Many constituents have written to express their concerns about the Internal Market Bill and the government’s intention to break international law by reneging on the Withdrawal Agreement. Unfortunately, the guillotine on the debate fell before Olivia was able to make her contribution. Below she sets out her thoughts.
As we leave the European Union, it’s right that we legislate to ensure the smooth running of our internal economy, but even if we ignore the headline-grabbing problems with it – which I’ll come to shortly – the Internal Market Bill is a shoddy attempt to do that.
The rules on mutual recognition and non-discrimination in the Bill are half-baked. The government’s white paper insisted that ‘the UK’s exceptionally high standards will underpin the functioning of the Internal Market’ – but where are protections on standards in the proposed legislation? Without agreed minimum standards, mutual recognition and non-discrimination laws are a recipe for lowering the standards of goods and services across the nations.
Ministers on the government benches say they’re committed to high standards, but why are they so keen to avoid explicitly guaranteeing them in law? Time and time again – on the Trade Bill, the Environment Bill, the Agriculture Bill – they’ve failed to address the real risk of a race to the bottom in our international trade. Now they’re doing the same with trade between our nations.
And what about the “power surge” promised to our devolved assemblies? With no floor on standards, the Bill undermines the power of devolved nations to set their own. Far from a “power surge”, devolved governments are being cut out of making regulatory decisions.
But surely the most flagrant broken promise is the one the Prime Minister made to the electorate when he said his Brexit deal was “oven ready”. Last year, he told us his Withdrawal Agreement was the only way to get Brexit done. The Bill we’re debating today rips up that agreement. He’s marched the country up a hill and back down again – and now he has the cheek to tell the opposition we’re standing in the way of a deal.
We’re currently in the process of negotiating a new place for Britain in the world. We need our trading partners to be confident that we mean what we say, but this Bill writes lawlessness into the way we regulate our economy. It says in black-and-white that Ministers can use their powers ‘notwithstanding any relevant international or domestic law with which they may be incompatible or inconsistent’.
How can anyone have any confidence in our trade negotiators if our own regulatory laws say we can just ignore international agreements whenever we like?
How can any trading partner take our negotiators seriously when we can describe an agreement as ‘a fantastic deal for the country’ and, before the ink has dried, trash it in the international media?
The situation is too serious for this kind of game-playing. We’re in the middle of a global pandemic, the economy has just suffered a major contraction, and there’s every indication we’re about to enter a crisis of unemployment. Now is not the time to brazenly break international law and crash out of negotiations without a deal.
Instead, the government should be intent on delivering trade agreements with the EU, and partners across the world. We need deals that guarantee environmental, food and animal welfare standards, defend workers’ rights and public services, and make a strong commitment to upholding human rights. The last thing we need is government posturing and this half-baked Bill.