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Interpretation

Part of European Union (Withdrawal Agreement) Bill – in the House of Commons at 5:45 pm on 8th January 2020.

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Photo of Joanna Cherry Joanna Cherry Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Justice and Home Affairs), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Justice), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Home Affairs) 5:45 pm, 8th January 2020

As I said earlier, it is clear from the Conservative manifesto that the Government intend a rebalancing of power between the Executive, Parliament and the judiciary. I think this comes from a sense of hubris about the Prime Minister’s defeat in the Supreme Court at the tail end of last year. Of course, it is important to remember that that was not a political decision, but a legal one. The distinguished Scottish judge Lord Drummond Young said in the Scottish Supreme Court, “It is not for the judiciary to scrutinise the Government. That is the job of Parliament. But when the Government prevents Parliament from doing its job, then it is the job of the judiciary to step in to make sure that Parliament can fulfil its function.” I see that that comment from a distinguished member of the Scottish bench is going down like a lead balloon on the Government Benches, but it simply mirrors what Lady Hale was careful to do in the Supreme Court, which was to underline that these were legal judgments, not political ones.

Our memberships of international institutions such as the European Union and the European convention on human rights, separately, have given important guarantees that regardless of the complexion of government in the United Kingdom, there will be certain minimum standards. Withdrawal from the EU undermines that in a number of areas, particularly workers’ rights, and that is why these amendments are so important.

My second point relates to the charter of fundamental rights, which was of course removed by the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018 and is not dealt with in this Bill. However, there remains widespread concern about the effect of the removal of the charter because, as we heard at length in the last Parliament, it guarantees certain rights that are not guaranteed by the convention on human rights or by the domestic legal systems of these islands. My SNP colleagues and I believe that this Parliament should ensure that the Bill does not lead to the diminishing of the rights of UK citizens or EU citizens living in the UK. One way of doing that would be for the Government to commit to conducting and publishing an impact assessment on the effect of the removal of the EU charter of fundamental rights later this year. That is what my new clause 50 seeks to achieve. I would respectfully suggest that, in the interests of certainty, no reasonable parliamentarian in this House who cares about the rights of his or her constituents could oppose an inquiry into the impact of the withdrawal of the charter on their constituents’ rights.

New clause 8, in the name of my right hon. Friend the Member for Ross, Skye and Lochaber and a number of other colleagues, sets out a requirement for the UK Government to negotiate a deal keeping the UK close to the single market and the customs union. I have no intention of pressing it, because I know that that ship has sailed. However, it is intended to remind the House of, and to put on record, the position of the Scottish National party and the Scottish Government in relation to membership of the single market and the customs union.

The Minister said earlier that the UK Government have engaged with the devolved Administrations throughout the negotiations to leave the European Union, but I am afraid that the evidence of the past three years shows that while engagement has taken place, it has been very much a superficial box-ticking exercise. That is not just the view of the SNP; I see others who represent seats in areas covered by other devolved Administrations nodding their heads.

In December 2016, the Scottish Government published a document called “Scotland’s Place in Europe”, which was the first comprehensive proposal from any Government in these islands to address the outcome of the EU referendum. It contained an evidence-based analysis showing that the least damaging option for leaving the European Union—the optimum case being to remain—was to continue membership of the single market and customs union. The document demonstrated how that could be done for the UK as a whole, notwithstanding other parts of the United Kingdom such as Northern Ireland and Scotland. The proposals represented a very considerable compromise by the Scottish Government, but despite cross-party support in the Scottish Parliament, they were almost instantly dismissed by the former Prime Minister. Indeed, they were read more carefully by Michel Barnier then by the British Government.

Thereafter, Scottish Government colleagues engaged fully in good faith with the process set up by the UK Government to apparently—I use the word “apparently” advisedly—involve and consult the devolved Administrations in formulating the UK position for withdrawal. The terms of the Joint Ministerial Committee on EU negotiations, which was set up for that very purpose, were agreed in October 2016, saying that through the Committee the Governments would

“work collaboratively to…seek to agree a UK approach to, and objectives for, Article 50 negotiations;
and provide oversight of negotiations with the EU, to ensure, as far as possible, that outcomes agreed by all four governments are secured from these negotiations”.

Sadly, it was soon clear that the UK Government had no intention of honouring those commitments. There is more to engagement than simply turning up and speaking at people. Engagement involves listening, compromising and collaborating.