‘(1) In carrying out its functions under this Part the CMA must have regard to the objective in subsection (2).
(2) The objective is to support, through the application of economic and other technical expertise, the effective operation of the internal market in the United Kingdom (with particular reference to the purposes of Parts 1, 2 and 3).
(3) The following do not apply in relation to the carrying out of the CMA’s functions under this Part—
(a) section 25(3) of the Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Act 2013 (duty to seek to promote competition), and
(b) sections 6(1)(b) (function of giving information or advice to the public) and 7 (provision of information and advice to Ministers etc) of the Enterprise Act 2002.
(4) The CMA may give information or advice to the Secretary of State on matters relating to any of its functions under this Part.’—(Paul Scully.)
This new clause makes provision about the objective to which the Competition and Markets Authority must have regard in carrying out its functions under Part 4, and the application of certain general functions of the CMA in relation to its functions under Part 4. The clause would be inserted after Clause 28.
Brought up, and read the First time.
I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.
With this it will be convenient to consider the following:
Government new clause 5—Office for the Internal Market panel and task groups.
New clause 1—Withdrawal Agreement and rule of law duty—
‘(1) An appropriate authority exercising any function to which this Part (Northern Ireland Protocol) applies must—
(a) respect the rule of law;
(b) allow for the possibility of judicial review of an enactment, decision, act or omission by the appropriate authority;
(c) use the provisions of Article 16 of the Protocol to protect the interests of the United Kingdom.
(2) An appropriate authority exercising any function to which this Part applies must comply with the obligations of the United Kingdom under international law.
(3) An appropriate authority exercising any function to which this Part applies must comply with—
(a) the requirement under Article 5 (Good faith) of the Withdrawal Agreement for the EU and the United Kingdom to assist each other in full mutual respect and good faith to carry out the tasks which flow from the Agreement;
(b) the requirement under Article 167 (Consultations and communications within the Joint Committee) for the EU and the United Kingdom to endeavour to resolve any dispute regarding the interpretation and application of the provisions of the Agreement by entering into consultations in the Joint Committee in good faith, with the aim of reaching a mutually agreed solution;
(c) the requirement under Article 184 (Negotiations on the future relationship) of the Withdrawal Agreement for the EU and the United Kingdom to use their best endeavours, in good faith and in full respect of their respective legal orders, to take the necessary steps to negotiate expeditiously the agreements governing their future relationship referred to in the Political Declaration of
(d) the requirements of the Good Friday or Belfast Agreement of
(4) An appropriate authority exercising any function to which this Part applies must comply with the Human Rights Act 1998.’
This new clause is intended to replace Clauses 42, 43 and 45 of the Bill, to require Ministers to respect the rule of law and uphold the independence of the courts and the practice of judicial review, and to require UK Ministers to implement the Withdrawal Agreement.
New clause 2—Internal market common framework—
‘(1) The Secretary of State must seek to reach agreement with the Scottish Government, the Welsh Government and the Northern Ireland Executive on a common framework on the United Kingdom internal market.
(2) A common framework under subsection (1) may cover—
(a) the functioning of the United Kingdom internal market;
(b) the effectiveness of market access principles; and
(c) drawing up a shared prosperity fund to balance economic development across the whole of the United Kingdom.
(3) The Secretary of State must take into account the common framework on the United Kingdom internal market in exercising any powers under Part 6 (Financial assistance powers) of this Act.’
This new clause would put the Common Framework process on a statutory footing.
New clause 3—Duty to consult, monitor, report and review—
‘(1) Within three months of the date on which this Act is passed, the Secretary of State must lay a report before each House of Parliament on the dates on which each section—
(a) was commenced; or
(b) is planned to commence.
(2) The Secretary of State must arrange for a review to be carried out within three months of the date on which this Act is passed, and thereafter at least once in each calendar year on the operation of this Act.
(3) The Secretary of State must invite the Scottish Government, the Welsh Government and the Northern Ireland Executive to contribute to the reviews in subsection (1).
(4) The reviews under subsection (1) must make an assessment of—
(a) the functioning of the United Kingdom internal market;
(b) the effectiveness of market access principles;
(c) progress towards agreeing common frameworks with the devolved administrations;
(d) progress towards drawing up a shared prosperity fund framework; and
(e) progress in resolving issues through the Joint Committee machinery in the Withdrawal Agreement.
(5) The Prime Minister must arrange for a report of any review under this section to be laid before each House of Parliament as soon as practicable after its completion.’
This new clause would ensure Ministers have a duty to report back to Parliament on the progress of the functioning of the internal market; market access; progress towards agreeing common frameworks; progress towards drawing up a shared prosperity fund; and progress in resolving issues through the Joint Committee machinery in the Withdrawal Agreement.
New clause 6—Economic development: climate and nature emergency impact statement—
‘(1) Any financial assistance provided under Part 6 of this Act for the purpose of economic development must take into account the overarching need for a sustainable strategy aimed at long- term national well-being.
(2) Every proposal for financial assistance under this Act must be accompanied by a climate and nature emergency impact statement.
(3) Responsibility for the production of the climate and nature emergency impact statement required in subsection (2) resides with the applicant for financial assistance.
(4) Responsiblity for assessment of the climate and nature emergency impact statement required in subsection (2) resides with Ministers, who are required to publish this assessment for any successful proposal.
(5) The climate and nature emergency impact statement produced should take account of any carbon budget, climate, nature and environmental goals approved by the relevant Parliament.
(6) In subsection (5), the “relevant Parliament” means—
(b) where the proposed financial assistance relates to a person in Scotland, the Scottish Parliament;
(c) where the proposed financial assistance relates to a person in Wales, Senedd Cymru;
(d) where the proposed financial assistance relates to a person in Northern Ireland, the Northern Ireland Assembly.’
The intention of this new clause is to ensure that those seeking financial assistance for economic development, etc under this Act are obliged to undertake a climate and nature emergency impact statement to ensure public money is only granted to development consistent with climate, nature and environmental goals and targets.
New clause 7—Northern Ireland’s place in the UK internal market—
‘(1) As part of its obligation under Article 6.2 of the Protocol on Ireland/Northern Ireland to use its best endeavours to facilitate trade between Northern Ireland and other parts of the UK, the UK Government must—
(a) publish an assessment at least every 12 months of any impact on businesses and consumers arising from the Protocol on trade between Great Britain and Northern Ireland and vice versa; and
(b) develop mitigations to safeguard the place of Northern Ireland businesses and consumers in the UK internal market.
(2) The assessment published under paragraph (1)(a) must include assessment of the impact of any actual or proposed regulatory or trade policy divergence on Northern Ireland’s place in the UK Internal Market.
(3) Any official or administrative costs arising from the duties under subsections (1) and (2) may not be recouped from the private sector.’
New clause 8—Interpretation of the Northern Ireland Protocol in accordance with International Law—
‘(1) In the event that the European Union fails to act in accordance with the principles of public international law in its implementation of the Northern Ireland Protocol, by
(a) failing to undertake acts that are required by the provisions of the Northern Ireland Protocol;
(b) committing acts that are not in accordance with the provisions of the Northern Ireland Protocol;
(c) failing to undertake acts that are necessary for the effective implementation of the Northern Ireland Protocol;
(d) asserting positions in the Joint Committee that are not in accord with the provisions of the Northern Ireland Protocol; or
(e) refusing to discuss in the Joint Committee proposals on implementation of the Northern Ireland Protocol tabled by the United Kingdom;
(2) For the purposes of subsection (1), the principles of public international law that may be invoked include—
(i) the need to act in “good faith” and
(ii) the need to avoid results that are “manifestly absurd or unreasonable”;
(b) established international practices, having the status of customary international law; and
(c) the commitments made in the preambular paragraphs of the Northern Ireland Protocol.
(4) A unilateral interpretative declaration issued under subsection (1) may not be submitted unless—
(a) a Minister of the Crown has laid before each House of Parliament
(i) a copy of the proposed declaration,
(ii) a statement on the nature of the dispute with the European Union,
(iii) a statement of the intended effect of the proposed declaration; and
(b) the declaration has been approved by a resolution of the House of Commons on a motion moved by a Minister of the Crown; and
(c) a motion for the House of Lords to take note of the declaration has been tabled in the House of Lords by a Minister of the Crown and—
(i) the House of Lords has debated the motion, or
(ii) the House of Lords has not concluded a debate on the motion before the end of the period of five Lords sitting days beginning with the first Lords sitting day after the day on which the House of Commons passes the resolution mentioned in paragraph (b).
(5) When a response to the submission of any unilateral interpretative declaration is received from the European Union, a Minister of the Crown shall lay before each House of Parliament the response received from the European Union, and—
(a) in the case of the approval of the declaration by the European Union, the Minister shall issue a written statement confirming that the declaration has obtained the status of an authentic interpretation of the Northern Ireland Protocol;
(b) in the case of opposition to the declaration by the European Union, the Minister shall issue a written statement, assessing any alternative interpretation formulated by the European Union and indicating the government’s intended response; or
(c) in the case of the recharacterisation of the declaration by which the European Union purports to treat the declaration as an illegal reservation, the Minister shall issue a written statement of what action it intends to take to resolve the dispute.
(6) In this section—
“approval”, “opposition” or “recharacterization” of a declaration shall have the meaning given in Guideline 2.9 of the Guide to Practice on Reservations to Treaties, contained in the report of the International Law Commission on its Sixty-Third Session in 2011;
“Joint Committee” means the Joint Committee established under Article 164 of the EU Withdrawal Agreement;
“Lords sitting day” means a day on which the House of Lords is sitting (and a day is only a day on which the House of Lords is sitting if the House begins to sit on that day);
“submit” means to make a submission to the depositary of the EU Withdrawal Agreement, as specified in Article 183 of the EU Withdrawal Agreement; and
“unilateral interpretative declaration” means an interpretative declaration as defined by Guideline 1.2 of the Guide to Practice on Reservations to Treaties, contained in the report of the International Law Commission on its Sixty-Third Session in 2011.’
Government amendments 31 and 32, 19, 33 to 38, 20 to 26, and 1 to 11.
Amendment 16, page 37, line 10, leave out Clause 45.
Government amendments 12, 13, 15 and 14.
Amendment 18, page 38, line 36, leave out Clause 46.
Amendment 29, page 39, line 27, leave out Clause 47.
Government new schedule 1—Constitution etc of Office for the Internal Market panel and task groups.
Amendment 17, in schedule 1, page 48, line 14, at end insert—
‘(8A) In the case that there is one REACH authorisation process for Great Britain, an authorisation that is lawful for the Northern Ireland market will be valid for the Great Britain market.’
The intention of this amendment is to apply the non-discrimination principle to the REACH (Registration, Evaluation, Authorisation and Restriction of Chemicals) regime.
Government amendments 27 and 28.
Amendment 30, in title, line 7, leave out from “aid” to “to” in line 10.
Amendments 18 and 29 would remove both clauses in Part 6 (Financial assistance powers). This consequential Amendment removes from the long Title “to authorise the provision of financial assistance by Ministers of the Crown in connection with economic development, infrastructure, culture, sport and educational or training activities and exchanges”.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Deputy Speaker. I want to begin by thanking all Members for their engagement throughout the passage of the Bill and the Public Bill Office for its excellent work in supporting Members and officials.
Before I turn to the specific amendments that we are debating, I want to briefly remind Members why it is crucial that we pass this Bill. Around 60% of Scottish and Welsh exports are to the rest of the UK, which is around three times as much as exports to the rest of the EU. About 50% of Northern Ireland’s sales are to Great Britain. In some local authorities in Wales, over a quarter of workers commute across the border. When we leave the transition period at the end of this year, laws made in Europe can be made in the UK.
The Minister will have noticed yesterday that the Scottish Government declared their intention not to give this Bill a legislative consent motion. Does he intend to ignore that or dismiss it, and does he hold Scottish democracy in contempt?
I very much do not hold the devolution settlement in contempt. It is right that we work together. I believe that the UK is stronger together. It is important that we give Scottish businesses—just as much as Welsh, Northern Irish and English businesses—the certainty that they want to be able to trade, so we will continue to engage with the Scottish Parliament and officials and politicians up there to achieve legislative consent.
Hundreds of powers will flow from the EU to the devolved nations and the UK Government in an unprecedented transfer. As we recover from covid, we must ensure that our economy is stronger than ever. That is why the Government have introduced this Bill and why it is essential that we pass it. We want to guarantee the continued functioning of our internal market, to ensure that trade remains unhindered in the UK.
I will begin by speaking to the amendments tabled by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, starting with those that strengthen the Bill’s measures relating to the governance and functioning of the Office for the Internal Market. The office will sit within the Competition and Markets Authority to monitor and report on the internal market on an equal basis for all Administrations. The Competition and Markets Authority has a strong reputation for independence and impartiality. The Government have strived to preserve that reputation in setting out the functions to be carried out by the Office for the Internal Market. By providing non-binding, expert reporting and technical monitoring on regulations and proposals, it will provide robust evidence on the actual or potential impact of regulatory measures.
New clause 4 gives the Competition and Markets Authority the objective of supporting the effective operation of the UK internal market through the provision of economic and technical advice and expertise. That will exist in parallel to the existing objective of the Competition and Markets Authority to promote competition for the benefit of consumers.
New clause 5 enables Competition and Markets Authority functions under part 4 of the Bill to be carried out by an Office for the Internal Market task group and introduces a new schedule setting out the Government’s arrangements for the Office for the Internal Market panel and task groups. That mirrors the existing arrangements for the establishment of panels and groups that it has in place.
New schedule 1 establishes a panel of experts to lead the work of the Office for the Internal Market. The Secretary of State will appoint a chair and further members, following consultation with Ministers from all three devolved Administrations.
Will the Minister confirm that the arrangements under the Bill regarding the CMA guarantee that we will not have any jurisdiction by the European Union or the European Court over the CMA and, furthermore, that one of the cardinal principles on which the European Union and the Commission are taking their stand is that they insist that we should not benefit competitively from leaving the European Union and we should not be able to compete with them on reasonable terms?
I am grateful for that typically wise intervention. I am happy to provide that confirmation.
Amendment 1 provides absolute privilege against defamation for the Competition and Markets Authority when carrying out its functions under part 4. That will ensure that it can report and provide advice independently without needing to expend resources on preparing to defend litigation, and that businesses with deep pockets cannot sue or threaten to sue the CMA to obstruct it from carrying out its functions.
I shall set out briefly for the House the amendments that will improve the Bill’s drafting. Through amendments 31 to 34, we are taking the opportunity to put it beyond any possible doubt that alcohol minimum unit pricing-type regulation and any other sales requirements are not in the scope of the mutual recognition principle, unless they amount in practice to a total ban on a good being sold. That came up in Committee. We want to make sure that rather than politicking, we can return to a business continuity approach.
The Minister just told us about an amendment to take into account concerns about the minimum unit pricing aspect, but UK Government Ministers have been telling us for weeks that the Bill does not affect that. Clearly, that was a concern until now and we were right. Is it not also true that the non-discriminatory aspects of the amendment make it completely useless anyway?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his intervention, but the answer is no. To ensure we take that political football totally off the table and return the Bill to what is was always designed to be about—giving businesses in Scotland and all parts of the UK the business continuity and certainty they need without such distractions—the technical amendment dots the i’s and crosses the t’s.
For Northern Ireland to be a successful part of the United Kingdom, may I gently suggest that the Minister should work with us on new clause 7, which my party has tabled? It is an imperative tool to ensure that Northern Ireland is not left behind in Brexit in terms of being an integrated member of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland—in other words, that we are treated equally.
I will turn to new clause 7 in a second, but clearly we will treat Northern Ireland equally.
Amendments 2 to 11, 24, 27, 28 and 35 to 38 are technical changes to remove sources of potential confusion in the drafting. Amendments 19 and 21 provide fuller clarification that a wide range of agricultural processes are considered to be in scope when we refer to the production of goods. Amendment 20 ensures that the UK Government and devolved Administrations can continue to respond to specific biosecurity threats arising from the movement of animals and high-risk plants and that they are excluded from the mutual recognition and non-discrimination principles of the Bill.
Amendments 22 and 23 clarify the meaning of clause 16 that a change to the conditions attached to an authorisation requirement would bring it in scope of part 2 of the Bill. Amendment 26 ensures that the exemption in clause 23 covers the replication of non-statutory rules as well as a re-enactment of legislation. Amendments 12 to 15 ensure that the higher courts in England and Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland may make declarations of incompatibility in respect of the regulations under clauses 42 and 43, but may not quash them. That will ensure that, in the unlikely event of a violation of convention rights, there is a remedy available through the courts.
We have been quite clear in the approach that we have taken in terms of the human rights impact, so I am confident that the Secretary of State has talked about that.
May I press the Minister a little further in relation to amendment 13 and so on? I accept “preserving a remedy”, but it is a remedy by way of a declaration of incompatibility, as opposed to removing any offensive regulation in domestic law. It is a much harder burden or obstacle for a litigant—for every person—to go through to get a declaration of incompatibility. What is the compelling reason for adopting this unusual approach?
This achieves the right balance in terms of a remedy, in the unlikely event of a breach of convention rights, for the reason that I have covered in terms of our impact assessment on human rights. I hope that right hon. and hon. Members will feel able to support these important but mainly technical amendments.
I will move on to the Opposition amendments, because it is important that we give them due care and attention, but I first want to remind hon. Members of the core purpose of the Bill. The Bill puts into law a market access commitment by enshrining the principles of mutual recognition and non-discrimination in the law. That means that goods and services from one part of the UK will be recognised across the country, and it will ensure that there is equal opportunity for all UK-based companies trading in the UK.
New clause 2 would place an obligation on UK Ministers to seek to agree a framework covering the UK internal market, which would need to be taken into account in the exercise of financial assistance payments. The new clause would fundamentally alter the basis on which common frameworks are developed and would not be in line with the design of common frameworks that was agreed by the UK Government and devolved Administrations. The principles agreed made it clear that the common frameworks are based on consensus rather than legislation, as we discussed in Committee. The principles also set out that the common frameworks are limited in their scoped powers returning from the EU, which have a devolved intercept.
An overarching framework would not materially contribute to effective joint working between the United Kingdom Government and devolved Administrations. Through the common frameworks programme, we are agreeing mechanisms for effective intergovernmental working. Those will cover many areas engaged by provisions in the Bill for the internal market.
We are also developing proposals for an enhanced intergovernmental system, which will support work to maintain policy coherence across the United Kingdom. This collaborative model is likely to be more effective and provide greater clarity than the process set out in the new clause, which does not clearly define when the duty in subsection (1) and the due regard duty in subsection (3) would be met.
Common frameworks are designed to allow for collaborative and flexible working between the United Kingdom Government and the devolved Administrations. Creating a framework such as this, which is underpinned by obligations in law, could undermine that effective joint work.
New clause 3 seeks to require the Secretary of State to provide Parliament with regular reviews on the functioning of the internal market, the effectiveness of provisions in the United Kingdom Internal Market Act and progress towards delivering provisions not in the Act, such as common frameworks. While I commend the intention behind the amendment, the review provisions it seeks to deliver are already provided for. They exist either in the Bill, through the Office for the Internal Market, or in previous legislation.
As part 4 of the Bill sets out, the Office for the Internal Market will have a number of reporting and monitoring responsibilities. Clause 29 sets out how the office will need to compile yearly “health of the market” reports on the functioning of the internal market, and five-yearly system reviews on the operation of parts 1 to 3. Those reports will be laid before the UK Parliament and the devolved legislatures for consideration, ensuring parliamentary transparency and accountability. I consider, therefore, that the new clause risks being highly duplicative.
It is essential that both those reports are compiled at arm’s length from both the UK Government and the devolved Administrations. That will enable the office to deliver a credible, impartial and expert analysis that delivers difficult messages to the Administrations, if necessary. However, when conducting those reports, the Office for the Internal Market will be able to consider the views of all relevant interested parties, including the devolved Administrations, in order to present evidence on how well the internal market itself and the Government’s proposals are serving stakeholders across the UK. Moreover, regarding the specific areas listed in the amendment, the Government already publish quarterly reports entitled, “The European Union (Withdrawal) Act and Common Frameworks”, which set out joint progress on common frameworks.
The Minister is putting a brave face on things, as always. It is all very well talking about reviews and reports, but does he accept that, for an internal market to function, there actually needs to be communication between the Prime Minister and the leaders of the devolved Administrations? Why has the Prime Minister failed to communicate regularly with the First Minister of Wales, instead speaking to him only once every few months? Especially at a time of national crisis, why has the Prime Minister been so poor in his communication?
The Prime Minister, the Secretary of State and Ministers work with all the devolved Administrations. My colleague in the Business Department has meetings—especially at this particular time—with businesses across the devolved Administrations, including in Wales.
As I say, for this particular area, we already publish the report I referred to. However, we consider it right that any reporting on the Joint Committee machinery or the UK shared prosperity fund should be undertaken separately from that on internal market provisions. For that reason, I am not able to accept the amendment.
Will the Minister confirm that Brexit is a huge opportunity to increase the powers both of this House—over our own internal market and economic prosperity—and of the devolved Administrations, which will gain power? Should everybody not cheer up and welcome the fact that both the devolved Administrations and the Union Parliament can take back control?
I thank my right hon. Friend for the opportunity to absolutely agree with him that this gives us a great opportunity to come together as the United Kingdom, to give that sense of certainty to businesses and, just as importantly, to grab hold of the opportunities provided by leaving the European Union.
Before I address the amendments to the Bill’s Northern Ireland protocol measures, I remind hon. Members of the points made by the Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office, my hon. Friend Mr Walker, in Committee last week. He made it clear that
“the Northern Ireland protocol…is designed to recognise and protect the needs and unique circumstances of Northern Ireland. Central to that is ensuring that the Belfast/Good Friday agreement, its successor agreements, and the gains of the peace process are protected.”
He stressed that it was crucial to
“ensure that the delicate balance between all communities in Northern Ireland is maintained and that the UK Government pursue policies for sustained growth and stability in Northern Ireland…Through this Bill, we are acting to uphold those priorities and deliver the commitments we made in our election manifesto that we would provide unfettered access between Northern Ireland and Great Britain and ‘maintain and strengthen the integrity and smooth operation of the internal market’.”—[Official Report,
Vol. 680, c. 647.]
I will now speak to new clause 1, which seeks to replace clauses 42, 43 and 45, as well as amendment 16, which intends to remove clause 45. The Government have already been clear that these clauses are required to provide a safety net of powers in reserve, which Ministers may need to use to guarantee the integrity of our United Kingdom and to ensure that we are always able to deliver on our commitments to the people of Northern Ireland, in line with the three-strand approach of the Belfast agreement.
The Minister talks about giving a safety net to the people of Northern Ireland. Does he recognise that the majority of people in Northern Ireland regard the Bill as taking away their safety net by undermining the Good Friday agreement? That is the view in Northern Ireland, and it is important that the Government listen to it, not act contrary to it.
I have spoken to businesses in Northern Ireland, and a number of them are very supportive of this. I suggest that anybody in Northern Ireland or elsewhere in the UK who believes that the Bill actually takes away from the Belfast agreement is listening to the wilful misrepresentation of the Bill by certain people politicking. Actually, the Belfast agreement has a three-strand approach, and the Bill will be a safety net only in the event that we cannot reach agreement with the EU through the Joint Committee.
I will make progress, because these are important points. New clause 1 and amendment 18 would remove that safety net, which we just cannot agree with. These clauses were supported by clear majorities of the whole House at Committee stage.
I can reassure hon. Members that many of the proposals in new clause 1 are already addressed in the Bill. First, the Government have been clear that regulations made under clauses 42 or 43 would be subject to judicial review on general public law grounds, while ensuring that any claims must be brought within three months. This ensures any challenge to the regulations will be subject to timely resolution before the courts. This is essential to ensure that Northern Ireland businesses and investors in Northern Ireland have the certainty that they need. Amendments to this effect have already been agreed to in Committee, and I thank my hon. Friend Sir Robert Neill, who helped make that happen.
Secondly, on article 16 of the protocol, which new clause 1 mentions, in the event that regulations were made under clauses 42 or 43, we have been clear that we would activate appropriate dispute settlement mechanisms to find a solution in parallel to domestic legislation. Thirdly, the UK Government will continue, as we have always done, to negotiate with our friends and partners in the EU in good faith.
For the avoidance of any doubt, let me confirm again that we are of course committed to implementing the withdrawal agreement and the Northern Ireland protocol, and have already taken many practical steps to do this. However, as a responsible Government, we cannot allow the gains of the peace process or the economic integrity of the UK’s internal market—
I thank my right hon. Friend for that. Indeed, our intention, as I say, is to work on implementing the withdrawal agreement and the Northern Ireland protocol. I have talked about the fact that we have taken many practical steps to do this. We continue to negotiate in good faith.
I am going to make progress because I still have a number of amendments to cover.
We cannot accept any amendments that will undermine provisions in the Bill by rendering them no kind of safety net at all. New clause 1 does that, I am afraid.
I now turn to new clause 8. I appreciate entirely the spirit in which this has been put forward. While all of us hoped that the EU would negotiate and discharge its obligations under the withdrawal agreement and protocol in good faith, this amendment seeks to frame in statute a number of steps that Ministers could take under international law were that not to happen. However, this amendment is not necessary, as it would already be open to Ministers to take the steps my right hon. Friend Sir Edward Leigh proposes.
As I have mentioned, the Government have been working with the European Union to reach agreement through the Joint Committee process, and through this Bill we are preparing for a scenario where that does not happen. On
“ask Parliament to support the use of the provisions in Clauses 42, 43 and 45 of the UKIM Bill, and any similar subsequent provisions, only in the case of, in our view, the EU being engaged in a material breach of its duties of good faith or other obligations, and thereby undermining the fundamental purpose of the Northern Ireland Protocol.”
Does the Minister agree that those who object to the clauses he has just mentioned should bear in mind the language that has been used by the EU in recent weeks in terms of what it interprets the Northern Ireland protocol to mean? It has denied the existence, as it is written on the face of the Northern Ireland protocol, of matters such as the internal market, unfettered trade and so on. So these provisions are necessary as a safety net—nothing more than a safety net. I say to the critics, “Just look at the language of the EU” and if they look at the language of the EU, they will see that these measures are perfectly reasonable.
I am grateful for that, and my hon. Friend is absolutely right. These are reasonable steps to act as a safety net.
In the statement I referred to, the Government also make it clear that
“in parallel with the use of these provisions it would always activate appropriate formal dispute settlement mechanisms with the aim of finding a solution through this route.”
Actually, to be fair, the Minister has just been dealing with new clause 8, which I have moved. I am very grateful for what he has said. He seemed to suggest that the new clause was not in itself wrong, but was not necessary. But will he accept that, certainly when this Bill goes to the House of Lords, it might be helpful for the Government to produce an idea like this as another arrow in the armoury to reassure those who want to use international law in the right way, if the EU acts unreasonably? The advantage of a unilateral interpretive declaration under the Vienna convention, is that we can do it in this way, so I am grateful to the Minister.
I thank my right hon. Friend. It is right that he gets to speak as it is about his amendment. He is trying to be helpful in this regard, and I know that Ministers in the other place will take heed of his comments as they engage with colleagues there.
I now turn to new clause 7. I have considerable sympathy, again, for its underlying aims, but I hope that I can assure Sir Jeffrey M. Donaldson on the steps that the Government are taking that make it unnecessary. The starting point is that the Bill gives effect to our commitment to give unfettered access for Northern Ireland goods to the whole of the United Kingdom’s internal market. This is done by ensuring that the benefit for mutual recognition is not discriminated against and by preventing any new checks or controls on these goods. The Bill includes a safety net mechanism to ensure that genuine and full unfettered access for Northern Ireland to Great Britain can be delivered in any scenario for the removal of any export declarations by other exit procedures.
While these provisions have understandably attracted the most attention in our debates on the Bill so far, clause 40 also includes significant provisions to cement Northern Ireland’s integral place in the United Kingdom. The clause imposes a duty on public authorities to have regard to Northern Ireland’s place in the UK’s internal market and customs territory, and to support the streamlining of trade between Great Britain and Northern Ireland. That is entirely in keeping with article 6(2) of the protocol and the requirement to use best endeavours, as referred to in the right hon. Gentleman’s new clause.
The new clause also calls for an assessment of the impacts of the protocol on that trade to be published at least every 12 months. The Government have a history of supporting Parliament with up-to-date information and analysis on EU exit and implementation of the withdrawal agreement, including the protocol, and we are committed to continuing to do that. In the Command Paper we published in May, we committed to reviewing on an annual basis new procedures arising from the application of EU customs rules to goods entering Northern Ireland. If they should turn out to impose a disproportionate burden on goods moving wholly within the UK, we will consider how that burden can be further reduced or removed. However, it is not necessary—
I am grateful to the Minister for allowing me to come in at this point. There is no need to consider what steps would be taken in that scenario, given this new clause. It is open to the Government to accept the new clause and thus give clarity and comfort to businesses in Northern Ireland who do not know, but suspect, that there may be divergence, difference and associated costs. Nothing that he has said thus far would be injurious to his position or frustrate his hon. Friends in supporting the new clause this evening.
We will obviously consider how we reduce the burden further, but we do not think it necessary at this stage to make such reporting a statutory requirement or, notwithstanding what the hon. Gentleman said, to frame it in the very broad terms set out in the new clause.
Amendment 17 deals within the mutual recognition of authorisations granted under the EU’s REACH—registration, evaluation, authorisation and restriction of chemicals—regulation. It would automatically allow substances authorised to be placed on the market in Northern Ireland under REACH to be placed on the market in Great Britain. The acceptance of mutual recognition that we have introduced for chemicals in schedule 1 is there to allow the relevant authorities to respond to local factors. Authorisations granted by the EU after the end of the transition period will not take into consideration local conditions such as lower river flows or exposure levels where those chemicals are used in Great Britain. I would like to emphasise that authorisations relate to the use of substances of very high concern, such as chemicals that can cause cancer. It is important that the Government and devolved Administrations can take local factors into account in order to prevent avoidable harm to human health or the environment from the significant risks posed by such chemicals.
That response is in precisely the same terms as the one we received last week in Committee, but we are not touching on, or interested in, what the local considerations may be. The fact is that this Bill, even though we are talking about non-discrimination and the implications that there could be for business, envisages businesses having to adhere to and satisfy two separate regulatory regimes. We cannot square the circle between discrimination and non-discrimination in two separate and distinct legal regimes, whether there are local factors or not; we should have to adhere to only one. From a business perspective and an animal welfare perspective, it would be useful to have clarity. We can have one or the other, but definitely not both.
I understand the hon. Gentleman’s concerns, and obviously we are moving towards that one regime, when we can, but we are also already committed to working on a common framework for chemicals and pesticides policy. That common framework is being co-created by the Government and the devolved Administrations, and will allow us to co-ordinate policy making on matters such as REACH authorisations. Through this framework, the UK Government and the devolved Administrations will be required to set out the strategic direction for the UK regulatory regime, ensuring that existing environmental, human health and workplace standards are maintained, or exceeded where possible.
Finally, I want to discuss the amendments that address the power to provide financial assistance. By creating a new power for the Government to provide financial assistance in the areas of infrastructure, economic development, culture and sports, and education and training activities, the Government will deliver on the commitments upon which they were elected: levelling up, delivering prosperity for all our citizens and strengthening the ties that bind our Union together.
I think I have covered why those clauses should remain, although I did not specifically talk about the amendment.
I want to turn to amendments 18, 29 and 13, which together seek to remove the power to provide financial assistance. The Government are determined to deliver on those commitments, as I was saying. It is important that we strengthen the ties that bind our Union together, that we level up and that we deliver prosperity for all our citizens.
I will not give way at the moment.
Part 6 of the Bill, which includes clauses 46 and 47, helps us to achieve that. This part of the Bill confers a power to ensure that the UK Government can invest UK taxpayers’ money nationwide on UK priorities. In terms of immediate relevance, it would allow the Government to support people and businesses across the country to recover from covid-19. The Government have a responsibility to people, businesses and communities across the whole of the UK.
I want to make some progress.
This part of the Bill will allow the UK Government to complement and strengthen the support given to citizens in Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales without taking away responsibilities from the devolved Administrations. New clause 6 will require by law all financial assistance given under part 6 to take into account the applicable climate, nature and environmental goals and targets. It will require that any financial assistance be accompanied by the Minister’s assessment of the project’s climate and nature emergency impact statement.
The Government are committed to ambitious climate targets, and next year we will lead the world in discussions at COP26. It is also crucial that the UK meets its domestic obligations under the Climate Change Act 2008 and its international obligations under the Paris agreement. The Climate Change Act requires Governments to set five-year carbon budgets towards meeting our target of net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, covering the whole of the UK.
Not for the moment.
Any net emissions increase from a particular policy or project is therefore managed within the Government’s overall strategy for meeting carbon budgets and the net zero target for 2050, as part of an economy-wide transition. Moreover, through the Environment Bill that was introduced into this House in January, the UK Government will have a power to set long-term, legally binding environmental targets across the breadth of the natural environment.
That whole section of the Minister’s speech was a perfect example of why he should not be objecting to this amendment. It is a helpful amendment that would simply ensure that the financial contributions would actually support all those lovely climate and nature objectives he has just talked about. EU structural funds have a requirement to align with sustainability. His Government keep telling us how Brexit gives us the opportunity to go further than EU environmental policy, so in that case, why does he not accept the amendment? Why is he flunking his first test?
I have had non-viability and flunking today—I am doing well! I will come to this in a moment. We are framing this in a number of pieces of legislation. I have talked about the Environment Bill, which was introduced in January. It will require the Government to set at least one target for each of four priority areas: air quality, biodiversity, water and waste reduction, and resource efficiency. It will also protect the environment from future damage by—
The hon. Gentleman keeps wanting to intervene. At least he has had the decency to put his name down on the speakers list this time, so maybe he will have a chance to make his points when he speaks later.
The Environment Bill will protect the environment from future damage by embedding environmental principles at the heart of policy development across Government, with clear and pragmatic guidance on their implementation. The environmental principles will be used by Ministers and policy makers to ensure that policy and legal frameworks help minimise the ill effects of human activity on the environment. Given the Government’s strong commitment already to meeting their ambitious climate targets, and the frameworks established under the Climate Change Act and proposed under the Environment Bill, I do not think that it is necessary to put such a legislative requirement in this Bill.
I know that a number of people want to speak. I hope that I have set out the rationale for the Government’s amendments to the Bill, and that hon. Members will support them. I trust that I have addressed in sufficient detail the Government’s objections to the amendments put forward by other hon. Members, and that they will therefore feel able to withdraw them. I look forward to engaging in the debate on this crucial Bill.
I rise to speak to the new clauses in my name and those of my hon. and right hon. Friends.
Here we are again—day five in the new House of Commons series, “The Internal Market Bill Debates”. While the coronavirus crisis rages on, here we are again, watching Ministers justify a Bill that breaches an international agreement signed only months ago and that threatens to break up our United Kingdom. It is a shame that we will not hear from the Prime Minister again today on Third Reading, as my right hon. Friend Edward Miliband was hoping for a sequel. He will have to make do with the Prime Minister’s understudy, the Business Secretary—what fun.
If Government Members have not been tuning in to the previous episodes, let me repeat our position on this Bill. We support a strong, successful internal market that underpins a vibrant, prosperous Union, with the UK Parliament as the ultimate arbiter of that market. We do not want a Brexit rerun; we want to get on to the next series—you know, the one where the Prime Minister delivers on his oven-ready deal and gets a good trade deal with the EU? That one. That is what the trailers promised us, anyway, and it is what the Prime Minister promised us, too.
That is what we are calling for: getting Brexit done. Get the oven-ready deal done. The hon. Gentleman says that is what this Bill is about. The Government have had months to prepare it, and here we are adding amendment to amendment at this late stage.
We have been clear that the Bill, as drafted, is a bad Bill that is not in the national interest. Today, we will once again work to try to improve it. It is a Bill that breaks the law and could break up the UK. We have heard some noble and notable interventions during the debates. We saw that many distinguished Government Members felt unable to support the Bill on Second Reading and on some of the key clauses in Committee. As usual, though, they were met with a tin ear from the Government.
I wonder whether my hon. Friend is aware that this disquiet seems to stretch across Government. The Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office this weekend launched a campaign called “This is democracy”. It features a picture of a judge standing in their robes, and it says:
“Independent judges free to uphold the law. This is democracy. #BeHeard”.
I will just make some progress, if the hon. Gentleman does not mind.
Those noble contributions aside, we really have heard it all from those on the Government Benches during these debates. In trying to justify their latest cack-handed approach to public relations ahead of crunch trade talks with the EU, they have come up with a whole menu of reasons to support the Bill as drafted. Here is the highlights package. Do the Government break an international agreement—an agreement that the Prime Minister signed a few months ago? Do they break the law? Apparently, this Bill only breaks the law in a “limited and specific way”. Apparently, this Bill only breaks the law in a “limited and specific way”. Others on the Government’s own Benches, as we have already heard today, disagree. Some Members said that the Bill does not break the law in any way, but Sir Iain Duncan Smith said that it was okay because other people break the law, too. So which is it?
I would just like the hon. Lady to answer a simple question. Is she aware that, when in power, the Labour party frequently overrode treaties and has, therefore, in her own terms, broken international law. Is she aware of the number of times that that has happened and how egregious it was? The same applies to many of the matter to which she has just referred.
The hon. Gentleman has failed to give me an example, so I am not sure what he is referring to. He has spent his whole political career campaigning for us to leave the EU treaties, and the withdrawal agreement, which he supported and which his Government signed, did exactly that, and he is still not happy with it, so I do not know which it is.
The former Prime Minister said in a powerful speech last week that this Bill will tarnish and do “untold damage” to our reputation and weaken the UK in the eyes of the world.
Does my hon. Friend agree that this breaking of the law not only affects our relationships with the European Union, but jeopardises our chances of securing a deal with the United States?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right on that. We heard that from the presidential candidate and others after the Foreign Secretary’s visit there the other week.
As I was saying, the former Prime Minister made a very powerful speech. Others agree with her. One said:
“The rule of law is the most precious asset of any civilised society.”
Another said that the UK is renowned
“for promoting the rule of law, and for doing business with integrity.”
In another notable quote, we heard that
“the rules-based international order, which we uphold in global Britain, is an overwhelming benefit for the world as a whole.”
It was not Members on the Opposition Benches who said those words—oh, no—but the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, the Foreign Secretary and the Prime Minister himself. We have had some debate about when the withdrawal agreement would actually break the law. Is it now as we pass the Bill, or upon the powers being used? The truth is that, even with the additional vote conceded from my friend Sir Robert Neill, it does not change the fundamentals that this Bill itself breaks the agreement and breaks international law.
My hon. Friend is making an excellent speech. We also heard another former leader of the Conservative party, Lord Howard, say that, even with the concessions, even with the amendments that the Minister is bringing forward, the Government are still asking Parliament to pass legislation that will break international law.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. For the first time probably in my political career, I agree with Lord Howard on that point as well. Our new clause 1 would require Ministers to respect the rule of law while implementing their own withdrawal agreement. This is the crucial amendment today for those who want to stand by those values espoused by members of the Cabinet.
The Government have also told us that this is merely a tidying-up exercise or an insurance policy, as we have heard today—it is okay because there were “deep flaws” in the withdrawal agreement, and it was not any good anyway. It just beggars belief. In October last year, the Prime Minister tweeted that he had a “great” new Brexit deal. He told the House that this deal was a good arrangement for Northern Ireland, so which is it? No, okay, we do not have any answers to that. As the former Prime Minister also said in her speech last week:
“The United Kingdom Government signed the withdrawal agreement with the Northern Ireland protocol. This Parliament voted that withdrawal agreement into UK legislation. The Government are now changing the operation of that agreement. Given that, how can the Government…be trusted to abide by the legal obligations in the agreements it signs?”—[Official Report,
Vol. 679, c. 499.]
Ministers had no answer for her then and I wonder whether they do today—no, no answer on that one.
The hon. Member is making a powerful case in favour of new clause 1, which I absolutely support. Does she agree that Government amendment 13 makes the illegal power grab that she is describing even worse, because not only are Ministers seeking to take powers to legislate in breach of international law, but they are trying to close down every possible way in which Parliament could hold the Government to account?
I strongly agree; I will come to that point shortly.
The Government’s next justification was that it was necessary to rip up the withdrawal agreement because the European Union is ripping it up itself, but we have heard differing accounts of this: the Northern Ireland Secretary said throughout the summer:
“The Government is extremely confident that the EU is working in good faith”.
Which is it? We are still not clear about that.
Perhaps the most dangerous of all the contortions relates to Northern Ireland. The shifting justifications of the Government over the last three weeks have added to the sense that they are using Northern Ireland as a pawn in a wider negotiating strategy. Remember, this is a deal that the Prime Minister told the House was
“in perfect conformity with the Good Friday agreement”—[Official Report,
Vol. 666, c. 583.]
Callous or careless? Untrustworthy or incompetent? The Government are playing a dangerous game, and it is the people and businesses of Northern Ireland who risk paying the price.
I thank the shadow Minister for the constructive way in which she is putting forward her point of view. Does she agree that new clause 7, which was tabled by my colleagues, among others, and has some supporters in the House, is essential to ensure the viability of businesses in my constituency and across the whole of Northern Ireland whose biggest trading partner is the UK? Does she further agree that Northern Ireland cannot be left at the whim of Europe and that we must have security when these measures go before the House?
Yes, I do agree. I will mention that point in a moment.
For the people of Northern Ireland, this is not the latest episode in a Brexit drama; it is a profoundly worrying moment. Little wonder that the Lord Chief Justice of Northern Ireland himself, Sir Declan Morgan—a widely respected voice—said that the Government’s actions “undermine trust”. Let us remember that this issue could scarcely be more sensitive. In order to ensure the continuity of the Good Friday agreement in all its dimensions—recognising the unique circumstances of Northern Ireland sharing a land border with the Republic, and therefore the special responsibility and role that the UK and the Republic of Ireland have as co-guarantors of the Good Friday agreement—any change in the constitutional status of Northern Ireland rests on the consent of the people of Northern Ireland in their plurality. That is why it is essential that the protocol upholds Northern Ireland’s place in the internal market and that this delicate compromise builds the confidence of all communities. That is the principle behind new clause 7, which we have co-sponsored with the DUP and Alliance.
But instead of proceeding with due caution and going the extra mile to seek consensus, the Government resort to legislative vandalism. They also stoop pretty low—into “straight bananas” land—with scare stories about what the Bill is needed to prevent, some of which we have heard again today. The Prime Minister warned that the Bill was necessary because the EU wants to enforce an embargo on the transport of goods from Great Britain to Northern Ireland and are
“holding out the possibility of blockading food and agricultural transports within our own country.”—[Official Report,
Vol. 680, c. 43.]
Yet nowhere in the Bill do the Government safeguard against this. Despite the many amendments at every stage, there is nothing at all in the Bill regarding the movement of goods from GB to NI.
The hon. Lady talks about scare stories. Would she be clear and state precisely which bits of the Good Friday agreement are affected by which clauses in the Bill?
The hon. Gentleman is failing to answer my point, which is that there is nothing in the Bill to protect against the very thing that the Prime Minister told us we needed an insurance policy to guard against.
When the Prime Minister was challenged—or, should I say, humiliated—by my right hon. Friend the Member for Doncaster North on this point, the Prime Minister shrank into his seat. They then said that they would bring forward changes in the Finance Bill to protect against these imaginary blockades by EU warships in the Irish sea, but there is no Finance Bill now, is there? So what is their plan for dealing with this? Maybe the Minister could tell us.
In their final flourish to push the Bill through, the Government say it gives back powers to the nations, but the devolved Administrations strongly disagree. The Labour Welsh Counsel General has called the Bill
“an attack on democracy and an affront to the people of Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.”
A Conservative Senedd Member, the former shadow Counsel General, resigned because he shared those concerns. As we have argued, if the Westminster Government decided to lower standards, there could be no voice for the devolved nations, because the Government have decided not to legislate for common frameworks, but are legislating for their own veto.
The Government must respect the devolution settlement and work collaboratively in good faith with the devolved Administrations to build a strong and thriving internal market. Our new clause 2 would facilitate just that. Not doing so would threaten our precious Union by putting rocket boosters under the campaign for independence in Scotland and elsewhere.
The Government have also said that this Bill will ensure more money for the nations and regions, as we heard again today, yet we still have no detail on how the shared prosperity fund will operate. They say they want to level up and invest in the regions and nations. “Trust us,” they say on this point, “because we have the right motives.” Yet last week, the mask slipped, didn’t it, with the breath-taking admission from the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster that his Government were going to funnel this cash into the new Conservative seats—pork barrel politics at its worst.
Our new clause 3 would ensure that Ministers had a duty to report to Parliament and ensure oversight of the progress of this and other measures in the Bill.
My hon. Friend makes an excellent point, particularly about the English regions. I am from the south-west as she well knows, and the south-west has consistently returned Conservative MPs and received a great deal of money from Europe, and is frankly getting little in return. Could not the Government elucidate on how they are going to meet their promises across the regions in England and across the various nations in the United Kingdom, and on how they will make sure that places such as Cornwall do not lose out further?
My hon. Friend makes a good point, but I am afraid that, as we heard last week, her constituency is unlikely to get more money because it is not one of the new Conservative seats that we heard were going to be prioritised for this reallocation of money.
The truth is that the Government have been making it up as they go along. The UK’s reputation and territorial integrity are collateral damage to a No. 10 fixated on public relations and posturing more than on making sure that its policy works and is in the national interest. We have had an unprecedented number of amendments from Ministers to their own Bill during its passage. We have further new clauses today, which, as we have heard, further undermine the rule of law. They are making it up as they go along—change after change underlying the haphazard incompetence of this Government.
We want a successful internal market. This Bill does not deliver that. We want a strong Union built on mutual respect. This Bill could fatally undermine it. We want the UK to play a global role for good. This Bill actively damages that. The Prime Minister says that measures in the Bill are just an “insurance policy”, but you cannot get insurance for a house you have already torched.
I hope Conservative Members who still have reservations about the Bill will support our new clauses and join us in the Lobby.
One of the most salutary but, in retrospect, useful put-downs I ever had when I was a young barrister came when I perhaps overindulged in hyperbole in advancing arguments to the Court of Appeal and Lord Justice Cumming-Bruce said to me, “There’s no jury here, Mr Neill, you can cut out the hyperbole and stick to the arguments.” He was right and perhaps it is not a bad thing to try to do in the Committee on the Bill, as there has been a deal of hyperbole surrounding its passage, coming from those in all parts of the House. We might be better off cutting it out a little and getting back to the nuts and bolts of what we are discussing, because a lot of the Bill is perfectly reasonable and necessary. It is not a necessity I particularly like, because I wish we were not leaving some of the arrangements we currently share, but it has to happen as we exit the transition period. The real difficulty comes from the issues in part 5, which we have discussed on a number of occasions, so let me just return to them.
I listened with care to the Minister, and I do not doubt his sincerity and good intentions in this regard. He must have thought it a pretty rum do when he was a trade Minister and he found himself in the middle of a lawyers’ argument, but that has never stopped the lawyers making that case. I recognise that the Government have endeavoured to shift to try to make clear some of their intentions in relation to the difficult and sensitive matters that part 5 threw up. I will not pretend that we should have started from here; it might have been better to have contemplated the idea of some emergency legislation should we be confronted by what, I am glad to say, the Minister says is an unlikely eventuality, as this is what we all want to avoid if at all possible. I can see arguments the other way as well, so I welcome the constructive approach the Government have adopted towards myself and a number of my hon. Friends who had significant reservations with the Bill, as tabled, to try to make it clear that it is not the Government’s intention to act in a way that would undermine our reputation as a nation and jurisdiction that supports and upholds our obligations in international as well as domestic law.
I am glad my hon. Friend is referring to a constructive role. I gather from what he said the other day that he was talking very much in terms of last resort, and I want to be constructive, too. As he knows, I have already made the point that the Labour party has been passing Acts of Parliament that clearly and unequivocally override international law and that this has also happened in relation to other legislation in the UK, as I pointed out to my right hon. Friend Mrs May. So will my hon. Friend bear that in mind when he is considering the question of last resort, the threshold he referred to the other day and the fact that this is more common and happens more frequently than he may appreciate and that sovereignty, above all else, is the keystone upon which the whole of Brexit depends?
I am not sure whether or not that is an argument for Brexit; on that basis, the Don Pacifico affair was a great statement of national sovereignty, but I do not think it was a great triumph of intellect, integrity or national interest. Leaving that to one side, I accept that there will be a number of occasions when Governments may have departed from their international obligations, but that does not make any of them desirable and it does not mean that we should not seek to limit the circumstances in which that might occur to the barest necessities. So I think we have some common ground there, or at least I hope that we have. That is why I welcome the statements the Government have made to flesh out their intentions on the way in which part 5 would be used.
I say to Opposition Members that I accept that there are certain circumstances in which we might find ourselves in difficulty because of the attitude of our counterparties in the EU. I hope that that will not come to pass and that we are seeing just a matter of the rhetoric of negotiation. There is, however, a respectable legal argument, which has not been ventilated before, although it is held by a number of senior lawyers I have spoken to, to say that, as we all know, the withdrawal agreement is binding on the UK as a matter of international law—that must be right—but that that is based upon the true construction of the withdrawal agreement.
The withdrawal agreement is clearly subject to the provisions that stipulate that Northern Ireland is part of the United Kingdom. There is an obligation on the parties in good faith to negotiate a free trade arrangement between the UK and the EU such as would render the need for checks on goods passing between the UK and Northern Ireland largely, if not completely, unnecessary. Provided that is done, I do not think any of us get into any difficulties. I accept that in negotiations there has been some language—I hope it is no more than the language of negotiation at this stage, a posture—that might suggest that the EU could argue for a substantial array of checks that might go beyond that which is compatible with the true construction of the agreement in so far as it must respect the role of Northern Ireland within the United Kingdom.
Can I just finish my point, and I will happily give way to the hon. and learned Lady?
Were it to get to the stage that the level of checks being insisted on were to threaten the integrity of the UK, it would, arguably—perfectly respectably arguably—be threatening the integrity of the agreement itself upon its true construction. That, I think, would be an arguable point for saying in international law that the UK would have a case for saying it was entitled to take measures to protect the underlying purpose of the agreement.
I am very grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way. I think that he is describing a situation in which the European Union might be in bad faith, but last week when Professor Catherine Barnard, the very well-respected professor of European law at Cambridge University, gave evidence to the Committee on the Future Relationship with the European Union, she said that there is no evidence whatever at present that the EU is negotiating in bad faith but that there is a strong argument that the existence of the Bill and clause 45 breaches the United Kingdom’s duty of good faith in article 5 of the withdrawal agreement. As Chair of the Justice Committee, the hon. Gentleman will be aware that that is a widely held view by lawyers. Does he recognise, as she said, that there is a strong argument that, merely by bringing the Bill to the Floor of the House, the United Kingdom is already in breach of its article 5 duty of good faith under the withdrawal agreement?
With respect to my hon. Friend, I do not regard it as total tosh. I happen not to agree with it in totality, but I do not think that we should ever dismiss serious legal argument from serious practitioners on either side of the question as being out of consideration. It is a matter that we ought to weigh carefully. I do think that there is an answer. Part of that answer is the one I have just been formulating, which suggests to me that there can be certain circumstances in which the breach of the true meaning of the agreement is such that the UK itself will be entitled to use its international law right.
I am sure that it is a matter of privilege for the House, but I just come back to the point: I do not think that that engages with the issue we are concerned with here. Of course, it is perfectly within the rights of the House to bring forward any legislation it likes. I know my hon. Friend played a role in having section 38 inserted into the European Union (Withdrawal Agreement) Act 2020, but, with respect, that simply restates that which we already knew and probably picked up in the first week of the law course; that, essentially, Parliament is sovereign and of course it can legislate in the way that it wishes. It can legislate in a way that is incompatible with international law. That does not make it a desirable course to go down. I think that is the point that needs to be said. Of course, it may be possible and I do not think privilege is engaged. The point I am seeking to make is that the UK should be very wary about doing anything that breaches its international obligations. I do not think it has yet and there are reasons why we may be able to avoid that, but that is why I think we need to keep the debate a little more calm in terms of what the rights are.
Is not the problem that some Government Back Benchers are falling into the distinction between domestic law and international law? It is true as a matter of domestic law that this House can pass any Bill it likes, but as a matter of international law, as stated by the Supreme Court in paragraph 55 of its judgment in Miller 1, it does not impinge on international law. If we sign treaties, we are bound in the eyes of international law. There is a distinction here between domestic law, which means that this House can do what it wants—God forbid—and international law, which means that sometimes when this House does what it wants, it could be in breach of international law.
I think that is clearly established law. It is perfectly possible to act within one’s domestic law and still breach one’s international obligations; however, I do not think that that means that the Bill itself, at this stage, is a breach of our international obligations, particularly now that it has been reinforced by comments made by Ministers on the Floor of the House, which I am sure the Government therefore regard as binding as a matter of good faith in itself, that the provisions would be used only in circumstances where the EU had behaved in such a way that it had breached its duty of good faith under the agreement.
The Government have also importantly committed not to use the provisions of part 5 to undermine the pre-existing provisions in relation to both article 16— the safeguarding arrangements of the protocol—and articles 167 onwards, on the arbitral arrangements. Given those circumstances, I reach a different conclusion from that of the hon. and learned Lady and the professor. I do not dismiss the arguments, but I make the case for why I think, as a matter of law and fact, it is possible to distinguish them.
Does my hon. Friend agree that we have these complications with this agreement because it was only half an agreement? The original idea was that nothing was agreed until everything was agreed, which would include the future relationship. A lot of that had to be shunted into the political declaration. The danger of what was signed up to is that part of the agreement on so-called withdrawal matters could pre-empt the future agreement in a disobliging way to the United Kingdom. That is why we are in this difficulty and why I think that there is nothing illegal at all in the UK seeking to sort this out in the negotiations and not be at a disadvantage in them. Does he agree with that?
I think that we are in agreement to the extent that I do not believe that the UK has yet trespassed over its international legal obligations, and I agree that we want to get this sorted out in the negotiations. I do not think that I can go further than that at this stage, but I understand that we all want this to be dealt with in the negotiations if possible. I voted for the withdrawal agreement, and I voted for the previous Prime Minister’s withdrawal agreement. It might have saved us a lot of trouble if Members on both sides had voted for that withdrawal agreement in retrospect, but we are making the best of the situation that we have inherited, if I might respectfully say so.
The hon. Member is being generous in giving way. Does he accept that damage has already been done to the UK’s international reputation? He rightly wants to deal in facts and the reality of what is going on. I know from conversations that I have had with, for example, officials in UN institutions in Geneva, that the UK has been publicly questioned by other countries, in elections to bodies and negotiations on other matters beyond this matter, because of the very statements that the Government have made and the very clauses in the Bill. That, potentially, seriously undermines our abilities on the international stage on a series of issues: security, trade, climate change and well beyond.
It is certainly fair to say that it would have been better to have had the caveats that the Government have now put into the Bill to begin with, and I am grateful to Ministers for having worked in the way in which they have to achieve that. It would be absurd to pretend that there has not been real concern expressed by people whom we respect and ought to be able to deal with as allies and counterparties going forward. There is a way to ensure that that concern is alleviated and lasting harm is not done, and I am sure that the Government are committed to trying to do that.
Superficially, new clause 1 is attractive, but I am inclined to give the Government the benefit of the doubt that it is not necessary for the reasons that they have set out. I was going to press the Minister, but he has anticipated much of what I have to say. I am sure that he will confirm again, in winding up, that we are committed to ensuring that part 5 is not used to undermine the legally binding commitments and until such time as it is necessary to act to protect a significant national interest of the UK in relation to the integrity of the Union, as a result of bad faith by our EU counterpart, which—please, God—I hope never arises, and that we will do so without seeking to oust the legal obligations that we entered into in relation to the safeguarding provisions and the arbitral arrangements under article 167.
Given that, we can make a good case for saying that new clause 1 is not necessary and that the Government’s own intention will deal with that, but I urge the Government, as a friend, to ensure that they reinforce those points very strongly as we go forward, because to persuade the Upper House will be an important task. Continuing evidence of good faith and a willingness perhaps to look at some of the wording would be helpful to the Government.
I have sympathy for new clause 8. My right hon. Friend Sir Edward Leigh and I were reminiscing that we were the two youngest members of the Conservative group of the Greater London Council. We were actually abolished by Mrs Thatcher, by Act of Parliament, but that does not seem to have entirely destroyed our careers or done us lasting harm. I very much take on board my right hon. Friend’s points about the value of the Vienna convention. He and I served on the Council of Europe together, and that convention—again, the UK contributed significantly to it over the years—may benefit us a good deal going forward. Even if it is not necessary to take the wording of new clause 8 into the Bill, the sentiment behind it is useful, and I hope the Government will bear in mind the arguments my right hon. Friend will advance later in the debate, because they may well be useful elsewhere.
The convention is also important because the reality is that, if we do get into disputes over the legal interpretation of the agreement, those disputes are likely to engage the interpretation not of European law—which is a matter of concern to some of my hon. Friends, to a remarkable degree—but of treaty law, for which the convention is the primary document. My right hon. Friend makes an important point by raising the significance of the convention in his new clause.
The other matter I want to turn to at this stage relates to amendments 13 to 15, which I probed the Minister on a little earlier. I welcome the recognition that we are committed to ensuring that legislation, including secondary legislation, is compatible with our obligations under the European convention. I do not find it offensive that judicial review of some of these matters is limited to 21 days. Provided that there is judicial review—and there is—I think that that is proportionate, given that it is highly likely that the issues that give rise to a judicial review will have been so publicised and so ventilated that there should be no great burden on a potential litigator in bringing their case within that time.
However, I urge the Minister to reflect further on the best way to deal with the question of incompatibility. The fact that we are committed to compatibility is important. It could be argued that removing a remedy other than a declaration of incompatibility significantly weakens the level of redress open to an aggrieved person. One of the reasons we brought convention law into domestic law through the Human Rights Act was to ensure that someone did not have to go to the Strasbourg Court to get a remedy for their convention rights and that there was a greater range of remedies available, such as monetary payments—damages, in effect—and other things. It would help the Government if the Minister could give some greater justification for their stance when he winds up.
My final point is that we need to think carefully about the scrutiny of the secondary legislation involved. If we provide that certain aspects of secondary legislation should be treated as primary legislation, it is all the more important that they have the same parliamentary scrutiny as we would expect for primary legislation. We should perhaps look at whether even the affirmative resolution procedure proposed for these matters will provide sufficient scrutiny to ensure that our obligations are well discharged in relation to the albeit limited numbers of regulations that might—or, hopefully, might not—be required.
With those caveats, I hope the Government will take the thoughts I have set out on board in a constructive spirit to try to improve the Bill further and to assist its passage not just through this House but elsewhere. I also hope that part 5 of the Bill never has to see the light of day in practice and that we get an agreement in the negotiations, which would be much the best outcome. Every lawyer prefers that their client should settle rather than go to court, despite foul rumours spread by others to the contrary.
Order. Colleagues will see that many Members want to speak in the debate. We simply will not be able to get through everyone unless speeches are brief. My advice would be for Members to limit their remarks to five or six minutes, but if they do not, I will have to impose a time limit. I would rather not do that, but I am keen that we get as many people in as possible. I call Drew Hendry.
Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker. Although I will try to be as quick as I can, this Bill fundamentally affects Scotland, and therefore I have a lot to say about it. It is a pleasure to follow Sir Robert Neill, who chairs the Justice Committee. It is always a pleasure to listen to him, to Lucy Powell and to the Minister, who is an affable and normally very helpful chap. I have great sympathy for him as he tries bravely but barely conceals his embarrassment at having to drag this shabby Bill through the House.
Before I get to my party’s amendments and our reasoned amendment, let me report on the Bill so far. This Bill sets out to break international law. It sets out to break devolution. It sets in train the biggest power-grab since the Scottish Parliament was reconvened and a race to the bottom on health protections and environmental standards. The flood of amendments simply proves that the Bill lacks credibility. It is reckless, and it is absolutely typical of this Tory Government and their entire process.
I will make some progress.
In setting out to break international law, the Government are undermining trust, respect and shared values in a very specific but very unlimited way. The Bill sneers at the words “trust”, “honour” and “obligation”. Because of this Bill, any deal, understanding, commitment, promise or even legally binding treaty is now utterly dispensable—think of that! The questions now must be: what is the next inconvenient law for this Government? What happens to society as the Government embrace lawbreaking? How will international players treat their agreements with the UK? Make no mistake: this is going rogue.
Both the former Prime Minister—Mrs May still sits in the House and is likely to vote against the Bill—and the former Northern Ireland Secretary have spoken out against this action. The Law Society of Scotland has confirmed that clauses 40 to 45
and that the Bill, if enacted,
“would breach Article 5 of the Withdrawal Agreement.”
Part 5 of the Bill has triggered international condemnation. As we have heard, presidential candidate Joe Biden warned that
“Any trade deal between the U.S. and U.K. must be contingent upon respect for the Agreement”— the Good Friday agreement—
“and preventing the return of a hard border.”
There are already meetings in Washington amid American interest in Brexit’s implications for Northern Ireland. The Government’s amendments to part 5 of the Bill create more problems and unanswered questions. As Professor Mark Elliott, in consultation with Graeme Cowie of the House of Commons Library, points out:
“clause 45(1) provides that regulations made under clauses 42 and 43 ‘have effect notwithstanding any relevant international or domestic law with which they may be incompatible or inconsistent’. How is this to be reconciled with the fact that clause 45 as amended now contemplates the possibility of judicial review?”
He goes on to note that Government amendments 12 to 15 would produce an “extremely odd outcome”, and that amendment 13 appears to attempt to “cancel out” the effect of amendment 14. He concludes:
“It leaves us with a Bill that clearly authorises Ministers to break international law”.
Does my hon. Friend share my concern that Government amendments 12 and 13 may render incorrect the statement by the Secretary of State that the Bill is compatible with convention rights under section 19(1)(a) of the Human Rights Act 1998? Is he aware of any plans the Government have to revisit that statement? I asked the Minister about that, but he did not seem to understand the point I was making.
My hon. and learned Friend makes a telling point. No, of course the Government have not brought anything forward on that, because this is a Cummings-directed Prime Minister and a complicit Tory Government who have sought to justify a law-breaking, democracy-reducing, shabbily produced, lazy and dangerous Bill with a breathtaking factionalism bordering on pseudologica fantastica.
As we go through the process of leaving the European Union, this Parliament will take no powers away from the Scottish Parliament. In some 70 policy areas currently managed by the EU, powers will be handed over to the Scottish Parliament. Can the hon. Gentleman not bring himself just once to be a statesman and appreciate that this will actually be for the benefit of the Scottish Parliament? Just once, be a statesman!
If this were not so deadly serious, it would be a comedy, such is the hypocrisy from Tory Members. There is good reason why people in Scotland are now looking at independence as the settled view and the majority view in Scotland. It is because of the reckless disregard that the hon. Member has for the facts. He has not even looked at the fact that the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy will have, contained in the Bill, the power to overrule anything that the Scottish Parliament decides. I will come back to that point later.
Put simply, this is a bad Bill. It does bad things and no matter how much the Government scramble to justify it, they cannot get away from that point. Let us face it, the Tories have always hated devolution, but even by their standards, the Bill reaches a new level of contempt for the Scottish Parliament and for those of the other devolved nations. Clause 48 is a blatant power-grab, with the UK Government reserving the devolved policy of state aid. In clause 46, powers are given to UK Government Ministers to design and impose replacements for EU spending in devolved areas such as infrastructure, economic development, culture and sport, education and training, and much more, centralising power at Westminster—exactly what the people of Scotland rejected when they voted in 1997 to re-establish the Scottish Parliament. We see in poll after poll that people in Scotland reject it now. That has led, as I said earlier, to the fact that independence is now the majority view in Scotland.
“some voices in the Conservative government who having found out that devolution exists after 20 years, find they don’t much like it, and think it would be better if we returned 20 years and all the decisions were made in Whitehall and would rather not be spending their time talking to us very much.”
Does not that just capture it correctly?
I want to make some progress.
Organisations across Scotland are also deeply concerned about the proposals. NFU Scotland has confirmed the attack on devolution. It said that
“it is the clear view of NFU Scotland, and the other faming unions of the UK, that the proposals pose a significant threat to the development of Common Frameworks and to devolution.”
The General Teaching Council for Scotland said that the proposals
“would undermine the four UK nations’
devolved education functions.”
The STUC has warned:
“Johnson is uniting political parties, trade unions and wider civil society in Scotland against a power grab which would see UK Government interference in previously devolved matters and a rolling back of the constitutional settlement we voted for in 1997”.
I have resisted the temptation to ask the hon. Member to give way up to this point, despite the fact that he may be inadvertently misleading the House by pretending that, in some way, this Government are intent on grabbing powers back from Holyrood and taking them to Westminster when nothing could be further from the truth. I will bring him up, however, on his using the National Farmers Union of Scotland and its arguments as a reason not to back this Bill. The NFUS said:
“NFU Scotland’s fundamental priority, in the clear interest of Scottish agriculture…is to ensure the UK Internal Market effectively operates as it does now.”
That is what the Bill delivers. Nothing of what he has said up to this point is any way relevant to the Bill today.
Of course, the hon. Member is entirely wrong with his selective quoting. This absolutely underlines why the Tories have not won an election in Scotland since 1959. You have to be about 90 years old to remember voting in an election that the Tories won. Why? Because they do not listen to the people of Scotland and they do not have their interests at heart. Using this Bill, they are able to lower standards by holding a veto over Scottish Parliament decisions. The mutual recognition mechanism in the Bill starts a race to the bottom on standards, with the UK Government imposing their will.
As we heard, clauses 2 to 9 contain sweeping powers on animal welfare, food safety, environmental protections —every single aspect of Scottish life: the water we drink, the food on our table, the buildings we construct, and even our NHS. We know that chlorinated chicken is on the table and that it will be bloating our tables as a result—[Interruption.] They groan, but Donald Trump said that
“everything is on the table”— and that means products from the States, including that and hormone-injected beef. What else will be presented to us while the UK Government desperately scratch around for a trade deal, leaving no stone unturned regardless of who or what is underneath it?
The Bill hamstrings the Scottish Parliament from protecting the highest standards of food safety, from protecting Scottish farmers’ livelihoods, and from protecting the highest standards in our environment and our building control. It hampers the Scottish Government’s ability to keep public companies in public hands, including preventing attacks on the NHS. Worse still, as I said earlier, it puts the power to overrule Scotland’s Parliament in the hands of one Tory Minister. The Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy has the
“power to alter these exclusions”.
Professor Michael Dougan has warned of the impact of the mutual recognition principle and the effect that it will have on Scottish produce:
“The impact in practice of this Bill in many of the proposed exercises of devolved competence in relation to trading goods or services is to effectively penalise domestic producers or traders and not be able to enforce the same standards against imported goods or service providers.”
As I mentioned earlier on the teaching council, Scotland requires secondary teachers to have a relevant degree in the subject that they teach. However, part 2 of the Bill, on professional qualifications, forces Scotland to accept teachers with lower qualifications. The chief executive of the General Teaching Council for Scotland, Ken Muir, said that
“our key concern about the Bill is the extent to which we ourselves, and parents, and users of the education system would feel that”— it—
“would be watering down the teaching profession in Scotland”.
“further clarifying the freedoms of all parts of the UK to regulate pricing and manner of sales policies as long as they are non-discriminatory.”
Of course, that is the key line—
“as long as they are non-discriminatory”— and they say that “we have now acted to provide increased legal certainty around this point”. The Minister conceded earlier that that was in relation to alcohol minimum unit pricing. I remind hon. Members that Ministers had told us that that was not affected by the Bill and did not come into account in it, and now they are admitting that it does and they have put this absolute sham of an amendment in place to cover that. All it does is leave this open to be overridden by the non-competitive clause.
We heard about financial assistance. In case anyone is seduced by the spending promises, I have been calling for clarity on the so-called shared prosperity fund since 2017 along with my SNP colleagues. As the Financial Times reported, an individual close to the discussion said:
“The current plan is an odd combination of reserving state aid [for control from London] but then agreeing to a free-for-all. They just want to be able to bung money at things and do not want UK internal market legislation cutting across that.”
That is odd, or is it just convenient?
The Tories’ Communities Secretary has spent millions of pounds from the towns fund on 61 towns, 60 of which happen to be Tory marginals, including his own seat. In the highlands, we understand that directly, because in 1992, Prime Minister John Major took money from the highlands to shore up flagging support in the south-east of England. We have experienced the altruism of Tory Governments.
The flood of amendments to fundamental aspects of the Bill, including from UK Ministers, shows that it is completely bad and shoddy. Clause 5 transfers the CMA functions to the OIM. Drafting errors abound throughout. Amendment 15 actually attempts to further undermine the rule of law. It says:
“No court or tribunal may entertain any proceedings for questioning the validity or lawfulness of…section 42(1) or 43(1).”
That is dangerous and toxic stuff. That follows an absolutely useless and terrible consultation that failed to include and engage the devolved Governments on aspects of the Bill that see the Government strip powers from Edinburgh, Belfast and Cardiff. The legislation was shared with the devolved Governments only hours before publication.
The recklessness of the Tory Government only creates more uncertainty. When their reasonable worst-case scenario is two-day delays to freight on the channel and 7,000 lorries in Kent, with an estimated 275 million new customs declarations each year post Brexit that will cost about £15 billion, they can add the words “absurdly” and “tragically” to reckless.
Poll after poll now shows that people in Scotland understand that the only way to protect their democratically elected Parliament, to protect standards and to keep their waters and NHS safe is through Scotland becoming a normal independent nation and taking its place in the international community. This Bill insults Scotland. We will not vote for this Bill.
Order. Just another reminder: I am conscious that many of the initial contributors are speaking to amendments, so it is important that we are flexible, but I say again that if we want to get in the many Members who want to contribute to the debate, it is important that at this stage, Members are as brief as they can be while getting their important points in.
There has been a heated and, in many respects, misconceived debate about the question of our compliance with international law. I had something of an exchange with my right hon. Friend Mrs May on Second Reading. I made the point that UK law has, in the past, breached international treaties. That stands, because it is important for us to recognise that that has been the case.
Indeed, it is often forgotten that the EU guidelines of
The withdrawal agreement and the political declaration recognise the autonomy of the EU and the UK, but whereas the UK is a sovereign state, the EU is merely an international organisation. UK sovereignty is expressly recognised by the EU as of its own kind—sui generis. The EU manifestly contradicted that by insisting on European Court jurisdiction, thus subverting the constitutional status of Northern Ireland itself. It was even reported that that was the price we would have to pay. The EU continually denied our sovereignty during the negotiations with a wanton disregard of our unique, unwritten constitution and sovereignty, which it is bound to understand because we have been in a relationship within the same legal order for the last 40 years.
I do not have time, I am afraid.
At the same time, there have been a number of UK precedents, which I have explained already. I do not have the time to go into them; I will attempt, as other Members will have to, not to go into huge detail, but I will give a few examples. In 1945, a Finance Act passed by the Labour party overrode international law. The same applied to the Indian Independence Act 1947 and the Burma Independence Act 1947. In fact, in the case of India, more than 400 treaties were broken.
I assure the hon. and learned Lady that I am not giving way. I am very happy to do so normally, but not today.
Furthermore, a Conservative Government, in the Income and Corporation Taxes Act 1988, provided clauses that were notwithstanding anything contrary to the arrangements of the Act. It goes on. It is a substantial list.
I will go further. Those who are interested can look at my previous contributions to other debates, where I extensively describe the myriad occasions when the EU itself has broken international law and, furthermore, when EU member states have egregiously broken international law and admitted it in their own Parliaments. For example, Helmut Schmidt, in the Bundestag, could not have been clearer, going through every single treaty that Germany deliberately broke in defence of its own vital national interest, because that is itself a reason why national law can have a degree of predominance over international law.
National and constitutional law, in certain circumstances —where it affects sovereignty, as in this case in the United Kingdom—can prevail against international law. I am extremely grateful to my good friend, my hon. Friend Sir Robert Neill, who I know recognises this. It has taken a bit of time for us all to come to terms with that, because it is a bit complex, but the reality is that it is well established in international law itself. The German federal court confirmed this as recently as 2015. I quoted the court in a previous debate, so it is already on the record that it is well within the framework of international law for a country—a democratic country, I hasten to add—to actually override international law in its own vital national interest, and most specifically, as in this case, on questions of sovereignty.
I will therefore just touch on my exchange with Joanna Cherry. With regard to Miller 1, the Supreme Court unanimously confirmed that, under the dualist approach, treaty obligations only become binding in the UK system to the extent that they are carried out in domestic legislation, and that whether to enact or repeal legislation, and the content of that legislation, is for Parliament alone.
This principle was approved unanimously by the Supreme Court in Miller 1.
My hon. Friend is nodding his head because he knows this is the case.
As the majority in Miller 1 explained, at paragraphs 55 to 57, the dualist principle is a necessary corollary of the fundamental constitutional principle of parliamentary sovereignty. It exists to ensure that Ministers, in the exercise of the royal prerogative to conduct international relations, cannot alter domestic law, which is the preserve of Parliament. Parliament, in the exercise of its sovereignty, is free to legislate in any way it sees fit, including contrary to the UK’s international obligations. Thus—I am quoting from another judgment—
“the sovereign power of the Queen in Parliament extends to breaking treaties”.
That is made clear in Salomon v. the Commissioners of Customs and Excise in 1967, as well as in Serbia v. the Secretary of State for the Home Department in 2010 and the Attorney-General of Canada v. Attorney-General of Ontario in 1937, in the words of Lord Atkin, so I think the case is well established.
There is nothing in this Bill that is breaching international law and, as I have referred to the laying of a Bill, I think it is an outrageous piece of tosh, if I may say so, that somehow or other we would be in breach of the law—of international law, for heaven’s sake—in doing so, despite what Mr Šefčovič has been railing about on
This is also what we did in relation to section 38 of the European Union (Withdrawal Agreement) Act 2020. I just take issue a little bit with my hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst regarding the point he made. Of course, he was very gentle about this, but he was saying, “You, the Member for Stone, really must try to understand that actually there is nothing particularly unusual about section 38. It’s just part and parcel of our sovereignty.” I just gently say to him—and I will read out the words in question—that section 38 says:
“It is recognised that the Parliament of the United Kingdom is sovereign.”
Well, we are in agreement on that. Then it goes on to say:
“In particular, its sovereignty subsists notwithstanding”— and subsection (2)(b) says in relation to the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018—
“section 7A of that Act (other directly applicable or directly effective aspects of the withdrawal agreement)”.
That is the point, and it is absolutely clear. It then goes on to say:
“Accordingly, nothing in this Act derogates from the sovereignty of the Parliament of the United Kingdom.”
In fact, if I may say so, that is the very wording I used when I put down an amendment—in precisely those words—to the single market Act in June 1986. Those were exactly the same words, so there is a bit of history to all this.
I simply make those points because I think it is really important that we put this into perspective. There has been a very heated debate over all this. All I can say is that I understand people’s concerns. It is extremely good that my hon. Friend has made the points he has. I know that he regards this as a last resort, and also as a threshold and the bar that he has talked about the other day. However, I will simply say this: nothing could be higher than the bar of the sovereignty of this House of Parliament in relation to its representative nature. It is right to be able to legislate on behalf of the voters of this country, and in December last year we got a majority of 80 from the British people. This legislation has been passed on that basis, and that is something I think we should be proud of.
It is a pleasure to follow Sir William Cash. He is right to chide the European Union about seeking to interfere with the integrity of this sovereign nation. However, the end of that sentence should encapsulate the disappointment of some of us at the fact that our own Government would accept a framework that seeks to do just that.
That brings me to our amendments, which are in my name and those of my right hon. and hon. colleagues—both new clause 7 and amendment 17. Last week, Madam Deputy Speaker—it is a pleasure to address you in that way—a very concerned constituent of mine, Mike, chided me engagingly, as he always does, for referring to you in personal terms. I had to outline that that was because we were, for day after day, in Committee, so it is good that we are on Report. I am mindful of the time constraints, so I do not intend to rehearse the many sincere arguments that we advanced in Committee that lie underneath our amendments, but I will touch on them in relation to new clause 7 and amendment 17.
I listened carefully to the Minister, who is now back in his place, when he spoke about amendment 17 in his opening remarks, which, as I mentioned in my intervention, replicate quite closely those of the Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office, Mr Walker:
“I understand Members’
concerns and support mutual recognition and the non-discrimination principle, but the exception to mutual recognition that we have introduced for chemicals is there to allow the relevant authorities to respond to local factors. Authorisations granted by the EU after the end of the transition period will not take local conditions into consideration. I emphasise that the authorisations relate to the use of substances of very high concern. It is important that the Government and devolved Administrations can take local factors into account when they decide how to protect human health or the environment from the significant risks posed by such chemicals.”—[Official Report,
Vol. 680, c. 658.]
That is a fair enough analysis of why we should be within the UK regime on REACH regulations, but the thrust of this Bill is to ensure that our businesses are not unfairly disadvantaged in the conduct of their activity. I have highlighted in Committee and I highlight again today the fact that it is unnecessary to ask businesses to adhere to two separate and distinct regimes on chemicals and dangerous substances—an EU regime and a UK or GB regime—in the conduct of their business.
I heard the Minister say, in response to my intervention, that the Government were working on a common framework, but in pushing this amendment, we are asking them to accept that this will have real, tangible implications for a small subset of our businesses. It demonstrates acutely the burdens that will be added to our businesses when we have one foot in the GB market and one foot in the European Union single market, with all the rules that come with that, and when we are expected to adhere to the rules of both jurisdictions. That will make our businesses less competitive.
To illustrate the “best of both worlds” that my hon. Friend has referred to, does he remember that as recently as last year two Northern Ireland skippers were arrested for fishing in waters within six miles of the Republic of Ireland, after an EU judgment? We never seem to get a good deal in Northern Ireland. Does he agree that that illustrates the importance of our new clause 7, which would guarantee a review of business and trade?
My hon. Friend touches on new clause 7, which I will turn to in a moment. The egregious circumstances to which he refers, in which the skippers were arrested last year, were completely outrageous. However, Judge Coughlan in the south recognised that they were men of deep integrity, that they did not deserve convictions and that Irish fishermen were doing exactly the same in Northern Ireland waters. Had it not been for his clarity of thought, things could have been much worse.
My hon. Friend makes the good point that businesses in Northern Ireland might have to adhere to two sets of regulations. Does he accept that there will be occasions when EU regulations could be totally contrary to the regulations developed for the rest of the UK, and that at that stage, Northern Ireland businesses would have to choose? In fact, they would not have to choose, because they would be obliged to follow the EU regulations and would be unable to comply with UK regulations affecting trade.
My right hon. Friend is absolutely right. That is a conundrum that we keep having to address, and the reason we have to keep raising it in these debates is that it is not filtering through. Despite the “lines to take” that have been distributed to colleagues and friends across the Chamber, those conundrums have yet to be answered, and businesses in Northern Ireland still require clarity, whether on selling into the GB market or buying from the GB market. The Bill attempts to address part of that journey, but only part of it, and it does not give us the clarity that we need.
On the REACH regulations and amendment 17, I want to refer to an email I got yesterday from a constituent called Audrey, who outlines something that had not been part of my thought process. She says, “All new and existing substances made and imported into the EU under the REACH regulations at levels of more than one tonne per year must be registered with the European Chemicals Agency. Registration also involves tests on live animals. Cruelty Free International estimates that already 2.6 million animals have been poisoned and killed in this process and that a full minimum data set for the high production chemicals would be approximately 5,000 animals per year, including rats, mice, rabbits, fish and even birds. Based on the information from the Health and Safety Executive, in two years of the UK’s exit from the European Union, UK-based companies must provide the full data package that supported their original registration with the ECHA, including full test reports for each applicable toxicity concern. Because of access to those data issues, many UK registrants could be left with no choice but to repeat the tests on animals that have already been complied with for EU purposes.” Even if Members do not accept my arguments around the implications for businesses, do they think—if those datasets are not agreed and if a common framework is not reached between the EU and the UK—that all those subsets of tests and all that cruelty is genuinely necessary? I think it is avoidable, and I ask the Government to consider amendment 17 more thoughtfully.
On new clause 7, I thank hon. and right hon. Members from across the Committee who support the endeavour and the aspirations that it brings. I wish to put on record my appreciation for the shadow Secretary of State for Northern Ireland—Louise Haigh—and Edward Miliband for their engagement with and understanding of the implications that there are for Northern Ireland. They signed the amendment and I am grateful to them for doing so. I am grateful to Stephen Farry, who similarly joined us in this endeavour, and, I have to say, to the hon. Members for Foyle (Colum Eastwood) and for Belfast South (Claire Hanna), who have indicated their positive approach to the new clause and signed it when we tabled it to the European Union (Withdrawal Agreement) Bill back in January.
Nothing that the Minister said—I cannot re-emphasise this point enough—undermined the benefits of accepting new clause 7. He indicated that the Government will rightly carry out an analysis of the implications for business in Northern Ireland, so there is nothing wrong with agreeing to it as part of the Bill. We know that there are distinct differences associated with the operation of the Northern Ireland protocol. The new clause seeks not to undermine the protocol but to ensure that Government carry out these impact assessments. In doing so, it seeks to indemnify businesses in Northern Ireland who are unduly, unfairly and uncompetitively put at a disadvantage to their colleagues and counterparts in GB. That is the very essence of the commitments that have been advanced as part of the Bill; indeed, the “lines to take” that Conservative Members have been given tell them that the Bill is about ensuring the integrity of the UK internal market. If they believe that to be the case, then there is nothing in new clause 7 that undermines their position. I say that very earnestly.
Looking across the Chamber, I see Members—friends—who have an interest in Northern Ireland and, more than that, an unbridled belief in the benefits of the Union, and who believe that we should not only hold but build and enhance what we have. If they are of that view and respect our integral place within the United Kingdom—I know that many have gone through the angst of having to accept compromises as part of the withdrawal agreement to get Brexit for themselves in England, knowing that it will have distinct differences for us in Northern Ireland—I earnestly hope that they will consider new clause 7 in a positive vein. It does not undermine the Government’s position—they have offered no fundamental objection to it—and it does not undermine the process that Members are seeking to achieve on Brexit. It would, however, make an enormous practical difference for businesses in Northern Ireland who are faced with uncertainty and a lack of confidence in the arrangements that will come forward, and, should there be a negative impact or consequence, they would know that Government will stand with them.
The problem is not the possibility of the UK breaking international law, which we do not want to do, obviously; the problem is the UK’s being prepared in case the EU fails in its willingness to interpret the protocol on Northern Ireland in a proper way. We have a legal tool at our disposal that would help clarify the situation in accord with international law: a unilateral interpretative declaration. My new clause 8 describes in some detail how that could be done. It would help our negotiating position in securing an EU trade agreement and, just as importantly, it would help get the Bill through the House of Lords.
Many in the other place will be concerned about the possibility that the UK Government may be opening the door to breaking international law. We pride ourselves on the rule of law and we should maintain our commitment to it. The real problem is whether the EU is willing to implement the protocol in a reasonable and effective manner. We do not need to break international law; we need to prevent the EU from breaking international law by violating its treaty commitments.
The EU has suggested that it would break its commitments in the protocol. It has said that it would consider breaking its commitments to allowing food from England, Wales or Scotland to be sold in Northern Ireland if the UK did not make concessions on the free trade agreement. That is on the record in Michel Barnier’s statement on
We are committed to implementing the protocol, which we signed up to, but we are only committed to what we actually agreed to—no more and no less. This is the nub of the problem. We are not bound by new interpretations of the protocol that the EU might seek to impose on us. We are not required under international law to accept all the proposals that the EU tables in the negotiations. We cannot accept any bargaining linkage being made between implementing what has been agreed under the protocol in good faith, and what has still to be agreed about our future relationship.
There is a compromise available. We can use international law to ensure that the EU meets the commitments it made in the protocol. We can assert our position, as I have argued, in a unilateral interpretative declaration, if—and only if—the EU behaves unreasonably.
The initial version of the Northern Ireland protocol agreed to in November 2018 could have bound us indefinitely to maintaining full alignment with the EU’s single market regulations and membership of the customs union. In an Adjournment debate in February 2019, I advocated the use of a conditional unilateral interpretative declaration to assert the temporary nature of the backstop. That word “temporary” was then in the protocol.
My right hon. and learned Friend Mr Cox, who was then the Attorney General, took this up to seek a time limit or a withdraw mechanism from the backstop. That was the basis of documents tabled on
Nevertheless, in December last year, we succeeded in getting rid of the backstop. The question is whether the agreed Northern Ireland protocol will be implemented in good faith. The protocol is a good compromise. Rather than abandoning international law, we must use the full provisions of international law to ensure that the protocol is implemented as we agreed.
The general principles of international law applicable to the withdrawal agreement and the protocol are spelled out in the 1986 Vienna convention on the law of treaties. In addition, in 2011, the International Law Commission of the UN codified a guide of practice for handling disagreements about the interpretation of treaties. That allows an individual Government to issue a declaration on their interpretation of the meaning of specific aspects of a treaty. The UK can do that unilaterally, without any agreement from the EU.
To leave the realm of politics and enter the realm of international law, any unilateral interpretative declaration must be sent to the depositary of the treaty. I proposed in an amendment in Committee that the Government should use this declaration to assert their position if the EU were to fail to implement aspects of the protocol. My new clause 8 now spells out in some detail how the declaration could be used. Subsection (1) specifies that the Government should invoke this procedure if the EU fails to carry out the requirements of the protocol. Subsection (2) specifies that the Government should ensure that their interpretation of the protocol is justified by, and in accord with, the provisions of the Vienna convention.
It is important to note that the Vienna convention covers the need to act in “good faith” and the need to avoid results that are “manifestly absurd or unreasonable”. Subsection (3) therefore requires the Government to obtain parliamentary approval before they make a legal challenge, and subsection (4) requires the Government to report back to Parliament on whether the EU has approved the interpretation. If the dispute were to continue, there would be a choice: we could seek negotiations to achieve a compromise in the Joint Committee, or we could invoke the withdrawal agreement’s arbitration procedures. If the dispute could not be resolved and arbitration were required, we would have acted in good faith—that is the point—in international law. We would have established our case and started arbitration on our own terms.
The Government are right to challenge the EU. We can uphold international law. We can challenge the EU with proper legal methods. We do not need to accept its interpretation of the protocol. When we face unreasonable demands, we have a chance to state our interpretation of what we agreed when we signed the protocol. We can challenge the EU with a unilateral interpretative declaration and, hence, defend our position in full accord with international law. I ask the Government to consider positively this compromise, on which we can all agree and which is offered to the Government in good faith.
I rise to speak to new clause 6, which is in my name. Its intention is to ensure that those seeking public money for economic development under this legislation are obliged to undertake a climate and nature emergency impact assessment.
The powers set out in part 6 of the Bill provide assistance in a way that would be subject to very few restrictions. New clause 6 is designed to be a genuinely constructive and practical suggestion to help Ministers see the serious gap in the legislation, and to help them to assess and decide whether the money they are dishing out is trashing the environment or supporting its restoration.
Both the Under-Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, Paul Scully, earlier this afternoon, and the Minister of State, Cabinet Office, Chloe Smith, last week, said that the UK Government have a determination to see climate and environmental goals achieved. Well, I am very glad to hear that, but it makes me even more perplexed that they are not willing to accept what I regard as a helpful and friendly amendment. In fact, both Ministers have also said that it was not necessary to introduce any kind of conditions on the financial assistance powers in the Bill, because apparently there is already an overarching legal and policy framework for achieving those goals. That is not good enough. We need commitments that would make those fine words actually bite when it comes to the wide financial assistance decisions set out in the Bill.
The Bill has conferred astoundingly broad powers on Ministers, but without clarity or direction over the mechanisms that they will use to judge whether they are upholding policy commitments—and vague references to overarching frameworks just will not cut it. The bottom line is that, in order to tackle the nature and climate emergencies that we face, the state must not risk supporting projects, companies or industries that threaten to undermine progress toward meeting climate, nature and environmental goals and targets. To avoid that risk, people need to be asking and proving how their requests measure up to climate, nature and environmental goals and targets, and the Government need to check.
The production of impact statements for any proposal for financial assistance will not only help to ensure that individual projects consider long-term sustainability, including avoiding or mitigating potential negative impacts, and maximising the benefits of delivering a green economy; it will also enable Governments across the UK to better understand the aggregate impacts of such financial assistance, and measure them against the goals and targets to which they have already committed themselves. In other words, impact statements would be not an additional burden, but a necessity to reach stated goals. They would also provide a useful opportunity to demonstrate the positive impact that ambitious and well directed investment can bring. The statements would help Ministers—and, indeed, all of us—by providing the benefits of public accountability and value for money, as well as important integrated policy making to tackle the nature and climate crises.
Let us not forget that we have had so many commitments —at least in fine words—from this Government on keeping high standards post Brexit. The Conservative party manifesto promised
“the most ambitious environmental programme of any country on earth.”
It is extraordinary that a Government who say that balk when it comes to any practical measure that would enable them to implement that commitment.
Just yesterday, the Prime Minister’s comments at the signing ceremony of the Leaders’ Pledge for Nature sounded positive. He said that we need to turn words into action, and I could not agree with him more. He said that we need ambitious goals and binding targets and, in his characteristic language:
“We cannot afford dither and delay because biodiversity loss is happening today.”
Yes, Prime Minister, it is, and this straightforward measure would enable him to deliver on the fine words by supporting a mechanism that is designed to achieve exactly that. Otherwise, words are cheap.
New clause 6 is not just a “nice to have” or a green add on; it is a vital way of ensuring that we implement our existing commitments. In May last year, Parliament passed a motion declaring a climate emergency. Marvellous —I was the first to be pleased about that, but we need a mechanism to ensure that subsequent policy making is in line with that commitment. Otherwise, it is meaningless. We have heard time and again how post Brexit, the UK will be able to have higher environmental standards than the EU, yet the next round of European structural funds will have tackling climate change and addressing the just transition as a major theme. Surely at the very least we should aspire to do the same.
Evidence that we must act responsibly and urgently is mounting every day. As I have already said, the UK Government are failing to meet as many as 17 of the 20 biodiversity targets that we set ourselves 10 years ago. We have plenty of examples of money that is being spent in a way that undermines environmental sustainability, so we know we need to act.
Just this morning, Professor Simon Lewis of University College London reminded us that the biodiversity crisis is not a problem in someone else’s backyard; it is happening in the UK. We live in one of the most nature depleted countries on earth. We have lost 55% of our forest birds in 50 years, and 97% of our flower-rich meadows since the second world war. We have just 13% woody cover, compared with an EU average of 38%. Scientists regularly document huge declines in beetles, bees, butterflies, moths and ladybirds.
Those things do not happen by accident. They happen as a direct result of public policy. They happen as a direct result of where money is spent. It is therefore critical that, if and when Ministers choose to exercise the powers in the Bill, they do so in a way that is consistent and compatible with any environmental and climate goals and targets in the relevant part of the UK.
I know time is short, Madam Deputy Speaker, but I want to say how much I support new clause 1, which has been tabled in the name of the shadow Business Secretary, Edward Miliband. His powerful speech to the House on Second Reading left the Prime Minister embarrassed and exposed. Embarrassed because this is frankly all a bit of a game for a Prime Minister who does not like to lose, and exposed because the Prime Minister is at least supposed to uphold international law. In this case he is asking Parliament to give his Government authorisation to break a treaty that he negotiated and signed last year, and on which his whole general election campaign was based. You almost couldn’t make it up, but that comes after the Prorogation scandal, and a string of attacks on civil servants and the operations of our democracy, delivered by a Prime Minister who thinks little of shutting down Parliament when it gets in his way.
Under any Government of principle, new clause 1 would not be contentious, but sadly it is needed tonight because the Government’s amendment still leaves us with a Bill that clearly authorises Ministers to break international law. This is not a matter of left or right, or of leaving or remaining in Europe; this is about our democracy. To vote for the “treaty undercut” clauses in this group is not to provide a safety net, as the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster desperately suggested yesterday. Instead, it is to fire a cannon ball through the safety net of democratic principle. By contrast, new clause 1 gives MPs the opportunity to demonstrate the immovable principle that it is outrageous for any Prime Minister, any Attorney General, any Justice Secretary—indeed, it should be out of the question for any MP—to be part of legislation that authorises Ministers to break the rule of law. So I hope that every Member of the House will vote for new clause 1, and against the indefensible precedent that the Government seek to set.
Government amendment 13 is yet another attempt by the Government to avoid scrutiny of their actions, this time by the courts. It is basic to our way of life and to our history that no one is above the law, but clause 45 is a crude attempt to put Ministers above the law. Not only are Ministers seeking the power to legislate in breach of international law, but Parliament is being asked to pass a law whose aim is obviously to prevent any effective constraint on Ministers. This should be out of the question for any Government with any respect for the rule of law. Again, none of the Law Officers, no Minister and no MP should be prepared to vote for such an attack on the basic principles of our constitution.
I support the Government’s amendments to the legislation for the reasons outlined admirably by the Minister—it did need a little strengthening and this is a welcome clarification—but I rise mainly to oppose new clause 1.
I am disappointed with the official Opposition, because I was delighted after the clear decision of the people in the last general election that the Opposition said that they now fully accepted the result of the referendum, although it took place years ago—the previous Parliament blocked its timely implementation. We had a rerun in the general election and the Opposition fully accepted the verdict of that general election, yet here we are again today, with new clause 1 deliberately trying to undermine the British Government’s sensible negotiating position in the European Union.
Whenever there is a disagreement in interpretation of that original withdrawal agreement between the United Kingdom and the European Union, the Opposition and most of the other opposition parties rush to accept the EU’s—very political—interpretation of the situation and rush to say that anything the UK Government wish to assert in this Parliament, or in a court of law if it came to that, is clearly illegal.
It is preposterous that we have so many MPs who so dislike the people of this country that they are still trying to thwart the very clear wish to have a Brexit that makes sense.
I must not take up too much time. I wish to develop my argument quickly.
We have to recognise what we are dealing with here. The EU withdrawal agreement was pretty unsatisfactory and one-sided because the previous Parliament stopped the Government putting a strong British case and getting the support of this Parliament in the way the British people wanted. The Prime Minister wisely went to Europe and did his best to amend the withdrawal agreement but it was quite clear from the agreed text that a lot was outstanding and rested to be resolved in the negotiations to be designed around the future relationship, because we used to say that nothing is agreed until everything is agreed and that the withdrawal terms had to run alongside the future relationship.
The EU won that one thanks to the dreadful last Parliament undermining our position all the time. This Prime Minister is trying to remedy that and the only reason I was able to vote for the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018—much of it was an agreement that I knew had lots of problems with it—was that we put in clause 38, a clear assertion of British sovereignty against the possibility that the EU did not mean what it said in its promises to my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister and did not offer that free trade agreement, which was going to be at the core of the new relationship. We therefore needed that protection, so I am pleased that the Government put it in.
That made me able to vote for the measure to progress it to the next stage, but I was always clear that the EU then needed to get rid of all its posturing and accept what it had said and signed up to—that the core of our new relationship was going to be a free trade agreement. We were going to be a third country, we were not going to be under its laws and we were not going to be in its single market and customs union, but it has systematically blocked that free trade agreement. The UK has tabled a perfectly good one based on the agreements the EU has offered to other countries that it did not have such a close relationship with, but it has not been prepared to accept it. Well, why does it not table its own? Why does it not show us what it meant when it signed up to having a free trade agreement at the core of our relationship? If it will not, we will leave without a deal and that will be a perfectly good result for the British people, as I said before the referendum and have always said subsequently.
Of course, it would be better if we could resolve those matters through that free trade agreement. As colleagues will know, many of the problems with the Northern Ireland protocol fall away if we have that free trade agreement, and we are only in this position because the EU is blocking it.
Why is the EU blocking the agreement? It says that it wants to grab our fish. I have news for it: they are not on offer. They are going to be returned to the British people, I trust. I am always being told by Ministers that they are strong on that. The EU wishes to control our law making and decide what state aid is in the United Kingdom. No, it will not. We voted to decide that within the framework of the World Trade Organisation and the international rules that govern state aid—rules, incidentally, that the EU regularly breaks. It has often been found guilty of breaking international state aid rules and has been fined quite substantially as a result.
I support the Government’s amendments, and I support this piece of legislation. We need every bit of pressure we can to try to get the free trade agreement and the third-country relationship with the EU that we were promised by it and by the Government in the general election. We can then take the massive opportunities of Brexit. It is crucial that new clause 1 is not agreed to, because it would send a clear message to the European Union that this Parliament still wants to give in.
Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker. Regardless of that, I will try to honour what you just said about the length of speeches. I primarily want to speak to amendment 16, in my name and those of others, regarding the removal of the most offensive and dangerous clause in the Bill—clause 45—and I will touch on some other amendments.
At the outset, I want to be extremely clear: the vast majority of people in Northern Ireland and most businesses in Northern Ireland do not want to see this Government breaking or threatening to break international law, period, and they certainly do not want to see it happening on their behalf. Let us get that straight. The Government are not doing this for the good of the people of Northern Ireland.
The breaking of international law undermines the Good Friday agreement, which is lodged with the UN and is part of international law. In particular, breaking the withdrawal agreement and undermining the protocol does not help our businesses one bit. Instead, it places them in a much more uncertain legal situation for doing business. That is not in their interests, because businesses need to operate in a long-term, sustainable legal framework, especially if they are trading internationally. It risks Northern Ireland being turned into some sort of rogue state.
Whatever happens today, it is important that this House ensures that nothing goes forward in the Bill that either threatens or breaches international law, because it is a very dangerous route to go down. The opportunity exists this evening in new clause 1 and my amendment 16. Any efforts to soften that or put hurdles in place to make the prospect of breaking the law more difficult or push it further down the line defeats the purpose, because the threat is still on the table. That is no way for this country to do business internationally, and it sends a worrying message around the world.
Some of the spin in relation to the Bill is extremely disingenuous. In another debate, we heard references to George Orwell’s “Nineteen Eighty-Four” and doublethink, but the Government are taking that to a new level with some of the arguments used today and previously. In particular, we are told that this is about a safety net for Northern Ireland. I have already made the point that this is anything but that. This is about removing the safety net for Northern Ireland by undermining the Good Friday agreement.
The Minister talked about the businesses of Northern Ireland being supportive of the Bill. That is news to me, and I would certainly be keen to hear who those businesses are. He talked about people who are opposing the Bill wilfully misrepresenting the Good Friday agreement. I was there as part of the negotiations on the Good Friday agreement. I saw John Major, Bertie Ahern and others negotiating the agreement. I saw the role of the United States and the European Union. They understand what is at stake here and what the Government are potentially doing. It is extremely arrogant to suggest that people are wilfully misrepresenting the agreement when we are trying to defend it.
The principle of consent is embedded within the withdrawal agreement. The European Union is very clear and keen that that is the case. We can talk about other consent issues all we want, and if we are doing so, we go back to the very first principle: that Brexit itself was imposed upon the people of Northern Ireland against their will. That is when the issue of consent and pulling away from a carefully balanced set of arrangements began.
Some of the amendments tabled today seek to disapply the Human Rights Act in relation to clause 45. I remind the Government that the Good Friday agreement contains reference to the importance of the European convention on human rights, and the Human Rights Act puts that into domestic effect. The Government are talking about protecting the Good Friday agreement, in their terms, while at the self-same time putting in a clause that undermines it clearly and unambiguously. Indeed, the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission and the Equality Commission, two institutions named in the Good Friday agreement, have expressed deep concern at the amendments that have been tabled by the Government.
Breaching international law will be a dead end for the Government, and I am not sure what they are seeking to achieve by it. John Redwood talked about those on the Opposition Benches undermining the negotiations. The Government are doing that all by themselves at present. This is not a tenable or sustainable direction of travel. Until the Government withdraw the threat of breaking international law, they are not going to get a proper future relationship agreement, or a free trade deal with the United States. It is no longer just an issue of the Democrats and such people as Speaker Pelosi or Vice-President Biden. We now have Mick Mulvaney, President Trump’s special envoy, echoing those self-same comments. This is now a bipartisan issue in the United States. Whenever the Government have been out-Trumped, that is a very clear message of the danger of the route that they are going down.
In relation to us in Northern Ireland, we have to get the best route possible in terms of the protocol. The protocol is the direct outworking of the UK Government’s decisions around Brexit, so the protocol arises from what the UK has decided to do. It is imposing, essentially, binary choices on a society in Northern Ireland that works only through sharing and interdependence. We do not want any borders, but we have to try to work to mitigate the impact of the protocol. The way we do that is through building the trust and confidence of the European Union, so that we can ask for waivers and other forms of mitigations, not through unilaterally seeking to breach the terms of the protocol.
A very clear example is around the issue of export declarations and other export procedures. As part of the withdrawal agreement, the Government have already recognised that that is the prerogative of the European Union under its customs code; however, waiving that would not really threaten the integrity of the EU’s single market or customs union, unlike some other potential aspects. That may well be a fairly easy thing for the EU to give, but we are not going to achieve that if the Government cannot establish that confidence to work in good faith with the European Union and their partners going forward.
I will make two more points. The first is on new clause 7 from my DUP colleagues in Northern Ireland. As Members may have noticed, the Alliance party does not always follow the DUP on Brexit—indeed, we take radically different positions, including on this Bill—but there is common ground in a number of areas, in terms of trying to ensure that we have unfettered access from Northern Ireland into Great Britain. I recommend that the House approve that amendment if it goes to a vote. I do not think that it does any damage to the protocol or the withdrawal agreement, but it tests on a periodic basis the commitments that the Government are making and that are reflected in the withdrawal agreement itself. I have probably gone on for slightly too long, so I will end on that point.
I approach the Report stage of the Bill as a Welsh MP for a border constituency where protecting and enhancing the relationship between England and Wales, and the whole Union of the United Kingdom, is not a conceptual political argument but a vital matter of day-to-day practicality. Thousands of my constituents in Clwyd South go across the border each day to work, attend school or college, visit family and friends, or go shopping, so I am strong supporter of the Bill, which will ensure that businesses in all parts of the UK can continue to trade seamlessly across the UK as they do now—protecting jobs and supporting the economy by avoiding unnecessary burdens and costs being placed on businesses or consumers.
The rest of the UK is Wales’s biggest trading partner by some way, accounting for 61% of Wales’s exports, worth £30.1 billion, and 64% of Wales’s imports, worth £34.3 billion.
Much of those are found in small businesses close to the border with England, such as those in Clwyd South. This Bill will protect the UK’s centuries-old internal market, by ensuring that goods and services in one part of the UK are recognised in the others, and ensure a fair playing field for all companies. As has been mentioned, the Bill will enshrine the principle of mutual recognition, so that goods and services in one part of the UK will be recognised across the country, and the principle of non-discrimination, so that there is equal opportunity for companies trading within the UK, regardless of where they are based. The Bill will also ensure that high standards are protected across the whole UK by promoting co-operation between the UK Parliament and the devolved legislatures. There will be no reduction in our food hygiene or animal welfare standards.
My second reason for supporting the Bill is that it will guarantee more powers for Wales, Scotland, Northern Ireland and England after the end of the EU transition period. As has been mentioned, at the end of that period powers in at least 70 policy areas previously exercised at an EU level will flow directly to the devolved Administrations. None of the powers currently held by the Welsh Government and other devolved Administrations will be removed.
The third reason for supporting the Bill is that it will allow the UK Government to invest in communities across all the home nations, bolstering our economic recovery from coronavirus, as the Bill will, from January 2021, provide the UK Government with new powers to spend taxpayers’ money previously administered by the EU, particularly in areas such as infrastructure and economic development. That is of particular importance to my constituency, where major infrastructure projects such as improvements to the A5 and A483 are truly cross-border, as the road goes through both Wales and England. The same applies in respect of rail improvements, for instance on the Chester to Shrewsbury line, which runs through both countries, and the north Wales/Mersey Dee economic area, which is in the north-east of Wales and the north-west of England.
Finally, Clwyd South is home to many small and medium-sized businesses, and this Bill is important for them. Let me finish with a quotation from the Federation of Small Businesses. It has said, “Businesses rely on certainty. The stability of the UK’s internal market for SMEs is vital post-Brexit and will give confidence to businesses on their ability to trade in a way which does not disrupt, confuse or disincentivise from developing across the whole of the UK. We commend the UK Government’s intention to ensure that businesses can trade without friction across the UK, something which disproportionately benefits SMEs in reducing burdens.”
Let me add my voice to those of the many Members of Parliament, professional organisations and members of the public who have grave concerns about clauses 41 to 45, and their implications for the UK’s commitment to international law. The Law Society and the Bar Council have described them as representing a “direct challenge” to the rule of law without precedent. We are a country with a proud history of protecting and promoting the principle that nations should be ruled by a set of agreed rules laid out in law rather than the whims of politicians. That is the foundation of a free and fair society, and it is true about national law, as it is about international law. That this House is even contemplating going against that proud principle is a travesty and a sad moment for this Parliament, which is often called the mother of Parliaments.
It is through international co-operation that we can address the challenges facing our global community, from climate change to human rights to security. The UK has always stood up for international law on the world stage. It is the very foundation on which we deal with other countries. The Prime Minister said it was “fantastic moment” when he signed the withdrawal agreement, but less than a year later this Government are proposing a Bill that would enable Ministers to go away from the UK’s obligation under that treaty. What does that say about our credibility as a trading partner?
I have said before that the withdrawal agreement left the Government with two options. The first is to abide by that agreement and negotiate a deal in good faith with the EU that avoids the need for a significant internal border between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK, but it is disappointing that the Government have chosen the second option—to renege on the treaty they signed and break international law. Even a “specific and limited” breach of international law would do immeasurable damage to the UK’s reputation, not only as a trading partner but as a centre of international legal practice and dispute resolution.
All of this comes at a time when we are desperately seeking new arrangements with other countries across the globe. Our application to accede to the Lugano convention is a case in point. That agreement enables civil judicial co-operation with our closest neighbours and it is clearly in our interests to remain a party to it. Our application requires signatures from other countries. Would it not significantly undermine our efforts if we show willingness to negate our international obligations now?
Let me come to amendment 16, which the Liberal Democrats support. Clause 45 has significant implications for judicial review. It is not just about compliance with international law: it has implications for domestic law too. The clause runs the risk that domestic challenges to a potential breach of the international commitments of the UK will end up being litigated at the international level because they can no longer be conducted via judicial review at home. There is not even a precedent for the provision, and the greatest danger is that it will pit our courts against our Government. I urge all Members to support amendment 16 to avoid that damaging consequence.
I rise to speak to clause 45 and the amendments tabled by the Secretary of State. I seek further clarification from the Minister about the circumstances in which the clause will be needed, and I seek reassurance on the motivation behind the amendments. I want to ensure that we are on the same page and to assist the smooth passage of the Bill.
Clarity of language and intent are key here. Our country’s reputation as rule makers, not rule breakers, is at stake, however unintended that may be. The Minister will know that I backed what my constituents call the Neill amendment—before I break any protocol, let me say it is the amendment tabled by my hon. Friend Sir Robert Neill—in part to help the Government to undo the damage that was done when five short words were delivered at the Dispatch Box:
“this does break international law”.—[Official Report,
Vol. 679, c. 509.]
I know that the amendment we tabled was not perfect, but nor were the circumstances and we did get a huge concession, with the Government accepting a parliamentary lock on the powers they sought to give themselves in circumstances when all else had failed. I welcome the changes the Government have made, but making the law and breaking the law should never be taken lightly. In the last few weeks, yesterday and potentially tomorrow, it feels as though we are dragging Ministers by their tails—not that all Ministers require that—to get them to let us to have a say on legislation. That has not been edifying for any of us.
I support the vast majority of the Bill. It is a Bill that allows us to truly take back control from the European Union and establish, protect and enshrine the internal market of the United Kingdom, the most important market for all four of our nations, and provide us with much needed certainty for businesses across our constituencies. That brings me back to my major concern: we all have a duty across the House to leave a legacy that enhances our country’s reputation and, as Conservatives, to progress our cause with respect for the law and institutions—not leave a reputation that dishonours or diminishes our standing on the world stage. As MPs, we are just bit players in the history of our Parliament, but we can leave unintended consequences in the way we legislate that remain on the statute books long after we have gone.
The United Kingdom has a glowing reputation for democracy and the rule of law, which attracted my parents to migrate here. Reputation takes years to form but seconds to destroy. I support the Government in their quest to get the best possible deal from the European Union, which is why I want to give the Prime Minister the best possible negotiating hand, but when British Ministers give their word on the world stage, they are not only giving the word of the Government but that of the Crown. If the Government propose to break international law in extremis at a future date—I accept that it would only take place if the EU acted in extreme bad faith and undermined the integrity of the Union—that power must only be exercised by our sovereign Parliament, but of course I would prefer for us not to be in that situation at all. I would caution the Government against adopting a machismo, scorched-earth policy, and to remember that, as we emerge next year and continue to challenge countries such as Iran, Russia and China as they flout international law, we will need our international friends to stand tall with us. I look forward to hearing from the Minister his assurances on the amendments tabled to clause 45.
It is a pleasure to follow Ms Ghani. I wish to speak about progress towards drawing up a shared prosperity fund, because the English regions, and particularly communities such as mine, are in urgent need of investment. I want to focus my remarks on clauses 46 and 47 and on new clause 3, which relates to the replacement of EU structural funds with the UK shared prosperity fund.
The shared prosperity fund is a mechanism by which the Government can deliver their levelling up and building back better agenda. With all due respect to right hon. and hon. Members from Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales, this is not an issue just for the devolved nations and regions, but a huge one for many of us in left-behind former industrial areas, and it is somewhat disappointing that, with three months until the end of the transition period, details of the scheme are still scarce.
Structural funds to promote economic growth and deliver infrastructure have never been more important. The divisions and inequalities that have been highlighted during the covid-19 pandemic are deeper and wider today, but they existed previously. As we have learned from previous crises, such as the global financial crash in 2008, it is the weaker regional economies that are hit first and hardest by any economic shock. We therefore need devolution for not only the nations of the United Kingdom but for the English regions that are, to a large degree, disadvantaged by central Government, and the ideal place to start is the shared prosperity fund.
If the fund is to work properly, effectively and in a timely fashion, it needs to be in the hands of town halls rather than Whitehall. In the little time I have, I want to give a practical example to illustrate the point, and that is housing in Horden, in my constituency. In 2015, the housing association Accent Housing abandoned its responsibilities. With the consent of Ministers and the former Homes and Communities Agency, the properties in Horden were auctioned off in a fire sale, with some going for as little as £10,000. That led to an influx of private absentee landlords, who have blighted the village and many others.
Five years later, the numbered streets in Horden have the highest concentration of crime in County Durham, as well as some of the worst housing conditions in the north-east. Durham County Council has consulted extensively and produced a plan, which has been presented to the Government time and time again. However, there are practical difficulties in discussing regeneration at a national level when the issues encompass several Departments—the Treasury, the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government, the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, and the Home Office. I raised the issue again this morning, but it is vital that we have cross-departmental working on these issues. I am confident that, if the resources were made available through the shared prosperity fund, regeneration plans such as the one we have developed for Horden, would be given the green light.
Brexit must mean something different for the left-behind areas of the United Kingdom. It cannot be a continuation of bad policy; otherwise, the slogan “take back control”, used frequently by the Prime Minister, will be nothing more than empty rhetoric and a broken promise, with lost opportunities for communities such as the ones I represent.
The Bill is a necessary step to secure the future of our United Kingdom outside the EU. By creating the powers to continue the seamless functioning of the UK’s internal market, we will protect countless businesses across the UK, including many in my constituency, such as Menai Oysters & Mussels, Halen Môn, which produces our famous Anglesey sea salt, and countless producers of beef, lamb and seafood, many of which rely on trade between our home nations for the survival of their businesses.
It is not only a matter of continuity. The new shared prosperity fund, which replaces the EU structural fund, will focus on tackling inequalities within communities by raising productivity. In its written evidence to the Welsh Affairs Committee in May, the Isle of Anglesey County Council asked that the shared prosperity fund be less complex, more regionally focused and with faster response times than the EU structural funds. The UK Government are responding directly to those demands through the Bill.
The Bill also creates many new opportunities for the devolved Assemblies to gain responsibility for their own regulations. If anyone was in any doubt about the UK Government’s commitment to devolution, they should look no further than the United Kingdom Internal Market Bill. The Bill should be celebrated, not derided. The UK Government are taking over 70 powers away from Europe and delivering them directly to the door of the Welsh Government to manage for the Welsh people. No longer shall we look in bewilderment on regulations applied unilaterally to countries as diverse as Greece, Lithuania, Sweden and Wales.
What does this mean in real terms for the people of Ynys Môn? The Bill will give the Welsh Government control over fisheries management, allowing the Welsh people to conserve local fish stocks. Maybe we will see the reopening of local fish factories, with their welly-clad workers enjoying an after-work drink in the pubs of Holyhead. It will give the Welsh Government control over animal health and welfare, including the movement of livestock, which is critical for Welsh farmers like John and Jack Foulkes and Trevor Lloyd, who need to be assured there is a system in place that works to meet their needs, not those of farmers in Poland or Cyprus. It will give the Welsh Government control over food standards and all stages of food and feed production, labelling and quality. Hundreds of my constituents have written in to tell me that that is a major concern to them as we set out our own trade deals. Standards that are appropriate to local producers will help businesses like Hooton’s Farm Shop in Brynsiencyn to extend their range of locally produced goods. And it will give the Welsh Government control over maritime contracts and ports facilities, which will give great relief to the several hundred people who wrote me concerned about super- trawlers recently.
In conclusion, as the representative of a Welsh constituency, I believe that it has never been more important to put the needs of our constituents before our political ideology. The Bill is not only important for those we represent, but a necessity for the functioning of our United Kingdom. I want to look back in 10 years’ time and be able to proudly say Brexit was the best thing to happen to this country and I was on the team that helped to make that happen.
I fully agree with Virginia Crosbie that it is time to speak on behalf of our constituents. That is why I absolutely and totally reject the Bill.
The Bill is an assault on international law; it is an attack on devolution; and it is a pretty stupid way to negotiate. There are some very valiant attempts to amend the Bill— in particular, new clauses 1 and 6 and amendment 16. They are designed to protect the withdrawal agreement and our human rights obligations and to rail against the blatant desire to break international law. We will play the parliamentary game and support those amendments, but it is my firm view that the responsibility rests with the Government: it is not too late to withdraw the Bill and stop playing such silly games on this critical issue.
Some people in this House think we have just arrived in this Chamber. They need to understand that we have been coming here for centuries. We have seen it all. When we hear hon. Members aghast that the British Government intend to break the law, well, we know better. We are not surprised. From the Peel laws to partition, from Cromwell to collusion, famine and internment, and two Bloody Sundays, we know all about Britain’s adherence to the rule of law. We also know about other outrages. We remember Birmingham and Brighton, Guildford and Warrington, Mullaghmore and Enniskillen, and we are shamed by it all. The reason I mention those events is not that I want to live in the past but that I do not want to go back to it.
It took 20 years to negotiate, but in 1998 our people decided to come together, to look to the future, to decide and vow that never again would we live with violence and destruction. That peace was hard-won, and we are not about to lose it. It has to be minded, protected and nurtured. Brexit itself is an attack on our civility, on our progress. A hard Brexit would be disastrous for us. Of course, that was all recognised and understood by the Prime Minister only a few months ago. That is why he negotiated, signed and lauded the protocol all around the world. Then the Prime Minister sends a man into the television studios to tell us that
“these clauses are a safety net”.
Well, the Chancellor of the Duchy of wherever he is from also said some years ago that the Good Friday agreement was a “moral stain” and a “humiliation”. That gives us some confidence.
How can the European side negotiate with a Government who are pushing through Parliament a Bill that undermines the last deal it did with them? We on these Benches will always be suspicious, but if the Government want to give the people of Northern Ireland any comfort at all that they will be protected, they should withdraw the Bill now and begin negotiating like adults.
If the Bill is not withdrawn, I am absolutely confident that no deal that is done between the Government and the European Commission will pass the European Parliament or even the European Council. That is what our friends across Europe are telling us, so I ask the Government to please stop playing games with something that is far too precious to be messed with.
I rise to speak in opposition to new clause 1, which as with some of the previous amendments tabled by Labour, shows how little Opposition Members have learnt from the election last year and the tortuous events leading up to it. Yet again, they are failing to put the UK first.
In the past few weeks, I have occasionally felt like I must have stepped through a time machine. Again, this country is at a crucial stage of negotiations with the EU. Although I am sure that the people of the EU and their national Governments do not wish us any ill will, parts of the EU bureaucracy inevitably want to be sure that the UK visibly struggles as we stand on our own two feet. Heaven forbid that we should be seen to make a success of Brexit and give other people ideas. Our negotiating team are doing everything they can to secure the best deal for the country—the entire country— and again, they need the full weight of the Government, Parliament and the country behind them. We need to have their back.
That is where we see, once more, what I can only describe as a warped approach by some who take everything the EU briefs out at face value. Barnier says, “Jump,” and the Opposition ask, “How high?” Conversely, everything our team says must be a half truth, a ruse and not to be trusted. We cannot rely on many things in politics, but the EU can always rely on one thing: in this place, there will always be people who give the EU team the benefit of the doubt and find a smoking gun in everything that the Government say and that David Frost and his team are putting forward.
Not once in her remarks did Lucy Powell do anything other than fall in wholesale behind the line emanating from Brussels. No wonder the British people decided well and truly to plant their feet on this side of the House last year. I am glad that David Frost was able to come to the Government, explain the unreasonable negotiating tactics being used by the EU and see the Government act quickly and decisively to support him and his negotiating team. The Bill will ensure that we protect the interests of the UK, and by doing that, importantly, it will increase the chance that we can secure a deal in the interests of the UK and the EU.
When we are negotiating, the biggest risk comes from the other side thinking that we do not mean business. To suggest that we might not have third-country status was clearly a hardball negotiating tactic—a misplaced and ill-judged one—but with the readiness of Opposition MPs to jump in behind the EU line, is it any surprise that the EU thought it might work? The Bill makes it clear that it will not. Sadly, by tabling new clause 1, the Opposition are buying into that negotiation tactic, grabbing it with both hands and, yet again, making it harder for the country to secure a good deal.
The arguments about international law have been extensive. I welcome the consensus that we have reached with hon. and learned Friends that the powers in the Bill will be used if, and only if, the EU breaches its legal obligations to act in good faith. New clause 1 is completely unnecessary. The rest of the world will be able to see for itself whether this country remains one with which it can do business. I welcome the remarks of the Australian high commissioner to the UK, George Brandis, who insisted that the UK remains a trusted partner.
As we have done already, for the rest of the negotiations we should listen and compromise. We have left the EU, but we have not left Europe. Fundamentally, the Bill seeks to ensure that businesses across the UK can be supported, can thrive and can help the UK to make a success of Brexit. We are putting the UK first. All hon. Members should welcome that, reject amendments that undermine our negotiating team and, for once, pull together on behalf of the British people in the face of EU intransigence.
Devolution has allowed us in Scotland to carve out a path that is different to that of the rest of the UK wherever necessary for the past 20 years. To understand exactly how this Bill attacks devolution, we need to read only clause 46, which states:
“A Minister of the Crown may…provide financial assistance to any person for…infrastructure”.
Subsection (2) goes on to say that infrastructure includes: health, education, transport, court and prison facilities, housing, water, electricity and the provision of heat. The Bill will allow UK Ministers to dictate and spend money wherever they like and in whatever devolved area they want, as long as it can be justified as they deem it to “directly or indirectly” benefit any area of the UK. We already know that the reality of that is Tory Governments funnelling millions into marginal Tory seats, as opposed to the areas that need it. I wondered why they had specifically included things such as heat and electricity and water, and then I remembered that the only reason why we are able to have publicly owned fresh water in Scotland is that the Scottish Parliament has made it so.
The Bill will explicitly give any Minister of the Crown permission to run riot with the very assets of Scotland that our Scottish Parliament has protected, and nowhere in the Bill—nowhere—does it state that permission must be obtained from the devolved Governments to do so. I have watched this Parliament hand over £40 million for ferries to a company that did not own any ferries. Are we really supposed to expect and rely on this Government to spend money on our behalf? Let us be clear: this would not be some benevolent donation to Scotland from Westminster, because clause 47 says that financial assistance may be subject to conditions, including repayment. We will be expected to pay back money that we never even spent. That is like being asked to take out a car loan even though you cannae drive.
To those who say that we are represented here and that we can change things, I say this: we have tried and we are outvoted at every turn. This gets to the crux of why independence is the only option left for Scotland. Let me give some context: Scotland has 59 MPs and the city of London 73 MPs. This is a Union that England dominates. The only reason why there is not an English Parliament is that the people in Westminster view this place as the English Parliament. We cannot afford to be naive. The only way to protect our Parliament is to become independent.
We regularly hear the Tories brag about how we have the most powerful devolved Parliament in the world, but I have a new thing for them to brag about: the UK is in the Guinness book of records as the country from which most countries have gained independence. Since 1939, 62 countries have gained independence from Westminster and not a single one has asked to come back. Only one country decided to stay and look where we are. In 2014, the idea of Boris Johnson as Prime Minister was a warning. Now, it is a reality.
The Bill provides a framework to allow Westminster to bypass the Scottish Parliament in the hope that we do not notice it, but we are noticing it. It took us 300 years to get our Scottish Parliament and 20 years for this place to put a bulldozer right through it—
I rise to oppose new clause 1. The Bill seeks to preserve and protect the internal market of our precious United Kingdom, having taken back control from the EU. Our membership of the EU predates much of the devolution journey on which our Union has been, and as we break free from Europe, we must put in place the protection that is essential to preserving the marketplace in our own internal market and, in turn, protect our Union.
This Parliament was elected to deliver on the will of the British people. The people of Darlington want to see Brexit done. I know, too, that they want us to have a great free trade deal with our European neighbours. They know that trade benefits us all.
The Bill serves to protect our internal trade, and also makes provision for a situation in which the withdrawal agreement’s provisions prevent our internal trade. I welcome the Government’s intention to seek parliamentary approval for the “notwithstanding” clauses. It is right that our European neighbours should negotiate with us in good faith as we seek to protect our internal market, and it is right that Parliament has the opportunity to debate and vote on such measures. It is my hope and wish that negotiations progress and a deal is secured, such that we do not have to invoke these measures. I regret the coverage that these provisions have attracted generating the unfortunate view that the House is intent on breaking the law.
It is clear from debates on the Bill that only the Conservative and Unionist party truly wants Britain to succeed as an independent sovereign state that can stand on its own two feet. The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland is the oldest and one of the most successful political unions. Our internal market has been vital to our shared prosperity, having facilitated seamless trade for centuries. Trade has been, and is, the key to prosperity for millions around the world, and will continue to be so for the British people, with a free, unencumbered internal market and global free ports around the country, one of which I dearly hope will be sited on the banks of the River Tees.
First of all, I make it quite clear that, so far as Democratic Unionist Members are concerned, despite what has been said by the hon. Members for North Down (Stephen Farry) and for Foyle (Colum Eastwood), the Bill is essential to protect businesses in Northern Ireland. Our worry is that it does not go far enough, because its only reference to keeping Northern Ireland as part of the internal market regards preventing the withdrawal agreement’s requirement that businesses in Northern Ireland make export declarations when exporting to our biggest market, GB. That is the only reference in the Bill. In fact, the Bill also specifically excludes Northern Ireland from protections against EU interference in state aid and support for UK businesses. We are the only part left out of that.
New clause 7 seeks to address some of those things. First of all, it refers to the Government using their “best endeavours” to ensure that trade from GB to Northern Ireland, and from Northern Ireland to GB, is protected within the internal market. Secondly, it would require the Government to monitor the impact of the withdrawal agreement and the Northern Ireland protocol, because we cannot defend businesses in Northern Ireland if we do not know what impact those are having. It stands to reason that, whether defending Northern Ireland through giving support to businesses and helping them to reduce their costs if unfair impositions are placed on them, whether protecting Northern Ireland through mitigation measures or whether supporting Northern Ireland through taking up these issues at the Joint Committee, we must know the impact of the withdrawal agreement. New clause 7 would require the Government to monitor those impacts so that they have the information to make a defence, as Ministers have said from the Dispatch Box that they want to do for businesses in Northern Ireland.
Thirdly, the new clause would require the Government to look at not only the impact of regulations that will be imposed on Northern Ireland by the European Union as part of the protocol, but the impact of any likely regulations, so that they can be anticipated and, again, so that businesses in Northern Ireland do not find that they are affected in a way that I have outlined in this place so many times. In my constituency, at this very moment, a planning application has gone in for a 45,000 square feet, £15 million border post. If we go by what Mr Barnier said yesterday, every lorryload of goods that comes through may have to be stopped, searched and investigated, with the resultant delays, costs and everything else.
It is important that the Government monitor the impact of such impositions. We are trying to ensure that this situation never happens in the first place, but unfortunately the Government already conceded that in the withdrawal agreement and the Northern Ireland protocol. I hope that the negotiations are successful in pushing the EU away from that draconian interpretation of the protocol. If not, there are some provisions in the Bill that will help to ameliorate the situation, and new clause 7 would push that even further. If Ministers mean what they say about protecting business in Northern Ireland and keeping it as part of the internal market, I hope that they will accept our new clause.
This is one of the most important Bills that we will vote on in this Parliament, because it will create the foundation and fabric for our United Kingdom to prosper for many years to come—hopefully for at least another 300 years, to pick a random number. It is so important for all four of our nations to benefit from the Bill and prosper together.
The provisions in the Bill, especially on subsidy controls, are exactly what the spirit of Brexit was all about. It was about people knowing that they were sending billions of pounds to the EU, and feeling left behind here in the UK. I was shocked and appalled earlier to hear the shadow Minister talk about the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster saying that money should be taken to the places it needs to be. The seats she was talking about used to be held by the Labour party, but are now held by Conservatives across the country, and it is because Labour forgot about those seats that so many of us Conservative Members are here today.
One such example, in my own seat, is the demise of MG Rover, which many people will remember. The factory closed down 15 years ago, but there is still 150 acres of land going completely unused. It is a daily reminder to the people who drive past it of that feeling of being left behind—of the billions of pounds going to the European Union, and the lost opportunities for jobs and skills across the constituency of Birmingham, Northfield. Through the subsidy controls provided in the Bill, we will be able to use Brexit to deliver on those jobs and opportunities. I very much look forward to this legislation being used for a bright, positive future across Northfield and Longbridge, when the empty space at MG Rover is used once again.
The clauses and compromises on parliamentary sovereignty are absolutely right and sound. A couple of Members on the Opposition Benches spoke about the nature of negotiations. Most Opposition Members are a second-hand car salesman’s dream. Half of them would leave the showroom without any windows, doors or tyres left on their car because every time someone said no to them, they would just roll over and accept it. If the European Union says, “No, sorry, we can’t do that”, Opposition Members think we should just say, “That’s alright; we’ll do whatever you like.”
We have heard about devolution, especially from Scottish National party Members. I am not too sure what definition of devolution they are working to. We talk about taking powers from Brussels to the UK and giving them to the devolved Administrations—but, no, their definition of devolution is to send them right back over to Brussels and have no control over them whatever. That is because the European Union is supposedly some kind of beacon and fount of progressive politics against a domineering United Kingdom. Well, they should tell that to the political independence campaigners in Catalonia, many of whom are political prisoners now, and one of whom was barred from public office yesterday, at the will of the European Union.
I have 10 seconds left, so I will finish by saying that I wholeheartedly support the Bill and its provisions to deliver our levelling-up agenda for constituencies across the country.
The last time I bought a second-hand car, the first thing I did was make sure it was roadworthy, legal and in line with the legislative provisions of this country.
I have followed this debate very closely, speaking both on Second Reading and in Committee, and I say yet again that we have had more heat than light. We started off—let us not forget that it was the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, and nobody else, who started off—by saying that the Bill would breach international law. It was not the Labour party that said we would accept everything the EU says; it was from the Dispatch Box that he said the sentence that in fact has put this entire Bill under a cloud.
The Government have got themselves in a terrible mess on devolution. A key pillar of devolution is setting priorities in key areas, but, as the explanatory notes to the Bill say, clauses 46 and 47, which aim to provide financial assistance, fall
“within wholly or partly devolved areas”.
That is clearly an area of disagreement.
In parallel with the Bill, we are waiting for Lord Dunlop to report on the UK Government’s Union capability. At the Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee a few weeks ago, the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster said that that would come before this Bill hits the statute book. It is clearly, again, putting the cart before the horse.
We have to admit and understand the asymmetry across the Union given the size of England. It is not hard for us to try to do that. I am somebody who thinks that, despite our Union being forged in conflict, with a very difficult history, it is actually precious. It is an exemplar of what is good about politics, democracy, how we can come together with the hard graft of compromise and the ability of us as politicians to evolve our positions and reflect change over time. However, that has to be based on respect.
It is clear that the heavy-handed way in which the Government have introduced this Bill—and, I have to say, many of the speeches given to Conservative Members to read—has not appreciated such respect or the fragility of the Union. We could have had minimum standards included in this Bill, and we could have had the frameworks put on a statutory footing. It could have been done very differently, and that is a source of great regret.
This is not just an economic Bill, as we were sold it in the first place; it is a deadly serious constitutional Bill, and it is deeply problematic. I would like to speak more about Northern Ireland, but I cannot given the time. Again, it was deeply irresponsible of the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland to herald the Bill in the way he did. We know the situation is fragile and we know that Brexit creates difficult problems on the island of Ireland, and it behoves all of us to dial down the rhetoric and recognise that we are now in for a very long haul on the processes to make this work.
Whether in the Joint Committee, the specialised committee, the joint working group, strands 2 and 3 of the Good Friday/Belfast agreement, the British-Irish Council or the British-Irish Parliamentary Assembly, of which I am proud to be a vice-chair, we are not able to meet at the moment as parliamentarians. That is a real problem because we are not able to talk with people with whom we disagree fervently, but with whom we need to make peace across these islands.
With our demise in the EU, the fact that the 25-odd meetings a day we had as British and Irish parliamentarians —we do have many more common interests than with the rest of the EU—are lost and that those relationships are about to fall away is something the Government need to take much more seriously. In 1990, we started forging these agreements as parliamentarians across these islands, and that was when we started to develop the peace that came some eight years later.
The Government must treat not only the regions and parts of the United Kingdom with much more respect, but they must now take much more seriously the implementation of strands 2 and 3 and the relationship with the Irish Government. We know that there are more things to come with tariffs, and so on, and the Government need to take much more heed of that.
It is a pleasure to speak in this debate on this vital Bill, as it was when I spoke on Second Reading and in Committee.
Contrary to popular belief, I have a lot of respect for my colleagues on the Scottish National party Benches. Their view about the future of Scotland is very different from mine, but I respect their view. I respect the fact that they come down here to improve the lives of Scots in their particular way, as I hope they respect the fact that, from my perspective, I believe I am doing the same, although with a Conservative bent. That is especially the case with the spokesperson for the SNP today, Drew Hendry, which is maybe why I was so disappointed by the tone he struck in his speech. He did not take very much instruction from my hon. Friend Sir Robert Neill about the overuse of hyperbole.
Maybe that is also why I am a little perturbed by SNP Members’ opposition to what is a very good Bill—a Bill that is pro-business, pro-consumer and ultimately pro-Scotland. I know they will not take my word for that—I understand that—but maybe they will take the word of the CBI, which said that protecting the UK internal market is “essential”, and that:
“Preserving the integrity of the internal single market—the economic glue binding our four nations—is essential to guard against any additional costs or barriers to doing business between different parts of the UK.”
Or maybe they will take the words of the Scottish Retail Consortium, which said:
“Scottish consumers and our economy as a whole benefit enormously from the UK’s largely unfettered internal single market.”
And I have already quoted Andrew McCornick, the president of the National Farmers Union Scotland, who said:
“NFU Scotland’s fundamental priority, in the clear interest of Scottish agriculture as well as the food and drinks sector it underpins, is to ensure the UK Internal Market effectively operates as it does now.”
That is what this Bill does: it underpins and cements in statute the existence of our most important market—the internal market of our United Kingdom.
This is a Bill that will allow more money to be given to specific projects in Scotland, yet the Scottish National party’s amendments 18 and 29 would remove the ability of this place to spend more money in Scotland, depriving SNP Members’ own constituents of more funds for specific infrastructure projects. This is a Bill that underpins the transfer of vast powers over the everyday lives of their constituents from Brussels to Edinburgh, yet the SNP claim yet again that we are engaged in some sort of power grab from the devolved Administrations.
We have heard the SNP say before, and they said it again today, that this Bill drives a coach and horses through existing powers such as powers over minimum unit pricing of alcohol, yet in Government amendments 32 to 34 we make it clear that it most certainly does not—that the manner of sale requirements are out of the scope of the Bill and the mutual recognition principle, so minimum unit pricing of alcohol will not be affected. I heard the hon. Member for Inverness, Nairn, Badenoch and Strathspey complain that those Government amendments had been tabled, yet that is exactly what he was asking for only a week ago.
This is a very good Bill for Scottish people, for Scottish businesses, for Scottish consumers and for the entire United Kingdom. [Interruption.] Maybe if the hon. Gentleman stopped engaging in a conversation with Government Front Benchers, he might listen to the reasons why this Bill is good for his constituents and good for the entirety of Scotland. If he really cared about the Scottish economy, the lives of his constituents and the life of every Scot, he would not move his amendments today but vote with the Government to ensure that this Bill passes and that we cement our most important market in statute, as set out in the Bill.
It is a kind of pleasure to follow Andrew Bowie. He strikes a conciliatory tone and he sounds reasonable, but the bottom line is that he talks complete tosh. Nobody in the SNP is arguing against preserving the UK internal market, but this Bill does not preserve the internal market; it actually undermines Scotland’s position, because it means we can be forced to accept conditions imposed on us by Westminster. It undermines devolution for the very same reason.
The hon. Gentleman says that the Bill allows the UK Government to spend more money in Scotland. That is bypassing the devolution settlement. There is nothing to stop the UK Government working with the Scottish Government at the moment to give the Scottish Government more money to spend on infrastructure and to discuss with them our needs in Scotland.
The hon. Gentleman supports a Prime Minister who in the past has said:
“A pound spent in Croydon is of far more value to the country than a pound spent in Strathclyde.”
A Prime Minister who wanted the Barnett formula scrapped. A Prime Minister who said:
“I do think it is pretty monstrous that you have free care for the elderly in Scotland and no tuition fees…when you still get considerable subsidies from the rest of the UK”.
Where is the respect for devolution and for the Scottish Government making their own policy decisions in Scotland? It is non-existent.
As we have heard, clause 46 is the biggest power grab ever, allowing the UK Government to impose spending decisions on Scotland, bypassing the elected Government of Scotland. We have heard that it will be additional money, but where is the proof? This allows the Tory Government to cut the Scottish block grant and then spend that money for its own political gain, pretending that it is top-up money when it is not. It is a con trick.
The first sentence of clause 46 includes the provision:
“A Minister of the Crown may….provide financial assistance to any person”.
Given the Tory track record—as we have heard, they have awarded a ferry contract to a company with no ferries, awarded PPE contracts to their cronies and outsourced the track and trace scheme, for example—how can we trust their spending judgments and their integrity to spend money in Scotland, supposedly for our benefit?
Scotland previously relied on EU structural funds to help to plug shortfalls from Westminster, and now we are supposed to trust the UK prosperity fund, which sits in the Department of English communities and local government, managed by a Secretary of State who ploughed the English towns fund money into Tory marginal seats and who made an unlawful planning decision to save a Tory donor millions of pounds. There is no way we can trust him to look after the needs of Scotland. We cannot trust the Tory Government with clause 46 and, to rub salt in the wounds, clause 47 allows returns and punitive interest to be applied to any spending that comes through clause 46.
Clause 48 allows Westminster to decide what is and is not allowed with state aid. Let us look at farming, for example. The Scottish Government may wish to pay headage figures for lamb and beef production, but the UK Government could overrule that if they do not support English farmers in the same way. If we get to the stage where the free marketeers have their way and UK Government state subsidy is eliminated for certain sectors, by default, the Scottish sectors will also have their rug pulled from under them because of state aid rules. How does that respect devolution? When it comes to farming, the UK Government have form, previously having stolen the common agricultural policy convergence uplift money from the EU.
We know the risk of imports of chlorinated chicken and hormone-injected beef. However, Argentinian beef could come in and undercut the market. Genetically modified crops could be imposed in Scotland. We have more robust climate change targets that could now be overruled by Westminster. The Government might impose this Bill on the Scottish Parliament against its will, but they are going to lose the independence argument.
I rise to speak in support of the Government’s Bill and their amendments. This Bill exposes an inherent weakness in the withdrawal agreement—namely, that while the EU and UK Government must use best endeavours and act in good faith to reach an agreement, it does not spell out a clear course of action if either or both of those criteria are not met. We all know that the EU has become accustomed to a United Kingdom that repeatedly comes back to the table asking for an extension, and maybe this is why the EU’s format of negotiation is a sequencing one, meaning that it agrees to move forward only once an agreement has been reached on a previous matter. This has the effect of incurring huge delays, and the EU’s unwillingness to multitask must have a purpose—namely, continuous delays desirable to the EU and damaging to the UK’s prospects of a good deal.
Is the sequencing approach to negotiating a demonstration of using best endeavours or negotiating in good faith? I submit that it is not. It is now clear to most objective observers that the EU’s current interpretation of the Northern Ireland protocol is to use it as a lever in the negotiations. How is that a demonstration of negotiating in good faith? This Bill will ensure that Northern Ireland remains part of the UK’s customs territory and that Northern Ireland businesses retain unfettered access to GB markets. I must, however, place on record that more needs to be done in relation to Northern Ireland, having heard very powerful and compelling speeches from Unionist colleagues today and previously.
We know that the withdrawal agreement provided for the Joint Committee to set out heads of terms of a future deal, but the prospect of there being a timely and full agreement now appears unlikely. Why does the EU fail to agree at the Joint Committee on a single exemption from controls and tariffs for any goods flowing between GB and Northern Ireland? Is that behaviour consistent with best endeavours and good faith? Again, I submit that it is not. Why is it failing to agree exemptions at the Joint Committee on food checks for food moving between GB and Northern Ireland when we have been a member of the EU for 40 years and set standards ourselves? However, more fundamentally, what country and what Government in their right mind would devolve such fundamental sovereign powers to a foreign entity so that it would have the right to decide whether we can move our own food around our own Union of nations, as we have done for centuries? If we do not deliver this Bill, the EU will also have jurisdiction over how state aid decisions are made, for example on bail-outs related to covid or any future crisis.
For all those reasons, the Bill is about the delivery of Brexit and about sovereignty. It puts into law the ability for the Government to take action if a deal is not agreed. It delivers on an instruction that the good people of Dudley, and across our Union, gave this place not only in the 2016 referendum but at the last general election. We should, and must, press on with this.
The debates have been robust and challenging, and I have learned so much about Scottish politics. It has been a pleasure to listen to the sibling rivalry across the House. I have learned a great deal—thank you.
This evening we will be asked to vote on a Bill that moves us towards a situation in which the Government will break their own international treaty obligations. That will make negotiating future deals even harder, at a time when the Government should be focusing on tackling covid rather than reopening Brexit battles. However, I am encouraged by the number of amendments and new clauses in the names of my right hon. Friend Edward Miliband and my hon. Friends the Members for Manchester Central (Lucy Powell) and for Sheffield Central (Paul Blomfield), and all those who have worked tirelessly to try to improve the Bill.
New clause 3 would place on the Government a duty to consult, monitor, report on and review parts of the Bill, including the shared prosperity fund. That is incredibly important to my constituency, which is in desperate need of levelling-up opportunities. My constituents have grown weary of glitzy marketing campaigns such as the northern powerhouse or social mobility, which have failed to deliver meaningful and widespread opportunities for them and their families. New clause 3 would militate against the shared prosperity fund going the same way, because Ministers would have to return to the House to update hon. Members. That report would allow us to examine whether the internal market will deliver desperately needed opportunities across our country. Let us not forget that the Centre for Cities called the UK
“the most geographically unequal developed economy in the world”.
The new clause would also require oversight of any cynical attempt to use the shared prosperity fund as a reward for Conservative MPs in red wall seats.
There is an urgent need to bring new jobs and development out of the south-east and into communities that have talent, people, and enthusiasm but are in need of opportunities. If we are to spread growth around the country in a consistent way, the power to do that must be in the hands of local leaders. By the time the Government report back, we should not still be debating whether the Bill strips devolved authorities of power and undermines the Union. Instead, we should be talking about how it places opportunity in the hands of local representatives—the very people who work in those communities, and know them far better than centralised Whitehall Departments ever could.
The shared prosperity fund replaces the EU structural fund, which many parts of our country benefited from. In Yorkshire and Humber, that fund was about €796 million. Currently, when drawing down resources from that fund, priorities for support funding need to be set locally and delivered by those engaged in the projects locally. The Government should deliver the fund by building on that principle of engagement, and by empowering our devolved Administrations, local authorities and elected mayors. The Government must trust our regional leaders to do what is right for their communities.
The Bill is about Britain’s reputation and position in the world. It is also about how we serve our communities better and ensure that our prosperity is shared properly across our country, on the basis of what would have been received had the referendum result been different.
A number of new clauses and amendments would improve the Bill, and I will be supporting them fully today.
As a member of the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee, and someone with family roots in Ireland, I have taken a key interest in the Government’s manoeuvrings over the Northern Ireland protocol and the United Kingdom Internal Market Bill. I am concerned, not especially for the reputation of Her Majesty’s Government, but for people on both sides of the Irish border, many of whom are very worried about the potential return of a hard border, the erosion of the principles of the Good Friday agreement, and all that that might mean.
Peace is not maintained by agreements on paper alone; it is maintained by the hard work of communities and, yes, politicians. For 22 years, that peace has been built. While it is a testament to all the people involved that it seems far fetched to believe that sectarian violence, unrest and instability might return, it would be a massive mistake if the Government were complacently to sweep that possibility under the carpet.
The Good Friday agreement and the stability that it has brought are based on the absence of a hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic. Anything that risks that, as this Bill does with its dismissal of international treaties, also risks the peace—maybe not overnight and maybe not in weeks or months, but over a longer period. That would be inexcusable, and indeed a terrible legacy to leave. What does the Secretary of State have to say to people in Northern Ireland who will, right now, be fearful that the Government are recklessly endangering everything they have built over the last two decades?
Endangering the Good Friday agreement would also be a huge breach of trust. Back in October 2019, in a statement to the House regarding the Northern Ireland protocol, the Prime Minister assured us:
“Our negotiations have focused on the uniquely sensitive nature of the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic, and we have respected those sensitivities. Above all, we and our European friends have preserved the letter and the spirit of the Belfast/Good Friday agreement”.—[Official Report,
Vol. 666, c. 571.]
So where is that commitment now?
“We can’t allow the Good Friday Agreement that brought peace to Northern Ireland to become a casualty of Brexit. Any trade deal between the US and UK must be contingent upon respect for the Agreement and preventing the return of a hard border. Period.”
We should remember, too, that the Good Friday agreement was not just an agreement between most of the political parties in Northern Ireland and the Irish Government, but was given consent by the public across the island of Ireland in a referendum. It is crucial that we stick to its principles and values for the sake of future security in Northern Ireland and for its people.
I feel it is disgraceful that the Government want to play party political games with these vital issues. The Prime Minister has claimed that the EU is acting in bad faith, but I sat in the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee last week, and the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland has clearly said:
“These talks began in March and continued throughout the summer in a spirit of good faith and mutual respect for the delicate arrangements in Northern Ireland.”
So which is it? Playing fast and loose with the future of Northern Ireland by threatening to undermine a deal Ministers themselves have said was agreed to secure the Good Friday agreement is not only bad politics from the Government; it is dangerous. I ask the Government to bear that in mind and to start looking for serious, long-term solutions that protect the hard-won peace for generations to come.
Clause 46 has been the subject of much heated debate in this Chamber, yet when I read it, it seems innocuous enough. It provides power for a Minister of the Crown to provide financial assistance to promote lots of good things—economic development, infrastructure, cultural activities and sport—yet this has caused such seeming offence to the nationalists in Scotland that they have tabled amendment 18 to do away with the power in its entirety.
The SNP talks of a power grab, and yet it is an incontrovertible fact that not a single power held in Edinburgh, Cardiff or Belfast is being removed. In fact, the opposite is taking place—more than 70 powers currently held in Brussels are being devolved, which the SNP would like to give back to the EU. It is true that not every power currently held in Brussels is passing to the devolved Administrations. The reason is that the Government are properly applying the constitutional devolution settlement between the four nations, and quite right too.
I have heard the Scottish nationalists assert that clause 46 goes against the principles of devolution, but the opposite is true. Devolution in Scotland was devised by the late right hon. Member for Glasgow Anniesland. As the father of devolution, Donald Dewar set out his vision in the 1997 White Paper “Scotland’s Parliament”, which said:
“Westminster will continue to be responsible for those areas of policy best run on a United Kingdom basis.”
It goes on:
“By preserving the integrity of the United Kingdom, the Union secures for its people participation in an economic unit, which benefits business, provides access to wider markets and investment and increases prosperity to all.”
That is the vision that Scots backed in 1997, and it is exactly the approach that the Government are following in clause 46.
To be clear, this is not money repatriated from the EU, nor is it money taken from the devolved Assemblies. This is money granted by the Parliament of the United Kingdom to be spent across the United Kingdom. This is money that is needed throughout our country. The response to covid-19 is the most recent example of why we all benefit from this power residing at UK level and as the devolution settlements require.
To cushion the profound economic shock of the virus, the UK Government put in place a truly monumental system of business and employment support, in addition to their spending allocations to the four nations. In Scotland alone, nearly 800,000 jobs—almost a third of the entire workforce—were protected by the furlough scheme and the self-employment income support schemes. In addition, a minimum £12.7 billion has been provided, including £6.5 billion to Scotland, on top of the spring Budget—a 25% increase on pre-virus spending levels.
How do we have access to that money? It does not come from our financial reserves as a nation. Sadly, it comes from the UK Government’s ability to raise debt at very low interest rates because the markets have faith in the financial strength of this United Kingdom. It is the strength created by a unity of 68 million people with the financial firepower of the City of London and Charlotte Square combined. To pretend otherwise would be to perpetrate a fraud on the people of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.
There are arguments for independence, but to remove the powers of the UK Government to provide ongoing financial assistance to every part of the United Kingdom would be a huge disservice to the people of Scotland. And for what reason? To promote a nationalist agenda, even at the cost of support for the people of Scotland.
The Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster described the breaching of international law as a “safety net”. That breaching of international law is set out clearly as being such in article 5 of the withdrawal agreement that this Government signed up to, put to the British people and passed in legislation. There is no shadow of a doubt that even bringing this legislation to the House means breaching international law, with all the consequences that flow from that.
To call this a safety net is entirely wrong. It is anything but that. There is nothing safe in the breach of international law whatsoever, as the Minister well knows. The breach of international law invites retaliation under the terms of the World Trade Organisation. It invites us being regarded as a pariah. It invites others to say that we are in no position to criticise those who routinely break international law. It undermines this country’s fine reputation, as set out by Margaret Thatcher—revered by all Conservative Members—who said that Britain is nothing if not a country that sets an example to other countries. It undermines the promised negotiations for deals around the world, including the fundamental negotiation right now with the European Union. We were promised by this Government—by their Prime Minister—that 80% of our trade would be covered by international trade agreements after Brexit had been concluded. What is the figure now? It is 8%—that is all they have managed, not the 80% they promised. The safety net has a great big hole in it; it is nothing of the kind. What of the Prime Minister, who described it as a safety net as well—as a means of preventing this fanciful blockade of Great Britain to Northern Ireland trade? If that were true, why is there nothing in the Bill that deals with this alleged shortcoming?
No safety net is needed, either, because the dispute resolution mechanisms set out in the withdrawal agreement and in the Northern Ireland protocol provide everything that we could possibly need. If those protections are followed step by step, we stay within international law, so why are the Government so keen to go beyond that? Mr Cox set out what is already provided—I remember; I was here—when he stood at the Dispatch Box and described the process as providing a clear and lawful set of responses, and he was right to do so.
We should not be going down this road. The agreement was signed, it was promised to the British people, and the Prime Minister told us that it was in perfect conformity with the Northern Ireland protocol. This Bill is not needed in its current form. The Government should take out the illegal actions that they are proposing and they should be honest with the British people.
The first duty of any Government is to protect their people from existential threats: it is called defence of the realm. Given that this overrides all other considerations, we need to see this Bill against the backdrop of our negotiations with the EU. It is not only a necessary piece of legislation in its own right but provides an insurance policy against the EU seeking to divide the Union or subjugate our right to exist as a sovereign trading nation.
The central premise of the Bill is to provide clarity over the internal market, to shed regulation, and to apportion powers to the home nations. This is about not just life after Brussels but supporting countless jobs and livelihoods across our whole country. Given that seamless trade between the devolved nations is proven and sacrosanct, there is no question but that we are better off together within the Union and that those who seek to divide us are not working in our nation’s best interests.
I subscribe to the Government’s insistence that the new powers in the Bill seek to protect peace in Northern Ireland, the integrity of the Good Friday agreement, the viability of the internal market, and the importance of the Union. I am also clear that there must not be a hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic, and that pragmatic measures are needed to reinforce the sanctity of what has been achieved by politicians on all sides. To be frank, the EU does not have a trump card in this regard, and it is for the UK alone to decide what is best for the UK.
New clauses 4 and 5 are pragmatic; clarifying the role and scope of the Competition and Markets Authority within the wider protocols is necessary. Given that, for example, Northern Ireland exports 1.6 times more to the UK than to the EU and imports 2.5 times more from the UK than from the EU, we must maintain Northern Ireland’s integral place in the UK internal market and within its customs territory in the same way that we need to maintain a similar level of integrity for England, Scotland and Wales.
On new clauses 1, 2 and 3, the Bill already contains the safeguards that are needed to uphold the independence of the courts, uphold the rule of law and implement the withdrawal agreement—which, of course, the UK will do. I do not believe it is necessary to impose the environmental safeguards required by new clause 6 for the simple reason that the UK is already at the cutting edge of the green agenda, and that financial assistance to any part of our Union should not be dependent on a climate and nature emergency statement. That will prohibit, rather than enable.
To conclude, I will support the Government at all stages of the Bill. To alleviate doubt, the Bill will allow the economic freedoms currently enjoyed across the UK to be maintained, providing the certainty, security and opportunity that British business needs to survive and thrive. The notion that we should accept a customs border down the Irish Sea or could be consigned by the EU to the status of Myanmar is just plain bonkers. The Bill is needed to ensure that we do not harm the Union or threaten the Good Friday agreement. To be absolutely clear, herein lies the responsibility of every one of us in this place, for the simple reason that we are British MPs and our duty is to the UK, not to the EU.
Order. I wish to inform the House that I shall call the Minister at 6 pm to respond to this lengthy debate in five minutes, and then the questions will be put.
This Bill is shameful and the Conservative party is shameless. The Bill is misconceived, ill-advised and designed to wholly override any notion of devolution. The Welsh Government have described it as
“an affront to the people of Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, who have voted in favour of devolution on numerous occasions.”
The Bill seeks to break international law and to break devolution.
One of the many vexing things about this brazen, law-breaking, power-grab Bill is when the UK Government try to suggest it is not so or that there is nothing to be concerned about, as if we should just disregard clear, undisputable facts. Just look at clause 46: it is a mucky muckle power grab. Plainly, the UK Government either know perfectly well what they are doing and they are intent on breaking international law, undermining the Northern Ireland protocol and stripping powers away from the devolved Administrations, or they are utterly and shamefully incompetent. It has to be one of those two things, or perhaps both. What it cannot be, and what is frankly an insult to the intelligence of people watching this charade in Scotland, is the nonsense that some Conservative Members engage in when they suggest that, despite all the evidence to the contrary, their UK Government is somehow exceptionally above international law. That is the dangerous exceptionalism that sits at the heart of the Bill and that is what lies behind their plans to break international law and ride roughshod over the devolved Governments.
We will all suffer for it if the UK Government have their way, because—look at clause 48—these plans open the door to their race to the bottom, to bargain-basement Britain. That is regardless of the many voices calling for them to change tack—the Scottish Government, the Welsh Synod, the Northern Irish Assembly, the General Teaching Council for Scotland, the NFUS, the STUC, former Prime Ministers and the Chair of the Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee. I could go on all night. In the eyes of the UK Government, they are all wrong. I am afraid that is not credible. This Trumpian truth-twisting is all part of their plan to ride roughshod over the law, the Sewel convention and Scotland’s ability to make the decisions that are right for the people of Scotland. Of course, that holds for Wales and it holds for Northern Ireland, as we heard last week when we were discussing part 5.
I have not agreed with Mrs May on many occasions, but she hit the nail on the head last week when she called the UK Government out on their disregard for law and good faith. This UK Government cannot be trusted. They cannot be trusted on Scotland, on devolution, on standards and on upholding international law. In fact, the Bill shows they cannot be trusted at all. It is no wonder that the Scottish Government are unable to recommend legislative consent.
We were told that we should lead, not leave, that we are a partnership of equals. Actions speak louder than words, and the actions of this reckless UK Government speak loudly and clearly of the pressing need for Scotland to steer another course as far away from the direction of the UK Government as possible.
It is a pleasure to follow Kirsten Oswald, although I fear there is very little common cause between her speech and mine. The internal market is a shared asset, and we all want it to work effectively. As we recover from covid, we must ensure that our economy becomes stronger than ever. That is why the Government have introduced this legislation: to guarantee the continued functioning of that internal market, to ensure that trade remains unhindered in the UK. That is why I support the Government amendments and the Bill as a whole, and I urge the House to reject the Opposition amendments.
It is apparent that we need a clear state aid policy that resides in Westminster, because, as much as the SNP likes to pretend this is the English Parliament, all parts of the UK are represented here, and this place is the only place with the legal and moral authority to act on behalf of the whole of the United Kingdom. Also, our ability to develop trade relations with other countries depends on our having a co-ordinated approach to state aid across our own country, the United Kingdom.
I do not believe that the Bill, or any of the specific provisions in question, undermine our commitment to the Good Friday agreement. Rest assured that those of us on this side of the House remain fully committed to the provisions of that agreement. We will not allow it to be undermined by any possible failure of negotiations, nor by any bad faith interpretations of clauses in the Northern Ireland protocol, and I pay tribute to the speeches from my hon. Friends earlier in the debate.
I will touch on the controversy over the key clauses in part 5: clauses 42, 43 and 45. I am no lawyer, and there are many Members in this House more learned than I am, but it seems to me that international law is breached all the time. The recent actions of the French navy in the channel breached the UN convention on the law of the sea. Where was the pearl clutching from the Opposition Benches then? The German Constitutional Court ruling in May set aside a ruling of the European Court of Justice and brought that international law into question. The European Union itself was only too happy to set aside its own treaties when the stability of its own union was put at risk during the financial crisis.
It seems, as my constituency neighbour, my hon. Friend Sir William Cash, put it earlier, international law is, in fact, a mixture of law and politics; I think he said it was 40% the former and 60% the latter. That does not mean that we should not be mindful of our international reputation, but our friends and allies around the world would not expect us to accept bad faith interpretations of the Northern Ireland protocol. They would not expect us to impose unreasonable restrictions on our own internal sovereignty.
That is why the clauses are in the Bill. They are, as my right hon. Friend the Minister for the Cabinet Office said, a safety net in the event of a failure of negotiations. I believe, too, that they strengthen our hand in those negotiations. The people of Newcastle-Under-Lyme expect their representative to stand up for them, but they also expect him to stand up for Britain, and that is what I am doing by backing the Bill.
I do not believe, therefore, that Government amendment 66, which is now incorporated in clause 54, was strictly speaking necessary, though I pay tribute to my hon. Friend Sir Robert Neill, whose amendment inspired it. However, I believe that incorporating that amendment was wise, because by leaving the final decision about these matters in the hands of this Parliament we are making it clear where sovereignty in these matters, and in this country, truly resides.
Every once in a while, a piece of legislation comes that goes to the very heart of our character as a country. The internal market Bill is one such piece of legislation. It goes to the very heart of our economy, our national identity and our constitution. There is no doubt that the legislation is necessary. We need a strong internal market so that businesses can trade freely across the UK’s four nations, which will be vital for our shared prosperity, and we want the Government to get on and deliver what they promised: an oven-ready Brexit deal in place for
However, whether seen through the prism of the economy, of our national reputation or of our constitution, the Bill is fundamentally flawed. On the economy, it creates the conditions for a race to the bottom. Mutual recognition of standards without common frameworks in place simply opens the back door to hormone-injected beef and chlorinated chicken becoming the norm.
Internationally, the Bill will severely damage Britain’s standing in the world. The Government have freely and openly confirmed that the Bill will breach international law by overriding elements of the withdrawal agreement signed only nine months ago by the Prime Minister himself. As the Foreign Secretary himself stated in January:
“global Britain is…about continuing to uphold…our heartfelt commitment to the international rule of law…for which we are respected the world over.”—[Official Report,
Vol. 669, c. 768.]
Our country’s reputation is on the line. Surely, we want to be seen as a trustworthy nation with which other countries can do business in good faith. Surely, we want to strike good trade deals across the world. Surely, we want to be able to stand up to the world’s authoritarian regimes with credibility. I know many Government Members are extremely concerned about the damage the Government are doing to Britain’s standing in the world. I hope that that concern will be reflected in the Division Lobby this evening.
As a Welsh MP who believes passionately in a strong Wales within a strong United Kingdom, I am profoundly concerned that the Bill risks the integrity of our Union. Devolution is based on the principle of informed consent, but the UK Government are hellbent on cutting the devolved Administrations out of the conversation. Surely, one of the lessons of the covid crisis is that the overcentralised control freakery of this Government is simply not working. The days of being able to sit behind a desk in Whitehall, pull a lever and expect it to deliver the desired outcomes in places such as Aberavon are over. Modern Government should be built on consultation and co-operation, not top-down diktat. As chair of the all-party group on post-Brexit funding, I am profoundly concerned that this approach will be applied to the shared prosperity fund. There is a risk that the UK will undertake both a money grab and a power grab from the devolved nations with regard to how that development funding will be spent. Further still, we hear that the Government plan to funnel money directly into Conservative seats in what can only be described as the worst sort of pork-barrel politics.
The Prime Minister loves to present himself as a Churchillian patriot, but is it patriotic to divide our country? Is it patriotic to tarnish our country’s reputation overseas? Is it patriotic to undermine our economy and the standards we hold so dear? Absolutely not. The key elements of the Bill are holding our country back. We need competence and consensus, not bluster and bullying. We need to deliver on this deal and move forward.
I am pleased to be able to contribute to the debate.
This House and all our constituents were promised an oven-ready deal. Now, it seems as though the Government are not only failing on that promise, but increasingly showing that there was nothing in the oven at all. Britain’s greatness is built on our values and the fact that we have long stood up for the rule of law. However, the Bill represents the disregard of an international treaty the Prime Minister himself personally negotiated and signed up to. If the UK Government can break international laws with their former friends and allies, what will they do to others? Is that the basis and dreadful reputation on which we are seeking to negotiate and agree trade deals with others?
The Government promised to get Brexit done and indeed they should: not by any means necessary, but with the strongest protections in place for my constituents in Coventry North West and for constituents across the UK; and not through a no-deal Brexit, which would decimate jobs and businesses across the country, causing untold harm to our own communities. We need a Brexit deal that will protect jobs and safeguard our health and social care sector. Research from the University of Sussex estimates that the failure to secure a Brexit deal would reduce exports in the manufacturing industry by up to 20% and reduce jobs. The Prime Minister promised to protect our manufacturing industries, which are crucial to our economy and any recovery we hope to see in Coventry. Even a former member of his own Government, Margot James, appealed to the Government to support manufacturers in Coventry, which are already strained by the coronavirus pandemic. How can the Prime Minister safeguard jobs and commit to job creation in manufacturing in my constituency if he is committed to selling the UK short on delivering a Brexit that my constituents are proud of?
Coventry North West and the west midlands in general stand to lose the most from the Government playing fast and loose with both UK and international law. A University of Oxford study found that car production could halve by the middle of the next decade if the UK crashes out of the EU with no deal. We are already losing manufacturing jobs in Rolls-Royce Annesley, so what is next? We have so many thriving small businesses in Coventry North West, but the Bill does not serve them and makes a catastrophic no-deal Brexit more likely. Nor does it serve our health and social care sector, and my caseload attests to the fact that the Government do not have their eye on the ball. Breaking international law will severely impact the UK’s ability to negotiate trade agreements with countries that set a higher bar, as well as to protect the health sector and public health in the UK and to enhance health globally.
Despite what the Government would like people to think, Labour wants a Brexit deal negotiated so that we can press ahead with tackling issues such as the coronavirus, securing important trade deals—
I thank everybody who has spoken in the debate, and I once again thank all right hon. and hon. Members who have engaged with the Bill during its stages. This is likely to be my last contribution on this particular Bill—[Hon. Members: “More!”] I know, but I only have five minutes, and I want to pay tribute to my colleagues, the Minister of State, Cabinet Office, my hon. Friend Chloe Smith, and the Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office, my hon. Friend Mr Walker, who have played an amazing role and worked so hard. I also pay tribute to my Bill team—Jon Robinson, Jeff Yen, Satchi Mahendran, Dom Entwistle, Henry Hutton, Phoebe Gould, Dominic Bull, James Frisby and, in my private office, Ollie Benbow-Wyke.
Those of us on the Government Benches have heard and participated in the passionate debates on the Bill during the past two weeks, and I pay tribute to all their considered contributions. My right hon. and hon. Friends have made some impassioned speeches about the need for business certainty and about why the Union is so much better together than apart.
The debates have obviously been passionate, because of the importance of the Bill, but some of the other speeches in this Chamber today, and on some of the Committee days, have been somewhat circular. We have heard that there will apparently not be a US trade deal, but that we will get chlorinated chicken. We have heard that we love devolved spending, but that we would rather it be done from Brussels. We have heard people celebrating 62 countries having left the UK at various points in their recent history. Not one of those has the UK pound or wanted to join a bigger political union such as—oh, I don’t know—the EU, for example.
None the less, we want to make sure that we can get on with the Bill, because it is so important to continuing to provide certainty for businesses as we seek to recover from covid-19, prepare for the opportunities after the transition period and protect jobs. The Bill will ensure UK businesses can trade across our four home nations in a way that helps them invest and create jobs, just as they have for hundreds of years. We will do that in a way that supports and enables one of the largest transfers of power in the history of devolution, while maintaining that certainty for businesses. That will be done in a way that preserves our high standards, whether environmental, food or animal welfare, and in any number of other areas. It is therefore crucial that we pass this Bill, and I commend it to the House.
Before I put the question, there are likely to be Divisions, so, please, will only Front Benchers go out through the door in front of me? All Back Benchers must leave behind me, go down to Westminster Hall and join the queue. I am going to ask the Doorkeepers and the Whips to enforce that strictly, because we have to have social distancing.
Question put and agreed to.
New clause 4 accordingly read a Second time, and added to the Bill.