The House of Commons debated yesterday the Government’s plan for Brexit. The MPs approved the motion proposed by Sir Keir Starmer, the Shadow Brexit Secretary, as amended by the Government. The MPs endorsed therefore the Government’s timetable for triggering Article 50 by the end of March next year. During the debate Bill Cash made the following interventions.
Sir William Cash (Stone) (Con): (…) I was about to refer to the final remarks made by the right hon. Member for Doncaster North. I think it was Samuel Johnson who said that calling on patriotism was the refuge of the scoundrel. I listened with great care to what the right hon. Gentleman said, as I always do, but I have to say that he dodged a number of issues, not least when he described the dictionary definition of a plan as something that was thought out or a method of doing something. He said that that was not the case for the Government, but in fact, of course, it is.
It is very simple—as simple as this: there was a vote which was authorised by a sovereign Act of this Parliament. That Act transferred the right to make a decision to the British people, and they made it. The right hon. Gentleman acknowledges that, and he says that he wants to respect it, but the reality is that the decision was about whether to stay in the European Union or to leave it, and the bottom line is that the people of this country decided, by a substantial majority, to leave. The right hon. Gentleman, he tells us, accepts that, but then he sets up a fog, as does the right hon. Member for Leeds Central (Hilary Benn), and as does my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Rushcliffe (Mr Clarke). We are given a whole lot of amorphous details that are intended to make the situation far more complicated than it is.
Mr Kenneth Clarke: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for giving way, not for the first time during these debates. He and I took part in a referendum in the 1970s, when he was no doubt saddened to find himself on the losing side. I seem to remember that he strongly took the constitutional view that the result was purely advisory, and it did not change either his views or his political campaigning one iota afterwards—just as Nigel Farage and many of his supporters made it perfectly clear when they were expecting to lose this referendum that they were waiting for the next chance, and they were going to go on. We must have respect for each other’s opinions, rather than telling each other that we have been ordered by an opinion poll to start abandoning them.
Sir William Cash: I hate—this pains me—to disappoint my right hon. and learned Friend, but I voted yes in the 1975 referendum—[Interruption.] I accept my right hon. and learned Friend’s apology. It was only when I came to the House and the Whips made what I think was probably a terrible mistake of making me a member of the then Select Committee on European Legislation that I began to see the truth. I discovered that, actually, we were not able to run our own affairs as this whole process continued towards political union. That was what the Maastricht rebellion was all about. There is a very interesting article by Philip Johnston about it in today’s Daily Telegraph.
It is because of the political union with which we are still lumbered—because we have not, as yet, left the European Union—that this is so essential. Back in May I wrote a paper about the question of repeal, entitled “Achieving leaving by repealing”. The laws that we incorporated by virtue of the European Communities Act 1972, as they accumulated, created circumstances in which we were becoming increasingly suborned to an undemocratic system of majority voting, which was combined with the ever-increasing assertiveness of one country in particular, and others in general, congregating around one another. That put us at an incredible disadvantage.
The European Scrutiny Committee, of which I am Chairman, conducted an inquiry into the manner in which the Council of Ministers operated, and reached the conclusion that it was not transparent. We took evidence from Simon Hix. The decisions that are made on behalf of the British people and imposed on us by virtue of section 2 of the European Communities Act are neither democratic nor accountable, and they are not transparent. That is why it is so essential that we repeal that legislation. While the Supreme Court is weaving in and out of political issues and trying to avoid article 9 of the Bill of Rights—I do not need to go into that now—the bottom line is that what we are facing is a political imperative towards a greater degree of political union.
I discovered that last week when I went to a conference in Brussels, where Mario Monte said, “Europe needs political integration or there will be war. It is as simple as that.” That is the manner in which this argument is being constructed across the water. Similarly, Chancellor Kohl said that there would be war in Europe if we did not agree to the Maastricht treaty and the whole European integration process. That was why my hon. Friends and I—there are not many of us left in the House now—opposed the treaty. We saw that it was European government. That was the key—for us, it was a question of democracy above all else.
I wanted to intervene on the speech made by the right hon. Member for Leeds Central, but unfortunately he would not give way. I rather suspect that I know why, but there we are. I wanted to ask a question that I will ask those on the Opposition Front Bench as well. Will they oppose the Second Reading of the great repeal Bill when it comes before the House? That will be a crucial test. Let us leave aside all that is going on relation to article 50, which is about one simple question: are we using the prerogative or not? In my opinion, that is largely a very big storm in a very big teacup. The bottom line is that we will agree to article 50. The real question is: are we going to leave the European Union?
Let me say this, very simply. We should not be supplicants in these negotiations. We should say no to the single market, no to the customs union, and no to the European Court, because we cannot be subject to that European Court in any circumstances. We should say yes to borders, yes to free trade, and yes to regaining the democracy for which this House has stood for hundreds of years.
Mr Steve Baker (Wycombe) (Con): I am grateful to follow the right hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington (Tom Brake). I rise to give the Government my complete support.
(…) I want to pick up on what the Secretary of State said—that there are none so deaf as those who will not hear. I will go on to talk about what else might be said, but, first, what has the Prime Minister said? In particular, she has said:
“Our laws made not in Brussels but in Westminster.
Our judges sitting not in Luxembourg but in courts across the land.
The authority of EU law in this country ended forever.”
Of the deal, she has said:
“I want it to include cooperation on law enforcement and counter-terrorism work.
I want it to involve free trade, in goods and services.
I want it to give British companies the maximum freedom to trade with and operate within the Single Market—and let European businesses do the same here.
But let’s state one thing loud and clear: we are not leaving the European Union only to give up control of immigration all over again. And we are not leaving only to return to the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice. That’s not going to happen.”
So the Prime Minister has said a great deal, and it has been supplemented elsewhere.
One thing I particularly welcome is my right hon. Friend’s work to secure reciprocal rights for those EU citizens currently resident in the UK and for those British citizens currently resident in the EU. What we have learned through the press is that 20 member states seem to have agreed to her framework arrangements, but that the Chancellor of Germany and EU officials at the most senior levels are obstructing that—indifferently and intransigently—when they could actually put people’s minds at ease by agreeing with our Prime Minister.
Sir William Cash: Does my hon. Friend accept that what goes with the Prime Minister’s very clear statements is that jurisdiction returns here? After the negotiations and the repeal, we will bring in our own Bill to deal, for example, with immigration and with a whole range of other matters. It will be this jurisdiction that deals with those things, not the European jurisdiction.
Mr Baker: I fully accept that. In fact, together with the right hon. Member for Leigh (Andy Burnham), who spoke a few minutes ago, I very much hope that we are able to deliver a much more equal immigration policy, which treats people much more fairly, from wherever they may come.
On the point about reciprocal rights, I particularly pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Mid Dorset and North Poole (Michael Tomlinson). Although he has not long been in the House, he has been absolutely indefatigable on this issue, and I look forward to seeing what else he has to say.
On the EEA and the customs union, I refer to the argument of my right hon. Friend the Member for Hitchin and Harpenden (Mr Lilley), who made the case brilliantly. We cannot stay in the customs union if we want tariff-free trade with other parts of the world. We cannot stay in the EEA if we want 80% of our economy to be subject to new free trade arrangements with the rest of the world, because one has to put one’s domestic regulation on the table. Therefore, the implication of what the Prime Minister has said—that we are going to be a beacon of free trade—is that we must leave both.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union (Mr Robin Walker): It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Darlington (Jenny Chapman). I thank Members who have contributed to this excellent debate on what the motion rightly describes as the defining issue facing the United Kingdom. There have been many excellent contributions on both sides. Time will not allow me to congratulate all those who have spoken, but I should say that, as a new Minister, to follow the right hon. Member for Leeds Central (Hilary Benn), my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Rushcliffe (Mr Clarke), my right hon. Friend the Member for Surrey Heath (Michael Gove) and the right hon. Member for Doncaster North (Edward Miliband) is a privilege in any debate, but especially in a debate in which it was revealed that my hon. Friend the Member for Stone (Sir William Cash) voted to join the European Community in 1975.
Hon. Members on both sides of the House have raised important and pressing issues. My right hon. Friend the Member for Chingford and Woodford Green (Mr Duncan Smith) and my hon. Friend the Member for Harwich and North Essex (Mr Jenkin) called for pace, but the Government are getting on with the job of delivering on the mandate given by the British people. We are taking our time to get the detail right. As many Members have remarked, this is not necessarily a simple or straightforward set of decisions. Getting our approach right first time is vital to our long-term national interest. As the right hon. Member for Leeds Central and my right hon. Friends the Members for Loughborough (Nicky Morgan) and for Broxtowe (Anna Soubry) said, we should show respect for the enormity of this issue and its impact on all our constituents.
Members have shown that they share our concern that we prepare properly and focus on the details. Following the referendum, we are moving on from 40 years of EU membership. Carrying out this process properly and effectively is a complex challenge with a wide range of potential outcomes. That is why we are taking our time to inform and develop our negotiating strategy.
My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State set out before the House four aims: first, listening to all sides in the debate so that we can build a national consensus around our position and get the best deal for the UK; secondly, putting the national interest first and listening carefully to all the devolved Administrations; thirdly, taking steps to minimise uncertainty wherever possible, which is why we are bringing forward a great repeal Bill to bring existing EU law into domestic law on the day we leave, and empowering Parliament to make the changes necessary to ensure our law operates effectively at the domestic level; and, finally, putting the sovereignty and supremacy of this Parliament beyond doubt by the time we end this process and have left the European Union.
My right hon. Friend has also been clear about our broad strategic aims for the negotiations: securing the best available access for our businesses so that they can trade and operate within the single market, while taking back control of our borders, our laws and our money. I hear calls from both sides of the House—and indeed both sides of the referendum debate—for the rights of EU citizens in the UK to be guaranteed, and it is certainly the Government’s intention to do so, alongside securing the rights of UK citizens living in the EU.
In preparation for the negotiations, we are undertaking a wide-ranging programme of sectoral and regulatory analysis, talking to businesses and civil society about the options for leaving the EU and the impact on their parts of the economy. On Monday, my right hon. Friend joined the Chancellor to meet organisations in the City. From aerospace to the environment, energy to retail, farming to chemicals, tourism to automotive, fishing to fintech, and universities to ports, we have been listening to people’s concerns and seeking out opportunities for UK industries.
From the start, the Prime Minister has been committed to full engagement with the devolved Administrations in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. I commend the hon. Member for South Antrim (Danny Kinahan) for his powerful speech on the importance of finding a UK approach and of listening to the concerns of the devolved Administrations. I undertake to do that. Others, including my hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Robert Neill), mentioned the Crown dependencies. I can assure them that a great deal of engagement is going on with the Crown dependencies, as it is with Gibraltar. I met representatives of the Government of Gibraltar today to make sure we were taking their concerns on board in our preparations for this process.
The motion passed by the House on 12 October made it clear that while parliamentary scrutiny was an essential pillar in the process of our withdrawal, it should be carried out in a way that respected the will of the people and did not restrict the Government’s negotiating capability. Parliamentary scrutiny is invaluable, and it is important that our approach is scrutinised by the expertise of both Houses of Parliament, but that cannot be, as my right hon. Friend the Member for West Dorset (Sir Oliver Letwin) pointed out so clearly, at the expense of binding the Government’s hands in negotiations. It is entirely proper that Parliament should scrutinise the Government’s approach to the process of leaving the EU, and that there be a full and continuing debate, both on the Floor of the House and in the new Select Committee on Exiting the European Union, chaired by the right hon. Member for Leeds Central, which my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State will be attending next week.
Many hon. Members, including those the Opposition Benches—notably the right hon. Members for Doncaster North and for Doncaster Central (Dame Rosie Winterton)—have recognised that it is beyond doubt that the Government have received clear instructions from the British people that Britain should leave the EU. We are now discussing the right and proper process for withdrawal, and today’s debate will take that process one step further. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has committed to being as open as possible with Parliament, and we remain committed to providing the House with regular updates on our plans to deliver on the clear mandate given by the British people to leave.
That brings me to the heart of the motion, which calls on the Prime Minister to commit to publishing the Government’s plan for leaving the EU before article 50 is invoked. This country stands on the threshold of a new chapter in its history. In forging a new relationship with our neighbours in Europe, we must deliver a global Britain that can continue to be a global success, as my hon. Friend the Member for Reigate (Crispin Blunt) suggested. The Secretary of State has said he will set out our broad plans for doing so ahead of the notification to invoke article 50, but we must do so in a way that safeguards the vital national interest by securing the Government’s negotiating position.
The Government amendment is entirely proper and I commend it to the House. I welcome the fact that Her Majesty’s Opposition appear to accept the amendment, although I note that their Back Benchers seem to disagree. Like many on both sides of the House, I fought the referendum campaign as a remainer, but I always believed that it was right to trust the people with this decision and that their view had to be respected. I saw this fundamentally as a question of consent, and although I personally argued that my constituency might have an easier path to travel if we stayed in and fought our corner, I also said from the start that if the consent of the British people was withheld, we would all need to work harder than ever before to ensure we made a success of leaving the EU.
That is where we now stand. After the arguments and the division of the referendum, now is the time for people to come together and work together to ensure that the UK succeeds. By supporting the Government amendment, colleagues from across the House can show they have heard the will of the people and that we will work together to make a success of it. We can move forward with the process of making this work not just for 48% or 52%, but for 100% of the people we represent.
Question put, That the amendment be made.
That this House recognises that leaving the EU is the defining issue facing the UK; notes the resolution on parliamentary scrutiny of the UK leaving the EU agreed by the House on 12 October 2016; recognises that it is Parliament’s responsibility to properly scrutinise the Government while respecting the decision of the British people to leave the European Union; confirms that there should be no disclosure of material that could be reasonably judged to damage the UK in any negotiations to depart from the European Union after Article 50 has been triggered; and calls on the Prime Minister to commit to publishing the Government’s plan for leaving the EU before Article 50 is invoked, consistently with the principles agreed without division by this House on 12 October; recognises that this House should respect the wishes of the United Kingdom as expressed in the referendum on 23 June; and further calls on the Government to invoke Article 50 by 31 March 2017.