United Kingdom Internal Market Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 7:49 pm on 14th September 2020.

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Photo of Chris Bryant Chris Bryant Chair, Committee on Standards, Chair, Committee on Standards, Chair, Committee of Privileges, Chair, Committee of Privileges 7:49 pm, 14th September 2020

This law is a scoundrel’s charter. I was taught as a child that it was the quintessence of Britishness and the quintessence of honour that my word was my bond—that what I had signed up to I was pledged to and I would stand by. We, the United Kingdom, Her Majesty’s Ministers on behalf of the whole nation, and this Parliament—the newly elected Parliament—signed this into law. We signed on the dotted line. The Prime Minister called it a “fantastic moment”. He said it was a great, great deal. The Tory manifesto was absolutely clear that it was a wonderful ready-made deal for the United Kingdom. Now the Government intend to trail our honour through the mud, and I will do everything I possibly can to prevent that.

If this goes through in the way that it is drafted at the moment, we will become the scoundrels of international law. The Government have even put their bad faith into the Bill. With the single word, “notwithstanding”, they have made Government Ministers do contortions. Who ever thought that we would hear a Government Minister say that the Bill breaks international law in a “specific and limited way” as if that is fine—some kind of Cummings get-out clause? Even worse, the Justice Secretary said, “I’ll quit if the rule of law is broken in an unacceptable way.” So now, according to the Justice Secretary, there is an acceptable way for somebody to break the law—again, the Cummings rule.

Clause 45 actually uses the word “notwithstanding”. I thought I might hear Vladimir Putin say, “notwithstanding the Budapest accord, which guarantees the territorial integrity of Ukraine”, or President Xi say, “notwithstanding the Sino-British joint declaration”. I never thought that I would see in a British Bill signed off by British Government Ministers, who are meant to respect the rule of law, a line that says:

“notwithstanding any relevant international or domestic law with which they may be incompatible or inconsistent”.

Sir Bernard Jenkin said, “It’s just a mistake; we should say it’s a mistake.” Well, why did everybody vote for it? What honour can you possibly have if you think that this is just a mistake?

There is another fib at the heart of the Bill, which is that it purports to say that there is going to be lots of extra money for constituents like mine in the devolved areas of the country. I do not think we will get a single extra penny, because we have been waiting for the shared prosperity fund for weeks and months and years, and not a single word has yet been published about it.

The truth is that we need the rule of law in this country; we rely on international treaties. It guarantees contracts. It makes us honest and protects us from overbearing government. I say to the Government: if you try to sack members of your own party because they have a conscience, you are on the route to dictatorship.