I have received representation on a number of different areas including voting to stay in the EEA, voting to stay in the customs union and single market, voting for a second referendum, and voting for a further vote in Parliament on the deal. Many have also written to me suggesting I would be wrong and disrespectful of the views of the people if I voted to support certain amendments to the Bill.
It is important to state at the outset that the purpose of this Bill is to ensure the UK statute book is prepared for when we leave the EU. The Bill repeals the European Communities Act 1972, which gives effect to EU law in the UK, and converts all EU law into UK law. It also provides Ministers in the UK Government and in the devolved administrations with temporary powers to make corrections to the law. Without it there would be holes in our legal system and chaos for the British people. It is not the vehicle for MPs to try and dictate how they want the negotiations to go or for the Government to change the law beyond what is necessary to ensure we leave the EU at a point of statutory equivalence.
Regarding the point on a second referendum, I do understand the strength of feeling on this but I believe it would be wrong to have another. I believe that when a decision of constitutional significance is made, it is important that democratic processes are followed. It would be wrong for politicians to give the impression that they were going to continue to ask the public to vote until they made the ‘right’ decision. This would weaken our democracy in a way that could be disastrous. To many of my fellow remain voters I ask the question, if the result two years ago had been to remain, would you now be opposing leave voters asking for a re-run? During the referendum Paddy Ashdown said, “Anyone who says we need a second referendum does not believe in democracy. We cannot run a democratic system unless we respect the democratic will of the people.” The leader of the Liberal Democrats, Vince Cable, said at his Party’s conference in 2016 that it is “disrespectful” to voters and “politically counter-productive” to call for a second vote. I agreed with them then and I still hold to that view.
Likewise, there was no point in supporting the amendment on a ‘so-called’ meaningful vote of Parliament. The Government has said that a vote will be held in both Houses of Parliament as soon as possible after the negotiations have ended. If MPs and Peers vote in favour of the deal, it will then be put into UK law where they will again be able to debate what has been agreed. The Constitutional Reform and Governance Act 2010 also makes clear that if Parliament resolves against a treaty it cannot be ratified by the Government.
The single market is the most important element of the EU and the EEA. By triggering Article 50 and leaving the EU we are leaving all the treaties associated with it. This includes the EEA. Whilst we could attempt to negotiate remaining in, it would be just that, a negotiation. If Parliament were to legislate and bind the Government’s hand there would be a high risk of a result which would either be a no deal or a bad deal. To take this action would, in my view, be disingenuous given the result of the referendum. The amendment passed in the House of Lords would force the Government to secure UK participation in the EEA. This would mean automatic membership of the single market. Freedom of movement would still apply and it would prevent us from having any more control over the number of people coming to this country. It would also mean continuing to accept all EU rules with little influence over them and no vote on the final legislation.
The one amendment I did support and have put my name to, is to ensure the environmental principles. The amendment will require the Secretary of State to set out within six months of the Bill becoming an Act a set of environmental principles and make provision for the creation of a public body to ensure enforcement of these principles. I have been working hard behind the scenes with Parliamentary colleagues and Ministers to get to this point. Some of those who have written on the issues discussed above demand that I grandstand in the House of Commons and seek to make life difficult for the Government. What actually is much more effective is this close collaboration and seeking to find compromise in order to ensure that key concerns for our exit from the EU are met.
As I said in the referendum campaign, I thought a leave vote would be harmful to Britain’s prosperity. But many of the arguments made by those on the remain side have been proved wrong. Whilst I do still recognise there could be some short to mid-term difficulties, it is important that we recognise Britain’s strengths. We are the fifth largest economy in the world, the fourth strongest military power, a permanent member of the P5, we have some of the best universities in the world producing some of the most prestigious talent in science, commerce and culture. Our businesses have a global reach. So we will get through this time and we will continue to be a force for good in the world and we will still be able to provide decent public services for our citizens. I am confident that an agreement will be reached to the mutual benefit of the both the UK and the EU. MPs will vote on the deal when it comes to Parliament.