The House of Commons considered yesterday the future relationship between the United Kingdom and the European Union. During the debate Sir William Cash made the following interventions:
The Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union (Dominic Raab):
I bet to move,
That this House has considered the future relationship between the United Kingdom and the European Union.
Let me begin by paying tribute to my right hon. Friend the Member for Uxbridge and South Ruislip (Boris Johnson). I could not make it into the Chamber, but I listened to his personal statement from my office. I pay tribute to the huge service that he did to our country during his tenure as Foreign Secretary, and also to the passion and optimism with which he spoke in relation to Brexit.
Last week the Government published their White Paper “The future relationship between the United Kingdom and the European Union”. It is a principled and pragmatic plan for the relationship that we wish to build for the future.
Sir William Cash (Stone) (Con): I am glad to follow the right hon. Member for Leeds Central (Hilary Benn) because he talked about sovereignty, although he rather distorted the focus of it, to put it bluntly, and I will explain why in a moment.
Brexit is ultimately about our democracy, our sovereignty and our self-government. All the other issues, including our right to free trade with the rest of the world, are subsidiary to the questions of sovereignty, self-government and democracy because they flow from them. This is the ultimate test. To get our sovereignty and our democracy, and to get it right, we must govern ourselves. I am deeply concerned about the White Paper and the Chequers settlement for that reason, and I will set out what I believe will be the practical outcome.
We have managed to achieve something quite remarkable, which is to turn the gold of democracy into the base metal of subservience—a new kind of alchemy. In other words, we have effectively turned leaving into not leaving in a whole range of areas, despite the repeal of the European Communities Act 1972 and despite the EU (Withdrawal) Act itself, the promises made in the Conservative party manifesto and, of course, the result of the 2016 referendum.
The European Scrutiny Committee, of which I have the honour to be Chairman, unanimously criticised the Government a few months ago. We argued that they are supplicating themselves to the EU and accepting its guidelines, contrary to our lawful departure under article 50, which gives us the legal authority to leave under the treaties. That is a massive strategic mistake. We have summoned Mr Olly Robbins to appear before our Committee and, although the Prime Minister originally was not prepared to allow him to come, he will be appearing before the Committee—that was resolved this morning.
Simon Hoare: I hear what my hon. Friend says, but is it not the case that, whenever we enter into a free trade agreement with another country, we will abide by the rules and regulations that it seeks to apply to imported goods? The fact that we choose to do so is our choice, as made either by the Executive or by Parliament. Whether we do a free trade agreement with the EU, New Zealand or Japan is immaterial. We will always have to follow the third party’s guidelines and meet its requirements in order to export to that country.
Sir William Cash: My hon. Friend is slightly missing the point. I am talking about the legal framework of the EU itself, which imposes on us a requirement, through the 1972 Act, to accept the rules. I will come on to that in a moment, because I believe that what is happening under the Chequers proposal and under the White Paper will, in many respects, make it worse than it is already.
The big picture is about why we had to leave the EU to regain our democracy. The decisions imposed on us through the 1972 Act—those decisions are imposed through the Council of Ministers—as my Committee exposed a few years ago, will in practice be continued under the common rulebook and will continue to be taken by a majority vote of the 27 without our being there. The Prime Minister even wrote a pamphlet about that in 2007 in which she said
“Parliament is supposed to be Sovereign but in practice it is not.”
That will be made even worse under the White Paper. We will have no voting rights, no blocking minority and a mere useless consultation.
The White Paper mirrors the EEA arrangements, which slavishly follow the decisions of the EU Council of Ministers. Furthermore, given that the Government will already have agreed to the international obligations it will have entered into, it is absurd to suggest that under the “threat of consequences” during the scrutiny process, the MPs appointed to a Committee run by the Whips would ever overturn the Government’s agreed rules. The manner in which the common rulebook will absorb European rules and European jurisdiction through the creation by the UK Government of international obligations binding of itself, with the deliberate connivance of the Government and the Whips, will predetermine the outcome of the parliamentary scrutiny when it reaches the Committee. In other words, it will fictionalise real sovereignty. This White Paper is a sovereignty car crash.
As for the European Court of Justice, the former president of the EFTA court—I have just put this to the Prime Minister in the Liaison Committee—clearly stated only a few days ago:
“the UK would recognise that the European Court of Justice is supreme on the interpretation of EU law.”
He went on to say that under the independent arbitration we would agree
“to refer questions to the ECJ”.
The White Paper itself concedes that the UK makes an
“upfront choice to commit to ongoing harmonisation with the relevant EU rules and requirements”.
Thus, the ECJ will determine not only the interpretation, but the outcome of any disputes, so it will be calling the shots.
I wish briefly to turn to the issues of foreign policy and of Germany, which has been very much underplayed for many, many years in this context. Of course we want to work with other neighbours in Europe—I have no problem with that. However, this problem, which has been with us for so many generations—over the past 20 or 30 years—has simply been ignored to far too great an extent. It is clear that Germany calls the shots, and everybody knows it. To see that we have only to look at what has been going on in Greece; what went on in Ireland when it had the crash; and what happened to Italy, whose EU Affairs Minister recently described the euro as “a German prison”.
The reality is that Germany tore up the Dublin regulation, which led to this incredible surge or refugees, some of which were justified and some of which certainly were not. We have seen how Germany broke the stability and growth pact with impunity, but ensured the manner in which it is applied to other European member states. The result has been that the people of Europe are voting with their feet, and it has also led to the rise of the far right, not only in Germany, but elsewhere. That is one of the things I have argued against ever since I first wrote about this in early 1990. Anyone who believes we could remain in the present EU, from which we have escaped in the nick of time, is simply living in cloud cuckoo land.
I wish to add something about those who would want to reverse this process, although I am not pointing the finger at anybody or any group of people in particular. I have heard of rats leaving a sinking ship but never of rats trying to sink a leaving ship. We really must leave this EU, above all else. We need to regain our democracy and our self-government, and not be dictated to by qualified majority vote, which we have mistakenly accepted for 40-odd years. We live in a world of massive change. We now have the opportunity to decide our own history, our own future, our own economy and our own destiny. People have fought and died for this over generations. We wish to co-operate, but not to be subservient.