I beg to move, That this House disagrees with Lords amendment 1.
With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:
Lords amendments 2 to 7.
Lords amendments 8 to 19, and Government motions to disagree.
Lords amendment 20 to 29.
Lords amendments 30 to 34, and Government motions to disagree.
Lords amendments 35 to 41.
Lords amendment 42, and Government motion to disagree.
Lords amendment 43, Government motion to disagree, and Government amendments (a) and (b) to the words so restored to the Bill.
Lords amendments 44 to 57, and Government motions to disagree.
Lords amendments 58 to 60.
Lords amendment 61, and Government motion to disagree.
This Bill has generated a lot of debate in both Houses, and rightly so. It is a Bill that is vital in providing certainty for businesses and for protecting the Union. It is a Bill that allows the continuing smooth functioning of our UK internal market at the end of the transition period. Our approach will give businesses regulatory clarity and certainty and ensure that the cost of doing business in the UK stays as low as possible, and it will do so without damaging and costly regulatory barriers emerging between the nations of the United Kingdom.
In the other place, the Government and peers had good discussions and debates on the principle behind the Bill, and they have come to very reasonable proposals in some areas. It is right that both Houses work constructively to scrutinise and improve legislation, and the Government are therefore accepting a number of Lords amendments. That is why the Government are disappointed that in some cases amendments put forward by the other place would do the opposite and generate more ambiguity and uncertainty. Other amendments put forward go further, in hampering the Government’s ability to protect the Union and our internal market, to level up the country and to take advantage of the opportunities afforded by the end of the transition period. That is why today the Government are disagreeing with a series of amendments, to which I will now turn.
Regarding Lords amendments 1, 19 and 34, the other place and Her Majesty’s Opposition in this House have been clear about their strong support for common frameworks. I am pleased to hear that, because the UK Government are strongly committed to them as well. Joint work with the devolved Administrations to develop common frameworks is progressing well, and the first three frameworks are currently undergoing parliamentary scrutiny. The common frameworks programme represents successful joint working, ensuring that our shared objectives of making coherent policy, upholding high standards and supporting the distinct needs of each part of the UK can advance as one. They are evidence of our mutual respect for devolution.
I am pleased that work is well under way on the 33 frameworks that we expect to conclude jointly with the devolved Administrations. Thirty of those will be provisionally agreed by the end of 2020 and will then be scrutinised by Parliament and the devolved legislatures. A small number are likely to clear scrutiny by the end of the transition period, at which point they will become full frameworks.
It is good that the Minister recognises the importance of common frameworks. All four nations of the United Kingdom have agreed a common framework on an emissions trading system, so why is the Treasury now considering imposing a carbon emissions tax instead, against the wishes of the devolved Administrations? Surely that does not respect common frameworks.
Discussions on that are ongoing and it is right that we have them. On the common frameworks, the devolved Administrations and representatives of England in the UK Parliament have made their views well known.
We have a strong agrifood sector in Northern Ireland. There needs to be an understanding between the Northern Ireland Assembly and this place, to ensure that our agrifood sector can continue to expand and sell its products around the world. Will the Minister reassure us that that will happen and that nothing will hinder it?
The whole purpose of this is that we can get the internal market right. We do not want to hamper any business, wherever it is in the UK, from being able to trade overseas with the opportunities afforded by global Britain at the end of the transition phase and beyond.
I want to make progress because I want to get across some detail and allow other Members to have their say. The common framework programme was never designed to be an all-encompassing solution to the maintenance of the internal market. This Bill will instead provide the additional legislative protection to internal UK trade, which is required for business certainty. As an aside, I note that half of the active frameworks have little or no interactions with this Bill, as they do not pertain to the internal market. That has sometimes been forgotten in recent debates.
The flexibility that underpins the framework programme is key to its success. It was set up in 2017 with an objective to manage regulatory coherence in specific devolved policy areas of returning EU law. While the frameworks are envisaged in very high-level terms in schedule 3 to the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018, they are taken forward by voluntary agreement, which is the reason why neither the UK Government nor the devolved Administrations have so far felt the need to codify the common frameworks process in legislation. I thank the noble and learned Lord Hope for his considered contributions to the debate and for his thoughtful amendments to the Bill. However, while the Government have carefully considered the arguments made in both Houses about putting common frameworks on the face of the Bill, we feel that that may not sit well with the flexible and voluntary nature of the common frameworks programme.
In addition to their voluntary nature, we must also bear in mind that the current frameworks are jointly owned by the devolved Administrations. Any proposal to legislate them into this Bill would need to take into account their involvement in the programme overall. I am therefore concerned that the Lords amendments would automatically disapply mutual recognition and non-discrimination principles. This would create a very broad exclusions regime and uncertainty for businesses and consumers over the terms of trade within which they are operating. That is clearly not in keeping with the aim of this Bill, which is to provide maximum certainty and a stable trading environment.
I will just take the Minister back to his statement that the common frameworks were never supposed to be all-encompassing in relation to the internal market, because I am looking at the Joint Ministerial Committee communiqué from
“established where they are necessary in order to…enable the functioning of the UK internal market”
The Government have gone back on that, have they not?
The hon. and learned Lady will note that the document states “where…necessary”. As I said earlier, many of the common frameworks do not relate to the internal market. That was my point exactly.
It is a core point that none of us should wish to see internal barriers to trade erected inside our country to the detriment of jobs and growth. We have been clear in the other place about how we see the common frameworks programme and the market access principles interreacting with this point at the heart of the argument. While common frameworks are jointly owned, the UK’s full internal market regime can only be owned by the UK Government and overseen by the UK Parliament.
The Minister for the Constitution and Devolution, my hon. Friend Chloe Smith looks forward to completing the delivery of the common frameworks programme, discussing further with our partners in the devolved Administrations and the devolved legislatures how we can capitalise on working ahead through common frameworks and put these areas of co-operation on a sustainable footing for the longer term to the benefit of citizens and businesses. We welcome the support of right hon. and hon. Members in achieving that, but we have been clear that amendments 1, 19 and 34 are not necessary and have considerable drawbacks. I therefore call on the House to disagree with them.
To speak to Lords amendments 8 to 13, 15, 16 to 18, 30 to 33 and 56, the Government have taken positive steps to reach a compromise position that balances concern about delegated powers with the ability of the Government to act to protect our internal market. The Government have already made significant steps. We have removed the power, which is no longer considered essential, for the operation of flexibility in the internal market system. We have made further changes on transparency and accountability, such as a review mechanism on the use of such powers. In the other place, we tabled amendments to require consultation with the devolved Administrations before the use of key powers, reflecting our previous commitments. However, once consultation is undertaken, the right place for final decisions should be back in Parliament where parliamentarians from all parts of the UK can debate and vote on the proposed use of the powers. The Government are therefore disappointed by the decision in the other place.
If the Welsh Assembly decides that way, that will be regrettable—[Interruption.] The Welsh Senedd. It will be regrettable, because it is important that we continue to work together and allow continuity of trade and business between Wales, Welsh businesses and, indeed, the other nations of the UK. That is what Welsh businesses have been asking us for as we have been talking to them. They want certainty, and this Bill will give them certainty.
The Government are disappointed that the other place did not take up our reasonable offer and removed key provisions needed to ensure the operation of the internal market.
Does the Minister not accept that for places such as Northern Ireland, Wales and Scotland, common standards that allow free trade between those parts of the United Kingdom and their main market, which is probably in England, are an advantage to everyone? The provisions in the Bill should not scare or frighten anybody.
The right hon. Gentleman puts it correctly. When I have spoken to businesses in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, they have agreed with businesses in England. The main market for so many of these businesses is within the United Kingdom. We talk about global Britain, but we have to make sure that we have our internal market right. The opportunities for business, including those in Northern Ireland, are absolutely at the heart of this Bill, and I appreciate his intervention.
Removing the powers that I have outlined would make it difficult for the Government to respond to businesses and the wider stakeholder feedback and act rapidly to respond to changes in the UK internal market due to the shifting economic landscape. The other place also added in conflicting, inconsistent amendments accepting our consultation offer, but also adding consent mechanisms.
Moreover, the other place’s three amendments 12, 13 and 56 introduce a new system for excluding requirements from market access principles, based on a long list of legitimate aims. This new clause would render the protections in part 1 almost meaningless. The regulator or legislator could justify a very wide variety of discriminatory measures using the justifications in the new clause. It would result in uncertainty as to what is in scope and leave little protection from regulatory barriers for businesses operating across the whole of the UK. However, the door remains open to the other place to reconsider, and we have kept our offer on the table.
I will turn now to Lords amendments 48 and 49. Clauses 48 and 49 support the Government’s determination to deliver the commitments on which we were elected—levelling up and delivering prosperity for the whole United Kingdom and strengthening the ties that bind our Union together. They provide for a unified power that operates consistently UK-wide.
I will just make progress for a minute.
The power will allow for strategic investment throughout the UK, underpinning the United Kingdom Government’s determination to see all parts of the UK flourish. It will make sure that we can deliver UK-wide replacements for EU funds, including meeting our manifesto commitment to replace EU structural funds, and allowing the UK Government to invest directly to support communities and businesses across all four parts of the UK.
As we said in the last debate in this place, this is complementary to existing spending powers in Wales and Scotland. We will always look to work for the good of the people there, which will reflect—undoubtedly, I am sure, on so many occasions, if not all occasions—the mood and direction from their elected politicians in the Senedd.
We need to make sure that we can deliver the UK-wide replacements for EU funds, including meeting our manifesto commitment to replace EU structural funds and deliver the UK shared prosperity fund, which will allow the UK Government to invest directly to support communities and businesses across all four parts of the UK. Previously in many of these areas, the EU mandated how our money had to be spent, with little say from elected representatives in the United Kingdom. The UK Government intend to take a much more collaborative approach in delivering any funding that replaces EU programmes.
The UK Government remain committed to working collaboratively with key partners, including devolved Administrations, in the provision of financial assistance under this power. Let me be clear that this power is in addition to the devolved Administrations’ existing powers. It will allow the United Kingdom Government to complement and strengthen the support given to citizens, businesses and communities in Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales. It does not take away responsibilities from the devolved Administrations.
The frustration at this utter confusion is that this actually circumvents the devolution settlement. Devolution has been in place for some 20 years, and it is Ministers in Wales who have been working with the European Union on how European funding is allocated within projects in Wales. This new system removes the decision making from Welsh Ministers and circumvents the devolution that has existed for more than 20 years. Can the Minister not understand the frustration on the Opposition Benches and the bewilderment of Welsh, Scottish and Northern Ireland Ministers about why they are just not being consulted on priority projects in Wales and any of the other nations of the UK?
I can understand the frustration if that is the wilful misinterpretation of what is actually happening. The EU mandates so much of this spending before it gets to the Welsh Senedd, the Scottish Parliament and the Northern Ireland Assembly and, indeed, here in England, from where we are speaking, but we will work collaboratively to ensure that so many of those concerns are met.
We are disappointed as a Government that the other place has decided to take out the power and hamper the Government’s ability to level up the country and drive investments into all parts of the UK. These Lords amendments also alter the financial arrangements made in this House, and I therefore call on this House to disagree with them.
Turning to Lords amendment 51, I emphasise the importance of the UK continuing to take a clear and consistent approach to subsidy control as we move away from EU state aid rules. The Government have always been clear in our view that the regulation of state aid and the EU’s approach to subsidy control is a reserved matter. This reservation does not change the devolved Administrations’ position in practice. The devolved Administrations have never previously been able to set their own subsidy control rules, as this was covered by the EU state aid framework, but they will continue to make their own spending decisions on subsidies, as they do currently. The effect of the amendment would be to create unacceptable uncertainty regarding the extent to which subsidy control is a reserved or devolved competence. This would potentially give rise to inconsistency if there were different regimes to regulate subsidies across the UK. Ultimately, that could undermine fair and open competition across our internal market, inevitably discouraging investment in the UK, bringing additional costs to supply chains and consumers.
This reservation will enable the UK to design a bespoke subsidy control regime that meets the needs of the UK economy. The Government have been clear that any future domestic regime will operate in a way that works best for all UK businesses, workers and consumers. In the coming months, we intend to publish a consultation on whether we should go further than our World Trade Organisation and international commitments, including whether further legislation is necessary. The House should therefore disagree with this amendment.
Turning to Lords amendments 57 and 61, the Government again made reasonable and important changes to make it clear in statute that the Office for the Internal Market will work for the benefit of consumers in the interests of all parts of the United Kingdom, as well as for all four Administrations on an equal basis. I will not discuss amendment 50 in detail because it would involve, as we have heard, a charge of public funds and has not been selected.
The Government also agreed to an enhanced role for the devolved Administrations in OIM appointments, requiring Ministers to seek consent with all Administrations within a one-month timeframe. However, Lords amendments 57 and 61 go beyond this, also requiring that the devolved Administrations directly appoint members to the board of the Competition and Markets Authority. I wish to emphasise strongly that changing the wider CMA governance structures would be wholly inappropriate. The CMA board ensures that the organisation operates effectively and fulfils its statutory duties, which have fallen entirely within reserved competence. It would create a deeply unhelpful precedent, therefore, to have devolved Administrations’ appointees on the CMA Board. In contrast, the OIM panel will undertake the work of the OIM, and, in that context, the Government amendments have been brought forward to ensure a strengthened voice for the devolved Administrations. I therefore call on the House to disagree with these amendments.
Finally, I turn to Lords amendments 14, 42 to 47 and 52 to 55. The clauses in this part of the Bill have rightly been subject to much debate and scrutiny. The debates on Second Reading, in Committee and on Report in this House were almost exclusively on these clauses in the Bill. The House endorsed the clauses by a significant majority after the Government brought forward amendments to address the concerns raised by Members of the House. I urge Members to do so again.
The Minister will appreciate, having had some hand in the amendments, that I have an interest in this matter. He will have seen that a statement has been put out by the Government—following the meeting of the Joint Committee earlier today—in which they undertake that they would, in effect, remove clause 44 and deactivate clauses 45 and 47, which were the subject of some concern in this place. Will he confirm that that is the case? Will he also confirm that were there to be any like clauses included in the taxation (post-transition period) Bill, which may come before us, they should, at the very least, be subject to the same parliamentary lock as was inserted in this Bill, if they were to be required at all?
I thank my hon. Friend for his contributions not just here and now, but in the earlier stages of this Bill, which allowed for that important lock. The taxation Bill and this Bill work in lockstep as well, and I can confirm his interpretation. I will come on to that in a second regarding the statement earlier today.
After the transition period ends, Northern Ireland will and must remain fully integrated with the UK’s internal market. There should be nothing controversial about that. The protocol expressly recognises that Northern Ireland will remain part of the UK’s customs territory and qualifying Northern Ireland goods will enjoy unfettered access to the rest of the UK market. We will never accept additional burdens or barriers on goods moving from Birmingham to London, and neither should we accept those on goods moving from Belfast to Liverpool. Moreover, clause 46 would codify in legislation the existing practice where state aid is notified to the European Commission by the Foreign Secretary via the UK mission in Brussels.
I can indeed.
Part 5 of the Bill contains vital provisions to ensure that this will always be the case, whatever the outcome of our negotiations within the EU. Since these clauses were originally introduced, the UK and EU have worked constructively together through the withdrawal agreement Joint Committee discussions, which continue to progress, and final decisions are expected in the coming days. I can confirm today that if the solutions being considered in those discussions are agreed, the UK Government will be prepared to remove clause 44, concerning export declarations, from the Bill. The UK Government would also be prepared to deactivate clauses 45 and 47, concerning state aid, such that they could be used only when consistent with the United Kingdom’s rights and obligations under international law.
I wonder whether the Minister could reflect on two points. First, I am relatively new to this place, but my understanding is that there has not been a bigger vote in the other place against a proposal from this House for many decades, if not centuries. Secondly, does he recognise that the majority of people and businesses in Northern Ireland want to see the solutions he set out work through the Joint Committee and not through any breach of international law? It is important that there should be a solid legal framework to enable businesses in Northern Ireland to conduct their affairs.
Indeed, we all want this to be dealt with through the Joint Committee. That is why the discussions are continuing, and that is why, in these crucial hours of negotiations between the UK and the EU, we wish them well in that regard.
I will not trespass on the Minister’s time again, but will he confirm that the deactivation of clause 47 would remove one of the areas—the “notwithstanding” clauses—that caused most concern, particularly to legal commentators? Does he agree that that is a significant gesture of good faith on the part of Her Majesty’s Government’s and that it will hopefully remove some of the real concerns that have, for legitimate reasons, been expressed in other places? Does he agree that this demonstrates that we want to find a constructive way forward?
My hon. Friend is right again. I know the debate that has surrounded the “notwithstanding” clauses, and it is important that we work in collaboration and partnership as we do these difficult negotiations, but, ultimately, that is where we want to solve these problems, rather than having to legislate for them in the first place. As I say, we will deactivate them when we get to the point that that is consistent with the United Kingdom’s rights and obligations under international law. While we are hopeful of success, it is only prudent that until such time as the discussions have successfully concluded, we retain these clauses in their current form as a fall-back option.
As has been said many times, the Government are fully committed to implementing the withdrawal agreement and the Northern Ireland protocol, and we have already taken many practical steps to do this, but these clauses will ensure that, irrespective of the outcome of our negotiations with the EU on implementation of the protocol, we will always protect Northern Ireland’s place in the United Kingdom. They will ensure that businesses based in Northern Ireland have unfettered access to the rest of the United Kingdom and that there is no legal confusion or ambiguity in UK law about the interpretation of the state aid elements of the Northern Ireland protocol.
I thank the Minister for giving way again. I just want to get some clarification. Article 16 of the Northern Ireland protocol makes it quite clear that where the protocol does serious economic, societal or environmental damage to Northern Ireland, the Government have the right to act unilaterally. If this clause is to be removed and set aside, how will the Government be able to take unilateral action if changes in the protocol or demands from the EU do the kind of damage that is outlined in article 16?
As I have said before in regard to these clauses, the changes that we set out in a statement earlier today work on the assumption that we have had success in the discussions and that we can solve this elsewhere. We hope that the “notwithstanding” clauses will never have to be used, and we understand the concerns that have been raised. Making regulations of this nature would not be done lightly. That is why, before this clause is commenced, this House, as we have discussed, will be asked specifically to approve a motion to that effect, and the other place will hold a take note debate. Any regulations made under this clause would be subject to the affirmative or made affirmative procedure, meaning that they will be subject to debates requiring a vote in both Houses.
Moreover, as the Prime Minister has made clear, in addition to taking these steps in domestic law, if we had to make it clear that we believed the EU was engaged in a material breach of its duties of good faith as required and provided for under the withdrawal agreement and the Vienna convention on the law of treaties, we would seek an arbitration panel and consider safeguards under article 16 of the protocol in parallel. We must ensure that, in any scenario, we are upholding the economic integrity of the United Kingdom, maintaining the Belfast or Good Friday agreement and the gains of the peace process and protecting the delicate balance between communities in Northern Ireland.
These “notwithstanding” clauses are a limited and reasonable step that create a safety net to enable those aims to be met. They ensure that the UK Government can always act as necessary to protect and maintain our UK internal market and Northern Ireland’s integral place in it. That is entirely in keeping with what the Government have constantly said, including in public commitments from the Prime Minister, our manifesto commitments and our commitments to the people of Northern Ireland. That is why the Government cannot agree with the Lords amendments, which would remove what was part 5, and why I urge hon. Members to disagree with the Lords amendments and restore the critical provisions in full.
I thank the Minister for allowing me to intervene in this way. Does he welcome the comments made by the Irish Foreign Minister, Mr Coveney, who said that, essentially, all the commentary for the past three years on erecting borders on the island of Ireland was basically a game of bluff by the Irish Republic? Does he welcome the fact that it has now conceded that point?
I have not heard those words, so I will not comment on them. There has been a lot of commentary, but what is important is the reality. Northern Irish businesses want the certainty offered by this Bill and the unfettered access to the GB market.
I emphasise that the Government has been reasonable, and will continue to be reasonable, in discussions on this Bill. We have made many positive changes to the Bill and they are on the table, but the Government need to balance this with the need to deliver a Bill that provides the certainty that businesses want and need to invest and create jobs, to maintain high standards and choice for consumers while keeping prices down, to ensure that the Government can continue to continue to level up the whole of the United Kingdom and strengthen our precious Union, and, ultimately, to preserve the UK internal market that has been an engine of growth and prosperity for centuries.
Colleagues will see that there are a large number of right hon. and hon. Members who want to contribute to this debate. If we have any chance of getting them in, I will have to start with an immediate five-minute limit on Back-Bench speeches, but that may well have to go down.
It is a pleasure to be opposite the Under-Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, Paul Scully. This big Bill began its life with the Prime Minister, then the Secretary of State and now it is a pleasure to be opposite him. I must say that I have enormous respect for him, but I did feel that I was living in a parallel universe when I heard him this afternoon. This Bill has been absolutely savaged in the other place. It has been absolutely savaged not just on international law, but on devolution as well, not just by Opposition parties, not just by Cross-Benchers, not simply by the former Lord Chief Justice or the Archbishop of Canterbury, but by the heart of the Conservative party—by Lord Howard, Lord Hague, Lord Clarke, Lord Cormack, Lord Lamont, and Lord Barwell, the former chief of staff to Mrs May. Sir Edward Leigh laughs from a sedentary position. He may not consider him exactly Conservative, but he is a Conservative peer. Believe it or not, Madam Deputy Speaker, even the Duke of Wellington spoke out against this Bill. I gather that he has recently left the Conservative party—and who can blame him?—but nevertheless, he said this:
“In a single piece of proposed legislation, the Government have managed to antagonise almost everyone, including a multitude of counterparties and international public opinion.”—[Official Report, House of Lords,
Vol. 806, c. 1342.]
The Duke of Wellington is right, and given his family history around our relationship with Europe, he is in a position to know. That is why we saw the largest defeat in a generation on this Bill, including 44 Conservative peers, seven former Conservative Cabinet Ministers and many other former Ministers.
I make that point because I think we heard the beginnings of the grinding wheels of the climbdown in what the Minister was saying. After three months of posturing, undermining our reputation in the world, today, an hour before the debate begins, we perhaps see some preparations for the brakes being applied before we go over the cliff. I am not going to give the Government any credit for that, and I do not take their word for it either. The one thing that this whole sorry saga has shown the world beyond any doubt is that this Government’s word is not their bond—they cannot be trusted, because they are willing to rip up international agreements they made less than a year ago.
I was going to congratulate the right hon. Gentleman on endorsing the hereditary principle, which I did not know he was such a big supporter of. The real question I want to ask him is, what should a state do if it finds that its obligations under one treaty conflict with those under another treaty or its own constitutional law?
As Joanna Cherry says, do not sign it, but I make another point. This is an agreement that the Government signed, and as Sammy Wilson exposed, under article 16 of the protocol, there is not only a Joint Committee set up but a capacity for unilateral action in the case of social and economic disruption. He asked whether the protection will still be in place for unilateral action if these clauses go away—I can answer him, since the Minister did not: yes, they will still be in place, because they were in place all along. This has all been a completely unnecessary charade.
It is not just on international law that this Bill was savaged; it was savaged on devolution as well. This is very important, because it goes to the heart of the way we are governed as a country and the heart of our future as a country. Like the Government, the Opposition believe in our United Kingdom, but many people—including Conservatives—feel that this Bill deeply undermines devolution. Let us just listen to Lord Dunlop. For the benefit of the House, Lord Dunlop is the Government’s devolution guru—he is the guy advising the Government on devolution. He describes the Bill as
“an unnecessarily heavy-handed approach to balancing the demands of free trade within the UK with respect for the roles and responsibilities of devolved institutions.”—[Official Report, House of Lords,
Vol. 806, c. 1336.]
He also says that the Government should
“think long and hard before overturning…on the back of Conservative votes alone, any sensible changes”—[Official Report, House of Lords,
Vol. 807, c. 585.]
made to the Bill on devolution. So on devolution and international law, the Bill has been savaged.
Something has changed in Government on the Bill during the last three months. The truth is that the top brass of Government are running a million miles from the Bill, not just on international law but on devolution as well. We learned a few days ago from the very reliable Paul Waugh that the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster has some thoughts on the Bill. He wrote:
“Even some Whitehall officials were baffled why the bill was drafted in the first place.”
He went on:
“Sources tell me that Gove has been looking at ways to either amend the devolution section of the bill, or ditch it altogether. If the whole bill is quietly left”—
The hon. Gentleman says that that is completely untrue. I hope it is true, in the following sense: unless we remove the provisions in the Bill on lawbreaking and amend the provisions on devolution, we are massively undermining the Union, because as I will explain, we are departing from the principles of shared governance that we have developed over 20 years.
It is not surprising that the Government top brass are running from this Bill. Has it succeeded in improving our international standing? No—it has been calamitous, embarrassing and toxic for our international reputation. President-elect Biden, among others, is deeply concerned about the Bill. Has it succeeded in upholding and strengthening the United Kingdom, which I know Andrew Bowie supports? No, it has not—it has given a stick with which those who want to undermine the United Kingdom can beat the Government.
Has the Bill succeeded in getting the Brexit deal that the Government told us it would hasten? Remember what they said—that it would show we were standing up to the EU, show that we meant business and face them down. This is a very important day to be talking about this issue. Where is the deal then, less than a month before the end of the transition period? Where is the deal? As a country, we desperately need a deal for business, workers and our economy. It is 12 weeks since this piece of legislation had its Second Reading and still no deal has been struck. And on this of all days the Government choose to bring this Bill back to the House. Our message to the Government is simple: deliver the deal that they said was oven-ready so that business can plan, even in these short weeks. Deliver what was promised.
Let me turn to the detail of the Lords amendments from the Opposition point of view. I start by going back to the issue of the rule of law. As I said, Members across all parties in the other place worked together to defeat the Government on part 5 of the Bill. I cannot do any better than Lord Howard—I have never said that before—who said:
“I do not want” the UK
“to be an independent sovereign state that chooses as one of the first assertions of that sovereignty to break its word, to break the law and to renege on a treaty that it signed barely a year ago.”—[Official Report, House of Lords,
Vol. 806, c. 1295.]
That is not some remoaner, as I think the saying goes—it is not some person who voted remain; it is Lord Howard, a Brexiteer and the former leader of the Conservative party.
The House could instead listen to Lord Cormack, who said
“this is shameful;
there is no other word for it. I am deeply ashamed that a Conservative Government should have embarked on this course.”—[Official Report, House of Lords,
Vol. 806, c. 1301.]
I am proud to be defending the rule of law.
Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman recalls the fact that section 38 of the European Union (Withdrawal Agreement) Act 2020 was passed not only by the House of Commons—by 120 votes—but by the House of Lords itself. That contained the same principle regarding the notwithstanding arrangements specifically in relation to section 7A of the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018.
I think the hon. Gentleman and I have had this exchange before. The fact is that the reason this Bill has caused such concern—among five former Prime Ministers and all the people in the House of Lords I have mentioned—is that it will rip up a treaty that we signed. That message has been sent loud and clear around the world. As I said, there is already provision in article 16 of the protocol for unilateral action in the event of
“serious economic, societal or environmental difficulties”.
The provisions are not only wrong, then, but unnecessary.
I wish to deal with the “insurance policy” argument that has been put forward—the Minister used the term “safety net”. This legislation is not a safety net or an insurance policy; it is a trapdoor for us, and I will tell him why. Let us say that the worst happens and we fail to get a deal, and we then trigger these provisions. What then? We set off an escalating dispute with the EU, and we do not know where that dispute ends; we further alienate President-elect Biden and scupper any chances of a US trade deal; and we destabilise the politics of Northern Ireland. This is no insurance policy; it is a guarantee of the destabilisation of our country piled on to no deal—in other words, the very last thing the country needs. That is why we will vote to uphold the Lords amendments that keep part 5 out of the Bill.
Of course we all want agreement and we all want a trade deal, but what happens if relations break down? Will the right hon. Gentleman confirm that, first and foremost, the Labour party is a Unionist party that believes 100% in the economic integrity of the United Kingdom and will not act as a poodle for nationalists? Can he give me an absolute guarantee that if relations break down and we reject this Bill, we will not be in a very difficult place in terms of the economic integrity of the United Kingdom?
The right hon. Gentleman and I agree absolutely about the United Kingdom, and I am now going to come on to why I have such fear about this Bill. I fear that it is ignorant and blundering on the most important question about the way in which we share power across the United Kingdom. My fear about that and about the Bill is that it has given those who want to undermine the United Kingdom a further weapon with which to do so. That is why I want to turn to the devolution aspects of the Bill.
I particularly want to put on record my thanks to Lord Hope, former Lord President of the Court of Session and Lord Justice General, for his work on the Bill. The common frameworks are a complex issue, but it is worth spending some time explaining them. The common frameworks process—the Government deserve some credit for this—was established in 2017 to enable us to agree high standards across the United Kingdom and manage any divergence in those standards. The problem with the Bill is that there is no mention of common frameworks. Instead, it provides a blunderbuss principle that the lowest standard in one jurisdiction is the standard for all, with no voice for the devolved nations.
Take the issue of single-use plastics, which is a very concrete example. The Welsh Government want to legislate to ban the use of single-use plastics, but the problem is that the Bill as it stands enables the UK Parliament to simply come along, without discussion and without a voice for the Welsh Government, and legislate to stop them doing that. In a written answer earlier this month, they said very clearly that they believe that they will not be able to make that legislation stick. The Bill in its current form allows the UK Government simply to undercut the powers of the devolved Administrations in key devolved areas, including the use of plastics, other environmental standards, animal welfare and other consumer standards. That is very serious, because the common frameworks are a way in which we can both secure high standards—this is the intention of Lord Hope—and manage divergence when it occurs across the United Kingdom.
The right hon. Gentleman is making a very valid point. Does he agree that the problem with the Bill is that it enables the British Government, through its control of the UK Parliament, to become like a boa constrictor around the devolved Parliaments, restricting their ability to act in the policy fields for which they have responsibility?
However we describe it, I do not believe that the Bill properly respects the principles of devolution. These are principles that we have developed in a very British way, in a sense, over the past 20 years or so. The principles of devolution are, I think, principles that it is crucial that we uphold. I ask the Minister to think again. He should think again, and should agree to Lord Hope’s amendments, which put the common frameworks into the Bill. It makes no sense that the Governments of the four nations have spent three years working on the common frameworks only for them to make no appearance in the Bill.
Then we have a related issue, which is that in the absence of legislation for the common frameworks—the Minister mentioned this—amendment 12 seeks a wider set of exclusions for market access principles. The reason for that is very simple. In the absence of common frameworks, the market access principles apply with very narrow exclusions—on human, animal and plant health, I think—so if the Government are not willing to agree on the common frameworks, another way forward would be to have broader exclusions that allowed the devolved nations to uphold their powers. This is very important. It is about whether powers that have been devolved over 20 years are effective or ineffective, and whether this Parliament can simply override them without a voice for the devolved nations. These are deeply serious issues, and I think that their importance is recognised by Conservatives such as Lord Dunlop.
Let us be absolutely clear what will happen if the old version of the Bill is restored and passed into law—this is a sort of prediction, but I am afraid that this is what will happen: this is a recipe for a constitutional punch-up within a very short period of the Bill’s becoming law. Frankly, if that does not happen naturally, it will be provoked by those who wish to have the punch-up. The Government will find themselves accused, rightly, of undermining the devolution settlement, and it would be a disaster for those who believe in the United Kingdom—and I think that includes the Government. The most generous interpretation is that the Government have been cavalier and have blundered into this. [Interruption.] Yes, that may be too generous. I hope that they will put it right.
It is also in the spirit of shared governance that we have concerns about the provisions on spending and state aid, which relate to Lord Thomas’s amendments 48 and 49. A key pillar of devolution in the last 20 years has been the right of devolved areas to set their own priorities. The Bill as it was when it went to the Lords gave incredibly wide—huge—powers to Ministers. Let me read out the list for the House: economic development; sports and cultural activities; projects and events infrastructure; education and training infrastructure; and capital investment in water, electricity, gas, telecommunications, sewerage, railways, roads, transport, health, prisons, courts and housing. It gave incredibly wide and overriding powers in devolved areas. Yes, the Government say that this is about the shared prosperity fund, but there have been no details about how these powers are going to be exercised.
There has been no consultation. The consultation apparently ended—I do not know—12 months ago or so. We do not know what this shared prosperity fund is going to look like. There has not been proper consultation with the devolved nations on it. There is a really important point here for the House. “Take back control” was an effective slogan, I think we can agree, though I did not support the cause, but I think voters throughout the United Kingdom—in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland—will worry that taking back control is starting to look like taking back control to the Westminster Parliament. That is an issue not just in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, but in England as well. How these funds work and whether it all gets decided from the centre is a really key point.
On that point, the national infrastructure strategy has just been published, and under the heading,
“changing how decisions are taken”,
“Increasing the UK government’s ability to invest directly in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland through the UK Internal Market Bill”.
Does that not just smack of, “We’ll spend the money and we’ll make the decisions, and it won’t be collaborative at all.”?
I think there is a very legitimate anxiety, which I hope the Minister will reflect on. Again, it was expressed in the Lords. Yes, the Government were defeated in the Lords—all Governments get defeated in the Lords at some point—but we are talking about unprecedented margins, because of the depth and breadth of concern among their lordships about the Bill, including on devolution. In a sense, because the Bill went through so quickly here, there was less time for us to discuss the devolution issues, and the focus was more on international law, but there is deep concern about this.
It is the same on state aid. We support a UK-wide state aid regime, but once again there was no mechanism in the Bill to engage with the devolved nations on setting out this regime. Again, the best that can be said is that maybe the Government have blundered in; the worst would be that they simply do not believe in giving power away when it comes to it in practice; they believe in holding it here. We cannot overestimate the seriousness of this collection of devolution issues. I believe deeply in the United Kingdom; the way we uphold it is by upholding the settlements of the last 20 years, and recognising that commitment to shared governance, but that is not what this Bill does.
I make this point very genuinely. Fidelity to devolution is now being expressed from the Dispatch Box, but Members from Northern Ireland and the Northern Ireland Assembly ask: where that was six, eight or 12 months ago? The Labour party was prepared to ride roughshod over the views of the people of Northern Ireland on the issue of abortion, and to impose laws on Northern Ireland that are there forever, even though the Northern Ireland Assembly has a completely different view from this House on those matters. This fidelity to devolution rings very hollow tonight in many houses in Northern Ireland.
The hon. Gentleman and I have known each other a long time, and if one looks at the record of Labour Members on the devolution settlement, and at everything that has happened over the past 20 years, I think we have absolutely shown fidelity to that devolution settlement in what we have done. [Interruption.] I will conclude because lots of Members wish to speak.
This not just a technical discussion about the Lords amendments; it is about a much deeper set of issues to do with what kind of country we want to be. We must be a country that is confident of our place in the world, and in working with others on the basis of shared democratic principles. We must be a country that stands up for the rule of law, and that recognises that we will be better governed if we share and devolve power, and do not hoard it at Westminster. The Bill achieves none of those things. Indeed, it undermines them. I am afraid that is a mark of cavalier government—cavalier with our international standing, cavalier with the law, and cavalier with the United Kingdom. Labour Members will fight for the values that our country needs, and I hope that as the Bill proceeds back—and, I suspect, forth—from the other place, the Government will listen and work with us in the national interest.
When I read the account of proceedings in the House of Lords, I found that the Lords were very strong on assertion, but empty when it came to the question of argument. I found that rather disturbing, because, after all, they have potential power under the Parliament Acts. I also appreciate that, towards the end of the proceedings, in reference to the powers in part 5 of the Bill, and the clauses under discussion regarding “notwithstanding”, Lord Judge said:
“‘We may need these powers at some stage’. Maybe we will;
I hope not.”
He then said that it would be
“open to the Government to come back to us, to Parliament, to put before us emergency legislation.” —[Official Report, House of Lords,
Vol. 806, c. 1431.]
The circumstances that we face could not be more important and relevant, and my view is that what he said effectively conceded the principle.
I was going to make exactly that point. Lord Judge, very respected as he is, basically conceded the principle that we might need “notwithstanding” provisions to overturn the provisions in the withdrawal agreement. We are not talking about the principle anymore; we are just talking about when it would be appropriate to introduce the provisions. They might as well be introduced now with the parliamentary safeguard that the Government have conceded.
More or less the same took place in my exchanges with my hon. Friend Sir Robert Neill, who said very much the same. There is a threshold beyond which it would be necessary for us to take such action. Without going into the detail, I just wanted to put those two things on the record.
The issue is, and basically always has been, about parliamentary sovereignty. In the UK context, this is an internal law of fundamental importance, as expressed in article 46 of the Vienna Convention. It is by virtue of parliamentary sovereignty that we have taken the line that we have. I certainly have taken that line on many occasions, including in my proposal for section 38 of the European Union (Withdrawal Agreement) Act 2020, which I referred to earlier, and which has the whole concept of “notwithstanding” built into it. Section 7A of that Act also deals with direct effect. Given that the Act was passed with a large majority in the House of Commons, and then passed again in the House of Lords without any dissent of any description, I find it quite extraordinary that this has been turned into a matter of such fundamental anxiety, without any supporting argument that I have ever seen.
When I read the debates, I found there was a great deal of posturing going on. I understand the emotional concern of some people who are quite incapable of accepting that we have lawfully left the European Union; that a series of enactments were passed by both Houses; and that, on top of that, we had a general election—not to mention that under the Salisbury-Addison convention, it would be inconceivable, in the context of a general election manifesto, for the Lords to take a stand against these clauses if the House of Commons passed them again tonight, and perhaps again on another occasion.
Why do I say all this about constitutional and international law? I will deal with that very briefly. First, in my judgment, the European Union has breached article 184 of the withdrawal agreement, which is about negotiating in good faith. It has manifestly multiplied that fault over the past few days by refusing to accept the manner in which the negotiations have been conducted so far. There is also the question of its demand to retain power over crucial aspects of our sovereignty—both economic and relating to our national interest—as a precondition to concessions on trade.
The EU has also, in my judgment, breached article 184 on the basis of the recognition, as it puts it, of our internal market. I believe in the basic principle that one party to a treaty cannot obtain from the other the execution of its obligations if it does not respect its own commitments. If the EU continues to act as it has done in the negotiations, particularly over the past few days, the United Kingdom would be entitled to terminate the withdrawal agreement on the basis of the EU’s breach of article 184.
Lastly, as I said in Committee and on Report, there is a long list of occasions when Conservatives, Labour and Lib Dems, as part of the coalition, have agreed to override treaties. There are not just one or two quite explicit examples, but hosts of them. In infinite Finance Bills and Independence Acts, and in relation to prisoner voting and various other things, there have been quite clear and deliberate overrides of treaties. The EU, as well as the EU member states, frequently violates international law; the Western Sahara case, the defiance of security council rulings, and breaking the Lisbon treaty are a few examples.
Indeed, in conclusion, the EU grants supremacy to its own constitutional principles when they are in conflict with international law. In the Kadi case, the European Court stated:
“The obligations imposed by an international agreement cannot have the effect of prejudicing the constitutional principles of the…Treaty”.
So there it is. I say again that I strongly support the Government’s position, and reject the amendments by the House of Lords.
In. Out. Reinstate? As Edward Miliband has pointed out, the Prime Minister and the Secretary of State have dropped this, and it is left to the Minister to hold Dominic Cummings’s baby, and to front this up in Parliament. I almost feel sorry for him, but then I remember that both the Treasury solicitor and the Advocate General for Scotland have already resigned over this, because it is such a terrible move by the Government.
The House of Lords, as we have heard, has rightly carved up this disastrous, petty, grubby, law-breaking, power-grabbing Tory Bill—and after the announcement made just an hour before we came in here tonight, we can add “shambolic” to that as well. We welcome the Lords’ removing a number of threats to devolution from the Bill. We already know that the Tories hate devolution, as the Prime Minister has made clear.
Clause 42 authorises the UK Government to spend on devolved areas. The UK Government intend to use clause 42 for the purpose of a shared prosperity fund. However, as we have heard, we have yet to see details of that. I personally have been asking about it since 2017, yet we have heard nothing on it. As we have heard, we have also yet to see any sign of the long-promised consultation. It has been repeated over and over that there will be a consultation, but we have not seen it. Lord Thomas confirmed in the other place:
“It is therefore plain that the purpose of Clause 42 is to cut across the powers of the devolved Governments to provide financial assistance in areas such as economic development and commercial activities”.—[Official Report, House of Lords,
Vol. 808, c. 276.]
That takes away a power from the Scottish Parliament. Baroness Finlay said that
“Clause 42 would enable the Government to work around, rather than work with, the devolved Governments”.—[Official Report, House of Lords,
Vol. 808, c. 280.]
The hon. Gentleman may disagree with the right of the UK Government to intervene financially on all the areas that have been specified, but he cannot say that this amounts to us taking away a power from the Scottish Parliament, because that is fundamentally untrue, and he is in fact misleading the House when he does so. [Hon. Members: “Withdraw.”]
Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker. I could have come back with a different response, but I appreciate you intervening.
The hon. Gentleman tries to say that this is not a power grab—not taking back powers from the Scottish Parliament. What I am quoting is not SNP folks saying this, and not even the Scottish Government—it is other people, as we have heard from around the different parties, including his own, right across the nations of the UK, and across the world. What he says really does not hold any water.
“unashamedly, the Government want to use this legislation to alter the devolution settlements…They are trying to make state aid a reserved matter by the device of expanding or extending the competition policy reservation.”—[Official Report, House of Lords,
Vol. 808, c. 317.]
Lord German confirmed:
“Blunting and reducing the power of the devolved authorities is deemed to be a price worth paying so that the UK Government alone can determine the route they wish to follow in directing the new regime. Yet we do not know what this regime will look like.”—[Official Report, House of Lords,
Vol. 808, c. 319.]
Leading for the Government in the Lords, Lord Callanan confessed that
“Clause 44 reserves to the UK Parliament the exclusive ability to legislate for a UK-wide subsidy control regime.”—[Official Report, House of Lords,
Vol. 808, c. 325.]
I can tell the House that the SNP will not accept this brazen power grab. State aid must remain a devolved competence.
Lords Amendment 11 means that devolved Governments must either give their consent to regulations within a month, or the Government could continue but would have to explain to Parliament why they were proceeding without agreement. Lord Bruce noted that it
“takes the need for consultation but adds to it by saying that there must be a requirement to secure consent.”
That is absolutely what is required. He went on to say:
“That draws on the common frameworks principles, which suggest that every sinew should be bent to secure consent.”—[Official Report, House of Lords,
Vol. 808, c. 50.]
I stress: not consultation but consent.
On Lords amendment 57, Lord Thomas noted that
“the composition of the CMA should now reflect its different position and role under this Bill...it is critical that it commands the confidence of all the people of all the nations of the United Kingdom and therefore that it has representations from them.”—[Official Report, House of Lords,
Vol. 808, c. 103.]
Lords amendment 1 seeks to protect the role of the common frameworks from the Bill. When moving his amendment on Report, Lord Hope summarised:
“Not only does the Bill ignore the common frameworks process but it destroys one of the key elements in that process that brought the devolved Administrations into it in the first place: it destroys policy divergence. It destroys those Administrations’
ability through that process to serve the interests of their own people, and to innovate.”—[Official Report, House of Lords,
Vol. 807, c. 1432.]
Baroness Finlay warned that the Bill
“is not based on warm support for devolution but rather on hot resentment of the fact that the devolved Governments and legislatures can innovate at speed and take their populations with them.”—[Official Report, House of Lords,
Vol. 807, c. 1434.]
That is something that this Government cannot do.
Lords amendment 8 removes sweeping Henry VIII powers that allow the Minister to alter the definition of key requirements for the Bill and in each case rewrite those principles substantially in secondary legislation. In the Lords proceedings, the Government accepted the argument and removed the Henry VIII powers from clause 3, but refused to remove them from clause 6. Under clause 6, the Secretary of State can act without the need to introduce new primary legislation or to obtain the consent of the devolved Governments, taking power away from them. As I have said before, the UK Government’s offer to consult is meaningless. “Consult” is not the same as consent, which is what is required.
The truth is that the Bill is an absolute abomination and drives a Trojan horse through the devolution settlement, but my hon. Friend is right to put his finger on that very issue. Brexit was supposed to be about Parliament taking back control. How does he reconcile the idea that Parliament is taking back control with granting these sweeping Henry VIII powers to the United Kingdom Government?
Indeed, it is the UK Government who are seeking to take back control from Scotland, and from Wales, with the Bill, which is a clear and utter power grab.
I am extremely grateful to the hon. Member for his forensic analysis of the British Government’s tactics in relation to the Bill. Essentially, the British Government are hollowing out devolution as the middle ground in the constitutional debate in Wales and Scotland. For the people of Wales and Scotland, the choice becomes independence or direct Westminster rule.
The hon. Member is absolutely right. It is no surprise that in Scotland we have now had 15 opinion polls in a row that show that a majority of people support independence. That has not happened overnight; that has happened because they have been watching what has been happening here, and have seen the contempt with which Scotland and Wales’s Parliaments have been treated. The result is the growing demand for us to protect our Parliament in that way.
When it comes to devolution, the Tories used to wear a mask to hide their contempt, but the Bill, and recent comments from the Prime Minister and the Leader of the House, have ripped it away once and for all. The Prime Minister recently told his MPs that devolution was a disaster and Tony Blair’s biggest mistake—the latest in a long line of statements that he has made to show his distaste. We all remember him saying that
“a pound spent in Croydon is far more of value to the country…than a pound spent in Strathclyde.”
The Leader of the House has called devolution a failure and is arrogantly dismissing it, while the Scottish social attitudes survey shows that only 7% of the Scottish people do not support devolution. As I have said, the Bill is an orchestrated attempt by this Tory Government to re-centralise powers.
I thank the hon. Member for giving way to me for a second time. I simply cannot sit here and listen to him describe this party and this Government’s position on devolution in the way that he is. Under the Calman commission and the Scotland Act 2016, we have devolved more powers to Scotland than any Government in the history of devolution. We have created police and crime commissioners across England and Wales. We have devolved power to our greater cities and regions across England and Wales. Next year we will publish our devolution White Paper. To stand there and say that the Government do not respect or believe in devolution is simply baloney.
This is the man who said:
“The UK Government is back in Scotland. Get used to it.”
We have seen the Tories for an awful long time. In Scotland, we have not voted Tory since 1959, I think. [Interruption.] Sorry, 1951. That is how long the Scottish people have seen what the Tories are at. We do not want a Tory Government making decisions for people in Scotland. That is why the vast majority of Scottish people voted, with a settled will, to have their own Parliament, and all polls and the social attitudes survey show that, more and more, they support not only devolution but independence.
The Government want to drive a wrecking ball through the devolved settlements. That is reflected by the fact that this Bill, as we have heard, has been ripped apart in the House of Lords. On the shared prosperity fund, it said:
“The Government should explain why such a broad power for the UK Government to spend money in devolved territories has been included in this Bill.”
It also said that the delegated powers in the Bill are “extraordinary” and “unprecedented”,
“and many of them are constitutionally unacceptable.”
Of course, we know from experience what happens when UK Ministers have control of spending. The former Tory Prime Minister John Major took much-needed cash from the highlands and redirected it to Tory marginal seats that were under pressure in the south-east of England. Decades on, nothing has changed. As we know from the pork barrel scandal whereby the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government directed funding to 61 towns that were key to the Tories gaining or retaining seats in the general election, priorities for Scotland will mean little or nothing to the Tories—probably the latter—unless they see some political advantage. Their naked intention to break devolution and break the law has been condemned across the world and even from their own Benches.
This Bill is not worthy of this or any other Parliament. Outside of Tory Government circles, it has been rightly and absolutely panned. Catherine Barnard, professor of European law at Cambridge University, said
“This is a remarkable piece of legislation and it expressly contravenes our international legal obligations to a point that the legislation itself says this is the intention”.
“It is an obvious breach of international law.”
“The rule of law is not negotiable.”
Perhaps most tellingly, George Peretz, QC, tweeted:
“But it is hard to think of a better argument for Scottish independence than a UK government that is prepared to use Westminster’s unconstrained sovereignty to override a binding treaty commitment it entered into less than 12 months ago.”
Former Tory Prime Ministers, including a Member still sitting in this House, have savaged this shoddy piece of legislation. From their own Benches, the Government have been told that
“a willingness to break international law sits ill for a country that has always prided itself on upholding the rule of law.”
They have also been told by their own Members that it is an act of bad faith and that the rule of law is not negotiable.
The Bill has also been condemned in the United States. This is a Government who are really good at negotiating no deals, and it looks like they are about to negotiate another one with the US. Nancy Pelosi, the Speaker of the US House of Representatives, said:
“The U.K. must respect the Northern Ireland Protocol as signed with the EU to ensure the free flow of goods across the border.
“If the U.K. violates that international treaty and Brexit undermines the Good Friday accord, there will be absolutely no chance of a U.S.-U.K. trade agreement passing the Congress.”
We have also heard comments from the Taoiseach and others across the European Union. In America, Antony Blinken, the chief foreign policy adviser to Joe Biden, said that Joe Biden
“is committed to preserving the hard-earned peace &
stability in Northern Ireland. As the UK and EU work out their relationship, any arrangements must protect the Good Friday Agreement and prevent the return of a hard border.”
I am glad that the hon. Member is so supportive of the Belfast agreement, but would he accept that the Belfast agreement was all about ensuring that Northern Ireland stays within the United Kingdom as long as the people of Northern Ireland wish that to be the case, and a border between Northern Ireland and the rest of the United Kingdom, as is in this protocol, certainly does not protect the Belfast agreement and therefore does not even meet the criteria he has set himself?
Indeed, it should be the right of people living in any country to determine their own future, and he is right: if the people of Northern Ireland choose a different path, they should be respected, as should be the case for those in Wales and Scotland as well.
I will start to wind up my comments now, Madam Deputy Speaker. I could go on for much more time, but I know that you have packed Benches of Members waiting to come in. I was just about to talk about Joe Biden. He said:
“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 U.S. and U.K. must be contingent upon respect for the Agreement and preventing the return of a hard border. Period.”
That is what he said.
This Bill continues to facilitate a race to the bottom on standards, threatens our quality food and drink, opens the door to genetically-modified beef and chlorinated chicken, among other products, and opens the door to privatisation of our water and our NHS. As I have pointed out, the House of Lords has rightly carved up this disastrous, petty, grubby, law-breaking, power-grabbing, messy Tory Bill. Its amendments must be respected and agreed. The Scottish Government have always engaged willingly to take forward the common frameworks progress this devolution-wrecking—
The hon. Member says “Rubbish”, but he knows that is not the case. We understand that the Tories have a very casual relationship with the truth, but we expect them to at least have a one-night stand with it.
This Bill confirms the contempt that the Prime Minister and his Government have for devolution. People in Scotland see this clearly. As I have said, 15 polls in a row are showing that independence is the only way to save our Parliament’s powers and the voice of the Scottish people, and as the Defence Secretary confirmed earlier, we can have that discussion in the referendum that is coming.
When I voted to leave the European Union, it was not primarily over concerns with immigration or concerns about how we would divvy up the money that came back from the contributions we would not be making to the European Union; it was entirely as a constitutional lever. I believe in the principle that the people who live under the law should have the right to choose the people who make the law. Incidentally, that also shapes my views on how the House of Lords should be reformed. However, that principle could not survive as soon as we had the direct application of EU law and the use of the ECJ. Therefore, for me that meant that there was only one choice, which was to leave the EU. I explained that to an American audience by saying that, if in the United States there was a court in Ottawa or Mexico City that could override the US Supreme Court and there was nothing legislators could do in the US, how would they like it? They said, “Absolutely, we would never ever accept it.” That, for me, is the key principle.
When I first heard of this internal market Bill, I was at the World Trade Organisation in Geneva and, frankly, I was shocked to hear that the Government were intending to break international law. That was until I came back and looked at the provisions themselves, and found out that nothing whatsoever was actually being broken in this Bill. In fact, nothing was actually being done in this Bill, other than setting out a set of contingency measures, which is of course a well-accepted legal principle.
There has been virtually no discussion during this entire debate about the fact that this is a safety net, which we hope will never be used. If we are on the high wire—and when we are dealing with the EU, we are on the high wire—we may not want to use a safety net, but it does no harm to have one.
I entirely agree. I have used the analogy myself that this is a lifeboat that we hope we never have to launch. We hope the ship will never go down because we will reach a trade agreement, and we should reach a trade agreement because, as I said earlier in the House, there has never been a trade agreement that has begun with the two parties in complete identity of trade law, of tariffs and of regulation. It should be, if it was only about trade, an easy agreement to reach, but it is not just about trade. The main stumbling blocks are constitutional—the very constitutional issues that made me want to vote to leave the European Union in the first place.
There are those who have said that this Bill is outrageous and that it sets new precedents, but in fact it says only that, under certain circumstances, domestic law might have to be used to overrule treaty law. Is it revolutionary? Is it unprecedented? Well, on
“Treaty overrides by national statutory law are permissible under” the German constitution. It added:
“Under the system of the Basic Law, international treaties have the same rank as statutory federal law. Therefore, they can be superseded by later federal statutes that contradict them.”
That is merely the power that the United Kingdom Government are seeking to use as a contingency power, should they need it, yet nobody screams about the German Parliament being able to exercise an identical power.
In the short time that I have, I want to make a couple of comments about the value of free trade in the internal market to the Union itself. The 1707 articles of Union between England and Scotland, and those between Great Britain and Ireland in 1800, abolished all customs duties between the different parts of the United Kingdom. Free trade across the whole of the United Kingdom was not only integral to the development of the whole of the United Kingdom from the industrial revolution on, but it was particularly important to Scotland and Ireland, whose citizens could freely trade with the much bigger English market—something that exists today. That point was made very well by Sammy Wilson earlier in this debate.
It is easy, given how successful it has been, to forget how important that single market is, and how easily it could be damaged and what the what the implications would be if it were interfered with or restricted. Of course, that is why Patrick Grady—I am sorry that he has left his place—was unwilling to engage in debate with me last week when I asked what estimates had been made by the Scottish nationalists of the break-up of the UK internal market in terms of the Scottish economy. He said, “We will come and make those arguments in due course,” because they do not want to hear those arguments aired in front of the Scottish people at the present time.
The devolved legislatures were created after the UK joined the European Community and then the European Union. Because the single market rules apply to regional Governments and legislatures as well as central Governments of member states, there was no pressing need during our membership of the European Union for specific UK-based rules maintaining the UK internal market against fragmentation. Brexit changes all that, and that is why I believe that we should reject the Lords amendments tonight.
However, in supporting the Government, I just ask this one question: when did the Government’s legal advisers advise Ministers that the withdrawal Act indeed, by direct application, threatened the internal market of the United Kingdom? It was not something that I heard discussed at the time, but I would like to know the answer to that question, as would many of us who are supporting the Government tonight and who believe that what we are seeing is proportionate contingency planning, fulfilling the duty of the maintenance of the UK internal market, the key part of the United Kingdom itself.
Who would have thought that we would be here on
Anyway, the truth about this Bill is out. The offending clauses are nothing more and nothing less than a piece of negotiating leverage, which we now know will be dropped the moment a satisfactory resolution is found to the questions that the Joint Committee is properly considering. That was confirmed in the Prime Minister’s statement this afternoon.
The Prime Minister’s dilemma with this Bill and, indeed, with the talks is best explained in this way. Four and a bit years ago, he famously decided to publish the second of two articles that he had written about Brexit. One of them was for leaving the EU, and the other was against. When he made that decision, he climbed on the back of what I would describe as the Brexit tiger. It has taken him on quite a journey—it has taken him through the door of 10 Downing Street, which I am sure was his hope, but there is just one problem: it is not entirely clear he knows how to get off the tiger in order to secure a deal. He is the prisoner of the fateful decision that he made.
It is not that he was not aware of the consequences, because thanks to Tim Shipman, we now know what he wrote in the other article, which was not published. He said:
“Almost everyone expects there to be some sort of economic shock as a result of a Brexit. How big would it be?”
Well, we know the answer, because the Government have done their own economic assessment, and we saw what the Office for Budget Responsibility reported a couple of weeks ago: the economy is hit either way, but it is much worse if no agreement is reached.
The question now for the House and for the negotiators is, how do we get out of this? It is clearly not by the clauses that the Government are seeking to put back in the Bill. One of the reasons why the Government are having so much trouble with the level playing field negotiations is the existence of those clauses. Let us think about this for a moment. Why do Ministers think that the EU negotiators are so keen to tie down commitments that both sides will be asked to give in the negotiations? It is for the very simple reason, as my right hon. Friend Edward Miliband made clear in another brilliant speech, that we have shown that we are not to be trusted to keep our word. If a country is in the process of negotiating a new international treaty, it does not do wonders for its credibility if it is busy preparing to tear up part of the previous treaty that it negotiated with the same partners and signed just over a year ago.
The other issue is sovereignty, about which we have heard an enormous amount today. If sovereignty is absolute, and if we were to take it to its logical and absurd conclusion, for example, why should we be negotiating on fish at all? Would not giving any of “our fish”, as some people describe it, be a betrayal? If sovereignty is absolute, what are we doing in the World Trade Organisation? As Dr Fox knows only too well, the WTO has a dispute resolution body that gives other countries, if they win a case against the UK, the ability to impose countervailing measures upon us, including tariffs. How could that be acceptable to a sovereign country that claims complete sovereign control? The truth, of course, is that sovereignty is not absolute. It is what we choose to do with it that matters, and we cannot avoid that choice. We cannot avoid that choice in these negotiations, because the only way out of this mess, in the interests of the country, is for both sets of negotiators to grasp the heavy responsibility that they have at this moment to make the choices that will secure the deal that the country desperately needs.
In conclusion, since German car makers, as was once rather fancifully suggested, are not going to turn up late in the day to rescue the negotiations, a bit like Blücher at Waterloo, we have to save ourselves. That is what we have to do at this point. Whatever the bluster, I simply say to those on the Front Bench that the country will not forgive this Government if they impose no deal upon us.
It is always an enormous pleasure to follow Hilary Benn. For decades, the EU was a train that we had to stay on, and now Brexit is a tiger that we have to get off. There is not time to re-engage in the old arguments about sovereignty, but it was very telling that he thought the importance of sovereignty was what a country chooses to do with it, not what it is imposed with. There is no international organisation of which we are a member in the world that is like the EU, which imposes its will on us through our own laws and courts; every other international body—such as the WTO, to which the right hon. Gentleman referred—is a voluntary association governed by international law, which is a completely different matter.
The other place has excelled itself in revising the Bill. Is it a revising Chamber, or has it become an opposition Chamber? Much attention has been concentrated on part 5 of the Bill, but I wish to talk briefly about the devolution aspects. I say to Drew Hendry that there is only one party in this Parliament that wants to take a wrecking ball to the devolution settlement, and it is the SNP. Every other party wants devolution to work. The other difference between the hon. Gentleman and me is that I opposed devolution in the 1997 referendum, but since then I have been a supporter of devolution because I accept the results of referendums. The hon. Gentleman accepts neither the referendum on Brexit nor the 2014 independence referendum. That is the difference between him and me: I am a democrat and he is something else. It is time that we called a spade a spade.
I have some sympathy for those who believe that the Bill is somewhat unfinished as we vote on it and send it back to the other place. We want better devolution arrangements. When I presided over the Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee, which I no longer chair, we produced several reports on how to ensure a more stable and productive devolution settlement, which is not represented by what the House of Lords has sent us in this Bill. For example, the Lords have taken out clause 8(7) and thereby removed the Government’s power to make regulations, but the new subsection (7) requires the Government to consult the devolved Governments about the regulations under “Subsection Removed”—as it says—and the Lords have obliged the Government to obtain consent from the devolved Governments for such regulations. There has to be some understanding that consultation is good, but the veto of one part of the United Kingdom over another part of the United Kingdom makes the settlement unworkable. Of course, that is what the SNP wants—it does not want a workable settlement.
I am struck by Lords amendment 60, which I think contains the seeds of a better method of operation. It talks about appointment to the Office for the Internal Market panel and suggests:
“Sub-paragraph (2C) applies if consent to an appointment is not given by any of those authorities within the period of one month beginning with the day on which it is sought from that authority.”
It also says that the Secretary of State may in the end make that appointment, but has to give reasons as to why they do not accept the views of the devolved authorities. We need new methods of consulting with each other and they need to be inter-parliamentary methods as much as intergovernmental methods. Those inter-parliamentary methods should scrutinise the decisions that are being made on behalf of the whole of the United Kingdom that affect the devolved Governments and Parliaments. That is where the development needs to be, with rather less hysteria and hyperbole. For the official Opposition to protest that we should uphold the principles of devolution and say, “I love the United Kingdom,” and then whip up the fury about this Bill is just to feed the nationalist beast. It is about time they stopped doing it.
As Sir Bernard Jenkin pointed out, one of the most important principles of the United Kingdom is to have a common market and trade between the different parts—that is where the prosperity that attracts people to be part of the United Kingdom comes from. My view, which I have expressed in the House many times, is that the withdrawal agreement undermines the United Kingdom’s economic integrity as well as of course undermining its constitutional integrity, because as a result of the withdrawal agreement part of the United Kingdom will now have its laws made in Brussels and not in London or, indeed, in Belfast. That is why I believe this internal market Bill is so important. First, it ensures that standards within the UK internal market are maintained and that each part of the United Kingdom, for maybe very selfish, very parochial and even very temporary reasons, may want to make differences in its laws, regulations and standards, and, in doing so, damage not only the internal market but their own markets as well.
When it comes to the controversial clauses, I believe that the Lords have done a great disservice to Northern Ireland. I believe, as someone has already pointed out, that they are strong on assertions but very poor on arguments. The withdrawal agreement, while it promises unfettered access, while it promises that Northern Ireland will remain part of the UK customs territory, while it promises that the integrity of the United Kingdom will be maintained, in reality means that we will finish up with a plethora of trade barriers. We will finish up with laws made that are different from the laws in the rest of the United Kingdom. We will finish up with Northern Ireland being part of the EU single market, rather than the UK internal market.
Does the withdrawal Act that has been put forward or the Northern Ireland protocol included in this Bill not send the message to those who are from the Unionist community, “Your views do not matter, but appease those who are nationalist and republican, and who are only interested in their links with the Irish Republic. Europe has done us a disserve in not giving us free access to both the Republic of Ireland and the UK, and forget about the links we have with the United Kingdom”? That seems to be the message they are sending.
Any agreement that means laws can no longer be made in the United Kingdom, and puts economic barriers between ourselves and our main market, is bound to be a change in the position of Northern Ireland that is totally contrary to the Good Friday agreement, which requires consent.
Some have argued that the Bill puts a safety net in place and that some of the aspects—only some of the aspects; I have to make that very clear—of the withdrawal agreement which could damage the Northern Ireland economy can be countered through the measures in the Bill. That, by the way, is totally in line with the withdrawal agreement itself, which allows the UK Government to act unilaterally where there is economic or societal damage done by the withdrawal agreement. Edward Miliband said, “Well, there you are. You’ve got your assurance in the withdrawal agreement.” But all the withdrawal agreement states is that the Government will have the right to act unilaterally. They must have the means to act unilaterally. The provision in this Bill gives them the means to act unilaterally. Ministers, notwithstanding what is in the agreement, can make new regulations and new laws that protect the Northern Ireland economy and the Northern Ireland market. That is why it is so essential to have these provisions.
What disappoints me is that we now have the Prime Minister today saying, “By the way, once we have a negotiated settlement and the work of the Joint Committee, then we can withdraw this.” That fails to recognise the nature of what we have entered into. The safety net is there not just for a one-off event, but because we will be continually walking the withdrawal agreement tightrope. Northern Ireland is still going to be subject to the rules of the internal market. Indeed, the withdrawal agreement makes it quite clear that the work of the Joint Committee will go on and on. At any stage, EU officials could demand that checks be placed in Northern Ireland and that UK officials would have to adhere to that. If those demands become unreasonable, we will then need a safety net. If we need a safety net, we do not need it until these negotiations are over. We need it while any part of the withdrawal agreement and the Northern Ireland protocol is in place.
I would therefore like an assurance from the Minister that if the Government intend to withdraw the safety net—if negotiations turn out fine this week—what protection will there be for Northern Ireland from the depredations of the withdrawal agreement in the future? That is important. I believe that this Bill is essential. The Government owe it Northern Ireland, having signed a disastrous agreement this time last year. If the integrity of the UK is to be maintained, the provisions in this Bill and, indeed, other provisions will be necessary.
It is a pleasure to follow Sammy Wilson, although I fear that I cannot agree with him on one point. I understand the point of view of those who voted against the withdrawal agreement that they can attack what they regard as its inadequacy. I voted for the withdrawal agreement, as did pretty much everyone else on the Government Benches, and I take the view that one should not deviate or depart from it, save under the most exceptional and pressing circumstances. At the end of the day, despite a great deal of debate, that is pretty much where we have ended up. I would not be comfortable about doing so were it ever necessary. I would not find it attractive. Sometimes, though, events occur in the nature of international negotiations that may render it necessary.
The Government having reflected, as I am glad they did in the Bill’s passage through this House and added the parliamentary lock to clause 56, there is a proportionate means of dealing with such an unwelcome eventuality should it arise. It is not something that we should look to. It is not something that we should desire and it is not something that we should make easy either. It is something that should be done only if a high bar of evidence is met and if this sovereign Parliament—to use a phrase that has been much used—is itself satisfied of that. That is reasonable. It is also not inconsistent with the international law approach under article 46 of the Vienna convention where it is possible, in limited but urgent circumstances, to deviate from an international rule of law if it is necessary to maintain the fundamental internal rule of law of the state. This is not something that has been dreamed up without sound legal foundation, which is why, while I am normally most reluctant to disagree respectfully with two former Lord Chief Justices, Lord Judge and Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd, both of whom I regard as friends and admire greatly, I do take the view that they take a more restrictive approach than is necessary in this case.
To take a contingent power is not of itself a breach of international law, or of itself a breach of good faith. If that were used disproportionately, or without the sort of checks and balances and proper lock that we have now adopted, I can see that that would be the case. I do not believe that the taking of the power, which has not yet been brought into force and would not be without certain hurdles having been met, itself offends against the principle of the rule of law with every respect. Indeed, I hope that, in that respect, we have managed at all times to adhere to the rule of law. That is why, I am pleased to say, the Government intend to reinstate the parliamentary lock, which was removed by their Lordships as well as those clauses that they found offensive. That was perhaps surprising. I say charitably to my hon. Friend Sir Bernard Jenkin that it was perhaps seen as consequential and inevitable if we removed the commencement part of part 5, to be kind.
The reality is that, because the Government have committed to, and reaffirmed today that they are committed to, restoring the parliamentary lock and gone further and indicated that, in subsequent related pieces of legislation, they will adopt the same approach, that does show an internal consistency, a logic, in what is being done. The situation makes me, as somebody who was a lawyer before I came here, and will, I suspect, still regard myself after I have left here, not happy but satisfied that the proper tests have been met in these exceptional circumstances. That is why I am content to support the Government in these motions to disagree tonight, but with the very profound hope that this is never necessary, that we never come anywhere near this, and that the Prime Minister is able to achieve a deal. If he does come up with a deal, he will have my wholehearted support, and the support of many others with a like view, because that is by far the best outcome for the whole country, for the Union and for business.
At the end of the day, I do not think that the clauses that the Lords sought to remove actually offend against propriety and, for that reason, I am prepared to support the Government tonight. They have shown willingness to be pragmatic, to make compromises and to listen. That should be something that one should applaud. I hope therefore that we will be able to return the Bill to their lordships so they can perhaps reflect that it is not necessary for them to insist upon their amendments.
It is a pleasure to follow Sir Robert Neill. I feel that if anybody has a chance in this place of persuading the vast ranks of angry Lords in the other place that my right hon. Friend Edward Miliband described earlier, it is him. Unfortunately, even he does not have much of a chance given the levels of consternation down the corridor at the clauses in particular that we have been discussing.
Unfortunately, to add insult to injury, this afternoon—while we have been debating—the Prime Minister has given the game away, because he has said that if the negotiations that we are all very concerned about are completed in a positive way, these clauses will not even be needed. I am worried about that because, as any parent knows, when it becomes clear that it is just a negotiation tactic and you do not really mean it, you have already lost. More seriously, I listened to Sammy Wilson describe the situation—he and I do not agree on much politically, I would think—and he said that, if these clauses are really needed, they are needed. If they are just able to be removed, depending on the negotiations, they are not really needed, and that is at the heart of the problem.
Their lordships have explained why the rule of law matters for its own sake. I am no great legislative or legal theorist, but I know why the rule of law matters for all our sakes. It is because of the terrible economic impact of the current situation that we all face. Unfortunately, the Chancellor, when he gave his statement last week, did not make much of it, but the OBR described it in all its horrendous glory—that on top of the gruesome impact of the pandemic on jobs and the economy of this country, the situation that we are facing next year with Brexit could be horrendous.
This matters, because this Bill describes exactly how economies function by common rules, by frameworks applying consistently to markets over space and time. They do that because there are institutions that police those rules, and therefore the institutions that we create matter, and the trust in those institutions matters. They matter not just for their own sake, but for the markets that they underpin, the jobs of the people who work in them and the fate of the people who are part of them. Every step that we take either builds those institutions or knocks them down. Every action creates trust or undermines that trust. Because trade is a repeated exercise, as others have mentioned, all of this debate makes it harder for us to agree new institutions, new frameworks and new rules in the future. That is how our reputation as an international party is won or lost. I know this: when we engage in this kind of madness, there is always a price, and not just some kind of theoretical, legalistic nicety of a price. There is a price in jobs for my constituents and there is a price at the shops every time my constituents do their shopping. So we can have no more of this.
Finally, on devolution, we have heard about the deep consternation among those in the devolved institutions about the clauses in the Bill that relate to them. It is about time we realised the connection between unpredictable and unreliable action from the UK Government, and the deep dissatisfaction in the constituent parts of the United Kingdom. I speak not only having heard those from Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland; I speak from Merseyside, where European structural funds made a profound difference to our economy. Why? Because the investment was predictable; it was possible to understand why that investment was being made; and it was possible to understand what would happen to that investment for the future. The European Union was a reliable investment partner. If the UK Government choose never to be reliable, the people in this country will pay the price.
It is a pleasure to speak in this debate and to follow Alison McGovern.
There is a distinct sense of déjà vu today. The House of Commons is debating Brexit legislation, and the Prime Minister is locked in talks with the President of the European Commission regarding our exit from and future relationship with the European Union, so hon. Members will forgive me if I break out into a cold sweat when the Division bell rings later today. It will bring back some rather tense memories for me in this place.
I will focus my remarks today on the devolution aspects of the Bill, but I want first to say a bit about the common frameworks. We know that there is still work to do regarding common frameworks. The Government and the devolved Administrations have already agreed the principles that will guide the development of common frameworks. Indeed, Lords amendments 1, 19 and 34 address the issues. However, I do not agree with those amendments, as they would have the effect of undermining the UK Government’s ability to set new rules and divergence through modifying appropriate exemptions to market access rules, and the power to ensure unfettered access for Northern Irish goods into Great Britain. That is why I will be opposing those amendments this evening.
Let me turn to devolution. It was a real pleasure to listen to Edward Miliband. I believe him when he says that he is a passionate advocate for our United Kingdom. I remember him campaigning in the referendum in 2014. I disagree with him, however, because this is a very good Bill for the Union of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. I know that because the SNP is so vehemently opposed to it. If this was not a good Bill for our United Kingdom, they would of course be supporting it. This Bill is good for business, good for jobs and good for people, and it will bind the United Kingdom closer together. This Bill will deliver a significant increase in decision-making powers to the devolved Administrations. There will be no power grab, as we have heard time and again.
The hon. Gentleman has repeatedly said that there is no power grab, but Lord Hope of Craighead, who is very widely respected in Scotland and across these isles, said in the Lords that when the SNP described the Bill as a power grab, he initially thought it was “hyperbole”, but
he could very well see why the expression “power grab” is being used. Who is right: Lord Hope or the hon. Gentleman?
There is disagreement about this Bill, of that there is no doubt. But we have debated this matter time and again in this place and in other places, and every time that it has been put to the Scottish National party, the Scottish Government or anybody else who opposes the Bill that the term “power grab” is false, they cannot in any way describe one power that is being taken away from the Scottish Parliament.
It is not as simple as listing a power. [Interruption.] No, it is the whole scheme. This is not my view. It is the view of Professor Michael Keating, a very well respected constitutional expert across these islands. It is about the cross-cutting powers that give not just this House, but this Government, the last say across a whole range of devolved fields that Donald Dewar devolved to Edinburgh.
The hon. and learned Lady knows full well that this place will not have the last say over vast swathes of devolved powers. No powers are being taken back to this place. In fact, we are giving more than 70 powers to the Scottish Parliament and the Scottish Government as a result of our leaving the European Union. Professor Keating, who I know very well, as he was a professor of politics of mine at the University of Aberdeen, knows that it will not be the first time I have disagreed with him on such a point.
I will not, because I know there are far more people who want to speak.
It is not just me who says it is not a power grab. Former SNP deputy leader Jim Sillars said that
“Nicola Sturgeon has been dancing up and down on the ball saying, you know you’re stealing powers from us. The irony is that if she gets these powers, she wants to hand them all back to Brussels. That’s a massive contradiction in her policy position.”
Joanna Cherry cannot shake her head and disagree with that, because that is a fact.
I am afraid I cannot, because we have not got very much time.
This Bill will amount to more money being spent in Scotland. That is a fact. As a result of the Bill, no powers are being taken away and the Barnett consequentials will not be affected. Jobs will be safeguarded as a result of the Bill. It does amuse me to hear Members of the Scottish National party defending and supporting amendments being put in the other place. I hope the Scottish National party one day will come in here and stand up for democracy and the democratically elected Chamber of this United Kingdom. When will the Scottish National party defend the democratic will of the British people?
I seriously urge SNP Members to reconsider their support for the Lords amendments and to stand up for the Bill because it is good for Scotland. But I know they will not. Frankly, the Scottish National party and the Scottish Government do not care that the Bill protects jobs and is good for business and for the country because it binds the United Kingdom closer together. That is why they do not like the Bill: it binds the United Kingdom closer together. That is the truth of it. They do not want the internal market to succeed. They do not want it protected. They do not want the United Kingdom to succeed, and they will sacrifice Scotland’s prosperity, Scottish jobs and anything else, as long as they achieve their aim of undermining the United Kingdom and achieving separation.
As if to make my point, on BBC Radio Scotland’s “Good Morning Scotland” today we heard from Mike Russell, the Minister for constitutional affairs in the Scottish Government. Like the hon. and learned Member for Edinburgh South West—I congratulate her on her election, by the way—he is a member of the national executive committee of the Scottish National party. He said that the Scottish National party will not vote for a Brexit deal even if one is achieved. The SNP would vote against the deal. It has not even seen a deal, but it would rather say no, because it thinks that will further the cause for separation. SNP Members want the United Kingdom to fail, and that is why they are against the Bill this evening, and that is why they will vote against the Brexit deal if we get one in the coming days.
We want to level up the United Kingdom and, as my hon. Friend the Minister has set out, that is why we are disappointed that their lordships have in amendments 48 and 49 attempted to remove the power of the UK Government to intervene to provide financial assistance across the United Kingdom. It is a fact that formerly EU assistance powers now rest with the UK Government. It is right that through the UK prosperity fund, and with consultation with the devolved Administrations, we have the same powers now that the European Union had previously.
I have great respect for my hon. Friends and, indeed, some Members across the aisle for supporting the Lords amendments tonight. I disagree with them, but they have principled objections to the Bill, as do many of their lordships. Although I respect the hon. and learned Member for Edinburgh South West personally, I am afraid I do not respect the position of the Scottish National party, which, as ever, is opportunist, divisive and seeks only to further the aim of breaking up our country, with everything that that means. I will back the Government today because this Bill binds our country closer together and is good for trade, good for jobs, good for people, good for Scotland and good for our entire United Kingdom.
This was a controversial piece of legislation on Second Reading, so it is no surprise to find that our noble Friends in the other place have made historically substantial amendments to it. It is probably a sign of the remarkable times we are living in that the Government should attempt not only to table legislation that effectively breaks the law, but to do so in such a way as to destabilise a critical bilateral negotiation, the outcome of which will have a major impact on the lives of every single UK citizen.
According to announcements made while we have been here in the Chamber, the Government have so far been unable to conclude our negotiations with the European Union over a future trading relationship. To proceed with this legislation when these critical discussions are at such a crucial stage ought to be unthinkable, were it not for the fact that the Government have routinely ridden roughshod over every convention, broken faith with every promise and undermined every pillar of our society when they threatened to stand in the way of Brexit.
I feel somewhat relieved therefore that their lordships have inserted some normality into proceedings by taking as their first principle that legislation and legislators should not break the law. The Liberal Democrats wholly endorse their amendment that removes the whole of part 5 from the Bill, and we oppose the Government’s motion to reject the amendment.
Since 2016, the Conservative Government have repeatedly ducked the difficult choices required following their decision to implement the referendum outcome in the most damaging way possible. Many of us thought that these choices would finally have to be confronted once Brexit stopped being a right-wing dream and became a reality, but it comes as no surprise that the Government will break the law and destroy our international reputation in order to delay unpleasant reality for a little while longer.
We do not know what unintentional consequences will be unleashed by reinserting this clause into our national legislation, but if we as a nation break treaties, act in bad faith and undermine our international relationships, we should expect there to be a price to pay. This is a recklessly foolish action at a time when we urgently need to build and strengthen our links with other countries, not just because we need new trade deals, but because we urgently need co-ordinated global action to defeat coronavirus and fight against climate change.
It is not as if the Bill, in undermining our international standing, compensates by strengthening our internal Union; quite the reverse. I welcome their lordships’ amendments that assert the primacy of the common frameworks process over the provisions in the Bill, and I oppose the Government’s motion to reject them. The common frameworks approach was developed to enable the four nations of the United Kingdom to agree together how these powers should be exercised in the UK. Considerable work has already been undertaken to develop these frameworks and, more importantly, this work has provided a forum for all the devolved nations to discuss their future operations on an equal footing. Who can be in any doubt that this Government resent power being wielded in the UK by any group other than themselves, or that the Bill deliberately seeks to give the UK Government the power to overrule any other authority?
My particular concern is that the common frameworks process can act, much as the European Union does, to encourage all participants to raise mutual standards—economic, environmental and agricultural—rather than undercutting to compete, and that the unamended Bill enables the standards in one country to apply in all, permitting a race to the bottom that will disadvantage local economies.
Passing the Bill without these Lords amendments will send a clear message to voters in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland that the UK Government regard them with contempt. This message will only provide a boost to nationalists who wish to break up the United Kingdom, making each constituent nation still poorer and less powerful than we are already being rendered by our departure from the European Union.
To conclude, I welcome the Lords amendments to the Bill, as they seem to recognise the great diplomatic and constitutional danger that this legislation represented in its original form, and the Liberal Democrats will oppose Government attempts to overturn them.
I will, if I may, focus on the amendments that seek to remove the entirety of part 5 of the Bill, which is its most controversial part because of the remark by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland that it would breach international law. That remark proved as incendiary in the other place as it did in Brussels, and I can well understand the consternation that greeted it at the other end of the corridor. However, we must remember that the purpose of the Bill, as Sammy Wilson pointed out, is straightforwardly to ensure that trade can flow freely within the internal market of the United Kingdom.
The internal market is specifically preserved and protected by the Act of Union 1800. Equal access to the internal market is therefore a constitutional right of the people of Northern Ireland, as, in due course, will be parity of treatment in the future trade relationship with the European Union. Pursuant to the Belfast-Good Friday agreement, that right should not be disturbed without the consent of the people of Northern Ireland. However, considerable difficulties arise under the terms of the withdrawal agreement and the Northern Ireland protocol. It became increasingly clear during the negotiations with the European Union that the EU was intent on using the provisions of the withdrawal agreement as leverage in the negotiations on the future relationship. Those provisions could disrupt UK state aid policy and cause considerable friction in trade between Northern Ireland and Great Britain.
Part 5 of the Bill, and the forthcoming Taxation (Post-Transition Period) Bill, therefore seek quite properly to neutralise that potentially detrimental effect. However, it must be remembered, as my hon. Friend Sir Robert Neill pointed out, that the powers in part 5 do not come into effect until such time as the Secretary of State makes a commencement order, and that can happen only with the approval of this House.
The Government have a positive duty to safeguard the integrity of the UK’s internal market, and to take whatever action is lawful in order to do that. The Bill gives the Government the power to take necessary action to neutralise the abusive implementation by the European Union of the provisions of the withdrawal agreement, including the Northern Ireland protocol. Furthermore, the same provisions safeguard against the potential breach of the Belfast-Good Friday agreement by ensuring that the constitutional rights set out in article 6 of the Act of Union are not infringed.
There can be no doubt as to the constitutional propriety of Parliament enacting these provisions. Parliament is sovereign; that is the fundamental principle of the constitution of this country. Moreover, and importantly, it is a principle that is specifically reasserted in section 38 of the European Union (Withdrawal Agreement) Act 2020, the statute that brought the withdrawal agreement into domestic law, notwithstanding the direct effect provisions of the withdrawal agreement.
It is to be hoped that a free trade agreement will shortly be concluded. If it is, there will be no need to trigger the powers in part 5 of the Bill, but as my hon. Friend the Minister pointed out, this Bill acts as a safety net. It is therefore clearly in the national interest that these provisions be reinstated in the Bill, and I urge hon. Members to vote accordingly this evening.
My 10-year-old son asked me what we were debating this evening. I confessed it was Brexit, to which he replied, “Not again! Haven’t you been doing that for a while?”. I tried to come up with an analogy to explain why we are still doing this, and I compared it with the Apollo programme, which had a commitment, an obvious mission—to land a man on the moon—a clear tactical goal with a strategic objective. Our 2016 referendum could not have been more different. Think back to the question that we were asked: “Should the UK remain a member of the European Union or leave the European Union?”. In the case of the moon landing, the difference between success and failure was clear to absolutely everybody, but what “leave” meant was never formally articulated or agreed.
The world watched with trepidation as Apollo 11 completed its mission, targeting not just the moon, but a specific place on its surface. Years later, a global audience would witness another journey into the unknown. This time, it was Brexit that was given the green light to launch—but without our formally agreeing a specific destination. There was a vast spectrum to land in, and four years later, we continue to dissect the issue in detail. Now, with talks going down to the wire, we have to think the previously unthinkable and prepare for the possibility of no deal. To be clear, I absolutely respect the result of the referendum; I care, though, about where this project lands, and that is what we are discussing today.
If we step back from the details of the battle, we begin to appreciate the impact a no-deal Brexit will have on global Britain. The world order that we helped to create after 1945 and globalised after the fall of the Soviet Union is in decline. Threats are diversifying and becoming more complex at the very time that we are witnessing a decline in western resolve—in what we believe in, stand for, and are willing to defend. As the UK assumes the G7 presidency and hosts COP26, we will have the chance to stand tall with a new White House Administration, invigorated, and the chance to repair our frail world order and contest the rise of authoritarian state and non-state actors, which for too long have been given free rein to pursue their own agendas.
Yet here we are, seemingly willing to retreat from the world stage, potentially distancing ourselves from the continent and, indeed, the US by entertaining the prospect of no deal only a week after we cut our overseas aid budget. Our soft power, arguably the most influential in the world, has already been bruised by the UK’s willingness, however good our intentions, to flout international law by breaching the withdrawal agreement. Indeed, we are here today to put back the offending part 5, which was removed by the Lords because of the wider implication that the UK was willing to breach international law.
I am pleased that the Government intend to remove clauses 44, 45 and 47 in the event that a trade deal is confirmed, but it would be an abject failure of statecraft to leave the EU with no deal. If more time is required, so be it. We will live with the consequences for years—indeed, decades. We must summon the political courage to get this right. The west is about to regroup. Our voice, our experience and our leadership are needed on the global stage.
It is a pleasure to follow that thoughtful speech from Mr Ellwood. I have a daughter who is younger than the Brexit negotiations, and I think she would probably concur with his son.
I have been around enough tortuous, protracted negotiations in Northern Ireland to know that when a U-turn is being executed, it is polite to let it be done, so I welcome the apparent acknowledgement that the clauses relating to the breach of the protocol will be removed, but it is fair to point out just how damaging their inclusion was in the first place. That proposal to breach international law has proven to be, as many of us said when we discussed this in September, cack-handed and a massive own goal. Threatening the operation of the protocol again through the Taxation (Post Transition Period) Bill would be equally wrong-headed, reckless and counterproductive, and I hope that that will be affirmed before legislation is taken forward. The Joint Committee is, as we all know, the place to resolve issues relating to the protocol. Far from showing that the UK is serious about a deal, as the Government tried to do with this Bill, they have shown that it is untrustworthy. That undermined the very UK negotiators who were trying, through the Joint Committee, to get resolution on some of these issues.
It is fair to say that nobody loves the protocol. It is not beloved in Northern Ireland, but it is a response to the challenges presented by Brexit—challenges that we and others have sounded the alarm on for years before and since 2016. It is a response to decisions made on the Government Benches. The irony is that that is the threat to the Union. I see that my colleagues from Northern Ireland are no longer here, but it is worth saying that those of us in the centre and nationalists in Northern Ireland were minding our own business in 2016 when this was thrust upon us. In fact, it is Brexit, laying out the imbalances in the United Kingdom, that is the threat to the Union. Those of us who got into politics not to bang on about constitutional change but to improve people’s lives can get on with doing that while others appear to make our case for us.
Neither the EU nor the UK is happy about what the protocol means, so we have to think about how it feels to those of us in Northern Ireland, but it is a necessary protection from Brexit. Businesses do not want it to be repudiated and trashed. They want it to be implemented. Moves such as those we have seen leave Northern Ireland more exposed. They leave us looking vulnerable to those who want to invest and are trying to develop their businesses. The point of the protocol was to take Northern Ireland and its complexities and fragilities off the table and try to manage those, rather than undermine them. It remains a fact—one that is always worth repeating—that if people really want to minimise the friction between Britain and Northern Ireland, the way to do that is a closer EU-UK relationship, but somehow that argument never gets made.
I turn to the amendments. We welcome the clear message that the Lords sought to send about good faith, the rule of law and devolution, including the need to enhance the duty to consult and co-operate with devolved Administrations. I will not repeat the points that I made when we discussed this legislation in September, but it is important to say that devolution—local decisions in local hands—is a fundamental part of the Good Friday agreement. The proposals in the Bill offend devolution, which is supported by people in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. We agree with the Lords’ attempt to offer us protection against that direct overrule and trespass into that settlement.
All that is left to say is that it is time to get this done. I regret that in the biggest economic contraction in living memory, no deal is still somehow on the table, and I urge those who have this decision before them to make it and get this sorted.
Claire Hanna is a big act to follow. I rise to talk about the Lords amendments to part 5 of the Bill. Without this part of the Bill standing as it was originally intended, the United Kingdom risks being divided. We could get into a position where goods and services from Northern Ireland are treated differently from those in the rest of our Great Britain. That cannot happen. As Conservatives, we have a manifesto commitment, barely a year old, to give Northern Ireland unfettered access to Great Britain’s markets. Article 6 of the Northern Ireland protocol also states that. The Good Friday agreement states that Northern Ireland’s constitutional status cannot be changed without the consent of both communities. Even the Acts of Union 1800 stated it.
As an MP in the north-west of England, I know that the people of Northern Ireland are closely entwined with us, both geographically and culturally. It is a short ferry ride or a quick hop on a plane, and barely a street, let alone a community, does not have someone with an Irish accent. They are not separate; they are part of a wonderful whole, and for artificial lines to be drawn across our shared sea is unconscionable. For a business in Northern Ireland to have customs checks for its products, or to be treated differently, is not something I would propose, consider, or support.
We need a safety net. For example, the best cake makers in Northern Ireland must be able to source Welsh ingredients, ship them across the Irish sea from an English port, and return their delicious wares to the tables of Glasgow and London, without reams of paperwork, extra charges, or big delays. The measures in the Bill ensure that it will be illegal to introduce new checks on goods and services that have been brought about by rules created outside our proud Union, and rightly so. We are not being obdurate; we have agreed some checks that are reasonable and deliver on our commitment to ensure that phytosanitary checks are put in place. We have built centres by ports, as we should, to ensure that crop and animal disease cannot spread.
The Bill eliminates the possibility of external rules and controls being used to damage UK business. There is a risk that article 10 of the Northern Ireland protocol, agreed with the EU, could be used to take a nit-picky view to the approach of state aid. For example, should one of Lancashire’s fine manufacturing businesses need a bit of financial help to restructure and then sell its big shiny products or machines to a firm in Northern Ireland, without those changes, or an agreement that makes the provision defunct, it would be possible for the EU to claim that that breaks the rules. Nonsense! That would be overreach on a grand scale, and the Bill, unamended, prevents such problems before they manifest.
Finally, the Bill ensures that the Parliament of the United Kingdom has a vote, as it should. Before any powers in the Bill can come into force, they must be agreed in this House by a vote on behalf of all the people of these lands. An agreement with our friends, should we not need these provisions, would be wonderful—we will have an agreement and they can be removed. Altogether, that is enough for me to support the Bill, and I will be voting for it tonight.
It is a pleasure to follow Katherine Fletcher.
Noble peers in the other place have given the Government a chance to reconsider the irreparable damage that passing the Bill will do to Britain’s international reputation by undermining the rule of law. We must be clear that using the powers in the Bill will break international law, and attempts to justify that by saying that it will be done only in a limited and specific way are laughable. When it comes to deciding what the impact of the Bill will be, I prefer to listen to two Lord Justices and five former Prime Ministers regarding the rule of law.
The Bill will also affect Britain’s ability to influence matters globally. As the former Conservative party leader, Lord Howard, asked: how can the UK reproach Russia, China and Iran for their conduct, when it is prepared to break international laws? That runs contrary to the principle of good faith set out in the Vienna convention on the law of treaties, which governs so many international treaties and allows nations to enter agreements with free consent and good faith.
Why should anyone trust negotiations by a nation that gives itself permission to go back on its word? I think we found the answer to that today, when the Prime Minister decided that he would remove the offending clauses if a deal is done. Such a stance is hampering negotiations by fostering mistrust in other nations. Is that not a further erosion of Britain’s place in the world? The rule of law, keeping one’s word and the sanctity of treaties were once bywords for Britain’s respectability, yet we now see a Government who are trashing Britain’s reputation. The Lords recognised that, which is why they voted to remove part 5 of the Bill.
Measures in part 5, which peers rightly voted to exclude, give Ministers the power by secondary legislation to disapply powers to Northern Ireland, in clear breach of the Northern Ireland protocol. In doing so, Ministers will, without any scrutiny, be able to subvert the rule of law and break international law. The measures in the Bill are also contrary to the dispute resolution articles in the withdrawal agreement.
Government Members have in recent weeks been complaining about the lack of scrutiny and opportunity to challenge the Government’s restrictions imposed on England due to covid-19, yet they seem blithely willing to surrender power to the Executive and have Ministers make decisions away from Parliament. This is not so much taking back control as relinquishing all power. What is worse is that the measures will be put beyond any meaningful judicial review.
The United Kingdom Internal Market Bill is a bad Bill, which the noble Lords in the other place have tried to salvage. There can be no rational dispute with the logic that they have applied in trying to get part 5 removed. The Bill disregards the rule of law, trashes Britain’s international reputation and gives power to the Executive, away from parliamentary, public and judicial scrutiny. The Lords amendments go some way to fixing this mess, but if the Government seek to disagree with them I will vote against.
It is an honour to follow Bambos Charalambous. I have spoken on numerous occasions about the invidious creeping damage that the Bill will do to devolution; therefore the decision to press ahead without changing course, while unsurprising, does nothing but drive home the disregard that the Government have for Wales and its people.
First, the Bill attacks the devolution settlement by hollowing out and reserving the Senedd’s powers—powers for which the people of Wales have voted not once but twice. This is not merely an abstract argument about constitutional arrangements; the Bill paves the way for the deregulation of goods and services. That means that in the coming years we can expect a weakening of devolved standards in Wales, with bad consequences—from substandard beef finding its way into the diets of people in Wales to landlords providing inadequately regulated services in the private rented sector.
Turning to the Lords amendments, I support the exemptions from market access principles for existing regulatory divergence, as agreed under the common frameworks approach, as they safeguard existing Welsh standards and policy divergence, such as the minimum unit pricing for alcohol. However, the amendments do not offer protection to future legislation, and offer no protection, therefore, to future divergence.
The Lords’ removal of clauses relating to additional financial powers is also welcome. These measures are completely disproportionate to the aims of the Bill and act as a cover for further centralisation of power by the UK Government. The removed clauses would reserve state subsidy powers to this place, while undermining a future Welsh Government’s ability to manage and invest in the economy, cutting across devolved areas such as health, education and housing.
“will enable the UK Government to spend funds in ways that the UK/English Government think best, but which the people of Wales, for example, may have rejected. That is not democracy. In effect, it would give legislative underpinning to the now discredited principle that the Government in Westminster know best”.—[Official Report, House of Lords,
Vol. 807, c. 574.]
The Senedd’s Finance Committee has noted that the constitutional and financial implications of the Bill passing unamended would undermine devolution and set in motion the means for the UK Government to reduce the Welsh block grant in future. We should be alert to that. In addition to the Finance Committee, two other Committees of the Senedd have called on the Senedd to withhold its consent to the Bill. Consultation without consent is a deceit. Consultation without the power of veto is worthless.
The removal of clauses in part 5 related to the Northern Ireland protocol is welcome. Plaid Cymru, of course, unequivocally supports upholding our international commitments in the EU withdrawal agreement. The Government’s disregard for the rule of law internationally, coupled with their bulldozing of the UK devolution settlement, exemplifies their totalising approach to governance, with power and control at the heart of their modus operandi. When the Prime Minister described devolution as a disaster he insulted our young democracy as a disaster. The Bill is entirely consistent with the contempt in which the Government hold Wales. If the Government can talk up sovereignty and taking back control, then Wales can seek our sovereignty, our control and our independence.
I rise tonight to support the Government in their approach to handling the United Kingdom Internal Market Bill, which is incredibly important for this United Kingdom. I shall also speak in favour of disagreeing with the Lords amendments.
There are a couple of reasons behind that for me. The first is the issue of high standards. In this place, we constantly hear lots of myths about what we will be doing with our high standards post Brexit as if the European Union was, of course, some sort of beacon for food and animal welfare standards. We see a live issue with fur in the EU. Back in 2002 we outlawed the production of fur across the United Kingdom, but because of single market restrictions we cannot ban the import of fur across the country. The same applies to things such as live animal exports or the sale of whalemeat. When we leave the single market at the end of the transition period and have our own single market across the United Kingdom, we will be able to ban those things, increasing animal welfare protection to a much higher level than in the EU. We need only look at the last couple of months in Denmark, where we saw millions of mink being culled because of intensive farming that has meant that they have been infected with coronavirus. Such standards, which we would not accept in our own country, are things that we will be able to outlaw after the end of the transition period.
Where the single market has held back the United Kingdom’s high standards, the UK will be able to become a world leader when the transition period is over. Earlier, my right hon. Friend Dr Fox said that for him the reason Brexit was so important was the constitutional settlement. For me, it is about clauses 48 and 49, which will enable this country to fulfil our manifesto commitment about levelling up. I look at communities across my constituency—I have mentioned MG Rover several times in this place, including on Second Reading—and the opportunities that have been lost there for many years. We can spend this money in the United Kingdom to offer jobs, opportunities, skills and training in communities that have felt left behind for far too long. When we look at places such as GKN Aerospace in my constituency, which unfortunately is closing, we need to look at ways in which we can upskill and retrain people who have worked for 20 or 30 years in the same factory unit, giving them the opportunity to move on and work in new jobs and new industries.
My hon. Friend Sir William Cash set out earlier why it is important that we have this safety net, because the EU has acted in bad faith over the last days, weeks and months. It is important that this Union, through its internal market, continues to provide the economic and social benefits that it does. Seeing the democracy dodging from some of the separatists on the other side of the House, for whom 2,000 people in an opinion poll are more important than 3.6 million people in the 2014 independence referendum and millions of people across this country who voted for our manifesto last year are less important than a couple of hundred unelected peers down the corridor, I think it is very important that we get this Bill through.
What are we being asked to do by the Government this evening? We are being asked to break international law, albeit in a “limited and specific” way. It is still breaking international law. It tears up a deal that was negotiated by this Prime Minister, put to the people of this country by this Prime Minister and voted on by every single Member of the governing party earlier this year. It is not just about breaking international law; it is a breach of trust with the same partners with whom we are now 24 days away from ending a transition period and with whom we desperately need to conclude a deal. Did not those Government Members who are sitting laughing at the prospect of no deal and its effect on the jobs and prosperity of their constituents anticipate the European Union’s reaction to the Government’s proposal to breach international law? Did they not know that one of the key elements of negotiation is to understand what the negotiating partner will ask for? Is it any surprise that they have asked for level playing field protections, given the breach of faith and the breaking of international law?
That is exactly right, and it was Mr Cox who pointed out to Government Members that they all voted for the withdrawal agreement that they now want to abandon. Most people believed the Prime Minister’s guarantee—that he had an oven-ready deal for them—when they voted for him in last year’s general election. This is not about ignorance or dishonesty, as James Cleverly would have us believe; it is about the shameful abandonment of the trust of the people of this country. If no deal is the consequence, people will remember the promise made by Conservative Members when they were elected last year on the back of the Prime Minister’s promise.
They must move on from this. They have 24 days left and the clock is ticking. No deal will be disastrous. It will be disastrous for those workers in the car industry, whom Gary Sambrook mentioned. It will be disastrous for livelihoods and for national security as well. It will be disastrous for security in Northern Ireland if the Good Friday agreement is upended, and it will be disastrous for the prospects of future trade agreements. In the United States, President-elect Biden has already made clear what it would mean to him if the Good Friday agreement is threatened by this Bill.
As for our reputation and authority on the world stage, prior to this debate we had an urgent question on Hong Kong. My hon. Friend Bambos Charalambous mentioned those countries mentioned by Lord Howard. We will be in no position to lecture anyone on the world stage if we go ahead and break international law. Our credibility will be shot. How will investors be able to trust that their investment will be safe in this country if we are prepared to tear these things up so readily? Who will trust our word? Who will believe anything we say? Who overseas will believe in this country?
Our people deserve better than this. For the sake of the jobs and livelihoods of the people I represent and the people that those on the Government Benches represent, I say to the Government: do not allow no deal to happen. If they fail, the British people will remember who was responsible and they will blame the Prime Minister. They will hold him responsible and they will hold Conservative Members responsible, too.
The withdrawal agreement, as agreed by the UK and the EU, contains a statement, under section 38 of the European Union (Withdrawal Agreement) Act 2020, that preserves parliamentary sovereignty. To be clear, section 38 states:
“It is recognised that the Parliament of the United Kingdom is sovereign”,
despite sections 1, 5 and 6. This means two things in my opinion: that this Parliament is quite within its rights to propose its own laws, as the United Kingdom Internal Market Bill does; and that, as a consequence, any such proposal that detracts from sovereign control is contrary to section 38 of the European Union (Withdrawal Agreement) Act itself.
The United Kingdom Internal Market Bill ensures that, if a trade agreement is not possible, sovereignty is preserved, given that the withdrawal agreement does itself detract from parliamentary sovereignty, such as by giving the ECJ binding powers of interpretation. Unfortunately, Lords amendments 48, 49 and 51 are but examples of how sovereignty is diminished, as the EU would control how taxpayers’ moneys are spent in the UK. We know that this is a stumbling block for the EU negotiations, and clearly it is the preference of some Members here and in the other place for the EU to retain control.
Much has been reported about control of our fisheries. Control over our territorial waters is important for our fishermen, even though many detractors of this argument seek to ridicule the amount it contributes to GDP. Yes, the contribution to GDP is in fact small, but that is because our fishing industry has been decimated since we relinquished control of fishing rights to the EU. Aside from the GDP argument, those who use it miss the point completely. It is about who exerts control over our waters, and a sovereign nation must have that control. This is what my constituents of Dudley North and the rest of the country voted for.
To present this appalling Bill to the House once was outrageous, showing contempt for our European friends and neighbours, trampling all over international law and riding roughshod over devolution. To push it through for a second time, deliberately putting back in place all the same flaws as before, is therefore simply shameless, but that is exactly what the Government are attempting to do today by way of these motions to disagree. The Government simply are not listening to some of the most serious, widespread and weighty criticism that any Government Bill has received in recent times, and they certainly are not listening to the devolved Governments and Parliaments. Every single one of the reasons for rejecting this Bill previously remain equally valid now as reasons for opposing these Government motions.
Like others, I will focus on the amendments that relate to international law and to devolution. On the former, the House of Lords did what had to be done by taking out the clear breach of international law and the attack on the rule of law that part 5 represented. It bears repeating again that the Government are expressly asking us to pass legislation in breach of an agreement they signed just months ago with a counterpart they are still negotiating with. That is simply astonishing, and we cannot let it be spoken about as if this is no big deal or in any way normal. Proceeding in this way represents a
“very real and direct threat to the rule of law, which includes the country’s obligations under public international law.”
These are not my words, but those of the Law Society and the Bar Council. When these provisions were first introduced, it seemed simply a totally cack-handed and counterproductive negotiating tactic, but, embarrassingly, here they are still pursuing this reckless possibility and offering up the removal of these clauses as part of negotiations on the future relationship changes nothing. It simply confirms that the Government are happy to threaten to go back on their word as a means of trying to get their own way. What an astonishing way for any Government to behave.
On devolution, all the House of Lords did was to water down the clear, obvious and extensive power grab on devolution. It did this through some modest obligations around consultation and giving the common frameworks process priority over ministerial diktat. It ditched the reservations of state aid and powers to bypass devolved Governments and devolved public spending. It provided greater scope for divergence on environmental, social and other grounds. None of that should be controversial, but, again, shamefully, the Government are seeking to restore the power grab to its fullest extent. Doing so undermines the possibility of policy divergence and the opportunities for the devolved Governments to deliver policies that protect and advance the interests of their citizens, and it restores the grim prospect of a race to the bottom. These Government motions are anti-devolution and they are anti-democratic. Again, they should be rejected.
In conclusion, let us be clear about what these proceedings tell us about the UK Government and the UK constitution. They tell us that Governments can, and that this one will, rip up international agreements signed just months ago. They tell us that power devolved is as exactly as was promised: power retained, with the devolved settlement to be amended or deleted at the will of the UK Government. Finally, with the UK out of the EU, the human rights regime under review, judicial oversight under attack, the second Chamber in reality toothless, this Chamber a rubber stamp for the Government, and devolution undermined, we say that the checks and balances on the UK Government have never, ever been weaker. In short, the Bill shows us that the UK’s political system and constitution are not fit for purpose, and that the sooner we are out of it, the better.
It is a pleasure to follow Stuart C. McDonald.
We are in the middle of a public health emergency and an economic crisis, yet as always the Government are doing their assignment the night before it is due, or maybe later. Now is the time for competence and consensus, so the country can move on and recover. Instead, the Government have introduced legislation that knowingly and openly breaks international law, and will frustrate the process of getting a deal further still. It is unnecessary, it undermines the rule of law, it undermines devolution, it is internationally damaging to our reputation and it threatens to undermine the Good Friday agreement.
I have had 80 constituents write to me ahead of the debate expressing their disgust at what this deal is attempting to do and urging me to support the amendments made in the other place. They are representative of constituents across Putney, across London and across the country. It is not just my local constituents who were left bemused by the first publication of the Bill. President-elect Joe Biden made it crystal clear that the Good Friday peace agreement in Northern Ireland cannot become a casualty of Brexit. He has made it clear that a future trade deal hinges on that. The Bill will end up undermining trust in us as a country.
I therefore urge colleagues to accept Lords amendments to part 5 of the Bill. For those of us who still believe in the rule of law, the amendments are crucial. As the motion from the convenor of the Cross-Bench peers, Lord Judge, stated:
“Part 5 of the bill…would undermine the rule of law and damage the reputation of the United Kingdom.”
He said that by supporting it, Parliament, which is responsible for making the laws and expects people to obey the laws it makes, would be knowingly granting power to the Executive to break the law.
The strength of feeling on this from the learned and noble peers in the other place cannot be ignored. In Committee, Members in the other place voted by 433 to 165 to remove clause 42. That vote was the largest in terms of turnout since remote voting was introduced in the other place and the third largest since the House was reformed in 1999. How can we ignore the disappointment and anger in the other place? How can the Government expect the public to follow lockdown restrictions or China to respect the Sino-British joint declaration, when they grant themselves a mandate to break the law? States and citizens alike are going to rightly think that it is one rule for them and another for us.
This is about Britain’s reputation, not Brexit. Do we want to be a trustworthy nation that stands by its commitments? Do we want to be able to strike good trade deals with other countries? As we deal with the economic damage inflicted by the pandemic, we need to be winning international friends and not alienating them. Brexit has actually done enough damage already. In my own constituency, businesses have already had to close and jobs have already been lost. Let us not compound that by not accepting the Lords amendments this evening. I welcome the Lords amendments and I urge colleagues, for Britain’s sake, to support the Lords amendments to part 5 of the Bill.
I rise to speak in support of the Government and against the Lords amendments. I do so as somebody who campaigned and voted in the referendum for the United Kingdom to remain in the European Union. I believe passionately that a close, positive relationship with our friends and allies is very important to us and very important to them for the future.
However, it seems to me that, in addressing these issues tonight, we need to be enormously pragmatic. Those of us on the Government Benches, when we fought an election and accepted that our plan was to acknowledge the decision of the British people and to put it into effect, accepted the responsibility to make the decisions that would enable that to happen. Taking the stand that the Government are on this matter this evening is, in my view, a crucial step on that journey.
It is overwhelmingly in the mutual interest of all parties involved for us to reach a deal, and my constituents, who marginally voted to remain in the European Union, have the expectation that I will call for that in this House. It is possible that the leaders of the two parties have already reached such a deal in the negotiations that are taking place today. With such fundamentally different views of the facts on the two sides of this debate, it seems to me that, in the spirit of accepting that responsibility, we need to say, “We have made this decision, we have set this course, we will support our Government and we will achieve the outcome that we need to achieve.”
On so many issues, we have heard concerns passionately raised and articulated—concerns about the impact on refugees and migrants, something in which I have a personal interest; concerns about the impact on business; and concerns about the impact on people’s ability to access medicines and healthcare. I have listened carefully, because my constituents are asking those questions as well, to the responses that I have heard from Ministers with responsibility for each of those areas of Government activity, and I am assured that we have measures in place that are sufficient to meet this test: “Are we taking these steps in good faith as a country, in a negotiation that is being conducted in good faith, with all the perils and risks that negotiation inevitably and always involves, but in pursuit of a desirable outcome that both sides, in good faith, wish to achieve?”
It therefore seems to me that it serves no purpose for us to engage, as I accept Parliament previously did when there was a Government without a majority, in so much hand-to-hand fighting and negotiation, point by point, on so many of these issues. Let us draw a line under this matter. Let us make the decision.
I was struck by what my hon. Friend Katherine Fletcher said about the practicalities of this. The United Kingdom needs to be ready for whatever the outcome of these negotiations is. We hope for, we expect and we are working towards achieving a deal that is in the mutual interest of all concerned. In the event that that breaks down—as many have commented, that would involve breaches of good faith and potentially of the law on both sides—we need to be ready to ensure, in exactly the way that our friends and allies in the European Union are, that we have the arrangements and powers in place to deal with whatever consequences might come our way. That is why I believe that the Government are taking the right course and I intend to support these measures and vote against the Lords amendments this evening.
I want to focus largely on the Lords amendments to part 5 of the Bill and to speak in support of them. I am conscious that we may well be part of a charade this evening, in the light of discussions that are happening elsewhere, but it is surely self-evident that no deal with the European Union can be concluded, let alone ratified, if the offending clauses remain part of the Bill. If we end up with a no-deal situation—I very much hope that we do not—the UK will face huge economic damage and will be forced back to the negotiating table. I think most people privately would recognise that that is the reality. Once again, these issues will have to be addressed and overcome.
Since this House last debated the Bill, we have had the very welcome election of Joe Biden as President of the United States. It is clear that there is no prospect whatsoever of a trade deal with United States if there is any threat to the Good Friday agreement, in particular from this Bill or, indeed, the subsequent taxation Bill that may well follow. Obviously, that is of fundamental importance to the UK going forward. I think that the Biden Administration will be very much open to a deal with the United Kingdom, but that will not come at the price of undermining the Good Friday agreement, which Americans of both parties are extremely proud of in terms of their role in and contribution to. The internal market Bill is not helping those negotiations at all. At best it is a distraction from them, and certainly not a source of leverage, but at worst it gives the indication that the UK cannot be trusted with regard to agreements. In particular, if there is a sudden deadlock around issues of governance, the European Union will be very reluctant to give too much in that respect, given the very sad precedent that has been set. Again, the UK is shooting itself in the foot in terms of crucial negotiations.
I want to stress that the majority of the people of Northern Ireland, the majority of Members of the Northern Ireland Assembly and the majority of businesses in Northern Ireland do not want the UK breaking, or threatening to break, international law on their behalf. The outcomes from this Bill are of course very seductive, but they represent a false solution. The only way to address these issues is via the withdrawal agreement and the Joint Committee on the Withdrawal Agreement. To achieve these flexibilities and derogations, we must again look to that word “trust”, which is again being undermined by these actions. That will make it more difficult to reach a conclusion through the Joint Committee processes.
Breaking international law may give some short-term relief to businesses, but it actually ends up hurting them because it puts them in the situation of not having a secure legal environment in which to do business going forward. That is of fundamental importance to businesses. It also potentially risks the return of a border on the island of Ireland. I know that some people want to dismiss that, but the difficulty comes from the fact that if there is not a guaranteed alternative system via the protocol, the pressure from the EU to protect the integrity of its customs union and single market falls back on the island of Ireland. That is one of the key concerns in terms of how the Good Friday agreement may well be breached through this Bill.
Some people seem to think that everything can stay the same as regards how things operate across these islands. The difficulty is that this reflects the choices made by the UK and its Government around Brexit and the nature of Brexit. Northern Ireland is a different place, and because of those choices special arrangements have to be put in place. The backstop was a better alternative, but the protocol is where we have landed, warts and all in terms of the negative consequences from that.
Yet again we have been reliant on the Lords to try to remedy matters in this Bill, which from the outset has shown a complete disregard both for the rule of law and for devolution. The fact that the Government are going to overrule the Lords amendments tonight prompts the question: what is the point of the Lords even when it is doing good work?
In this Chamber, right from the outset of the debates on the internal market Bill, we have been treated to Back-Bench Tories standing up and telling us that they are proud Unionists. However, saying that they are proud Unionists wedded to the idea of the United Kingdom and the Union jack while supporting a Bill that rides roughshod over devolution shows that they do not really care about the Union, and they do not care about Scotland, or understand Scotland. That goes for the Prime Minister, in particular. We know that the Lords has Unionists, and the Lords has told the Government that this Bill puts the Union at risk. Are the Government and their sycophants wilfully stupid or just naturally stupid, because they are certainly not listening?
I want to focus on Lords amendments 48 and 49, which aim to delete the clauses with the same numbers. This is the real power grab about spending in Scotland. Lord Hope summarised the debate:
“It is difficult to avoid the conclusion that this Government regard devolution as an inconvenience”.—[Official Report, House of Lords,
Vol. 807, c. 1468.]
As a matter of balance, I will quote Lord Forsyth, who reckoned:
“The…Act of Union…has brought about more than 300 years of prosperity.”—[Official Report, House of Lords,
Vol. 806, c. 1323.]
If the Union has been so successful and brought so much prosperity, why are this Government having to embark on a levelling-up agenda? Why do Scotland and other regions around the UK have to rely on EU structural funds to plug the gaps from Westminster over the years? Incidentally, the EU has never imposed a single project on Scotland against its will, whereas this Bill allows the Government to create projects and spend money against Scotland’s will. Where is the shared prosperity fund anyway? Sadly, it is missing in action.
If the Union was so successful, why are this Government legislating for support for cultural activities, projects and events that Ministers consider benefit the UK and devolved nations? The same goes for sport, education and training activities. What kind of education projects do they want to impose in Scotland? Why do they think that that should be in the Bill in the first place? It is clear that they want to subject us to a Union jack fest, but I can tell the Minister that that will not go down well in Scotland either; actually, it will help our cause.
We have also been told that infrastructure spending will mean additional money coming to Scotland, yet when we look at the spending review we can see that we have just suffered a 5% cut to our capital budget. It is quite clear that that the Government will top-slice the Scottish budget, take some money off and then recirculate it in Scotland with a Union jack. It is so transparent, and the fact that the national infrastructure policy says that the Bill allows the Government to spend directly in the devolved nations tells us that it has been planned all along.
The consequential clause 49 remains a complete affront. Basically, the UK Government can interfere and spend money in Scotland on projects that might not be wanted by the Scottish Government, and clause 49 then allows them to impose repayment conditions on the taxpayers in Scotland. That is ridiculous—it is a con. Any Scottish Tory who argues that this is not a power grab and who thinks that these conditions are acceptable must be completely devoid of self-respect.
“I hope the Government will think long and hard before overturning in the Commons, on the back of Conservative votes alone, any sensible changes”—[Official Report, House of Lords,
Vol. 807, c. 585.]
There is no long and hard thinking being done on the Government Benches, but there is by the people of Scotland. Those who voted no in 2014 are changing their minds rapidly, because they know the contempt with which this Government treat Scotland.
It is a pleasure to follow Alan Brown. I am pleased to speak in support of the Lords amendments and thankful to Members in the other place for trying to restore a shred of decency to this legislation. Sadly, the Government seem determined to destroy the rule of law, Britain’s international reputation and the devolution settlement that holds the UK together.
The provisions that were removed in the other place would
“enable ministers to derogate from the United Kingdom's obligations under international law in broad and comprehensive terms and prohibit public bodies from compliance with such obligations”— not my words, but those of the Law Society of England and Wales. Such a legislative statement would be unprecedented, cutting across the precedent that political and judicial bodies uphold the rule of law.
Turning to devolution, I am deeply troubled to hear that if the Government vote to reintroduce the parts of the Bill that the other place so sensibly removed, the Welsh Government’s proposed ban on single-use plastics would be prevented. That would be another ground-breaking step by the Welsh Government stopped by this Government’s complete disregard for the devolution settlement. If it is plastics first, what next? This legislation will prevent the Welsh Government from standing up for Wales’s interests, legislating to ban chlorinated chicken or hormone-injected beef, or setting higher standards on house-building or the environment. By proposing mutual recognition without legally underpinning minimum standards, the UK Government are proposing that the lowest standards chosen by one Parliament must automatically become the minimum standards across all nations.
There are also significant concerns about the financial aspects of the Bill. By legislating to allow the UK Government to spend in devolved areas, the Bill undermines the devolved Governments’ ability to outline their own spending priorities. Of course none of the devolved Governments would be opposed to having more money to spend on their citizens, but this Government have had numerous opportunities to increase the amount received by each Government or reform the Barnett formula, yet they have chosen not to.
This is not kindness, but a cage. The Welsh Government have said that they are open to negotiating common frameworks, but they must be worked out in common and must contain mutually agreed minimum standards. A UK single market is vital to the continued internal trade of these islands, but if this is how the UK Government go about ensuring it, they will soon be the Government of England only.
The Welsh Government have called the Bill
“an attack on democracy and an affront to the people of Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, who have voted in favour of devolution on numerous occasions.”
I implore the UK Government to act as a Government for the whole United Kingdom, not just for themselves.
I want to concentrate my remarks on the Lords amendments in relation to devolution, but first I will say something about the reports that the Government may yet agree to the removal of part 5 of the Bill. That is all very well and good, but the problem is that the damage is done. It is now known across Europe and internationally that this British Government are prepared to break their word on an international treaty in order to get their own way. Of course, we knew that this Government were prepared to break their word in Scotland already—and, for that matter, so did the Irish—but now everyone knows it across Europe and the world, including the new American Administration.
Let me turn to devolution. I welcome the removal by their lordships of a number of threats to devolution on the face of the Bill. Scotland did not vote for Brexit, but we did vote for devolution, by 74% in the 1997 devolution referendum. This House should not use something that voters in Scotland did not vote for—Brexit—to undermine something that we did vote for, in very large numbers.
The scheme of devolution was very clear. There was a division between reserved and devolved powers. The Lords have seen through the truth twisting of this Government, and the sleight of hand of the Government in drafting this Bill. And do you know what, Mr Deputy Speaker? They agree with the SNP and think this Bill is a power grab. They do not think that Holyrood is getting any new powers, but they see that Westminster is getting back control over state aid and an explicit power to cut across devolved decision making.
What we are seeing here is a rebalancing of the constitutional settlement in so far as devolution is concerned, and it completely flies in the face of what voters were promised in 2014 during the independence referendum, when we were offered a more powerful Parliament, and, indeed, what we were promised by Michael Gove and others during the Brexit referendum campaign. It does not matter that on
But the good news and the message that Conservative Members—and, indeed, those in the Labour party—should take away tonight is this: 15 opinion polls in a row in Scotland show that voters now realise what is happening and they do not like it, and a consistent majority of well over 50% want a second independence referendum and they want to vote for independence. The reality is that no matter what this House does tonight, it is increasingly irrelevant to people in Scotland and to the debate that we are having in Scotland. Before long, it will be Scotland’s turn to take back control, and we will not do so at the say so of this House or this Government; we will do so at the say so of the sovereign people of Scotland.
The desire and the right of the UK as a sovereign nation to trade unhindered with all its regions and nations is undeniable, but it is what was part 5 of the Bill that is highly politically charged and controversial. It has serious implications for the relationship between the UK and the Republic of Ireland, and, most importantly, represents a direct challenge to the rule of law.
The rule of law is not just a domestic obligation, but applies to our international obligations, including the principles of good faith and co-operation with the withdrawal agreement that the Prime Minister himself signed only a year ago. If the Bill is unamended, it will severely undermine the UK’s reputation across the world and have a long-term global effect. Not only will it damage the UK’s current trade talks with the EU, which are on a knife edge; it will have severe consequences for any trade deals with any country. So why is it here?
I wonder to this day why those who so uncompromisingly campaigned to leave the European Union ever gave a serious thought about Northern Ireland. At the core of the Good Friday agreement is the ability of the people of Northern Ireland to look both ways—to the United Kingdom and to the Republic of Ireland—and of people, goods and services to move unhindered across boundaries. EU membership greatly facilitated the Good Friday agreement. The balance was always going to be severely upset by leaving the EU, and to this day Tory Governments of any shade have not solved the problem. With the unamended Bill the current Government have chosen the nuclear option not only to upset and destabilise a domestic settlement between all four nations but to blow to bits the remaining good will between the UK and the EU—
I thank everybody who spoke in the debate today and all the right hon. and hon. Members who have engaged with the Bill throughout.
From many speakers, especially at the beginning of the debate, we heard about exactly what businesses and people throughout the country have wanted—the certainty and consistency that the Bill will deliver. Unfortunately, we have heard, as we have throughout the Bill’s passage, a lot of inconsistency from Opposition Members. We have heard the SNP talk about the fact that we are not going to get a trade deal with America but, by the way, when we do, we have to accept chlorinated chicken. Neither of those things are true.
We have heard that people want the Government to change and negotiate and work with the European negotiating team, but when we reach out to them to explain what part 5 of the Bill is all about and the fact that we will not need a safety net should we get successful talks in the Joint Committee, it is described as shambolic. Which would people like? Would they like change? I think we want certainty.
People have talked about the need for devolution in Northern Ireland and the need to respect Northern Irish businesses and the parties in Northern Ireland and give their businesses certainty, but Opposition Members will vote against part 5 and, in doing so, vote against unfettered access for Northern Ireland into GB.
We heard an SNP Member describe the UK Government as a boa constrictor, yet they want independence from the UK Government and from the other nations to go back to the boa constrictor that is the EU.
We need the Bill and these clauses now because parliamentary time dictates as much and we want the legislation to be ready for the end of the transition phase, whatever happens in the remaining days of discussions with the EU. I wish both sides well in their discussions.
To conclude, the UK’s internal market has been the bedrock of our shared prosperity for centuries. It has enabled businesses and individuals to thrive and has been the source of unhindered and open trade throughout the country. It has helped to demonstrate that our country is greater as a Union than the sum of its parts.
The Government are committed to safeguarding the Union. We fully support devolution and continue to put the Union at the heart of everything we do. I very much believe that the four corners of the UK are stronger together and that the Bill supports and respects the devolution settlements. Some Members have said that the Bill is a threat to devolution, but in reality they are trying to further their narrow political arguments rather than look at the wider political arguments. Their narrow political arguments about independence have nothing to do with devolution.
I stress that the proposals in the Bill are designed to ensure that devolution can continue to work for everyone. All devolved policy areas will stay devolved and the proposals ensure only that there are no new barriers to UK internal trade. Indeed, at the end of the transition period hundreds of powers that are currently exercised by the EU will flow back to the UK. Many of these powers will fall within the competence of the devolved Administrations, and this flow therefore represents a substantial transfer of powers to the devolved Administrations that they did not exercise before the EU exit.
The Bill is vital in preserving our internal market and 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. It will ensure that UK businesses can trade across our four home nations in a way that helps them to invest and create jobs, just as they have for hundreds of years. I want to emphasise again that the Government have been, and will continue to be, reasonable in discussions on this Bill. We made many positive changes, and they are on the table, but ultimately the Government need to balance this with the need to deliver a Bill that provides the certainty that businesses want and the need to invest and create jobs. I therefore call on hon. Members to support the Government in these objectives, which I believe we all share, when they vote today.
Question put, That this House disagrees with Lords amendment 1.
The House divided: Ayes 359, Noes 265.
Question accordingly agreed to.
Lords amendment 1 disagreed to.
The list of Members currently certified as eligible for a proxy vote, and of the Members nominated as their proxy, is published at the end of today’s debates.
Proceedings interrupted (Programme Order, this day).
The Deputy Speaker put forthwith the Questions necessary for the disposal of the business to be concluded at that time (
Lords amendments 8 to 11 disagreed to.