Campaign reply: Internal Markets Bill - 21 September 2020
Internal Market Bill
In recent weeks I have received a considerable number of emails from both supporters and sceptics of the Bill, reflecting the strength of feeling expressed by both sides. I thought it would be helpful to set out my position as clearly as possible here. I also hope that it will help answer some of the questions and concerns constituents may have.
We must first and foremost remind ourselves that we have left the European Union formally on the 31st January 2020, as I know that even now there are some who are unable or unwilling to accept that we voted to leave the EU.
Our constituency voted by almost 2 to 1 in favour of leaving the EU in the 2016 referendum, the biggest margin in Cornwall, and the vast majority of constituents I have been speaking to and corresponding with are adamant that the Conservative Government press on with the task at hand - the Brexit that the British public voted for them to deliver in December 2019.
An important part of Brexit is our future trading relationship with the EU - I want to see us strike a comprehensive free trade deal with our continent partners to minimise friction and maximise opportunities for British businesses. However, should that not be the case, I have always been clear with constituents that deal or no deal, I am certain Brexit can only bring prosperity and security to the UK in the long run - a view that has only been reinforced in my recent discussions with business leaders, farmers and fishermen in Cornwall, many of whom are looking forward to the many opportunities Brexit presents.
The latest round of negotiations with the EU has begun in earnest and the Prime Minister has committed to not compromise on the independence or the sovereignty of the UK in securing a trade deal.
Throughout the negotiations in the past few months, the UK have listened carefully to EU counterparts, signalled flexibility where possible to move the talks forward, and tabled new proposals to make progress. But we have repeatedly made clear that key elements of our position derive from the fundamentals of being a sovereign state, and it is now time for the EU to fully recognise this reality.
Over the course of the past few weeks our negotiations have resulted in two points of serious contention with the EU, which have necessitated the introduction of the Internal Market Bill:
- Article 10 of the revised Northern Ireland Protocol - accepted by the UK last year in good faith that the EU would interpret and apply it sensibly - which essentially says that EU law on state aid will apply to the UK in relation to the goods trade in Northern Ireland. This is now being interpreted by the EU in such a way that obliges the British government to notify Brussels of any state aid decision, including those that relate to businesses in Great Britain. This effectively undermines our sovereignty and ability to support key businesses and sectors, the latter of which is especially important as we support our economic recover from the pandemic.
- A stipulation that Northern Irish businesses must complete export declarations when they send goods over to mainland Great Britain. The UK’s internal market has functioned effectively for centuries. Unfettered access of goods and people has been a cornerstone of our union for centuries and this is something we will never compromise on in any negotiation. This requirement effectively undermines the government in delivering unfettered access between NI and GB and further erodes our sovereign union.
In December 2019 I had the privilege of being re-elected as your MP for the third time in five years. But I did so on a manifesto which pledged that the Conservative Government will ensure that “Northern Ireland’s businesses and producers enjoy unfettered access to the rest of the UK and that in the implementation of our Brexit deal, we maintain and strengthen the integrity and smooth operation of our internal market.”
The Internal Market Bill, when passed, will rectify the issues we are facing and enable the UK to protect the Union of the United Kingdom and safeguard Northern Ireland by:
- Giving the government powers to scrap export declarations on goods moving from Northern Ireland to Great Britain
- Allowing the UK to decide what particular goods were "at risk" of entering the EU when passing between Great Britain and Northern Ireland, and therefore subject to EU tariffs
- Clarifying that EU State Aid rules would only apply to Northern Ireland and not Great Britain
A number of constituents have suggested that in introducing this Bill, the UK is not acting in good faith. Yet it is the EU that has been negotiating and behaving in bad faith all along during the negotiation process, and the UK is not calling the EU out for doing so. As far back as 2018, the European Union has said that they are offering “not just a Canada deal, but a Canada plus plus plus deal” to the UK, which they have since repeated on numerous occasions. Yet since we officially left the EU on 31 January of this year, the offer of a Canada deal has been withdrawn by the EU and the negotiations conducted without the best endeavours both sides signed up to.
It is surely not unreasonable for the UK to expect, having been a member of the EU and one the most significant financial contributors for four decades, to be treated fairly and at least equal to other countries like Canada. But this is precisely what the EU is doing, placing demands and restrictions on us that it does not place on other countries.
Article 184 of the Withdrawal Agreement calls for ‘best endeavours, in good faith’ in order to ‘negotiate expeditiously the agreements’. But take fisheries for example, the EU has failed to agree a deal on fishing by 1 July, as established by the Political Declaration, and has since refused to discuss it further.
The EU’s intransigence over the past few months to seriously negotiate a good deal with us and treat us as a sovereign nation outside of the EU means that we need to take steps to protect ourselves and ensure that as we come out of the implementation period we are as prepared for any eventuality as possible.
As part of these contingency preparations, the UK Government are right to act decisively and prioritise the preservation the integrity of our internal market which reaches the corners of all four nations in seeking to pass this piece of domestic legislation
It is also important for me to stress to any doubters that nothing in the Bill would undermine the UK’s respect for the rule of law.
We are a rule of law nation: we keep our promises, seeking to resolve any incompatibility between domestic and international law, just as we should.
Some in recent days have accused the Government of acting in a new and unconstitutional way. But it is not novel or unprecedented for Parliament, or indeed other like-minded governments, to consider legislation that has the potential to override treaty obligations. For example, the Communications Bill, which was put forward by the Labour Government in 2002, was acknowledged by Governments Ministers that it could violate Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR).
Moreover, the EU itself has sometimes disregarded adverse rulings by the WTO, for example in relation to Airbus and in the EU/US steel and aluminium dispute, which arguably put them in breach of commitments in treaties they have signed and therefore breaking the rule of law.
Whether and how to implement our treaty obligations is for Parliament and Parliament alone. This is a conclusion backed up by the principle of parliamentary supremacy – the key principle of our constitution – and the UK’s ‘dualist’ legal system which separates domestic and international law. This principle was upheld unanimously by the Supreme Court in the Gina Miller case in 2017, and was expressly confirmed in Section 38 of the EU Withdrawal Agreement Act 2020.
For these reasons the Internal Market Bill is entirely legal and proper.
To reach an agreeable trade deal in time the UK, the UK’s negotiators have made clear to the EU that more progress must be made swiftly. We have now been in talks with them for the best part of the past six months and can no longer afford to go over well-trodden ground. We need to see more realism from the EU about our status as an independent country. If they cannot do that in the limited time we have left, then we will be trading on terms like those the EU has with Australia, and we are ramping up our preparations for the end of the year. There is still time to reach a good agreement and we all hope that progress can be made.
If not then the mantra of ‘no deal is better than a bad deal’ remains very much the case and we will need to do all we can to ensure that the transition outside of the EU is as smooth as possible, and that is precisely what the Bill will do.
Campaign reply: “One crisis at a time”
A number of constituents have sent me a copy of a campaign email “One crisis at a time”, seeking an extension to the negotiations with the EU.
The government has made it clear since before the last election that they would not seek any extension to the transition period. A stance I entirely support. It was only when the then new prime minister, Mr Johnson, came to office and made it clear to the EU that the time for dither, delay and obfuscation were over that the EU begun to realise that the UK was not going to pushed around anymore. I fear the tactics of old, used by the EU to hold everything up in the hope of ensnaring and wearing down those in negotiation with them has been rumbled and they are beginning to grasp the position: we seek a trade deal with our friends and neighbours and will negotiate in good faith to that end in the time agreed.
The comment we should “ focus on one crisis at a time” is a mystery to me. Leaving the EU is a huge opportunity for the UK – not a crisis. There will be challenges as there is with any change, but the future is a brighter and better one than staying within the EU any longer than we have to.