– in the House of Commons at 3:08 pm on 9th December 2020.

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(9) Standing Order No. 82 (Business Committee) shall not apply in relation to any proceedings to which this Order applies.

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Photo of Pat McFadden Pat McFadden Shadow Economic Secretary (Treasury) 3:20 pm, 9th December 2020

I want to make a few comments about this business of the House motion, because I think it is indicative of where we have got to.

After four years, we have a Bill on the taxation arrangements after Brexit that is to be debated in less than four hours. Not only that, but it is a Bill of over 100 pages in length that was published less than 24 hours ago. The Minister may claim that the House has passed emergency legislation in a single day in the past, and of course that is true: the House can do that in emergency circumstances. But this deadline that we face at the end of the year is not new. It is not a surprise. It has been known ever since the withdrawal agreement was reached. The Government have said repeatedly over the past year that this was an immovable deadline. So why is it, just three weeks before that deadline, that the Government are only publishing these arrangements and this timetable now?

Businesses in Northern Ireland, and those that do a lot of trade with Northern Ireland, could have been given some idea of what was coming long before now, but as it stands, not even the Bill before us gives them certainty, as so much of it has to be followed up with further regulations. The truth is that there was no need for this last-minute legislative scramble. The real reason we are in this position—the reason why this business motion is before us and gives the House so little time—is that the Government thought that it was a good negotiating tactic to breach the agreement, or to threaten to breach the agreement, that they reached with the EU last year. They threatened to do that in this Bill as well as in the United Kingdom Internal Market Bill. As so often, it was a threat posing as strength that ended up doing more harm to us than to anyone else. That is why this Bill was so late, and that is why the time to debate it is so short.

The Government, immediately before they embark on a new future based on trade deals, chose to advertise around the world that they were willing to break the last one that they signed. Boasting about your willingness to go back on your word is not an illustration of strength; rather, it is a graphic portrayal of what Brexit has done to the Conservative party.

Photo of Pat McFadden Pat McFadden Shadow Economic Secretary (Treasury)

I am going to continue, because I do not have long to go.

As the House has been reminded, it was Mrs Thatcher who said:

“Britain does not break treaties. It would be bad for Britain, bad for our relations with the rest of the world and bad for any future treaty on trade”.

The threat to do so has left us with the timetable for this Bill. That inevitably means that scrutiny of today’s measures will be severely truncated and parts of it will go through without being properly examined. What we have before us is the appearance of scrutiny, not the reality—Potemkin scrutiny. That is what a timetable like this gives us.

This is not just about us here in this House—it also leaves businesses affected, with little or no time to absorb and understand what is being planned. There have been many comments on the state of things in recent days, but perhaps the most pithy has come from the chief executive of the Road Haulage Association, who said this week, commenting on the border arrangements:

“Frankly, it’s just a mess.”

The bigger point here is that the reason why we are in this position is that the Government’s approach to all of this has relegated concerns about business, prosperity and people’s livelihoods to a distant second place. This motion and the approach behind it are not only bad for the legislative process, but bad for the country too.

Photo of Jesse Norman Jesse Norman The Financial Secretary to the Treasury 3:25 pm, 9th December 2020

I would simply say this in response to the right hon. Gentleman: the Government have been moving at great speed, and much of the regulation is already in the public domain, together with an enormous amount of further communications and support systems. The Government are putting in front of the House today a Bill that encodes the Northern Ireland protocol and a Command Paper that has been in the public domain for many months, and if the right hon. Gentleman wished to have more scrutiny, he perhaps might have considered not having a debate on this motion.

Photo of Eleanor Laing Eleanor Laing Deputy Speaker and Chairman of Ways and Means

I am aware that some Members would like to make points on this, but I am afraid that it is not in order for them to do so, because under current rules I have to stick to the speaking list. Just as a matter of fact, interventions would have been fine, but not speeches.

Question put and agreed to.