European Union (Withdrawal) Act

Part of Business of the House (Today) – in the House of Commons at 3:24 pm on 12th March 2019.

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Photo of Bill Cash Bill Cash Chair, European Scrutiny Committee 3:24 pm, 12th March 2019

I referred just now, when I was talking to the Prime Minister, to the issue of control over laws. We have been through the backstop in detail today with the Attorney General, and the legal issues group that I have been convening has come up with some clear answers to that question. The backstop is unacceptable in its present form, and we are profoundly determined to vote against this withdrawal agreement for that reason alone.

I want to say one simple thing. People need to take into account exactly what uncertainty and real problems will come for workers as well as for businesses in the course of the next few years if this transitional period goes through. I speak as the Chairman of the European Scrutiny Committee when I say that there are 200-plus uncleared documents that are deemed not to be in the national interest, and that there will be more in the pipeline, including proposals relating to turning unanimity on tax policy into majority voting, as well as the financial transaction tax.

I strongly urge Members to bear in mind what the Prime Minister so rightly said about this issue at Lancaster House. She knows well enough how much effort I put into ensuring that the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill was drafted as it was, and that, in addition, it was enacted and got Royal Assent on 26 June. At that point, we were completely and totally at one. After that, in the run-up to Chequers and the withdrawal agreement, the first question I put to her was on 9 July, when I asked her how she could reconcile the Chequers proposals with the repeal of the 1972 Act under section 1 of the legislation that had been passed only 10 days before. I am absolutely convinced that that was an accurate assessment of the position.

A further point relates to the manner in which legislation comes through our Committee. Under the 1971 White Paper we were told that we would have a veto, yet it has been whittled away to extinction. The net result is that everything is now more or less done by consensus and/or by qualified majority vote. The European Scrutiny Committee analysis produced a few days ago suggests that the transition period could last until after the next general election—that is, to 1 January 2023—with an extension of the period under article 132 of the withdrawal agreement being highly probable. The worst possible situation is that we would end up being at the mercy of our competitors during that time. They would have no interest in giving us any of the benefits that might come out of the legislative pipeline when they themselves were making the laws and we were receiving them in the most humiliating circumstances in the history of our Parliament.

Never before in our entire history have we been legislated for by other member states. Indeed, it would be worse than that, because it would be done by a number of countries that would have no interest other than to put us at the mercy of our competitors. That would be absolutely catastrophic, and it is a fundamental reason why I am voting against this withdrawal agreement tonight.

When we had a similar situation with the ports regulation, the workers made their views plain by voting against it. The 47 ports employers and all the trade unions were against it, but it went through anyway. That will be the pattern, believe me. I have been on the European Scrutiny Committee for 34 years, and I have seen it. We have never turned down a proposal from the European Union over the entirety of those 34 years. It just does not happen.

Under article 4 of the withdrawal agreement, we are tying ourselves into the assumption that that is what is going to happen. Furthermore, the withdrawal and implementation Bill, which my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has said will be introduced in a couple of days if the withdrawal agreement tragically goes through tonight, will mean that that primary obligation will be in primary legislation. That is what the Bill will say. It will also undermine the repeal of the 1972 Act and enable the Court of Justice of the European Union to disapply Acts of Parliament under article 4. I trust that people understand that when the Court has the right, by Act of Parliament, to disapply inconsistent Acts of Parliament, that will put even the repeal of the 1972 Act under section 1 of the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018 in grave jeopardy, as the European Scrutiny Committee’s report showed just the other day.

I have other concerns about state aid, whereby we will be unable under the backstop arrangements and the withdrawal agreement to incentivise our industries, enterprise zones, freeports and so on. That will lead to a severe denial of this country’s right to determine its own tax policy. Furthermore, the European Commission will be enabled under the withdrawal agreement and the backstop to continue to supervise the Competition and Markets Authority and, as I said, to affect the manner in which we can legislate.

For all those reasons, it is imperative that we do not allow the withdrawal agreement to go through. It undermines the referendum, and it is in denial of the Conservative party’s manifesto commitments and of this House’s right to legislate in line with the wishes of our constituents in general elections. The pragmatism to which my right hon. Friend refers is washed away by the question of principle that I have just mentioned. The truth is that we must vote against the withdrawal agreement, because it will affect defence, agriculture, fisheries and every single area relating to the entire range of EU treaties and laws. That is what we will happen if we push the withdrawal agreement through tonight. We will be at the mercy of our competitors for several years—[Interruption.] I see my right hon. Friend shaking her head, but she knows perfectly well that what I am saying is true. It is clear that we will not be in control of our laws for a period of time.

On that note, I am prepared to say that I will vote against the withdrawal agreement, and I hope that many other Members will do likewise.