In the first of eight scheduled late-night sittings on the EU (Withdrawal) Bill, the Conservatives did not try to conceal their splits on Brexit
MPs have rejected a Labour amendment requiring the Government to produce guidance on the role of the European Court of Justice during any transition period that may occur after the United Kingdom leaves the European Union.
MPs voted 316 to 296 at the end of the first long day of votes and debates on the landmark EU (Withdrawal) Bill, the vast and complex bill that seeks to ready the UK constitution for the moment that tens of thousands of European laws cease to apply.
Tory backbencher and Remainer Robert Neill had said it would “be foolish” to leave the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice (ECJ) immediately after Brexit.
The Bromley and Chislehurst MP said: “I must confess I do not see what the difficulty that some people have with the jurisdiction of the ECJ for a short period is.
“I think the sort of involvement of the ECJ in these areas is very often extremely limited in the overall amount of our jurisprudence.
“To accept that for a limited period of time to see us through transition is something I think we would be foolish to rule out of account.”
More than 500 amendments to the bill have been tabled, with the Government braced for grim struggles to pass it through the House of Commons and the House of Lords. Eight late-night sittings have been scheduled over the next month.
Justice minister Dominic Raab sought to address the ECJ’s role during the transition period but faced a barrage of questions from MPs, including several Tory backbenchers.
He said: “We’ve also been clear that in leaving the EU we will bring an end to the direct jurisdiction of the European court in the UK.
“Our priority must be getting the right arrangements for Britain’s relationship with the EU for the long term, which means a close economic partnership but out of the single market, out of the customs union and without the direct jurisdiction of the European court.
“We want to get to that end-game in a smooth and orderly way with the minimum of disruption.
“That’s why we want early agreement on the implementation period, on that much we’re agreed.
“That may mean we start off with the European court still governing some of the rules we are part of for that period.
“But the Government is also clear, if we can bring forward a new dispute-resolution mechanism at an earlier stage we shall do so.”
He said Labour amendments introduce “legislative inflexibility” and propose “legal limbo” instead of certainty.
Mr Raab also said Tory MP Cheryl Gillan’s amendment could “frustrate” the intended aim to end ECJ jurisdiction upon Brexit and lead to more uncertainty as it would be unclear how long UK courts would be subject to binding judgments from Luxembourg.
He added: “Individuals will not lose their ability to vindicate their rights at court after exit, they will be able to take those cases to our domestic courts.”
Mr Raab said ministers will “take away the underlying issue” Ms Gillan had raised, noting: “I hope on that basis she will not feel the need to press the amendment today.”
Ms Gillan said she was “grateful” for Mr Raab’s commitment to look further into her concerns.
Bad-tempered exchanges regularly spilled over into the question of Brexit itself, which former Attorney General Dominic Grieve called “an extraordinarily painful process of national self-mutilation I’m required to facilitate”.
Debate regularly focused on the Government’s desire to include an exit date in the Bill of 11pm on 29 March 2019, with Tory backbenchers lining up to voice concerns.
Former chancellor Ken Clarke labelled the proposal “ridiculous and unnecessary”, adding: “It could be positively harmful to the national interest.”
Mr Grieve told MPs that no amount of “arm twisting” would make him vote for the amendment, which was debated but will not be voted upon until next month at the earliest.
Mr Grieve said: “Everyone has got more and more brittle, more and more unwilling to listen, more and more persuaded that every suggestion that’s been made is in some way a form of treason, finally culminating, I have to say with the deepest regret, last Friday with a mad amendment.
“Tabled I believe without any collective decision-making within government at all and accompanied by, I think, blood-curdling threats that anybody that might stand in its way was in some way betraying the country’s destiny and mission, and I am afraid I am just not prepared to go along with that.
“I am really pleased amendment 381 cannot be put to the vote this afternoon because I have to say I will vote against it, no ifs, no buts, no maybes about this, no arm twisting.
“Nothing that can be done to me in the intervening period. It is unacceptable and I will not vote for it.”