21 September 2020
Sir Iain Duncan Smith backs the Internal Market Bill

Sir Iain Duncan Smith backs the Bill which enables the free flow of goods and trade within the UK which is a critical part of the UK constitutional settlement and urges the EU to negotiate in good faith and get the deal done.

Sir Iain Duncan Smith

I am conscious that everyone needs to get in, so I will try to be as brief as possible. Most of the things I will say have probably already been said and certainly will be said in the course of the debate. I make no claim to uniqueness.

I rise to support the Government’s Bill with particular reference to clauses 40 to 45, which we are considering today. After all, the free flow of goods and trade in the UK is critical and is part of the constitutional settlement—the settlements between Ireland and GB and, later, Northern Ireland and, earlier, Scotland and England. Those principles are at the core of what we believe and what we consider to be immutable, and therefore they cannot be changed. There are areas in the protocol that, if improperly used, could affect those principles, and that cannot be allowed.

I remind colleagues that in the European Union (Withdrawal Agreement) Act 2020—nobody seems to have referenced this—our potential intentions were very clear in section 38, which was part of the legislation when it was passed. As I recall, the Opposition did not vote against that provision. If that was the case, it sent a very strong signal to the EU that there was every likelihood that we considered that constitutional settlement in the UK to be above the implementation of the ​withdrawal agreement, should the agreement end up damaging the settlement. That was quite clear. In fact, it was so clear that when the 2020 Act had passed both Houses, interestingly the EU still went ahead and ratified its end of the agreement through the European Parliament, knowing full well that that was in the Act. If the EU disagreed with that provision or disagreed with the principle, it should not have ratified the treaty at its end, but it made no bones about it and did it.

The effect of clauses 40 to 45 is just to protect the basic implementation of the UK’s internal market in terms of its constitution. I recognise the concerns of my colleagues in Northern Ireland about the application of state aids in Northern Ireland as well, but in this case the provisions allow state aids in Great Britain to be dispensed under the framework devised in this country, and not elsewhere. It seems intolerable to me that we should leave the EU only to find that it has hold of us in a number of ways that, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Chipping Barnet (Theresa Villiers) said, were categorically never the intention.

I do not believe that the Bill actually breaks international treaties, particularly not at this stage. I think article 46 in the Vienna convention on the law of treaties is clear about that. These things are always open to interpretation —I accept that—and different lawyers will take different views, but generally I think that at this stage in particular the Bill does not do that. My hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Sir Robert Neill) was clear that that was one of the reasons he is prepared to go along and accommodate the Government on this point, and that is quite reasonable.

The combined effect of article 4 of the withdrawal agreement and section 7A of the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018 is that key parts of the withdrawal agreement and the NIP are already part of domestic law. That therefore makes it impossible for the Government, should they see that the EU is not acting in good faith at this point, to ensure that there is, in a sense, a backstop.

I raised a point with the hon. Member for Sheffield Central (Paul Blomfield) earlier about the EU’s behaviour in this. My point was not, “Look, the EU doesn’t always recognise international law, as applied internally, and therefore we shouldn’t.” That was not the point. The point I was making was that we talk a lot about trust, and there is a lot of debate here about trust, with people saying, “The UK will lose all trust should it do this; no one will ever trust us again”—I do not believe a word of that, by the way, because so many other countries, including the UK, have previously breached international law, for lots of good reasons—but the EU binds it in that it is its right to breach international law.

That was very clear, as I said earlier, in Kadi v. Council and Commission in 2008. The Advocate General made it very clear that the EU does not necessarily have to bind into international treaties with direct effect if they clash with its constitutional settlement. They do so time and again, which has given us a very long list of occasions when the EU has done just that and refused to implement all or part of international treaties. I do not extol its virtues in that regard; I simply regard that as a reality.

What does that say? Does the rest of the world say that the EU cannot be trusted in international agreements? So far, apparently not. So far, it has done deals with a ​number of different countries and not one of them has said, “We don’t trust you, because you breach international law,” which it does. But the UK has also breached international law. In fact, it was a Labour Government that refused to implement, in about 2005, as I recall, prisoners’ voting rights, which came directly from the European Court of Human Rights. All that happened was that the Government said no. It took 10 years before that was resolved. It was not resolved because the UK Government—I think at that stage it was a Conservative Government and my right hon. Friend the Member for Maidenhead (Mrs May) was Prime Minister—implemented it. No, they negotiated again over its implementation and observance, and came up with a fudge.

That is the point about international law: it is not always directly applicable by the letter. Ultimately, when it is not agreed that things should be brought in, they require negotiation subsequently. That is why I say that my right hon. Friends in the Government are absolutely right to use these clauses of the Bill to make it clear to the European Union that, should it wish to pursue the line that it does not agree to work hard in the Joint Committee to resolve these matters about application, which are always a problem, the UK still reserves its right not to breach its own constitutional settlement, which is a primary cause of most breaches of international law around the world.

Mr Harper

I intervene only because the prisoner voting issue is one that I remember very well, because I was then the Minister responsible for that policy area. Indeed, our friend David Cameron, who was then the Prime Minister, made it clear in his interview last week that his view is not as firm as some former Prime Ministers, because he recognises that there are these clashes. His point was that we should not break our commitments as a first course, but that having that as a backstop, with parliamentary control, is actually something worth considering. The example that my right hon. Friend gave is a very sound one.

Sir Iain Duncan Smith

That is why I gave way to my right hon. Friend—because he was there. I think he was a very good Minister too, by the way, for what it is worth.

The point is that for 10 years, Labour Governments and other Governments simply refused to put prisoners’ voting rights through. Finally, there was a fudge negotiation, where not all of what was asked for was agreed, but it was agreed that what had been done, I think on furlough—as I recall, prisoners on furlough had voting rights—was okay. That was not what was asked for.

Let us not be too pompous about this idea that international law is some God-given gospel that says, “Absolutely nobody can ever trespass away from this.” Many of these things are fudged anyway, and implementation is very important. I come back to section 38, which my hon. Friend the Member for Stone (Sir William Cash) initiated. That made it very clear that we would, if necessary, place our constitutional law ahead of both of those.

I make that point because in truth, we are now in exactly that state. That is why I believe that I can happily vote for this tonight. I am happy that, following ​the debate between my hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst and the Government, they have tabled amendment 66, which will give Parliament a chance to say yea or nay when the moment comes. But we are not in breach until we decide to implement this. This has been done before. It is important to show that we want to do this if necessary, but we would rather find an agreement between the parties.

I come back to the point that I made about good faith in principle. I see that Monsieur Barnier has threatened our negotiators that, if they do not agree with him—he has not, by the way, wanted to move anywhere near the Joint Committee to discuss these matters—the EU will, if necessary, not give us the status of third country. That seems a bizarre threat to make. The list of third countries, which my right hon. Friend the Member for Chipping Barnet (Theresa Villiers) mentioned, is long and peculiar. Belarus, for example, which we watch almost nightly on the television, would have third country status. We would not have it, apparently. Others include the Central African Republic, China, the Islamic Republic of Iran—the list goes on. I think there are now 137 countries that would have third country status, but apparently to Mr Barnier, it would be quite acceptable for a country that has been very close to the EU for years to not have third country status. I think it is a hollow threat, but it is a peculiar threat to make, and it gives an indication of bad faith.

The EU is meant to avoid bad faith in this, and so are we. The whole idea of the Bill is to say, “Stop. Let’s consider this again. We do not want—and you should not want—to end up in a situation where we are running around on your laws. This is not what the agreement was meant to be, and we are not prepared to see our constitutional settlement trashed in the pursuit of your own vainglorious idea that somehow you’re going to keep hold of us and run us afterwards.” As my right hon. Friend said, we did not vote to be a subsidiary state; we voted for independence. That is the key point.

I am going to vote for this Bill, and I vote for it with a clean heart. I vote for it because so many areas—from state aid, to transfer of goods and agriproducts to labelling—will be affected unnecessarily. If the EU seriously wants to help and to get this done, it needs to return to the table, go into the Joint Committee as it said it would and accept what we are saying: we will not allow our constitution to become the prisoner of an EU that wants to have all power over the UK.

Hansard