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Volume 633: debated on Thursday 14 December 2017

4. What recent progress he has made in negotiations with the European Commission; and if he will make a statement. (902931)

Last week, we took an important step in the negotiations. As the Prime Minister confirmed, on the morning of Friday 8 December, the Government and the European Commission published a joint report on progress during the first phase of the negotiations. On the basis of this report, and following discussions last week, President Juncker is recommending to the European Council that sufficient progress has been made to move on to the next stage and begin talks on the future relationship between the United Kingdom and the European Union. There is much work still to do, but I have no doubt that we are on the right path to securing the ambitious future relationship that we seek with the European Union.

That is one perspective. I will say one thing about no deal: it has become massively less probable after the decisions of last Friday. That is a good thing, because the best deal is a non-tariff, barrier-free arrangement with the European Union. However, my right hon. Friend is quite right that we continue to prepare for all contingencies and will continue to do so until we are certain that we have a good free trade deal with the EU.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the trade talks give us the opportunity to build on the successes of the Great British food programme, which enables British producers to increase their exports around the world and showcases some of the country’s finest ciders, ales and cheeses made in the south-west?

My hon. Friend promotes his constituency well. On the more general point, as we exit the European Union, we want to ensure that UK producers have the maximum freedom to trade with and operate within European markets and to let European producers do the same in the United Kingdom. At the same time, leaving the EU provides us with a unique opportunity to support a thriving and self-reliant farming sector that is more competitive, productive and profitable, to protect our precious natural environment for future generations and to deliver on our manifesto commitment to provide stability for farmers as we leave the EU, which my hon. Friend the Member for Aldridge-Brownhills (Wendy Morton) referred to earlier.

I can understand why the Secretary of State is not quite his usual bright-eyed and bushy-tailed self this morning, but will he discuss the suggestion of a longer implementation period when he talks to the European Commission? Will he give the House a reason why an extended implementation period would cause difficulties that we do not understand? What research has he done on that?

I am surprised that the hon. Gentleman thinks that I am less bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, but that is due to the extension of the single European cold, which is having a transition period of its own in my head. The simple point I made earlier was that if we try to go beyond two years, a number of European national Parliaments have said to their Governments that that would require a mixed procedure, which would involve the Walloon Parliament and 36 other Parliaments around Europe. That is the first reason. The second reason is that we have been given an instruction by 17.5 million British citizens to get on with leaving the European Union, and we have to do that as promptly and expeditiously as we can. Extending the transition period indefinitely would be seen as a breach of that promise.

Whatever comes out of the negotiations, this House voted last night that Parliament should have a meaningful vote, enshrined in law, at the end of the process. That was a humiliating and entirely avoidable defeat for the Government. This House now having spoken, will the Secretary of State give an assurance that the Government will not seek to undermine or overturn last night’s result on Report?

Let me first make an observation about last night’s result. The effect is to defer the powers available under clause 9 of the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill until after the withdrawal agreement and implementation Bill receives Royal Assent, which means that the timetable will be very compressed. Those who want a smooth and orderly exit from the European Union will hopefully want to see a working statute book, so we will have think about how we respond to last night’s result. We have always taken the House of Commons’ view seriously and will continue to do so.

That was not the basis upon which the debate was conducted yesterday, so we will obviously have to come back to that.

The next accident waiting to happen is Government amendment 381, which seeks to put a fixed exit date on the face of the Bill. Rather than repeat last night’s debacle, will the Government commit to dropping that ill-conceived gimmick?

Unlike the right hon. and learned Gentleman, I do not view votes of this House of Commons as accidents; they are decisions taken by the House. We have respected the decision, as we will do the next one.

Nobody on the Government Benches who voted against the Government took any pleasure in that—[Interruption.] Nobody from these Benches drank champagne. Let me just nail down that rumour—these are serious matters. I say to the Secretary of State that last night would have been avoidable if the offer of my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Beaconsfield (Mr Grieve) had been taken up, but he had no meeting with any Minister or Whip since Monday, so we are where we are.

Turning to the withdrawal and implementation Bill that the Secretary of State mentioned, when will its First Reading happen?

The first thing I will say to my right hon. Friend is that since Monday there have been meetings between various Back Benchers and Ministers, including me—[Hon. Members: “We can’t hear you.”]

Order. I will not take points of order in the middle of Question Time, but I gently say to the Secretary of State that I understand his predicament. A soothing medicament may assist him, and I extend my sympathies, but he must face the House because Members are saying that they cannot hear him. I am sure he would not want to mumble deliberately.

Good Lord, what a terrible thought.

The withdrawal and implementation Bill cannot be brought to the House until we have agreed the withdrawal agreement. The European Union negotiator expects that to be concluded in September or October 2018, which is probably right, so the Bill will be tabled after that date.

Sectors such as the automotive and aerospace sectors have succeeded in the UK because of the close regulatory alignment with our European partners. Is it the Secretary of State’s intention to seek as close alignment as possible in the future, or does he, like some Government Back Benchers, wish to break free from this regulatory regime?

One of the fundamental components—indeed, possibly the most fundamental component—of the decision of the British people in the referendum was the decision to bring back control to this Parliament. That is what we will do over all sectors. It will then be for Parliament to decide whether it wants to continue to parallel, to have mutual recognition, to have mutual arrangements or to copy European Union law. We will seek to put in place mechanisms that give Parliament maximum freedom, while also allowing maximum access to the single market.

The right hon. Member for North Shropshire (Mr Paterson) is doing his best to imitate the launch of a rocket. I think we had better hear from the fellow.

I am very touched, Mr Speaker.

We all wish the Prime Minister the very best of luck today, and we hope she agrees a reciprocal free trade deal with zero tariffs. Does my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State agree that the bar for success is that the deal has to be better than World Trade Organisation terms, the terms on which we trade with huge parts of the rest of the world and with other very large economies? Should the EU be unwise enough not to grant reciprocal free trade with zero tariffs, we will move to WTO terms and the Government will have no fears because they will have taken all the necessary contingency measures.

Look, the Prime Minister said earlier this week that she still adheres to the view that no deal is better than a bad deal, and my right hon. Friend the Member for North Shropshire (Mr Paterson) has clearly defined what a bad deal would amount to—something worse than WTO terms. He is right in that respect. Of course, as I said earlier, we continue to prepare for all outcomes because, in any negotiation, we can never be 100% sure what the outcome will be.