Only a few days to go: We’re raising £25,000 to keep TheyWorkForYou running and make sure people across the UK can hold their elected representatives to account.Donate to our crowdfunder
My Lords, it is a privilege to speak in what has been described as a historic debate on a technical Bill. In the time I have, I will constrain myself to addressing just a few points.
The first concerns the referendum vote. I noted with interest the passage of the Bill in the other place and the remarks by the shadow Brexit Secretary, repeating demands for a meaningful vote on the Brexit deal. I simply draw attention to the meaningful vote we had already in June 2016. It is now the job of Parliament to scrutinise, not to oppose this necessary legislation. Whether one voted to leave or remain, reconciling the result with a position that leaves the UK not in control of its borders, courts and fiscal contributions to the EU would feel very jarring. This applies as much to Parliament seeking to thwart Brexit by voting down the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill, as it does to those siren voices now calling for a second referendum. As my noble friend Lord Astor said, the people have spoken and it is the job of this House and the other place to make it work as smoothly as possible. If the shadow Brexit Secretary wishes to continue his search for meaning, then he should look no further than improving this Bill.
I commend some of what the chairman of the Brexit committee has to say, particularly as he reminds us that this legislation is necessary. We must pay heed to the Constitution Committee, which describes the Bill as deeply flawed. We must seek to improve it to the committee’s satisfaction where we can.
As this is a technical Bill, I offer some technical observations. In the other place, MPs raised the uncomfortable question of pre-exit disputes, many of which arose several years ago and which may now not go to the ECJ. In my opinion, they clearly ought to, as they arose under the old regime. The Francovich principle, which has been raised in this House before, has been removed from the Bill. I hope my noble friend the Minister will reconsider this. I am aware of instances where it would lead to a very unfair result and deprive genuine claimants of going to the EU court. I am happy to brief the Minister on this if required.
I turn to a particular area of interest of mine—financial services. In the other place much of the debate was about the use, or overuse, of delegated powers—the so-called Henry VIII clause. I must take issue with much of what was said. Lamenting the use of delegated powers is a common tool in all opposition toolboxes. When they have run out of points of principle, they resort to points of process. Leaving that aside, much of the criticism was largely fallacious. As the EU committee set out, in financial services in particular, EU laws follow the Lamfalussy framework. Reading the debate in the other place, it is almost as if many want even the lowest level of content included in UK primary legislation. Yet, as the Investment Association has pointed out, in financial services, at least, much of EU law is better handled here by the regulator, not to circumvent democracy but for reasons of efficacy and practicality. It is simply about appropriate levels of detail. As the renowned EU legal expert Simon Gleeson pointed out to the EU Committee,
“the Bill will perpetuate one of the main defects of the current EU position, namely that too much detail is in legislation and is difficult to update”.
There may well be much to be improved in this Bill, but cramming it full of regulatory issues better handled in secondary legislation and regulatory guidance and enforcement should not be part of that process.
I add my voice to those who have warned against a second referendum. I appreciate that its advocates are saying “not now” but they are pushing us down a very dangerous road. If the EU detected that there would be a second referendum, can your Lordships imagine its negotiating position? It would make an agreement that much harder. Is that the agenda of those calling for a second referendum? I hope not, and that those who might be talking down our negotiating position recognise that. There is no real prospect of holding a referendum without causing huge anguish and pain all over again between friends, parties and even families up and down the country in what would inevitably be a difficult campaign full of bias and hate. As Brenda of Bristol famously said: “What? Not another one!”.