Legislating for the Withdrawal Agreement

Part of Yemen – in the House of Commons at 7:13 pm on 10th September 2018.

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Photo of Jacob Rees-Mogg Jacob Rees-Mogg Conservative, North East Somerset 7:13 pm, 10th September 2018

I do apologise, Mr Deputy Speaker, although I understand there was a haircut while you were abroad that was reported in the national newspapers and should be brought to the attention of the House.

The third point is money. Money is really important. Dr Whitford intervened earlier on my right hon. Friend the Member for Wokingham to say that we were the sort of country that pays its bills—that is absolutely true—but the question is: what do we owe under international law? On this point, the most authoritative report is “Brexit and the EU budget”, published in March 2017 by the House of Lords EU Committee.

One may say that an EU Committee will be stuffed full of Eurosceptics and would be bound to come out with a report unfavourable to the EU, and that could perhaps be true in the House of Commons. I used to serve on the European Scrutiny Committee, and it would only be fair to confess that most of us were followers of that great gentleman, my right hon. Friend—not right honourable, sadly—the Member for Stone, but in the House of Lords that is simply not true. The Lords Committee is made up of former Law Lords, a former Cabinet Secretary and others who, by and large, were in favour of our membership of the EU.

The case explained in that very powerful document is that if we leave under the terms of article 50 without a withdrawal agreement, we will owe no money, and the reason is that our obligation to pay any money would in normal circumstances depend on the 1968 Vienna convention on the law of treaties. If we leave under those terms, without anything in the Lisbon treaty or other EU treaties, we would indeed be liable for our share of the liabilities, but that convention says that if the treaty of the organisation to which one belongs makes a different provision for leaving, that provision is authoritative. And then we go back to article 50, and the provision of article 50 is that if we leave after two years without a deal, that is it—there is no financial provision at all. In those circumstances, this £40 billion of our constituents’ money, which could be spent on other pressing needs—every Member could identify a pressing need in their own constituency, or for their own constituents or the nation at large—is not a legal obligation, but a charitable donation, unless it comes with a very clear quid pro quo.

Matthew Pennycook, the Opposition spokesman, made an excellent point on this in his very considered speech. He said that the Opposition would be expecting a good deal of detail on the second stage. What are we moving to? A report last week said that we would have a 10-page document on a political agreement saying that motherhood and apple pie was all fine and dandy. That would be £4 billion a page for waffle. Well, Members may like waffles—they may prefer Belgium waffles—but £4 billion a page for waffle is not something that any responsible Member of Parliament could vote for. For what, after all, is the job of this House and its power? How do we control the Executive? It is has always been through the provision of money, and if the Executive wish to waste British taxpayers’ money, we must say no.

The answer, then, is that we are generous and say yes to people who are living here, but that we say no to being a vassal state, no to being tied down by Lilliputians, and no to squandering taxpayers’ money.