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European Union (Withdrawal Agreement) Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 1:09 pm on 9th January 2020.

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Photo of Paul Blomfield Paul Blomfield Shadow Minister (Exiting the European Union) 1:09 pm, 9th January 2020

The hon. Lady makes an important point, and it came up in Committee. That is why I have pressed Ministers time and again to release their equalities impact assessment of the settled status scheme, which they have refused to do. That failure presents real worries.

The scheme is clearly open to error—and, as has been pointed out, the Home Office has form on these things. It has already thrown up problems, and it is therefore crucial that there is proper and independent monitoring. The independent monitoring authority was set up in the withdrawal agreement, but schedule 2 to the Bill makes it far from independent from Government. I hope this issue will be re-examined when the Bill moves to another place, to ensure that the Government are not allowed to mark their own homework.

The third, and most immediate and outrageous, consequence of the Bill will be to remove the commitments on unaccompanied child refugees. This was a heartless move by the Government, signalling their intention to abandon our moral commitments to the most vulnerable. My right hon. Friend Yvette Cooper was right to point out yesterday that this move is troubling because the measures on unaccompanied children in the EU withdrawal Act were previously supported by the Government and by this House. There is no good reason for them to be removed at this point.

Moving to the fourth point, we have had significant discussion on this and we saw a remarkable moment in the House yesterday. All the Northern Irish parties represented here joined together to table an amendment on the impact of the Northern Ireland protocol in response to the overwhelming calls from the business community there, who fear the deep and long-lasting effects of this agreement. Claire Hanna was absolutely right to express her concern that in the two hours allocated to discussion of the protocol only one representative of Northern Ireland was given the chance to make a speech. By voting against new clause 55 yesterday and rejecting Labour’s amendment 1, the Government confirmed that they intend to avoid transparency about the impact of the Northern Ireland protocol and will continue to cut out the people of Northern Ireland from Brexit negotiations. There are clearly serious concerns across the House on that.

Finally, there were amendments on the future relationship with the European Union. The Bill paves the way for the UK to leave, as the Minister pointed out, on 31 January, but that is only the first part of the story. In our negotiations with the EU on our future relationship, Labour has consistently argued for a close economic partnership with our nearest neighbours and our biggest trading partner.