislation that we have—and there are some pretty good ones in this place—can have a chance of drafting legislation when the Government still have not quite decided what they are legislating for. The first thing that anybody asks if they are asked to draft something, whether legislation or a legal contract, is, “What do you want it to say and what do you want it to do?” The Minister talks about the overwhelming majority of the draft agreement now being in place. That overwhelming majority is 80%; it has increased from 75% about three months ago. Even if we accept that it is the hard bits that are still to be done, if it takes us three months to do 5%, we can see that 20% before the end of March is pushing it a wee bit. Even if the Government knew what they wanted the legislation to say, it would be difficult; when they cannot decide what they want the legislation to achieve, it is a potential recipe for disaster.

That is not talking down Britain. I thought it was quite funny that when Tom Brake spoke earlier, the Minister suggested that he was failing to get behind Britain and told him to get behind British businesses and British institutions, because he was highlighting some of the not only potential but now very real and present-day difficulties, problems and downsides to Brexit. Although I disagree with quite a lot of what he says about Brexit, I would suggest that his comments are a lot closer to the comments of British business, British universities and British civic society than some of the platitudes that we continue to get from Government Front Benchers—let alone some of the stuff we get from their so-called allies on the Back Benches.