The speech made by Bernard Jenkin, the Conservative MP for Harwich and North Essex, in the House of Commons on 14 September 2020.
Rarely can a few words uttered from the Government Dispatch Box have overshadowed a debate like this to such an extent or indeed caused so much instant fury and indignation, but I do not think the House should be in any doubt that the author of those words will have been delighted by the reaction they caused, and that the real purpose and significance of those words will probably prove to be much less than that. The law of this land and international law are both of great importance. I will leave that to the lawyers. The underlying question for the House to address is about where this nation now finds itself.
I support the Bill, because it will be necessary to address at least the worst aspects of the withdrawal agreement and protocol. We cannot be bound by it indefinitely or continue to accept laws imposed on our country by the EU court. At least there was a means of leaving the EU, but there is no obvious means of leaving this withdrawal agreement.
Much has been said about the potential to lose the respect of the international community, but what will other nations think if this great and sovereign nation cannot bring itself to accept that we made a mistake ratifying this agreement? [Interruption.] Some of us warned about it at the time. But the key points are these: the UK will gain respect if we extricate ourselves from the worst aspects of this agreement, which have the capacity to impose laws on our country with even less democratic legitimacy than under our previous membership of the EU.
Is that now the measure of how we are going to go forward with international treaties: when countries change their minds, they say, “Oops, I made a mistake. We’ll forget about it.”?
Sir Bernard Jenkin
I do not think it is a matter to be done casually and without very great care, but, as many right hon. and hon. Members, even those objecting to this Bill, are now saying, if the worst comes to the worst, we may have to avail ourselves of these powers, because it is the obligation of this House, first and foremost, to stick up for our national interests.
The EU says it will act against the UK through the European Court, but there is something absurd about the EU attempting to impose its laws on a member state after it has left the bloc—when did the voters endorse that? There is something ironic, even bizarre, about MPs in this Parliament demanding that the EU should continue to impose its laws instead of themselves wanting to make the laws for their constituents—they still do not accept Brexit. One wonders whether the Government recognise better than many here how most voters will react to this. Most of those shouting the loudest now showed how little they understood the voters in the 2016 referendum. Voters will support a Government who are determined to resist the unreasonable enforcement of the withdrawal agreement by the EU. Today, the Government have a strong mandate and a secure Commons majority for taking back control of our laws—voters will expect no less than that and they will give little quarter to this Parliament if they are let down again.
We are in a process of constitutional transition, from being subordinated by the EU legal order towards the restoration of full independence. While we are in this penumbra period of mixed constitutional supremacies, it is unsurprising that this kind of controversy should arise. Our other allies and trading partners will have far more respect for the UK if we stand up for our interests in this way than they will if they watch us accepting that we are to remain indefinitely a non-member subsidiary of the EU. The Government must ensure that there will be a clear end to the jurisdiction of the EU Court; that is the test of whether we are taking back control of our own laws, and our democracy demands it.