Priti Patel backs EU Withdrawal Bill in Parliament

15th November 2017

Priti Patel backs clauses in the Bill which ensures a snapshot of EU law is maintained in this country as we leave the EU and fulfil the wish of the British people to be free from the European Union and many of its controls.

I am pleased to have the opportunity to speak in this debate, and particularly to clauses 2 and 3. Of course, my speech follows an intensive course over the past week on how to stage an exit, which was the focus of a degree of international attention. For anyone who is still tracking my movements, I can confirm that as I walked into the Chamber this afternoon, I passed statues and portraits commemorating some of our greatest statesmen, including Margaret Thatcher and Winston Churchill. Those statesmen stood up and defended democracy, freedom and the sovereignty of our great nation.

The Bill paves the way for a smooth withdrawal from the European Union. It complements many of our debates and discussions about article 50 and delivers on the will of the British people, as expressed in the referendum. I welcome the clarity provided by clauses 2 and 3. I pay tribute to my colleague the Solicitor General, who spoke with great clarity for almost an hour about providing guarantees and ensuring that a snapshot of EU law, as it currently applies, is maintained in this country.

The clauses are comprehensive and sensible. They outline pragmatically the steps that need to be taken to prevent a legislative vacuum. They provide important certainty to businesses and the public. They should help to ensure that the great Brexit trade deal that we hope to secure—and we will secure—for our country can be agreed with the EU on exit with regulatory equivalence in place in the right quarters. Of course, because we are taking back control, this Parliament, the Government and the devolved Administrations will be in a position to amend, adapt and change measures, as appropriate, in the years ahead.

Does the right hon. Lady agree that we risk sacrificing parliamentary scrutiny because we are in a big rush to get everything done? Exit day is looming and it is now widely agreed that we face a massive task, so we are rushing everything and sacrificing parliamentary scrutiny.

I respectfully suggest that scrutiny is the purpose of these debates in Committee. We should have a great deal of pride in our role in that scrutiny. We must work with the Government and Ministers. Yes, part of that work is the tabling of amendments, because that is the nature of debate, but our job is to look pragmatically at the right way to deliver the referendum outcome. As we have heard from many Members, including in good contributions today, we will keep measures that are in our interest and that work for our country, and we will of course amend and revise those that do not.

Clauses 2 and 3 are about not only taking back control of those laws and putting power back into the hands of our lawmakers, but introducing accountability through scrutiny. During our consideration of our withdrawal from the EU, Members have tabled amendments—and rightly so—but we should not listen to those who do not have confidence in this House, our democracy and our country, and we should reject the suggestion that we are incapable of governing ourselves. That clearly applies to comments that we have heard not just today, but in previous debates, and predominantly from Opposition Members. They may want to be governed by the EU because they feel unable to govern themselves, but we fundamentally believe that our democratic institutions, and this House in particular, are held to account by the British people, and that we can make laws in all areas covered by the EU.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the implication that somehow Britain would be a horrible, ungovernable place were it not for the benign guiding hand of the European Parliament and European legislators is a massive insult not just to Members, but to every single person in the country?

My hon. Friend makes an important point.

One great former leader, Margaret Thatcher, once said:

“What is the point of trying to get elected to Parliament only to hand over…the powers of this House to Europe?”—[Official Report, 30 October 1990; Vol. 178, c. 873.]

We now have the chance to move in the right direction, and to deliver on the will of the British public through the mechanisms available to us and following the scrutiny we are carrying out in this House of Commons. Importantly, we can also look at how we can make better and more effective laws. We have very clearly heard from the Solicitor General how we will be proceeding with the right approach, and how we will develop high standards that are in our national interest.

The right hon. Lady is clearly very keen that Members should scrutinise things effectively. Does she therefore agree with me that the Government should not allow new agencies to be set up, or the role and responsibilities of existing agencies to be changed, through secondary legislation, because such things should be done through primary legislation?

The right hon. Gentleman knows that secondary legislation is scrutinised. We all have an effective role—I am sure he has experienced this many times while he has been a Member—in scrutinising secondary legislation.

We will have the opportunity to make and amend laws, and also to look at what will work in our national interest. Quite frankly, I take great pride in that as a Member of this House of Commons. I take great pride in taking part as a British citizen, in this British Parliament, in standing up for our national interests on the laws and decisions made for our country.

Of course, that means not that we will cut or axe regulations arbitrarily, but that we have the ability over time to look methodically at our laws and how to change them and, in particular, at how to make them reflect modern challenges in ways that are most effective for our economy, our country and our future prosperity, and that applies to every aspect of policy.

This partly repeats my previous point, but does the right hon. Lady recognise that, whichever way this law is approached, the crucial issue is keeping Scotland’s financial industries safe and letting Scotland prosper, because there is a grave danger of getting this wrong, whether through primary or secondary legislation?

I am sure that the hon. Gentleman, like me and all Members, believes in Britain’s future prospects outside the European Union, and in how we will work together—across all political parties; across the devolved Administrations; across the country—not only to get the best deal for Britain, but to safeguard and secure key services and key sectors across the economy.

New clause 51, which was tabled by the right hon. Member for Birkenhead (Frank Field), who is not in the Chamber at the moment, raises the prospect of reviewing EU legislation that is still applicable in the UK six months after our departure and at least once a year thereafter, together with proposals for the re-enactment, replacement or repeal of such provisions. I actually have some sympathy with the objectives of the new clause, but I would expect those very actions, and particularly such scrutiny, to be undertaken by the Government.

We should welcome the fact that Members will be able to come forward with their own ideas about how we embark on our future outside the EU. We will be able to modernise our laws more quickly and make them more relevant more efficiently, because we will have control over them. That is the fundamental point. In that way, we will have modern regulations that will maintain and protect rights, as the Prime Minister has guaranteed and as the Solicitor General mentioned.

We can look at repealing many of the laws that are simply not functional and that add costs, and we can also go further than the EU when it is in our national interest to do exactly that. This country has a strong record on some of the areas that have been mentioned, such as legislation on employment and social rights—my hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Robert Neill) spoke about that—as well as environmental and other laws we passed before we joined the European Union. We will continue to lead the way and, indeed, pave the way when it comes to that strong record.

Importantly, clauses 2 and 3 will fulfil the wish of the British people to be free from the European Union and many of its controls. Over the past 45 years, the European Communities Act 1972 has been the mechanism by which the sovereignty of this Parliament has been eroded, with more areas of law being taken over by the EU. The Bill puts all those EU laws, regulations and other measures under our control.

The clauses are essential to deliver the commitment that most Members have made since the referendum, including at the election. We are a proud country with a rich democratic history, and this is one of the greatest Parliaments in the world. The Bill strikes at the heart of the issue of trust in Parliament and politics. Do we trust the British people, who voted to leave the EU and to move on, or do we want to go against their wishes? These clauses will go far enough to deliver the outcome of the referendum and, importantly, our own governance and leadership for the future, which is exactly the right way forward.

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