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Topical Questions

Volume 620: debated on Thursday 26 January 2017

The Government will shortly introduce a straightforward Bill to enable us to trigger the EU exit mechanism. The question is not about whether we should leave—that decision was taken on 23 June—but about respecting the referendum result and doing what the majority of people in the country want: to get on with the job of making a success of our new position in the world. The Prime Minister has been clear about what she seeks to achieve and has set out a bold, ambitious plan to build a global Britain that the whole UK can get behind.

In the Prime Minister’s speech at Lancaster House on 17 January, she promised to

“put the preservation of our precious Union at the heart of everything we do.”

Given that we are told that this is a Union of equals, what formal role will be given to the devolved Administrations when the UK negotiates its new relationship with the EU?

The formal role is already in place. We have a Joint Ministerial Committee at which the Scottish Government is represented, and representatives from the Northern Ireland Executive and the Welsh Government also attend. We have had three meetings so far and have another meeting on Monday in Cardiff and another in early February. We are taking formally the papers submitted by the Scottish and Welsh Governments, and we will take them on board. The point that we have made throughout the process is that the negotiation is sophisticated and complex and will be difficult. It must be done under a single banner, but it will be done in a way that reflects and protects the interests of all parts of the United Kingdom.

T5. With the UK being a net importer of agricultural goods from the EU and the EU being the UK’s biggest agricultural market, what assurances can my right hon. Friend give to farmers that a key part of our negotiations will involve removing agricultural tariffs on both the UK and EU sides, which is in both our interests? (908384)

My hon. Friend is entirely right that there is significant two-way trade in agricultural products, and in food and drink products. I would imagine that it is just as much in the interests of the continuing EU as it is in the interests of the UK that sensible arrangements continue.

Now that we have a commitment to a White Paper, the role of Parliament in the article 50 process needs to be determined, which is why Labour will seek to table an amendment to the proposed article 50 Bill to require the Secretary of State to lay before the House periodic reports, at intervals of no less than two months, on the progress of the negotiations under article 50. Will the Secretary of State commit now to the principle of periodic reports? [Interruption.]

From behind me I hear, “Like he’s not going to do that.” The hon. and learned Gentleman says two months. Since September, over five months, I have made five statements in front of this House, participated in 10 debates, and appeared in front of a number of Select Committees. That process will continue. I suspect that two months will be a rather unambitious aim.

The role of Parliament at the end of the exercise will also be important. The Prime Minister has said that MPs will have a vote on the final agreement. Will the Secretary of State today state categorically that MPs in this House will have no less involvement in the process and no less a say over the final article 50 agreement than MEPs in the European Parliament?

The role of the MEPs will be somewhat limited and peripheral, in many respects. Mr Verhofstadt will be allowed at the treaty negotiations, but I do not think he will be making the decisions.

T7. British citizens in the EU and EU citizens in the United Kingdom make valuable contributions to the countries they live in. When some of them gave evidence to the Exiting the European Union Committee last week, they expressed great concern about three particular areas: pensions, health and the rights of children. Has the Minister or his colleagues been working on those issues with their counterparts across the European Union? (908386)

My hon. Friend makes an extremely important point. The interests of British residents in the continuing European Union are at the top of our agenda. In fact, only on Monday I had a discussion with representatives of British residents in Malta. He can be assured that we will continue to reflect the interests of British residents as the EU negotiations commence.

T3. Will the Government publish an impact assessment on the effect of leaving the single market on jobs and, conversely, the effect of the resulting skills shortage on key industries and the NHS? (908380)

These are certainly important matters and we are addressing them, but the hon. Lady will understand that we will not be publishing impact assessments that might be useful to those with whom we will be negotiating.

The seafood processing sector is vital to the local economy in the Cleethorpes constituency. Will the Minister assure me that its interests will be at the forefront of considerations during the Brexit negotiations? Will he meet business leaders from the sector to pass on his assurances?

My hon. Friend is entirely right that this is an important sector of the economy. Indeed, it may well be that I have already met those representatives, as we have been having extensive engagement with the agri-food industry.

T4. This week, the Health Secretary told us that Brexit would mean Britain leaving the European Medicines Agency. This move is likely to send Britain to the back of the queue for innovative new drugs, make regulation more complex and threaten jobs in the UK’s thriving pharmaceutical sector. Will the Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union tell us why his Government have so readily given up our membership of this vital body? Will he explain the measures he will introduce to ensure that people across Britain will enjoy the same access to medicines as our European neighbours? (908383)

That is all very well, but the complete premise of the question is wrong. That is not what the Health Secretary said; he was misreported and misinterpreted. What I will say to the hon. Lady is this: what we will be doing is, first, putting the clinical safety of the British people at the front of the priority list, and then looking after the interests of British industry, particularly biosystems and life sciences, in which we are a world leader now and will continue to be after we leave.

As chair of the all-party group on rare, genetic and undiagnosed conditions, I know that the issue of clinical trials is a big one for patients, as they are concerned that exiting the EU will mean that nothing will replace those trials. Will my right hon. Friend assure the House and those patients that the trials will be replicated as soon as we leave the EU?

I can assure my hon. Friend that we are in extensive discussions with the biopharma industry on that particular issue, and those discussions will continue.

This week, the Kingdom of Fife is pleased to welcome almost 200 students from around the world who join very nearly 4,000 students from 137 countries at the University of St Andrews. When will that university be given absolute guarantees that nothing about Brexit will jeopardise its reputation as the most international of universities?

We need to engage with the university sector and work with it on a vision for a global Britain that continues to make the UK one of the most attractive places in the world for key talent to come.

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has rightly been very clear that this Government will do nothing to damage our industries. I believe that leaving the European Union will be a good thing for our steel industry. This week, the all-party parliamentary group on steel and metal-related industries published its “2020 Vision” report. Would he like me to send a copy to him so that he can look at its recommendations as part of the ongoing policy debate?

The Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders reported today that car production is at a high, but that investment in car manufacturing is falling because of uncertainty over Brexit. How long will the current uncertainty undermine investment in the British economy?

We should absolutely welcome the fact that we have seen the highest level this century of car production and car exports from the UK. We continue to see key investments by the automotive industry, such as Jaguar Land Rover’s expansion in Coventry. We want to work with the industry to make sure that it has the best access to European markets, and indeed global markets, as we move ahead.

About 9 million Brits will visit France this year, and 15 million will visit Spain. In return, about 4.5 million French will visit the UK and about 2.5 million Spaniards. Will the Government be seeking visa-free travel for tourists across Europe post-Brexit, and in those negotiations will they be making it clear that it is very much in our European friends’ interests to do so?

My hon. Friend is right to highlight the importance of the two-way tourism industry in Europe. These are issues that we are considering, but I can assure him that our aim is for frictionless arrangements.

What settlement have the Government made with the Crown dependencies in their relationship with the EU via protocol 3? When we exit the European Union, does it mean that the Crown dependencies will also exit the customs union?

I met the Chief Ministers of Crown dependencies only yesterday as part of a formal process of ongoing meetings that we are holding to take their views into account. Following the Prime Minister’s speech, I also spoke to each Chief Minister, and they are very pleased with our direction of travel.

Higher education is one of the UK’s greatest exports. As we seek to grow our export markets post-Brexit, does the Minister agree that we need an approach that plays to our strengths and builds on them?

In response to an earlier question, the Secretary of State said that we needed both flexibility and imagination in tackling these complex negotiations. My manufacturing sector and my university want competence, and they are worried about the competence of the team sitting on that Government Front Bench to carry out the negotiations thoroughly.

I had better deal with this one.

Interestingly, if we look at the response around Europe to the Prime Minister’s speech about competence, we see, for example, that the Spanish Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, whom I saw only a couple of weeks ago, welcomed it widely and said that we had an eminently achievable aim in everybody’s interests.

In my constituency, we are lucky to see the excellent Airbus A400M as it flies from RAF Brize Norton. Does my right hon. Friend agree that this is an excellent example of defence co-operation between Britain and her European allies, and that such defence co-operation will continue when this country leaves the European Union?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. I visited the Airbus factory in Bristol just before Christmas and saw the wonderful work that it is doing there. He is right to say that integrated manufacturing across Europe is important and I have no doubt that we will be putting in place arrangements to ensure that it continues.

An RAF Typhoon flown from my constituency and HMS St Albans have man-marked a rusting Russian aircraft carrier as it makes its journey of shame through the English channel on its way back from raids on Aleppo. Does that not demonstrate the important role that the United Kingdom must play after our exit in ensuring the defence and security of Europe as a whole?

My hon. Friend is right. Britain is a leading power in NATO and will continue to be after we leave the European Union.

Will my hon. Friend visit Dorset to speak to our businesses and hear their concerns, and also to discuss the manifold and great opportunities that Brexit will provide?

I would be delighted to do so. We are getting out and talking to businesses across the country. I look forward to visiting businesses in my hon. Friend’s constituency.