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Topical Questions

Volume 633: debated on Thursday 14 December 2017

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.

T4. Recreational boating is a vital part of my constituency’s leisure facilities around Hamble and Netley. Will the Minister outline what assessment his Department has made of the impact of leaving the EU on recreational boating on the Solent? (902957)

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.

T2. What plans does the Minister have to write the tobacco products directive into British law? What discussions has he had with his European counterparts about the TPD? (902954)

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.

T3. Following yesterday’s debate, will the Secretary of State now publish a timetable of the decision-making process to give Parliament absolute clarity about when the parliamentary vote on the deal will take place? (902955)

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.

T5. The Secretary of State knows very well the importance of the renewables industry to the Humber, and he knows how important it will be for the industry to be able to trade competitively when we leave the EU. Will he support new clause 83, which calls for a full impact assessment on that industry? (902958)

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.

T6. Yesterday, the EU warned that the Secretary of State risks damaging trust in the negotiations with his contradictory statements, so I wondered whether he could regain some trust by telling us what the difference is between an impact assessment and a sectoral analysis. (902959)

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.

T7. The Secretary of State claims that the phase 1 agreement gives security to EU nationals, but that is constantly undermined by the reference to a no deal Brexit, which would rip that up. Does he not accept that there is a need to give legal standing to EU citizens’ rights now, rather than putting EU nationals through another year of anxiety? (902960)

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.

T8. Does the Secretary of State agree that the worst place for someone to be in any negotiation is when they have fixed and declared their own deadline? In tabling amendment 381, the Government have effectively put a gun to their own head. (902962)

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.