European Union (Withdrawal) Bill: 6th December 2017

Anna Soubry (Broxtowe) (Con)
I rise to speak in favour of new clause 70, and to make it clear that unless I hear some good reason why I should not vote for it, I shall do so, because I think it is eminently sensible. I think we are now reaching a point in all this when people have just got to be big and strong and brave and say that they will do what they believe is right, and put the interests of our country—the United Kingdom—before political allegiance and everything else. This is bigger and more important than anything else. We are embarking on a course of a magnitude that we have not seen for decades, and it is important that we get it right, not just for my generation but for my children and my grandchildren.

Like, I think, everyone else in this place, I was extremely moved by the wonderful and wise words of the hon. Member for North Down (Lady Hermon), whom I am going to call my friend. I think I am about her age, and in one respect I am like her and unlike the young people whom she rightly identified. I say that with no disrespect, ​because it is good to see young people in this place, but they probably cannot believe what it was like during the period of the troubles.

I was fortunate—I was not living in Northern Ireland then, as the hon. Lady and other Members were—but I remember that time incredibly well. I remember the terrible bomb that exploded in Birmingham when I was a child. I remember that, almost every night, my television screen was filled with terrible pictures of brave soldiers and remarkable police officers who were putting themselves absolutely on the frontline, and were doing so in a unique way. They were not engaged in some terror in another country; this was happening on their doorstep. This was their community, and these were their people. What they went through was even worse than what soldiers in a foreign field go through, because those soldiers will eventually return home to their own country, but these brave men and women returned to homes that were literally around the corner. It was a truly dreadful time, and the terror did not just come from the IRA in all its various guises: it also came from some of the extreme protestant movements. And, of course, caught up in the horror were real human beings. I never thought that this would happen. I could not see, as a young woman, how we could ever reach the period that we have now reached, a period of peace in Northern Ireland.

When I was a defence Minister, I had the great pleasure of going to Northern Ireland myself. It was the first time I had ever been to—I was going to say Ulster, but to Northern Ireland. I was delighted to be there, and, if I may say so, particularly delighted to be there with the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon), but one of the things that really troubled and appalled me was the fact that the military covenant, which applies throughout the rest of the United Kingdom, did not extend to Northern Ireland in the way that it should have. One of the young men whom I met there had lost a limb in Afghanistan. It was nothing to do with the troubles; he had fought for his country somewhere else. He was denied the treatment and services to which he was absolutely entitled, for no other reason than that he had served in the British Army. That was a symbol of the disharmony, the pure prejudice, that still existed in some quarters. Equally, however, much progress has been made.

As we heard from my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Beaconsfield (Mr Grieve), Brexit reality is unfurling. People are now recognising the reality of what 17 million voted for. I am going to be frank about this: I made a compromise. I put aside my long-held belief that our future should lie in the European Union and voted against my conscience, and I have accepted that we are leaving the European Union. What saddens me is that others cannot compromise in the same way. There are still people “banging on about Europe” from a hard-line, ideological position: Notwithstanding the fact that we lost our majority in the general election, they are still banging on in that hard-line, hard-Brexiteer way, and it is not acceptable. Let me respectfully say to my right hon. and hon. Friends that if I can compromise, and if my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Rushcliffe (Mr Clarke) can compromise and accept that we are leaving the European Union, they too must compromise. They must drop the rhetoric and come and find a solution to the Brexit problem, which will undoubtedly be a nightmare unless people compromise.​

That is why I will no longer vote against my conscience. I am going to go through the Lobby with the hon. Member for North Down because it is the right thing to do. We must put aside our political differences—and in some instances, such as mine, put aside our long-held views—and vote for what is right and best for our country.

Let me gently say to Ministers that it does not help when we are told that we will be leaving the customs union, and we will be leaving the single market; we have to find a compromise. I think that the Prime Minister moved towards that with the idea of “regulatory alignment”, which makes a lot of sense. People are coming together. A consensus is forming, and I think that the consensus neatly lies with the customs union. I do not care what we call it—regulatory alignment, and all the rest of it. I am not interested in terminology. All I am interested in is getting the right result, and the right result in Northern Ireland and Ireland is no hard border. How do we achieve that? Through the customs union. It is very simple, and it will win support.

The danger of what is happening is that we are not bringing the people of this divided country back together. The more people bang on with their rhetoric, the more alienated other people are becoming, especially younger people. I have said this before, and it is a bit of an old joke, but in my terms that means anyone under the age of 45. They are looking at this place and listening to these debates and arguments, and what they see and hear is a bunch of older grey-haired men who seem determined to decide their future in a way that is not beneficial to their interests. I have said that before, and I am sorry to say that I was proved right. I warned my party that those people would punish us at the ballot box, and on 8 June that is exactly what they did.

Martin Docherty-Hughes (West Dunbartonshire) (SNP)
I agree with much of what the hon. Member has said, and I commend what was said earlier by the hon. Member for North Down (Lady Hermon). Does the hon. Member agree that the Government need to recognise that if they are to take courage, it will be from the peoples of Northern Ireland who endorsed the Good Friday agreement on an 81% turnout and voted 71.2% in its favour, and that the Government should listen not to the ne-er-do-wells on the Back Benches of any political party but to the cross-party, cross-community roots in Northern Ireland?

Anna Soubry
I completely agree with the hon. Gentleman, and I think that this is a good way for me to end my speech. The hon. Member for North Down said exactly the same: if the Good Friday agreement meant that one person’s life was saved, it was worth supporting. Northern Ireland is an example of how people can put aside rhetoric and long-held beliefs, and come together to secure a peaceful, prosperous future for all generations, including generations to come. That is what the Committee must do now: it must find the compromises and find the solutions so that we can come back together, get on with the rest of what we have to do, and deliver a Brexit that works for everyone.

Anna Soubry
The hon. Gentleman and I agree on many of these matters, but I have to take him up on this point. It is not on to say that Conservative Members do not agree with devolution. Let us be clear that we do, which is why we happily voted for an Act—I believe in the last Parliament—that conveyed even more powers of devolution to the Scottish Parliament.

Stephen Gethins
I thank the right hon. Lady for her point, but I should make it clear that I said that some Conservative Members have perhaps not come to terms with the devolved Administrations. [Interruption.] If Ministers have come to grips with it and believe in devolution, and believe it should exist within a devolved settlement, they will back our amendments. If they do that, they will be able to prove me wrong in my point. I look forward to their backing our amendments and doing that later on today.

Anna Soubry
Perhaps the hon. Lady can help us. Does she agree that it is absolutely agreed by everybody—the EU, Ireland, Northern Ireland and everybody here—that we do not want a hard border, and that the Government have accepted that there will be a hard border unless we get a proper deal, which is why they conceded that point and offered up solutions in their White Paper? Would she further agree that the difficulty is that the solutions that have been offered up are unworkable unless the Prime Minister’s excellent idea is put across the whole United Kingdom? It is a great idea, but it should not apply only to Northern Ireland because we are a Union.

Jenny Chapman
I agree with the right hon. Lady, and she can probably guess that I will be making the point later in my speech that we need a solution that works for the whole United Kingdom.

Anna Soubry

Mr Walker
If my right hon. Friend will give me a moment, she may be interested in what I have to say next.

Anna Soubry
I know the Minister wants to make progress, but I have grave fears. Is there not some way we can sort out the business of new clause 70? I am not saying that the hon. Member for North Down (Lady Hermon) should withdraw it, but it seems to me that there is a better way. I do not know whether the hon. Lady has met the Minister and the Solicitor General, but we should put a meeting together and get it sorted out—get the assurances. I trust the Minister and what he says at the Dispatch Box, but there is going to be a big problem with misinterpreting any vote against the new clause. It needs to be sorted, and I suggest that the hon. Lady and the Minister meet to see whether this can be sorted out.

Mr Walker
I am happy to take up my right hon. Friend’s suggestion, and to work with the hon. Member for North Down and Members in all parts of the House. The hon. Lady has expressed a strong position and I will work with her to ensure that, as we go through this process, we do everything in our power to continue to protect the Good Friday agreement. My right hon. Friend makes a constructive suggestion, which I welcome.

Clause 17 is the subject of amendment 321, tabled by the hon. Member for Aberavon, whom we have missed in these debates. I emphasise that we have sought to include the majority of consequential amendments needed to the devolution settlements in the Bill, in schedule 3 part 2, but we must be equipped to fix any additional problems that come to light and this standard power, constrained by case law, is the right way to do any tidying up—for example, of cross-references—that could be needed as a result of the Bill coming into force.

The hon. Gentleman also tabled amendments 322 to 327, which would constrain Welsh Ministers’ ability to modify the Government of Wales Act 2006, including removing their ability to correct those parts of the Act that currently fall within devolved responsibility. The 2006 Act is, for the most part, a protected enactment, which means that it cannot generally be modified by the devolved institutions. That makes sense, because the Act sets out how powers are devolved to Wales, but there are certain exceptions to that protection: that is, where it is agreed that it should be within the legislative competence of the Assembly to modify that Act. That ​was agreed by this Parliament and the National Assembly for Wales when the 2006 Act was passed and again when the Wales Act 2017 was passed.

Ensuring that devolved Ministers have those powers follows the reasoning and decisions made in enacting those Acts and respects the decision of this House and that of the National Assembly for Wales in giving consent. We think it right that, in those areas, Welsh Ministers should be able to use their power to correct deficiencies. Where Welsh Ministers need to make corrections to the 2006 Act, the National Assembly will of course have the ability to scrutinise any changes and to set out the approach to scrutiny that it proposes to take. We do not think, therefore, that the amendments would place a reasonable restriction on Welsh Ministers, as it would put them at significant disadvantage in ensuring that the 2006 Act is fit for purpose, legally sound, and reflects the context of leaving the European Union. I urge the hon. Member for Aberavon not to press those amendments.

Anna Soubry
The hon. Gentleman is making an extremely important point. Lots of people who had become really fed up and disaffected with politics and politicians took out their frustrations in the referendum. As the hon. Gentleman has said, many of them genuinely believed that if we left the European Union, there would be more money to be spent on our NHS. He is right: not only will we not have that money, but our economy could begin to retreat—and if we do not get a good deal but fall back on WTO rules, it undoubtedly will—and we will have to put aside, by way of example, £3 billion for Brexit, money that could have gone to the NHS. So my question to the hon. Gentleman is this—

The Temporary Chairman (David Hanson)
Order. The intervention is too long.

Anna Soubry
May I just ask this question? Does the hon. Gentleman not agree that there are many forms in which that disaffection may be manifested as we see our NHS actually—

The Temporary Chairman
Order. The right hon. Lady must make short interventions. If the hon. Member for Nottingham East (Mr Leslie) wishes to give way, he can do so again, but the right hon. Lady must make short interventions.

Anna Soubry
Does the hon. Gentleman agree that the Bill is paving the way for a hard Brexit? The Bill is dealing with everything up to exit day, and thereafter, if we get a deal, it will be sorted out after we have left the European Union.

Mr Leslie
That is why so many of the amendments tabled by the right hon. Lady and by other hon. Members are crucial to ensuring that Parliament keeps its foot in the door in this process so that we do not just give things away, money for nothing, by giving Ministers total power on exit day to negotiate these arrangements and treat Parliament as a rubber stamp after the fact. We have a duty to make sure we get whatever best deal is possible. Phase 2 could simply be heads of agreement. It could be a couple of sides of A4 simply saying that, after exit, we intend maybe to talk about the details of a particular trade deal. This £50 billion or £60 billion is not purchasing a trade deal.