The British people voted in a free and fair referendum to leave the European Union. Parliament gave the British people the final say on the UK’s membership of the EU and the ballot paper presented voters with an unambiguous choice to remain or to leave. Turnout was larger than at any election since 1992, and no Prime Minister or party in British history has ever received as many votes as the vote to leave did. The Government will follow its duty to respect and deliver the referendum result in full and in the national interest. I therefore do not support attempts to remain inside the EU, rejoin through the back door, or calls for a Second Referendum.
I believe that the Prime Minister's proposals for the UK's future relationship with the EU represent a realistic and practical vision that delivers the referendum decision in full. While there may well be movement from both sides in the coming months as we approach the deadline for leaving, I strongly support the Prime Minister’s efforts to secure the best possible deal for the United Kingdom.
The UK will leave the EU, including the Single Market and the Customs Union, on 29 March 2019. As we leave the EU, free movement and the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice will no longer apply and the days of sending vast sums of money to Brussels every year will be over for good. We will also leave the Common Agricultural Policy and the Common Fisheries Policy and we will once again be able to strike our own trade deals.
The EU had effectively proposed to keep Northern Ireland in the Customs Union and parts of the Single Market. The Prime Minister had always been clear that such a move, damaging the integrity of the UK, was completely unacceptable. The EU's other option would have been for all of the UK to stay in the European Economic Area and the Customs Union, keeping free movement and accepting all EU laws. This was also unacceptable.
A sovereign nation is able to control the numbers of people coming to the country. While I welcome the contribution that migrants have brought and will continue to bring to our economy, after leaving the EU we will be able to decide our own immigration policy. During any implementation period, lasting up to two years to provide the necessary time to set up new border control systems, EU citizens will continue to be able to live and work in the UK but they will need to register. Be assured, however, that leaving the EU will mean that the free movement directive will no longer apply and the migration of EU nationals will be subject to UK law.
On the issue of Devolution, the Government is working with the devolved administrations of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland to deliver an outcome that works for the whole of the UK. The Joint Ministerial Committee (EU Negotiations), chaired by the Secretary of State for Exiting the EU, is providing the officials and leaders of the Scottish, Welsh, and Northern Ireland governments with the opportunity to help shape the UK's exit from the EU. I welcome this approach, but would like to stress that although the devolved administrations and other stakeholders will be consulted, the UK will negotiate and leave the EU as one country.
It is important to remember that nearly 80 per cent of the UK economy is based on services such as finance, accounting and law. These will not be affected by the latest proposals on a common rule book, and the Government wants to be free to ensure the UK can maintain its world leading position on services in the future. There will also be a parliamentary lock on new regulations, restoring the sovereignty of Parliament.
I believe that this will be a good deal for Britain, for the British people and for businesses in this country. If, however, we cannot reach agreement with the EU, the Prime Minister is clear that no deal remains better than a bad deal. Preparations for this are being intensified and I wholeheartedly agree with this approach.
After we leave, we will want to continue working with the EU on security issues while having an independent foreign and defence policy. The UK's vote to leave the EU was in no way a rejection of European values; our dedication to ensuring the continued prosperity of the European people remains resolute and we remain unconditionally committed to maintaining the security of the continent. The UK may be leaving the EU but it is not leaving Europe. The Government will always work with our international partners to defend democracy, human rights and the rule of law.
What we must strive for are sensible, common-sense proposals that deliver on the Brexit promises that people voted for, work for businesses and ensure we take back control of our borders, law and money.
EU (Withdrawal) Act (Repeal Bill)
In the referendum, millions of people voted to leave the EU. The EU (Withdrawal) Act, previously known as the Repeal Bill, ensures that the UK does this in the smoothest way possible. This Act is not about whether we leave the EU or about the terms of our exit.
The Act honours the referendum result and provides certainty for businesses. It repeals the European Communities Act 1972, which gives effect to EU law in the UK, and converts all EU law into UK law. It also provides ministers in the UK Government and in the devolved administrations with temporary powers to make corrections to the law. Without it there would be holes in our legal system and chaos for the British people.
The delegated power is important because not all laws will make sense after the UK leaves the EU. For example, references to the UK as a member of the EU will have to be removed and temporary delegated powers will allow ministers to do this in time for the UK's departure. I do not believe that it would be sensible for MPs to debate such changes every time they arise.
The Act does not, however, allow the Government to bypass Parliament. MPs will still be able to scrutinise any changes introduced by ministers using delegated powers and major policy changes will be introduced as separate Bills. The Queen's Speech announced legislation on agriculture, immigration and trade. Future laws will be made in London, Edinburgh, Cardiff and Belfast.
The EU (Withdrawal) Act received over 250 hours of debate in Parliament with over 1,390 amendments of which more than 1,170 were non-Government amendments. There were 8 days of debate at Committee Stage in the House of Commons alone to discuss amendments. This is more than the previous Labour Government provided for the Lisbon Treaty which was similar in its constitutional importance.
The Prime Minister has promised that Parliament will have a say over the final withdrawal deal but it is not within the Government's power to unilaterally extend the negotiation period for further discussions.