United Kingdom Internal Market Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 9:48 pm on 14th September 2020.

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Photo of Michael Gove Michael Gove Minister for the Cabinet Office and Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster 9:48 pm, 14th September 2020


The other thing about the right hon. Member for Ross, Skye and Lochaber is that sometimes in his speeches he employs the Humpty Dumpty principle: a word means what he wants it to mean, whatever else the rest of us understand by it. He talked about defending devolution; well, what is devolution? It is two Governments working together—the Scottish Government and the UK Government; the Welsh Government and the UK Government. He says he wants to protect devolution, but how does he want to do that? By going for independence, smashing the devolution settlement, separating this family of nations and undermining the prosperity of the people who he and I love in Scotland. Even though he spoke at length, and lyrically, when he was challenged he could not give one single example of any power that the Scottish Government or the Scottish Parliament currently has that is not being retained. Indeed, powers are increasing.

Let me turn briefly to the speech given by the shadow Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, Edward Miliband. I think we can all agree that it was an excellent speech. He raised a number of legitimate concerns and fair questions, which I hope to address. He talked about the importance of common frameworks, and we agree on that, which is why progress has been made on them. Indeed, one of those common frameworks specifically covers food standards and provides reassurance that the fears that he and others have about a race to the bottom will not be realised. It is also the case, as is acknowledged widely, including in his speech, that common frameworks are important but they are not enough. Progress on common frameworks is a good thing, but we also need legislation to underpin the internal market overall. I also noted his passionate commitment in his speech to getting Brexit done, and I am pleased to welcome him to the ranks of born-again Brexiteers.

One thing the right hon. Gentleman will know—indeed, the Chairman of the Select Committee on the future relationship with the European Union, Hilary Benn, repeated the point—is that the EU has not always been the constructive partner that all of us might have hoped. In excellent speeches, my hon. Friend Craig Mackinlay, my right hon. Friend Mrs Miller and my hon. Friend Brendan Clarke-Smith pointed out that the EU has not always done what we might have hoped it would do. The EU is bound by a system of what are called autonomous processes to ensure that we have equivalence on data and financial services, and that we are listed as a third country for the export of food and other products of animal origin. There has been no progress on any of those. We were told that we would get a Canada deal, but that is not on the table. The Prime Minister has reminded us that the threat on third country listing could mean an embargo on the transport of goods from Great Britain to Northern Ireland. The EU has also insisted on an interpretation of an end to the common fisheries policy that would mean that they could carry on fishing in our waters just as before, even though we had pledged to take back control. I am not a diplomat but let me try to put it in diplomatic language: some people might think that the EU had not been negotiating absolutely 100% in line with what all of us might have hoped. Given that, it is important that we redouble our efforts to seek agreement but that we are also prepared for any eventuality.

Importantly, it is not just me who acknowledges that the EU might not have been doing everything it should to secure agreement. As I say, the Chairman of the Select Committee made the point that there is no need for exit declarations for goods coming from Northern Ireland to Great Britain. He made the point that it is a shame that we have not got third country listing, and I agree with him—and I agree with the hon. Member for Leeds West that the EU must up its game.

It is also crucial that we recognise what this Bill seeks to do in order to ensure that we can get an appropriate resolution, and here I turn to the remarks made by my hon. Friend Sir Robert Neill. He is an old friend of mine and he is on to something here. He made the point that we need to show that we are operating in a constructive spirit, and I agree. That is why we want to secure agreement through the Joint Committee, which is why we met last week. It is why Maroš Šefčovič and I have been working, setting aside our differences, in order to achieve agreement. It is also why our first recourse will be to the arbitral panel if we do have problems. We recognise, as my hon. Friend pointed out, that if we cannot secure agreement, under section 16 there are steps we can take in extremis, as a safety net, to ensure that our interests are protected. It is the case in international law that we can take those steps, if required, in order to achieve the goals we wish.