European Union (Withdrawal) (No. 5) Bill - Second Reading

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 9:56 pm on 4th April 2019.

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Photo of Earl Cathcart Earl Cathcart Conservative 9:56 pm, 4th April 2019

The result was still in favour of leaving with no deal. We are told that emergency legislation is necessary, but the reality is that the Prime Minister has already said that she will seek an extension beyond 12 April—so where is the emergency? The convention is that emergency legislation passed in one day has the consent of both Houses before being brought forward: in other words, it is not contentious. This clearly is not the case with this Bill, as could be seen in the voting last night in another place.

Not only is this Bill not an emergency; it is also not necessary. As I said, the Prime Minister has already agreed to seek a further extension, which is what this Bill seeks to achieve. If passed, it will become UK law. When the Prime Minister recently sought an extension to the 30 June, the EU came back with the two dates of 12 April and 22 May. The withdrawal agreement said that extensions could be made if passed by a statutory instrument in both Houses. However, the Prime Minister circumvented that by getting Sir Tim Barrow, our man in Brussels, to write to Brussels accepting their offer. Hey presto—we were told that that was sufficient to be an international agreement, and that international agreements trumped UK law, so the SI was just a tidying-up exercise. So what is to stop the Prime Minister seeking another extension by getting our man in Brussels to write another letter? Then, hey presto, we would have another international agreement that would trump this Bill if passed.

I have another point: traditionally, only a Minister may move a money resolution in support of legislation that requires expenditure of public funds. There is a very good reason for that: it is because the Government have responsibility for the Budget. If they want to spend more, they have to raise more money through taxes or borrowing. This Bill could have very significant financial consequences indeed. Staying in the EU for any length of time would be an extremely expensive thing to do and I believe that it would need a money resolution, which must be moved by a Minister of the Crown in the other place. I understand that a report from the other place says that, if we extended our stay in the EU for two more years, it would cost the UK taxpayer some £36 billion—a huge sum of money.

I was quite taken by something that my noble friend the Leader of the House said in her remarks earlier today. She said:

“Because of the speed at which this legislation is being considered, we have genuine concerns that this Bill could tie the hands of government and, in fact, be contrary to its stated objectives”,

and could lock us into leaving without a deal. My noble friend then gave the example of the Prime Minister going to Brussels next Wednesday. She might ask for a further extension to, say, Friday 31 May. Brussels might say no but, late at night—as it has done previously—come back with a counter offer of, say, Monday 22 May. All the leaders of the 27 would then go home. This Bill would then allow Sir Oliver Letwin and his friends in the Labour Party to consider this offer on the Thursday and either agree it or not. That would leave the EU 27 only the Friday 12 April to agree the date or, indeed, a new date chosen by the Commons. We know that, if all the 27 have not agreed by 11pm on the 12th, we will leave with no deal. That, presumably, is not something that the movers of this Bill would want.

I do not think that that will happen. I do not believe that this Bill will have any teeth if it is passed. If the Prime Minister wants to accept the offer of a new date from the EU, she will just get her man in Brussels to write another letter. This will again create an international agreement, which will trump anything that the Commons proposes through this Bill.