The speech made by Angela Eagle, the Labour MP for Wallasey, in the House of Commons on 14 September 2020.
I never thought I would ever see a piece of legislation this objectionable put before the House. It is a gigantic act of self-harm masquerading as a negotiating strategy in the EU-UK trade talks, as the flounder and the end of the transition period looms. It unilaterally repudiates the devyolution settlements and centralises power to the UK Government.
As currently drafted, this Bill will give Ministers the powers to disapply or unilaterally reinterpret parts of the Northern Ireland protocol and ignore their legal obligations in both domestic and international law to enact the protocol as it was negotiated. It asserts that these powers will be legally effective even though they break international law, thereby unilaterally repudiating the foundations of the withdrawal agreement, which was only enacted by the House earlier this year. The Bill orders the domestic courts to prioritise this new law over any existing international law we have signed up to and it attempts to preclude any prospect of judicial review.
It has already been admitted on the Floor of the House by a Cabinet Minister that the Bill breaks international law in a very “specific and limited way”. The reality is that this is a shocking repudiation of everything the UK holds dear. It threatens to destroy our hard-won reputation as an upholder of international law and as a country that can be trusted to keep its word. Once lost, that reputation will not be easy to regain. This is not only morally wrong—it is self-defeating and undermines the prospect of reaching a deal at all. It is a sign of just how dangerous the Government’s actions now are that all five living ex-Prime Ministers, both Labour and Conservative, have made public their opposition to this reckless course of action, as have the Brexiteer ex-leaders of the Conservative party, Lords Hague and Howard.
This morning, the Prime Minister’s first Lord Chancellor called the Bill “unconscionable” and revealed that he will not vote for it. Many legal experts argue that both the current Lord Chancellor and the Attorney General are in breach of their oaths of office and should resign. Last week, the head of the Government legal service did resign over the Bill because it breaks international law. Given that we have an unwritten constitution which relies on ministerial restraint and responsibility, the Bill is even more dangerous than it first appears. It unilaterally tears up treaty obligations made just months ago and makes it less likely that any of our future undertakings will be believed or trusted, just as we must renegotiate all our existing trading agreements with the rest of the world.
What are we to make of a Prime Minister who presides over this moral vacuum and this reckless gamble with our international reputation; the man who resigned over his predecessor’s deal, which had no Irish border, pronouncing it a betrayal and using it as his path to power in the Conservative party; the man who, nine short months ago, negotiated and signed the withdrawal agreement, declaring it “fantastic”, and expelled from the Conservative party and Parliament all his own MPs who did not back it; the man who went to the country with this “oven-ready” Brexit deal and won a huge majority; the man who now believes it was rushed and flawed, and must be unilaterally written by him and him alone, the world king acting like a two-year-old having a tantrum because he did not get all he wanted; a Prime Minister who is completely careless of the consequences of his own actions; and the leader of a Government who think they can do what they want, purge who they want and act how they want, a Government who think there is one law for them and another for everyone else, repudiating treaties they have just signed and ignoring the lockdown rules they impose on everyone else?
This will not end well. The Government must step back from the brink, withdraw the lawbreaking clauses in the Bill, and think again.