UK’s Withdrawal from the European Union

Part of Business of the House (Today) – in the House of Commons at 2:15 pm on 14th March 2019.

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Photo of Bill Cash Bill Cash Chair, European Scrutiny Committee 2:15 pm, 14th March 2019

I understand that point, but that was not the point on which we had an exchange last week. I am sorry if the right hon. and learned Gentleman did not catch what I was saying. It was asking him whether he wanted a repeal of the repeal of the 1972 Act that is contained in section 1 of the European Union (Withdrawal) Act. He indicated to me last week that he did want that. After all, the Labour party itself voted against the withdrawal Act on Second Reading and indeed on Third Reading, so we can assume that it did not want the repeal of the 1972 Act and that it is therefore committed to a course that is inconsistent with what the voters decided in the referendum. In respect of the position on both sides of the House, the United Kingdom is therefore at a dangerous crossroads in the middle of a fog.

I have done my best over the past 30 years to be consistent and to address the principles that underlie the sovereignty of this Parliament in delivering the democratic wishes of the British people through parliamentary Government, and not through government by Parliament, as is being proposed by certain Members of this House in respect of giving priority to private Members’ Bills, despite the Standing Order No. 14 requirement that Government business takes precedence. I for one believe that this Parliament can deliver the referendum vote; ensure the constitutional integrity of the United Kingdom, including Northern Ireland; fully comply with the vote to leave following the European Union Referendum Act 2015, which was passed by a 6:1 majority in this House; comply in full with the European Union (Notification of Withdrawal) Act 2017, which so many Members who are now turning into rejoiners, let alone reversers, actually voted for; and comply in full with the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018, which received Royal Assent on 26 June last year and which itself includes the provision for exit day to be on 29 March. I say with great respect to my right hon. and learned Friend Mr Clarke that, as I am sure he will recall, he voted for the Third Reading of the Act.

We have had substantial debates about the backstop and, of course, the most recent advice of the Attorney General. My European Scrutiny Committee has issued a critical report of the withdrawal agreement. It came out only last week and I urge the House to read it. We have asked for, but have not yet received, a draft of the withdrawal and implementation Bill, and I say that because that Bill, if passed, would enact the withdrawal agreement in our domestic law—the law of the land. I seek to make some proposals for what would be needed in any such Bill, as enacted, in order to satisfy the fundamental issues, bearing in mind that we have only a few days to go, and to ensure that we actually leave the European Union on 29 March. Given the timescale available for the withdrawal and implementation Bill to be enacted, we can assume that it will be rammed through with virtually no time to discuss proposals that could be made by way of amendments to it. There will be no proper debate. The law of the land relating to the withdrawal agreement will be rammed through this House.

What do I have in mind? First, we must protect Northern Ireland’s constitutional status in the United Kingdom. Discussions have continued since the Attorney General’s recent advice and will continue on matters relating both to the backstop and to issues arising in international law, including article 62 of the Vienna convention, that are being further analysed by distinguished lawyers. Such matters are important and remain unresolved. I was extremely glad to hear Arlene Foster confirm this morning that that was the current position, and when that further analysis becomes available, I trust that the Attorney General will take serious note of the points made by that panel of distinguished lawyers.