Bill Cash: under Brexit, there will be a “Britannia unchained”

The House of Commons held yesterday a debate exiting the EU and security, law enforcement and criminal justice. During the debate Bill Cash made the following interventions:

 The Minister for Policing and the Fire Service (Brandon Lewis):

I beg to move,

That this House has considered exiting the EU and security, law enforcement and criminal justice.

I am pleased to introduce today’s debate on security, law enforcement and criminal justice—one of a number of debates that we will be having about our exit from the European Union. It is important that Members have the opportunity to discuss and debate leaving the EU. The Prime Minister underlined the importance of Parliament’s involvement in exit negotiations in her speech yesterday. This afternoon, Members have a chance to debate an area of our relationship with the EU that is crucial, not only to our negotiations but to the continued safety of both Europe and ourselves—citizens across Europe and the United Kingdom.

This debate will focus on how we work with the EU on security, law enforcement and criminal justice now and how we will work with our EU partners in the future. Co-operation in the fight against crime and terrorism was one of the Government’s core negotiating objectives. The UK is leaving the EU, but as we have been clear, we are not leaving Europe. We are committed to strong co-operation on security, law enforcement and criminal justice now and when we leave. We will work with our European partners to find solutions that promote security across Europe and beyond.

The decision of the British people to leave the European Union does not alter the duty that we and all member states share collectively to keep our citizens safe and to protect our democratic way of life and the rule of law. In the face of the common threats that we face from terrorism, cyber-attacks and hostile foreign actors, maintaining strong EU-UK security co-operation is vital to our collective success in keeping citizens safe. It is difficult to see how it would be in anyone’s interests ​for exit negotiations to result in a reduction in the effectiveness of security, law enforcement and criminal justice co-operation.

(…)

Sir William Cash (Stone) (Con): Does my right hon. Friend agree that of course matters relating to all the important questions he has raised regarding crime, terrorism, security and fingerprinting are not, by any means, confined to the region called the European Union but apply internationally, and that therefore, just as other countries such as the United States have their arrangements, we will have ours?

Brandon Lewis: My hon. Friend makes an important point in that the work we have done across Europe—we have been a leading country in working to get this information—we are also continuing to do with countries around the world to make sure that we are able to do everything we can, in every context, to keep our country and our citizens safe.

For example, we work bilaterally and through the Counter Terrorism Group to combat terrorism effectively in Europe, and that work retains our local sovereignty. It includes working with European partners on information sharing, tackling foreign fighter flows, law enforcement co-operation, tackling radicalisation, and countering the narratives of terrorist groups. That group sits outside the EU, and we will therefore continue to be a member of it. Furthermore, as my hon. Friend rightly points ​out, our EU co-operation is of course just part of a wider landscape of international counter-terrorism work, which includes co-operation through relationships such as those with Interpol and the “Five Eyes” countries, and bilateral work with individual countries and NATO.

(…)

Sir William Cash: On the issue of the European arrest warrant, which was debated extensively in previous Parliaments, may I mention that there are a number of instances in which British citizens have been subjected to complete failures of justice under that system? I will leave it at that, but that is a point that my hon. Friend needs to take on board.

Ben Howlett: I thank my hon. Friend for intervening. The Prime Minister said yesterday in her speech that this is about not just maintaining our current system, but enhancing the system that we have. If that means having debates on the European arrest warrant to ensure that the system works to stop exactly what he mentions, then that is what we should do, and this is the prime opportunity to do so.

I turn now to cross-border intelligence sharing, which has been instrumental to the safety of our nation. In particular, I am talking about the mechanisms, data gathering and analysis executed by Europol—the agency that supports the law enforcement agencies of the EU member states by providing a forum within which member states can co-operate and share information. Will the Minister assure me that we will continue to have access to Europol after our departure from the European Union? There is no doubt that every hon. Member will be saying that over the next few hours.

(…)

Sir William Cash (Stone) (Con): It is an enormous pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent Central (Tristram Hunt). He is pretty well my next-door neighbour and we talk regularly. We were even on a Radio 4 programme that he organised only a week ago on Asa Briggs and all the matters to which he referred. ​I regard him not only as an hon. Member, but as a good friend. The valedictory comments that he just made were rather reminiscent of a maiden speech. I simply wanted to put on record that he has performed a great service to this House and to his constituents before I get into the more substantial questions before us.

Paul Farrelly (Newcastle-under-Lyme) (Lab): I thank the hon. Gentleman, who is my constituency neighbour, for giving way. Does he agree that my hon. Friend the soon to be departed Member for Stoke-on-Trent Central (Tristram Hunt) has, since 2010, been a truly class act in north Staffordshire and the potteries, not least in his efforts to save the Wedgwood collection for the nation?

Sir William Cash: Absolutely. We are indebted to the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent Central for that. We have all taken an active part in trying to do what we can regarding the museum, and it is marvellous not only that that collection is still there, but that it is now in secure hands under the aegis of the director of the V&A himself. I do not know whether he has taken up his contract yet, but he is getting close to it. I thank him very much for everything he has done in that context, and for our area and region.

The hon. Gentleman questioned whether, under Brexit, there would be a “Britannia unchanged”. I can assure him that there will be a “Britannia unchained”. That, to me, is the most important question of all, to which I have devoted the best part of 30 years of my political life. I believe very strongly that we will benefit enormously from this. It has been a long journey, and a very interesting historical journey, as people will discover one day when they get the full measure of what has actually taken place. It will benefit not only my constituents, 65% of whom voted leave, but the 70% of leave voters in Stoke-on-Trent Central.

The hon. Gentleman referred to sovereignty as one of the main issues before his constituents. That is connected with the question of trust which, as I said yesterday on a programme on Sky after the Prime Minister’s speech, is at the heart of the issue not only in this country, but across the whole of the European continent, which happens to be, largely speaking, within the European Union. This vote is not against Europe but against the European Union—that is what the discontent is about. There is a lack of trust between the member states, and between the citizens and the institutions and elites within the member states who have implemented these arrangements, which simply have not worked. They have generated monumental degrees of unemployment—up to 60% in some countries, including Greece and Spain. The problems that come from an over-dominating Germany have had a detrimental effect on stability in terms of the progress and evolution of the European Union. The situation has recreated the very insecurity and instability that people wanted to deal with in the aftermath of the second world war, in which my own father was killed fighting against the Waffen-SS Panzer division in 1944, winning the Military Cross, of which I am very proud.

I voted yes in 1975. I wanted to see a situation that could work but, unfortunately, the manner in which this has developed has become dysfunctional. In the discussion on the statement yesterday, I noticed that a sense of realism was bearing down on many Members because we know that we have to make this work. This is not ​anti-European. It is not anti-European to be pro-democracy. I know that there are some good and honest remainers who are still worried about the outcome, but I say to them, “Have confidence. Have trust in the people”—as Lord Randolph Churchill said in the 19th century. This is not a 19th-century problem, however; it is a 21st-century problem. This is not Euroscepticism in a negative sense; it is about trying to ensure that we have proper democracy, and that when we get on to the great repeal Bill, we will be able to achieve the reaffirmation of Westminster’s jurisdiction.

What does that actually mean? It means that we will be implementing in this Chamber the decisions taken by the electors in general elections, for which the people of this country fought and died. That is a crucial issue for the future of Europe as well; it does not just apply to us, but we were the first to have the opportunity to do something about it, because we had the referendum, for which some of us fought for a very long time.

At a conference at the European Parliament the other day, we discussed matters of security, terrorism and all the rest. In front of about 300 chairmen of various parliamentary committees from all over the European Union, the chairman of the Constitutional Affairs Committee of the European Parliament, Elmar Brok—I have parried and fought with him for the best part of 20 years in various forums of the European Union—accused the United Kingdom of cowardice in holding a referendum. I replied that holding the referendum was an act of courage, not an act of cowardice, because we have seized the opportunity to defend the necessity of having a proper democratic system in the United Kingdom, and we will now be able to implement it.

With respect to this business of justice and home affairs, and all that goes with it, my European Scrutiny Committee held an inquiry in April or May last year—before the referendum—into the manner in which decisions are taken in the Council of Ministers. I am prepared to bet that there are people in this Chamber who do not know that virtually no votes are taken in the Council of Ministers. As a result of the European Communities Act 1972, decisions taken by the Council of Ministers—quite often stitched up behind closed doors—come straight down to this Chamber and we are under an obligation to implement them. Such decisions are often on matters such as those we are discussing, and they are of direct relevance to the whole question of security, terrorism and crime.

If people do not know that that is how the system functions, I strongly advise them to speak to me privately, when I can provide them with further information—I will not go into it in the Chamber today, but it is vital to democracy. Such decisions are not taken on a democratic basis, as people have imagined, and that is a reason in itself for our getting out of the European Union. I was absolutely delighted by what the Prime Minister said yesterday. As I said during our proceedings on the statement, her speech was “principled, reasonable and statesmanlike.”

Justice and home affairs was intended to be intergovernmental. It was never meant to be governed by majority voting and all the rest; it was meant to be a separate pillar. I say to the hon. Gentlemen and Ladies of Labour that they, under Tony Blair, collapsed the ​pillar so that the matter became part of treaties subject to the European Court of Justice. That was never the original intention.

In this debate, we are engaging in an element of déjà vu, but we are also giving ourselves the opportunity to indicate the extent to which we will move forward after Brexit into a different environment in which decisions on all these incredibly important matters will be dealt with by this House on the basis of votes cast by the voters of the United Kingdom and nobody else.

I drafted the repeal Bill in May last year and submitted it to various people. As a result of a process that I do not need to go into in detail, it was accepted in principle by the Government. I have no doubt that the wording will be slightly changed—or somewhat changed—but that does not matter. I set out five principles, which I will not go into now, other than to say that they meant that we would withdraw from the European Union and transpose all legislation currently within the framework of the EU’s jurisdiction into our own Westminster jurisdiction, and that thereafter we would deal with it as we went forward.

I apologise for not being in the Chamber earlier, Madam Deputy Speaker. I was here for the opening speeches, but with my colleague my hon. Friend the Member for Somerton and Frome (David Warburton) and others, I have been cross-examining my right hon. Friend the Member for Aylesbury (Mr Lidington), who was the Minister for Europe and is now the Leader of the House. We had important questions to put to him, and we got some interesting answers.

The repeal Bill will require careful attention. As a result of the Bill, we will be able to reintroduce a proper democratic system into this House. We will have to accept some things as a matter of policy, and we heard some of them in my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister’s brilliant speech yesterday, but we cannot absorb the European Court of Justice. The issue of the Court is raised in debates on this subject matter probably as much as it is on any other subject matter within the framework of the European Union.

The Prime Minister’s speech yesterday made it clear that the UK will continue to co-operate with its European partners in important areas such as crime and terrorism once we leave the EU. She said that, faced with common security threats,

“our response cannot be to co-operate with one another less, but to work together more”—

subject, of course, to the question of the European Court of Justice—and to ensure that the UK’s future relationship with the EU includes

“practical arrangements on matters of law enforcement and the sharing of intelligence material with our EU allies.”

She went on to make it clear that

“we will take back control of our laws and bring an end to the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice”.

As Chairman of the European Scrutiny Committee, I and my colleagues, such as my hon. Friend the Member for Somerton and Frome—my wife is from his constituency, so I should be able to remember its name—continue to see a raft of EU initiatives in the sensitive area of law enforcement and security co-operation. The Government tell us that while the UK remains a ​member of the EU, all rights and obligations of EU membership remain in force, which is true, and that they will

“continue to negotiate, implement and apply EU legislation.”

I say quite explicitly, however—I put this to the Leader of the House this afternoon—that during the period in which we are engaged in the negotiations, it is absolutely essential that we have proper explanatory memorandums on matters relating to security and terrorism and to justice and home affairs, because we must examine such matters properly and form a judgment about the extent to which we will actually implement them. When, on a matter requiring unanimity, we are in a position to vote against it, we must do so, and when a matter is subject to qualified majority voting, we must insist on a vote, rather than allow an agreement to be stitched up behind closed doors.

As my Committee recommended, we must at the same time give reasons for what we are doing, to increase transparency and accountability. Some of these matters to do with the question of terrorism and all that goes with it are so important to our security that if we do not believe that what the EU is proposing is in our national interest, we must take a stand. In my opinion, there is an absolute requirement on the Government to make sure that the reasons for that are put on the record.

Although the generalisation that we want to achieve a degree of co-operation is important, if we do not like things that are proposed—things that are not in the UK’s interest and that we would never contemplate accepting post-Brexit—we must not allow them to go through by consensus in un-smoke-filled rooms. Indeed, if we had had our wits about us, we would never have accepted such things in the first place. The European scrutiny process therefore needs to be considered, and my Committee is looking into it very closely.

As the House will recall, the coalition Government decided that it was in the UK’s national interest to rejoin 35 EU police and criminal justice measures that were adopted before the Lisbon treaty took effect and were subject to the UK’s 2014 block opt-out decision. They included Europol, Eurojust, the European arrest warrant, joint investigation teams, important data sharing instruments—EuroDac and so on—the Schengen information system, the European criminal records information system and the so-called Swedish initiative, which provides a simplified mechanism for the exchange of law enforcement information and intelligence. Since then—the Prime Minister was then the Home Secretary— the Government have rejoined the Prüm measures, which provide for the rapid automated exchange of information on DNA profiles, fingerprinting and vehicle registration data. The United Kingdom also participates in the European investigation order, which will take effect in May this year, and many other criminal justice measures.

On the new EU justice and home affairs proposals, there appears to be inadequate recognition in the explanatory memorandums that the context in which the UK will continue

“to negotiate, implement and apply EU legislation”

has changed profoundly because of Brexit. To quote the Prime Minister, the UK is leaving the European Union. The Government cannot continue with business as usual within COREPER and UKRep. I trust that Sir Tim Barrow will, as the new UK representative, carry on in a ​way that will be entirely consistent with what is required in relation to COREPER and UKRep. We cannot continue with business as usual in the handling of sensitive EU justice and home affairs proposals in COREPER, the Council and the trilogue negotiations with the European Parliament. Given that the UK is under no obligation to participate in most new EU justice and home affairs proposals, the Government must explain on the record in each case how a decision to opt in would be in the national interest and consistent with taking back control of our laws, as the Prime Minister said, and ending the jurisdiction of the European Court.

Since last June’s referendum, the European Scrutiny Committee has pressed the Government to clarify how the measures in question will be affected by the UK’s decision to leave the EU and how they envisage managing security and law enforcement co-operation post-Brexit. Under the repeal Bill and otherwise, there will need to be significant adjustments to how that is handled. What sort of relationship do the Government intend to establish with Europol and Eurojust? Will they seek an agreement to enable the UK to continue to apply a new arrangement regarding the European arrest warrant? We cannot have it both ways. We cannot be out of the jurisdiction of the European Court and yet have all the laws interpreted by the judges in the European Court in Luxembourg. That just cannot happen, and that has to be taken on board.

What assessment have the Government made of the operational value of EU data sharing instruments? Would access to those instruments require the UK to comply with EU data protection laws in practice, even if it was no longer under a legal obligation to do so? Answers to those questions are absolutely fundamental, because otherwise we will not be able to implement the commitment to

“take back control of our laws and bring an end to the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice”.

As I said in an intervention, we also have to take into account the fact that justice, home affairs, terrorism and security—all the problems that have accumulated in the 21st century—are not exclusive to the European Union. They apply across the whole world. The fact that the European Union exists and has developed a body and a framework of law does not give it any absolute value. This House and its predecessors have been legislating for 400 years or more. We do not need to be told how to do this. Yes, we want to co-operate with other countries, but for heaven’s sake let us take on board the fact that we can work out what is in the interests of our own citizens in accordance with the decisions they take in general elections. We will bring in our own immigration Bill, not have one imposed on us through deals done behind closed doors, and it will do exactly what the British people want, because they will have voted for it.

We are talking about important matters arising from the decision taken by the British people, and I pay tribute to them; I do not, however, pay tribute to the campaigns. I thought that the “Project Fear” campaign was a disgrace, and I said so in the House at the time. I do not think there was any treaty change, either, although the Prime Minister kept on telling us there was—I challenged him on that and even put the matter to Mr Speaker. That was around the middle of June, and the Prime Minister was gone by the end of the month. ​The bottom line, however, is that neither side of the campaign covered itself in glory, and there were things I deeply regretted.

For that reason, I did my own campaign in my own area, and I am glad to say that in the area in which my constituency and that of the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent Central are situated, we notched up votes of between 65% and 72% in favour of leaving. He was quite right: it was about sovereignty and the very matters I am talking about. It was about whether we could run our own country in our own fashion through our representation in this House. It was as fundamental as that. Everything else pales into insignificance compared with democracy, if it is properly conducted. It is absolutely sure that the current EU is undemocratic, and it is as well that we are getting out of it.

Our Committee has issued a press release regarding another matter that I doubt has been mentioned so far—whether UK nationals will need authorisation to travel to the Schengen area post-Brexit. The UK is not entitled to contribute to the proposal being drawn up, as it is not a Schengen country, but the Government will have to monitor the negotiations closely. In that regard, my Committee has some questions. What are the main differences between the model proposed by the Commission for visa-free entry to the Schengen area and the full Schengen visa regime? Do the Government intend to seek visa-free access to the Schengen area for UK nationals post-Brexit? Do they intend to press for an exemption from the new travel authorisation for UK nationals, or will they seek instead to minimise the cost and complexity of the application process? If they cannot secure an exemption, would they wish to introduce a reciprocal travel authorisation system for EU nationals travelling to the UK after Brexit? All those matters are in the press release was presented to the media this afternoon, and I sincerely trust that they will give it the attention it deserves.

This is a vital debate on the best example of a policy area that impinges directly on citizens. Elsewhere in the EU massive resistance to EU proposals is building up among citizens, but we have had our referendum and the people have decided that we should get out. That is what we are doing. Let us get on with implementing that decision.

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Sir William Cash: There is another problem that the European Scrutiny Committee has looked at in the past, when we had the Fair Trials team in to give us evidence: some of the judges are politically appointed.

David T. C. Davies: My hon. Friend makes an important point.

I have listened with great interest to what has been said in this debate. I was of course a supporter of Brexit, but that in no way means I oppose the EAW or the principles behind it.

The Minister of State, Department for Exiting the European Union (Mr David Jones) May I say what an excellent debate this has been? It has been a debate of very high calibre. Indeed, it has been attended by no fewer than five Chairs of Select Committees. The issue of security, law enforcement and criminal justice is of significant importance in the context of Britain’s withdrawal from the European Union. I am sure that all hon. Members would acknowledge the value of this debate, which is the fourth in a series promised by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union. These debates have proven to be of real assistance to the Government, not least this one, which, as my hon. Friend the Member for Stone (Sir William Cash) pointed out, is on an issue that impinges directly on all of our citizens.

As the Prime Minister made clear yesterday, a global Britain will wish to continue to co-operate with its European allies on tackling crime and terrorism. That is in the interests of not only the United Kingdom, but the continuing European Union, given the significant strengths that we can bring to the table. One of the 12 objectives that the Prime Minister outlined yesterday for the negotiations ahead is to establish a new relationship that enables the United Kingdom and the European Union to continue practical co-operation to tackle cross-border crime and to keep all our people safe.

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State reiterated that objective to the House yesterday and made clear, during his appearance before the Select Committee in December, that a future relationship on security, law enforcement and criminal justice co-operation will be one of the Government’s priorities when the negotiations commence.

The UK is leaving the EU, but self-evidently it is not leaving Europe. The reality of cross-border crime and threats to security will remain. In December, as referred to by the hon. and learned Member for Edinburgh South West (Joanna Cherry), the House of Lords EU Home Affairs Sub-Committee report on this subject concluded that there is a shared, strong mutual interest between the United Kingdom and the 27 continuing EU member states to make sure that co-operation on tackling these threats continues. To that end, the UK already has strong bilateral relationships with member ​states and other countries across the globe that help to address security threats and serious organised crime, as well as facilitate the delivery of effective justice. We intend to continue that close co-operation with our European and global allies on promoting security and justice across Europe after we leave.

Sir William Cash: In my speech, and when the Minister came before the European Scrutiny Committee, I referred to the question of the attitude to be adopted in relation to votes in the Council of Ministers. Will he give some indication as to the kind of trend towards being sure we make clear where we stand on Brexit matters within the framework of the decision-making process in COREPER?

Mr Jones: As my hon. Friend pointed out, there is clearly now a change in the staffing of COREPER so far as the UK is concerned. As we move closer towards Brexit, and particularly after we trigger article 50, it is inevitable that that position will develop and change.

(…) There were a number of points made by hon. Members during the debate and in the short time available to me I would like to comment on as many of them as possible. The hon. Member for West Ham (Lyn Brown) asked what guarantees can be given that security and law enforcement will not be compromised as a consequence of our departure from the EU. Of course, we have not even started the process of negotiation. We have not yet even triggered article 50. We are leaving the EU, but, as I previously indicated, co-operation on law enforcement and security with our European and global allies will remain a priority for the Government. The Prime Minister and the Home Secretary have both spoken with several EU partners who have been clear about their wish to maintain strong co-operation with the United Kingdom. That is a good basis for starting the negotiation, but clearly this is very early days.

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