During yesterday’s House of Commons debate on the UK Withdrawal from the EU, Sir William Cash made the following interventions:
The Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster and Minister for the Cabinet Office (Mr David Lidington): I beg to move,
That this House notes the Prime Minister’s statement on Leaving the European Union of 26 February 2019; and further notes that discussions between the UK and the EU are ongoing.
It is a pleasure, as always, to return to the Dispatch Box to debate European policy matters and to see the familiar cast of colleagues on both sides of the House. I start by making it clear that the Government’s political objectives remain to leave the European Union in accordance with the referendum decision of 2016, to do so in an orderly fashion that protects jobs, living standards and investment in this country, and to do so by means of a formal withdrawal agreement under article 50 that includes clear protections for European Union citizens living in the United Kingdom and United Kingdom citizens in the 27 other EU countries, that provides for a financial settlement, and that ensures that there is no hard border on the island of Ireland. We look forward to negotiating a deep and special partnership on trade, security and political co-operation with the European Union—a community of democracies that will remain not only our closest geographical neighbours, but key partners friends and allies in the world.
Sir William Cash (Stone) (Con): I thank my right hon. Friend, with whom I have been debating such matters for the best part of 30 years, for giving way. As for this community of democracies, how can he can justify article 4 of the withdrawal agreement, which would subjugate the United Kingdom and require us to pass primary legislation to achieve that objective when the decisions that would be imposed on the constituents of every single Member in this House, by virtue of what goes on in the Council of Ministers, will be decided by 27 other member states? We will not even be at the table and will not have even so much as a transcript. Is that not a complete travesty of democracy?
Mr Lidington: No. As my hon. Friend says, he and I have been debating European matters for about 30 years —time flies when one is enjoying oneself—but I think his criticisms would have force if they were describing a situation that was intended to be permanent. All that is covered in article 4 of the withdrawal agreement are the arrangements that are necessary to govern the winding down of this country’s membership of the European Union and the residual obligations that derive from that over a period of months.
Keir Starmer: I am grateful for that intervention. We are playing our part in those discussions with the Government and will continue to do so for as long as is necessary. I do not want to go into what we are discussing, but we will continue to do so as long as is necessary. I am just slightly cautious as to the likelihood that that will lead to a breakthrough in the next 14 days.
Sir William Cash: I must say that the right hon. and learned Gentleman is possibly generating more alarm than he realises. The idea that there is going to be some compromise between the two sides of the House on this question of the red lines raises a very simple question. Would the right hon. and learned Gentleman like to state, on behalf of the Opposition, that they would like to see the repeal of the repeal of the European Communities Act 1972?
Keir Starmer: I am grateful for that intervention, because what it demonstrates is the point I was trying to make about the customs union. If the Government Front Bench say our political declaration is in effect a customs union by a different name, because we are going to build on the backstop and make it permanent and turbocharge it, I suspect there will be a degree of opposition to that, if I have understood anything about the debates that have been going on here for some considerable time. That is where the difference is.
As for the repeal of the 1972 Act, I have always said—I stand by it—that repealing that Act and putting a date for leaving in the withdrawal Act was a mistake because of the transition period. I have always said that the Act we have passed will have to be repealed before it comes into force, and so it will. The implementation Bill White Paper specifically says it is going to be, as the hon. Gentleman well knows. In other words, between now and the end of March we have got to intercept the withdrawal Act that we have passed if there is going to be any order to leaving the EU and ensure that things like the ceasing of the jurisdiction of the European Court is changed. It was barmy to turn the European Court off at 11 o’clock on 29 March, which is the current law, because you cannot get on to transition. I always said that before that comes into force, if this is going to make any sense at all, it is going to have to be changed, intercepted and repealed. That is exactly what the implementation Bill will do. I am as sure as I possibly can be.
Sir William Cash (Stone) (Con): To reply immediately to the right hon. Member for Leeds Central (Hilary Benn), it is not actually the duty of this House to surrender parliamentary government to government by Parliament. In fact, that is well established in our constitutional arrangements. Furthermore, any attempt by shenanigans to rearrange the procedures to give private Members’ Bills an advantage over Government business is itself reprehensible for that very good reason.
I want to turn to another question, which is to do with the issue of control over laws. I think it is very important for every Member of this House to ask themselves whether they would be prepared to tell their constituents that, under article 4 of the withdrawal agreement, we would be expected—in fact, we would be required by an Act of Parliament—to surrender control over our laws. If people have not had the time or perhaps the opportunity to read article 4, may I suggest that they do so? To do otherwise would be utterly and completely irresponsible.
Richard Drax (South Dorset) (Con): My hon. Friend is making an excellent speech. If we do not have control of our laws, we do not have control of our country. Is that not right?
Sir William Cash: That is completely right. That is what we are here for. We are not here to voice our own opinions or to fragment into factions and then impose views on others by virtue of deals done across the Floor of the House. We are elected on manifesto commitments, and we have an obligation to our constituents to make laws in their interests, not in ours. I therefore suggest that looking at article 4 is extremely important. I accept that it is said that the article would apply only during the implementation period, but that in itself would put us at the mercy of our competitors.
Mr Jacob Rees-Mogg (North East Somerset) (Con): It is worse than that, because it would apply not only during the implementation period but during the whole period of the backstop, which is potentially unlimited. The European Court of Justice would therefore remain—against our manifesto commitment—the supreme arbiter of our laws in that area.
Sir William Cash: I am so glad that my hon. Friend has made that point, because I was about to make it myself and now will not have to. I am as much against the backstop as I am against the article 4 arrangements, for reasons that both of us agree on.
We have to grapple with the fact that article 4 will apply across all the EU treaties, laws and legal positions adopted by the ECJ over recent years. It is inconceivable that the House would hollow itself out in such a manner as to preclude itself from being able to control such things. I am Chairman of the European Scrutiny Committee, and we get these regulations and directives week in, week out. We received one last week that intends to turn the veto procedure—or unanimity rule—over the making of national tax policy into qualified majority voting. If people really think that that is a minor matter, let them think again what effect it would have on their constituents.
Under article 4, our country would be reduced, as I said in my intervention on the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, to an undemocratic subjugation to the decisions of 27 other member states. In fact, not only that, but as I said, it would put us at the mercy of our competitors. In addition, the article would have the same effect with regard to the question of state aid during the backstop.
I do not think that the businesses that argued so strongly for this transitional period had any idea that this would be the consequence of the withdrawal agreement. That agreement emerged from the Chequers deal, which itself was an overturning of the withdrawal Act that we passed in June 2018 and had been planned long before that Act was given Royal Assent, without any reference to the Cabinet and in defiance of collective Cabinet responsibility.
If we do not control these laws, who will? It will be the 27 member states. In an important book, “Berlin Rules”, by our former ambassador to Germany, Sir Paul Lever, he says that before decisions are taken by European member states, or indeed by the Council of Ministers, they are cleared with Germany. He also says that it is a German Europe. He does not mince his words.
Angus Brendan MacNeil: I wonder if the hon. Gentleman is aware of the utter irony of this situation. He moans and complains and raises grievances about Europe—he has a chip on his shoulder—but the reality for Scotland in the United Kingdom is worse than everything he says. We have a party in charge that we have not voted for in 65 years. The European Union is nowhere near as bad as what he is going on about.
Sir William Cash: I do not concede what the hon. Gentleman says for one very good reason: it is part of the United Kingdom.
That is my first point on control over laws. Article 4 is so offensive because it hollows out this House and hollows out our democracy. On that basis alone, one should not vote for the withdrawal agreement.
As I said in my exchanges with the shadow Secretary of State, I want to know why anyone would want to undermine the repeal of the European Communities Act 1972, which is the law of the land and is contained in section 1 of the European Union (Withdrawal) Act itself. I would also like people to be honest enough—those who wish to rejoin the European Union, including my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Beaconsfield (Mr Grieve)—to say why on earth anyone would want to rejoin the European Union when it is in complete and total implosion. People are voting with their feet in so many countries, including in Italy.
In a nutshell, the withdrawal agreement is deeply, deeply flawed and we ought to vote against it. I believe that the decision at the moment—as I understand it, it has not been concluded—is that the amendments are going to be withdrawn, but I look forward to hearing from the right hon. Member for Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford (Yvette Cooper).
Mr Speaker: We are quite extraordinarily grateful to the Chair of the European Scrutiny Committee.
Sir William Cash: Let me ask the right hon. Lady a question, as she is taking such a prominent part in this debate. It is the same question that I have put to several people today: would she countenance the idea, on behalf of trade unionists and workers who, for example, worked in the ports and were completely against the ports regulation, that those laws should be made in the Council of Ministers—under the control over laws issue that I just raised—behind closed doors and without a transcript? Effectively, it would be imposed on the United Kingdom without our even being there.
Yvette Cooper: We have to get some form of sensible agreement in place so that people can get on with their lives, and so that people are not threatened with the insecurity of having complete chaos from whatever source, if we end up with no deal.
I also support amendment (a) and, in particular, the proposal for a customs union. I think that, if Ministers were honest about being able to reach out and trying to build some consensus around something, they would recognise that if many of the points that are in amendment (a) were put to a free vote across the House, they would—I suspect—get a majority and that that would be a consensus way forward.
I also want to deal with my concerns about the tone of the debate. The right hon. Member for Meriden said earlier that she hoped that the tone of the debate was changing and that there would be some spirit of compromise. I look forward to that, but I am worried that I have still, even today, heard comments from Members of this House about the agreement that the Prime Minister came to yesterday, accusing those of us who have been calling for it of being “mutinous”, “plotters”, “saboteurs” and “blackmailers”. I think that this is really inappropriate, divisive and counter-productive. It really does not fit with the kind of debate that we ought to be having about something so important, particularly when, frankly, I think it is hugely patriotic to be trying to make sure that we can stand up for British manufacturing, that the NHS can get its medicines and that British families across the country do not have to pay higher food prices in shops. I say as a final thought that, in the end, wherever we get to in this Brexit process has to have some form of consensus around it, or it will not be sustainable, and that is what we should all keep in mind.
Sir William Cash: Can my hon. Friend, who is a fellow member of the European Scrutiny Committee, recall that very early on, in March last year, we said in our report that we were deeply concerned that the Government were effectively supplicating the EU, and were agreeing to its own guidelines, and not synchronising the withdrawal arrangements with the future relationship?
Richard Drax: I absolutely agree with my hon. Friend, who is immensely knowledgeable on all these matters.
The House needs to clarify where it stands. I have seen many amendments and I suspect there are more to come, because that is the way that the Government are now playing their hand, for fear of Parliament’s taking control. Do MPs wish to leave the EU, or do they wish to stay in? That is the question. Some hon. Members are very concerned about no deal, and are tabling amendments in the genuine interests of our country, but for others they are a fig leaf for their wish to remain in the EU. How can we take no deal off the table and let the Prime Minister walk naked to the conference table? How can we do that? It is the last negotiating tool that a Prime Minister has.
We know that the EU always takes it to the last minute. Brinksmanship—that is the name of their game. And let us be honest: do any of us in this House think that we shall strike a fair deal before we leave? I do not think so, because the EU do not want us to go, and they are making it clear that they want to make it as hard as possible for us to leave.
Unfortunately, the behaviour of many in this House is signalling to the EU complete and utter chaos—no sense of purpose, no unity. Imagine if 650 MPs had said, “We are right behind the people of this country, and respect their decision.”
Sir William Cash: I think the hon. Gentleman is rather exaggerating, if I may say so. Is not the truth, as I wrote even in 1990, that if we take away the right of the people to decide their own destiny, they will end up moving to the far right?
Owen Smith: We have seen a 100% increase in violent racist attacks since the Brexit vote—that is the truth. Brexit is exacerbating underlying problems in our society. It is a racist, xenophobic, right-wing, reactionary project, and we in the Labour party should be fighting against it with every sinew of our being.
I will use my last minute to plead with people in this House and across the country that if they believe, as I do, that Brexit will damage not only our economy but the values that underpin our society—the good values of Britain—then they need to start saying so. There is a narrow window of opportunity to contest this before some form of Brexit, whether the Prime Minister’s or the ERG’s, goes through. It may well go through by the end of this month.
There is an opportunity to speak and march against Brexit in London on 23 March. People the length and breadth of Britain should join us for that and make their voice heard. We should still contest Brexit. There is still an opportunity to beat it and allow Britain to pull itself back from the brink. It is not anti-democratic to give the people one further say. It would be the democratic thing to do, and I will urge people to do that until I can urge them no more.
Main Question, as amended, put and agreed to.
That this House notes the Prime Minister’s statement on Leaving the European Union of 26 February 2019; and further notes that discussions between the UK and the EU are ongoing; and requires the Prime Minister to seek at the earliest opportunity a joint UK-EU commitment to adopt part two of the Withdrawal Agreement on Citizens’ Rights and ensure its implementation prior to the UK’s exiting the European Union, whatever the outcome of negotiations on other aspects of the Withdrawal Agreement; and further notes in particular the commitment of the Prime Minister made in this House to hold a second meaningful vote by 12 March and if the House, having rejected leaving with the deal negotiated with the EU, then rejects leaving on 29 March without a withdrawal agreement and future framework, the Government will, on 14 March, bring forward a motion on whether Parliament wants to seek a short limited extension to Article 50, and if the House votes for an extension, seek to agree that extension approved by the House with the EU, and bring forward the necessary legislation to change the exit date commensurate with that extension.