European Union (Withdrawal) (No. 6) Bill - Second Reading

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 12:35 pm on 5th September 2019.

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Photo of Lord Anderson of Ipswich Lord Anderson of Ipswich Crossbench 12:35 pm, 5th September 2019

My Lords, as foreshadowed by its strange nickname—the surrender Bill—this Bill seems fated to be pigeonholed in the public debate as a remainer instrument that would need to be instantly repealed in the event of a Conservative victory at what we must assume to be the forthcoming general election. Of course, it gives some short-term comfort to those, like me, who still believe that our national interest is best served by staying in—but I suggest that this Bill, if passed, may prove to be of assistance even to dedicated leavers, should they soon find themselves with a parliamentary majority. It will save them from the consequences of the impetuous decision to set the date of 31 October in stone. It will do so in particular by allowing desperately needed time for two things the Government say they want: a withdrawal agreement and preparatory legislation.

Let us assume—generously, perhaps—that the Government are sincere in their stated preference for a negotiated Brexit. Their current position appears to be that an election in mid-October could be followed by a few days’ frenzied negotiation on the basis of proposals not yet submitted, a deal at the European summit in mid-October, the subsequent ratification of that deal—not only by this House but by the European Parliament—and the passage of a new and no doubt lengthy withdrawal agreement Bill, all by 31 October.

The Bill introduces an element of realism into that equation. It will have no effect if the Government achieve their stated aim of a deal by the European summit. Indeed, as the noble Baroness, Lady Ludford, said, even a subsequent deal will deactivate its requirements, according to Clause 1(5). If the Government do not achieve their aim, the extension that must be requested under the Bill is long enough for negotiations but not for a further referendum. Indeed, Clause 2 proceeds on the assumption that negotiations will progress during that period.

If our fate is to crash out with no deal, legislation will be required, and here too the Bill gives much-needed time. The Government were saying earlier this year that six new Bills were needed before a no-deal Brexit. Five of those Bills are still before Parliament. They will obviously not progress over the next few weeks, and I understand that it may not be possible even to carry over some of them into a new Session. Without those Bills, the Government will not be able—to give a few examples—to establish a trade remedies authority, set fishing quotas or even end free movement, if that is what they wish to do. To the dangers of a no-deal Brexit must be added the hazards of a legal vacuum.

Then there are the 100 Brexit-related statutory instruments that the Brexit Secretary said on 27 June were required before Brexit day. According to today’s UK Constitutional Law Association blog, only 27 of those have been laid, and Parliament is about to lose its ability to sift and scrutinise any that may be laid in the weeks to come.

We are all being urged to be ready for Brexit. This Bill is, among other things, an essential part of that process, and it has my support.