Internal Market Bill

14th September 2020

Andrew Mitchell highlights the incalculable damage to the UK’s reputation if we break international law.

It is always a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant).

This is of course an essential Bill for the good order of the internal market. It is essential for our economic success, wellbeing, jobs and employment, and I support it. I am very surprised at the EU’s negotiating strategy and purpose, particularly in offering my right hon. Friend the Member for Maidenhead (Mrs May), in effect, the Canada deal, and then declining, to date, to offer the same terms to the Prime Minister. I therefore have no hesitation in supporting the Bill’s Second Reading, and I give the Government my strong support for reaching a deal.

But I am not going to vote to breach international law, and I want to explain why. As International Development Secretary in the coalition Government, I consistently spoke up for the rule of law. Britain has been a beacon, in some very difficult places in the world, for support for the rule of law. Our support is relied on in that respect, and it matters, whether we are dealing with the rights of gay people in Uganda or ensuring the last vestiges of law in Zimbabwe, never quite snuffed out by dint of Britain’s strong support for the rule of law. Many in this House have rightly spoken up for the rights of Hong Kong citizens when China has sought to resile from international agreements it had signed. We are one of the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council. We have a duty to uphold international law. The rule of law is incredibly important for our basic liberties and human rights, and failing to do so will do incalculable damage to our reputation all around the world.

I have two further points to make. The first is that Members of the House should read with the greatest care what John Major and Tony Blair have said about the dangers of all this for the Good Friday agreement and peace across Northern Ireland. I have been here long enough to remember the awful statements about violence in Northern Ireland, with innocent civilians maimed and worse. Secondly, we have one of the largest national debts of any country in the world, and confidence in our debt depends on an absolute understanding that Britain will always stand by its word.

In the past, I have voted in this House in ways that I have regretted. I voted for section 28, I voted for the poll tax and I voted with the then Prime Minister on Iraq. But I do not believe I have ever gone into a Lobby to vote in a way that I knew was wrong, and I will not be doing it on this occasion either.

Hansard