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Parliamentary sovereignty

Part of European Union (Withdrawal Agreement) Bill – in the House of Commons at 5:00 pm on 8th January 2020.

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Photo of Geraint Davies Geraint Davies Labour, Swansea West 5:00 pm, 8th January 2020

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.