[9th Allotted Day]

Part of European Union (Withdrawal) Act – in the House of Commons at 2:49 pm on 15th January 2019.

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Photo of Bill Cash Bill Cash Chair, European Scrutiny Committee 2:49 pm, 15th January 2019

For me, this has been a very long journey towards leaving the European Union. The European question has always been about who governs this country and how. The national interest is served by our democratic system of parliamentary government, which has evolved over centuries of our history. We make our laws in this Parliament, in line with the consent of the voters in general elections, on the basis of the party manifestos. The Government are chosen by virtue of those who win the most seats. It is also fundamental that our proceedings are both accountable and transparent. We have Hansard, and all votes are recorded. Any voter can see the transcripts and can see how their laws are made and voted on in this Parliament.

We must fully repeal the European Communities Act 1972 on 29 March, as the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018 legislatively requires. I agreed with the Prime Minister when she said in her Lancaster House speech:

“we will not have truly left the European Union if we are not in control of our own laws.”

However, the withdrawal agreement does not achieve that, despite breathtaking assertions to the contrary. This situation may even be indefinite through the backstop, and through the undemocratic procedures of the Council of Ministers. We could be indefinitely shackled, as article 132 of the agreement affirms, even up to 31 December “20XX”. The decisions in the Council on which laws we obey, and changes to the rules creating great uncertainty for business, will be made through qualified majority voting or consensus by the other 27, behind closed doors. We will not be there. There will be no transcript, and no explanations will be given of how or why the laws imposed on us will be arrived at.

That alone is a reason why I shall vote against the withdrawal agreement. It is a denial of our democracy, and therefore of the national interest. It defies the referendum vote and the withdrawal Act itself, which repeals the European Communities Act and all the treaties and laws, including the single market and the customs union, which have been heaped on us since we joined the European Community in 1972-73.

It is outrageous to suggest that what we are doing in rejecting the withdrawal agreement is undemocratic. This is pure Alice in Wonderland. It turns the very notion of democracy and the national interest on its head, but that is not all. The agreement is not compromise, as the Attorney General suggested; it is capitulation. Nor is it pragmatism. We are not purists. We are defending our democracy against servitude.

Apart from control over our laws, there is the question of money. We will be paying not merely £39 billion but far more for nothing. We will lose the rebate. Then there is the role of the European Court of Justice. There is the issue of our not being able to trade independently outside the clutches of the European Commission. We have prodigious opportunities to create prosperity and to provide the revenue for the payment of our public services by trading on our own terms with other countries in the world throughout the Anglosphere and the Commonwealth. There is also the question of the constitutional status of Northern Ireland.

The state aid proposals in the agreement would give a power of veto to the European Union over our incentives in relation to ports and industrial development, which would be one of our primary means of attracting foreign direct investment. It should also be borne in mind that, in the European Union, we run a deficit in the single market in goods of about £95 billion a year, whereas Germany hides behind the euro with a surplus of £140 billion with the EU27. Sir Paul Lever, our former British ambassador to Germany, said recently in his book “Berlin Rules”:

“the EU is geared principally to the defence of German national interest.”

He explains, as I did in my own book “Against a Federal Europe” in the early 1990s, that there will be a German Europe. He shows that no decisions, including those related to the negotiations for the withdrawal agreement, were made by the Commission or by other member states without the prior agreement of Germany itself.

Why on earth would anyone want to remain? The EU does not work for the UK or, indeed, for the EU itself. Youth unemployment in countries such as Italy, Greece and France is running at between 20% and 50%. Those countries are utterly disillusioned with the austerity imposed by the German-led fiscal compact. Hungary, Poland and other countries in central Europe are in revolt, and even Sweden and Denmark have moved to the right. So what is it that makes the reversers in the House believe that we should remain in this imploding, undemocratic European Union, whose economic foundations are in tatters as the euro stagnates? Why on earth do they believe that a new “people’s vote” is needed, when one was enacted in the House of Commons and voted for by most of those who are now trying to unravel the withdrawal Act, and despite the fact that every Conservative endorsed the referendum vote in our manifesto?

As I argued some months ago, our system is one of parliamentary government, not government by Parliament. Government by Parliament would be anarchic. So we are faced with not only a constitutional crisis but a massive breach of public trust, as a party and as a Parliament. Until the time of the Chequers proposals, I was fully prepared to support the Government, but on 6 July my trust in the Government and the Prime Minister was completely lost.

On 9 July I asked the Prime Minister how she could reconcile Chequers with the repeal of the European Communities Act, and received no reply. During the debate that took place the following week, I stressed that the 80-page White Paper which set out those proposals, and which is now intrinsic to the withdrawal agreement, had been pre-planned for probably up to a year. I explained that it would unravel the European Communities Act, and that this was a gross misleading of Parliament. Indeed, the Chequers meeting itself had bounced the Cabinet, in breach of collective responsibility and in breach of the ministerial code. All those factors amount to a monstrous breach of constitutional and public trust.

That brings me to what happens next, when I believe the withdrawal agreement will be consigned to the grave of history. Far from Members of Parliament—as the Prime Minister has asserted—voting for the agreement, it is our duty to vote against it. We will not have effectively left the European Union if we do not. We will also be undermining our Westminster system of government, and depriving ourselves of the monumental opportunities of global trading on our own terms and with our friends in the United States who are so disillusioned with this agreement—and the same applies to other members of the Commonwealth.

As Churchill once said, and as I was reminded at the time of Maastricht by my constituents, we should put our country first, our constituency second, and our party third. Tragically, our Prime Minister became leader of our party by coronation and not by the will of the party members—all the recent evidence suggests that they are profoundly against the withdrawal agreement—and we then had the deeply unsatisfactory outcome of the last general election.

I simply say, therefore, that now is the time to walk away from this European Union. The expression “no deal” is a misnomer. It is not a default position; it is what the Act of Parliament endorsing the Lisbon treaty specifies. There must be no extension of time indicated by the so-called European Union (No. 2) Bill presented by my hon. Friend Nick Boles. I am glad that the Prime Minister reaffirmed that to me yesterday. It will achieve nothing.

I strongly urge the Government to conclude, after the vote is cast tonight, that enough is enough, and that we have reached journey’s end. Now is the time to walk away from the intransigence of the European Union and our failed policy of seeking to supplicate its guidelines, its terms and its paymasters. We witnessed similar events in May 1940 when the then Prime Minister actually won the vote after the Norway debate, but, on reflection, concluded that he had to resign because he had lost the confidence of Parliament as a whole. I believe that there are lessons in that for the Prime Minister. She should consider her position, and should do so with dignity and without rancour.