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Exiting the EU: Diplomatic Relations

Volume 619: debated on Tuesday 10 January 2017

9. What recent discussions he has had with his EU counterparts on diplomatic relations after the UK exits the EU. (908038)

We have regular consultations about the future shape of our diplomatic relations with the rest of the EU. The hon. Lady should understand that we may be leaving the EU treaties, but we are not leaving Europe. There will be plenty of ways in which we will continue to collaborate on all the issues that are vital to us, whether in the EU or out.

I welcome that answer. Free movement is a key issue in discussions with our EU counterparts. Have the Government therefore considered that in order to get the best possible access to the European single market, we should propose a managed migration system that still gives preference to EU workers, welcoming those with high skills, but limiting the numbers of low and semi-skilled workers coming here to work?

I hope that the hon. Lady will forgive me if I say that that would come under the category of our giving a running commentary on our negotiating position. We cannot do that—[Interruption.] The hon. Member for Islington South and Finsbury (Emily Thornberry) says that Brexit means Brexit, and she is perfectly right.

Thank you very much, Mr Speaker.

Given the trade ties that my right hon. Friend has already mentioned and the fact that we are Europe’s largest defence contributor, does he agree that we should not have to make deals on immigration and free movement to secure a good trade agreement with our allies and friends in Europe?

May I begin by congratulating my hon. Friend on his well-deserved knighthood in the new year’s honours list? He speaks very good sense. I think that I can agree with him completely without in any way being convicted of giving a running commentary on our negotiations, so I thank him very much.

Never mind a running commentary, has the Foreign Secretary given any commentary at all to his own officials, such as Sir Ivan Rogers, who left the service saying that he had not been given any sense of the Government’s negotiating objectives? Will the Secretary of State perhaps speak to Sir Tim Barrow and give him a clue about what the Government intend to do?

If the hon. Gentleman consults the speeches of the Prime Minister more closely, he will discover a wealth of information about our negotiating position, but since he has not bothered to do that, I do not propose to enlighten him now, except to say that Sir Ivan Rogers did an excellent job and always gave me very good advice. I think his reasons for stepping down early were persuasive. Sir Tim Barrow, as anybody who has worked with him will know—I think that people on both sides of the House will have done so—is an outstanding public servant with long-standing experience of UK representation in Brussels, and he will do a superb job in the forthcoming talks.

I am sure my right hon. Friend will agree that not only are diplomatic relations important, but relationships between Members of this House and European partners have been important. Membership of the Council of Europe, of the NATO Parliamentary Assembly and of all-party groups has never been more important, so can he give an assurance that his Department will assist in every way in making sure that bilateral relationships that exist between Members of this House and Europe will be encouraged?

Absolutely—I am very happy to give that assurance to my hon. Friend. As he will know, there are parliamentary bodies of one party or another that have links with sister parties across the continent, and we will do absolutely everything we can to promote that in the years ahead.

On behalf of Labour Members, may I pay tribute to the long and distinguished career of Sir Ivan Rogers? He served successive Governments with great distinction, and most of the Secretary of State’s predecessors had the good sense to appreciate it; it is a pity that he could not do so until just now when my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham East (Chris Leslie) managed to press him. In his resignation letter, Sir Ivan said:

“Contrary to the beliefs of some, free trade does not just happen”.

Can the Secretary of State explain who Sir Ivan had in mind?

I have given my views about Sir Ivan, but I am happy to repeat them: I think he is, as the hon. Gentleman said, an outstanding public servant, and he always gave me very frank advice. It is vital for officials to continue to give their round, unvarnished views of matters such as the ease of negotiating free trade deals. It is not necessarily going to be simple, but there is no reason to think it cannot be done speedily, and no reason to think we cannot have fantastic free trade deals, not least with the United States of America.