Moved on Monday
That the Bill be now read a second time.
At end to insert “but that this House regrets that Part 5 of the bill contains provisions which, if enacted, would undermine the rule of law and damage the reputation of the United Kingdom.
Relevant documents: 14th Report from the EU Select Committee, 24th and 26th Reports from the Delegated Powers Committee, 17th Report from the Constitution Committee.
My Lords, yesterday we heard some remarkable speeches, not least from the two debutants: the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman of Ullock, and the noble Lord, Lord Sarfraz. Over eight hours we heard the Bill broken down into three areas of serious concern: its illegality, its threat to the union, and its structural limitations. The analysis of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Judge, backed up by many other legal Peers, was clear: this Bill establishes a position whereby the United Kingdom breaks international law.
The counterarguments were less numerous, and they were weak. On the one hand, they said that this is an anti-Brexit rearguard action—something easily dismissed by taking note of the powerful speeches of the noble Lords, Lord Howard of Lympne and Lord Lamont of Lerwick, neither of whom is publicly gripped by pro-EU sentiment. The other line taken was that because other countries have broken the law, we can too. It is the cry of the playground: “They started it!” My noble friend Lord Thomas and others demonstrated that that argument is neither here nor there.
This Bill transcends legal affront—and here we should thank the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury, who, in his speech, set out a moral case against this part of the Bill. As he put it:
“Our reputation as a nation, our profoundly good and powerful influence and example … will suffer great harm if law-breaking is pursued”.—[Official Report, 19/10/20; cols. 1293-4.]
That point was backed up by the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Stirrup:
“The Government exercise authority through the law; if they undermine respect for the law, they undermine both themselves and the stability of our society”.—[Official Report, 19/10/20; col. 1348.]
It is fair to say that the noble and gallant Lord knows a thing or two about the importance of moral courage.
This is not an academic argument. If we needed to be reminded how this Bill can affect the lives of people on the island of Ireland, my noble friend Lord Alderdice, speaking from his vast experience, set out what is at stake, and as my noble friend Lady Suttie said:
“The Northern Ireland protocol, which is far from perfect, is none the less a carefully constructed compromise to try to maintain peace and stability on the island of Ireland and to protect the Good Friday/Belfast agreement”.—[Official Report, 19/10/20; col. 1315.]
Among yesterday’s speeches came a quite remarkable intervention from the noble Lord, Lord Barwell—a man with a unique window on this process. He recalled how, in a meeting with EU officials, Theresa May asked why the Northern Ireland backstop had to be set out in such operational detail. She was told:
“‘Because, bluntly, we do not think you will be there for much longer and we do not trust what is going to follow in terms of living up to any commitments’”.—[Official Report, 19/10/20; col. 1359.]
So, far from sending the EU a stern message about the UK’s resolve, the Bill simply confirms its suspicions about our trustworthiness—or rather, our lack of it.
Moving on to devolution, the noble Lord, Lord Callanan, asserted:
“These powers are not designed to take powers from the devolved Administrations”.—[Official Report, 19/10/20; col. 1284.]
My noble and learned friend Lord Wallace of Tankerness and my noble friends Lord Bruce of Bennachie and Lord German and others made it clear that the reality is something quite different. The Bill pulls back power to Westminster at the expense of the devolution settlement. Many Peers, such as my noble friend Lady Humphreys, pointed to the glaring absence of any reference to the common framework in the Bill.
For its part, the Constitution Committee is not convinced that opportunities for managing the UK internal market through the common framework process have been exhausted—and neither am I. By abstracting the internal market from these frameworks and pushing ahead unilaterally against opposition from devolved authorities, the UK Government are putting the common frameworks at risk. I have to ask: is that what Her Majesty’s Government want? That is what it looks like.
In light of progress being made with the common frameworks, my noble friend Lord Newby questioned, with considerable support, whether the Bill is needed at all. However, in his speech, the noble Lord, Lord Callanan, claimed:
“Without the Bill a Welsh lamb producer … could end up unable to sell their lamb as easily … Scotch whisky producers could lose access to supply from English barley farmers”.—[Official Report, 19/10/20; col. 1282.]
My noble friend Lord Purvis asked some specific questions regarding whisky. I would like to ask: what possible grounds are there to support the Welsh lamb claim?
Further, the noble Lord, Lord Callanan, also said that the Bill
“will allow professionals such as doctors and nurses, qualified in one of the UK nations, to work in any other”.—[
If by this the Minister is saying that, without the Bill, English doctors will not be able to practise in Wales, I challenge him; if not, what is he saying? I think these comments are entirely baseless and I ask the noble Lord, Lord True, either to demonstrate that they are rooted in fact or to withdraw them.
The third element of the Bill is the role of the CMA as the home for an office for the internal market. As ever, I listened to my noble friend Lady Bowles on such issues. The Committee stage will see significant debate on this.
It will come as no surprise that noble Lords on these Benches will support the amendment in the name of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Judge, but as my noble friend Lord Newby made clear, it cannot stop there. This was backed by a strident call to arms from the noble Lord, Lord Butler. He and others made it clear that your Lordships have to be prepared to stand by the splendid speeches that we heard yesterday when we get to the sharp end of this Bill. In that regard, your Lordships’ House should be indebted to my noble friend Lord McNally for outlining the outcome of the Cunningham conventions. As he explained, we should not be inhibited in standing up to the Government.
The conclusions that I draw from yesterday’s debate are: the illegality of this Bill must be removed; Clauses 44, 45 and 47 should be excised and the Henry VIII clauses removed; the role of the common frameworks as the prime mover in a single market must be reinstated; and consensus must be sought on the principles of the Bill where the market is managed and disputes are dealt with. Finally, if there needs to be an office for the internal market, it needs a different governance structure from that proposed.
We all know that this Bill is illegal, flouts important constitutional issues and threatens devolution. More than that, we know that it has already eroded trust in our institutions and is damaging the reputation of this country, which promotes the rule of law. Finally, and perhaps most insidiously, we know that any law that seeks to permit the Executive to break laws is morally wrong.
My Lords, it seems a long time ago now, but I start by thanking the Minister, the noble Lord, Lord Callanan, for introducing the Bill. It was, as many noble Lords commented at the time, a little surprising that he did not cover Part 5, but he may have decided that others would focus on it—he was right. I thank too my noble friend Lady Hayman of Ullock and the noble Lord, Lord Sarfraz, for their excellent maiden speeches. We welcome them to full membership of the House.
We have benefited enormously from the advice of our Select Committees and our deliberations have been improved by the contributions of their members. I thank everyone, from all groups, who has contributed, and the House authorities and the technical wizards who made it all work seamlessly. It was a long but worthwhile day. It is an honour to wind on what I think will turn out to have been a significant debate.
There is usually little to say about why a Government, especially one recently elected with a huge majority, should bring forward a seemingly routine Bill for Parliament to consider. It would have probably appeared in their manifesto, it would have featured in the Queen’s Speech, and it would have been preceded by consultation, a Command Paper or two and possibly pre-legislative scrutiny—although that, sadly, appears to be out of fashion these days. However, this Bill has left no such traces, apart from a vapid announcement and a pretty token consultation over the summer months.
During the debate yesterday, two rather different narratives emerged. On the one side was an assertion that this was a vital and necessary Bill that was required to ensure that the internal market within the UK worked smoothly with effect from the end of the transition period, with Part 5 tacked on just in case it became necessary to legislate if the joint committee failed to resolve issues related to the complex customs and single market situation in Northern Ireland. On the other side was a feeling that the Bill could not be supported as it stood because not only was it asking Members of this House to be complicit in a proposal to take powers to break the rule of law but it was damaging, possibly fatally, to the devolution settlement, was packed with egregious Henry VIII powers and was full of internal inconsistencies about how and to what effect the single market and state aid rules would operate after the transition period ended.
I am not by nature a believer in conspiracy theories, but the communique issued by the Cabinet Office after yesterday’s withdrawal agreement joint committee meeting makes interesting reading:
It is hard to accept that the Bill before us is just a cock-up, but perhaps only time will tell. Whatever its provenance, the elected House has asked us to consider it, and that is what we have to do.
Before we joined the EEC, we had a well-functioning internal market. We have now left the EU, and with that decision comes the imminent end of the rules governing the single market. How do we move forward, preserving the best of what we currently have? How do we ensure that consumers continue to benefit as they have in the past because of the way in which strong EU competition and state aid rules protected their interests? We do not believe that the proposition for a top-down, centralised standard-setting system contained in the Bill is right for the modern UK economy. The EU single market rules governed trade in goods and services across members states. They recognised the diverse economic, social and legal contexts of those states and harmonised practice, or set minimum standards, only where it was agreed that it was essential to support the market while observing the important principles of subsidiarity and proportionality. Why are these principles patently not in the Bill? The principles that are there, of mutual recognition and non-discrimination, are good in so far as they go, but they will not prevent local divergence or a race to the bottom on standards.
The sensible way of managing policy divergence within the UK internal market is by continuing to develop a suite of common frameworks; that is, agreed common approaches in areas previously governed by EU law but otherwise within the areas of competence of the devolved Administrations or legislatures. The common frameworks are intended to be agreed by consensus, and surely that is a prize worth waiting for. The UK Government have collaborated on a common frameworks programme for three years; many are close to final agreement, with the remainder being progressed at pace. Given how close we are to agreement, why does this Bill ignore rather than build on that programme? We intend to strongly challenge this approach. The Bill threatens to frustrate the progress made so far and to undermine future trust and co-operation because, to quote the chairs of the Constitution Committee and the EU Committee:
“The Bill provides the Government with powers to alter the competences of the devolved administrations and risks destabilising existing devolution arrangements.”
The Bill also seeks explicitly to amend the devolution settlement to add the design and operation of a “subsidy regime”—it used to be known as state aid—to the list of reserved matters. This has been described as a “power grab”, and it cannot be right for the UK Parliament to press ahead with legislation on an issue which is causing such genuine anger and concern. Again, it is difficult to see what is to be gained by pushing ahead with the Bill when so much needs to be determined about how and in what circumstances the UK wishes to evolve its state aid regime for the future. When we learn that the Government intend to follow WTO rules on state aid after
My noble friend Lady Hayter has outlined our approach to the CMA, and I repeat her call that the CMA’s present structure is inadequate, not simply because it fails to represent the four nations but because it lacks a clear duty to place consumers at the heart of its work. Competition is undoubtedly an important way of avoiding consumer detriment, but it is not, and never will be, an end in itself.
As I have hinted, most of the speeches in this Second Reading debate have focused on the egregious Clauses 42 to 47. Despite amendments to the Bill in the Commons, it has not been improved by the additions made and the arguments put forward yesterday by a huge range of speakers from all parts of your Lordships’ House were comprehensive and utterly convincing. As my noble and learned friend Lord Falconer and others reminded us, the tensions inherent in the protocol on Ireland/Northern Ireland were not hidden but were apparent from the outset. The breach of international law has been entered into knowingly. The Bill strikes at the heart not only of the protocol but of the withdrawal agreement. It could pose a threat to the maintenance of the Belfast/Good Friday agreement. In bringing forward the Bill, the Government alleged that the EU had not been acting in good faith, but they have not disclosed any evidence that it has acted in bad faith.
The government amendment in the other place does not alter the Bill’s fundamental incompatibility with the withdrawal agreement. The Government’s pre-emptive action has placed the United Kingdom in the wrong. The Bill has damaged the United Kingdom’s international reputation as a defender of the rule of law. As my noble and learned friend said yesterday, we will invite the House to remove Part 5 of the Bill neck and crop, to use his colourful language, at the earliest opportunity, and we hope that thereafter we can work with all parts of your Lordships’ House so that the House can do everything that it legitimately can to ensure that Part 5 remains removed permanently.
The amendments to this Bill put down by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Judge, and by the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, are supported by this side and, as far as I can judge, by the vast majority of your Lordships’ House and by the country at large. If moved, we will support them. I expect that the Government will be humiliated by the size of the majority against them, and a message will go out to the EU and the world that at least this House has standards and principles that others can depend upon, even if the present Government have not. When the history of these troubled months comes to be written, it will not be kind to the current Prime Minister and his Cabinet.
My Lords, obviously, I thank all those who have spoken in this long debate and, in particular, the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman of Ullock, and my noble friend Lord Sarfraz for their remarkable and uplifting maiden speeches. Sometimes all of us need uplifting, and long may they stay in this House to enlighten us.
This has been a serious debate, as is appropriate on serious matters of serious importance—the sustaining of the union of the United Kingdom and the building of prosperity in a climate of certainty and security for business. However, I had some reflections during the course of the debate, and at one point found myself asking whether Henry VIII’s foundation of the Church of England was fully in accord with both our domestic law and international obligations.
I apologise if I cannot mention over 100 speakers by name when addressing the many issues raised, but I have listened carefully to every speech, shall respond as fully as I can on the main issues and will write to noble Lords on points of fact where that is not possible. First, I address points made on the main parts of the Bill, ably presented by my noble friend Lord Callanan, before I come directly to answer the amendments before us, on which the noble and learned Lord, Lord Judge, has indicated that—unusually—he wishes to divide the House at Second Reading.
I was pleased to hear understanding across the House for the purposes behind the Bill, even if we do not agree on it. There is agreement that commerce, services and professions must be enabled to operate freely across the whole United Kingdom. That is widely supported—indeed, demanded—by business, including in Northern Ireland. Without this legislation, there could be problematic divergence, putting at risk the seamless trade that businesses in Scotland, Northern Ireland, Wales and England enjoyed before we entered the EU, enjoyed in it and should enjoy hereafter. This Bill will protect trade and secure jobs across all parts of the United Kingdom after the end of the transition period. It will guarantee that UK businesses can trade unhindered in every part of the United Kingdom.
I assure those noble Lords who raised this that the Government will maintain the highest standards for consumers, workers, food and the environment. We have repeatedly stated our commitment to high standards. Under our proposals, the devolved Administrations will continue to have power to regulate within devolved areas, in so far as these do not cause a barrier to internal trade. We are committed to being a global leader in environmental protection and animal welfare standards while maintaining the high quality of our produce for consumers at home and overseas.
Some noble Lords, including those who spoke today, have questioned the need for the Bill, arguing that non-statutory arrangements may be enough. They fear that the Bill may restrict the freedoms of devolved Administrations. We have listened and will continue to listen to such concerns; we wish for close co-operation with the devolved Administrations—there is no so-called power grab here. Indeed, at the end of the transition period, hundreds of powers currently exercised by the EU will flow back to the UK, as the British people have asked. Many of the powers coming back from the EU fall within the competence of the devolved Administrations, which will see a major transfer of powers that before the EU exit they did not have.
As we set out in our White Paper, without an up-to-date, coherent market structure, economic barriers could block or inhibit trade in goods across the United Kingdom, and services could be significantly and detrimentally impacted. Future complexities could arise— for example, differing qualifications for plumbers or technicians could limit access to skilled construction workers and make it harder for one nation’s construction companies to bid for contracts in another. Such costs could ultimately reach consumers, increasing prices or decreasing choice. Significant and unmanaged economic barriers arising across the UK could not only cause serious harm to the interests of our business and consumers but threaten the prosperity of the UK economy as a whole.
I was pleased that so many noble Lords commended the common frameworks programme, which has been mentioned again today. It is an important process and one that will continue. We will update the House on progress as we work with our friends in the devolved Administrations in the months ahead and will study carefully the observations of your Lordships’ Select Committees on this part of the Bill. I assure the House that this Bill does not make the common frameworks redundant, as many, including the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay of Llandaff, my noble friend Lord Dunlop, the noble Baroness, Lady Crawley, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope of Craighead, and the noble Baroness, Lady Andrews, fear. However, common frame- works do not replace the need for this Bill; they are a mechanism for collaborative policy-making in areas of returning EU law which intersect with devolved competence. They are sector-specific and allow for a deeper level of regulatory coherence, but they do so in a specific set of policy areas. While they remain a crucial part of our regulatory landscape, common frameworks alone cannot guarantee the integrity of the entire internal market.
The Bill ensures that areas without a common frame- work will still benefit from the regulatory underpinning and, crucially, market coherence will be provided for issues that fall around, or between, individual sector-focused frameworks. The Bill complements common frameworks by providing a broad safety net and additional protections to maintain the status quo of seamless intra-UK trade across all sectors of the economy. That will ensure maximum certainty for businesses and for investors, domestic and foreign. I am sure that all noble Lords support that objective. We look forward to pursuing these important issues in detail in Committee —and I give that undertaking.
Let me turn to the subject of most of the speeches yesterday—Part 5 of the Bill and the amendments before your Lordships. The future of our union and the sustaining of the Belfast agreement are at the heart of this Bill. A strong and open internal market with the ability to support all parts of our union and deliver prosperity for communities across the whole of the United Kingdom is something that we should surely all support. That includes Northern Ireland, as is affirmed in Clause 42 in Part 5. Support for free trade across the United Kingdom must extend to the good people and businesses of Northern Ireland; they are our countrymen and women, and part of our union. This Government will allow no foreign authority, armed with whatever pretext, high or low, to undermine the principle of free trade within our customs territory that has been fundamental since the Act of Union.
I am pleased to tell the noble Lord, Lord Browne, that EU state aid rules will not apply to Northern Ireland as they do today. State aid provisions apply only to trade subject to the protocol, which is limited in scope to goods and wholesale electricity markets. Northern Ireland will therefore enjoy new flexibilities with respect to support for its service industries, including those with potential for rapid growth—for example, fintech and cybersecurity businesses.
I thank the noble and learned Lord, Lord Judge, and I hope that the House will forgive me if I send my good wishes to Lady Judge, and wish for a speedy recovery. I thank him for meeting me; I understand why he cannot be here today, and I thank him for sharing with me his thoughts on this part of the Bill. As we have heard, his objections fall not on the objective to safeguard our union and the Belfast agreement, but on his strongly held sense, held by other noble Lords who have spoken, that Part 5 of the Bill, sent to us by another place, undermines the rule of law.
We share a full and fundamental respect for and belief in the rule of law. That is not something handed to us from outside by some directive or convention. It was won in the sacrifice of civil war and affirmed in the Glorious Revolution, the Bill of Rights and the Claim of Right, since when our parliamentary Government and rule of law, as many have said, have been an inspiration to the world.
The Government do not believe that the limited, contingent proposals in this Bill change that position. They do not accept that these safeguard provisions render our country, as has been claimed, an international pariah, or justify, as was asserted, murderous actions by others. People are still talking to us. Indeed, your Lordships’ Constitution Committee said in paragraph 171 that in
“domestic law, it is correct that Parliament may enact legislation which” infringes
This Bill does nothing to abrogate our commitment. We are committed to implementing the withdrawal agreement and the Northern Ireland protocol, and have already taken many practical steps to do this. We continue, as the noble Lord opposite said, to work with the EU in the joint committee set up to address uncertainties and incompatibilities in parts of the Northern Ireland protocol. We hope we may resolve the outstanding issues and avoid the maximalist interpretations by the EU that might lead to a situation where tensions arise between our domestic obligations and our international commitments and we have to act to resolve them.
We cannot guarantee that agreement will be found. The fact remains that we have not reached agreement. Last Thursday the EU summit appeared explicitly to rule out a Canada-style deal. It effectively restated its opening position in the negotiation as its present position, and instructed the UK to move. As my right honourable friend the Prime Minister said last Thursday, the EU has
“refused to negotiate seriously for much of the last few months”.
We must therefore address the contingent possibility that a threat to the union and to the Belfast agreement might arise. The provisions in Part 5 of the Bill are about creating a legal safety net, taking powers in reserve whereby Ministers could act to guarantee the integrity of the United Kingdom and protect the peace process. The Government never have and never will seek north-south barriers in Ireland; equally, we cannot accept east-west barriers in our customs territory. The imperative here is balance. The prerequisite is reason. In the difficult and highly exceptional circumstances in which we find ourselves, it is right that we take these precautionary steps now.
I can also confirm to the House, as asked by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer, that we will take action, if necessary, in a finance Bill in 2020, to address the issue of tariffs.
We are clear that we are acting in full accordance with UK law and the UK’s constitutional norms in our actions. We do not take this action lightly or without good reason.
Your Lordships will have every chance to consider these matters in Committee, and consider them we must. We cannot set aside our constitutional duty to scrutinise a Bill that has passed through the other place with a healthy majority, as was said by the noble Lord opposite. To do so would be a failure to fulfil our revising purpose. Neither amendment before your Lordships refuses that. They accept Parliament’s right to receive and consider legislation such as this. The effect of the amendments is declaratory. As such, their purpose is to send a message. I hear the message about the importance of the rule of law. We can all assent to that. The noble Lord opposite used the language of “message”. There is another message that some will hear; a message, as he said, to the European Union: if the UK Government and the elected Chamber refuse to accept the EU’s most encroaching demands, your Lordships will deny the UK Government a contingent power to protect our union and safeguard the Belfast agreement.
That, and, still more, a threat to destroy this whole Bill, would be a heavy missile to launch at what is a profoundly delicate state of negotiations, when this Government are seeking to fulfil the firm resolution of the people of the United Kingdom that this country should be a fully independent state. That is the context of these proposals. I am deeply mindful of the wise words of my noble friend Lord Hunt of Wirral and the noble Lord, Lord Skidelsky, that this House should not tie the hands of this Government at this time.
It is the Government’s sincere wish that these provisions need never be invoked. We have listened to the views of those concerned and amended the Bill so that Clauses 44, 45 and 47 can be commenced only following approval by the House of Commons. In addition, I can confirm to my noble friend Lord Lamont that regulations under Clauses 44 and 45 could be made only following approval by Parliament as a whole, which includes your Lordships’ House. In circumstances where your Lordships have the power to set a staying hand, at a time when we will know the state of negotiations between the UK and the EU, it would seem quixotic to threaten, as the noble Lord, Lord Butler, did, to destroy the whole Bill now.
My noble friend Lord Bridges posed a question. The Government do not consider that these clauses, as and when the Bill is enacted, of themselves breach Article 4 of the withdrawal agreement, which requires that those provisions of EU law made applicable by the withdrawal agreement are given effect in domestic law in the UK in the same way as they are in EU member states. However, there is a political question before us as well as a legal one, and a balance of judgment to be made in the national interest. I repeat: the fact remains that there is no negotiated agreement, and the Government must be realistic that we are barely more than two months away from the end of the transition period.
I do not accept strictures around morality, although I note with interest that I now have to seek moral guidance in the House journal of Mammon. It would be irresponsible not to have measures in place in our domestic law that allowed Ministers to protect the UK’s internal market and the Northern Ireland peace process. The Government are making sure that the protocol is implemented in a way that works for Northern Ireland; that is, in a flexible, pragmatic and proportionate way, in line with the approach set out in our May Command Paper. That approach was broadly welcomed by the majority of businesses and political parties in Northern Ireland and is the basis on which we have been negotiating and will continue to negotiate with the EU. However, we cannot and will not allow harmful legal defaults under the protocol to take effect.
In all circumstances, Northern Ireland is and must remain part of the UK customs territory, with genuine unfettered access to the rest of the UK internal market. We must at the very least avoid the European Commission applying its state aid rules to companies in Scotland, Wales or England with no link, or only the most trivial one, to Northern Ireland.
As we have made clear, if these measures were ever needed, their commencement would be subject to a vote in the other place and a take-note debate in our House, as set out in the Government’s Statement on
The rule of law is a great matter, and the integrity of this union is also a great matter. There is a balance to be struck in these difficult times, and proportion to be found. We believe that these measures, with all the safeguards I have mentioned, strike that balance without tying the hands of the Government at a critical time.
What is potentially proposed is not an armed invasion of another nation but a contingent and potential power, subject to safeguards, which the Government have stated they hope need never be invoked. It is presented to Parliament fully in accord with our constitutional norms.
I urge noble Lords to support the Bill and not to support the amendments in the names of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Judge, and the noble Lord, Lord Cormack.
My Lords, I thank everybody who has taken part in this debate, including those who disagree with me. I welcome the noble Lord, Lord Sarfraz, and particularly the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman—I am sure the noble Lord will not be upset with me if I say that it is an absolute delight to know that there are now three Members of your Lordships’ House who support Leicester City Football Club.
The debate has reinforced my anxiety about the Bill. If it is enacted, we shall be giving the Executive the most extraordinarily wide powers, and until the debate I had not fully appreciated the dangers to the union of giving the Executive in London effectively uncontrolled power over the way in which the internal market will work. That reinforces my anxiety. I wish to make just a couple of points.
I notice that the Minister has not resiled from the proposition which some of those who support him were keen to advance: that the Bill, if enacted, would not break international law or break the law. That it would not break the law seems a crucial element in this. The fact of the matter is that the law would be broken. The Minister in the other place said so; the Treasury Solicitor resigned; and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Keen, resigned. There can be no getting away from it, and, to be fair, the Minister in our House has not sought to do so. That is the starting point.
I then listened to a number of arguments suggesting that the Government are entirely justified anyway because the EU has been acting in bad faith. Although the Minister did not use those words, he just touched upon it by referring to the way in which the negotiations had broken down and to the Prime Minister describing how the EU was refusing to negotiate. If any of that has force, the remedies are there to be found within the Act, the agreement, the protocol and within the ordinary rules which govern international treaties where one side is breaking the purpose and spirit of the agreement. That is the remedy that should be sought if there is indeed bad faith by the EU.
I expect the negotiations to be tough—that is the whole point of them. I hope that our negotiators are being tough—that is what they are there for. That is a very far distant cry from bad faith. No evidence of that has so far been shown to any of the committees which examined these issues; indeed, apart from the most recent observation by the Minister before us today, there is no evidence. Therefore, we are dealing with a hypothetical situation, which is: “We may need these powers at some stage.” Maybe we will; I hope not. If we do, it is perfectly open to the Government to come back to us, to Parliament, to put before us emergency legislation and for both Houses to sit as long and as late as necessary to examine the proposals, and, if they are satisfactory, to endorse them.
I shall not go through the arguments that were deployed before your Lordships’ House yesterday. I add merely that you do not have to be a lawyer to understand the rule of law, and you certainly do not have to be a lawyer to understand when you are giving powers away. That is what the Bill will do. You do not have to be a lawyer to understand the reputational damage to the United Kingdom. That is what this situation will do. We cannot resile from the fact that we are breaking the law if the Bill is enacted. That is what the Government say. That is why, while I quite understand the Minister’s anxiety about the future and I share his concern about it, I will seek the views of this House.
Just before I finish, I thank the Minister for his courtesy and good wishes.
I seek the opinion of the House.
Ayes 395, Noes 169.