EU-UK Partnership: EU’s Mandate

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 3:15 pm on 4th June 2020.

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Photo of Bill Cash Bill Cash Chair, European Scrutiny Committee, Chair, European Scrutiny Committee 3:15 pm, 4th June 2020

I welcome the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, who has adopted, on behalf of the Government, the motion proposed by the European Scrutiny Committee, which I have the honour to chair. This motion derives from section 13A of the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018, as provided for by the 2020 Act. I emphasise that, because it was passed on Second Reading in this House by a majority of no fewer than 124 Members.

Under the motion, my European Scrutiny Committee has the duty of reviewing EU laws made and proposed during the transition period that affect UK vital national interests. In pursuance of that, and our report of 11 March, the motion is concerned with the Council decision in February that sets out the EU’s negotiating mandate, instructing Michel Barnier, which raises clear matters of our own vital national interests. We left the European Union on 31 January. The Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster has special responsibilities in relation to these negotiations, consistent with those of his distinguished predecessor John Bright, who coined the expression “the mother of Parliaments”.

The 2020 Act passed following the general election last December, and it contained in section 38 the historic affirmation of the sovereignty of the United Kingdom Parliament, to rectify the failure of successive Government policies on the EU, including the European Communities Act 1972 itself. Now that we have left the EU as the result of a succession of Acts of Parliament, including the referendum Act itself and the result of the referendum to leave, endorsed by the general election last year, we have a Conservative majority of 81. That endorsed Brexit, and left the other parties floundering in the wake of the democratic will of the British people, in line with the Conservatives’ commitment to our democratic self-government.

My Committee’s report on the EU’s negotiating mandate noted that, on the one hand, the EU recognises the autonomy of the UK, as well as our right to regulate economic activity as we deem appropriate. That is then contradicted by the EU proposing draconian conditions of UK compliance with what the EU describes as

“robust level playing field commitments”.

These include massive EU tax, social, employment and environmental standards, and EU state aid laws, as well as a fisheries deal with the EU enjoying pre-Brexit access to UK waters—not to mention the vexed Northern Ireland protocol.

That protocol was badly conceived by the previous Administration and included concessions on EU jurisdiction and the status of Northern Ireland. There were even reports that Martin Selmayr, the then deputy to Mr Juncker, regarded Northern Ireland as the price that the UK would have to pay for leaving the EU. Furthermore, there never has been a level playing field. For example, the subsidies in relation to steel and coal generally have always been continuously distorted against the interests of the UK.

I can remember raising these questions over 20 years ago in relation to, if I may say to Paul Blomfield, my experience having been brought up in Sheffield, which was surrounded by coal communities and, of course, was the engine of the steel industry of the United Kingdom and the world. It was quite clear that the European Coal and Steel Community was operating on a basis that, for example, gave the German nation £4 billion a year in authorised subsidies, which put it in a hopelessly advantageous position as against us. Ambrose Evans-Pritchard and a list of other great economists have continually made clear the distortions in relation to state aid that have such a devastating impact upon us. We cannot allow ourselves to be drawn back into the framework of state aid prescribed by the European Union.

Indeed, according to The Brussels Times a few days ago, the German economy is receiving 52% of the total state aid approved by the European Commission under the EU coronavirus package. Similarly, the EU insisted on law enforcement and criminal justice conditional on our continuing with the European convention on human rights and personal data law along EU lines. It went further, insisting on an overall governance framework that would include a continuing role of the European Court of Justice. What planet are they living on?

This is encapsulated by the difference in language between the EU and the UK in relation to these negotiations. It speaks about a new partnership. Our White Paper refers to the future relationship. The EU is not a sovereign state. We are, and we have a sovereign Parliament. We have decided to leave, and we have left. It is bound to recognise us as such, but it refuses to do so.