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House of Commons Hansard
26 January 2017
Volume 620
  • 2. When he plans to publish the Government’s plan for the UK’s relationship with the EU after the UK has left the EU. [908390]

  • I ask the House to forgive my voice. It is just wear and tear, not emotion.

    The Prime Minister’s speech set out a comprehensive plan that includes all our central negotiating objectives. She confirmed yesterday that we will publish the plan in a White Paper. It will answer key questions that have been asked on our approach to the single market, the customs union and the type of trading relationship we are seeking. It will be widely welcomed as a serious and ambitious vision of a new, positive and constructive partnership for Britain and the European Union that will be good for Britain and good for the rest of Europe.

  • I thank the Secretary of State for that answer, but will he please explain to the aerospace industry, the health service, the universities and other major employers in my constituency, which account for thousands of jobs, how they should have confidence in this country’s ability to negotiate beneficial trade deals when we have barely any specialist trade negotiators and we have had no experience of negotiating trade agreements for decades?

  • It does not help the hon. Lady’s own industries, which are very important, if she talks them down. Let me say to the Opposition that it is not only the Government who think this deal is eminently achievable. Just recently, a former EU Trade Commissioner said that the trade deal between the UK and EU can be done in a “very reasonable” period of time—[Interruption.] Let me get to the point. He said:

    “I am reading everywhere that it takes five, six, seven…years to do a trade negotiation… Yes that’s true—but it’s not for technical reasons, it’s because you can’t get an agreement. Technically you could make an agreement within a very reasonable period of time because we know each other.”

    The point he was making is that there is not a technical constraint, and there are quite enough negotiators in Whitehall to do the job we are talking about.

  • Will the White Paper highlight the words of article 50, which says that the Union must

    “negotiate and conclude an agreement…taking account of the framework for its future relationship”

    with the UK? It is therefore impossible to start negotiations unless one has an outline agreement on what that framework should be. Only two frameworks are possible— a continuation of free trade, or a move to trading on most favoured nation terms. Will we press our partners to clarify that right at the beginning of the negotiations?

  • We already have done. In my one meeting with Mr Barnier, he talked about a sequential approach, which does not seem practical to me. It really is not possible to reach an outcome on either of the negotiations without a clear idea of the trade aspect of the negotiations. My right hon. Friend’s description is pretty accurate. I have said in terms that we intend all of this to be concluded within the two years.

  • The Government say they want nothing further to do with the European Court of Justice but, as the Secretary of State well knows, in any new free trade agreement with the 27 member states there will have to be a legal arbitration mechanism whose rulings we will be obliged to implement. If the European Court of Justice is not acceptable, what court would be?

  • It would not necessarily be a court. The right hon. Gentleman is quite right that most international—[Interruption.] Listen to the answer. Most international trade agreements have an arbitration mechanism, and that mechanism is normally preceded by a mediation mechanism, which is used more often. In the case of the Canada arbitration mechanism, for example, three people—one from each side and one neutral—are appointed by agreement. It is a fall-back if agreement cannot be reached, and it is a simple arbitration mechanism. There is all the difference in the world between a simple arbitration mechanism and a Court that reaches into every nook and cranny of your society.

  • I very much thank the Secretary of State for the part that I know he played in securing the White Paper, which has been welcomed across the House and is good news. Will he now tell us when it might be published and how much time this place will have to debate it?

  • Of course, the decision to publish the White Paper was a decision solely of the Prime Minister, but it is nice to be able to agree with myself from six months ago. On the timing, the Prime Minister said yesterday that it would be published in due course. We will be as expeditious as we can, but it takes time. My right hon. Friend has been in government, and she knows that there is a procedure for these things and it takes time, but we will not waste time in producing it for the House.

  • I hope that the Secretary of State gets his voice back because he will need it over the next couple of weeks. Does he think that we should be able to see the White Paper before we consider legislation?

  • With respect to the hon. Gentleman, those are slightly separate issues. There will be lots of legislation. I assume—I will look at him to see whether he nods—that he is referring to the article 50 legislation.

  • He is. The article 50 legislation is about carrying out the will of the British people—the decision was taken on 23 June. There will be much more legislation after that, which will relate to policy and the maintenance of European law. There will be the great repeal Bill, but also other new primary legislation arising from all that. The White Paper will certainly be before all that and, as I said, I will be as expeditious as possible.

  • Mr Speaker, you will be aware of how helpful the House of Commons website is. It says:

    “White Papers are policy documents produced by the Government that set out their proposals for future legislation.”

    Given that article 50 is a significant piece of legislation and this House deserves to scrutinise it, will the Secretary of State commit to publishing the White Paper before the Committee stage—I will give him next week, but before the Committee stage?

  • As I said, we will be as expeditious as we can. However, I reiterate that article 50 legislation is about putting in place only the beginning of the procedure that was decided by the British people last year. That is not really conditional on the other policy aspects of this but, as I said, I will be as expeditious as I can.

  • In welcoming this decision, may I ask my right hon. Friend which, if any Select Committee Chairmen have expressed an interest in having the White Paper published with the intention of scrutinising it?

  • I am pretty sure that the Brexit Committee—I am looking at the Chairman, but he is not paying attention—expressed an interest, but I cannot think of any others.

  • I am concerned by some of the responses of the Secretary of State, who seemed to be bursting with enthusiasm for the White Paper. Now it seems that we may not get it as soon as we need it. Given the level of interest in the legislation and the amendments that will be tabled, we need the White Paper before the Committee stage of the Bill. Will he make sure that we get it?

  • How do you deal with an Opposition that will not take yes for an answer? I have said that we will deal with the White Paper and produce it as expeditiously—as quickly—as possible. What can you do faster than that?

  • Well, the Secretary of State can work as fast as he can I suppose, but we need the White Paper before the Committee stage. When we get it, will it be a cut-and-paste of the Prime Minister’s speech, or will we have assessments of the financial impact of different options on this country?

  • As I said at the beginning, the Prime Minister’s speech—one of the clearest expositions of national policy that I have heard in many years—answered all the questions that the Opposition and the Brexit Committee raised other than those that would actively undermine our negotiating position. The Opposition, of course, tabled a motion that said, “We will not undermine our negotiating position.” It is right that they expect us to obey the rules of the House, but they should do so, too.

  • Colleagues, may I point out that there are a lot of questions on the Order Paper that I am keen to reach, but exchanges at the moment are quite ponderous? We need to speed up a bit.