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With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:
“insofar as future primary legislation may expressly repeal all or any provisions of this Act, but only to that extent.”
This amendment would ensure that existing and future primary legislation that impliedly repealed Section 7A, etc of the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018 would be invalid, despite the doctrine of parliamentary sovereignty.
Clauses 38 to 40 stand part.
That schedule 4 be the Fourth schedule to the Bill.
Clause 41 stand part.
That schedule 5 be the Fifth schedule to the Bill.
Amendment 9, in clause 42, page 41, line 6, leave out from “force” to end of line 6 and insert—
This amendment would require the House to endorse an economic impact assessment of measures this bill would implement.
Clause 42 stand part.
New clause 28—Conditional approval subject to a confirmation referendum—
‘(1) The condition in this subsection is that a further referendum has been held on the UK’s withdrawal from the European Union in which the electorate has been offered two options—
(a) the option for the UK to leave the European Union in accordance with the withdrawal agreement and a framework for the future relationship; and
(b) the option for the UK to remain in the European Union on existing membership terms and that the Chief Returning Officer has certified that a majority of voters has supported the option for the UK to leave the European Union in accordance with the withdrawal agreement and the framework for the future relationship.
(2) If the condition in subsection (1) has been fulfilled, then—
(a) the approval of the withdrawal agreement by the House of Commons required under section 13(1)(b) of the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018 is deemed to have been given;
(b) the House of Lords is deemed to have debated the motion required under section 13(1) of the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018;
(c) the European Union (Withdrawal Agreement) Act 2019 is, for the purposes of section 13(1)(d) of the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018, an Act of Parliament which contains provision for the implementation of the withdrawal agreement;
(d) the Government must ratify the withdrawal agreement within the period of three days beginning on the day after certification by the Chief Returning Officer under subsection (1); and
(e) requirements in section 20 of the Constitutional Reform and Governance Act 2010 (Treaties to be laid before Parliament before ratification) do not apply to the withdrawal agreement (but this does not affect whether that section applies to any modification of the withdrawal agreement).”
This new clause would require the Government to give the public the final say on Brexit through a people’s vote, with the choice between leaving under the terms of the withdrawal agreement and remaining in the EU.
I rise to speak about parliamentary sovereignty. Clause 38 is a puzzle, and we have tabled our amendment 11 to tease out more of that puzzle, to try to work out what it is for and to expose some of what we on this side believe has been quite puzzling leadership on the part of those who have been peddling the idea that we are going to take back control of our laws, our money and our borders because they have somehow not been under our control for the last 40 years. I am going to stop using the phrase “take back control” in a moment, but I will first analyse it to make my point about our amendment.
We have been repeatedly told that the EU referendum was about taking back control and restoring parliamentary sovereignty. I am seeing nods from certain esteemed Government Members telling me that that is indeed what it was about. It was not about that, however. I find this most puzzling. Have we ever actually lost our parliamentary sovereignty? The answer is, of course, no. Saying that Brexit is about taking back control of our laws, our money and our borders is quite extraordinary. Let us start with laws. Have all the laws we have passed in the past 40 years been just a dream? Did we imagine all those laws? Just in the four years since I took my seat, we have passed law after law. We have put Bills through a process of scrutiny, debate and amendment.
But does the hon. Lady not understand the message of the referendum and the election? There are very large numbers of directly acting regulations that we can do nothing about, and we have had a lot of legislation going through this House directed by EU directives, which the UK was not happy with.
I understand the difference between a law and a directive. I also understand the fact that we were perfectly capable of making our own laws during the past 40 years. Let us take an example that I am very fond of—[Interruption.] John Redwood is shaking his head, but he knows perfectly well that we have passed laws. For instance, let us take one that was passed on the very last day of the last Parliament. My dear friend Stephen Pound, the former MP for Ealing North, was standing right here at the Dispatch Box making his last speech as shadow Northern Ireland Minister. He was closing for the Opposition on the final stages of the Historical Institutional Abuse (Northern Ireland) Bill, which would at last provide compensation for victims of historical child abuse. He marked that occasion with tributes to the victims, some of whom were in the Gallery, with respect for cross-party collaboration and with a heartfelt plea for the law to be implemented fully and speedily and never to be needed again. Anyone who was in the House that day, as I was, cannot fail to have been moved by his speech but also by the impact of the law, whose value to the lives of people who had suffered will continue for many years. Many of us will always remember that debate.
I am going to continue with my example, because this is incredibly puzzling. I do not recall such a thing at any stage in the passage of this Bill or any other Bill that I have been part of—as a Whip I have served on many a Public Bill Committee in the past four years—because at no point during the passage of the Historical Institutional Abuse (Northern Ireland) Act 2019 did anybody have to ring up the EU and ask for permission.
Does the hon. Lady not understand how nonsensical her argument is? Of course there are laws that remain within the remit of this Parliament; but equally, many areas of government and political activity in this country are in the gift of the European Union. There are also European Union regulations that are directly applicable within the United Kingdom over which this Parliament has no control. Does she not understand that?
Regulations that would have been discussed either in the European Parliament or the Council of Ministers, and those people are also elected and have been for decades. Members have been elected to the European Parliament since 1979. I know that, as I am sure Conservative Members do, because I have campaigned for those Members in elections.
The hon. Lady just referred to the Council of Ministers. Would she deny for a minute, as is well understood by everybody else, that decisions are taken in the Council of Ministers by a majority vote of other countries behind closed doors and without a transcript? They are therefore not democratic. How can she talk about people being elected when the decisions are actually taken in that manner?
The last time I looked, most—although admittedly not all—of the Government’s Ministers were democratically elected. We participated in the creation of the rules of that Council. I am going to skip ahead in my speech and then come back again, because I wish to remind Conservative Members that it was, for instance, a Tory Government who took us into the single market, with all its rules. They rightly recognised the benefits of the shared rules of a single market. They recognised that they were worth it and that they did not compromise our sovereignty.
I understand that we are leaving on
Many folk on the Government side of the House will be terribly disappointed when this all comes to an end and their hobby-horse of the past 40 years disappears. The real loss of sovereignty and the real power grab is the amount of power being handed to mandarins in Whitehall and Cabinet Ministers here to pass Executive decisions without scrutiny in this House of Commons.
Indeed. I find it most puzzling that Conservative Members who argued for a so-called return to parliamentary sovereignty in this country are quite happy to nod through a Bill that wipes away parliamentary scrutiny of the process of negotiating the future relationship. It is quite extraordinary.
I remind Conservative Members that it was under a Tory-led coalition Government that section 18 of the European Union Act 2011 clarified that limits on sovereignty are at Parliament’s own behest and can, if explicitly provided for, be revoked. The right hon. and hon. Gentlemen who have intervened were presumably here at that time. I was not, but I have read the text and I know what it says. The Government’s own 2017 White Paper said
“Parliament has remained sovereign throughout our membership of the EU”,
and I watch with interest to see whether a Minister will go back on that.
Does the hon. Lady not understand that it has always been in the gift of Parliament to repeal the Act that took us into the European Union and to take us out of all European laws in their entirety? It has never been in the gift of Parliament, as long as we are subject to the rules of membership, to reject an individual agreed EU measure. That is the difference.
This is quite extraordinary because, again, the right hon. Gentleman seems to have forgotten that there was a referendum in which the British people chose to be in the European Union, and they have voted for Members of the European Parliament over the course of four decades. I have acknowledged that the result of the 2016 European Union referendum is going to happen on
Did I imagine that we considered the Northern Ireland historical abuse Bill? I checked Hansard this morning and it appears that I was not dreaming—I was actually there. I did not dream the passage of the world’s first Climate Change Act in 2008. Nobody had to ring Brussels to ask, “Can we pass this law?” or if we could equalise marriage. We have been passing our own laws all this time. We have never needed to ask for permission. It is not true that we have no say on EU rules; we have had democratically elected representation in the EU Parliament since 1979.
The hon. Lady has made two points that I think are incorrect. First, the British people voted to join something where we had a full veto over anything that we did not agree could be imposed on the UK. Secondly, on judicial activism and the mission creep of the European Court of Justice, perhaps the hon. Lady would like to comment on the way in which power was grabbed through two court cases—namely, those of Van Gend en Loos and of Costa v. ENEL.
One of the things that interests me about the right hon. Gentleman’s argument is what we will do when we are trying to resolve a dispute over a trade agreement at a supranational court—[Interruption.] They will not be elected representatives. The World Trade Organisation court of dispute does not consist of elected representatives. Government Members seem quite happy to hand over control to the WTO court of dispute resolution and pretend that that is somehow more democratic. [Interruption.] Calling me silly is not worthy of the right hon. Gentleman.
We have been sovereign all this time. On our money, we have always had our sovereignty. We set our own budgets. We are represented at EU budget setting by our democratically elected representatives. As I have said, we have even had opt-outs, negotiated by Tory Governments, from some of those financial agreements. We have negotiated opt-outs, variations, rebates and all sorts of specific conditions for the UK.
The phrase used is “money, laws and borders” and I cannot remember which way around they are, but on borders we chose, rightly or wrongly—and we can decide for ourselves whether it was right or wrong—how we interpreted the requirements on the free movement of people, one of the four freedoms of the single market, which, I remind hon. Members, a Tory Government took us into. Other EU nations have interpreted that freedom differently. We chose, as a sovereign nation, not to participate in the Schengen area. We decide how we police our borders and whether or not there are enough border police.
We have also chosen to benefit from freedom of movement, which I acknowledge will end after
I ask the Minister respectfully if he will explain the legal and practical purpose of clause 38. Even the phrase, “It is recognised”, has the feel of a political rather than a legal statement. The purpose of the Opposition’s amendment 11 is to discover the Government’s intention. We think that stating that Parliament is sovereign
“and has been so during the period since the passage of the European Communities Act 1972” is entirely consistent with what the Government themselves said in their White Paper only a few months ago. We have been sovereign all that time.
I am sure that Members know this, but our sovereignty was never in doubt and was not diminished. I could spend a long time asking what this non-argument about sovereignty has all been about, but I am pretty sure that a lot of it—perhaps most of it—has been a false argument to distract attention from the desire to deregulate this country and turn us into a bargain basement nation with no attention given to workers’ rights, environmental protections, health and safety or any of the other regulations in which we played a part in Europe, which we have implemented and which have helped us help the people we represent. I would like the Government to explain the point of clause 38.
Parliament is sovereign, was sovereign and will be sovereign, and the clause recognises that fundamental principle in our constitutional arrangement, which is of great significance to many hon. Members. Membership of the European Union has felt as though we have ceded control. We cannot pull back sovereignty piece by piece—Conservative Back Benchers mentioned a number of examples. Anybody who has sat on a delegated legislation Committee will have been told by the Minister, “We cannot change this because it has gone through the European processes and we have to rubber stamp it.” The presumption was that we were full members, and that was made worse by qualified majority voting; previously, we had the ability to come back to each individual matter.
A very simple example of what my hon. Friend mentions is the EU’s port services regulation, which was opposed by every trade union, by the Government and by every one of the 47 port employers but went through this House simply because it had been passed by a majority vote in the Council of Ministers. That regulation was imposed upon us by the abdication of our sovereignty under section 2 of the European Communities Act 1972.
My hon. Friend is right. We could not do anything about that law or any other specific issue without coming out of the European Union, taking back control and asserting our sovereignty. Clause 38 reaffirms that sovereignty going forward and, crucially, during the implementation period.
Does the Minister accept that our sovereignty is diminished, because we currently have a veto on many votes? Some of them are subject to majority voting, as the former Chair of the European Scrutiny Committee said, but we are one of 27 nations. Now, under World Trade Organisation terms, we will be one of 164 countries and unable to change the rules. Those terms will jack up the cost of drugs and stop us nationalising things, which will constrain our sovereignty much more. The idea that we will have more sovereignty rather than less is wrong, and the clause is therefore misleading.
I disagree with virtually all the hon. Gentleman’s points. We will take back control, hold that sovereignty, take our seat as an independent nation state on WTO rules, and engage in international forums to look globally, rather than looking within Europe in European forums.
Clause 39 relates to interpretation. This type of clause is standard practice in primary legislation and contains key definitions. Subsection (1) lists items used in the Bill with accompanying definitions, such as the relevant agreements with the EU, the EEA, EFTA and Switzerland. Given the possibility of a change in EU summer-time arrangements, the clause provides for consequential changes in the exact time of the implementation period on
Clause 40 and schedule 4 make further provision for regulations to make powers under the Bill, which is of interest and importance to Members of Parliament. Schedule 4 provides for the parliamentary scrutiny procedure for secondary legislation under the powers in the Bill. We recognise that our exit from the EU is momentous and Parliament will want to scrutinise any changes that we make to the statute book as part of that process.
Yes. Clause 38 not only restates the historical position but reasserts our sovereignty during the implementation period. Parliament will be given extra powers, such as the powers being taken by the European Scrutiny Committee, which is important because we will not be participants in the decision-making process.
In a nutshell, laws are democratic when they are made in line with a manifesto following a general election. The bottom line, therefore, is that decisions taken by the European Scrutiny Committee on vital national interests will also go through departmental Select Committees, and then there will be a vote on the Floor of the House. That means this House will decide whether it wants to obey a legislative arrangement that has come out of the European Union, which is completely different from anything that happened since 1972.
Does the Minister agree that if we must have a certain level of equivalence to sustain a reasonable level of trade, we will be obliged to accept the EU’s changes, which will be made without our consent because we will be outside the room, or else take the economic cost? That is not sovereignty; it is just self-harm for the sake of opposing things. If we just agree to the changes, what is the point of it?
If we were taking the hon. Gentleman’s version of Brexit, of staying in dynamic alignment, he would be right, but we are not doing that. We are taking back control, so we will be an independent nation state.
Under schedule 4, the general position will be that the affirmative procedure will apply when the Bill’s core powers are exercised so as to modify primary legislation or retained direct principal EU legislation. Although not all the modifications will be substantial, this approach has been adopted given the exceptional context and the uniqueness of the matters dealt with in this Bill. Clause 40 recognises that Parliament wants a greater place in scrutinising legislation.
There is one exception to this rule, and it relates to the exercise of powers to make provision by regulation for citizens to appeal against immigration decisions. That exception is made to ensure such provision can be made in time for
Parliament has a duty to provide the British people with a functioning statute book. Clause 40 and schedule 4 provide essential further provision on the powers in the Bill, and I urge hon. Members to support their standing part of the Bill.
As hon. Members know, consequential provisions are standard, even in legislation of great constitutional importance. Equally, transitional provisions are a standard way to smooth the application of a change in the UK statute book. Schedule 5 already makes many consequential amendments, but there will be more. As is standard practice, we are therefore taking a power to amend those constitutional amendments.
I understand Members’ concerns about delegated powers in this Bill, and I would like to allay those fears and concerns today. This power is naturally constrained. It can be used only to make provisions that are consequential to the Bill. Transitional, transitory and saving provisions are equally standard in smoothing the introduction of a change to the statute book. As we implement the withdrawal agreement, it is in everyone’s interest that we ensure legal continuity for businesses and individuals. Again, schedule 5 introduces some of those measures, but we will need the flexibility to ensure that the withdrawal agreement can operate smoothly and efficiently for the people of the UK.
I thank that Committee for the work it has done, although I must admit that my focus has been on the work the European Scrutiny Committee is doing during the implementation period. I am more than happy to get back to the hon. Gentleman later on the specific point about the Committee he mentions. As hon. Members will know, case law and an array of legal authorities provide a very narrow scope for Governments to exercise powers of these types. They are standard provisions to permit “housekeeping” modifications.
The Minister is talking about the delegated powers, which are sweeping and extensive throughout this Bill. Why are the Government so reluctant to have limitations that protect key primary legislation such as the Human Rights Act and the devolved Acts, which were just voted against by Government Members?
Our withdrawal from the EU does not impinge on our human rights commitments. That issue is dealt with in later new clauses. I will make some more detailed comments on human rights then, but our commitments to human rights are unaffected by this Bill.
Clause 42 provides for the extent and commencement of the Bill and sets out its short title. It sets out that the Bill will extend to England and Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, save for a limited number of exceptions, with one being that section 1 extends to the Isle of Man, the Channel Islands and Gibraltar. The European Communities Act currently extends to the Crown dependencies and Gibraltar in a limited way. This means that the saving effect of the European Communities Act to allow for the implementation period must similarly extend to these jurisdictions—in effect, we will be continuing as we are during the implementation period. The Government have regularly engaged with the Crown dependencies throughout the EU exit process to keep them apprised of developments and to provide a forum for ongoing dialogue. That has been an important aspect of ensuring that this clause is fit for purpose.
The clause also sets out which parts of the Act will commence immediately at Royal Assent, and provides a power for the Minister to commence other provisions at different times by regulation. Provisions such as the consequential and transitional powers, and certain definitions, will commence immediately. It is also usual practice for the Bill to allow provisions to be commenced at different times through commencement regulations. This is an essential part of how the Act will come into place in an orderly manner.
On schedule 5, the House will remember the debates on section 8 of the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018 and the power to fix deficiencies in retained EU law. It was written so that in the event that the UK left the EU without a deal, deficiencies arising from our withdrawal would be corrected. Since that Act was passed, the Government and the devolved authorities have laid secondary legislation under the 2018 Act and other primary legislation to ensure a functioning statute book on exit day in the event of no deal. We do not want this legislation to come into force on exit day—rather, we want to defer these bits of secondary legislation en masse so that they come into effect at the end of the implementation period. This schedule provides for the mass deferral of this secondary legislation so that it comes into force by reference to “IP completion day” rather than “exit day”.
The schedule also contains the power to make exceptions to the mass deferral. It also covers the devolved Assemblies’ use of this power, and provides for a similar deferral of commencement, and a power to make exceptions in respect of certain primary legislation made by the devolved authorities. In addition to the provisions I have just set out, the schedule also expands the consequential power in the 2018 Act so that it can be used to make fixes in consequence of amendments that this Bill makes to that Act. A number of Acts now need to be updated to reflect the terms of the withdrawal agreement, including the implementation period. These amendments alter previous changes made by the 2018 Act to other legislation. The provisions contained in this schedule are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of the statute book for the whole of the implementation period and beyond, so it must stand part of this Bill.
Amendment 11 was, I believe, a probing measure to allow us to discuss sovereignty. It has been a good place-setter, enabling us to have a robust discussion of what is meant by “sovereignty”. We have been able to confirm that the UK has been able to do things while inside the EU. We have strongly confirmed that we have felt constrained, and have been constrained, as part of the EU in not disagreeing with things that have been put through by the EU. We now have a closer understanding of what Conservative Members mean by parliamentary sovereignty and why we asserted ourselves during the Brexit debate and the general election, which we won resoundingly.
The pleasure is all mine.
Does the Minister agree that the United States is undermining the WTO by not appointing judges to the appellant court? The Americans do not want a rule-based system; they want a power-based system—their power, and they put most of the money into the WTO. The body has 164 members, so the idea that on our own, rather than as part of the EU bloc, we will have influence in the WTO that compares to our influence by virtue of our population in the EU is surely not credible. We will simply have less sovereignty.
We will have more influence: we will have influence with the Americans, who want to do a trade deal with us early on, and we will work with other international partners. The WTO has been of immense value in liberalising trade, and in many ways the EU trading within itself has been a block on the liberalisation of global trade, although it has opened out trade within the EU. I have made that point around Parliament and I think Members support the principle.
Let me elucidate the point. I sometimes think the Opposition do not seem to understand that we are in the WTO through the EU anyway. The whole EU is governed by WTO rules and the WTO court, yet the Opposition say that we would sacrifice control by going into the WTO. That bit of it already applies to us. We will get our vote and our voice, so we will actually get some power.
My right hon. Friend is right. I disagree with some of the points made by Geraint Davies, but if he was right we would be suffering those problems at distance through the EU; if indeed it was the problem that he describes, it would not be a new problem.
I am going to make some progress on amendment 9. I look forward to hearing the hon. Gentleman’s speech as a trade rep; I shall listen carefully to his remarks and intervene on him if that is appropriate and helpful to the debate.
The House will be aware that the Government previously published an impact assessment in support of the Bill. It is a standard assessment of the direct costs and benefits to businesses of elements of the Bill, and is available to Parliament and the public.
The assessment is in addition to the Government’s analysis, which was published in November 2018. It is detailed and robust and covers a broad range of scenarios.
In his letter to the Treasury Committee on
The British people have voted to get Brexit done and we must honour that by leaving with a deal. Fundamentally, amendment 9 is sadly another attempt to delay Brexit. We do not want to test the people’s patience further by adding another step to the process, so I urge the SNP to withdraw the amendment. An impact assessment already exists and is there for everyone to see.
I thank Stephen Farry for tabling amendment 35, but unfortunately we cannot accept it. The clause recognises a principal fundamental to our constitutional relationships: that Parliament is sovereign. Nothing in the Bill derogates from the sovereignty of Parliament, as the clause makes clear. In passing legislation to give effect to the withdrawal agreement, Parliament is exercising that sovereignty. Clause 5 is a critical component of the Bill: it provides individuals and businesses with some clarity, such that they can rely on the withdrawal agreement. It also provides for the withdrawal agreement to take priority over domestic law where it is incompatible. That is consistent with parliamentary sovereignty. Parliament is giving effect to the priority of the withdrawal agreement. The effect of the hon. Gentleman’s amendment would go beyond that. It would be novel and it would bind Parliament’s hands in exercising its ability to make and unmake law. He should be assured that such an amendment is entirely unnecessary, so I hope that he does not press it to a vote.
New clause 28 seeks to introduce a clause that would require a further confirmatory referendum. We do not want any more referendums. May I gently remind Sir Edward Davey—he is not in his place, but I will send him a copy of Hansard—that we have recently had a general election and we are committed to leaving the European Union on
Clause 38 addresses parliamentary sovereignty. Independent reviews of the clause, including by the Library and the Institute for Government, point out how completely meaningless it is. It purely states something without giving it any power. It has no power in law, yet throughout this Bill, sweeping delegated powers are being taken from this Parliament to the Executive. The Government have just voted against limiting those powers in the standard way that they were limited in the 2018 withdrawal Act to protect things such as the Human Rights Act, the Government of Wales Act, the Scotland Act and the Northern Ireland Act. The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, who was at the Dispatch Box for the previous group of amendments, could not explain why the Government felt that they could not accept such limitations. That is where the concern comes, particularly on clause 21. There is no sunset clause—there is no limit. This plan to rebalance powers between the Executive, Parliament and the courts was in the Tory manifesto, and we literally see it coming to life inside this Bill.
The Minister mentioned clause 5, which gives the withdrawal agreement supremacy over all domestic law. It will not allow parliamentary scrutiny of any of the changes that result from that. These sweeping, broad-brush powers are concerning people. In particular, the removal of clause 31 of the original withdrawal agreement Bill in its entirety means that Parliament has no voice, no influence and no ability to set the terms or aims of the future relationship, which goes way beyond any trade deal. Such actions are making people afraid of what is going on. Furthermore, we have not heard any good argument from the Government as to why Parliament is suddenly being excluded in this way.
It is bizarre now to take this stance of “The lady doth protest too much” and, “Oh, we all believe in parliamentary sovereignty.” In actual fact, what we see is a complete undermining of the sovereignty of this Parliament. We also see an undermining of the sovereignty of the other three Parliaments in the United Kingdom. The devolved Governments are being undermined. They also will have no influence over the future relationship. They are also having to face delegated powers being taken from them, so that the Government can legislate on devolved areas even without the involvement of devolved Ministers. Twenty years after devolution, this is seen as an absolute power grab and an absolute attack on the devolved Parliaments of the United Kingdom.
In amendment 9, we specifically talk about an economic impact assessment. There has not been one since 2018—and that was on the Chequers agreement. Frankly, having read the Chequers agreement, which many Members on the Government Benches, including the Prime Minister, did not support, I can say that it was a complete cake-and-eat-it agreement. Frankly, it was never an agreement; it was just a wish list that had no chance of happening. There has been no economic impact assessment since then, and certainly no economic impact assessment of what this Bill will do.
We have heard all the representatives of Northern Ireland coming together across the divide of the communities to ask for regular economic impact assessments on what this Bill does to Northern Ireland. As someone from a coastal, west of Scotland constituency, let me point out that we will be looking across at Northern Ireland, which will be sitting in the single market. Fishermen in my constituency are talking about losing their businesses or having to register in Northern Ireland to try to compete. Our farmers will face delays at ports and may face tariffs. They will certainly face huge bureaucracy that farmers in Northern Ireland will not face. I have two big just-in-time industries in my constituency: aerospace and pharmaceuticals. How are we going to keep those industries, let alone attract other businesses? They will look at Ayrshire and they will look at Northern Ireland; one is in the single market and one is not. I am sorry, but the idea that the economic assessment that was done on the Chequers deal would count for this deal and this Bill is frankly complete nonsense.
When this Government talk about their precious Union, it is important that they respect the devolved Governments, who are being given no locus in the future relationship. The fact that the Scottish Parliament will be voting on withholding a legislative consent motion for this legislation was dismissed as irrelevant by the Prime Minister himself at the Dispatch Box before Christmas. If it is so important to Members on the Tory Benches to preserve their precious Union, may I suggest that it is a bit like a marriage? Imagine turning around and saying to the missus, “Tough, I won’t give you a divorce”, “Tough, I don’t want to listen to you”, or “Shut up, because I’m in charge.” Imagine saying things like, “Yeah, give me half your wages” and “You can’t leave me, because I bought a big 4x4 and now we have an overdraft.” That is what the relationship looks like from Scotland.
As the former Prime Minister and the Attorney General both pointed out, it is not possible to maintain a union of nations that is not voluntary and that countries do not wish to be a part of. That has repeatedly been put forward as a Brexit argument. You will not keep Scotland in your precious Union with the utter disrespect that is being shown for her Government, her people and how her people voted. The Scottish National party is the party that people voted for, so repeatedly saying that the people of Scotland “don’t want this” and “don’t want that” is nonsense. If Government Members believe in democracy, they should be respecting not just the Scottish Government, but the Scottish Parliament. They cannot ride roughshod with delegated powers over the devolved Governments of Northern Ireland, Wales and Scotland. It will certainly not protect their precious Union.
Thangam Debbonaire said, “What is this sovereignty?” It is terribly simple; it is the ability to make our own laws in our own Parliament, in accordance with the electoral decisions taken by the people in line with a manifesto and with their constitutional arrangements, which have been in place for many generations. It is this for which people fought and died in world wars. The very simple reality is that sovereignty is about whether or not we can govern ourselves.
My rebellion against the Maastricht treaty was based on the simple proposition that that treaty created European government. In 1971, we entered into arrangements—then enacted through the European Communities Act 1972—on the basis of a White Paper that said we would never give up the veto under any circumstances, and furthermore that to do so would be not only against our own national interest, but contrary to the fabric of the European Community itself. Believe it or not, it was understood in Government circles at that time that the veto enabled us to retain the actuality and reality of the ability to make our own laws. Gradually, over the next 30 or 40 years, that veto was whittled away to extinction, and the processes that I have to deal with day in, day out in the European Scrutiny Committee—and have been doing so since I first went on the Committee in 1985—have demonstrated to me that, in fact, we have not been governing ourselves. That is why I entered into opposition to the Maastricht treaty and then to Nice, Amsterdam and ultimately Lisbon. The reality of what has been happening is that the individuals who sit on these green Benches have simply had their ability to make the laws that they are entitled to make on behalf of the people who vote for them reduced to rubble.
In return, we have been faced with an increasingly dysfunctional European Union that did not work in the interests of the British people, and that is why we got the result we did in the referendum. It was the people who voted. Interestingly, when the decision was taken to hold the referendum, it was decided by six to one in the House of Commons. We voluntarily agreed that we would abdicate our right as Members of Parliament and let the people of this country make that decision on their own behalf. All the resistance we have seen over the past three years from the Opposition Benches and from a number of our recalcitrant colleagues, many of whom are no longer in the House, was based on a complete failure to understand that the decisions that were taken in that referendum were authorised by Parliament and, indeed, by themselves.
Section 1 of the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018—I did the first draft of the Bill, which was accepted by the Government—said that the European Communities Act 1972 would be repealed on exit day. That is now in fact implementation period day, but for practical purposes it comes to the same thing. The Opposition religiously—or irreligiously, depending on how one cares to put it—decided that they would oppose that Bill in principle, as they did on Second Reading and on Third Reading. Every single Conservative, even my recalcitrant colleagues—even Kenneth Clarke—voted for the withdrawal Act on Third Reading, but the Opposition denied not only the sovereignty that was being restored by the repeal of the ’72 Act but the democracy that went with it. That is a fundamental issue. They destroyed their credibility with the British people, and I believe that the ordinary man in the street—the people who voted in the last general election—understood that.
I have already made the point that European laws are made behind closed doors by a majority vote. Nobody can say that the decisions that were taken, which we had to accept because we had no alternative, were laws made by our elected representatives. I have never heard such trash coming from a Front Bench as the suggestion that the fact that these people happen to be elected Members of Parliament in the Council of Ministers conferred upon them some form of democratic right to decide.
My hon. Friend is making absolutely the right case about sovereignty. I mentioned Van Gend en Loos and Costa v. ENEL. The point about those two cases is that they were judicial statements. One was about direct effect and the other was about the whole idea that European law had supremacy. They were never voted on in this House. Nobody agreed to them. Nobody said, “This is what we wanted.” That led to something quite interesting—the imposition of the extension of welfare payments to EU migrants who came here was the result of a judicial review of something that we had never voted for, and it cost us a lot of money.
That is a very good point. Those cases happened before we came into the European Union, and they invade the very concept of the constitutionality of this country and of other countries too, because they say that we are obliged to obey not just any law, not just all laws, but even constitutional laws. That is the point. It is an utter invasion. It is a complete and total destruction of the decision of people through the ballot box in general elections. That is the problem. Sovereignty and democracy are intertwined at the heart of our constitutional system. The hon. Member for Bristol West ought to reflect on the rather absurd propositions in her speech, because she cannot prove a single point that she made.
A key function of Members sent here—the earlier Parliaments were in Shropshire, of course; it is a regrettable tendency that we have had them in Westminster for the last few hundred years—is that we pass supply, vote funds and are responsible for moneys raised from our constituents. “No taxation without representation” is fundamental. The current rules are in complete breach of that. It is worth reading the National Audit Office report which says that between 2005 and 2015, the EU demanded £642 million back because of the unsatisfactory manner in which the last Labour Government introduced CAP reform. There was absolutely nothing that a single Member of Parliament could do by voting here to stop that money being demanded from the UK Government.
In conclusion, I will simply say that I entirely endorse what my right hon. Friend has said, as indeed I endorse what my right hon. Friend Sir Iain Duncan Smith said. The bottom line is that our passing of the withdrawal Act, in conjunction with the general election that we have just won, gives us back the opportunity to make laws on behalf of the people of this country in a democratic, constitutional arrangement of such importance that I believe it will go down as a historic moment when the Bill’s Third Reading is passed tomorrow.
More generally, on the point of parliamentary sovereignty, I want to make a couple of comments, as other Members have, about the irony with respect to the level of delegated powers that the Bill will create, as well as the lack of scrutiny of the future relationship, which is of particular importance to us in Northern Ireland but also, of course, for all colleagues across the United Kingdom. The Northern Ireland/Ireland protocol, which is of such importance to us in Northern Ireland and has almost bedevilled the process of Brexit for many years, was only in effect programmed for two hours today. Many of the Northern Ireland voices were not properly articulated on that.
The concern of my amendment is the rights protections under the Good Friday agreement. The Good Friday agreement is, of course, an international agreement, but its implementation in domestic law falls to the UK Government. The agreement sets out a comprehensive set of rights, including the political participation of women, the right to freely choose one’s residence, freedom from sectarian harassment, a statutory equality duty and, perhaps most significantly, the requirement for the incorporation of the European convention on human rights into UK domestic law.
Most of the debate in Northern Ireland and beyond around Brexit, as it pertains to our situation, has focused on issues around borders, including the business community, the economy, trade and what the future holds in that regard. But people are also deeply concerned about rights issues, for a whole range of reasons. Article 2(1) of the protocol on Northern Ireland/Ireland provides a commitment that there will be
“no diminution of rights, safeguards or equality of opportunity”.
That is very much welcome, but we have seen a gradual weakening of the level of commitment to rights protections since the original draft of the joint report in December 2017. The European Union is very clear that it falls to the United Kingdom Government to ensure that the rights under the Good Friday agreement are protected as part of the future relationship.
The specific concern that I am trying to raise through amendment 35 is that there seems to be an inconsistency between section 7A of the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018 and clause 38 of the Bill, which is the focus of this section of our debate. Clause 38 stresses parliamentary sovereignty notwithstanding section 7A, which is used to give some degree of reassurance that there will not be any threat to rights, but there is the potential that section 7A could be overridden in some shape or form. There are several reasons why we have some concern in this respect. First, not all Good Friday agreement rights relate to the European convention itself; some are broader than what the convention contains. Some of the proposed legislative commitments apply only to Northern Ireland Departments and public bodies, and do not extend as far as the UK Government themselves, and in that there may well be some potential danger.
There are also concerns about whether the UK Government have, to date, fully respected some of the rights under the Good Friday agreement. As Members will appreciate, identity is a very complex issue across these islands, but it has been managed to date through a number of different forms—for example, the common travel area; more recently, the Good Friday agreement; and hitherto, of course, the joint membership of the European Union by the United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland. Up until now, both jurisdictions have moved in tandem on issues involving the European Union, including on matters such as the Schengen agreement, which the Republic of Ireland has also opted out of. We are now faced with the fact that, for the first time ever, we are going to see the UK and Ireland move in different directions in terms of the European Union. That may well throw up a whole range of issues, challenges and anomalies that will need to be managed successfully.
Brexit strips away a lot of those protections, and perhaps does create a certain degree of risk. If I may, I will take one example in that regard. Members may well be aware of the Emma DeSouza case regarding immigration. It drew attention to the fact that the UK Government have not reflected in UK domestic law, particularly in relation to revision of the British Nationality Act 1981, the right of someone born and resident in Northern Ireland to identify solely as Irish, and to have Irish citizenship. What the law currently says is that anyone born in Northern Ireland is, by birth, automatically British, and to many that goes against both the letter and the spirit of the Good Friday agreement.
As long as that case, and indeed other situations, go unresolved there is a latent fear of these anomalies persisting and, indeed, potentially growing, particularly if there is greater divergence between the UK and the rest of the European Union, including the Republic of Ireland in particular. That has implications for what is a very complex situation, which has been managed by the Good Friday agreement—on a faltering basis over the past 20 years, but none the less managed—and we may well be in very difficult and rocky territory. It is important that the Government reflect on some of the fears that are being expressed in Northern Ireland. Although I am not going to press the amendment today, I think it is important that the Government reflect on the matter.
The hon. Member must of course reflect that the fact of the matter is that the Republic of Ireland is an independent country in its own right. By being independent it is entitled to go its own way, and if it wants to go a different way with Europe it is entitled to do that. We would not want to restrict it and say it has to come with Britain. I would be delighted, whenever we leave the EU and Europe increases its bill of membership to the Republic of Ireland—when the Republic sees how costly it is to be a member—if those in the Republic of Ireland had a national conversation about their role as Irish citizens in the EU. Ultimately, however, that is a choice the Republic of Ireland has made—that it wishes to remain within the EU—and we should not try to restricting its hands, either.
I am always grateful to hear comments from my counterpart in Northern Ireland, but I think it is worth stressing for the record that there is no significant movement or debate whatsoever in the Republic of Ireland about any form of “Irexit”, as it might be framed. There is deep commitment to membership of the European Union in the south of Ireland, as indeed there is, on a majority basis, in Northern Ireland and in Scotland and other parts of the UK as well.
While Ireland will make its decision to remain part of the European Union, it is of course the UK that is diverging. That debate has been had, and I recognise the outcome in that respect. None the less, it is important to recognise that Northern Ireland is a complex society, and it only works on the basis of sharing and interdependence. A very careful set of balanced relationships has been built up over the past number of years, with the support of those on both Front Benches in this House over that period. Brexit does potentially strip away some of the sticking-plaster over some of the cracks and we do not know exactly how things will work out. It is important that the Government pay regard to, and are sensitive to, the very particular implications in rights terms for Northern Ireland as the Brexit process unfolds.
Clause 38 is welcome. I pay tribute to my hon. Friend Sir William Cash for being one of the co-authors of that excellent piece of Government-proposed legislation. I also support the Minister in opposing various new clauses and amendments before us.
It seems to come down to the question, “What is sovereignty?” and I think the public understand it so much better than many Opposition MPs seem to. The public fully understand that our constitution should be based on the proposition that the public decide who should represent them in the House of Commons and then the House of Commons decides what laws are appropriate, what taxes to raise and how to spend that money, and at the end of four or five years—or sometimes a shorter period—the public get to judge whether we collectively made a good job of it or not, or whether there is some new configuration of Members of Parliament that can make it better. So the public are ultimately sovereign but they trust us, their elected Members, with their sovereignty for a period of up to five years to exercise the powers of government.
When we first joined the European Economic Community, the country was assured that that sovereignty —that set of powers—would not be damaged in any way. To underwrite that promise the Government said, correctly then, that there would be no matter decided in the European Economic Community that could be forced on the United Kingdom against its will; we always had a veto so that if it proposed a law, a charge or a tax that we did not like, we could use the veto. Over our years of membership, we have seen those vetoes gradually reduced—those powers taken away—so that today, although we are still a full member of what is now the European Union, there are huge swathes of policy areas where we are not free to legislate where we wish, or in some cases not free to legislate at all, because it is entirely occupied territory under the Community acquis.
The ultimate sovereign power in the United Kingdom today is the European Court of Justice; that is the ultimate appeal of any legal issue, and it can overrule what the two Houses of Parliament decide, it can overrule a statute, and it can strike down a law passed in this place. It is that which a majority of the British people decided they thought was unsatisfactory. When they had voted many years ago to support our continued membership of the European Economic Community it was called a Common Market and misrepresented as a free trade area, which of course is rather different from a customs union with complex rules, and they were given an assurance that their Parliament would still be able to choose their taxes, spend their money and pass their laws in the traditional way. That turned out not to be true.
The loss of those freedoms was progressive under the Single European Act, under the Maastricht treaty, under the Amsterdam treaty, the Nice treaty and, above all, the Lisbon treaty. The Lisbon treaty was the culmination of that journey towards a very strong European Government that was superior to the United Kingdom Government, and the implied substantial strengthening of the wide-ranging powers of the European Court of Justice, because every directive and every regulation that was passed—and there were thousands of them—not only produced a more directly acting legal power over our country that we could not modify or change, but also gave so much more extensive powers to the European Court of Justice because it is the ultimate arbitrator of that body of law.
It is that body of law which this legislation today is seeking to put under United Kingdom control. We have been arguing over this for three and a half years now. The public thought it was a very simple matter and told us to get on with it. We had a fractious and unhelpful Parliament until recently, which did all in its power to thwart the putting into law of the wishes of the United Kingdom electors.
I hope today, after a second general election and after a referendum where the British people made it clear that they wished their sovereignty to rest again with them and be delegated to their Parliament, that the Opposition might have understood that, and might have understood that currently, contrary to what we have been told by the Labour Front Bench, there are a very large number of areas where we cannot do as we please.
Let us start with the money. Yes, we wish to take back control of the money. This Parliament cannot decide to reduce the amount of money it pays to the European Union. They decide that: they determine the bill and they enforce the bill. I hope that Ministers can reassure me that after December, at the end of the implementation period, that will cease and we will only pay when there is an agreement between us and the European Union that we accept for services or joint policies that we wish to undertake as a sovereign nation. We cannot go on accepting their hand in our pocket, taking our money under their legal powers.
I personally think it is a great pity that we have had such a delay to exit, because I resent the net £1 billion or more a month we are paying in. That will continue, I am afraid, throughout this year. I would like that money for priorities in Wokingham and in the constituencies of other colleagues here in the House of Commons. I find it very odd that so many MPs are so dismissive of the significance of the money, given the quite important role it seemed to play in the referendum campaign and given how colleagues are normally very keen to see increases in expenditure on public services in our country. They do not make the connection that if we carry on paying very large sums to the European Union, it limits our scope to make the increases they would like.
It also means we do not control our own taxes, so our country cannot choose the power to tax any of our sales; that is determined for us. It has to be the VAT tax system. We had to introduce that when we joined the European Union. There are arguments for continuing with some kind of VAT system, but surely we want to decide what rate it is levied at and what items it is levied on. There are quite a number of items that I think it should not be levied on, where I think I would find agreement across the Committee. However, we are not allowed today to remove VAT from green products, for example, because that is against European Union rules. I therefore look forward to our opportunity to shape our own taxation system as soon as we are properly out.
There is then the issue of when we actually have control over our law. What I hope clause 38 will achieve is that if the European Union decides during the implementation period to pass laws that are particularly penal on the United Kingdom or are damaging to our commercial and economic interests, we can use that reassertion of parliamentary sovereignty before the expiry of the implementation period to ensure that that particular law does not apply to the United Kingdom. Otherwise, there is an invitation to anyone of bad will in the European Union to think of schemes that would be disadvantageous to the United Kingdom during the implementation period.
On borders, where again those on the Labour Front Bench seem surprisingly dismissive of a very important question that has been in our debate throughout the referendum and in subsequent general elections, I think there is a general view in the country, which goes well beyond Conservative voters, that there should be a fair system of entry between EU and non-EU people. At the moment, the EU gets preference. I think a lot of people feel that there should be some overall limitation on the numbers of people coming in seeking low-paid work or speculatively seeking work. They favour some kind of a work permit system, which is quite common in many other advanced civilised countries. Because we wish people who join us to be welcomed, because we want them to live to a decent standard and because we accept the commitment to pay them benefits and find them subsidised housing if that is their requirement, surely it should be in our power to decide how many people we welcome in this way, and to decide that that should be related to our capacity to offer them something worth while, and to our economic needs. I give way to my right hon. Friend, who has done so much in this area.
May I just pick up on one point? My right hon. Friend talks about, “should we wish to give them benefits”. The reality now is that the British Government have to pay benefits even to families of people working over here when their families are not with them. That is roundly disliked across Europe, but those countries all accept there is nothing they can do about it because the European Court of Justice imposed that as part of freedom of movement. It was never debated as part of freedom of movement and it was never supposed that it would happen. It is an end to sovereignty when one can no longer make a decision to change something like that.
My right hon. Friend puts it brilliantly; that is exactly the kind of limitation of our sovereign power, and of our freedom to make decisions that please our electors, that I have been talking about. It is quite important, given the history of this debate.
Turning to the Scottish nationalists, I agree with what the Scottish nationalist spokeswoman, Dr Whitford, said: we only want volunteers in our Union. We are democrats. We believe that the Union works, but that if a significant portion of the Union develops a feeling that it is not working for them, we need to test that. I was a strong supporter of accepting the Scottish National party idea, just a few years ago, that there should be a referendum. That referendum had the full support of the United Kingdom Parliament, which is the sovereign authority for these purposes on Union matters. I also fully agreed with the then SNP leadership when I talked to them about it—I think our formal exchanges were recorded in Hansard. They said that they agreed with me that whichever side lost should accept the result, and that it would be a “once in a generation” event, not a regular event that happened every five years until one side got the answer that it liked. I hope that the SNP will reflect on that. We are democrats and we want volunteers in our Union, but we cannot pull it up and examine it every two or three years through a referendum, which is very divisive, expensive and damaging to confidence and economic progress. We should live with the result.
Does the right hon. Gentleman accept that we did respect the result? We have been here for four and a half years. We would not have been if we did not respect it; we would have been independent, and we would not be being dragged over the EU cliff at the end of this month. He should accept that the claim of right that Scotland has had for 331 years did not disappear in 2014, and that his party has changed the entire fabric of the United Kingdom. It cannot continue to treat Scotland’s views with disrespect.
Good advice, but I am trying to address the SNP point related to its proposals on how we treat devolved government fairly and whether we are listening properly to Scotland. I think that we are very much listening to Scotland, but we have to understand that the matter of the Union is a responsibility of the Union Parliament, and that the matter of our membership of the European Union is a responsibility of the European Parliament. It is the hon. Lady’s misfortune to have been on the wrong side in two referendums, but there has been a deeply democratic process in both cases, as to whether Scotland stays in the Union and whether we stay in the EU.
I urge my right hon. and hon. Friends on the Front Bench to remember that there is a fourth country in our Union: the country of England. We are very reasonable people, and we do not go on and on about English issues. However, when we get to this debate over how the different parts of the United Kingdom are consulted and respond to the issue of how we leave the EU, England too needs a voice within the Government and needs to be seen as an important part of the process.
The overwhelming vote for Brexit was an English vote because in numbers, England is a very large part of the Union. That is important, just as the Scottish and Northern Irish view is. I hope that the Government will look at this machinery of government issue and make sure that there is, within Government, a clear and definitive English voice. In due course, I think that we need to discuss whether this Parliament should have an English Grand Committee that can not only veto proposals that England does not like, but make proposals that England wants, because that would do something to correct the obvious imbalances that make this a particularly difficult matter to settle, when the largest part of the Union, with the overwhelming Brexit vote, is not formally represented in the discussions.
It is a pleasure of sorts to follow John Redwood and Sir William Cash. On the issue of sovereignty and democracy, it is worth remembering something. The basis of the 2016 referendum was one person, one vote, one issue, and there was a clear majority then to leave. In 2019, we had another vote, a general election, and had that been counted on the same basis—one person, one vote—we would have had 14.5 million voting for the oven-ready Brexit on offer and 16.5 million voting for a people’s vote or remain. Obviously, that vote was on a different basis—on a constituency representation basis and on a number of issues—and the clear decision was for a Conservative Government with a majority of 80. That is clearly understood, but to try to conflate the two is wrong. In fact, there remains a compelling case that the oven-ready Brexit being railroaded through—in my view, a reckless Brexit that would undermine the sovereignty, power and financial and trading credibility of Britain—should go back to the public for a final vote.
I gently remind the hon. Member that during the election senior Labour people argued passionately that it was fine for a leave voter to vote Labour and that they were not all in favour of what he has just said, so I do not think he can say that in all cases the Labour vote was definitely a vote for remain or a second referendum.
To be clear, I said that the proposition was remain or public vote on the deal. The Labour party position essentially was that the oven-ready Brexit would be bad for Britain—it would make us more divided, weaker, poorer, more isolated and so on—and that we could put together a better Brexit that protected our jobs through trading alignment and our environment and workers’ rights through dynamic alignment of those conditions.
I apologise for responding to the speech made on this subject by the right hon. Member for Wokingham, but I will not go on about that any more.
I want to focus on clause 38, on sovereignty, and new clause 28, on whether we should have a confirmatory referendum, which I was just talking about. I was making the argument, which I will stop making, Sir Gary, in support of the proposal in new clause 28, that there was a legitimate case for a confirmatory referendum on the grounds that most people voted for either remain or a second referendum and that the position of the Labour party was to have a second referendum.
In defining sovereignty, the hon. Member for Stone and others have said that having sovereignty means we can make all our own decisions here and that everything will be all right. I accept that that is an idea in the minds of many voters, and intuitively it sounds very sensible, but in practice is that really what would happen? I contend that this Brexit will reduce our sovereignty and that therefore clause 38 is misleading. At the moment, we have pooled sovereignty in the EU. We are one of 28 countries, but our vote is proportionate to our population. The right hon. Gentleman suggested that things are rammed through without our being consulted—that they just happen to us—but even in majority voting we have a veto, together with others, such as Germany, for example, which is the biggest player and is very worried that when we leave it will not be able to exercise, with us, certain restraints and constraints on the EU.
Ultimately, if we have a close trading relationship with the EU, to which after all 44% of our trade goes—from a Welsh point of view, more like 60%—we will need some level of equivalence, which will mean our having to accord with standards decided in a closed room without us being in that closed room. Surely, that is less sovereignty, not more. We will have to make the following decision: do we agree with something that has been decided without us rather than our being able to argue and block it, with Germany and others, or do we want to be out of the room deciding whether to accept the rules that are coming over—and if we do not accept them it might hinder our trade? That does not sound like sovereignty improvement to me.
Will my hon. Friend tell me what definition of sovereignty he is using? It is completely confusing me. I have just checked, and the normal definition is
“the authority of a state to govern itself”,
but my hon. Friend is talking about majority voting when we might be in a minority. What is his definition of sovereignty?
What we are talking about is the freedom of this Parliament to influence the outcomes for our electorate. [Interruption.] What I am saying, as my hon. Friend chunters in his seat, is that we will move from a position in which we can influence rules that will be applied in Britain to one in which we cannot influence those rules, and they will still be applied. We are not suddenly leaving and going to the moon.
I know that there is a move on the other side for us to become semi-detached, or worse, from the EU, and to thrust ourselves into the fond arms of the WTO. However, as I said to the Minister earlier, and I have had some experience of this as a trade rapporteur for the Council of Europe at the WTO, we will end up negotiating with 164 countries with just one vote, not proportionate to our population—and some of those countries will be dictatorships—as opposed to being in a club of 28 mature economies with a strong bargaining position within the WTO. As I said earlier, the WTO is being undermined by the United States, which wants its own massive power to decide everything, rather than rules. Moreover, it has existing rules that are contrary to what we are allowed to do within the EU.
We may talk of sovereignty, but if at some point in the future the Government of Britain wanted to return the railways, for instance, to public ownership—I appreciate that the Minister may not want to do this—the WTO would be able to stop us. It also has rules about patents which will increase the price of drugs. I do not think that “people in the street” voted for that.
Furthermore, the WTO will impose—as will bilateral trading relationships with the United States—new systems of arbitration courts and panels with independent judges who, unlike the European Court of Justice, are not democratically elected, and who will make decisions on whether big companies can either sue us or threaten to sue us for not pursuing various activities, or will block our legislation.
In case there is any ambiguity, let me give an example. Lone Pine, the big fracking company, sued the Canadian Government because Quebec had a moratorium on fracking, saying that it would affect climate change, or was not in the interests of the environment, or whatever it was. We have started fracking in this country, but let us suppose that the Welsh Government said that they did not want fracking in Wales. If there were to be an investor-state dispute settlement tribunal, the frackers could come along and say “Look here, we cannot have this, we are fracking”, and sue the British Government. Is that sovereignty and control in any normal circumstances? Of course it is not. Courts will be available that will fine, or threaten to fine, the British Government for passing legislation to protect the environment and the public health of our citizens, and their intimidation will deter future Governments from doing that.
We have introduced a sugar tax, but when that happened in Mexico there was an attack on it through an investor-state dispute settlement. If we introduce a plastics tax, we will be attacked for that.
I really do not understand what the hon. Gentleman and his Front Bench are up to. It is as if they are trying to rewrite the whole concept of the world order in trade. The EU has to abide by WTO rules just as we will when we leave—and we already do. There is no issue here that is going to change. WTO rules apply to the EU as stringently as they apply to us, and when we leave and become a voting member, they will still apply to us. The difference is that if there is a debate for change, we will have a vote which we do not have now because we are subsidiary, underneath the EU. The hon. Gentleman’s argument is specious, and it is total nonsense.
Well, that was very helpful.
Some hon. Members have failed to understand this. I remember the big debate over the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, for example, and over these investor-state dispute settlement clauses being used by the Americans on fracking and other issues. Once we are in a situation where, instead of being in the powerful trading bloc of the EU, negotiating head to head with China or the United States from a position of strength to sustain our environmental and workers’ rights and our standards, we will suddenly instead be broken free, semi-detached, and turning our back on our biggest local market—[Interruption.] It is all very well for Sir Iain Duncan Smith to chunter, but that is what will happen. It is already being discussed in the trading arrangements with the United States. The United States is saying, “Right, you’re on your own now and we are going to have this relationship and we will enforce it through the international tribunal.” That is what is going to happen.
Let us take as an example the simple European REACH protection—the regulations concerning the registration, evaluation, authorisation and restriction of chemicals. If the right hon. Member for Chingford and Woodford Green was making chemicals in Europe, he would have to prove they were safe before marketing them. In the United States, he would just be able to market them and an environmental protection organisation would have to prove them harmful. That is why they sell asbestos in America, and that is why there will be pressure for us to have asbestos in our brake pads here. That is why there will be pressure for us to have hormone-impregnated meat from America imposed on our growing children, who could then have premature pubescence. I know that some people think that that is sovereignty, but I do not.
Is the hon. Gentleman aware that a threat to the sugar tax is already within the trade papers that have come out, registering the discussions that have already been happening with the US? The sheer threat of a Government, whether a devolved Government or this one here, being dragged through an investor-state dispute settlement can create a fear of public health measures such as the one we have in Scotland on the minimum unit pricing on alcohol, which this Parliament have not got round to. They might find that they struggle to get round to it in the future because they would be challenged, which would threaten the public health of everyone in the United Kingdom.
The hon. Lady makes an excellent point about the chilling effect of that overhanging threat.
Let us be clear on the specifics. Lots of people talk about the impact of this on our health service and about the Americans arriving and taking our data and privatising the health service. But apart from that, let us think about the public health impact of these changes in relation to sugar. The NHS spends £12 billion a year on diabetes—
Order. I understand that the hon. Gentleman is trying to link this to the overall concept of sovereignty, but he is now talking about future trade deals rather than about clause 38 of the Bill and sovereignty. I would just encourage him to come back to the clause.
I am grateful for your guidance.
I guess the point is that sovereignty is about our ability to make laws here without intimidation or interference, but that we could find ourselves outside the EU and no longer able, for example, to introduce a tax on sugar that would reduce the cost of obesity to the NHS. We could have a situation where we want to let people know that there are six teaspoonfuls of sugar in a Müller Light yoghurt and nine in a Coca-Cola, and we want to drive down sugar content in order to drive down diabetes and health costs. Instead, we could be fined because the projection of a manufacturer of a sugar-impregnated product was less than that. That is not sovereignty. If we cannot protect our environment, our public health and our trade because we will be under the cosh with these companies suing us through the arbitration panels, that is not sovereignty. This clause should therefore be struck out, because it is completely misleading.
I actually agree with an awful lot of what the hon. Gentleman has said in terms of the construction of his argument, but his conclusions are hypothesised on a trade deal that is yet to be done. The important point about all this is that we have sovereignty over deciding what goes into the trade deal. If we do not want to put stuff into a trade deal, it does not matter what the investment courts say. They can only adjudicate on that which is in a trade deal, and what will go into a trade deal will be decided by this sovereign Parliament. That is where his conclusion is completely wrong. He was putting forward quite a strong argument to start with, and I do agree with it, but his conclusions are completely wrong given the sovereignty of this Parliament.
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for that intervention. If there has been any lack of clarity let me make it clear that I am saying that we are in the EU at the moment and obviously do lots of trade with the EU—44% of it—and we do quite a lot of trade through the EU indirectly with America and elsewhere, so we are in a reasonable position. If we come out of the EU and suddenly find that we need to make up for lost trade, we will be under a lot of pressure to do a deal quickly with the US. We will also be in a much weaker position, because we will be standing alone.
The US is a big player and knows it, so it will try to get what it wants, as has been pointed out on sugar, fracking and other examples. What is more, it has ISDS powers as part of its normal bilateral trading agreements, and that is already recorded in trading relations. The idea suggested by Mark Garnier, which I respect, is that we could in theory say, “No, we don’t want this. We won’t go ahead with that.” but there would be a huge economic cost. There would also be enormous pressure, while doing all these other trade deals, to agree.
The assumption is that we could just carry on as before with all the other bilateral trading agreements with small countries such as Chile. If you were Chile, Sir Gary, you would think, “Hold on. Instead of negotiating with the big EU, I’m now negotiating with a relatively smaller UK, so I want a better deal.” Therefore, our sovereignty, in terms of our power to deliver what our electorate wants, is reduced. Our sovereignty has therefore been intrinsically undermined, rather than enhanced, which is contrary to what is being spun out here.
The hon. Member speaks as if trade is all one way. One of Germany’s biggest trading partners is the United Kingdom. Does he think that it wants to go down the road he is describing? The Germans will want to ensure that they continue to have a good trading relationship with the United Kingdom no matter whether Britain is within or outside the EU.
That is very helpful. Let us get this point clear. Something like 44% of our trade goes to the EU, so it is enormously important to us. However, less than 5% of the EU’s trade overall comes to the UK. There is a balance of power, and it is the case that two EU countries—the Netherlands and Germany—have a significant trade surplus with the UK, but the others do not. The EU will quite reasonably, as a bloc, want to protect its standards, its environment and its workers’ rights and not be undercut.
We have seen that already in terms of sovereignty, because we want a better environment, but the Government have already decided to withdraw from the carbon trading system, so we will have our own carbon tax. However, my understanding of the Government proposal for the carbon emissions tax is that we will charge £16 a tonne and the EU will tax £25 a tonne. In other words, we are already becoming a sort of pollution dumping ground. The more we diverge negatively away from the EU, the less we will be able to trade and the more we will be in the hands of the US, the Chinese or whoever. That is not sovereignty; that is just being in the hands of others.
I accept your guidance, Sir Gary, and I think I have made my point. We will be poorer, weaker and more divided. This is not about sovereignty. This is about the abdication of sovereignty, and I deeply regret it.
It is an honour to take part in this debate with you in the Chair, Sir Gary.
I want to make a few brief comments on clause 38. I want to say a word or two about parliamentary sovereignty and why the clause is necessary. We have heard the phrase “parliamentary sovereignty” a lot recently. It is much used and much misused. Although it is certainly a subject for debate, it can essentially be understood to mean that this place is the supreme law-making body in the country. It makes the law and cannot bind its successors, so the law can be changed. The law is made after an election, at which we stand on the basis of a set of promises. We then enact those promises, and at the following election, the electorate judge how well we have performed and whether we have kept those promises, and then they make a judgement at the ballot box accordingly.
That principle has been affected significantly by European Union membership. I will address the effect of the ECJ. The Factortame case in 1989 meant that, for the first time, an Act of Parliament—the Merchant Shipping Act 1988 in that case—could be disapplied if it was incompatible with European Union law. The second major case is Van Gend en Loos, which established the principle of direct effect—as opposed to direct applicability—whereby the rights enshrined in European Union treaties could be enforced by European Union citizens without recourse to Parliament. That has a serious impact on sovereignty, because it means that rules are being made outwith the procedure of this House.
Labour Front Benchers are academically correct to say that parliamentary sovereignty has continued since 1972, because it has always been possible for this House to repeal the European Communities Act 1972, which is what we have now decided to do. In essence, Parliament decided to hand over, wholesale, spheres of competence, as the European Union calls them, meaning that the EU would make the rules in certain areas and Parliament would simply provide the rubber stamp through direct effect and regulations. Therefore, when an individual rule was made that we did not like, there was very little that Members could do about it. They could, of course, revoke their consent for the entire scheme and repeal the 1972 Act, which is what we have now done, but they could not revoke on an individual basis.
That consent came from this House. The reason clause 38 is so important is that a different period is about to commence. Since 1972, all the way up to 2019, Parliament has consented to the rule-making powers and machinery of the European Union through the European Communities Act. Once we are out of the implementation period, all the rules that affect the people we govern will be made in this House. We will make promises when we stand for election; we will implement them to the best of our abilities; and then we will stand on that record. Every point is subsidiary to that. Everything we have heard about future trade deals will follow on from the principle of sovereignty and the direct democratic accountability that happens in this House when we stand for election, when we speak and when we return. That will not be the case, however, during the implementation period.
I ask the hon. Gentleman to imagine a scenario in which the United Kingdom has a trade deal with America and this Parliament decides that it is going to say no to genetically modified or hormone-treated beef. How free and how sovereign does he think this Parliament will be in such a scenario? It won’t be.
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his intervention, because he illustrates precisely the point I am trying to make, which is about the nature of sovereignty. Sovereignty is held in this place, which makes the law and is the superior governing body. If there is a trade deal with the United States, the electorate will have a chance at the next election to have their say on whether they agree with it. If the hon. Gentleman’s or any other party wishes to change it, they can say so in their manifesto and stand for election accordingly. If elected, they will be able to enter negotiations to change it.
The hon. Gentleman is being very generous in giving way; I am grateful to him. Of course, a trade agreement requires a dispute resolution mechanism, and we currently have the European Court of Justice. When and if there is a trade deal with America, the dispute resolution mechanism will give away sovereignty and we will be back to square one.
No, that is a misunderstanding of the nature of a trade dispute body. Every treaty has to have some sort of dispute resolution—the hon. Gentleman is quite right about that. If there is a trade deal with the United States or any other body, there will of course be a trade dispute resolution, but it will adjudicate on the terms of the agreement approved in this House. The major difference with the ECJ is the one to which I have already referred: its judicial activism. It creates law that is over and above and has to be applied by this House, whereas when law is made by our domestic judges, this House can enact legislation to override it.
Does the hon. Gentleman recognise that investor dispute-settlement resolution systems in existing treaties are very one-sided? They allow private business to sue the Government, but do not allow Governments to sue business for deaths from smoking, pollution or other damage that they have caused.
We are certainly getting into the technical detail, which is exactly what we should do at this stage. The hon. Lady ignores the independent element that takes place in any such independent arbitration mechanisms in interrnational trade organisations.
Parliament consented to the European Union’s lawmaking structures while we remained members of the European Union. That consent will be withdrawn when the 1972 Act is repealed and we are in the implementation period. We do not want to be forced into a dynamic alignment in which rules that we have no say over are passed. We need to make it clear that Parliament retains the right to disagree and diverge from those rules if it wishes. For those reasons, the clause is entirely accurate and needed, and the amendment simply misunderstands that.
I have enjoyed sitting here for the past couple of hours watching the Maastricht rebels’ farewell reunion tour, although it appears that they are getting some young recruits. Fair play to them; they have been trying for 40 years and think that they will achieve what they have always wanted. I feel slightly sorry for them because I do not know what they will do after
We heard all the greatest hits: “Supreme lawmaking body,” “Brussels bureaucrats,” “Common Market,” “No taxation without representation,” and of course the platinum hit, “Parliamentary sovereignty,” which has been enshrined in the Bill for absolutely no reason at all, as was said by Thangam Debbonaire and my hon. Friend Dr Whitford.
As Robert Courts touched on, as far as the UK constitution is concerned, Parliament has shared and will continue to share its sovereignty. The devolution settlement effectively did that by recognising the desire of the people of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland and other regional Assemblies. Power has been devolved from this place, and are we not all grateful for that? The notion of restoring parliamentary sovereignty is completely unnecessary and is a total showpiece in the Bill. Power has always been shared across the European Union and across the United Kingdom.
John Redwood appears to be a reborn federalist. Perhaps that could be a new solo career now that the band is coming to the end of its tour. I will happily join him in further devolution and the assertion of federalism across the United Kingdom, if that is what he wants to do. He should be worried, however, because parliamentary sovereignty is not being restored by the clause or the Bill as a whole.
In fact, the Bill represents a power grab, first from the devolved Assemblies, by taking back the right to legislate without their consent. The Bill is an example of that. As we speak, the Scottish Parliament is withholding its consent for the Bill, but this House will ride roughshod over it tonight and tomorrow. This is also a power grab by the Executive, because sweeping Henry VIII powers are included in the Bill and in accompanying Brexit legislation that has already been passed.
The Brussels bureaucrats—that favourite hit of the Maastricht rebels—are being replaced by the new one-hit wonder of the Whitehall mandarins, except it will be one hit for the rest of time if this Parliament does not stand in the way of what the Executive are trying to do.
In fact, we are not restoring anything great here. I would be interested in an answer from the Minister at some point on whether the European Statutory Instruments Committee will be reconvened in this Parliament. It was one of the achievements of the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018 to enshrine that Committee in statute for the lifetime of the previous Parliament, so let us see the Committee come back if scrutiny and sovereignty are so important to this Government.
This place will be diminished in its powers and sovereignty, and in due course, it will be reduced in its numbers because 59 Scottish MPs will not be sitting here anymore when Scotland’s power and sovereignty are restored to its Parliament, which will be very happy to share them with its continental neighbours as a member of the European Union.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Clauses 38 to 40 ordered to stand part of the Bill.
Schedule 4 agreed to.
Clause 41 ordered to stand part of the Bill.
Schedule 5 agreed to.
Clause 42 ordered to stand part of the Bill.