The Internal Market Bill

The vote on Second Reading of the Internal Market Bill was on the whole Bill, which includes provisions which are needed after transition. I find the clauses on breaking international law - Part 5 unacceptable. I have an amendment down with Sir Bob Neill MP for next week to amend that part. So, my abstention means that I cannot support the Bill without amendment. I have also discussed this with the Prime Minister. 

I made a speech, which is below. My stance was in line with other critics on the Conservative side, although some others voted with the Government yesterday and will support our amendment too. 

"It is important that we have measures in place to run the UK internal market so I support that aspect of the Bill. However, I do have concerns about part 5, because for our country to break its word and breach international law is just not something that we do. I will speak a bit further about that if I have time, but let me just say that I was surprised to see the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland justify this with the alleged precedent of the general anti-abuse rule set out in the Finance Act 2013. I was a Law Officer at the time and Dominic Grieve was Attorney General, and one thing I can say about Dominic Grieve is that he was very correct and extremely painstaking, and he made sure that Government legislation did not offend the rule of law. That Act did not breach Britain’s treaty obligations. That was made clear by Ministers at the time and I cannot recall anyone arguing that it did. It had the support of the OECD and the countries with which Britain had tax treaties. It was written after a review led by our leading tax QC Graham Aaronson to ensure that it was focused properly and was in line with our tax treaties. There was full consultation. Since it was passed, it has not been attacked as being in breach of treaty obligations, and the wording of that Act simply confirms the agreed legal situation. In fact, if it is an example of anything, it is an example of reaching agreement and doing things properly. 

Britain stands as a rule of law country that is respected across the world for its stance. It is right that all three Prime Ministers I served under have come out with grave concerns about this Bill and the point I am concerned about. Margaret Thatcher herself—she was a barrister—made clear how important the point is, often saying that democracy is not enough without a love of liberty and respect for the rule of law. I am therefore hoping that the discussions going on at the moment can be successful. I am pressing the Government and the EU, as much as I can, saying, “Come on, let’s get an agreement”, because breaking international law would be the last thing we want to do. 

I support the amendment tabled by the Chairman of the Justice Committee, my hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Sir Robert Neill), which says that if we come to the point where the negotiations have failed, all is lost and this country really must contemplate ​breaking international law, then so be it, but that day is not today and we should give the negotiations more time. 

I have known my hon. Friend the Member for Harwich and North Essex (Sir Bernard Jenkin) for many years. He laughed a little when I was talking about international law. I can remember him telling me once that we should leave the EU without any agreement at all. I do not know if he remembers that. He said we should ignore having any agreement, just repudiate everything and off we go. Personally, that is not my approach."