We need your support to keep TheyWorkForYou running and make sure people across the UK can continue to hold their elected representatives to account.

Donate to our crowdfunder

European Union (Withdrawal) Bill - Report (6th Day)

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 4:45 pm on 8th May 2018.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Lord Callanan Lord Callanan Minister of State (Department for Exiting the European Union) 4:45 pm, 8th May 2018

My Lords, I thank all noble Lords for their contributions to this debate. Exit day has been discussed at length throughout the passage of this Bill. Set dates such as this are often crucial to the functioning of any legislation, but I would like to take this opportunity to remind noble Lords of the particular importance of exit day in this Bill.

Exit day is the moment in time when the European Communities Act is repealed. It is the point at which EU laws are converted into UK law, when the deficiencies in retained EU law emerge and when a range of other effects are triggered under the Bill. However, I reiterate that exit day within the Bill does not affect our departure from the EU, which is a matter of international law under the Article 50 process, as my noble friend the Duke of Wellington and the noble Baroness, Lady Hayter, made clear. What it does affect, however, is whether we leave the EU in a smooth and orderly fashion.

The definition of exit day, and how it is to be set out, has been amended significantly since the Bill was introduced to the other place by my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union on 13 July last year. My noble friend Lady Goldie has previously described the sequence of events which led us to the current drafting and I will not test the patience of your Lordships by repeating the arguments she made in Committee. What I will say, however, is that, crucially, the Bill left the other place reflecting the reality of international law under the Treaty on European Union. I see no reason, therefore, to change the Bill any further. The final drafting also reflected the concerns of Members of the other place who had been on both sides of the referendum campaign. That fact sits at the core of my opposition to Amendments 74, 95 and 99 in the name of the noble Duke, the Duke of Wellington.

As has been stated on many occasions during Report, this House reviews the legislation sent to it by the other place and highlights—often very well—areas where it does not think due consideration has been given. This point was well made by the noble Lord, Lord Grocott, as a leaver from the West Midlands. As a leaver from the north-east, also an area underrepresented in this House, I have considerable sympathy with his arguments. I therefore cannot why these amendments are seeking to restore something like the original drafting of the Bill when that drafting was considered at great length, on many occasions, and was rejected by the other place.

I also do not agree with Amendment 96 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Wigley. The Bill is designed to provide continuity and certainty in domestic law as we leave the EU. This must be true in a scenario where we have a deal with the EU, but it must also be true in the unlikely event that there is no agreement between the EU and ourselves. While this is not what anybody on either side is hoping for, it would be irresponsible and out of keeping with the remainder of the Bill not to prepare for that unlikely event. In that circumstance, it would be vital that the Bill did not make reference to concepts which are contingent upon a successful negotiated outcome, such as an implementation period. That would prevent the Bill achieving its objective as agreed at Second Reading, because in that scenario further primary legislation would be required to alter exit day and provide for an operable statute book. Even in the Government’s preferred scenario of a successfully negotiated withdrawal agreement, including of course an implementation period, the noble Lord’s amendment presumes that no substantive provisions of this Bill will be required until the end of that implementation period.

While I do not want to be drawn into a discussion about the legal construction of the implementation period, which will be a matter for the withdrawal agreement and implementation Bill—I have no doubt we will have great fun in our opportunity to consider that—I do not think that the noble Lord can be certain in his assumption. This is the real issue with the noble Lord’s amendment: it attempts to use this Bill to legislate for the implementation period. But the Government have been quite clear that the implementation period will be a matter for the withdrawal agreement and implementation Bill once we have agreement. This Bill is deliberately and carefully agnostic about whatever deal we strike with the EU, prejudging neither success nor failure in negotiations.

Of course, we hope and expect to be successful in these negotiations, and our continuing progress demonstrates good movement towards that goal. I hope that noble Lords will reflect the compromise reached by the elected House, and therefore I respectfully ask the noble Duke to withdraw his amendment.