European Union (Withdrawal) Bill - Second Reading (Continued)

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 4:03 pm on 30th January 2018.

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Photo of Lord Tugendhat Lord Tugendhat Conservative 4:03 pm, 30th January 2018

My Lords, I agree with those who say that this Bill is not about whether we should leave the EU or stay in it—it is about how to ensure against a legal void when we leave. On that basis, it is a Bill that must, of course, pass. The question is in what form it should leave this House and return to the Commons. As has been widely pointed out, it represents an unprecedented arrogation of power to the Executive. Our duty, therefore, is to do as much as we can to ensure that the arrangements in place will be those that ensure that the powers are exercised in a responsible and democratic fashion, in accordance with parliamentary sovereignty and the rights of the devolved Administrations. It will be for the House of Commons to take the final decisions, but we must do what we can to lay before it a Bill that meets those criteria.

This means that the Bill requires substantial revision. I hope very much that the Government will take into account the serious concerns raised by the Constitution Committee and others with parliamentary and constitutional experience. I was encouraged by what my noble friend the Leader of the House had to say on that subject. I hope very much that noble Lords on the other Front Bench will pay very serious attention to what is said and not resort to any accusations of sabotage or anything of that nature. For my part, I hope that I will in general support Ministers. However, I will feel able to do so only if I am convinced by the merits of the case they put forward and that they have taken into account the arguments others have made, even if they have not accepted them.

I hope that the Government will understand another concern that I have. Our debates take place against a background of not only negotiations in Brussels but a struggle between different factions in the Cabinet and within the Conservative Party. Indeed, it is very hard to know at times what official policy is, let alone in what direction it is heading. This uncertainty is bound to influence the way in which—I was going to say “one” but I should say “I”—I respond to ministerial arguments on the Bill and to the way in which Ministers deal with amendments that are put forward. That it true of not just those clauses and amendments relating to our domestic law; it is even more true of those relating to our future relationship with the European Union. On that question I would like to make two points in the limited time available.

First, we must aim to strike a balance between the least possible economic and trading disruption in the short term and scope for regulatory divergence in the long term. That sentence is easy to say but the objective is extremely difficult to reach. As time progresses, the EU will develop differently from how it would have done if we were still members. We need to ensure that while remaining closely aligned to it, we are able to adopt policies that reflect our own views and priorities.

My second point is directed at those to whom the role and scope of the European Court of Justice and European law has become neuralgic. I ask them to consider the extent to which the United States listing requirements and sanctions regulations impinge on the freedom of action and practices of British companies and citizens. We live in a world in which a middle-sized economic power is inevitably constrained by the extraterritorial reach of the larger powers. If we are to prosper and have a successful trading and commercial relationship with the rest of the world, we are going to have to accept that reality. We will certainly have to accept it in any deal we might do with the United States. We need to accept it in relation to the European Union and in due course we will find that we have to accept it in relation to China.

I end on a point which others have made: if we are to secure a good deal—or, indeed, any deal—in Brussels, the Cabinet must end its internecine warfare and Cabinet Ministers must curb their personal ambitions. They must rally behind the Prime Minister and get stuck into the job in hand.