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Duties in connection with the withdrawal of the UK from the European Union

Part of European Union (Withdrawal) (No. 6) Bill – in the House of Commons at 6:00 pm on 4th September 2019.

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Photo of Bill Cash Bill Cash Chair, European Scrutiny Committee 6:00 pm, 4th September 2019

That is absolutely right, and that is why, in my short speech earlier, I said that this should be called not the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill but the European Union (Subservience) Bill. This is a subjugation, and we have experienced this. That is why I called on the previous Prime Minister to resign. We had a capitulation on 11 April; we had a flurry of points of order, then we had a statement that afternoon, at which point I asked her whether she would resign, because she had capitulated. This Bill is a mirror image of that, but in a way it is even worse, because it places a legal duty on the Prime Minister—enforceable by judicial review if it came to it—to carry out this act of political suicide. Members on the Opposition Benches really ought to reflect on the full extent and nature of the subservience, subjugation and vassalage that they are putting the United Kingdom in. It is a total and utter disgrace. It flies in the face not only of the referendum result itself but of section 1 of the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018, which specifically states:

“The European Communities Act 1972 is repealed on exit day.”

Exit day is prescribed as 31 October.

I want to add another point, which is about money. Does the self-indulgence of the people who voted for this bear in mind the fact that every single month that has gone by since the end of March, when we should have come out, is costing about £1.2 billion? Every time they go in for this self-flagellation and this unbelievable determination to extend the period of time—for no purpose whatsoever, because they will never come to an agreement—it is costing the British taxpayer, the people we represent. This is a denial of the democracy that they expressed in the referendum, which we in this House specifically gave to them to decide. We did not say, “Oh, we’re giving you this right under the European Union Referendum Act 2015 to make a decision on whether we stay or leave, but actually when it comes to it, if we don’t like the outcome, we are going to turn turtle on you and reverse that decision in Parliament.” Parliament, by a sovereign Act that is still on the statute book, gave the right to the British people undeniably and deliberately to make that decision of their own account, and not ourselves.

An astonishing illustration of what I am saying is to be found in clause 3(2) of the Bill, which states:

“If the European Council decides to agree an extension of the period in Article 50(3) of the Treaty on European Union ending at 11.00 pm on 31 October 2019, but to a date other than 11.00 pm on 31 January 2020, the Prime Minister must, within a period of two days beginning with the end of the day on which the European Council’s decision is made, or before the end of 30 October 2019, whichever is sooner, notify the President of the European Council that the United Kingdom agrees to the proposed extension.”

This is the enforceable duty. This is the insane provision that is being imposed on us in defiance of our constitutional arrangement that decisions are taken not by individual Members of Parliament in a private Member’s Bill but by the elected Government, in line with the referendum decision. So the Prime Minister would be under an obligation within a period of two days—beginning with the end of the day on which the Council’s decision is made, or before the end of 30 October 2019, whichever is sooner—to notify the President of the European Council that the United Kingdom agreed to the proposed extension. So, it is not just that we are going to be saddled with a decision on an extension to 31 January 2020 to the cost of something well over £3 billion, because if the Council agrees, we would then be under an obligation to accept whatever date it puts forward, being a date other than a period ending 11 pm on 31 January 2020. It is strange to say that I have not heard that point being explained by the proponents of this Bill. I heard Hilary Benn giving a description on Second Reading of what the Bill is about, but I did not hear him say what I have just said. I would like him to get up and deny it if what I have just read, which is in the text of the Bill, is wrong.