The Bill is a very grave mistake, and there are numerous reasons to oppose it. Any one of them by itself would be enough, but taken together they make this quite possibly the worst piece of legislation brought before this House by this Government, and that is saying something. The legal consequences of passing the Bill are largely negative. It drives a coach and horses through the withdrawal agreement. Ministers should not need reminding that the withdrawal agreement is part of a solemn and binding international treaty, and that breaching a treaty breaches international law.
The passage of this Bill has wider international legal consequences. It undermines the basis of the Good Friday agreement, another solemn, agreed international treaty, which has laid the basis for peace in Ireland. It is absolutely not the case that the withdrawal agreement undermines the Good Friday agreement, as some Ministers now wish to claim. None of the main political parties in Ireland agrees with Ministers on that point.
While I am on the theme of undermining different parts of these isles, I point out that this legislation risks the integrity of our Union by undermining the devolution settlement. Any Government who claim to be truly Unionist would not develop legislation without the co-operation, collaboration and, above all, consent of the devolved Administrations. That is not what this legislation does.
The Bill also calls into question the good faith of this Government in their entire dealings with international partners. Must they now factor the integrity of Her Majesty’s Government into discussions and agreements? Do the Government really want to make us that country, known for reneging on its agreements because we later find them inconvenient?
I will focus my remaining remarks on the wider impact on this country of what the Government propose. It is now clear that the Government are aiming for an enormously damaging no-deal outcome to the Brexit negotiations. Let me be clear: a no-deal outcome will be disastrous for the living standards of people in this country.
As if the shocking revelations of the Operation Yellowhammer leak were not bad enough, forecasts by the Cabinet Office’s EU transition taskforce go considerably further and combine the potential issue of no deal with a second wave of coronavirus. The forecasts include shortages of fresh food, medicine and fuel, and even of chemicals for water purification, as well as price hikes on everyday items. Worst-case scenario, yes, but would a Government who cared even risk it?
I simply cannot get my head around the fact that the Government are attempting to push through a project that the Treasury’s own analysis says will lower GDP by 6.9% and destroy jobs. That analysis was made even before the effects of the pandemic. It is a far cry from the Conservative party posters we saw that said, “We are taking back control to protect jobs and businesses”. The Bill is an enormous act of self-harm. It damages us legally, reputationally and economically and, as Government Ministers admit, it is literally criminal to pass it.