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European Union (Withdrawal Agreement) Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 4:16 pm on 22nd October 2019.

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Photo of Hilary Benn Hilary Benn Chair, Committee on Exiting the European Union 4:16 pm, 22nd October 2019

It is a great pleasure to follow Mr Whittingdale, who is the vice-chair of the Exiting the European Union Committee, and with whom I have the pleasure to serve. May I also say to Sir David Lidington that he is absolutely right that the vast majority of the withdrawal agreement is as it was before, which is why I cannot understand why the Government did not publish in draft the bits of the Bill that have been available in Whitehall for ages so that Members had a chance to read them a long time ago, rather than scrabbling around since eight o’clock last night, because it would have dealt with some of the justifiable objections to the speed with which the Government are trying to push this through?

I do not know whether that earlier draft contained clause 36, but I must say my eyes widened when I read this statement:

“It is recognised that the Parliament of the United Kingdom is sovereign.”

Do we really need to say that about ourselves in legislation—was that ever in doubt? I suspect the reason it is in there is to soften the blow when certain hon. Members on the other side of the House realise—although Mr Duncan Smith made the point—that the European Communities Act is going to be repealed and then the provisions are going to be stuck back in for the length of the transitional period.

The other thing we have learned about is the consequences of the new Irish protocol for trade between Northern Ireland and the rest of the United Kingdom, and I return to the point that was put to the Prime Minister by several Members, but to which there was no answer: the question of why goods moving from Northern Ireland to the rest of the United Kingdom will require an exit summary declaration, because, as I understand it, that is only necessary if goods are leaving the customs territory of the European Union. Is that correct, because I thought we were told—it says it in the new protocol—that Northern Ireland will be in the customs territory of the United Kingdom? So the question is this: if Northern Ireland is in the customs territory of the United Kingdom what are those goods exiting, because they are in the United Kingdom customs territory? I am afraid there has been no answer, because I do not think the attempted explanations really square.