United Kingdom Internal Market Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 9:34 pm on 14th September 2020.

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Photo of Ben Spencer Ben Spencer Conservative, Runnymede and Weybridge 9:34 pm, 14th September 2020

Our Union benefits us all, and I support those measures in the Bill that strengthen our Union, support our businesses, and create more opportunities for those living and working in the UK. However, several clauses in part 5 cause me great concern, and I wish to lay out my thoughts and concerns to the House.

Parliament is sovereign. The critical question is not whether Parliament “can” do this, but whether it “should”. Parliament can, if it wills, create, amend, or rescind any domestic legislation or, as we are discussing today, break an international treaty enshrined in domestic legislation. It is not unimaginable that there may be situations where that is necessary, such as in response to a national crisis or a dire emergency. However, such a decision must never be taken lightly, and we must do everything reasonably possible to avoid that, so important is the rule of law and our commitment to international obligations. The consequences of breaching an international treaty are grave, and if we do that, or even propose to do it, not only must our justification be clear, but it must also be the last thing we do after we have exhausted all arbitration and legal recourse. Such action must be taken in extremis, not pre-emptively.

We trade and benefit from our international reputation. The United Kingdom has an old and proud democracy. My constituency, Runnymede and Weybridge, is the birth place of the Magna Carta and the rule of law. As we go out into the world as global Britain, seeking to make new trade deals, we will depend on our reputation more than ever. That means respecting the rule of law. If we damage our reputation, we will hamstring global Britain and our ability to seize the opportunities that Brexit presents.

I know that my neighbour, the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, and the Government, are mindful of the issues I have raised about our international reputation and obligations, the difficulty we will have in calling out Russia and China when they breach their commitments, and the importance of squaring that with protecting our Union. I ask them to think again about a resolution to the issues we face. I hope they see the constructive nature and spirit of my words, and hear the concerns of many fellow Members across the House.

More than anything we need a Canada-style free trade deal with the EU, which the Government are pushing hard to get. With or without a free trade agreement with the EU, the UK needs this Bill. There is a lot of good in it, and I want to support it, but for the reasons I have laid out, I regret I cannot support it unamended.