Madam Deputy Speaker, may I start by paying tribute to all the Right Honourable and Honourable Members who have contributed to this historic debate.
Members on both sides of the House – supporters of both Leave and Remain – have spoken with passion and sincerity and there have been some outstanding contributions. And several times over the last two days we have seen this House at its best.
A wide range of issues have been raised during the course of the debate and I will seek to address these in the time available to me. But I hope Honourable Members will forgive me if I do not address every single point made by every single speaker.
Let me be clear: what we are considering is the most straightforward possible Bill. A Bill which is necessary to implement the Referendum result and respect the judgment of the Supreme Court. It is positively not a vehicle for determining the terms of the broader negotiations that will follow.
This Bill follows one of the largest democratic exercises in this country’s history. As pointed out by many Honourable Members – an issue that has been central to political debate in this country for decades was finally put to the people of the United Kingdom; and the people made their decision.
We have heard repeatedly from Honourable Members on both sides of this debate and on both sides of the House that they fully respect and accept the Referendum’s outcome; and today is an opportunity for all of us to demonstrate that respect by supporting this small but important Bill.
Madam Deputy Speaker, a number of themes emerged during the course of the debate, on which I would like to touch.
First of all, the referendum itself. Parliament voted overwhelmingly to put this historic question to the people and we must trust the people’s decision. There must be no attempt to remain inside the EU, no attempt to rejoin it through the back door, and no second referendum, as a few Honourable Members have urged. This country has voted to leave the European Union; and it is the duty of the Government and of this House to make sure that we do precisely that.
Engagement with the Devolved Administrations
Secondly I would like to touch on the issue of engagement with the Devolved Administrations which has figured strongly in this debate. Before and throughout the referendum campaign it was clear that the outcome would apply to the whole of the United Kingdom; and that is what we are committed to deliver.
We are committed to securing the best deal for the whole of the United Kingdom, in the interests of all its constituent nations and regions. My Right Honourable Friend the Prime Minister has made clear her determination to uphold and strengthen the union, and we will continue to engage with the Devolved Administrations throughout the established Joint Ministerial Committees.
We understand that there are unique and diverse interests across the UK; in particular we are wholly committed to the Belfast Agreement and to its successors. We will work with the Irish Government to maintain the Common Travel Area on the Island of Ireland and not return to the borders of the past.
We have received, and we are grateful for, the submissions from the Scottish and Welsh Governments, which are being considered.
But that said, the Supreme Court was clear in its judgment that triggering Article 50 is a reserved matter for this Parliament, and that the Devolved Legislatures do not have a veto. But we have been clear that we will work very carefully to ensure – as powers are repatriated from Brussels back to Britain – the right powers are returned to Westminster, and the right powers are passed to the devolved administrations of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.
Many Honourable Members raised the issue of the status of EU citizens living and working in the United Kingdom. Let us be clear: this Government values and appreciates the role that they play in our economy and in our communities and we are determined to provide as much certainty as we can, as soon as we can.
My Right Honourable Friend has been clear that guaranteeing UK citizens’ rights in the EU, and EU citizens’ rights in the UK, is one of our immediate objectives in the upcoming negotiations. Indeed, we stand ready to reach such a deal right now if the other countries of the European Union agree.
To the EU citizens who are living, studying and working in the UK I say this: you will still be welcome in this country as we trust our citizens will continue to be welcome in yours.
Moving on Mr Speaker to the forthcoming negotiations, I want to repeat that whilst we are leaving the EU, we are not turning our back on Europe.
We will be seeking a broad new partnership with the EU outside the Single Market, including a bold and ambitious free trade agreement. We will maintain strong relationships with our European partners as we work together on issues such as security, justice and migration.
We have made clear commitments to protect workers’ rights, and we will ensure that they keep pace with the changing labour market. And let me be as clear as it is possible to be: all the workers’ rights that are enjoyed under EU legislation will be preserved by the Great Repeal Bill and will be brought across into UK law. And let me say this also, we have no plans to withdraw from the ECHR.
Let me deal with the question of Euratom, Mr Speaker. Euratom and the EU share a common institutional framework, including the European Court of Justice, a role for the Commission and decision-making of the Council, making them uniquely legally joined. Triggering Article 50, therefore, also entails giving notice to leave Euratom.
The nuclear industry is of key strategic importance to the UK and we have been clear that this does not affect our intention to maintain close and effective arrangements relating to civil nuclear cooperation, safeguards and safety with Europe and the rest of the world.
Role of Parliament
And now, Mr Speaker, let me move on to the role of Parliament. My Right Honourable Friend the Prime Minister set out our plan for the United Kingdom’s withdraw in her speech at Lancaster House. And she has confirmed that Parliament will have its say on the final deal we achieve with the European Union by putting that deal to a vote of both Houses.
There has already been extensive scrutiny in both Houses and we will be publishing our White Paper tomorrow, before Committee Stage. The White Paper however is entirely separate from this Bill which is simply about giving Government the power to trigger the process of exit from the EU in accordance with the instructions we have received from the people of this country.
Vision for the UK
There has also been much debate over the last two days about the many opportunities that leaving the EU affords the UK. As my Right Honourable Friend the Prime Minister has said, we will be an outward-facing, bold and global country, seeking ambitious trade deals, forging new friendships and consolidating existing partnerships. And we will remain a tolerant and open country.
The triggering of Article 50, Mr Speaker, will start the process of our withdrawal from the European Union, during which this House will have plenty of opportunities to debate and play a crucial role in scrutinising the Great Repeal Bill and related Bills to come.
My Right Honourable Friend the Prime Minister has set out a detailed plan for building a new partnership between an independent United Kingdom and the European Union in the years to come.
And let me say how much I agree with the Honourable Lady: the people have made their decision, and now we must strive for an outcome that as she says works not just for the 52 per cent or for the 48 per cent, but for the 100 per cent. All of us in this House, Mr Speaker, must work together in the national interest. But let me repeat: tonight we are not voting on the outcome, nor on the wider issues, but simply to start the process.
It is absolutely essential that Parliament now move quickly with the timetable that this House has voted for, in December, to trigger Article 50 by the end of March.
In short, Mr Speaker, this is a straightforward Bill that delivers on the promise made to the people of the United Kingdom to honour the outcome of the referendum. We must trust the people and I commend this Bill to the House.