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With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:
Clauses 2 to 6 stand part.
New clause 4—Extension of the implementation period—
“After section 15 of the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018 (publication of and rules of evidence) insert—
‘15A Extension of the implementation period
(1) A Minister of the Crown must seek to secure agreement in the Joint Committee to a single decision to extend the implementation period by two years, in accordance with Article 132 of the Withdrawal Agreement unless one or more condition in subsection (2) is met.
(2) Those conditions are—
(a) it is before
(b) an agreement on the future trade relationship has been concluded;
(c) the House of Commons has passed a motion in the form set out in subsection (3) and the House of Lords has considered a motion to take note of the Government’s intention not to request an extension.
(3) The form of the motion mentioned in subsection (2)(c) is “That this House approves of the Government’s decision not to apply for an extension to the period for implementing the agreement between the United Kingdom and the EU under Article 50(2) of the Treaty on European Union which sets out the arrangements for the United Kingdom’s withdrawal from the EU”.
(4) If the Joint Committee does not agree the extension specified in subsection (1) but EU representatives on the Joint Committee indicate that they would agree an extension for a shorter period, a Minister of the Crown must move a motion in the House of Commons to agree the shorter period proposed, and if that motion is agreed, a Minister of the Crown must agree that shorter extension in the Joint Committee.
(5) Any Minister of the Crown who attends the Joint Committee may seek agreement to terminate the implementation period if a final agreement on the future trade relationship is ratified before the end of the implementation period.’”
This new clause would restore the role for Parliament in deciding whether to extend transition to avoid a WTO Brexit.
New clause 36—Extension of implementation period—
“After section 15 of the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018 (publication and rules of evidence) insert—
‘15A Extension of implementation period
(1) If by
(2) The specified matters for the purposes of subsection (1) are—
(a) the future trade relationship between the United Kingdom and the EU.
(b) a security partnership including law enforcement and judicial cooperation in criminal matters.
(3) If the Joint Committee does not agree the extension specified in subsection (1) but EU representatives on the Joint Committee indicate that they would agree an extension for a shorter period, a Minister of the Crown must move a motion in the House of Commons to agree the shorter period proposed, and if that motion is agreed, a Minister of the Crown must agree that shorter extension in the Joint Committee.
(4) Any Minister of the Crown who attends the Joint Committee may seek agreement to terminate the implementation period if final agreements on both of the matters specified in subsection (2) are ratified before the end of the implementation period.’”
This new clause would require the UK Government to seek an extension to the implementation period if agreements on trade and security have not been completed by
Clause 33 stand part.
I begin by wishing you, Sir Roger, and all Members of the House a happy new year.
The Bill implements the withdrawal agreement negotiated by the Prime Minister. It fulfils the will of the British people and will set the stage for our bright future outside the European Union. It lets us take back control of our laws, our money, our borders and our trade policy, and it delivers on the overwhelming mandate given to us by the British people to get Brexit done by the end of January.
Sir Roger, as you have just informed the Committee, I am, under your guidance, speaking to this group. I will speak to clauses 1 to 6, clause 33 and new clauses 4 and 36, noting that new clause 19 and amendment 25 have not been selected.
Clause 1 gives legal effect to the implementation period in domestic law. The implementation period ensures that common rules will remain in place until the end of this year, meaning that businesses will be able to trade on the same terms as now until a future relationship has been agreed. This provides certainty and stability for the duration of this time. During the implementation period, the effect of the European Communities Act 1972 will be saved and modified on a temporary basis to provide the necessary continuity. It will have a new purpose: to give effect to EU law as set out in the withdrawal agreement, to provide for the implementation period. As a result, businesses and citizens need prepare for only one set of changes as we move into our future relationship with the EU.
Can my right hon. Friend give us an estimate of how much the implementation period will cost us, and will he reassure us that once we are out properly at the end of this year, there will be no future payments thereafter?
This will secure our membership for the period. One of the costs for businesses—one of the greater costs—would result from two sets of changes, without the comfort of an implementation period. The business community itself—of which I know my right hon. Friend is a great champion—said that it wanted an implementation period while the negotiation on the trade deal was being conducted to avoid the higher cost of two sets of changes.
The saving of the ECA will be repealed at the end of the implementation period, at which point the repurposed ECA will cease to have effect. Clause 1 is essential to achieving the terms agreed in the withdrawal agreement and ensuring the proper functioning of European Union law during the implementation period, and for that reason it must stand part of the Bill.
I still do not think that the Secretary of State has made a clear enough case for why he would wish to tie the Government’s hands in such an unnecessary way and risk the disaster of no deal. Also, there could be perfectly constructive negotiations going ahead, which he would be prepared to throw away if they could not fit into the arbitrarily short time of 11 months. Will he tell us why he thinks it is worth running that risk, which is such a big risk for our businesses and for our economy?
I know that we have two days for the Committee stage, but it is very odd for someone who wants us to remain a member of the European Union to complain about the fact that we have an implementation period so that the business community does not face two sets of changes, and so that we give businesses confidence for the rest of the year.
Clause 2 saves EU-derived domestic legislation for the implementation period. The last one and a half decades have seen a substantial amount of EU legislation that has required domestic legislation, both primary and secondary. That domestic legislation constitutes a large body of law, and to ensure that the law continues to work properly during the implementation period, we need to take several important steps. First, we must preserve the legislation to avoid its being impliedly repealed following the repeal of the ECA. If we do not save it, there will be a risk that it will either fall away or be emptied of meaning, which could mean that citizens and businesses were no longer protected by, or indeed able to rely on, existing rules.
The second essential purpose of the clause is to maintain the proper functions of the statute book for the duration of the implementation period. During that period, we will continue to apply this law, but we will not be part of the European Union. To ensure that that is reflected in the statute book, the Bill provides for time-limited glosses, or modifications, to new and existing EU-derived legislation. Those glosses make clear the way in which EU law terms and UK legislation should be read so that our laws continue to work during the implementation period. Let me give one example. All references to European Union citizens in the UK statute book will, as a general rule, be read as including UK nationals during the implementation period. These provisions will automatically be repealed at the end of the year when they are no longer needed.
I hope that the Secretary of State will be able to clarify whether that also applies to the European arrest warrant. Obviously, we will remain subject to it and able to take advantage of it during the implementation period, but at the end of that period, as a third party, we will simply not be able to enter into it. During the implementation period, will British subjects still be subject to the arrest warrant overseas?
Under clause 1, the implementation period ensures the continuity of the law. That is why it is saved, but modified. Clause 2, and the others in the group, deal with the technical terminology. Where there is a change in meaning, it means continuity. I see that the hon. Gentleman is frowning. The substance of my reply is yes, in that the Bill ensures continuity. The purpose of terms such as “European Union citizen” will have ceased because we will have left, but, on the other hand, the implementation in EU law will continue, allowing those terms to continue to be applied, and any tidying up—any technical changes—to be applied. So, this is a technical glossing and that is its purpose.
While the Secretary of State is on his feet discussing this, could he set out the exact position for EU nationals, because those of us who have up to 42,000 living locally are extremely concerned? There have been lots of discussions and tweets about this, so could he please just lay out exactly what the position will be not only during the next 12 months of the implementation plan but going forward?
The hon. Lady raises an important point. I do not want to stray too far into the second grouping in Committee, which is indeed on citizens’ rights, and which the Immigration Minister will address, but what this Bill is doing is securing the rights of EU citizens within the UK and indeed the rights of UK citizens in the European Union, because we value the contribution that those EU citizens make to the UK. They have chosen to make their homes here and to bring up their families here, and their rights are protected. That is one of the reasons that I urge Members on all sides of the House to support this Bill.
During the transitional period, laws will be made in the European Union that we will be expected to obey. Does my right hon. Friend agree, however, that clauses 29 and 38—one of which deals with the review of legislation through the auspices of the European Scrutiny Committee, where we will be affected by our vital national interests being undermined—provide good protection for the United Kingdom’s national interests? Secondly, does he agree that the question of parliamentary sovereignty in clause 38 will complement that by ensuring that the whole process of legislation under the withdrawal agreement will not affect the continuing sovereignty of the United Kingdom Parliament, and that this therefore effectively provides a double lock on the rights of this House as we leave the European Union?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right to signpost those two safeguards being put in place, in which he played a significant part, but I would say that there are three. I will come on to the third, if I may slightly push him by making that correction. He is right to say that the European Scrutiny Committee, under his chairmanship, will have the right to trigger debates and scrutiny. Secondly, he has championed the clause dealing with the sovereignty of Parliament, which is set out clearly in the Bill. The third element that I would draw to his attention, which is within this grouping, is our legislating for the Government’s manifesto commitment not to extend the implementation period. That will ensure that there is no extension of the implementation period and will therefore ensure that there is no risk of a further one-year or two-year period during which the issue about which he was concerned in relation to those two other clauses could arise. So, there are three protections, and not just the two that he mentioned.
I am pleased that my hon. Friend signals from a sedentary position that he is content with that.
Ultimately, clause 1 will ensure that there is continuity in our laws during the implementation period, and that our law continues to operate properly. It is therefore essential and must stand part of the Bill.
The Secretary of State has commented about the sovereignty of this United Kingdom Parliament across the whole United Kingdom. At all stages in the future, as marked out by the Northern Ireland protocol and the exceptions to this Bill, the people of Northern Ireland will be subject to European Union law for a long time into the future, as far as we can see, so it is not correct, is it, to say that the sovereignty of the entire United Kingdom will be placed in this place?
We will debate at length tomorrow the provisions relating specifically to Northern Ireland, but there is a further sovereignty within the Bill in respect of Northern Ireland. I do not want to stray too far into that debate now, but there is a consent mechanism that pertains specifically to the Northern Ireland protocol, so there is a further sovereignty lock in that regard. However, that is a matter for the groupings that we will address tomorrow.
Turning to clause 3, we are confident that the list of so-called glosses set out in clause 2 works in all the cases that we have examined, and I pay tribute to the officials who have trawled the statute book in that regard. However, it is right that we, as a responsible Government, reserve the ability to nuance the impact of those technical changes should unforeseen issues arise during the implementation period. The power set out in clause 3 provides for that. The Bill gives five different applications for that power. Three relate to the glosses. The power can add to the glosses, it can make exceptions and it can be used to make different provisions from the list, if for any reason we need to change a gloss in a specific case or set of cases. The power has two further applications: it can be used to tidy up the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018 and to cover any specific technical inoperabilities that may occur that have not been foreseen. It is appropriate, prudent and sensible that the Government are prepared in this regard, which is why those five elements are in the Bill.
Analysis by the Scottish Parliament Information Centre, which is the equivalent of the House of Commons Library and is therefore independent, notes that clause 3 empowers UK Government Ministers acting alone to make provision in devolved policy areas. The Government’s delegated powers memorandum states that they will not normally do so without the agreement of the relevant devolved Administration, but as the Secretary of State will be aware, the Sewel convention does not apply to delegated legislation. Does he therefore agree that this power shows that the Bill is indeed the power grab that the Scottish National party has always said it is? If it is not, why is it there at all?
The hon. and learned Lady is incorrect in saying that. First, this is an international agreement, which is a reserved matter—a matter for the United Kingdom. Secondly, these are glosses—technical issues—in terms of the tidying up that I set out, and they are tightly defined. Thirdly, the devolved elements are addressed by giving the devolved Assemblies the power, through clause 4, to do further glosses themselves.
I am sorry, but the Secretary of State is simply wrong about that. On any legal analysis, it is quite clear that clause 3 gives UK Ministers acting alone the power to make regulations in relation to areas of devolved competence. I reiterate my question: why is that power there at all if the Government are not intending to use it to take powers away from the Scottish Parliament and other devolved Administrations?
Again, with great respect to the hon. and learned Lady, she is over-reaching in the interpretation that she is applying to clause 3. It is a technical provision that allows for technical changes—glosses to terminology —such as the example that I gave the Committee a moment ago of how EU citizens may be defined. The clause is for technical changes in unforeseen areas, rather than fundamental changes of powers. Indeed, we have given an equivalent power through clause 4, in respect of the ability of the devolved authorities to do exactly the same thing or very similar.
Clause 3 must stand part of the Bill to ensure that the statute book is maintained and that any unforeseen technical issues that arise in future are addressed. That is why clause 3 is required. It is not as the hon. and learned Lady characterises it; it is a technical provision for glosses for any issues that were unforeseen at the time of the Bill’s passage.
Could I probe that a bit further? In clause 4, proposed new paragraph 11B specifically provides that Scottish Government—and indeed Welsh Government —Ministers cannot make any provision outwith devolved competence. However, there is no equivalent provision in clause 3 saying that the British Government cannot not use the powers to make regulations about devolved matters. If this is just technical, as the Secretary of State says, why will he not agree to include a similar qualification in relation to the British Government’s powers? If he will do so, could that perhaps be addressed in the House of Lords?
That is not something that I would urge the other place to address, because this is a provision to address unforeseen areas in which technical changes may be required in the tightly constrained areas set out in clause 3. The hon. and learned Lady turns to clause 4, which confers on the devolved authorities a broadly equivalent power to that set out in clause 3. Where legislating for the implementation period falls within devolved competences, it is right that legislative changes can be made by the devolved authorities, with which I am sure she would agree. Therefore, the change in clause 4 provides the devolved authorities with corresponding powers to those set out under proposed new section 8A(1) of the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018, as outlined in clause 3, so far as they are exercised within the devolved authorities’ competences.
Clause 4 enables devolved authorities to add to the list of glosses established in proposed new section 1B to make provision different from those on that list and to disapply that list from certain pieces of legislation. The clause also enables devolved authorities to respond to unforeseen complications that may arise during the implementation period to ensure that the provisions established by this Bill continue to give effect to the planned implementation period. In short, the rationale for clause 4 is the same as the rationale for clause 3. When exercised by a devolved authority acting alone, the power is subject to the consent of a Minister of the Crown, consultation with a Minister of the Crown, or a joint exercise with a Minister of the Crown in certain circumstances, which are defined in paragraphs 5 to 7 of schedule 2 to the 2018 Act.
The implementation period is critical. It will provide much-needed continuity and certainty to businesses and individuals as we move from membership of the EU to our future relationship with it. With the power provided in clause 4, the devolved authorities can ensure that the implementation period will work in relation to devolved legislation should any issues be identified. Clause 4 must therefore stand part of the Bill.
Clause 5 provides for the direct application of the provisions of the withdrawal agreement in domestic law. It will also allow individuals and businesses to rely directly on the withdrawal agreement. They will be able to know that there is consistency in how the agreement is applied in both the UK and the EU. It is also necessary to give domestic legal effect to article 4 of the withdrawal agreement. Through this clause, most of the provisions of the agreement will flow into UK law directly without the need for further legislation.
The withdrawal agreement will, among other things, secure the rights of more than 3 million EU citizens living in the UK and around 1 million UK nationals living in the EU. Ensuring that the withdrawal agreement is interpreted and enforced consistently in both the UK and the EU will ensure that citizens are treated fairly and equally. Clause 5, in its presented form, is vital to the UK’s implementation of the withdrawal agreement, and it must therefore stand part of the Bill.
Turning to clause 6, the UK has reached agreements with the EEA EFTA states and Switzerland respectively. The agreements are separate from, although similar to, our agreements with the EU. They protect the rights of Norwegian, Icelandic, Liechtenstein and Swiss citizens living in the UK and those of UK citizens living in those countries, so that they can continue to live their lives after exit day broadly as they do now.
Will the Secretary of State explain in clear language how he believes that will be played out at airports? Will there be several queues? Will there be one queue for everybody from European countries? I ask because many people ask me these questions in my surgery.
We will go into more detail on citizens’ rights when we discuss the second group of amendments, but clause 5 secures the legal effect to the protections that apply to citizens within the EEA EFTA states. One of the big questions on the Brexit discussions that we have heard repeatedly in this place has been, “To what extent will people’s rights be protected?” This Bill is doing that for EU nationals through clause 5, and clause 6 mirrors those protections in law for citizens of the EEA EFTA states. The hon. Lady touches on the arrangements for citizens’ rights, which are a separate issue, but this is about how legal protection will apply to those nationals.
Clause 6 gives effect in domestic law to the EEA EFTA and Swiss separation agreements in a similar way to the withdrawal agreement. This ensures that a Norwegian citizen living in the UK can rely on their rights in a UK court in broadly the same way as a Swedish citizen. It does so in the same way as clause 5.
We do not want a Norwegian, Liechtenstein, Icelandic or Swiss national to have any less certainty on their rights than an EU national here or, indeed, a UK citizen in Europe. Clause 6 also enshrines the legal certainty for businesses and individuals covered by the EEA EFTA agreement that article 4 of the withdrawal agreement provides. This clause, as presented, is vital to the UK’s implementation of the EEA EFTA and Swiss agreements, and it must stand part of the Bill.
Clause 33 prohibits the UK from agreeing to an extension of the implementation period. Page 5 of the Conservative manifesto says:
“we will not extend the implementation period beyond December 2020”, and clause 33 says:
It could not be clearer. This Government are determined to honour our promise to the British people and to get Brexit done.
Both the EU and the UK committed to a deal by the end of 2020 in the political declaration. Now, with absolute clarity on the timetable to which we are working, the UK and the EU will be able to get on with it. In sum, clause 33 will ensure that we meet the timetable set out in the political declaration and deliver on our manifesto promise. For that reason, the clause must stand part of the Bill.
I understand why clause 33 is in the Bill. As much as I am a remainer—I remain a remainer, and I will remain a remainer until my dying day—I none the less accept that the second referendum has now happened. That is the end of it.
My anxiety, however, was first expressed, in a sense, by the previous Prime Minister when she wrote the first letter of intent with regard to article 50, which stated that we would have trouble on security issues if we did not have a full deal by the end of the implementation period. I ask the Government to think very carefully about how we ensure that, by the end of this year, we have a security deal covering the whole range of security issues that face this country. I would argue that that is as important as the trade-related issues.
I welcome the constructive way in which the hon. Gentleman raises his concerns about security while recognising the general election mandate and how it plays into this clause and its reflection of the manifesto.
I draw the hon. Gentleman’s attention to two things. First, the withdrawal agreement commits both sides, including the European Union, to using their best endeavours to reach agreement. Secondly, the political declaration commits to a timescale of the end of 2020. That is why we are confident that this can be done to the timescale, and it is a reflection of the commitments given by both the UK and the EU in the withdrawal agreement and the political declaration.
Does the Secretary of State agree that all things are possible when both parties to a negotiation are willing to proceed in good spirit? Indeed, in a briefing to EU politicians in November 2019, Michel Barnier said the timescale would normally be far too short but that Brussels would strive to have a deal in place by the end of 2020. It is clearly possible to do this deal for the end of 2020. Does my right hon. Friend agree that is the right approach to take?
I very much agree with my hon. Friend. Indeed, the Commission President will be meeting the Prime Minister tomorrow, and I will be meeting Michel Barnier, to act on that constructive spirit. Both sides have committed to the timescale.
I am conscious that the House is now in a different place, but many Members will recall that it was often said it was impossible to reach an agreement before, indeed, the agreement was reached.
I welcome the fact that the Government are determined to bring this process to an end by December 2020, and I hope that that does concentrate minds in the EU. If the EU and the Government cannot come to an agreement by then, what are the implications for, first, the future arrangements and, secondly, the current withdrawal agreement, especially the provisions in Northern Ireland?
First, I believe we can and will do this, and, as I have indicated to the House, so does the EU, because it has committed, in the political declaration, to doing it. Secondly, a number of issues are addressed through this Bill: citizens’ rights, which Caroline Lucas asked about in relation to her constituents, are protected through this Bill. People used to talk about a no-deal outcome, and one thing this Bill does is secure the protection of the 3 million EU citizens within our country, who are valued, and of the more than 1 million UK citizens there. I know the right hon. Gentleman has concerns about the Northern Ireland protocol, and I stand ready, as do my ministerial colleagues, to continue to discuss issues with him. We will debate that in more detail in Committee tomorrow, but, again, the Northern Ireland protocol is secured through the passage of this Bill. That puts us in a very different place from where many of the debates were in the previous Parliament in respect of concerns about no deal.
I remind the Secretary of State that just last month the Commission President said that she has serious concerns about this timetable. All experts in trade are concerned that an 11-month period simply does not necessarily give the time to get a good deal done, so why is he signing up now to something he could postpone until at least June, when he will have a better sense of how negotiations are going? Why is he cutting off his nose to spite his face by saying now that he will not extend the implementation period?
I will move on, because new clauses 4 and 36 speak to the same point, but, in short, this is being done partly for the reasons I have already given the House in respect of what is set out in the political declaration, where there is a shared commitment, and partly because Members on my side of the House gave a manifesto commitment to stick to this timetable. I am sure the hon. Lady would be the first to criticise the Government if they made a manifesto commitment and then decided not to stand by it. So we are committed to the commitment we gave on the timescale, which is why we want to move forward with clause 33.
I will make a little progress and then, of course, I will come back to the hon. Gentleman.
New clauses 4 and 36 stand in the names of the Leader of the Opposition and the acting leader of the Liberal Democrats respectively. New clause 4 has been tabled by the Leader of the Opposition in an attempt to force the Government to extend the implementation period if a deal has not been agreed with the EU by
Does my right hon. Friend agree that it is astounding that so many Opposition Members did not listen to the call in the recent general election from the people, who are fed up of continuous delays and extensions? The message they gave us on the doorstep was to get Brexit done so that we can all move on and start talking about other things, such as our NHS, schools and policing.
My hon. Friend is right to say that a very clear message was reflected in our mandate. To be fair to Opposition Members, I should say that I watched the shadow Brexit Secretary on “The Andrew Marr Show” and he did accept the need to move on. [Interruption.] I am giving credit to him, although I appreciate that he is engaged on other matters in his own party at the moment. My hon. Friend is absolutely right that there was a clear desire from the British public to get on to the other priorities to which he refers.
Is not the danger in setting this fixed date that the British Government will quickly have to make a decision about what they want to achieve in the second phase of Brexit? Are they going to go for close alignment? If so, they could possibly get the deal done in the year. But if they decide they are going to disalign, that will create difficulties, and the best we can hope for will be, if not a no-deal cliff edge, a bare-bones free trade agreement. That could be very bad news for the economy.
With respect to the hon. Gentleman, we see it as a win-win. The EU wishes to trade with the UK; we wish to trade with the EU. They are our neighbours and we want to have a constructive relationship, but at the same time people voted for change and they want to see change. The Government are committed to delivering, through the Bill, the change that the British public voted for.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that it is not only the British people who are fed up with seeing Parliament going round and round in circles on Brexit, which is why they voted for the Conservative party in the general election? People in many European countries just want to get on and get past Brexit. They want a trade deal with us; we should agree one quickly and move on.
My hon. Friend, who always speaks with authority as a former Member of the European Parliament, is absolutely right to understand that this is a desire not just of the British public but of many of our friends and neighbours in Europe, who want to see the debate move forward and therefore want to see this legislation delivered. That is why it is right that we have clause 1 and why the new clauses are inappropriate.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that the negotiations with the European Union on the free trade agreement will be relatively easy on goods, but the negotiations on services will be much more complicated? That is mainly because on goods we have a balance of trade deficit with the European Union, but on services we have a balance of trade improvement.
I refer back to the remarks I made a moment ago about this being a win-win for both sides. Let me take a portfolio that I used to deal with as a Minister: financial services. It is in the interests of EU businesses to be able to access capital at the cheapest possible price. I see in his place my hon. Friend Stephen Hammond, who has expertise in this regard; he knows that the expertise in respect of the global markets and the liquidity that London offers is of benefit not just to the rest of the world but to colleagues in European businesses. They want access to the talent of the constituents of my hon. Friend Bob Blackman and many others, which is why it is in both sides’ interests to reach agreement. That is the discussion that the Prime Minister will have with the President of the Commission tomorrow.
For those of us who have been clear about our opposition to no deal, the problem with new clause 4 is that in effect it takes away some of the certainty and benefits to business, because it opens up the possibility of an unended extension, and the problem with new clause 36 is that it is anti-democratic. Any colleagues who think that such provisions may need to be in place should recognise that they would undermine the whole purpose of the withdrawal agreement. The best way to stop no deal is to secure a deal.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. I know that he engages extensively with the business community, and what the business community wants is the clarity and certainty that the Bill delivers, and it also wants an implementation period that has a clear demarcation in terms of time. That is what the Bill will deliver.
The Secretary of State has expressed enormous confidence that a deal will be done by December; may I test that confidence a little further? Will he give the House an assurance today that there is no prospect whatsoever of the UK leaving without an agreement in December this year?
I have set this out very clearly. The right hon. Gentleman will have studied the Bill—he always does—and will know exactly what is in clause 33, which is a commitment to stick to the timetable set out for the implementation period, which we committed to in our manifesto. I would hope that he, as a democrat, would want a Government to adhere to their manifesto.
The reality is that, on
I look forward to hearing from Members across the House as we take the Bill through Committee. This Government are committed to delivering Brexit, and this Bill will enable us to do so.
Order. I should probably have indicated for the benefit of new Members, and will indicate now, that clause 33 will not be decided today. Although it is grouped with these amendments, it will be taken as a Committee of the Whole House decision tomorrow and may or may not be divided on. To make that clear, it will not be that we have forgotten it.
Thank you very much, Sir Roger. It is a pleasure to rise to speak to new clause 4 primarily and to have the opportunity to correct the misrepresentation by the Secretary of State of our objectives in moving it. It is also a pleasure to do so with you in the Chair, Sir Roger. I want to take this opportunity to thank you and indeed all the Clerks for the work that has been done to ensure that we are able to debate the issues in the Bill today. Much of that work was done over the recess when other people were enjoying the break.
I have to say how much we regret that the Government have provided so little time to debate a considerable number of amendments, all tabled because they will have profound consequences for our country for generations to come. Our proposals over the next two days echo the concerns expressed in the previous Parliament and reflect the approach that has guided us as an Opposition over the past four difficult and divisive years.
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way. He talks about the principles that have guided him. Surely they are the principles that have misguided him and his party. Does he not understand that the political landscape has changed as a result of the general election? As the Secretary of State said, people want to get Brexit done. They do not want further delay, which is all that his new clause and new clause 36 would bring.
I had hoped for a better initial intervention. We are very clear that we accept that the general election has changed the landscape. The shadow Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union has made that position clear, other colleagues have made that position clear, and I will do so in my remarks. Members on the Government Benches should recognise that, although under our electoral system the arithmetic in this place is very clear, the majority of the British people voted for parties that were not of the mind of the Conservative manifesto and wanted to give the British public a further say. I say that not to deny the reality of the voting in this place, but to urge Government Members to have some caution about the way that they approach this issue and claim authority from the British people.
I am most grateful to the hon. Gentleman. I just wanted to clarify one thing. The Labour Front Bench and the whole of the Labour party—with few exceptions, if any—voted against the repeal of the European Communities Act 1972. First, does he confirm that that was the case—I do not think that he can deny it? Secondly, does that not make it clear that, back in 2018 when that Act received Royal Assent, they were refusing to accept the will of the British people and were against repealing the 1972 Act?
I am always happy to confirm what is on the public record, but I would say that the Opposition were clear; we campaigned to remain in the European Union because we believed that it was the right thing for our country and for the continent that we share with the other members of the EU, but we accepted the outcome of the referendum and voted to trigger article 50. We believe that there would have been the possibility both of winning an overwhelming majority in this House and of uniting the British people around a departure from the European Union that reflected the 52:48 vote of a divided country in 2016—a decision that would have taken us out of the European Union while remaining close to it, aligned with the single market, in a customs union, and continuing to be part of the agencies and partnerships that we have built together over 46 years. That sort of deal was available and it was Government Members who denied it.
We voted against the Bill on Second Reading because we believe that the withdrawal agreement is a bad deal for the UK, just as we voted against previous withdrawal agreements. When Government Members point fingers, it is worth remembering that we were not alone in that. Albeit for very different reasons, many Government Members, including the Prime Minister, voted more than once against getting Brexit done—on the terms of the previous Prime Minister’s deal and for his own reasons.
I appreciate the sentiment in my hon. Friend’s speech and the way in which he describes the events of the past few years. Does he agree that our duty now, as a responsible Opposition, is to make these very points and to point out to the Government—however large their majority—issues of substance on which we disagree and where the interests of the United Kingdom are not being pursued effectively by the Government?
I very much agree. There needs to be a voice for the approaching 55% of people in this country who were uncomfortable with the direction offered by the Conservative party manifesto. Although the result of the general election was clear, it does not mean that the Government can proceed without question, challenge or scrutiny. That is the point of many of our amendments.
My hon. Friend is making an excellent speech, the tone of which is just right. May I press the wider question around scrutiny? We will shortly have no Exiting the European Union Committee and I am not sure when the Select Committees will return. There is a lot of detail and, having sat on the International Trade Committee, I know that a lot of mistakes can be made at the beginning of the process when it comes to having a forward-looking trade deal. I fear that rushing into it like this—not allowing Parliament much time to debate the principles at the beginning and giving the Government a tiny implementation period—could lead to a much worse outcome than if we were to take a little time to be more thoughtful and give Parliament a genuine role in the new arrangements.
My hon. Friend is right to focus on the issue. The Government have seemed reluctant to embrace the idea of scrutiny and accountability since October in so very many ways. I hope they will think seriously and quite genuinely over the period ahead to ensure that there is a proper opportunity for this House to question and debate the direction of travel.
I am glad that we have this opportunity for the Opposition to make their points, but can they not see that trying to take away the proposition that we leave at the end of the year, come what may, completely undermines the British negotiating position? Every time they have tabled an amendment over the past three and a half years, it has always been to do Britain down and leave us in a weak position.
The right hon. Gentleman and I have had previous exchanges about comments that he might have made about doing Britain down. The position we have taken is that possibly it is not always the best idea to jump off a cliff—that if we find ourselves in a position where we are, for the sake of weeks or months, unable to secure a deal that is in the interests of the British economy, the sensible thing to do is to give ourselves a little bit of flexibility. He may think otherwise, but that is not our view.
Does the hon. Gentleman accept that for many people listening to the argument he is making, this is not a case of a fear of jumping over the cliff but more a fear that those opposed to leaving the EU want us to have our feet firmly stuck in the mud of the EU for ever, and that is the reason he wants a further extension?
I thank the right hon. Gentleman for that intervention, because it gives me the opportunity to say that that is absolutely not the case. We accept that we are leaving the European Union in three weeks’ time—end of—but that is not the end of Brexit because we will have considerable discussion in this place, and the Government will be involved in negotiations for some time to come, on the future relationship. The future relationship is the concern behind new clause 4, because we have consistently sought to oppose any proposals that risk damaging people’s jobs and livelihoods. That is why we voted against the deal proposed by the previous Prime Minister, Mrs May: the current Prime Minister may have voted against her for different reasons. It is why we also voted against the deal proposed by the current Prime Minister in the last Parliament.
Since its introduction in October, this Bill has only got worse—in our view, much worse. It grants expansive powers to Ministers and severely diminishes any role for Parliament in the crucial period ahead. It removes our role in approving the Government’s negotiating mandate and voting on the final treaty. Protections for workers’ rights have been ditched, confirming that the TUC was right to dismiss previous Government promises as “meaningless procedural tricks”. The new Northern Ireland protocol undermines the UK’s internal market—something that the Prime Minister had promised his former allies faithfully that he was committed to protecting. Shamefully, the Government have removed the requirement to negotiate an agreement with the EU on unaccompanied children seeking asylum.
The Government have not only removed any role for Parliament in deciding whether to extend the implementation period but are now specifically prohibiting Ministers from agreeing an extension through clause 33, as the Secretary of State pointed out. So no deal is back on the table, as I think he confirmed in his response to my right hon. Friend Hilary Benn. It is that risk that new clause 4 attempts to address. We do not plan to press it to a vote this evening, but it is intended to provide an opportunity for the Government to come back to this House with their proposals, perhaps on Report, on how we avoid the catastrophe of no deal at the end of this year.
It is a reflection of the unfortunately polarised discourse on Brexit, reflected in some of the comments earlier, that new clause 4 was described in some sections of the media at the end of last week as an
“attempt to delay leaving the EU by two years”.
It is no such thing. We recognise, as I said, that the general election result means that we are leaving the European Union on
The hon. Gentleman says that he recognises the decision that the electorate took last month, but does he not accept that there was a very clear mandate to conclude the implementation period by the end of this year, which was clearly in the Conservative manifesto—the manifesto of the party that has clearly been elected with a significant majority in this House?
I am not sure whether the hon. Gentleman was listening to the point that I made earlier. I am very clear on the electoral arithmetic, but he should also be clear that there is significant concern among the British people—represented by almost 55% of those who cast their vote in the general election—about the future direction, and there is no mandate for leaving the European Union without a deal.
I do not think that anyone can doubt my credentials as someone who is concerned about and opposed to no deal, but the hon. Member’s remarks would have greater validity if new clause 4 allowed for the potential of a very short extension necessary for the conclusion of a future relationship, as I think he was beginning to say, rather than a completely open-ended extension, which is unsurprisingly being described as an extension to Brexit. If he had wanted to stop no deal, he should have voted for a deal, and he should do that now.
I do not question the hon. Member’s credentials in terms of his concern about our leaving without a deal, but I ask him to look carefully at new clause 4. The framing of the new clause in relation to two years builds on the provisions of the withdrawal agreement to which the Government have signed up but includes the capacity for a much shorter transitional period if the Government are successful in concluding a deal or if this House agrees. Our proposal very much addresses the point that he makes. I will come to that in more detail, and he might want to intervene again.
It was because of the risks of a disorderly departure that we were first to argue—it seems like a very long time ago now—for a transition period, which at that stage the Government opposed. We were raising the voice of business and of the trade unions, and we were pleased when the Government accepted that principle, although they saved face by renaming it an implementation period. When the end of the transition was originally set for December 2020, it was on the assumption that we would have left the EU on
The Government say that they want an ambitious, best-in-class free trade agreement. They talk about CETA as a model, but not about the time taken to negotiate CETA, of which they are well aware. They say that it will be easy to negotiate, because we start from the unique position in trade talks of existing alignment; John Redwood is nodding. But it is the Government’s objective to diverge from that alignment, to seek a deal that allows the UK to race to the bottom, undercutting the EU on obligations and regulations and stepping off the level playing field. That is going to be uniquely difficult to negotiate, and any deal secured in 11 months is highly likely not to be a good deal for the UK.
The hon. Member is making an important point. Essentially, this will be the first trade deal in history where the aim is to put up barriers rather than remove them. Rather than this being an easy process, is it not likely to be convoluted and difficult?
Does my hon. Friend agree that we only need to look at the North American Free Trade Agreement renegotiation —a negotiation on the basis of a trade deal that has taken almost two years and still is not fully completed—to get an answer about how long it takes to negotiate a trade deal when one already exists and economies are already partly aligned?
I thank my hon. Friend for his intervention; he is right. I fear that the Government platitudes about the ease of negotiating this deal skirt over the real challenges that will be faced and the need for some flexibility and provision to avoid the cliff edge.
I have been fairly generous in giving away. I will make some progress and then take further interventions.
Under the provisions of the withdrawal agreement, as the Secretary of State pointed out, any extension to the transition period must be agreed by
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way. When he says that it is a race to the bottom, surely he is showing his own prejudice, in the sense that he does not want the United Kingdom to devolve itself of any unnecessary regulations that have been imposed on this country over the last 47 years.
I was quite involved in the debate during the referendum, and I listened carefully to what many of the Government Members who were advocating our departure were saying. They talked about a bonfire of regulations. The direction of travel for leaving the European Union was fairly clear: it is to free ourselves of those rights and protections that defend working people, protect the environment and protect consumers and to create a different sort of economic model. The hon. Member may not agree with my description, but I think that a “race to the bottom” summarises that pretty well.
The hon. Member asks what the problem is with new clause 4, because if we have done a deal by the end of 2020, we will leave anyway. The point is that if we are not allowed to delay, the imperative on both sides of the negotiating table is to get this done by the end of 2020. If we allow it to be extended for another two years, the negotiations are bound to take longer. Why can he not approach these negotiations with confidence? The Government are confident that they can do it within the period. Michel Barnier, whom I quoted earlier, seems confident that it can be done. Why can his party not approach the negotiations in that spirit?
If the Government were so confident, why did they build into the withdrawal agreement the provision to be able to extend? It was a cautious insurance policy. They were right to do so. We are trying to help them with the problems that they are creating for themselves now.
Many Government Members know that there is a potential for us not to have secured the sort of deal that this country needs by the end of December. If, unamended, this Bill forces the country into a no-deal crash-out—which was described, for example, by Make UK, the voice of the manufacturing sector, as “the height of economic lunacy”—the Government will regret not having taken the opportunity to make some provisions along the lines of new clause 4, which protects the UK from the entirely unnecessary threat of no deal. It simply builds on the mechanism for extending the transition period that is already baked into the Government’s own withdrawal agreement; it is oven ready, as the Prime Minister would like to say. For the same reasons, we do not accept the insertion of clause 33, which is grandstanding nonsense that prohibits Ministers from agreeing to an extension to the transition period.
Let me be absolutely clear again: we are not seeking to delay Brexit—the UK will have left the EU in three weeks’ time—nor do we want to stay in the transition period any longer than is necessary, but the flexibility that we are proposing provides the certainty that business needs. There is no point in replacing the previous cliff edge, about which Stephen Hammond expressed real concern, with the new cliff edge if the flexibility that we are suggesting is not there.
The hon. Gentleman is making a very good case about why the Opposition are putting this forward, but will he explain why the date of
I would not actually disagree with the point the hon. Gentleman makes. The date that we have included in new clause 4 is determined by the Government. The position of requiring some level of flexibility, let us remember, reflects the Government’s previous view. In the last version of this Bill, published in October, the Government accepted the principle that the transition period could be extended. That was the Government’s view—this Government. It was also the Government’s view that Parliament should have a role in that process—the current Prime Minister. It was right then, it is right now and I look forward to proposals from the Government on Report to address these concerns.
I rise particularly to support clause 33. I think it is essential that we are finally out of the EU in every proper way by the end of this year. Some three and a half years have passed since the British people made their decision that they wished to leave. Many of us voted to leave because we think the world is going to be better once we have left. We do not regard it as some kind of disease or problem that has to be managed; we see it as full of opportunities. We want to rebuild our fishing industry under British regulations and British control. We wish to get all our money back and to spend it on our priorities in health and education. We wish to make sure that we can make the laws we wish, and which the people recommend to us in elections and in the normal dialogue between constituents and Members of Parliament. We are extremely optimistic about our opportunities as a leader of free trade worldwide once we have regained our full vote and voice in the World Trade Organisation and are able to do our own deals with all those parts of the world that the EU has not got round to doing deals with all the time we have been a member.
We are very optimistic. We think we are going to be better off economically. I have always said that, and anyone who suggests otherwise is deliberately misrepresenting my position. I share the frustration of many leave voters that three and a half years on and with a new Parliament with a very clear mandate we are still facing demands that we are going too quickly and that three and a half years plus another year—four and a half years—is still not long enough, and why not six and a half years?
Does my right hon. Friend agree that, unlike the Opposition spokesman, who seems to paint a very gloomy picture about our moving away from European regulations, this Parliament and this country are perfectly capable of regulating our own domestic affairs, and protecting the environment and workers’ rights in the British way, without always acquiescing in EU laws?
I, in particular, think we can do a lot better on taxation. I do not want tax on all these green products that the EU makes us tax. I would not have thought that the Green party really wanted those. However, I suspect that if I or others moved amendments to the forthcoming Budget this March to take out those unnecessary taxes, we would be told we are still not allowed to because we are in the implementation period and have to accept European law. It has also interfered in our corporate taxes in a way that actually reduces the revenues we gain from big business. I would have thought Labour and the Liberal Democrats rather oppose that, but because it comes from the EU they are completely quiet on the subject. They do not seem to mind that the EU interferes with our revenue raising.
Is my right hon. Friend as surprised as I am that the official Opposition and the Liberal Democrats, with their new clauses, are seeking yet further delays? Despite what Paul Blomfield says, that is the effect of new clause 4. It would mean a lack of the certainty that the British people voted for at the recent general election.
I do think it is almost unbelievable that the Opposition are talking about adding to four and a half years of delay, under the Government model now, another two years—six and a half years. Six and a half years at £12 billion a year is a huge sum, and I would like to tease this out a bit more with those on our Front Bench because I think my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State misunderstood me. He thought I was talking about the cost to business, but I am talking about the cost to British taxpayers. This extra implementation period in itself—I really rather regret it, but I see it is a necessity from where we currently are, given the forces in this House—must be costing £11 billion or £12 billion, in tax revenue forgone, that we have to pay.
I would like some reassurance from the Front Bench that once we are properly out at the end of December, under clause 33, there will not be further bills. I want us to be able to say to the British people, “We now do control our own money. We are not going to carry on paying for this show.” I think it might be quite a good negotiating tactic to suggest to the EU that perhaps there is not a strong legal basis for some of the claims it wishes to make, because we need to put some countervailing pressure on the EU during this remaining negotiation period on the free trade agreement. I do not think we have to pay for a free trade agreement. I think it is massively in the interests of the rest of the European Union, because it sells us more than we sell it, but we have to be firm, otherwise it will walk all over us again and demand more concessions.
Is not the lesson of the prolonged, tortuous seven years of negotiation on the Canadian deal the very fact that it was an open-ended process that did not come to an end? The effect of new clause 4 is basically to ensure, in providing for an extension, that it makes that extension certain, because the knowledge that the extension can take place will take away the very pressure to make an agreement within the time that is available.
Those of us who have had to study European Union affairs for all too long, because they affect our own country so much, have learned from bitter experience that deals nearly always happen at the last minute under artificial or genuine deadlines that the EU has often imposed on itself. All we are trying to do, in supporting a Government in doing this, is to say to the EU that there is a deadline on this negotiation: “If you, O EU, really want a free trade deal with us, as you have said you do in the partnership agreement, hurry now while stocks last.” It is not all about us, it is about the EU as well. It needs this free trade agreement, and we need to keep the pressure up. Let us tell it that there needs to be significant progress by the middle of this year so that it is realistic to finalise the text.
I do think it should be relatively straightforward, if there is good will on the EU side as well as on our own side, because we have been party to its international negotiations. If we take the best of the Japanese deal and the best of the Canadian deal—it is already there in text—it should be relatively easy to say that we can at least have that. The EU has already offered that to non-members of the European Union, and we should be able to add a bit more because by being a member we already have agreements to things that are in our mutual interest to continue.
I would be very optimistic about the negotiations, but I am quite conscious that if we negotiate as, unfortunately, the previous Government did before the change of leadership and the general election, we will end up making more concessions to get something that the EU has already promised in the political declaration. I do not want the fish at risk, and I do not want the money at risk. I do want to take full control of the money, the fish, the law making and the taxes from the beginning of next year, as we are promised by this Bill, and clause 33 is a very important part of trying to deliver that.
I wish the Government every success. I am optimistic on their behalf because of the promises the EU has made. My message to the EU is: “Do not underestimate the British people. You may have been right to believe that many of their political representatives in the last Parliament were on the EU’s side, not on the UK’s side, but the British people are altogether a more serious proposition, and the British people have spoken loud and clear.” The British people have had enough of the delay, enough of the dither, enough of the concessions and enough of the idea that Brexit is a problem. We believe in Brexit, we want the freedoms, and we want to choose our own taxes, our own laws and to spend our own money. Bring it on—the sooner, the better.
The Prime Minister and some members of the Conservative party call on everyone to “move on” from Brexit. It is as if he expects those of us who see the disadvantages of leaving the EU simply to put our brain in a box and forget about the impacts on our constituents and communities. He expects us not to speak up for the colleagues, friends and, in my case, loved ones who have come here from the EU, made their home here, and improved our society. He expects us not to mourn our loss of EU citizenship, and to be silent about the damage to healthcare, manufacturing, the food and drink industry, farming, and even fishing—yes, fishing, that oft-quoted supposed beneficiary of Brexit.
The trouble is that the Prime Minister thinks there is only one fishing industry, and one Scottish fishing industry, and he completely ignores inshore fishing, such as that in my constituency on the west coast of Scotland. Eighty-five per cent. of that catch goes to the EU, but with extra bureaucracy, delays and the threat of tariffs, the industry will struggle to compete with Northern Irish fishermen, who share the same waters but will land their catch directly into the single market. To save their boats, some fishermen have even mooted registering them in Northern Ireland, but that would destroy the viability of our fishing harbours, fish markets, and onshore processing. It is certainly not a “sea of opportunity” for coastal communities.
Despite his hollow demand to “let the healing begin”, the Prime Minister has produced a worse deal than his predecessor. Like her, he made no attempt to seek common ground across the Chamber, or across the nations of the UK, and he ignored the Scottish Government’s compromise of enabling both Northern Ireland and Scotland to stay inside the single market and customs union, which would have respected the fact that both nations voted to remain in the EU. Even the supposed triumph of the Northern Ireland protocol is sketched on the back of a fag packet, with almost everything left for the Joint Committee to work out and enact through sweeping and unlimited delegated powers.
The changes made to the October version of the European Union (Withdrawal Agreement) Bill set the tone for what we can expect from this Government in future. The deletion of clause 34 and schedule 4 removes the protection of workers’ rights from this legally binding treaty, while clause 37 abandons the commitment to family reunification for unaccompanied child refugees. Particularly concerning are the Government’s plans for a ridiculously short transition period of only 11 months—despite the former Prime Minister taking two and a half years just to get the withdrawal agreement. The Tory manifesto revealed the Government’s aim of changing the balance between Government, Parliament and the courts, and in this Bill we see that begin. There is little input for the devolved Governments, despite the impact that Brexit will have on their devolved policies. This debate has been limited to just three days in the House of Commons, as opposed to 30 days to debate the treaties of Rome or Maastricht.
We hear much about sovereignty as an argument for Brexit. The rather pointless clause 36 simply restates parliamentary sovereignty, yet clauses 5 and 6 give the withdrawal agreement supremacy over all domestic UK law. This Bill is not “getting Brexit done”; it is the beginning of the beginning. The former Prime Minister tried to have her cake and eat it, while painting herself into a corner with her own red lines. This Prime Minister clearly does not care if he only manages a few crumbs of a basic, bare-bones trade deal, and the loss of 50-plus EU free trade deals with other countries in the world. Such is the obsession with a short transition—there is certainly no more talk of frictionless trade!
The long wish list of aspirations in the political declaration is way beyond a trade deal; it is the future relationship with the EU. The political declaration makes it clear that the more the UK diverges, the less there will be on the table, and the outcome of that will affect the wellbeing of people in all our constituencies. By deleting clause 31, and by removing parliamentary oversight of negotiations on the future relationship, MPs are losing the ability to influence the terms of that relationship on behalf of our constituents and local industries. We are also losing the possibility of scrutinising the Government’s proposals and holding them to account on their progress. This is a blind Brexit. As others have said, we are expected to jump off a cliff at the end of this month, and we are meant just to trust that somehow the Government will knit a parachute on the way down.
Clauses 1 to 4 are to ensure that EU and EU-derived law functions during the standstill transition, by keeping modified parts of the European Communities Act 1972 in force, along with the sweeping use of delegated powers. No end date is set in any of the clauses, with references only to “implementation period completion day”. Clause 33 later forbids any extension to the transition period, which means that we still face a no- deal crash-out at the end of this year, thus continuing business uncertainty, discouraging investment, and keeping the brakes on the UK economy. A Government do not need to legislate for their own actions, so that is clearly a stunt to keep hard Brexiteers and no-deal disaster capitalists on board—or do the Prime Minister’s colleagues perhaps not trust him to keep to his “die in a ditch” commitments yet again? This is a bizarre act of self-harm, as not only are the Government planning to take the UK off a cliff without a parachute; they are actively removing the safety net at the bottom.
If the Opposition had pushed for new clause 4, we would have supported it. Brexit will harm the health and wellbeing of ordinary people across the UK, and while the Prime Minister may have won the election in England, he did not win it in any of the devolved nations. Indeed, by specifically standing on a ticket of denying Scotland a choice on her future, he lost more than half his Scottish MPs. At the ballot box last month, three-quarters of Scottish voters rejected this Prime Minister, rejected his party and rejected his deal. He has no mandate to inflict his disastrous Brexit on Scotland, and we will not support the Bill.
Thank you, Sir Roger, for calling me to speak in this important debate. It is a pleasure to be back in Parliament with a new mandate, following the general election. I spoke about the withdrawal agreement in the previous Session, and I am happy to add my voice again to this debate. I will keep my comments brief, but I wish to add my support for the Government’s approach.
As the Secretary of State set out, it is important to have an implementation period. Redditch is a centre of business and has many small and medium-sized enterprises. Although they had mixed views on the referendum, most businesses, citizens and voters now conclude that it is more damaging to be constantly in a cycle of extension and delay to Brexit, than to do what the Government are now doing by setting out a clear timeline to follow. Once this Bill has passed, we will have that certainty, and from my experience before I came to Parliament of running a small business for nearly 30 years —yes, I do look that old—[Hon. Members: “No! No!] Thank you, thank you. I will pay you all later. What people need to run their business is certainty, which is what the Bill will provide. It means that we know where we are going, and when businesses know that, they can do what they do best and prepare for the situation in which they find themselves. This is definitely the right way forward.
Let me address the comments made by Opposition Members about new clause 4, which seeks to introduce an extension to the implementation period. I do not support that approach as I think it is a rerun of the previous Parliament, and we all saw how damaging that was, not only for this Parliament but for our reputation in the country. Voters were looking at us and wondering what we were doing and why we were not implementing the clear instructions that they gave us in the historic referendum of 2016. Again, no matter how they voted—whether they voted to leave or remain—there was a simple principle of democracy at stake. Voters said to us, “We have given you those instructions.” It may not have been what I, as an individual, wanted to happen, but that was the overwhelming democratic result of the country. They said, “We expect you, as politicians and parliamentarians, to implement it.” We did not do that and it was a very damaging situation that eroded trust in us as politicians. Anyone who has been out on the doorstep, not only in their own constituency but in others, knows that that is what the public are saying to us.
The Labour party has made a great deal of wanting to hold us to account over the transition period and any possible extensions, so is my hon. Friend surprised that there is only one Labour Back Bencher in this debate, bearing in mind the importance Labour Members attach to this issue?
My hon. Friend makes a very good point. We see this time and time again from the Opposition. They are constantly crying out that they need more time for scrutiny, yet when we have the time there is a sea of empty Benches. We have seen that so many times. This is not the first time. We do not even have the shadow Brexit Secretary here. There is a lack of interest. I honestly think that it would not matter how much time we gave them; they still would not want us to actually honour the will of the British people. I am afraid it is a fig leaf.
Does my hon. Friend agree that part of the problem with what the Opposition propose is not just their lack of attention in coming to the Chamber, but their lack of attention to detail in what they propose? On new clause 4, they talk about the need to bring authority back to Parliament, but does she agree that what it actually says is that only a two-year extension could be proposed by the Government in this country—[Interruption.] That is exactly what it says. And that only the European Union could put a shorter extension on the table. It does not give Parliament the authority to suggest a shorter extension at all.
I thank my right hon. and learned Friend for that point. I expect nothing less from his forensic attention to detail. He highlights the inconsistency at the heart of the Opposition’s arguments. It reminds me of some of the amendments we had in the previous Parliament, when the Opposition wanted to us to give away our control about the process of leaving the European Union. That was constantly the approach they forced on the Government. That has actually ended up very well for us, because we now have a strong governing majority.
The response I have had from my constituents in Redditch since I have been fortunate enough to be returned to this place, and since I have been out and about on my travels speaking to them, is that people are just so happy that we can finally get this process concluded. I agree with the Opposition that we all need to now reach out across the House. We need to put the divisions behind us. I do not want to stand in this place and come across in a way that is taken to be—I am struggling to find the right word. What I want to say is that I want to find common ground. I think there is now common ground between the Government and the Opposition. We want to come together. There is a recognition that different positions were taken by voters, but we need to come together in the interests not only of Parliament, but the country and all our constituents.
I am very respectful of the hon. Lady’s position and the position of others in this House. However, when she refers to coming together, does she understand that we on the Unionist side of the House feel greatly threatened and disadvantaged by the agreement? What is being done to alleviate the concern of Unionists in this House about an agreement that basically puts us outside of the rest of the United Kingdom and under the control of the EU? How can that be right? Does the hon. Lady respect and understand—
Order. I think this is the moment when the Chair has to intervene just a little. I have given a lot of slack during the course of the afternoon. The hon. Gentleman is fully aware that a greater part of tomorrow will be devoted to matters relating to Northern Ireland and I do not wish to stray too far into matters that will be debated tomorrow. We have a minimum of four hours to debate a lot of clauses later this evening. If the hon. Lady is able to win some time for the House, and if other hon. Members are able to do so, we might manage to spend more time debating issues that I suspect a lot of people wish to discuss.
I am mindful of your strictures with regard to time, Sir Roger. Paul Blomfield said during his opening remarks that he did not intend to press new clause 4 to a Division. If it assists the Committee, I can indicate that it is not my intention to press new clause 36, which stands in my name and in the name of my right hon. and hon. Friends. I do, however, wish to speak to those. Before I do so, I would like to pick up on the points made by Joanna Cherry to the Secretary of State with regard to the powers given to the United Kingdom Government, and to the Scottish Government and other devolved Administrations.
I have to say to the Secretary of State that I found his explanation to be a little less than clear and somewhat less than convincing. In proposed new paragraph 11B in clause 4, relating to the powers of the Scottish Parliament, he will see that the devolved Administrations have no power to legislate outside their devolved competences. It is of course the case that it is in the nature of devolution that the Administrations have no power, so I suggest to the Secretary of State that the inclusion of that provision is at the very least somewhat otiose. He would have to come up with a better explanation than he did to the hon. and learned Lady as to why it is necessary to have, or not to have, a similar provision with regard to the powers of this House.
The Secretary of State talked in his opening remarks about the commitment in the Conservative party manifesto, in respect of which it now has a handsome majority in this House. He was quite right to put that before the Committee, and it is perfectly legitimate that the Government should do so. However, I would suggest that he took it one step further than was sensible when he suggested that clause 33 was necessary for the Government to meet their manifesto obligations. Whether or not a Government meet their manifesto obligations is essentially a matter of politics, not law, and for the Secretary of State to suggest it is necessary to have a clause of this sort to meet their manifesto obligations is something of an overstatement. It would be possible for them to meet their manifesto obligations without recourse to clause 33.
As other Members have pointed out, it is perfectly legitimate—we are entitled to do so—for those of us on the Opposition Benches, and I suspect a number of the better-informed Government Members, to point out that the previous implementation agreement reached by the former Prime Minister, Mrs May, was for 21 months. At that point, we thought that was exceptionally ambitious, but now we find that it can all be done in 11 months. I have been a Member of this House for over 18 and a half years. You learn a thing or two in that time, Sir Roger. You know that, because you have been here even longer than me. One of the things we learn is to take assurances of that sort with a measure of some scepticism when we hear them from those on the Treasury Bench, whichever party is in government. That is why I think this is perfectly legitimate.
We have heard the assurances given by those on the Treasury Bench tonight. They may be right, in which case we will have an agreement concluded by the end of this year, but if they are not, those assurances will stand on the record, and the Minister and his colleagues will have to be accountable for them. I suspect that we now have a choice between close alignment, because that will be all that is possible in the 11-month negotiation period, and no deal. It will be interesting to see whether the unity that has been present behind the Secretary of State on the Government Benches today is maintained after that point.
The Secretary of State and his colleagues have been candid in saying that no deal is still very much on the table, in the event that they do not have a deal concluded at the end of this year. It is worth remembering the extent of the implications of no deal. We have focused almost exclusively on the execution of a trade deal this evening. As Chris Bryant reminded us, intelligence and security co-operation is also at risk, and the consequences of failing to get that right would go well beyond monetary and commercial considerations.
I am also concerned about the third issue that would come into play in a no-deal Brexit: the position of Northern Ireland as part of the United Kingdom. The Union of the United Kingdom can be broken up by any one of its four constituent parts. If we end up with a no-deal Brexit, we force Northern Ireland into a situation that is different legally and in regulatory terms from that which pertains in the rest of the United Kingdom. Once that wedge is inserted, we will never see it removed.
I do not intend to press new clause 36 to a Division. We have heard the bold and ambitious assertions from those on the Treasury Bench. Time will tell whether they are right, but if they are wrong, the Secretary of State’s words are on the record and, believe me, they will come back to haunt him.
I will keep my remarks mercifully brief, restricting them to new clause 4. This would be a detrimental amendment to the Bill, because it would completely undermine the negotiations that the Government have to undertake. I understand the concerns about a no-deal situation at the end of 2020—I am very concerned about that, too—but we must follow the golden rules in a negotiation. I have negotiated many things in my life, although clearly not something as large as leaving the European Union—but who has? However, there have been some things that would have had a much bigger direct impact on my life, certainly in terms of business negotiations. Some of those have been life-changing and, particularly in negotiations with our banks, pretty much life-threatening. The golden rule in any negotiation is that a person has to walk into them with confidence. That is absolutely how we have to undertake the negotiations. Of course, as Mr Carmichael said, there are some downsides to these negotiations. It is therefore even more important to walk into them with confidence. We must believe that we can do this deal.
The provision for an extension to be concluded by
We are in a different situation. I am still involved in my business; it has grown a lot over the last 26 or 27 years, and I have concerns about the impact on it of the wrong kind of exit from the European Union. However, I still think it is absolutely right to set the deadline of the end of 2020 to do this deal. In our manifesto and all the statements in the general election, it is true that we said that we would do this deal by the end of 2020 and that we would be out completely by then. It would be wrong and a breach of the trust that the people had in us in the general election for us now to say that there could be a further extension.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right about confidence, but does he agree—he has alluded to this—that it is not just confidence, but a firm deadline that is required, rather than a flextension or the risk of a further extension or postponement? We saw that in the last two Parliaments. That fundamental error, which was made by previous Administrations, will not be made by this one.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. The date is the imperative that makes sure that both sides will be looking towards that date to finalise negotiations. There are incentives and imperatives on both sides of the negotiating table. If there is the right spirit of negotiation between the two parties, and we undertake the negotiations in that frame of mind, we will absolutely be able to do this deal. However, if we provide the opportunity for an extension, we hand over the advantage in the negotiation to the other side. That is the absolute reality. We cannot do that, nor do we need to.
There are a number of reasons to think that we can do the deal within the timescale. We start from a position of total alignment, which is bound to help. This is different from a normal free trade agreement, in terms of the negotiations. Clearly, there have to be negotiations on what happens about divergence, but we start from a position of absolute alignment, which, to my mind, makes these negotiations totally possible in the next 12 months.
No one has ever negotiated a trade deal in just 11 months, so is it not likely that we will end up with something incredibly primitive? As for casting up that people voted for this in the election, what they voted for was the Government party saying, “We will achieve that by the end of the year.” They did not vote for it saying, “Well, never mind—we will crash out with no deal if we fail.”
The hon. Lady makes a very good point, and I do not want to do that either. However, if she reads the comments from Michel Barnier that I quoted earlier, from the Financial Times of
The political declaration has a huge wish list of aspirations. Are they going to be negotiated later, or does the hon. Gentleman really think that including the European Medicines Agency, the European Chemicals Agency and all the various things that are in the wish list will be achieved by the end of the year?
There may be a staging process; we do not know how the negotiations are going to roll out yet. Michel Barnier said that Brussels could take contingency measures to deal with those kinds of issue, because he does not want economic disruption. There is an appetite on both sides. What the European Union has done far better than the UK Parliament is negotiate as a bloc, together. There has not ever been any difficulty from its side in terms of people wanting different things, whereas clearly the UK Parliament has not behaved like that. As a result, the biggest vulnerability within the European Union from a poor trade deal or no trade deal is with regard to the Republic of Ireland.
The Republic of Ireland’s GDP growth rate is around 5%. Most financial commentators say that if there was a no-deal Brexit, the Republic of Ireland would go into recession. The EU would not want that. It would not leave the Republic of Ireland behind. The UK has imperatives in striking a deal and so has the EU. To my mind, that means we can do a deal in the next 12 months. I urge the Opposition to have more confidence in their position. The remarks from the hon. Member for Sheffield Central, the Opposition Front-Bench spokesman, betrayed a lack of confidence, appetite and enthusiasm for this whole thing.
We cannot deal with Brexit like this—and I voted to remain. We must walk forward with confidence not only about our new relationship with the European Union, but, crucially at this time, about our negotiations on the trade deal.
It is a pleasure to see you in the Chair, Sir George.
It has been mentioned that I am the only Labour Back Bencher in the Chamber, which is a double privilege. First, I think I am the only Labour leaver from the last Parliament left in the House. Secondly, the hustings for the start of the Labour leadership election are going on upstairs, which is important. One of my party’s problems is that although many of our supporters voted to leave the EU—and are enthusiastic about leaving—they are very poorly represented in the Labour party itself.
There is an element of tilting at windmills in this debate. I do not believe the catastrophe theories about the next 11 months or so. The public want us to get out, and it is in the mutual interest of the EU and its member states and the UK to get as good a deal as possible, so I do not believe the catastrophic predictions. I voted against the previous Prime Minister’s deal three times, and against the current Prime Minister’s deal—in November, I think—but I did so because there were not simple majorities and I believed there was a better deal out there. Going through the Lobby, I was aware that some were voting against because they wanted a better deal—one we believed would better represent the decision in the 2016 referendum—but that others were voting to delay the process because they wanted, either by measures in this Chamber or by a second referendum, to overturn the 2016 decision itself.
I am pleased we are now to leave the EU on
The other side of my hon. Friend’s argument is that the Conservatives want a race to the bottom. They might or might not. I am in the Labour party, and not the Conservative party, because my philosophy differs from theirs on many issues, but it is better in a democracy if we argue those issues out in general elections such as the one we have just had. If the Conservatives, as they tend to, want a more free-market approach, they should argue for that, and if we want a more interventionist approach, we should argue for that, and whether we win or lose the argument is up to the electorate. At present, however, our ability to support our own industries depends not on whether we or the Conservatives win an election, but on rules for state intervention and support set down by the EU.
As always, the hon. Gentleman is making a compelling argument. I congratulate him not only on his insight but on his consistency. In the end, this is a question of who exercises power and from where, in exactly the way he describes. For too long, too many people on both sides of the House have seen this argument through an economic prism, but it is actually about who decides our destiny, and it should be the British people through those they choose to speak for them here.
I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his intervention. He will not necessarily take this as a compliment, but Tony Benn could have made those points, because they have run through the arguments of both Conservative and Labour Members who support leaving the EU ever since we joined in 1972.
Not only is it better that those decisions be taken here, but it is often assumed that the EU is good for the economy and the protection of trade union and environmental rights, yet quite a lot of evidence runs counter to that. I am not an expert on fishing, but the discard rule has been an environmental disaster in the North sea. I understand quite a bit about trade union protections and legislation and I never get a satisfactory answer from my side about the Laval and Viking decisions of the European Court of Justice. Not only do they undermine the minimum wage and the nature and definition of a trade dispute; they are effectively unchangeable, as we in this country cannot change laws made by the ECJ. That is what is fundamentally wrong with being a member of the EU.
I have no doubt that there will be changes when we leave the EU—people will be able to claim there has been a negative economic change there or a positive one here—but that happens all the time. Where has our paper industry gone? Has it been helped by the EU and its regulations? What about our agrochemical industry? It was essentially destroyed by European legislation, but I do not hear people in this Chamber arguing against the EU in that regard. It is accepted—I do not know why—that the EU will always be good for these things.
If new clause 4 were to be put to the vote, I would not join my colleagues in support of it. I agree with what the Labour Front Benchers have said—that we should use the debate on the Bill to improve things—but going over the debate we have been having in this Chamber since 2016 will not do that. I have no idea—I have not counted up the time—but my guess is that we have spent as much time in this Chamber discussing the 2016 referendum, at which we committed to giving the people the choice, as we did debating both the Lisbon and Maastricht treaties put together. I understand, however, that the Front Benchers do not intend to put the new clause to a vote. I hope they can be more constructive as we continue this debate.
The Democratic Unionist party will be supporting clause 33, though tomorrow we will be tabling amendments to the Bill, because, although we accept that it is essential to get out of the EU as quickly as possible, we believe that the terms of the withdrawal agreement are detrimental to Northern Ireland. The purpose, however, of any amendments my party puts forward will be to assist the process of leaving the EU and to ensure that the whole of the UK leaves. That is not the case with new clauses 4 and 36, which are designed to extend the period for which we stay in the EU and would make it much more difficult to have a clean break.
Have we learned nothing from the tactics the EU has used over the last few years? The longer the period, the more it can hold back, and the more demands it can make. We have seen that time and again.
The last Parliament made it clear that it would not give the Government the support that they needed to move forward with a deal. The EU dug its heels in deeper, and did not try to be accommodating. What is important about clause 33 is that it draws a line, sends a signal, and makes the position very clear. It says, “Here is the deadline: now get on with the negotiations.” No clearer message could be sent to those who are negotiating on the EU’s behalf.
Indeed it is significant that, although we were formerly told that a trade deal could take years to negotiate, the language is suddenly changing because the arithmetic in the House has changed and the Government’s will is different. We are now being told, “Well, it might not be as difficult as it was for Canada and Japan. After all, we are starting from the same place, and we have a lot of the same regulations”—and there are a number of other reasons why the negotiation might be easier than we were previously told that it would be.
Of course that will be the opening negotiating position. He is not going to say, “Yes, and by the way, we do not have to have close alignment.” There will still be a desire on the part of the EU to keep us as close as possible. However, one way of ensuring that we get a deal, and get the kind of deal that we want, is to make it clear that we will not engage in protracted negotiations. We must say, “We will not allow you to use all the tactics that you have used before. You must come to a conclusion. If you want access to our UK market—and you need access to it because you sell more to us than we sell to you—and if you want the future trading relationship and the co-operation that the Government have offered time and again, you must reach a deal quickly.”
Has the right hon. Gentleman noticed, in the three and a half years of these endless debates, that the Labour and Liberal Opposition have always tabled proposals that strengthen the EU and undermine the UK? Has he noticed that they only ever put the EU case, and never put the UK case?
That was the whole point of extending the implementation period, to allow that tactic to be used, even in this Parliament, with different arithmetic. It is one of the reasons why I think the Government are right to draw a line and say, “We have a year in which to do this. Now let us get on with it, and let us get the deal.” I just hope that during that period, the Government will also be cognisant of the fact that the protocol on Northern Ireland is damaging to the Union, and will seek to ensure in the negotiations that that protocol is weakened and the differences between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK are changed, so that we leave the EU along with the rest of the United Kingdom and on the same terms.
The right hon. Gentleman has talked about our huge trade deficit with the European Union, and how vital a free trade agreement is to the EU—how much more in its interests such an agreement is. I understand that our current trade deficit is more than £92 billion a year. Is the right hon. Gentleman cognisant of that figure?
That is one of the reasons why it should not be too difficult to secure a trade deal. After all, in whose interests is that? It is in the interests of workers in Germany, France, Italy, Spain and other countries all over Europe to have access to the UK market. Our market is lucrative for them. We hear all this talk about why it will be difficult to do a deal, but why would EU negotiators, now that they know there is a different will in the House, want to turn their back on the UK market? Why would they not want to have the ability to sell goods to us, and to sell them on good terms? They will not want to erect the barriers that people said they were likely to erect.
This is the right thing to do, tactically and politically. The Minister has said that it is necessary to deliver on the commitment that his party made to the electorate during the general election, but let us go back further than that: it is necessary to deliver on the referendum result of 2016, when we promised people that we would leave. I think that the delay has been long enough, and people are frustrated enough, so this is the right thing to do politically, but I also think that it is the right thing to do from the point of view of industry, and economically. We have heard time and again that investment decisions are being delayed because of uncertainty—that people need to know what the future is likely to be, so that we can then see a bounce in the economy. Let us not push this further down the road. Let us make sure that people have certainty as quickly as possible.
Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that, throughout the general election, the mantra of the British people was “Just get on with it”? Indeed, the outcome of the election was a mandate to the House to get on with the exiting of the European Union, and the new clause flies in the face of the outcome of the general election that we have just had.
Order. I was hesitating to interrupt the right hon. Gentleman, because I thought that he was reaching his peroration, but may I just remind him that he should keep his remarks as close as possible to the clauses and new clauses that we are debating?
Let me conclude my speech, Sir George, by issuing a word of caution about clause 33. While a deadline of December this year can put pressure on the EU, it can also put pressure on the Government. As we in Northern Ireland have learned, the pressure on the Government from the
Equally, the deadline that the Government have imposed on themselves could be used by EU negotiators to make demands. Those negotiators could say, “If you want a deal by that stage, here are the things that we want from you: we want you to make concessions on fishing, on level playing fields, on payments, and on a whole range of other things.” That is the only word of caution that I will issue. Deadlines put pressure on both sides, and come December this year, whether the Government are prepared to stand firm in the face of their own deadline and not be pushed around will be a test of their will.
Question put and agreed to.
Clause 1 accordingly ordered to stand part of the Bill.
Clauses 2 to 6 ordered to stand part of the Bill.