This week in Parliament was another exciting and contentious one.

I wrote about Conservative MPs’ responses to the new coronavirus measures a few days ago. Two MPs spoke up at the end of Wednesday’s debate (see the end of this post).

I will cover Rishi Sunak’s new funding plans for individuals and businesses early next week.

To follow up on angry Conservative MPs, Guido Fawkes reports that Sir Graham Brady (right) and Steve Baker (left) are confident that they can get Brady’s amendment to the Coronavirus Act 2020 passed:

On Thursday, September 24, Guido wrote (emphases in the original):

MPs have been growing increasingly concerned with the Government imposing new restrictions with no debate in, or assent from Parliament. Increasing scepticism meant the Government leant away from as harsh measures as many were expecting earlier this week. This being said, the curfew measures for example are baffling many, and they want the opportunity to have their say over new measures in the future. All this led to a proposed amendment from Graham Brady which, if selected by the Speaker, would require Parliamentary approval for new measures.

Around 40 Tory MPs backing his amendment, which would be enough to overturn the Government’s 80 seat majority if opposition MPs back it too. Last night Steve Baker told Robert Peston that he is “absolutely, 100% certain it will pass if Labour and the SNP vote for it. But I’m afraid Labour and the SNP have been missing in action on civil liberties…”

One potential snag is that, as The Times’ Steven Swinford revealed yesterday, House Clerks have advised the motion on extending coronavirus powers is “binary” – and can only be approved or rejected, not amended. Rebel MPs do not see this as a problem as they believe if the amendment is selected and passed, it does not need to carry legal authority. The theory is the moral authority of the will of the Commons will be enough to brow beat the Government into finally putting new measures before Parliament for debate before being enacted…

It’s all good news — but only if Speaker of the House Sir Lindsay Hoyle allows Brady to bring the proposed amendment forward for debate.

Yesterday, I wrote about last week’s progress on the Internal Market Bill.

On Monday, September 21, the bill entered its third day at Committee stage. Debate on amendments and clauses continued. This time they centred on Part 5 of the bill which relates to the Northern Ireland protocol.

Excerpts follow, emphases mine.

Robert Walker, Minister of State for the Northern Ireland Office, said:

Through this Bill, we are acting to uphold those priorities and deliver the commitments we made in our election manifesto that we would provide unfettered access between Northern Ireland and Great Britain and

“maintain and strengthen the integrity and smooth operation of our internal market.”

The protocol also explicitly depends on the consent of the people of Northern Ireland for its continued existence. As we implement the protocol, that must be kept in mind. Those commitments are, of course, entirely in accord with the protocol itself, which makes it clear that, among other things, Northern Ireland remains part of the United Kingdom’s customs territory, that nothing in the protocol prevents unfettered access from Northern Ireland to the rest of the UK market, and that in its application the protocol should impact as little as possible on the everyday life of communities in both Ireland and Northern Ireland.

Walker received a lot of interventions from both sides of the House after that introduction.

Theresa May (Maidenhead, Con) tried to stick the knife in:

My hon. Friend has been setting out throughout his speech that the Government want clauses 41 to 45 because of the bad consequences that could come from an interpretation of the withdrawal agreement. If the potential consequences of the withdrawal agreement were so bad, why did the Government sign it?

Walker responded:

As my right hon. Friend knows well, the withdrawal agreement was negotiated by the UK and the EU and agreed with a view that certain elements would be resolved by the Joint Committee. I think there was a reasonable expectation on both sides that the Joint Committee would have made more progress on those issues, but unfortunately we have heard some harmful interpretations over the past few months. The point of these Government clauses is to ensure that we can rule those out and put in place the appropriate legal default.

After allowing further interventions, Walker resumed a detailed set of provisions and reasons why the Government was rejecting others:

Clause 45 completes the all-purpose safety net for regulations made under clauses 42 and 43, so that there can be no confusion about the position in domestic law for our courts, businesses and public bodies

Finally, clause 50 disapplies certain provisions of the UK Internal Market Bill in the scenario that Northern Ireland’s representatives resolve, under the protocol’s consent mechanism, that articles 5 to 10 of the protocol should cease to apply. This is a practical step to account for and respect the principle of consent enshrined in the protocol. The protocol itself is not codified as a permanent solution for Northern Ireland, and neither should it be in the domestic legislation that implements it. Taken together, these clauses deliver on our commitments to Northern Ireland

I turn to two amendments regarding the commencement of these provisions that have been subject to much debate and attention, including a number of powerful and persuasive speeches on Second Reading. Amendment 4, which is in the name of my hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Sir Bob Neill), the Chair of the Justice Committee, and is signed by my hon. Friend the Member for North Dorset (Simon Hoare), the Chair of the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee, seeks to provide in essence that break-glass mechanism on the key safety net provisions in relation to the protocol by stating that clauses 42, 43 and 45 of the Bill may not come into force until a motion in this House is passed. Since that amendment was tabled, I am pleased that there have been constructive talks between my hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst and Ministers, and the Government have tabled amendment 66, which provides for substantially the same break-glass mechanism, with the additional requirement for a take-note debate in the other place (House of Lords). I hope that that amendment will demonstrate to hon. Members, including the Chair of the Justice Committee, that we are committed to ensuring that any decision to use the powers is explicitly approved by Parliament.

Neill was satisfied:

I thank my hon. Friend for the constructive tone that he and members of the Government have adopted in these matters. It enables some of us who otherwise would not have been able to support these clauses to proceed, on the understanding that there is a specific parliamentary lock that bad faith on the counter-party’s side must be proven to the House before these powers are brought into operation, which of course all of us hope will never be the case. I welcome that, and it enables us to support the Government’s amendment.

Walker replied:

I am very grateful to my hon. Friend for that point. A fundamental principle of our constitution, and one that lies at the very heart of our exit from the EU, is that this Parliament is sovereign. As set out in clause 38 of the European Union (Withdrawal Agreement) Act 2020, that means that it can choose to legislate to deliver an interpretation of the protocol consistent with our understanding, while recognising that to do so is a significant step. The parliamentary procedure set out in amendment 66 recognises that, and provides a clearer, more explicit democratic mandate for the use of the powers. I therefore commend amendment 66 to the Committee, and urge my hon. Friend and all Members to support it and not to press amendment 4.

He continued:

Amendments 64 and 65, in the name of my right hon. Friend the Business Secretary, make it clear that any regulations made under clauses 42 or 43 would, of course, be subject to judicial review, contrary to some of the claims that have been made over recent weeks, while ensuring that any claims must be brought within a three-month period. That ensures that any challenge to the regulations will be subject to a timely resolution before the courts, which is essential to ensure that Northern Ireland businesses and investors in Northern Ireland have the certainty that they need, which is at the heart of the Bill. I commend those amendments to the House. As they clarify the position on judicial review, amendment 44 is not necessary.

Amendments 61 to 63, in the name of my right hon. Friend the Business Secretary, are targeted technical amendments to ensure that the Government are able to maintain the integrity of the UK’s VAT and excise systems and can deal with any threats to biosecurity in Great Britain in response to changes required in Northern Ireland under the protocol.

In particular, the amendments ensure that the Government can act to address cases of double taxation and non-taxation created by the Northern Ireland protocol, as well as to close down opportunities for tax evasion.

The amendments will also ensure that both the UK Government and the devolved Administrations can continue, as they do now, to respond to specific biosecurity threats arising from the movement of animals and high-risk plants. The principle of facilitating actions to protect biosecurity on an ongoing basis between England, Scotland and Wales is already reflected in schedule 1 to the Bill. The amendments simply clarify that similar processes can also apply with regard to Northern Ireland where there is a genuine risk of a biosecurity threat that poses a serious threat to the health of humans, animals or plants.

I commend those amendments to the Committee …

Amendment 41 seeks, among other things, to add a paramount duty to clause 40, requiring authorities to act without prejudice to international and domestic law. Amendment 53 similarly seeks to prevent authorities from exercising functions in a way that is incompatible or inconsistent with relevant domestic or international law. Amendment 52 appears to require the Government to follow the process agreed in the withdrawal agreement as the only mechanism for dispute resolution. Amendments 54 and 55 seek to prevent regulations made under clause 42 from having effect, notwithstanding international and domestic law. Amendment 46 would remove the Northern Ireland protocol from the list of international law that may be set aside, undermining the intent of clauses 42 and 43.

Amendments 57 and 59 would prevent regulations under clause 43 from interpreting, disapplying or modifying the effect of article 10 of the protocol. Clause 43 is a necessary provision that will ensure that the Secretary of State’s interpretation will achieve the correct effect in domestic law.

I repeat that the Government are committed to implementing the withdrawal agreement and the Northern Ireland protocol; however, as a responsible Government we cannot accept any amendments that would undermine the provisions in the Bill and render them no kind of safety net at all, thereby risking the compromising of the UK internal market’s economic integrity by unintended consequences or harmful defaults contained in some interpretations of the protocol, or creating confusion or uncertainty about the position in domestic law. I therefore urge right hon. and hon. Members to withdraw the amendments.

I recognise the spirit behind amendments 67 and 68. The Government have been clear that, as we set out in the Command Paper, we will ensure that there are no tariffs on any goods that remain within the UK customs territory. I hope Members will welcome the further relevant measures that will be set out in the Finance Bill.

There will not be any new customs infrastructure in Northern Ireland. We have always accepted that there will be some limited, streamlined processes for goods moving from Great Britain to Northern Ireland, building on what already happens at existing points of entry and limited to electronic declarations for businesses in Great Britain to confirm that their products are for the Northern Ireland market.

We have outlined our commitment to providing extensive support for businesses, including through the new trader support service, which will provide an end-to-end service and guide traders through all import processes at no additional cost. This is a unique intervention, backed by £200 million in Government funding to ensure that businesses of all sizes can draw on the support that it provides. Given those assurances, I hope that Members will feel able to withdraw the amendments.

Gavin Robinson (Belfast East, DUP) was unhappy at being asked to withdraw the amendments without seeing any specifics as to why.

Walker tried to reassure him:

I absolutely hear the hon. Gentleman’s concerns. I have made the point about what we have said in the Command Paper and what the Prime Minister has referred to in respect of the Finance Bill.

Amendment 69 seeks to ensure that there would be no new costs for a Northern Ireland business to access or sell in the market. The UK Government have already committed in legislation to delivering unfettered access for Northern Ireland businesses, including through the Bill, which will apply the principles of mutual recognition and non-discrimination to qualifying Northern Ireland goods, thereby ensuring that they can continue to be sold in the Great Britain market in the same way as now. The amendment is therefore unnecessary.

Amendment 70 seeks to ensure that goods moving from Northern Ireland to Great Britain through Ireland will benefit from unfettered access. I reassure Members that we recognise the importance of trade from Northern Ireland to Great Britain that moves via Dublin to Holyhead. We are currently engaging with businesses and the Northern Ireland Executive on the long-term means for delivering qualifying status for unfettered access. It would be wrong to pre-empt the outcome of that consultation, so the Government cannot accept the amendment.

On amendment 71, the Government have been working and will continue to work closely with the Northern Ireland Executive on the implementation of the protocol, including on unfettered access, but we do not agree that a restriction on the Government’s powers to make regulations effectively would be justified.

We resist amendment 72 on the basis that it is legally unnecessary. The current wording already encompasses distortions of competition between persons supplying goods or services in the course of a business within the UK internal market. Such wording is already sufficient to cover the regulation of subsidies that would have the effect of making Northern Ireland businesses less competitive in the Great Britain market.

Although the Government agree with the spirit of amendment 78, the whole Government are acutely aware of the need to maintain Northern Ireland’s integral place in the UK internal market, which is already referenced many times elsewhere in the Bill, so we do not believe the amendment is necessary.

On amendment 79, I understand Members’ concerns and support mutual recognition and the non-discrimination principle, but the exception to mutual recognition that we have introduced for chemicals is there to allow the relevant authorities to respond to local factors. Authorisations granted by the EU after the end of the transition period will not take local conditions into consideration. I emphasise that the authorisations relate to the use of substances of very high concern. It is important that the Government and devolved Administrations can take local factors into account when they decide how to protect human health or the environment from the significant risks posed by such chemicals. I therefore urge Members to withdraw or vote against the amendment.

On new clause 7 and amendment 45, I want to reassure Members that the Bill includes provisions that are there precisely to protect the essential basis of the peace process, by ensuring that, regardless of whether further agreement is reached in the negotiations, there will be no hard border between Northern Ireland and Great Britain, and that Northern Ireland businesses will continue to benefit from unfettered access to the rest of the UK market when the transition period ends.

I can also reassure hon. Members that our commitment to protecting the Belfast/ Good Friday agreement of course includes protecting north-south co-operation in areas specified under that agreement, and the protocol is clear on that. That commitment is already enshrined in UK legislation: in section 10 of the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018, and through our continued support for this strand of the Belfast/Good Friday agreement throughout the process of exiting the European Union …

Walker then covered several other amendments which the Government deemed unnecessary.

Debate centred around the possible violation of international law.

Sir William Cash intervened during Paul Blomfield’s (Sheffield Central, Lab) speech with this:

I am actually going to look briefly at a simple point, which is that, apart from our own judges, the German federal constitutional court in December 2015 clearly stated that international law leaves it to each state to give precedence to national law. International law gives effect in that way. How does the hon. Gentleman answer that?

In his defence Blomfield quoted Northern Ireland Secretary Brandon Lewis, who said on September 8 that the Internal Market Bill would ‘break international law’ in a ‘specific and limited way’.

Joanna Cherry (Edinburgh South West, SNP) cited the Gina Miller court case against Brexit, wherein our Supreme Court ruled that international law, not domestic law, governs international treaties.

Blomfield continued, casting doubt on the bill.

Theresa May spoke next, again having a go at Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who was not present for the debate. She and the Opposition were in agreement on breaking international law:

Today, we are focusing on the parts of the Bill that relate to the Northern Ireland protocol, part of the withdrawal agreement—the withdrawal agreement that was signed by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister less than a year ago. I can say to the Minister that, in my view, clauses 41 to 45 have no place in this Bill. We are told that they are there because the EU either is acting in bad faith, or might act in bad faith. This is because the withdrawal agreement put a border down the Irish sea and the Government cannot accept that—but the Government did accept that when they signed the withdrawal agreement with the European Union, and I assume that, when they did so, the Government signed that in good faith. Yet here we have clauses 41 to 45 saying that the Government should have the ability to renege on parts of the withdrawal agreement to break international law.

There are three reasons why I believe that these clauses have no place in the Bill. The first, which has been referred to in earlier interventions, is that it is unnecessary. There is an arbitration process available. Under article 175, the ruling of the arbitration panel should be binding on the UK and the EU. The Government have acknowledged the existence of the arbitration procedure, but they are saying that they would enter into that in parallel with the operation of the elements of this Bill. The message, it seems to me, is very clear, which is, if we do not like the outcome of the arbitration panel, then we will break international law and we will not accept it. Yet, again, that is breaking the international treaty—an agreement that UK Government signed—because it is breaking article 175, which says that the view of the arbitration panel shall be “binding” on both parties. However, there is not just an arbitration process available. As the right hon. Member for Leeds Central (Hilary Benn) referred to, article 16 says:

If the application of this Protocol leads to serious economic, societal or environmental difficulties that are liable to persist, or to diversion of trade, the Union or the United Kingdom may unilaterally take appropriate safeguard measures.”

Clauses 41 to 45 are not necessary …

She continued, then concluded:

I cannot emphasise enough how concerned I am that a Conservative Government are willing to go back on their word, to break an international agreement signed in good faith and to break international law.

Later, at least one MP on the Opposition benches acknowledged her warmly for that.

Bill Cash was able to intervene:

Is she aware that the EU itself and indeed many other states throughout the world, including many democratic countries, have persistently broken international law, and that this applies not only to other countries, but to the United Kingdom? There are many overrides of international treaties by the UK itself.

May persisted:

Let me get this right. My hon. Friend seems to be saying, “If somebody else does something wrong, it’s okay for us to do something wrong.” I am sorry, I do not agree with him on that point.

I recognise that my hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Sir Robert Neill) has taken every effort to ameliorate the impact of these clauses, and the Government have accepted and put down their own amendment. But, frankly, my view is that to the outside world, it makes no difference whether a decision to break international law is taken by a Minister or by this Parliament; it is still a decision to break international law. This can only weaken the UK in the eyes of the world. One of the great strengths we have as a country is our commitment to the rule of law, and this will have been damaged. Our reputation as a country that stands by its word will have been tarnished, and the willingness of other countries to trust the United Kingdom and its values will have been reduced. So much for global Britain!

I consider that, in introducing clauses 41 to 45, the Government are acting recklessly and irresponsibly, with no thought to the long-term impact on the United Kingdom’s standing in the world. It will lead to untold damage to the United Kingdom’s reputation and puts its future at risk. As a result, with regret I have to tell the Minister that I cannot support this Bill.

May had the support of the next speaker, the SNP’s Kirsten Oswald (East Renfrewshire):

It is a privilege to follow such a thoughtful and considered speech

Bill Cash spoke next:

There are many essential reasons, in our national interest and on constitutional and legal grounds, and grounds of practical necessity, for the clear, unambiguous “notwithstanding” clauses in the Bill that have been discussed in the context of clauses 42 to 45.

I mentioned in response to my right hon. Friend the Member for Maidenhead (Mrs May) that this was a question not just of whether the Euro pot was calling the British kettle black, but of whether, in the United Kingdom, we had ourselves overridden clear treaties. There are too many—they are far too numerous—to mention in this short debate. Of course, there is also an enormous number of examples of international law breaches by foreign states—not only, in Europe, by member states but by the EU itself, egregiously. Furthermore, there are examples of other countries, every one of them democratically elected, having done so. This question of values and reputation, and the issues that have arisen, has to be weighed against that context

There is no argument about it; it is there in black and white in the treaties and in the sections of various enactments that have overtaken and overridden international law.

The debate went on for some time — fascinating and fractious.

In the end, the Government won in the divisions.

On Tuesday, September 22, the bill was at Committee stage for the fourth day. The debate centred on rewording of certain clauses and amendments.

The day’s theme was ‘power grab’ and the lowering of animal welfare among other standards.

The SNP are terrified that the UK parliament will attempt to reduce the Scottish government’s powers under devolution.

Drew Hendry (Inverness, Nairn, Badenoch and Strathspey) led the charge:

This Cummings-directed Tory UK Government are breaking international law, and they are breaking devolution. Behind the innocent-sounding mutual recognition mechanism, the Bill simply starts a race to the bottom on standards with the UK Government imposing it against our will in Scotland.

The Bill will see the Tories mount an assault on devolution with the biggest power grab since the Scottish Parliament was re-established. People in Scotland are seeing through the contempt that the Tory Government and Westminster have for their democratic choices. They are not daft. They know that this shabby, illegal, dogmatic Bill is not designed to fix anything, but it is designed to game the system for vested interests.

It is a fact that existing mechanisms and simple changes to Standing Orders could have worked with consensus instead, but this Government do not believe in consensus, just in getting their own narrow ideological way.

The UK Government’s approach—the diktat—is the opposite of the democratic European single market approach. The development of the EU single market has been based on the principles of equality, co-operation, co-decision, subsidiarity and, of course, consent. Crucially, it sets a baseline of minimum agreed standards with which all member states’ own rules must be compatible. What a contrast with this hasty, badly written, contemptuous Bill. The Government are even having to amend their own Bill as they go along, so shabby is it. Government amendment 109 is necessary to remove clause 20—how slapdash is that?

On the mutual recognition mechanism, clauses 2 to 9 contain sweeping powers to compel Scotland to accept lower standards, set elsewhere in the UK, on animal welfare, food safety and environmental protections, among a host of other areas.

I do not think that is the case.

Liz Saville Roberts from Wales (Dwyfor Meirionnyd, Plaid Cymru) agreed:

… policies that already exist under the auspices of the Scottish Government and the Welsh Government, if they were to be adapted, might then fall within the scope of this Bill. These are popular policies that we have made to cut our own path in the past, and yet this now threatens their future.

Bill Cash got into an exchange with Drew Hendry over whether the EU interferes. Cash said that EU policies have done serious damage to British industry. Hendry disagreed.

Cash said (in part):

The hon. Gentleman puts forward capable arguments. I notice how he weaves his way round these subjects. That is a compliment, in a way, but it does not alter the fact that the people in Scotland will suffer grievously if they continue to have EU regulatory arrangements inflicted on them. The Bill ensures that they will not. I dare say that the Minister is noting what I am saying—I hope that he is—because it is important to understand the damage that has been done.

Liz Saville Roberts expressed her concern over a halt to devolution in Wales and state aid.

Cash replied:

I am always extremely aware of other points of view—I have been subjected to them for the past 35 years in this House, but so far they have not prevailed. I am clear in my mind about the benefits of the United Kingdom as a whole, on all these matters—there are so many aspects that we do not have time to go into today—but state aid is central to the whole question of maintaining our spirit of enterprise. It is central to the degree to which we can provide tax incentives to facilitate and encourage UK jobs for the whole UK, including Scotland. It is central to our ability to encourage competitiveness, based on our own laws, and level up throughout the entire country, including Scotland. This is fundamental stuff

This is not a small matter; this is monumental. It is all very well for the hon. Member for Inverness, Nairn, Badenoch and Strathspey to talk about this in terms of independence, but people will not thank him, and they will not thank the right hon. Member for Dwyfor Meirionnydd (Liz Saville Roberts) or anyone from any other part of the United Kingdom when the truth comes home to roost, which is that the EU will not allow us to compete favourably or at all. Its cardinal principle is to make sure that we cannot compete with it, and that is a reason in itself why we have to stand firm on the whole question of the notwithstanding clauses.

The debate was lengthy: more here.

The SNP MPs talked, seemingly at length, about Scotland’s minimum alcohol pricing, which they lauded — one of the great achievements of devolution, in their minds. They fear that the UK government will want to change the policy. Unlikely. Wales adopted it, too.

The Government won on the ensuing votes.

Debate on the bill concludes on Tuesday, September 29.

Business Secretary Alok Sharma has tabled the following for debate that day:

Wednesday’s session ended with two Conservative MPs raising a point of order about coronavirus legislation rushed through without proper debate in the Commons.

Sir Desmond Swayne (New Forest) said:

On a point of order, Mr Deputy Speaker. Some of the orders that we are about to deal with are quite dated, but I assume that they have been debated in a Committee upstairs. They touch on very intimate parts of our liberty and our choice. Is there any protocol on the circumstances in which they could be debated on the Floor of the House, rather than upstairs in a Committee stitched up by the Committee of Selection?

Deputy Speaker Nigel Evans replied:

The default procedures of the House, as the right hon. Member knows, are designed such that these measures are not debated on the Floor of the House. Of course, any Committee stages upstairs could have been attended. If any of these measures do not quite fit with his understanding as to what is acceptable, he is able to shout “Object”. I will take that objection, and he will have the opportunity to have his name recorded in a deferred Division tomorrow.

Sir Christopher Chope (Christchurch) spoke:

Further to that point of order, Mr Deputy Speaker. I want to raise the issue of the inconsistency between quite a few of these remaining orders. Because of the delay in introducing these orders, some of them amend orders that are earlier on the Order Paper. We know that members of the public find it increasingly difficult to comprehend the changing scene of regulation on criminality and restriction of liberty. Surely if a regulation is amended by a subsequent statutory instrument, there should not be a need for the original statutory instrument to be approved by the House. For example, there are two separate statutory instruments relating to the north of England, one dated 25 August and one dated 2 September, and they are inconsistent with each other. Can you explain the reason for this confusion? Would it not be much better if—as I thought the Government had already promised—every regulation brought forward was debated at the earliest opportunity, before the Government had a chance to change their mind?

Nigel Evans repeated his answer to Desmond Swayne.

No objection was raised.