15 DEC 2017

Amendment 7 to the EU (Withdrawal) Bill

I have been asked how I voted on Amendment 7 to the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill. Let me be clear from the beginning, I voted, as I said I would, with the Government. After due consideration,  I could not see that the amendment moved by the rebels had any merit or made any difference as I explain below.  The House, largely for opportunistic reasons, took a different view but this is just the committee stage of a Bill in which the Government has won 34 out of 35 votes by reasonable majorities. 

Amendment 7 was not about parliamentary sovereignty nor was it to give me a say over the Brexit Bill. I already have a continuing say over the Brexit Bill as I will explain later in this note. What the amendment, however, wants to suggest is that all we will be doing is voting on Brexit at the end of the process and that Parliament will have no role in the discussions up to that point. This is simply a misrepresentation.

Parliament has a continuing role in the process not least through the various Select Committees which hold Ministers and Departments to account and which are producing their own reviews of the impact of Brexit. My own Select Committee (the Justice Select Committee) for example has already done a review of Brexit on the legal system and has had a Government reply. We have also visited jurisdictions like Jersey and the Isle of Man to explore the effect Brexit will have on them. So, this work is not restricted to the Select Committee set up to review us leaving the EU and applies to us all.

I have already circulated a table illustrating how the EU Withdrawal Bill will deal with other measures to secure parliamentary approval during its passage. The use of Statutory Instruments (SI) in this is a normal and acceptable part of the way the House of Commons works and provides full scrutiny of the matters an SI covers.

I have quoted before the comments of a fellow Remainer in the constituency about amendment 7 – the so-called meaningful vote amendment. In his email, the writer accepts that Parliament will be given a meaningful vote as indicated by the Brexit Secretary but says that he wants a guarantee. Others have been more forthcoming and have said that the reason they wanted the amendment to succeed is due to the character and alleged actions of the Brexit Secretary.

This attack on an individual personality is what I found most unacceptable about the amendment and what I find, quite frankly, an abuse of parliament. A statement made by a Minister at the Despatch Box is absolutely valid regardless of whether the Minister subsequently changes. I find it unacceptable to use the parliamentary process to pursue a campaign against one Minister. In addition, of course, the Government has been very diligent at reporting back to Parliament by Statement after each major visit to Brussels. On the last occasion the Prime Minister spent almost 2 hours being questioned.

The Government has made it clear that there will be at least two agreements. A Withdrawal Agreement will be negotiated under Article 50 whilst the UK is a member of the EU. It will set out the terms of the UK's withdrawal from the EU as well as the details of any implementation period agreed between both sides. At the same time as we negotiate the Withdrawal Agreement, we will therefore also negotiate the terms for our future relationship.

However as the Prime Minister made clear the EU is not "legally able to conclude an agreement with the UK as an external partner while it is itself still part of the European Union". So the Withdrawal Agreement will be followed shortly after we have left by one or more agreements covering different aspects of the future relationship.

The Withdrawal Agreement will need to be signed by both parties and concluded by the EU and ratified by the UK before it can enter into force. The UK approval and EU approval processes can operate in parallel. In the UK, the Government has committed to hold a vote on the final deal in Parliament as soon as possible after the negotiations have concluded. This vote will take the form of a resolution in both Houses of Parliament and will cover both the Withdrawal Agreement and the terms for our future relationship. The Government will not implement any parts of the Withdrawal Agreement until after this vote has taken place.

Any treaty subject to ratification will need to be placed before both Houses of Parliament for a period of at least 21 sitting days, after which the treaty may be ratified unless there is a resolution against this. If the House of Commons resolves against ratification the Government can lay a statement explaining why it considers the treaty should still be ratified and there is then a further 21 sitting days during which the House of Commons may decide whether to resolve again against ratification. The Government is only able to ratify the agreement if the House of Commons does not resolve against the agreement.

If Parliament supports the resolution to proceed with the Withdrawal Agreement and the terms for our future relationship, the Government will bring forward a Withdrawal Agreement & Implementation Bill to give the Withdrawal Agreement domestic legal effect. The Bill will implement the terms of the Withdrawal Agreement in UK law as well as providing a further opportunity for parliamentary scrutiny. This legislation will be introduced before the UK exits the EU and the substantive provisions will only take effect from the moment of exit. Similarly, we expect any steps taken through secondary legislation to implement any part of the Withdrawal Agreement will only be operational from the moment of exit, though preparatory provisions may be necessary in certain cases.

Whatever their final form, agreements on the future relationship are likely to require the consent of the European Parliament and conclusion by the Council. If both the EU and Member States are exercising their competences in an agreement, Member States will also need to ratify it. In the UK, therefore, the Government will introduce further legislation where it is needed to implement the terms of the future relationship into UK law, providing yet another opportunity for proper parliamentary scrutiny.

Parliament will be fully involved throughout the process as will I. But I will be involved on the basis of my assessment of the facts rather than the somewhat clumsy attempts to bully me into supporting rebel motions because the constituency allegedly voted to Remain.  Whatever the constituency voted, this was a national vote not a constituency one, and we must honour the outcome regardless of our own view as we would in a General Election.

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