John Baron contributions to the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018


Wed 20th June 2018 European Union (Withdrawal) Bill (Commons Chamber)
Ping Pong: House of Commons
15 interactions (111 words)
Wed 20th December 2017 European Union (Withdrawal) Bill (Commons Chamber)
Committee: 8th sitting: House of Commons
19 interactions (210 words)
Wed 13th December 2017 European Union (Withdrawal) Bill (Commons Chamber)
Committee: 7th sitting: House of Commons
35 interactions (1,448 words)
Tue 14th November 2017 European Union (Withdrawal) Bill (Commons Chamber)
Committee: 1st sitting: House of Commons
3 interactions (39 words)

European Union (Withdrawal) Bill

(Ping Pong: House of Commons)
John Baron Excerpts
Wednesday 20th June 2018

(2 years, 7 months ago)

Commons Chamber

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Department for Exiting the European Union
David Davis Portrait Mr Davis
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20 Jun 2018, 2:23 p.m.

The hon. Lady can be sure that we will not be gambling with the status of the border. I shall come back to the issue of no deal in a moment, because it is central to much of the issue of the amendability of motions.

John Baron Portrait Mr John Baron (Basildon and Billericay) (Con)
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20 Jun 2018, 2:24 p.m.

Is not the importance of the position that the Government are taking that, if a “no deal” option is ruled out, that will guarantee a worse deal in any negotiation? Anyone who has been party to a negotiation will understand that.

David Davis Portrait Mr Davis
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20 Jun 2018, 2:24 p.m.

My hon. Friend is right, and I shall come back to that point in a second.

Break in Debate

Keir Starmer Portrait Keir Starmer
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20 Jun 2018, 2:42 p.m.

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that intervention, because it goes to the heart of the issue: If Parliament is given a vote on article 50, and if we do not like what the Prime Minister has brought back, we can have something much worse. Even a child could see that that is not an acceptable choice.

John Baron Portrait Mr Baron
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20 Jun 2018, 2:42 p.m.

Perhaps those on the Opposition Benches are missing the central point. In any negotiation, ruling out the possibility of no deal will guarantee the worst outcome. Anyone who has conducted a negotiation in business understands that. If those on the Opposition Benches do not understand it, they are missing the central point.

Keir Starmer Portrait Keir Starmer
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20 Jun 2018, 2:43 p.m.

I am grateful for that intervention. I have always been curious about this tactic. What will happen at the end of the negotiations if there is no deal is that we will be pushed over a cliff. Volunteering to jump first has never appeared to me to be a great tactic.

Break in Debate

Mr Dominic Grieve (Beaconsfield) (Con)
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

20 Jun 2018, 2:46 p.m.

I beg to move manuscript amendment (b), to leave out from first “19P” to end.

I am grateful to you, Mr Speaker, for having enabled this amendment to be considered this afternoon by accepting my manuscript. It is a very odd and, I have to say, unsatisfactory aspect of the way in which our Parliament does its business that we frequently end up on ping-pong debating amendments that are irrelevant to what the House is really troubled about. I have to tell the House that, in order to get to this point, it has been necessary also to twist the rules of procedure in the other place, and I am immensely grateful to those peers who facilitated the manuscript amendment that was tabled there and that has enabled us to consider for the first time this afternoon the issue of the meaningful vote in relation to the Government’s view of what it should be and to the suggestion that has come from their lordships’ House. I should like to say here and now how deeply I object to the way in which their lordships are vilified for doing the job that we have asked them to do, which is to act as a revising Chamber and to send back to this House proposals for our consideration.

The issue, which has been highlighted by earlier speakers, is about the form that a meaningful vote should take. There are two options in front of the House. The House will recall that, when this matter first arose last week, the amendment that had come from the Lords included a mandatory element. That is constitutionally rather unusual. Indeed, I do not think that it has happened since the civil war in the 17th century, and I do not think that that ended very well. I seem to recall that it ended with Oliver Cromwell saying:

“Take away that fool’s bauble, the mace.”

Because of this, I considered it to be excessive. I apologise to the House that, in trying to produce something else very late at night last week, I probably did not draft it quite as well as I might have done. However, it led to a sensible discussion, prompted by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, who had a number of us in her room and said she would do her best to meet the concerns we were expressing on there not being a meaningful vote on no deal.

Last Thursday, it looked as though we were going to reach an agreement based on exactly the terms of the Lords amendment that has come back to us, but at a very late stage, it was indicated to me that the Government did not feel able to proceed with that. I should like to emphasise that I make absolutely no criticism of those with whom I negotiated, who have behaved impeccably in this matter. Indeed, at the end of the day I have to accept that negotiations may sometimes founder at the last minute. However, this was unfortunate, from my point of view, and I will come back to that point in a moment.

Be that as it may, the Government’s tabled amendment was the one that we are being asked to accept today—the one that simply asks us to note and does not give us the opportunity of amending. Two arguments were put to me to justify that change when it occurred and in the negotiations that followed. The first was that there was concern about the justiciability of the amendment. The Standing Orders of the House cannot be impugned in any court outside of this high court of Parliament, but it is right to say that if one puts a reference to the Standing Orders into a statute, that can raise some interesting, if somewhat arcane, legal issues about the extent to which a challenge can be brought. My view is that I do not believe that the amendment, which is currently the Lords amendment that has come to us, is credibly open to challenge. For that matter, I happen to think that the Government amendment is also not credibly open to challenge either, although it is worth pointing out that it is as likely to be challenged or capable of being challenged as the other. I do not accept a differentiation between them.

The second argument was of a very different kind. It was said to me—this was picked up by the Opposition Front-Bench spokesman—that the Government had real concerns that this issue, which is one of detail, had acquired such a status with those with whom we were negotiating that it could undermine the Government’s negotiating position in trying to get the United Kingdom the best possible deal for leaving the EU. Now, I must say that I found that difficult to accept based on my own range of contacts and on how I thought that the EU is likely to work. However, it is not an issue that I, as a supporter of the Government, can entirely ignore.

I am very troubled about Brexit. It is well known in this House that I believe that we have made an historic mistake in voting to leave, but I am open minded as to what the best course of action should be and respectful of the decision of the electorate in the referendum result. I dislike very much the extent to which we can be fettered or pushed into frameworks of what we have or have not to accept in that negotiation but that is, if I may so, a reason why I should also give as much latitude to the concerns of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister as she indicates to me that she might have.

John Baron Portrait Mr Baron
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20 Jun 2018, 2:52 p.m.

Will my right hon. and learned Friend give way?

Mr Grieve
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20 Jun 2018, 2:52 p.m.

No, I wish to conclude.

In those circumstances, there is an issue that I cannot ignore. As the House will have noticed this afternoon, a statement was sent by the Secretary of State that will become a written ministerial statement tomorrow. The first part of it deals with the position of the Speaker and, if I may put it like this, the piquancy of this is that having on the one hand said that an unamendable motion to note is an unamendable motion to note in a statute, the fact is that it really has absolutely no force at all. The reality is that it is part of the Standing Orders of this House, and it is not open to any interpretation in any court and, ultimately, it will be entirely your responsibility, Mr Speaker, to decide what can or should not be treated as a neutral terms motion. Actually, the statement highlights the fact that, although this debate has been about trying to provide assurance—not just in this House, but to many members of the public outside who are worried about the end of this process and what might happen—the truth is that the assurance does not lie in the words of the statute, except in so far as the statute is the word of the Government. The assurance lies in the hands of this House and, in the first part of the statement, in the power of the Speaker.

I then insisted that a second piece be put into the statement, which I will read out. If I may say so, this ought to be blindingly obvious, but it says:

“The Government recognises that it is open for Ministers and members of the House of Commons to table motions on and debate matters of concern and that, as is the convention, parliamentary time will be provided for this.”

If this House chooses to debate matters, including matters on which it may wish to have multiple motions, the reality is that if we wish to exert our power to do that, we can. In the circumstances that might follow a “no deal”, which would undoubtedly be one of the biggest political crises in modern British history, if the House wishes to speak with one voice, or indeed with multiple voices, the House has the power to do so.

Break in Debate

Mr Grieve
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20 Jun 2018, 2:56 p.m.

Yes, the hon. Gentleman is right, but if the Government were to concede to the amendment, as drafted in the Lords, for an amendable motion, the House must understand that the Government could ignore it. I can assure the House that it would not be enforceable in any court of law—[Interruption.] No, that really must be understood. It could not be enforceable in any court of law, because that would entirely undermine the rights and privileges of this place. It would be for us to enforce it. Of course, the ultimate sanction that this House has is a motion of no confidence but, short of that, there are other means by which the House can in fact bring its clear view to bear on the Government.

John Baron Portrait Mr Baron
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20 Jun 2018, 2:56 p.m.

Will my right hon. and learned Friend give way?

Mr Grieve
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20 Jun 2018, 2:56 p.m.

No, I will not.

In view of that acknowledgement, I must say that I weigh that and the clear words of this statement against what my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has told me about her anxieties. My judgment—it is purely personal—is that if that is the issue, having finally obtained, with a little more difficulty than I would have wished, the obvious acknowledgement of the sovereignty of this place over the Executive in black and white language, I am prepared to accept the Government’s difficulty, support them and, in the circumstances, to accept the form of amendment that they want. I shall formally move my amendment at the end, because I do not want to deprive the House of the right to vote if it wishes. Members have the absolute right to disagree, but it seems to me that, with the acknowledgement having been properly made, I am content to go down that route.

European Union (Withdrawal) Bill

(Committee: 8th sitting: House of Commons)
John Baron Excerpts
Wednesday 20th December 2017

(3 years, 1 month ago)

Commons Chamber

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Department for Exiting the European Union
Mrs Moon
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20 Dec 2017, 3:28 p.m.

I agree with my hon. Friend.

The sector has said that World Trade Organisation rules and current EU third country tariff schedules will bring a 4.5% tariff on components and a 10% tariff on cars; I think we already knew that. We were also informed that Japanese and Ford motor manufacturing make the UK their base because of access to the EU market. There is a major statement and recommendation there: it will be devastating for motor manufacturing in the UK if we do not continue to have access to the EU markets.

We were also told that automotive is a high-volume, low-margin industry operating a just-in-time process. It was said that customs checks would add to administrative costs, delay production and shipments and create the need for increased working capital and that they would increase the cost of production in the UK. Concern was expressed about access to key engineering staff if higher immigration controls were in place, exacerbating skills shortages where a significant skills shortage already exists, with 5,000 job vacancies, especially in engineering design and production engineering.

John Baron Portrait Mr John Baron (Basildon and Billericay) (Con)
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20 Dec 2017, 3:29 p.m.

Will the hon. Lady give way?

Mrs Moon
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20 Dec 2017, 3:29 p.m.

No, I am going to carry on, because others need to get in.

Turning to the steel sector, I found what I already knew: Wales employs 5,000 people in the steel industry, and the knock-on effect on the steel industry in Port Talbot, Neath, Swansea, Ogmore and Bridgend will be devastating if those jobs are affected in the slightest. I did not waste my time going through all the Government nonsense again; I went straight to the sectoral views. The view of the steel sector was very blunt, just like the people who work in it, and I like that. It stated that policies and practices should remain as closely aligned to the EU as possible. Have I heard the Government promise that at any time during these debates? No.

The sectoral view asked that we retain the UK’s existing trade relationship through the EU’s free trade agreement and similar preferential trading agreements. I have seen no promise of that either. It said that this should be a priority over the negotiating of a new free trade agreement. It also said that if we are to minimise the disruption that Brexit will entail, it will be vital that UK trade policies and practices remain as closely aligned to the EU as possible. The sector would not be happy to learn about the bonfire of the vanities proposed under the Henry VIII clauses in the Bill. My local employers and workforce need to know in advance of our exit that the Government have taken into account the economic and financial impact on their lives, their jobs and the future of their children before modifying or abolishing anything.

Break in Debate

Mr Leslie
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I have not seen that information, but there are all sorts of bits of infrastructure involved. There are separate roads and lanes for the processing of different things. As I have said, I am sure that the Minister will have solutions for all those problems.

John Baron Portrait Mr Baron
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20 Dec 2017, 4:25 p.m.

Before the hon. Gentleman whips himself up into too much of a state of pessimism, may I gently remind him that inward investment is at a record high? If anything, it has picked up recently. In addition, because the EU has no free trade deals with big trading partners such as the US, China, Australia and New Zealand, and neither do we. That has not prevented trade from being conducted handsomely; if anything, our surpluses are with those countries rather than with the EU.

Mr Leslie
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20 Dec 2017, 4:26 p.m.

I will come to the US situation in a moment. I have to tell the hon. Gentleman that the inward investment figures are massively inflated because of mergers and acquisitions data. When we consider the buy-outs of some of the large technology companies—[Interruption.] Well, I do not believe that the hon. Gentleman should necessarily interpret the stripping out of British ownership of such companies as a great British success. If he digs beneath the statistics, he might see a slightly different picture.

Our mythology about the UK’s potential to strike a great and bountiful set of trade deals if we could only rid ourselves of the shackles of the customs union is becoming a bit of a joke across the British economy.

Break in Debate

Mr Leslie
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20 Dec 2017, 4:35 p.m.

Absolutely. My hon. Friend makes his point well. The idea is that we should turn a blind eye to the trading arrangements we have with our nearest neighbours—50% of our markets—in pursuit, as an alternative or substitute, of some deal with far-flung countries a lot further away, but Australia accounts for 2% or 3% of our current trade and a deal with Australia will not offset many of these problems. It is not just the 50% that we have directly with our nearest neighbours. All those free trade agreements that the European Union has worked up and signed, to which we have been a party, over the past 40 years add up to a further 14% of our trade. So going on for two thirds of our trade is tied into the customs union process—36 bilateral free trade agreements with 63 different countries. How shall we ensure that they continue the day after we exit?

John Baron Portrait Mr Baron
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20 Dec 2017, 4:35 p.m.

rose—

Mr Leslie
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20 Dec 2017, 4:35 p.m.

I will not give way; other Members want to speak.

The Secretary of State for International Trade and President of the Board of Trade has said, “These can be grandfathered; they can be cut and pasted and we will just sort all those out,” and junior Ministers at the Department for International Trade have said in the past, “Those countries have all agreed to roll them over.” That is not the case. Maybe a bit of dialogue has begun, but those other countries might want to take the opportunity to reopen some of those long-standing agreements—who knows? The Minister will give us the answers when he winds up the debate.

John Baron Portrait Mr Baron
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20 Dec 2017, 4:35 p.m.

rose—

Mr Leslie
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I want to conclude my remarks because others want to speak. I simply want to make a final point about why the customs union is such a crucial issue, and why I urge my hon. Friends on the Front Bench and hon. Members across the House to think about the consequences of not staying in the customs union.

If this country ends up with hard borders again, there will be big consequences. Our ports could grind to a halt. Lorries will clog up our motorways, with, potentially, vast lorry parks near the ports. The expensive, wasteful spending on bureaucratic checks will hurt our industries, and we ought to be evaluating the economic impact of industries, potentially, gradually relocating elsewhere because it is easier to do business in a different jurisdiction. Think of the jobs lost, particularly in the manufacturing sector, if we get this wrong. Bear in mind that we will not have any say on what happens on the EU side of the border after this whole process. There is no guarantee about what happens at the other end of the channel tunnel or in Calais.

The reason I have pushed new clause 13 as I have, is to do with the austerity that we risk in this country for the next decade—a decade of Brexit austerity that will potentially befall many of our constituents because of the lost revenues. Unless we stay in the single market and the customs union, we will have that austerity on our conscience, and I urge hon. Members, especially all my hon. Friends, to think very seriously. We have to make sure we stay in the customs union.

Break in Debate

Steve Baker Portrait Mr Baker
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20 Dec 2017, 6:24 p.m.

I am grateful to my hon. Friend. My hon. and learned Friend the Solicitor General and I look forward to working with him on this issue.

In conclusion, Sir David—

John Baron Portrait Mr Baron
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20 Dec 2017, 6:24 p.m.

Will the Minister give way?

Steve Baker Portrait Mr Baker
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I will give way one last time.

John Baron Portrait Mr Baron
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20 Dec 2017, 6:24 p.m.

May I briefly take the Minister back to amendments 381 and 400? I thank him for his kind words about amendment 400, and for his work on the Bill. He will know that I did not put my name to amendment 381, but I will support amendment 400 so long as that power will be used only in extremis and for the shortest possible time. We have had an assurance on that from the Prime Minister at the Dispatch Box today, and I know that those on the Government Front Bench have taken that on board, but if there is any dissension on this, it would be nice to know about it now.

Steve Baker Portrait Mr Baker
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20 Dec 2017, 6:25 p.m.

Perhaps my hon. Friend was not in the Chamber when I gave my assurance on this earlier. I am happy to repeat it. I can assure the House that we would use this power only in exceptional circumstances to extend the deadline for the shortest period possible, and that we cannot envisage the date being brought forward. I think that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister explained that earlier.

European Union (Withdrawal) Bill

(Committee: 7th sitting: House of Commons)
John Baron Excerpts
Wednesday 13th December 2017

(3 years, 1 month ago)

Commons Chamber

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Ministry of Justice
Yvette Cooper Portrait Yvette Cooper
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13 Dec 2017, 12:59 p.m.

I rise to speak to new clause 3, which has cross-party support, but also amendment 7, which does something similar to my new clause, albeit, I confess, in a rather more elegant way. I defer to the drafting powers of the former Attorney General in drafting his amendment.

This, on day seven in Committee, is really where we get to the crunch on this Bill. There are two big anxieties about the content of the Bill that finally come clashing together in clause 9. The first is the sweeping use of secondary legislation through Henry VIII powers, which, regardless of one’s views on the overall legislation, have caused some unease in all parts of the House because of the way in which they concentrate power in the hands of the Executive and cut deep into our historic role in Parliament to hold the Executive to account. The second anxiety is about getting the final Brexit deal right and about making sure that Parliament has a real, meaningful say on the deal, which will define our country for generations, and that we decide together what “taking back control” should mean.

Clause 9 is where those two anxieties come crashing together, because it allows a huge concentration of power in the hands of the Executive, and it does so over the final withdrawal agreement on the outcome of Brexit. Notwithstanding the commitments that the Prime Minister has made today and the written statement that we have seen, the reality is that clause 9 would allow Ministers to start to implement a withdrawal agreement entirely through secondary legislation and to do so even before Parliament has endorsed the withdrawal agreement.

John Baron Portrait Mr John Baron (Basildon and Billericay) (Con)
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13 Dec 2017, 1:03 p.m.

Many of us hear what the right hon. Lady says about the Henry VIII clauses and the power grab, but does she not accept that the quid pro quo of that is that, while many in this House were quite happy for the EU to conduct a power grab, they seem less trusting of their own Government when it comes to these clauses?

Yvette Cooper Portrait Yvette Cooper
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13 Dec 2017, 1:04 p.m.

The hon. Gentleman makes an important point about parliamentary sovereignty, which was indeed a key issue that was debated in the referendum. In fact, many people argued in the referendum that what they were doing was bringing sovereignty back here, from having shared sovereignty with the EU. I do not think we are arguing that sovereignty should be handed over in a concentrated way to a small group of Ministers instead. That is the responsibility on us. We know that of course there are times when Parliament needs to give Ministers power on our behalf to use through secondary legislation, but we should do so cautiously and sensibly and make sure that the right safeguards are in place. That is the problem with the Henry VIII powers in this Bill, and not just in clause 9 but in clause 7. The challenge, too, is that we are being asked to do that on an issue that will define our country for generations. Each and every one of us will be judged on what we did in this place to get that Brexit deal right.

Break in Debate

Lord Clarke of Nottingham Portrait Mr Clarke
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13 Dec 2017, 1:47 p.m.

Again, I agree entirely, and that takes me back to something that has occurred all the way through this process. I am obviously standing here in disagreement with the Government, of whom I am critical in many respects, due to both the policy and how it has been conducted, but I have had some sympathy with them since the election, because they are trying to carry through this enormous, controversial and historic measure when they do not have a parliamentary majority, except when they can persuade the Democratic Unionist party to turn up and support them.

The process started with the extraordinary suggestion that the royal prerogative would be invoked, that treaty making was not going to involve Parliament at all, and that leaving did not require parliamentary consent. Rather astonishingly, that matter had to be taken to court, and it came to a fairly predictable conclusion. The next idea—I will not repeat what my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for North East Hertfordshire (Sir Oliver Heald) said—was that everything would be done by statutory instruments under broad powers. However, we are slowly getting to what I would have thought is the fundamental minimum that a real parliamentary democracy should be demanding: the country will not be able to enter into a binding treaty commitment until the details have received full parliamentary approval. How we get there is no doubt a matter of some difficulty, but it must be addressed.

John Baron Portrait Mr Baron
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13 Dec 2017, 1:40 p.m.

rose—

William Cash Portrait Sir William Cash (Stone) (Con)
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13 Dec 2017, 1:48 p.m.

rose—

Break in Debate

Lord Clarke of Nottingham Portrait Mr Kenneth Clarke
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13 Dec 2017, 1:54 p.m.

Qualified majority voting means that each Government cast a vote and, if we get a qualified majority, that is the effective decision. Each Minister who takes part in that vote is, of course, accountable to their own Parliament, to which they go home and defend their vote. If it is on a difficult, controversial subject, any sensible Minister—all those Ministers—will take the view of their Parliament before going to cast their vote on behalf of their country. It is utterly ludicrous to say that this Parliament should be denied a vote and not allowed a role because qualified majority voting somehow replaces it. My hon. Friend the Member for Yeovil (Mr Fysh) says that what I say is untrue and, with great respect, I would say that his argument is an absurdity.

John Baron Portrait Mr Baron
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13 Dec 2017, 1:55 p.m.

I respect my right hon. and learned Friend’s consistency on this issue. He is on public record as having once said that he looks forward to the day when the Westminster Parliament will be nothing more than a council chamber of the European Parliament.

When my right hon. and learned Friend says that leavers did not know what they were voting for, he risks sounding very condescending, because we knew exactly what we were voting for: to reclaim our laws and to reclaim our finances. Although one accepts his point that one cannot predict the future in any detail, that is as much true for the EU as it is for this country.

Lord Clarke of Nottingham Portrait Mr Clarke
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13 Dec 2017, 1:57 p.m.

My hon. Friend is not the sort who usually repeats the more scurrilous right-wing rubbish that fanatical Eurosceptics come up with about what I have and have not said in the past. I am not, and never have been, a federalist. I would not pursue a united states of Europe. It is social media stuff to start throwing in that kind of thing when we are in the middle of a serious parliamentary debate.

When the public were invited to vote in a referendum, they were invited to take back control, which was not defined. It was mainly about the borders and about the 70 million Turks and all the rest of it. They were told in the campaign that our trade with the European Union would not be affected in any way. Indeed, that is still being held out as a prospect by the Brexit Secretary and others, who seem to believe that they will get unfettered trade without any of the obligations.

The discussions we have had in Committee on previous days about the details of what “single market” and “customs union” mean, and so on, would have been a mystery to anybody whose knowledge of the subject is confined to the arguments reported in the national media on both sides. Those arguments are largely rubbish, and it is now for this House to turn to the real world and decide in detail what we will do.

Break in Debate

Mr Grieve
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13 Dec 2017, 2:19 p.m.

I am most grateful to have the opportunity to participate in this debate and to follow the hon. Member for Greenwich and Woolwich (Matthew Pennycook). I agreed with virtually every word that he said.

In speaking to amendment 7, in the name of my hon. Friends, myself and other hon. Members, I am conscious that it has taken on a life of its own. When the Committee stage of the Bill started, it was my intention—and I hope one that I have observed and honoured throughout—to try to approach the amendments that I tabled in the spirit in which they are intended, which is to try to improve difficult legislation while entirely recognising the many challenges that the Government face. Brexit is full of risk and full of complexity—legal and otherwise—and the Government are entitled to my support, wherever possible, to carry Brexit out as smoothly as they can and with the least impact on the well-being of the citizens of our country. That has been my aim throughout.

I very much regret that—as often tends to happen in these matters—while some sessions in Committee have led to sensible amendment and the Government considering matters, or going away to look again and making some helpful suggestions, in the case of amendment 7 we seem to have run out of road. What happens in those circumstances, I regret to say, is that all rational discourse starts to evaporate. The purpose of the amendment, the nature of it, is entirely lost in a confrontation in which it is suggested that the underlying purpose is the sabotage of the will of the people, which it most manifestly is not. That is then followed by a hurling of public abuse; large numbers of people telling one that one is a traitor; and, I regret to say, some of one’s hon. and right hon. Friends saying slightly startling things. My right hon. Friend the Member for Chingford and Woodford Green (Mr Duncan Smith), for example, said that I am grandstanding, when I do not remember ever having suggested such a thing to him about the way that he has expressed his views on Europe at any time in his career—including, I might add, when I tried to be a loyal member of his team when he was leader of my own party.

John Baron Portrait Mr Baron
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13 Dec 2017, 2:28 p.m.

My right hon. and learned Friend will know that I have never participated in any of that sort of language. May I gently put it to him that amendment 7 leaves open at least the possibility that, given that the EU does not want any member to leave and that there is therefore no incentive for it to negotiate a good deal that would be acceptable to this Parliament, we could find ourselves in a permanent state of limbo, deadlocked in unproductive negotiations?

Mr Grieve
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

13 Dec 2017, 2:27 p.m.

I note what my hon. Friend has said and I am very grateful to him for the way in which he put it, but I happen to disagree with him. If he listens to me he will understand why I think that I am right on that point.

The consequence is that we completely lose sight of what the key issues are, and if I may say so before I move on, that matters a lot, because in the course of this, we also lose sight of the fact that we are the Parliament of a deeply divided country on this issue. When I go and lecture to sixth-formers occasionally and talk to them, I point out that the parliamentary process is not just about the imposition of the will of the majority on the minority; it is the process by which we obtain consent for what the majority chooses to do.

The difficulty with this referendum is that, having invoked the public will, which, I regret to say, is not entirely tempered in its expressions of view by some of the courtesies that we extend to each other here, we run the risk of losing sight of the fact that 48% of the electorate did not wish for the policy that we are currently pursuing and have deep concerns about, not trying to reverse it, but the extent to which it will have an adverse impact on their well-being, and request us as a Parliament to pay as much attention to what they are saying as we undoubtedly have to do to those who voted in the referendum and said that they wanted to leave. The most worrying aspect of the debate, as it has progressed, is how we become polarised and so fixated on ends that we fail completely to look at means. We look at the top of the mountain, but not at where we are going to put our foot next. As a consequence, we run serious risks of badly letting them down—all of them, collectively—by enacting bad legislation and taking very foolish decisions.

Of course, when this confrontation comes along, the negotiations immediately stop, the conversation ceases, the Government’s steamroller is invoked, and the atmosphere can suddenly get really quite unpleasant; and I regret it. As a consequence—I will come back to this in a moment—I have to tell my hon. Friends on the Treasury Bench that I think they have lost a series of opportunities in the dialogue we have had on this to come to a sensible outcome. With that, I turn to the issue that is, in truth, under debate.

Break in Debate

Jonathan Djanogly Portrait Mr Djanogly
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13 Dec 2017, 3:15 p.m.

rose—

John Baron Portrait Mr Baron
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13 Dec 2017, 3:15 p.m.

rose—

Sir Oliver Letwin
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13 Dec 2017, 3:15 p.m.

I will give way to each of my hon. Friends, but let me say that I will not then give way again before I turn to the main part of my speech, which is about amendment 7.

Break in Debate

Sir Oliver Letwin
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13 Dec 2017, 3:14 p.m.

I agree with my hon. Friend. There may well be time; I am not in any way denying that. The point I was trying to make is that Labour Members have alleged that it is proper for Parliament to be able to have what they have described as a meaningful vote. They have made it perfectly clear that what they mean by a meaningful vote includes the ability to tell the Government that they cannot continue to leave the European Union if the terms on which they wish to leave are not acceptable to Parliament. That is a logical fact, and people can agree with it or disagree with it. I do not in any way impugn the motives of Labour Members; it is a perfectly reasonable thing for them to think. It is just that we ought to be honest about the fact that that is the proposition they are putting forward, which is in marked contrast to the point made by my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Beaconsfield in his amendment 7.

John Baron Portrait Mr Baron
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13 Dec 2017, 3:17 p.m.

May I suggest that amendment 7, as presently drafted—this is central to my right hon. Friend’s point—has a major deficiency, because it could leave things in a permanent state of limbo? There is no incentive on the EU’s side to help to negotiate a good deal that is acceptable to this Parliament, which means that we could be left in deadlock for a period of years. I raised that point with my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Beaconsfield (Mr Grieve), but he did not cover it in his speech.

Sir Oliver Letwin
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13 Dec 2017, 3:17 p.m.

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that point, which I will come back to in a moment.

In turning to amendment 7, let me start by saying something on a personal level. I have been in the House for exactly the same length of time as my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Beaconsfield—I think we entered it on the same day, as it happens—and I have served with him in a number of capacities both in opposition and in government, and I have the highest personal regard for him. I have invariably found that when he says something he means it, and I have never found him to be one of those who plays games. Moreover, although I profoundly disagree with him about his amendment, for reasons that I will put forward, I think his motives in producing it are totally honourable and straightforward, and deserve the respect of everyone in the House of whatever persuasion they may be.

There is a reason, however, why I think the amendment is a very bad one. I want to expose an extremely important point about it, which began to come out in the remarks of my right hon. and learned Friend and others. It would not have the effect that the right hon. Member for Leeds Central or the Opposition spokesman seek: it would not actually make it impossible to continue the article 50 process and leave without an agreement. There may be some Members on either side of the House who are tempted to vote for amendment 7 on the basis that it would have such an effect, but it plainly would not.

What amendment 7 would prevent is the issuing of orders under this Bill until another Bill that the Government intend to bring forward has been enacted. If it was agreed and we had not been able to pass the withdrawal and implementation Bill, it might in certain circumstances create the inconvenience of our not being able to issue orders to implement a withdrawal agreement to which the Government had signed up. However, not being able to implement the provisions of an agreement in domestic law does not prevent us from signing and ratifying the agreement and does not prevent us from leaving the European Union. Anybody on either side of the House who imagines that amendment 7 would have the effect of creating what the right hon. Member for Leeds Central called a meaningful vote is under a severe logical illusion. It would do no such thing. The Opposition have tabled, I think, a new clause that would have the effect of giving that power to Parliament, but amendment 7 would not do it.

Break in Debate

Chuka Umunna
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13 Dec 2017, 6 p.m.

I could not agree more with the hon. Lady. She is absolutely right.

As my third point, before I quickly wrap up, I want to be absolutely clear about what I believe we mean when we talk about a meaningful vote. For all the technical points that have been made from the Dispatch Box today and for all the high-quality legal debate we have had in this Chamber, the fact of the matter is that we cannot have a meaningful vote on the terms of our withdrawal unless it comes before we leave the European Union. Nothing said from the Government Dispatch Box today or at any other time has committed us to ensuring that we have that vote before we leave.

The Minister of State, Ministry of Justice, who is no longer in his place, talked about time. The reason for the third part of article 50 allowing for an extension is so that people can extend the time if they run out of time to make the practical arrangements for a country’s withdrawal from the European Union. With all due respect to the Minister and his seven years as a Foreign Office lawyer, or whatever his experience, we do not know, unless we ask the question, whether we will be able to get the extension provided for in that article. It is pure speculation on his part to suggest that, somehow, if we run out of time by 29 March 2018, our EU partners will not be reasonable enough to grant us the time to follow the correct procedures in this Parliament.

In a way, my final point was made just now by the hon. Member for Eddisbury (Antoinette Sandbach). We have a duty as legislators to properly scrutinise things that come before us. We will not be forgiven by future generations—of course, many of these people did not vote for us to leave the European Union—unless we scrutinise what the Government are doing to ensure that we get the best deal for these people. Of course, there are many issues that weigh on our shoulders. Everybody here will say they are acting in the national interest, and they act on behalf of their constituents, but let us be honest: there are other issues that always play on people’s minds. How will this affect me and my political journey? How will it affect my party? However, the hon. Lady was absolutely right: this is one of those moments when we have to do the right thing by the country—and nothing else.

John Baron Portrait Mr Baron
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13 Dec 2017, 6:03 p.m.

I rise to address amendment 7, in particular, which I hope the Committee will reject if it is put to a vote. However, may I first quickly put on record an exchange I had with the Father of the House—I am sorry he is not in the Chamber. In his usual courteous manner, he suggested that I had misquoted him when I said he had once said:

“I look forward to the day when the Westminster Parliament is just a council chamber in Europe.”

He suggested I had got the quote from social media, but, in reality, it is given in volume 23 of the International Currency Review from 1996. I thought it wise to put that right, if only for the record.

I note the amendment in the name of my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Beaconsfield (Mr Grieve), and I see that he is also not in the Chamber. He once suggested that, having been the only Conservative to vote against going into Libya, I was leading the charmed life of a rebel. I think he now knows that when we vote against our Government, we are not leading a charmed life—it is a pretty awkward situation sometimes, and I think he is now finding that out for himself.

Amendment 7 has several flaws. My right hon. Friend the Member for West Dorset (Sir Oliver Letwin) set out a number of them. He also spoke about the importance of having clarity of intention when addressing this issue, but I want to raise an additional point that has not been covered. Amendment 7 is fundamentally flawed because it leaves open at least the possibility—given that the EU does not, in reality, want any member to leave—that as there would be no incentive for the EU to negotiate a good deal that this Parliament could accept, we could find ourselves in a permanent state of limbo, deadlocked in unproductive negotiations for months and months with no incentive for the other side to pursue a constructive deal. Members should reflect hard on that practical flaw as they go through the Lobby, assuming that the amendment is put to the vote.

Sammy Wilson Portrait Sammy Wilson
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13 Dec 2017, 6:06 p.m.

Does the hon. Gentleman agree that the incentive would be to make sure that the deal was as bad as possible so that we would be left in a limbo whereby we cannot leave, yet cannot move on?

John Baron Portrait Mr Baron
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13 Dec 2017, 6:06 p.m.

The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. We are trying to negotiate a good deal, but it takes two to tango. The amendment leaves open the door for the other side not to try to negotiate a good deal, knowing that it could drag out the negotiations and therefore prevent, at least until this Parliament were to accept the deal, our leaving the EU. If that was the case—

Antoinette Sandbach
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13 Dec 2017, 6:06 p.m.

Will my hon. Friend give way?

John Baron Portrait Mr Baron
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13 Dec 2017, 6:06 p.m.

I will in a second if I can just finish my point.

If that was the case, it would be an outrage with regard to the result of the EU referendum, in which over 17 million people voted to leave with the best possible deal. Those 17 million people had no third option on the ballot paper. There was not an option of staying in a semi-permanent state of negotiating limbo while talks progressed over a period of months and maybe years; it was a very clear yes or no. In addition, such a limbo—

Antoinette Sandbach
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13 Dec 2017, 6:07 p.m.

Will my hon. Friend give way?

John Baron Portrait Mr Baron
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13 Dec 2017, 6:07 p.m.

In a second; I will tell my hon. Friend when I am ready.

Such a limbo would not be business-friendly as it would continue to create uncertainty when business wants certainty on a deal for making investment decisions. I now give way to my hon. Friend.

Antoinette Sandbach
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13 Dec 2017, 6:07 p.m.

I am slightly confused by the point that my hon. Friend is making. I thought that taking back control meant taking back control to this Parliament, but that is clearly not his argument. In fact, he almost seems to distrust parliamentarians, despite the fact that we voted for the referendum and to trigger article 50.

John Baron Portrait Mr Baron
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13 Dec 2017, 6:08 p.m.

I can help my hon. Friend with her confusion, because the point is very simple. If an amendment suggests that the option is left open for the other side in any negotiation not to negotiate in good faith, so that this Parliament does not sanction the deal because it is not a good deal, that will delay our exit. It is very straightforward. It takes two to tango in a negotiation. I suggest that she reflects on that.

While most of us want a deal, those who criticise the Prime Minister’s position that no deal is better than a bad deal create a series of straw men to support their case. The term “no deal” itself is something of a misnomer, because it creates the idea of some sort of cliff edge. Nothing could be further from the truth. Trade flows regardless of trade deals. The UK would simply revert to using the same WTO rules that govern its trade with countries such as the United States, China, Australia, New Zealand and Brazil—hardly unimportant countries.

As for the trade deals themselves, the next straw man is the suggestion that the UK would find it difficult to negotiate them in sufficient time. If Australia can negotiate trade deals with China, South Korea and Japan within 18 months, there is no reason why the UK cannot do likewise. If anything, a trade deal with the EU will be easy to negotiate because many of the trade barriers have already been removed.

The suggestion that inward investment would suffer without a trade deal is another straw man. That is to ignore the fact that investment is about relative advantage, as anybody who has worked in the City or in industry will understand. Our much lower corporation tax rates, our more flexible labour market practices and policies, the strength of our R and D and science, our language and our time zone more than compensate for having to pay an average WTO tariff of 3% to 5%, particularly given that the currency has already depreciated.

Tonight I will be supporting the Government and rejecting amendment 7. The Prime Minister has been very clear that we will be leaving the EU—that includes the customs union and the single market—in March 2019, and that the European Court of Justice will have no further jurisdiction over British law. I support the stance that no deal is better than a bad deal, and that nothing is agreed until everything is agreed. That includes any proposed financial settlement.

My final point is that there is another reason why I support the Government, and it relates to trust. We are not privy to the ups and downs or the ins and outs of the negotiations, so one has to make a judgment as to whether the individuals concerned are honourable. I believe the Prime Minister to be honourable in what she has said. Having known the Ministers involved for many years, I also trust them to deliver the best possible deal. I suggest that those who support proposals such as amendment 7 should trust the EU a little less and their own Government a little more. Our Government have, after all, made concessions in good faith.

Tom Brake
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13 Dec 2017, 6:11 p.m.

Perhaps I could suggest a handicap system for Members who observe the advisory time limit on speeches.

If the hon. Member for Basildon and Billericay (Mr Baron) thinks that the European Union is keen to drag things out, he has clearly not spoken to many EU diplomats. They want this to be over; they are not as obsessed with Brexit as he might be.

I commend the right hon. and learned Member for Beaconsfield (Mr Grieve) for his rational discourse in relation to amendment 7. Unlike me, he cannot be described as wanting to stop Brexit. He does not want to, but I do—democratically, with a vote on the deal. That is covered by amendment 120, which we will vote on next Wednesday. But he and I are certainly in the same place when it comes to the importance of parliamentary sovereignty, and legislative rigour and accuracy. He set out cogent arguments in favour of amendment 7, and he described the extent to which he has bent over backwards in the last few weeks to try to secure agreement from the Government on a way forward, but failed to do so.

The Minister’s main argument against amendment 7 was time pressure. The Government have, to a great extent, inflicted that problem on themselves, whether through the general election that they called, by triggering article 50 when they did, or by refusing to entertain the option of extending the article 50 process. The hon. Member for Harwich and North Essex (Mr Jenkin) said that EU had not offered such an extension but, as I understand it, the UK has at no point ever asked for one. The right hon. and learned Member for Beaconsfield set out a very neat solution to the problem that the Government outlined, and the Minister did not manage to convince the very experienced senior Members who were sitting behind him. He might not have seen it, but the body language and facial expressions of those behind him reinforced the point that, frankly, the Government have not deployed very cogent arguments in favour of opposing amendment 7. I look forward to voting on that amendment, and to Parliament taking back control.

European Union (Withdrawal) Bill

(Committee: 1st sitting: House of Commons)
John Baron Excerpts
Tuesday 14th November 2017

(3 years, 2 months ago)

Commons Chamber

Read Full debate Read Hansard Text Bill Main Page
Ministry of Justice
Steve Baker Portrait Mr Baker
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14 Nov 2017, 3:32 p.m.

I am most grateful to my right hon. and learned Friend. I think the question at stake here is not whether there are legitimate processes in the EU; it is whether we approve of them. The one that I am always glad to bring to people’s attention is, of course, the ports regulation, which we will have to stick with all the while we are within the EU. It is perhaps unique in being opposed by the owners of ports, trade unions and, it seems, all parties involved with our strategic interests in ports. They are all opposed to that regulation. I very much look forward to the day that we can make our own decisions about how our flourishing private sector infrastructure works.

John Baron Portrait Mr John Baron (Basildon and Billericay) (Con)
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14 Nov 2017, 3:33 p.m.

Does my hon. Friend agree that those who accuse the Government of a power grab would be very happy for unelected EU officials to continue to exercise these powers, rather than an elected Government accountable to this elected Parliament?

Steve Baker Portrait Mr Baker
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14 Nov 2017, 3:33 p.m.

Indeed. I have often thought that the scenery of our constitution had remained in place throughout my lifetime, but not the practical effect the electors of this country expected it to have.