I have been contacted by a number of constituents about the Government's EU Withdrawal Bill.
As you know, this Bill is not about whether we leave the EU - that was decided by the referendum and Parliament's vote to trigger Article 50 earlier this year. The Bill is instead about Parliament's role in the withdrawal process and how we ensure that our legal system is maintained and that vital rights and protections are safeguarded as we leave the EU. It is therefore crucial that the Government gets this important legislation right.
Unfortunately, I do not think the Government's Bill is fit for purpose as it currently stands. It would put huge and unaccountable power into the hands of Government ministers, weaken Parliament’s role in major decisions, and put crucial rights and protections at risk. It would also undermine and introduce restrictions on the devolved administrations rather than lead to the wider devolution of power we need to see. I am therefore supporting amendments aimed at removing the worst aspects of the Bill, and improving it, as it progresses through Parliament.
In the face of a potential defeat in the House of Commons, the Government announced just prior to the Bill's Committee stage that it will bring forward a separate Bill to allow Parliament to scrutinise and approve the final withdrawal deal with the EU. While this is certainly a change of heart by the Government – which I called for and welcome - it must go even further and confirm that Parliament will still get a meaningful vote if there is no deal to approve.
To date, I have voted for amendments to protect workers' rights, safeguard environmental and animal welfare standards, legislate for strong transitional arrangements and to bring the Charter of Fundamental Rights into UK law. Disappointingly, the Government rejected these amendments and they were defeated. However, I will continue to press these issues as the Bill progresses.
I intend to support further amendments as the Bill continues its Committee stage that seek to restrict the use of ‘Henry VIII’ powers in the Bill and ensure that devolved governments are not sidelined. I will also be trying to ensure that Parliament has the power to set the "exit day" in the Bill. This would give Parliament control over the length and basic terms of transitional arrangements – which are hugely important to business - and the ability to start the clock on the ‘sunset’ clauses of powers given to ministers in the Bill.
I hope the Government will listen carefully to the points that have been raised about its Bill, both inside and outside of Parliament, and will make the improvements that in my view are necessary.
Some people have also written to me about the analysis that the government has undertaken of different sectors of the economy and Brexit which was the subject of a resolution in the House of Commons on 1 November. Parliament voted to instruct ministers to hand over these assessments to the Brexit Select Committee, which I chair. However, when we received two volumes of material recently we learned that the Government had “sought not to include commercially, market and negotiation sensitive information.” I wrote to David Davis, the Brexit secretary, to say that giving us edited material was both contrary to the instruction given to the Government in the motion and to the clear expectations that I set out on behalf of the Committee. We have therefore called David Davis to appear before us on 6 December.
What lies behind this issue of upholding the decisions of the House of Commons is an absolutely fundamental question. The Government has made certain choices about the type Brexit it wishes to pursue – in particular leaving the customs union and single market – and therefore Parliament and the public are entitled to see the basis on which the Government made those choices, including its assessments of the economic impact of those decisions. This is all about transparency.
Hilary Benn MP for Leeds Central