The Secretary of State was asked—
Support for Farmers
We have been working closely with the Secretary of State for Environment, Food, and Rural Affairs on support for farmers, and the Government will provide the same cash total in funds for farmer support until the end of the Parliament. We continue to work closely with a range of stakeholders across the farming industry and beyond, as well as with the devolved Assemblies.
I recently met local farmers in my constituency and representatives from the National Farmers Union, and understandably, Brexit was one of the things we discussed. Will my hon. Friend assure farmers across the west midlands and the rest of the UK that he has given consideration to the supply of adequate seasonal labour on which many farmers rely?
Yes. The Government have commissioned the Migration Advisory Committee to gather evidence on patterns of EU migration and the role of migration in the wider economy, ahead of our exit from the EU. The MAC’s call for evidence on EEA workers in the UK labour market closed on 27 October, but it will continue to engage with organisations to gather further evidence. The Government are clear that the UK is open for business.
On a similar note to the question from my hon. Friend the Member for Aldridge-Brownhills (Wendy Morton), west Oxfordshire has a successful agricultural economy, particularly, for example, in poultry farming. Businesses in my constituency are looking forward to the opportunities that will open up as we leave the European Union, but what assurances can the Minister give to those who have concerns about labour supply that either they will have access to the workers they need from the European Union, or that there will be training for British equivalents?
At every step of these negotiations, we will work to ensure the best possible outcome for the British people, including our farming community that plays such a vital role in constituencies such as ours. No decisions have yet been made on our future immigration system. We are considering carefully a range of options and taking into account the needs of different sectors of the economy, including agriculture.
Farmers in Wakefield, Yorkshire, and across the country face a triple whammy from Brexit: the loss of common agricultural policy subsidies, and changes to the subsidy regime after 2021; tariff and non-tariff barriers; and potentially a flood of cheap imports after any new trade deal. What steps is the Minister taking to mitigate those risks?
As I said in my original answer, we are protecting total cash payments to farmers throughout this Parliament, and that is the longest guarantee right across the European Union. I do not accept the premise of the hon. Lady’s question, and we will continue to support farmers.
With special reference to global exports, will the Minister say what discussions have been held and how the Department has sought to establish trade rights for farming exporters in my constituency, of which there are many?
The UK farming sector enjoys a reputation for quality that has been built on high animal welfare standards, strong environmental protections, and the dedication of farmers and growers across the United Kingdom. Based on that reputation, we hope that we will flourish in the world market.
There has been a lot of focus on the uncertainty in sectors such as banking that have contingency plans for relocation. For many farmers, however, the decision is not one of relocation; it is about whether they stay in the industry at all, and we need good farmers to stay in the business. I urge my hon. Friend to work with colleagues at the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, and the farming unions, to develop a strong post-Brexit plan for agriculture.
Order. The hon. Member for Spelthorne (Kwasi Kwarteng) has been in the House for seven and a half years, and he should not be standing for a supplementary on question 1 when his question is No. 2. It is a point so blindingly obvious that only a very clever person could fail to grasp it.
As my right hon. Friend the Member for Preseli Pembrokeshire (Stephen Crabb) knows, leaving the European Union means leaving the common agricultural policy. We believe that this is an opportunity to design a new agri-environment system to the benefit of our whole country.
The red meat sector accounts for 45% of Welsh agricultural production by value, and the EU is its nearest and biggest market. Evidence from the Welsh meat marketing board, Hybu Cig Cymru, suggests that under World Trade Organisation rules, tariffs of up to 84% could be levied on cattle carcases, 46% on lamb carcases, and 61% on cuts of lamb. Does the Minister recognise that securing tariff-free access to the EU market is vital for the viability of Wales’s livestock-dependent agriculture sector?
We recognise that securing tariff-free access is crucial, and it is our policy to seek to do so.
As you have noticed, Mr Speaker, the questioner at least is clever, if I am not. There are three main reasons why an implementation period is in the interests of the United Kingdom and the European Union. First, it will allow the United Kingdom Government time to set up any new infrastructure or systems that might be needed to support our new arrangements. Secondly, it will allow European Union Governments to do the same. We should not forget that, while we are already planning for all scenarios, many EU Governments might not put plans in place until the deal is struck. Thirdly, and perhaps most importantly, it will avoid businesses in the United Kingdom and the European Union having to take any decisions before they know the shape of the final deal. I welcome President Tusk’s recommendation that talks on the implementation period should start immediately and should be agreed as soon as possible.
I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for that answer. Does he agree that the implementation period must be finite and that it will not preclude us from engaging in third-party discussions with other countries that would like to do free trade deals with us?
Yes, I agree with my hon. Friend on both counts. It is important that it should be finite, for a number of reasons. If we tried to go for a very extended implementation period, we would run into all sorts of approval procedure problems involving mixed approvals and so on, which we would not if it was part of the withdrawal agreement. And yes, one of the things we want to achieve in the negotiation—we still have to do the negotiation—is the right to negotiate and sign free trade deals during the course of the implementation period. That does not mean that they would come into force at that point, but it would mean that we could sign them.
The Secretary of State told the Select Committee that it was the Government’s intention to conclude a free trade agreement with the EU by March 2019. Last Friday, however, the Environment Secretary told the “Today” programme that ironing out the details of a free trade agreement and moving towards a new relationship would take place during the transition period. Can the right hon. Gentleman confirm that that is the Government’s new position?
The implementation period will be most valuable if companies know what the final outcome will be, because that will allow them to prepare for it. To that end, we will seek to conclude the substantive portion of the negotiation before then.
There is talk of a two-year implementation or transition period. What is there to prevent that from simply being a two-year extension of our membership of the European Union?
One reason is that, if we stayed in the European Union completely, we would still be subject to the duty of sincere co-operation, which is what constrains us from carrying out free trade negotiations. That is one reason, at least, why we would not do that.
Does the Secretary of State believe that the prospect of being granted an implementation or transition period by the European Union has been improved by the Secretary of State saying that the past six months of negotiations have led only to a “statement of intent” by the Government? Would he like to restate that, in fact, the Government are committed to delivering what they have secured in the past six months of negotiations with European Union?
As usual, the right hon. Gentleman takes a partial quote and tries to make something of it. I have said, in terms, that the withdrawal agreement will be a treaty, and treaties are binding on this country. That is what we intend. I also said, in the interview to which I think he is referring, that it is our intention, whatever happens, to protect the status of Northern Ireland, both in terms of its being within the United Kingdom and in terms of protecting the status of the border as being invisible as it is now. It would be very good if the right hon. Gentleman did not misrepresent what I have said.
Will the negotiations on the implementation period include matters to do with the UK’s membership of the agencies of the European Union?
I think it is unlikely that they will continue beyond the period of departure in March 2019. That is something that we have accepted from the beginning.
How will the implementation period affect the devolved institutions, and will the powers bonanza promised by the Secretary of State for Scotland be devolved before, during or after an implementation period?
The timetable on that will be decided within the framework that is being discussed now between the First Secretary of State and Mr Mike Russell.
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.
Essential to our ambition for an excellent deal is preparation for no deal, is it not?
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.”]
On a point of order, Mr Speaker.
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.
I appeal now to colleagues for shorter questions. I want to try to get through the bulk.
Our sectoral analysis is made up of a wide mix of qualitative and quantitative analyses examining activity across sectors, regulatory and trade frameworks and the views of stakeholders. Our overall programme of work is comprehensive and is continually updated, but it is not, and never has been, a series of impact assessments.
Last week the Chancellor of the Exchequer told the Treasury Committee that his Department has modelled and analysed a range of potential structures between the UK and the EU and that those analyses inform our negotiating position. Given that Ministers in the Department for Exiting the European Union are responsible for our negotiations, can the Minister say whether he has read those analyses and how they are informing our negotiating position?
We work very closely with our colleagues in the Treasury and, of course, we make sure that information is shared between us. Our negotiating position is informed, as we have repeatedly said, by a very wide range of analysis, much of which is in the form of advice to Ministers.
Paolo Gentiloni, the Italian Prime Minister, called on the EU this week to give the UK a “tailor-made” trade deal. Is it not precisely that sort of sentiment that would help all sectors if we concluded a trade deal that suited them?
My hon. Friend raises an interesting point. We need to reflect on the fact that the UK is uniquely aligned among the countries that will be outside the EU; it is a huge market for the EU. There is a real opportunity for the EU to do a trade deal with what will be its biggest export market.
Two very brief inquiries. I call Peter Grant.
Yesterday, in response to a question from the right hon. Member for East Ham (Stephen Timms) querying the Government’s failure to conduct these impact assessments, the Prime Minister said:
“No, it is not the case that no work has been done in looking at that”.—[Official Report, 13 December 2017; Vol. 633, c. 397.]
How does the Minister reconcile that statement with others previously made by the Secretary of State, as it directly contradicts them?
I do not think it does that in any way at all. We have always been very clear that there is a wide mix of quantitative and qualitative analysis, and we draw on a range of work across government. We have released the sectoral analysis that has been done by our Department to the Select Committee, but of course what we will not do is release information that is market sensitive or that would be prejudicial to our negotiating position.
May I gently remind the Minister, Mr Speaker, that your ruling is that the Department must provide to the Select Committee any impact assessments that have been done? The question from the right hon. Member for East Ham was not about sectoral analysis; he explicitly used the phrase:
“Assessing the impact of leaving the European Union”.—[Official Report, 13 December 2017; Vol. 633, c. 397.]
Are the Government now telling us that “assessing the impact” is different from “an impact assessment”? If so, will the Minister explain the difference?
My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State made this very clear in his evidence to the Select Committee. The information that has been shared with the Select Committee and is available to all Members of this House in the reading room includes assessments of the impact on the regulatory matters and of the importance of EU trade to different sectors.
My constituency is heavily dependent on tourism revenue. Will the Minister inform the House of any recent discussions he has had with this important sector?
Tourism is a hugely important part of the UK economy, and we have had regular discussions with the tourism sector and with the aviation industry that supports it. It is good to see tourism numbers in the UK hitting record levels this year.
The Minister’s sectoral analysis might tell him that the agri-food sector in Northern Ireland depends entirely on an open border, which is to be secured on a promise of regulatory alignment. The Environment Secretary has contradicted the Prime Minister, saying that this is a perpetually open and ongoing discussion, thus placing future regulatory alignment in doubt. Is he not inflicting a lifetime of uncertainty on the agri-food sector and on the people of Northern Ireland?
The short answer to that is no. What we are seeking to do, and what is clearly set out in the joint agreement, is ensure that the first priority for delivering on the soft border in Northern Ireland will be a strong future trade deal between the UK and the EU. Of course it is right that we ensure that where it is necessary to meet our obligations under the Belfast agreement, there will be regulatory alignment, so that we can ensure the continuing free movement of people, goods and animals across that border.
We continue to work closely with the Department of Health. Reports that large numbers of EU nationals are leaving the NHS are untrue. The latest figures from NHS Digital show that there were over 3,000 more EU nationals, including 470 more doctors, working in the NHS in June 2017 than there were before the referendum result. That is an increase of 5.4%. The overall share of the NHS workforce who are EU nationals also increased over that time, from 5% to 5.2%. I believe this proves that EU nationals recognise that we value the enormous contribution they make to the NHS, and I hope the agreement on citizens’ rights reached on 8 December gives them even more certainty.
I refer Members to my declared interest. Some 1,700 NHS doctors from European economic area countries were recently surveyed by the British Medical Association, and half were considering leaving and one in five have made firm plans to go, many after 20 years. Whatever Ministers say, the message is not reaching our doctors and nurses. What more will the Minister do to convince them to stay?
Happily, I am married to a doctor and I read that BMA article, which is available online. I recommend to anyone that they read the entire article to put everything into context. Of course, I respect the fact that the hon. Gentleman is a doctor, but I say to all Members that it is incumbent on us all to celebrate the agreement we have reached on citizens’ rights and for every one of us, without exception, to send out the message that we value people from wherever they may come.
Somerset Care in my constituency employs 172 European Union workers, who are vital to the care provided for those who really need it. In fact, the whole healthcare sector in the south-west already struggles to get enough staff. Will the Minister reiterate to those staff the assurance that they will be able to stay? What they really want to know is how they will stay and what they will do.
As my hon. Friend will know, we have every intention of carrying forward the agreement we have reached to a successful conclusion, and that agreement includes provisions to ensure that the process of registering for settled status is a smooth one.
Horizon 2020/University Admissions
The latest figures from the Commission show that the UK has the second highest number of participations in Horizon 2020 out of all countries, with 8,056 participations to date, which is 12.6% of the total. Higher and secondary education organisations are performing particularly well, ranking first for participations and agreed funding. The majority of mobile EU students who study in Europe choose to do so in the UK, and 2017 data on applications for full-time higher education indicates that the number of international students who want to study in the UK is higher than it was in 2016. Although there was a slight dip in EU student applications in 2017 versus 2016, EU-domiciled applications were still higher than they were in 2015, 2014 or 2013.
Will the Minister confirm that the Government will seek to secure an early agreement with the EU on arrangements for underwriting Horizon 2020 and Erasmus+ bids for their full duration, up to the end of the programmes?
I refer the hon. Lady to the positive news in the joint statement that was agreed last week, which reflects the fact that we have agreed to work together on these matters. For the length of the Horizon 2020 programme, up to 2020, we will continue to be able to bid into the scheme.
When we discussed this matter last month, the Minister brushed aside concerns about the falling participation rates of UK researchers in Horizon 2020 projects, but since then, as he will know, the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy has confirmed that in figures it has published. If participation continues to fall at that rate, by March 2019 we will have dropped by two thirds, which will be a significant blow for UK research. What assessment has the Minister made of those figures and what is he going to do about it?
The figures actually show that the UK’s funding share is holding up extremely well, which shows how competitive we are.
It has fallen.
The hon. Gentleman says it has fallen, but it has fallen from 15.3% to 14.7%. That is 15% either way. I think the joint statement will reassure people that they can continue to bid and to participate in these schemes and that the UK will continue to benefit from them, and we want to ensure that that is the case. Of course, we also want to explore the potential for a strong future relationship with the EU in this space.
May I suggest two specific things that the Minister can do? Will he confirm that applications that are not fully signed off at the point at which we depart from the EU in March 2019 will be fully supported for their entire duration? Will he also say that he will put participation in framework programme 9 and successor programmes at the very heart of the ambitions for negotiating our future relationship with the EU?
On the second part of the hon. Gentleman’s question, it is clear from the science and research paper that we published earlier this year that that is our ambition. We want to explore all the potential for working with the EU on these issues. On the first part of his question, I refer him back to last week’s joint declaration.
The Government are conducting the negotiations while balancing the need for appropriate confidentiality with our commitment to keep Parliament and the public informed as the negotiations unfold. We have been clear that we will be as open and transparent as possible, subject to our not revealing any information that will undermine our negotiations with the European Union.
We all value the Government’s being open about the negotiations, when they can be. In that vein, is my right hon. Friend aware of any Opposition Member having asked the EU to be more open about its negotiating process?
My hon. Friend makes an important point. We always hear criticism of our level of openness, but we never hear criticism of the EU’s. To help us to understand that, I shall quote from the EU’s own factsheet on transparency in trade negotiations:
“A certain level of confidentiality is necessary to protect EU interests and to keep chances for a satisfactory outcome high. When entering into a game, no-one starts by revealing his entire strategy to his counterpart from the outset: this is also the case for the EU.”
That is the approach that the EU is taking, so it is right that we take a similar approach.
We saw with the debacle of the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership that people were very unhappy with the lack of transparency around such negotiations. Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that we need a much more transparent and democratic process not only for approving trade deals, but for scrutinising the negotiations as they are going on?
I do in principle agree, which is why, when we made the sectoral analyses available to both Select Committees, in the Commons and the Lords, we also set up an arrangement for Members of Parliament—a confidential reading room—so that they could read those briefings. Generally speaking, that is our approach. I report back to this House—if the Prime Minister does not—after every round of negotiations, and that is much more than the European Parliament gets.
As the Prime Minister set out to the House earlier this week, an agreement has been reached that will secure the rights of 3 million EU citizens currently living in the UK and 1 million UK nationals living in the EU. This agreement will enable citizens to go on living their lives broadly as they do now in the country in which they have chosen to live.
I welcome both that answer and the agreement that has been reached. Does my hon. Friend agree that that agreement delivers on the pledges and the reassurances that we have made consistently to EU citizens living in this country, and that, in delivering for both EU citizens in this country and British citizens abroad, it is a vindication of the practical and sensible approach taken by this Government?
My hon. Friend will not be surprised to hear that I do agree with him. The Prime Minister has always been clear that we wanted an early agreement on citizens’ rights and that any agreement must be reciprocal to protect the rights of 4 million people. I am delighted that we have delivered that commitment. The agreement will mean that UK nationals in the EU can have confidence that they can carry on living their lives as before. It will provide them with certainty about residency, healthcare and pensions, and, of course, the same goes for EU nationals in the UK.
I recognise the huge contribution that the 3 million EU nationals living in the UK have made, particularly in the NHS, which was brought home to me by Stephane Guegan in my constituency. Can the Minister confirm that that issue will remain front and centre in any difficult negotiations going forward?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right to raise the case of one of her constituents who has made a significant contribution. I think that we all recognise that from our own constituencies. I trust that she joins me in welcoming the cost-free exchange of EU permanent residence documents for the new settled status documents as one part of the agreement that we have reached. None the less, she is right that we must continue to take this issue seriously.
Unfortunately, the 3 million EU 27 citizens living in this country and the UK citizens living in the EU 27 do not feel that certainty because of the words
“nothing is agreed until everything is agreed.”
Will the Government not now commit to putting an amendment down to any of the forthcoming EU Bills to give that certainty?
The hon. Lady will recognise that certainty in a reciprocal deal has to be delivered through the withdrawal agreement, but we have been very clear from the start of this process that we want to protect the rights of citizens and to make sure that they can continue to live their lives as before, and that is a commitment on which we have delivered through the joint resolution last week.
Due to the staffing crisis in the NHS, trusts have spent thousands of pounds recruiting EU citizens to work in the service. In York, they recruited 40 Spanish nurses; only three now remain because of the uncertainty. What assessment has the Minister made of the situation?
I refer the hon. Lady to the answers that the Under-Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union, my hon. Friend the Member for Wycombe (Mr Baker) gave earlier and to some of the facts that show that there are actually more EU citizens working in the NHS today than a year ago. We absolutely have to continue to send the message that we welcome the work that they are doing and that these people make a significant contribution to our country and our NHS.
Economic Effects: Customs Union
In assessing the options for the UK’s future outside the customs union, the Government will be guided by what delivers the greatest economic advantage to the UK and by these three objectives: ensuring that UK-EU trade is as frictionless as possible; avoiding a hard border between Ireland and Northern Ireland; and establishing an independent trade policy.
I understand that the Minister said in answer to an earlier question that some quantitative assessment has been undertaken in relation to leaving the customs union, and yet, last week, when he was in front of the Select Committee, the Secretary of State admitted that the Government had undertaken no quantitative assessment. Why is it that every time we ask a question in relation to Brexit, we get a different answer depending on the time, the day, or the Minister? If the Government simply cannot, or will not, say whether leaving the customs union will make Britain poorer, does the Minister not agree—
Order. I think we have got the drift of what the right hon. Lady is trying to cover. Questions really need to be briefer. Otherwise, a lot of people lower down the Order Paper will not be reached, and it is not fair.
The Secretary of State emphasised that there was not a formal quantitative impact statement, but was clear that a judgment was made on the basis of a range of evidence. The Government have been conducting an extremely broad overall programme of work on EU exit issues, and will continue to do so.
Is the Minister aware of whether the EU Commission is assessing the economic effects on the remaining member states of not reaching a trade deal with the UK?
I am sure that plenty of analytical work is being done on both sides, but as my hon. Friend knows, the EU Commission does not make all its analysis public.
Surely quantitative assessments of the impact of leaving the EU on sectors of the UK economy should have been basic spade work for the negotiations.
As the right hon. Gentleman will know, and we debated at great length, a huge amount of sectoral analysis has been done by the Government on these issues. I think that he discussed at length with the Secretary of State in the Select Committee why quantitative impact assessments were not considered appropriate.
Surely one of the assessments that the Government have made is how much money we will save by not having to pay to access the customs union, as well as the impact on all sectors of industry in this country of being able to do our own trade deals around the world.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right to draw attention to the opportunities for wider trade deals around the world. As the Prime Minister has said, we will not make the same huge payments to the EU that we have to date. That will mean more money for public services in the UK.
EU Tangible Assets: UK Share
The Government have agreed a number of important principles with the EU that will apply to how we arrive at valuations in due course. This includes taking account of all relevant assets.
The European Union is estimated to have a wine cellar of more than 42,000 bottles and art work worth more than £13 million, some, one might say, metaphorically looted from the capitals of Europe. After we leave the party, will the Minister promise to take back control of our fair share of this art and wine and not leave it to Mr Juncker to enjoy?
My hon. Friend raises an interesting question. The legal basis of both assets and liabilities has been analysed in detail and accounted for in the overall settlement. The scope of the settlement is laid out in the joint report.
As the first advisory referendum was conducted entirely in ignorance of the contents of the wine cellars and almost everything else, and was a choice between Operation Fear and Operation Lies, is it not appropriate that we listen to all those independent bodies that have looked at the prospects and decided that no Brexit would be better than any Brexit? Is it not time to think about a second, well-informed confirmation referendum?
I enjoyed the hon. Gentleman’s speech in our debate on a second referendum the other day, but the answer I give him today is the same one that I gave then. The referendum did not come out of the blue; it came after 30 years of debate in this country. The Government at the time wrote to every household in the country setting out the impact of leaving, and we should respect the decision of the British people.
The UK has a proud record of protecting rights. The EU (Withdrawal) Bill aims to maximise certainty for individuals and businesses about their legal rights and obligations as we leave the EU, to provide the basis for a smooth and orderly exit. The Bill will ensure that the laws and rules that we have now will so far as possible continue to apply as they did before exit.
The Prime Minister has said that full regulatory alignment with the Republic of Ireland is part of the deal that she negotiated last week. Can the Minister give an absolute guarantee to the electrical engineers in my constituency that product safety and workplace practices will be guaranteed after we have left the EU?
There are a great range of rights for which we do not rely on the European Union to meet the standards that we do. However, trade deals are always founded on WTO principles, and the WTO includes a wide range of measures in relation to technical barriers to trade, sanitary and phytosanitary protections, and other matters.
The charter of fundamental rights has been a valuable and accessible instrument in protecting human rights. Does the Minister agree with Liberty, Amnesty International and the Public Law Project that
“Banishing the Charter from the UK because we have other legal sources of rights would be like banning hammers because spanners can also strike nails”?
Not incorporating the charter should not affect the substantive rights that individuals already benefit from in the UK, as the charter was never the source of those rights. Those EU fundamental rights are, in any case, applicable only within the scope of EU law. The Government have now published their analysis of the charter, which clearly sets out how each substantive right that was reaffirmed in the charter will be reflected in the domestic law of the UK.
Regulation of Medicines
We worked intensively with our European partners to settle the issues in the first phase of negotiations, and as the hon. Gentleman knows, we published a joint report. We now want to focus our efforts on quickly agreeing the detail of a time-limited implementation period to give certainty to people and businesses. As the Secretaries of State for Business and for Health emphasised in their open letter to the Financial Times earlier this year, as we enter the next phase we want to work closely with the European Medicines Agency and international partners in the interests of public health.
The high costs of not maintaining regulatory alignment for medicines were recently laid bare in evidence to the BEIS Select Committee. If alignment is not achieved, how much would prescription charges have to go up? Is regulatory alignment the Government’s objective? If so, what is the point in all this?
As part of our exit negotiations, we have been clear that we want to discuss with the EU and member states how best to continue co-operation in the field of medicines regulation in the best interests of businesses, citizens and patients in the UK and the EU. Of course, what we cannot do is prejudge the outcome of those negotiations.
I can confirm to my hon. Friend that the Government are working closely with the aviation sector to ensure that it continues to be a major success story for the UK economy. Ministers and officials in our Department and in the Department for Transport have met widely with representatives of the sector since the referendum in 2016, covering the full spectrum of issues affecting the industry.
I thank the Minister for that answer. Given that the European Aviation Safety Agency is very important to the aerospace and aviation industries, when will it be discussed in the Brexit negotiations, as all users, such as Rolls-Royce in Derbyshire, want clarity?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. The UK has been and is very influential within the EASA, and UK expertise has contributed significantly to the high standards of aviation safety in Europe. It is the Government’s intention to maintain consistently high standards of aviation safety once we have left the EU. We are considering carefully all the implications arising from our exit from the EU, including the question of continued participation in the EASA. This will be a matter for negotiations, and we are looking forward to opening discussions on the future partnership as soon as possible.
The Commission has made it clear that UK carriers will no longer enjoy flying rights under any agreement to which the EU is party. With one UK airline already talking about relocating, what are the Government doing to protect hundreds of thousands of aviation jobs in the UK?
As I have said, we are working closely with the aviation industry. We look forward to discussing this issue as part of the future partnership discussions with the EU, and it is not right to rule issues out of the discussions.
Negotiated Settlement: Referendum
Our exit from the EU is a result of a long democratic process. Parliament passed the European Union Referendum Act 2015 and passed the decision on whether to leave or remain to the people of the UK. The referendum saw a clear majority of people vote to leave the EU, and the Government were clear that we would respect the result. Parliament then voted to pass the European Union (Notification of Withdrawal) Act 2017 and to invoke article 50 to begin the formal process of leaving the EU. Parliament is now debating the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill. This has been a long democratic process, and it continues to be one. There will not be a second referendum.
Recent polls show there is now a clear majority in favour of a referendum on the deal. Is it any wonder that this Government have lost control? Yesterday, Parliament took back control, and now the public want to take back control from the Tory party and the Democratic Unionist party. Will the Minister please explain to my constituents how a referendum on the deal—the first referendum on the facts—would be anti-democratic? Does he not trust them—
Order. [Interruption.] Order—when I say that, the hon. Lady must resume her seat. I think we have the thrust of it, but what is required—and I am trying to be helpful to the hon. Lady—in these situations is a question, not the development of an essay theme. I am sorry, but she must learn to appreciate the difference. The question was too long, and that should not happen again.
I am very tempted to point out the polling results of the Liberal Democrat party recently. The simple point to the hon. Lady is this: no opinion poll comes anywhere near the votes of 17.5 million people, which we will respect.
Following events in the Chamber last night, some prominent members of the remain campaign took to Twitter saying that this was another step towards their aim of preventing Brexit. Will the Secretary of State please confirm and reassure the 17.4 million people who voted to leave that this Government are absolutely committed to delivering a positive Brexit for this country?
Let me start by saying that I do not agree with the people who tweeted that that was the purpose of many of the people who voted last night—I think they did so in good faith. However, my hon. Friend is right. The aim of this Government is to take us out of the European Union. That is what we were instructed to do by the British people and that is what we will do.
Last Friday the Prime Minister and I sat down with the President of the European Commission and his chief negotiator to agree that enough progress had been made to move negotiations forward to our future relationship. This deal has involved compromise on both sides, but it adds up to a clear settlement that provides certainty for both the United Kingdom and the European Union. It will allow our country to leave the European Union and grasp the opportunities that exist outside it, while maintaining a close partnership with our European neighbours. Whether one voted leave or remain, I believe that this is a step forward that those in all parts of the House can support. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister will travel to Brussels today to seek to confirm it with her fellow leaders.
Last night the Government suffered an embarrassing defeat, but not one Scottish Conservative passed through the Aye Lobby and voted for the amendment. What representations did the Secretary of State have from the Scottish Conservatives on the amendment and votes this week?
I have to be very careful because things do not always come immediately to a Secretary of State when they arrive at the Department, but as far as I am aware, none.
As a former fast catamaran sailor in the seas in the area that my hon. Friend refers to, I am happy to say that the Government’s maritime and ports sectoral report sets out a description of the sector, the current EU regulatory regime, existing frameworks for how trade is facilitated between countries in the sector, and sector views. This report has been available to Members of both Houses to read in a secure reading room. The UK will remain a great maritime nation.
The House will be aware that yesterday the European Parliament had a vote on a resolution to endorse the agreement reached last week. Can the Secretary of State tell us why, unlike Labour Members of the European Parliament, Conservative MEPs were whipped to abstain and not to vote in support of that joint report?
That is very interesting, but it nowhere near compares with the 18 members of the Labour party who voted against.
On the basis that nothing is agreed until everything is agreed, can my right hon. Friend assure the people of Willenhall and Bloxwich who voted overwhelmingly for Brexit that we will not pay a penny to the EU if we do not get a free trade deal?
The withdrawal agreement is written in the light of article 50, which refers to
“taking account of…the future relationship”.
If that does not happen, the whole deal falls away.
As the hon. Gentleman will know, the purpose of the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill is to bring EU law into UK law in the state it is in at our point of exit. Beyond that, in the implementation period, things are a matter for negotiations.
I recently booked an appointment in the reading room. I thought that it would be like an inner circle of hell, and that I would be trapped in there for days reading the sectoral analysis. Indeed, I was there with the hon. Member for Wakefield (Mary Creagh). In fact, there were only nine pages on health and social care, and the documents relevant to my Select Committee took me less than an hour to read in their entirety. I believe that in the interests of transparency, these very straightforward documents should be in the public domain. Will the Secretary of State publish them?
The sectoral analysis has already been made available to the Select Committees, as per the motion of the House, and to all Members of this House through the reading room. The documents contain a range of information, including sector views, some of which would certainly be of great interest to the other side in these negotiations.
That would all be fine if I could commit the European Commission to doing the same. Unfortunately, it tends to depend on how long the negotiation takes. As the hon. Lady has seen in the last six or seven months, the process has not been entirely predictable.
Does the Minister share my passion for environmental protection, and does he agree that our leaving the European Union gives us the opportunity to go further and faster?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. We are a country that has been a world leader on the environment. We must ensure that we take all the opportunities offered by this process, as I believe the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs is already doing, to strengthen our environmental protections.
The UK will continue to play an active role internationally, as demonstrated by our ratification of the Paris agreement on climate change. We will continue to uphold our obligations under international environmental treaties such as the Montreal and Gothenburg protocols, the Stockholm convention, the convention on biological diversity and the convention on international trade in endangered species. The new clause itself we will return to in debate.
We are leaving the European Union, the common agricultural policy and the common fisheries policy. As we do so, will my right hon. Friend work closely with the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs to ensure that we support not only the farmers and food producers in our agricultural system, but our environment?
We will absolutely continue that work, and my hon. Friend is right to link the environment to those issues. The British countryside is a fantastic asset for our entire nation, and we want to continue to support its environment and future productivity.
The hon. Lady voted against the Second Reading of the Bill, so she plainly does not want to make progress with it. She perhaps ought to put a dictionary on her Christmas list. An analysis—[Interruption.] Ready? An analysis outlines the components of a problem—the regulatory structure, the markets, the size and so on—and that is what we are doing. An impact assessment is played out in the Whitehall guidelines and involves a forecast.
China is a massive market. Does the Secretary of State agree that the open skies policy that was recently agreed with China, increasing the number of flights by 50% to 150 a week, will be a great boost to business throughout this country when it comes to doing trade deals with China?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right, and he reminds me that according to the European Commission, 90% of world growth will come from outside the EU by 2020. I think he points to the importance of the UK turning outwards to be a global trading nation and enjoying productive, prosperous relationships with the whole world.
The Government have made it clear from the beginning that they value the 3.2 million EU citizens who are here, and the Prime Minister has written to them all, or at least to the ones for whom we have records. It is our clear intention, and it will be legally binding in the withdrawal Bill, that they will have the rights that we have laid out in very short order.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that our leaving the European Union does not mean to say that we cannot co-operate with it at the very closest level on the environment, to lead the rest of the world?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right—we are leaving the European Union; we are not leaving Europe. The Prime Minister has been very clear that we will want to work together on shared challenges such as global warming and the environment.
The House voted overwhelmingly for the Act of Parliament that triggered article 50. The terms of article 50 were well known to this House, and they involve a fixed duration of two years.
Will the Secretary of State tell us what recent discussions he has had with representatives of the UK financial sector about the effect on that sector of the UK’s leaving the single market? There are increasing reports of jobs being transferred to, or often in, other EU countries.
Since the creation of our Department, we have engaged closely with the financial services industry. We have received representations from a wide variety of stakeholders, including UK Finance, TheCityUK, the Association of Foreign Banks and the Investment Association, as well as many firms in Edinburgh, which, as the hon. Lady knows well, is a regional and global leader in, among others, the asset management and insurance industries. We will continue to work closely with them and colleagues at the Treasury to ensure that our financial services industry thrives.
Will the Government consider negotiating our continued participation in the Erasmus 2 programme after we have left the European Union?
The Prime Minister said in her Florence speech that we would continue to co-operate in areas of culture and education. I believe that we should explore that in the next phase of the talks.
Last week’s agreement recognised the rights of Northern Ireland citizens in line with the Good Friday agreement. Will the Government now be seeking the same rights for my constituents in Bristol to work, travel and live in the European Union if they choose?
The issue of onward movement in the European Union is, of course, one that we wish to continue to press; interestingly, the European Parliament made resolutions yesterday in support of the right of UK nationals to have onward movement in the European Union. We will continue to take that forward into the next phase of negotiations.
On financial services, how hopeful are Ministers that through the negotiations the UK will retain the passport for service providers to trade across the EU?
We are at the start of negotiations on the future relationships, but we should explore all the possibilities to make sure that the UK and the EU continue to benefit from the fact that we have a global financial services centre here in London and the UK.
The Secretary of State for Scotland said that the Government will bring forward amendments to clause 11 of the EUW Bill on Report. Will those amendments be published and shared with the Scottish Government and Welsh Assembly before they are tabled?
The hon. Gentleman is ingenious in raising the topic of amendments that have not yet been tabled. Of course we will want to ensure that, as we take forward our engagement with the devolved Administrations, the issue of clause 11 is addressed.