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 can only say to the hon. Gentleman that, having been involved in these European issues for about 34 years and having some knowledge of constitutional law and the way in which these things operate in practice, I am not going to trust anybody or anything until I see a copy of the withdrawal agreement and implementation Bill, which will be rammed through this House. If we do not have a chance to look at it beforehand, it would put us at considerable risk. That is my point, and I think we need to take it into account.

I now turn to the framework for our leaving the EU lawfully under the European Union (Withdrawal) Act. Subject only to the extension of time, this is the law of the land and it is how we assert our sovereign constitutional right not merely to reaffirm but to guarantee in law that we control our own laws in this Parliament as a sovereign nation, in line with the democratic wishes of the British electorate in general elections.

The European Communities Act itself was passed on the basis of the White Paper that preceded it. In that White Paper there was an unequivocal statement that we would retain a veto on matters affecting our vital national interests. Gradually over time, since 1973, there has been a continuing reduction, a whittling away, of that veto to virtual extinction.

Leaving the EU, however, in the context of article 4 of the withdrawal agreement raises this question again as an issue of fundamental importance. We are no longer living in the legal world of Factortame—that was when we were in the European Union. When we leave, the circumstances change. We simply cannot have laws passed and imposed upon us, against our vital national interests, by the Council of Ministers behind closed doors during the transition period, or at any time. That would be done by qualified majority voting or consensus and, as I said to the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster in my first intervention in the previous debate, it would subjugate this Parliament for the first time in our entire history, as we would have left the European Union. It would therefore be a radical invasion of the powers and privileges of this House, which I believe would effectively be castrated during that period of time. We would be subjected to total humiliation.

I therefore regard it as axiomatic that, in the withdrawal agreement and implementation Bill, we must include a parliamentary veto over any such law within the entire range of European treaties and laws. As Chairman of the European Scrutiny Committee, I know that we currently have about 200 uncleared European provisions and, in my 34 years on the Committee, we have never once overturned a European law imposed on us through the Council of Ministers.

Just think about it. This House will accept laws by qualified majority vote without our being there and with no transcript. Where we were once in the EU, we will now have left. Leaving totally changes the basis on which we conduct our business. Under our Standing Orders, my Committee has the task, in respect of European Union documents, of evaluating what is of legal and political importance, and it has the right to refer matters to European Standing Committees or to the Floor of the House, particularly where the Government accept the latter.

We can impose a scrutiny reserve, which means that Ministers cannot, except in exceptional circumstances, agree to any proposed law passed in the Council of Ministers in defiance of our scrutiny reserve. However, that is not a veto. Once a matter has been debated, or once the scrutiny reserve has been removed, any such law becomes the law of the United Kingdom and is thereby imposed on our constituents.