The Secretary of State was asked—
Support for Farmers
We continue to work closely with the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs on support for farmers. The Government will provide the same cash total in funds for farm support until the end of the Parliament to maintain stability for farmers as we seek to grow our world-leading food and farming industry in a sustainable way. Furthermore, the Government are currently consulting on future farming policy, seeking views on a range of possible paths to a brighter future for farming.
I welcome the pledge from the Government to provide financial support for farmers in Wales, and of course in the rest of the UK, after Brexit. Does the Minister agree that this commitment will provide the stability to allow farmers to continue providing high- quality produce, without having a negative effect on the environment?
I agree. British food enjoys a reputation for quality that has been built on high animal welfare standards and strong environmental protections. The Government’s proposals will support farmers to grow more, sell more and export more great British food, and ensure that we are the first generation to leave the environment in a better state than we inherited it.
Recently I met local National Farmers Union farmers in my constituency who are frustrated by the complexity of and frequent delays in the EU’s basic payment scheme. When working with the Environment Secretary, will the Minister encourage a simpler system that will see farmers paid on time once we leave the EU?
Yes, we will give such encouragement. I know that my colleague the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs has listened to concerns and is consulting on arrangements to simplify and improve the delivery of the common agricultural policy while we continue to participate in it. Outside the CAP, with a system based on simpler and more effective rules, we will be able to support farmers to grow more, sell more and export more great British food.
Why will the Minister not respect the desire of NFU Scotland to have the powers on agriculture devolved in full and then for a UK framework to be developed?
Yesterday I attended the Joint Ministerial Committee plenary session, and I have to say that the First Minister’s tone was very constructive. I feel sure we will work with her to take forward the framework discussions—and, I hope, satisfactorily.
Farmers need to know what a transitional deal is going to look like, what a trade deal is going to look like and about labour constraints. To go back to the question asked by my hon. Friend the Member for Airdrie and Shotts (Neil Gray), why will the Minister not listen to NFU Scotland and ensure that all agriculture powers are assigned to Scotland so that the Scottish Government can design a policy to suit Scottish farmers?
Of course we are listening, and in the run-up to the March European Council we very much have the concerns of the devolved Governments in mind, but we must ensure that the internal market of the United Kingdom continues to function. We will go forward with those two tensions in mind.
Stafford constituency has one of the largest areas for growing soft fruit, and indeed lettuces, in the country, meaning that we have less reliance on imports. However, those involved are very concerned about the great workers who come to harvest those crops. What assurances will the Minister give me that he is working together with his counterparts in the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs to make sure that the supply of people to harvest those crops is still available after we leave? [Interruption.]
We have commissioned the Migration Advisory Committee to give us advice on migration policy. As we have always said, this vote was not a vote to pull up the drawbridge, and we will ensure that policy reflects the needs of the United Kingdom’s economy, particularly the sector my hon. Friend mentioned.
The hon. Member for Huddersfield (Mr Sheerman) was wittering about strawberries in December, or something of that sort. Anyway, we look forward to hearing his views with force and eloquence later in our exchanges.
Before I answer, may I take this opportunity to express my condolences to the family of Warren Hawksley, an erstwhile colleague of ours? He was a Maastricht rebel and a great friend of mine; he was very highly principled and very energetic—sometimes too energetic—in pursuit of his views, but, as I say, I express my condolences to his family.
Our immediate goal is to agree a strictly time-limited implementation period by the March European Council next week. This is crucial to helping us build a bridge from where we are to where we want to be on our exit. We have also been working hard to codify the joint report into legal text. We are confident that both of these aims are within reach. Finally, the March European Council is expected to issue the negotiating guidelines to the Commission to negotiate the future partnership. We are seeking to ensure that those guidelines are as broad and open as possible to allow the most constructive negotiation to deliver the close relationship we are aiming for.
It could be the making of us, couldn’t it?
I could be just as pithy as my right hon. Friend and say yes.
Does the right hon. Gentleman foresee a scenario in which the deal negotiated is so mind-bogglingly positive that all the other European Union states want that kind of relationship as well, and the European Union itself implodes? Or does he accept that membership is the best possible relationship we can have with the European Union, so any new settlement will be disadvantageous compared with what we have now?
Those who made a decision on the last part of the hon. Gentleman’s question were the British people—17.5 million of them—and they decided that that was not the case. Let me respond to the first part of his question, however, because he does have a serious point. Certainly in the institutions of the European Union, and in some member states, there are concerns that if we are too successful that will be tempting to others. I do not believe that that is a real fear, because we have unique circumstances—the English language, our historic traditions, our world network, our island status, our law—that other countries do not have. That is no fault of their own; they just do not have those advantages. That is what will allow us to make the best of this situation.
I am aware that some in the right hon. Gentleman’s party have accused others in that party of fantasy politics. Does he believe that any transition period can be based on World Trade Organisation principles?
It is fascinating to have a lecture from the SNP on fantasy politics. We are proposing a transition period based on existing arrangements and rules, so that the British people and companies—and, indeed, European people and companies—have only one transition to make.
It was disappointing to see the aggressive line in last week’s EU document on maintaining full access to our fishing waters. Will the Secretary of State assure me that the Department is being robust on behalf of my Northumbrian fishermen in any negotiations, to ensure that we regain control of our fishing waters before deciding whom to allow to fish in them?
My hon. Friend is right, and it was a very odd linkage to make. The simple truth is that when we leave the European Union we will be an independent coastal state, and as a result we will control our own waters. As stated in DEFRA questions last week, we will continue negotiations with neighbouring states about catch—because fish move—quotas, and all the rest of it. However, we will control our own destiny.
The UK is party to around 40 trade agreements negotiated by the EU, but at least two of those countries have indicated that they will seek concessions from the United Kingdom in return for rolling over those agreements during the transition period. Will the Secretary of State assure UK exporters that they will be able to continue to trade with those countries on the same basis as now and with the exact same benefits, and that we will not end up in a situation where those countries will have preferential access to our market, while UK businesses lose the same access to their markets?
The right hon. Gentleman’s stance is fascinating, because the customs union proposal that the Labour party recently came up with induces exactly the risk that people will have access to our markets without our necessarily having complementary access to theirs. Indeed, that was the view espoused by the shadow Secretary of State for International Trade not long ago.
I wish my right hon. Friend every success in the negotiations which, as he said, will reach an important stage next week. Will he confirm that it remains the Government’s position that no deal is better than a bad deal, and that all necessary resources—financial and otherwise—will continue to be deployed with an eye to such an eventuality?
Yes, and interestingly my right hon. Friend’s question links to that asked by the hon. Member for Glasgow North (Patrick Grady) about whether some people on the continent think that letting us get a good deal would be a bad thing for the future of the European Union. Were people to turn that into a punishment deal, plainly no deal would be better than that. We are, of course, allocating the necessary resources, as the Chancellor has said.
The Secretary of State backs a 21-month transition period. Given that the Government’s own impact assessment points to every sector and region of the UK being damaged by Brexit, what discussions has he had with different sectors about the extra damage that a short, 21-month transition period could inflict on jobs here? Which sectors or companies have told him that a 21-month transition period is acceptable—the CBI, for example, which called for a three-year transition period, or the EEF, which called for at least two years?
The first thing I would say is that there is no official Government document that makes that forecast. There is work in progress, but that is not an official Government forecast—indeed, we do not believe it. The simple truth is that, first off, the most important priority is to establish an implementation period as soon as possible, so that companies can have certainty. That is the view of the CBI, the British Chambers of Commerce, the Institute of Directors and pretty much every other business group there is.
Northern Ireland/Republic of Ireland Border
The Prime Minister reaffirmed her commitment to the Northern Ireland-Ireland border in her Mansion House speech, recognising the unique circumstances of Northern Ireland and our shared commitment to avoiding a hard border. The joint report, agreed in December, also made clear our intention to avoid a hard border and physical infrastructure, or related checks and controls, between Northern Ireland and Ireland. We have always been clear that we will not agree anything that threatens the constitutional or economic integrity of the United Kingdom.
Given that the Government have said the border will remain friction free or frictionless, and that there will be no border in the Irish sea, the question many of us continue to ask is how can this happen?
The Government have made clear their unwavering commitment to three guiding principles in relation to Northern Ireland and the Republic: there should be no hard border between north and south; the Belfast agreement must be honoured; and the constitutional and economic integrity of the United Kingdom must remain unimpaired. The Prime Minister set out, most recently in her Mansion House speech, how that might be achieved. We are also building on the options set out in the August position papers, which set out practical options for how we might take this forward.
How do the Government expect to avoid a hard border if they are ruling out any form of customs union?
It is the unwavering commitment of the Government that the economic integrity of the United Kingdom remains intact. If the United Kingdom is leaving the customs union, so is Northern Ireland.
I am certain my hon. Friend has seen the paper “Smart Border 2.0”, which was prepared for the European Parliament’s constitutional affairs committee. It does not provide the whole solution, but it does show how technology will help to solve this problem. Does she agree that this will solve it and ensure the integrity of the United Kingdom?
I thank my hon. Friend for his question. The report to which he refers is an interesting document, but it does not go as far as the commitment made by the United Kingdom. Our unwavering commitment is to not introduce any physical infrastructure at the border. We have explicitly ruled that out. The report is interesting, but it does not go all the way.
May I make a plea to the Minister to recognise that this is about much more than just the movement of goods or services? This is about a cultural issue and the movement of people—it is about all of that. The symbolism is enormous and the Minister needs to ensure that that is recognised, time after time in all the talks she has, to reassure the people of both parts of Ireland.
The common travel agreement is absolutely fundamental to any future arrangement, ensuring and enabling the free flow of people across the border. It is vital that that forms part of any future arrangement.
I do not think that Ministers quite appreciate the level of concern across the House on this issue. Whenever I have visited the Irish border, I have come face to face with the reality of what the installation of any cameras or any infrastructure would mean. It would not last a day, Minister; it would not last a day. Why will the Secretary of State not even visit the border, so that he can appreciate why people are so concerned? I do not know whether she has been, but will she encourage the Secretary of State to do so?
We do not underestimate the importance of this issue. My fellow Minister, the Under-Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union, my hon. Friend the Member for Worcester (Mr Walker), has been to the border and engaged regularly with Members from Northern Ireland and those involved in this issue. The Secretary of State has also been to the border, prior to his appointment to this position, and is very much apprised of the sensitivities and importance of this critical issue.
I think that says all we need to hear. What we want to know is how can we ensure an open border without a customs union? We have looked everywhere we can think of to identify a border anywhere on earth that is open and has no customs union. The Prime Minister referred to the border between the United States and Canada. Can the Minister confirm that the Prime Minister has ruled that out as an option, and can she tell us where on earth there is a border that is open with no customs union?
The hon. Lady really needs to go back and listen to what the Prime Minister said at Mansion House. She spent a lot of time looking at this issue and is very much interested in finding solutions. There are many proposals on the table that would be viable and workable, and the Government are in the process of considering them. A trusted trader scheme, exemptions, authorised economic operator arrangements —all these options are on the table and are subject to the negotiations.
Support for Manufacturers
This is, of course, a topic of frequent interest. Leaving the EU allows us to consider how our economy is shaped and presents an opportunity to deliver a pro-competitive, pro-innovation industrial strategy that builds on our strengths, provides certainty and stands the test of time, so that we have a resilient economy, ready for the future.
To ensure that trade is fair as well as free, there are over 40 defence instruments in place regarding steel at the European level. The behaviour of the US Administration at the moment may well mean that increases. Can the Minister give confidence to the steel industry that these trade defence instruments will remain in place at the point of moving out of the European Union?
This Government are very disappointed by the President’s intention to place tariffs on steel and aluminium. The UK fully supports open and free trade and measures to tackle unfair trade practices. As part of the preparations for the UK’s exit from the EU, we are committed to creating a trade remedies framework that is able to react efficiently and effectively. When the UK leaves the EU, we will remain a member of the World Trade Organisation. We will play a full part in promoting compliance with the rules-based trading system and, if necessary, make use of the WTO’s dispute resolution procedures in defence of our national interest—[Interruption.] The hon. Gentleman is barracking me from a sedentary position. I say to him that if we adopted Labour’s position, all our trade remedies would be the policies of the European Union and not of the United Kingdom.
The chief executive of ADS— Mr Paul Everitt—which represents companies in the aerospace, defence, security and space sectors, has said:
“A customs union with the EU is a practical solution that would put businesses in the best possible position to compete after Brexit.”
If the Government care about manufacturing, will they reconsider their position on the customs union?
Of course we are concerned about aerospace; it is one of our greatest industries. I remind the hon. Gentleman of what was said by his hon. Friend, the hon. Member for Brent North (Barry Gardiner). He said that retaining membership of a customs union would be “deeply unattractive”, because it would stop us negotiating our own trade deals:
“As a transitional phase, a customs union agreement might be thought to have some merit. However, as an end point it is deeply unattractive. It would preclude us from making our own independent trade agreements with our five largest export markets outside the EU”.
For all the hon. Member for Hyndburn (Graham P. Jones) says, his party is at sixes and sevens.
If China is illegally dumping steel in the United Kingdom, will the excellent Minister agree that it is better that the British Government decide what the remedy is, rather than the European Union?
I certainly agree that we should have our own trade policies in place and that we should not be standing against free trade. We should be unequivocally embracing free trade, but we must stand against unfair, anti-competitive practices, and that is what we will do.
If the Secretary of State and the Government will not consider the customs union, what specific support will they give to the aerospace sector, which employs so many people in Bristol?
I have good news for the hon. Lady. Both sides have agreed in principle that we should have a free trade agreement covering all sectors with zero tariffs. We believe that with a good-quality customs agreement we can achieve near-frictionless trade, and I believe that, taken together, those arrangements will ensure that our manufacturing industries, including aerospace, will have an ever brighter future.
The EEF—the voice of UK manufacturing and engineering—as well as ADS Group Limited, the CBI, the Institute of Directors and trade unions welcome Labour’s call for the negotiation of a comprehensive new UK-EU customs union post Brexit. Can the Minister name any significant manufacturing organisation or association that is on record as stating that either of the Government’s two customs propositions, set out in their future partnership paper in August last year, is remotely credible or workable?
I remind the hon. Gentleman that his hon. Friend the Member for Brent North said that remaining in a customs union would be a “disaster”. What we need to do is stand up for the consumer interest, and that means taking control of our tariff policies while ensuring free and frictionless trade.
Erasmus plus Programme
We have committed ourselves to continued UK participation in the Erasmus+ programme until 2020, and we welcome the opportunity to give clarity to young people as well as the youth and education sectors. While no decisions have yet been made about the post-2020 participation, since the scope of that programme has not been agreed, the Prime Minister said in her recent speech that the Government would seek an ongoing relationship in respect of
“educational and cultural programmes, to promote our shared values and enhance our intellectual strength in the world”.
Is the Department liaising with the European Parliament’s Committee on Culture and Education and its Chair, Petra Kammerevert, and the European Commission’s Directorate-General for Education, Youth, Sport and Culture to discuss how Erasmus+ applications that are submitted before the Brexit date will be implemented?
I recognise my hon. Friend’s considerable expertise when it comes to the European Parliament. Ministers from our Department regularly engage with Members of the European Parliament. We have also met members of the Committee on Culture and Education to discuss a range of EU exit issues, and we will continue to seek opportunities to meet them. The Department for Education is the lead Department for Erasmus+ policy, and its officials are in regular touch with the Directorate-General for Education, Youth, Sport and Culture.
Scotland has benefited from €64.8 million of funding for 658 projects since 2014. Coming out of Erasmus+ will mean not only a loss of money, but a loss of opportunity for young people in Scotland. How does the Minister intend to replace that?
In her Mansion House speech, the Prime Minister said:
“There are many…areas where the UK and EU economies are closely linked—including…education and culture.”
It is clear that we have an ambition to discuss potential future participation in those areas; and, of course, the UK has a wide range of international programmes, which we can consider how to extend in the years to come.
As I said in my speech in Teesport, an implementation period will benefit both the European Union and the United Kingdom. It is in no one’s interest on either side for businesses to rush through contingency plans based on guesses about a future deal. That would cause delayed investment, a slowing of job creation and a stifling of the hard-won economic growth on which our continent depends.
Businesses have been clear about the importance of an implementation period, which will give them time to build new infrastructure and set up new systems to support our future partnership and allow for as free and frictionless trade as possible. The implementation period will allow them to make their decisions on the basis of knowledge about what the future deal will look like. It will ensure that our businesses are ready, because they will have to adjust to only one set of changes, and, importantly, it will allow European Governments to do the same.
I thank my right hon. Friend for that answer and for his visit to Teesport earlier this year, which was much appreciated. Two thirds of people in my constituency voted for Brexit. Can my right hon. Friend reassure them that any implementation period will indeed be time-limited and handled in a way that will provide for a smooth exit for business?
Yes. A time-limited implementation period will ensure a smooth and orderly exit from the European Union. During the period, the United Kingdom and the European Union will continue to have access to each other’s markets on current terms by replicating the effects of the customs union and the single market, and businesses will be able to continue to operate on the same terms as now. That will provide vital certainty and stability as we move towards our future partnership.
Let us be clear: we are leaving the European Union on 29 March 2019, and only when the United Kingdom is no longer a member state will we be able to take advantage of our status as an independent trading nation.
The manufacturing sector is of course a frequent topic of discussion among Cabinet members and colleagues across the Government. As the Prime Minister set out in her Mansion House speech, the UK will seek the broadest and deepest possible agreement with the EU, covering more sectors and co-operating more fully than in any free trade agreement anywhere in the world today. I am especially encouraged by the Chancellor’s spring statement, which confirmed that the manufacturing sector is enjoying its longest unbroken run of growth for 50 years.
Why, every time there is a manufacturing question, does the Secretary of State hide behind his junior team? That is the fact of the matter: he does not want to confront manufacturing. Is it not the truth that there is a secret document in the Business Department that shows that, post Brexit, London will survive and thrive but the rest of the country—the north of England, manufacturing—will be in dire straits? That is the truth. Why does the Secretary of State not stand at the Dispatch Box and defend manufacturing?
I lament the hon. Gentleman’s continual determination to talk down this country. I am happy to tell him that Unilever has today shown its long-term commitment to the UK by choosing to locate its two fastest-growing global business divisions in this country, safeguarding 7,300 jobs and £1 billion a year of investment. As the company has made clear, its decision to transfer a small number of jobs to a corporate headquarters in the Netherlands is part of its long-term restructuring and is not connected to the UK’s departure from the EU.
On the basis that it is subject to negotiation, the Government have refused to implement the agreed replacement to the regime for the inadequate 2004 clinical trial directive. This is essential for our pharmaceutical trade, because we face going off a cliff edge and not being able to participate in collaborative clinical trials with EU research institutions, so when is the Minister going to implement that replacement directive?
As part of exit negotiations, the Government will discuss with the EU and member states how best to continue co-operation in the field of clinical trials. The UK has been working towards implementation of the new European clinical trials regulation since it was agreed in 2014. The application date of the CTR across the EU will be set by the European Commission, and if it is after our exit from the EU, it will not be part of the withdrawal Bill.
Customs Union and Free Trade Agreements
If the UK were to remain in the customs union, we would be unable to implement our own trade deals or set our own tariffs. The EU would be able to offer other countries access to our market, but we would not necessarily get access to other countries’ markets in return. This would not give us control over our trade policy and it would not respect the referendum result. We have a great chance for the first time in decades to develop a new trade policy by leaving the EU customs union.
Will the Minister ensure that the final deal allows the UK to agree new trade deals around the world on day one after we leave the EU?
That is one of the big prizes of Brexit: the freedom and chance to develop and sign new free trade deals around the world outside the EU, and it is our commitment that once we leave the EU we will be able to enjoy that freedom to the fullest.
Is the Minister aware that there are a large number of small and medium-sized enterprises in Norfolk that are absolutely determined to increase their exports to new markets? These are dynamic, forward-thinking companies. Further to the question asked by my hon. Friend the Member for Dumfries and Galloway (Mr Jack), what progress is being made with the EU to ensure that we are actually able to negotiate bilateral treaties with third countries during the transition?
It has been the clear commitment of this Government that during the implementation period we will be able to take concrete steps forward in negotiating and signing new free trade agreements with countries outside the EU, although of course they would not come into force until after the end of the implementation period. My hon. Friend is right that leaving the customs union and forging a new trade policy is a chance to open up to British businesses new markets that they have not previously had access to. That will help consumers, increase investment and only lead to prosperity.
I thank my hon. Friend for her answers. India currently enjoys a growth rate of 7.5% and is on course to be the fifth biggest economy in the world. Given our cultural links and shared history with our friends in India, does my right hon. Friend—my hon. Friend; I am getting ahead of myself—agree that we have an opportunity to forge a trade deal with India, which will be excellent news for the UK and India?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. India represents a great opportunity in trade for Britain and British consumers and for our Indian counterparts. It is no coincidence that the Prime Minister made a point of visiting India early on in her premiership. The Department for International Trade has recently completed a trade audit with India to look at the particular barriers, and the joint economic and trade committee has decided to look at four sectors—food, life sciences, IT and services—to see where opportunities can be explored.
At a recent meeting in this place, the director general of the CBI highlighted that Germany sells 4.7 times more to China than the UK does. Therefore, being in a customs union does not prevent countries from extending trade with global partners. Does the Minister agree with her?
Well, being in the customs union also puts up prices for consumers in food, footwear and clothes. I am often surprised that the Opposition do not champion the benefits of leaving the customs union, which this Government are doing.
I do not often cite the International Trade Secretary favourably, but he was right when he was in China with the Prime Minister in February and accepted that a customs union with the EU “self-evidently” does not prevent us from increasing bilateral trade with countries such as China. What assessment have the Government made of the comparative benefits for the UK of being in a customs union and not being in a customs union when it comes to trade with non-EU countries?
As we have a trade deficit with the EU that is increasing—it is currently £70 billion—and a trade surplus with the rest of the world that is growing, our prospects for increased demand clearly come from the rest of the world, where some of the fastest-growing economies lie. Our future prosperity lies with trade both with the EU but, very importantly, with countries outside the EU.
Common Policy Frameworks: Devolved Administrations
The UK, Scottish and Welsh Governments have agreed a set of principles for how we approach the creation of common frameworks. We have made significant progress together over the past few months in our intensive discussions and analysis of what future frameworks should look like. The discussions have been guided by the principles agreed in October and report to the Joint Ministerial Committee on EU negotiations, which the Northern Ireland civil service also attends. I am sure that my hon. Friend will welcome the substantial amendment that we have tabled to clause 11 of the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill, under which the vast majority of powers returning from Brussels will flow directly to the devolved Administrations by default.
I do indeed welcome the amendment to the clause 11 that has appeared in the other place, and I am grateful for this opportunity to agree with my hon. Friend. Will he assure the House that Brexit, far from undermining the devolution settlement, will in fact lead to a significant increase in decision-making powers in Holyrood and the other devolved Administrations?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. He has pressed us hard on this issue already. The analysis that we published last Friday shows that we are looking at legislative frameworks only in a small minority of areas, and legislation may be required only in relation to a few specific elements. In Scotland, our current analysis indicates that 83 out of 107 powers returning from Brussels will pass directly to Edinburgh on exit. Similarly, the majority of powers for Wales and Northern Ireland will flow directly to Cardiff and Belfast.
It is interesting that it took the Government six months to come up with a single amendment to a Bill that threatens to destroy the devolution settlement, but their colleagues in the Scottish Tory party took less than a week to come up with 100 wrecking amendments to a Bill designed to protect the settlement.
Given that the question was about the mechanisms to agree common policy frameworks, will the Minister clarify what the procedure will be if the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill goes through with the Government’s amendment to clause 11? Does the amendment guarantee that common policy frameworks must be agreed by all four nations working as a partnership of equals, or does it still give the UK Government the power to impose the frameworks against the will of the devolved nations?
I am glad that the hon. Gentleman congratulates our Scottish colleagues on their work rate. We are, of course, still seeking consent for the Bill, and discussions to achieve that continue. The UK Government have responsibility for protecting the UK’s common market. We cannot have our ability to take action restricted, so we do not think it right for any devolved Administration effectively to have a veto on common frameworks. The UK and the devolved Administrations have always been clear that we will need common frameworks once we leave the EU to make it simple for businesses from different parts of the UK to trade with each other and to help the UK to fulfil its international obligations. The conversation is ongoing, and we will continue to work with the devolved Administrations to secure an outcome that is in the best interests of every part of the UK.
I note the criticism of the Scottish National party, the Scottish Labour party, the Scottish Liberal Democrats, the Scottish Greens, the Scottish Government, the Welsh Government and the Government of Northern Ireland—and the Government of the Republic of Ireland, for that matter—for all failing to fall into step with the United Kingdom Government. Is it not a fact that, despite promises of a partnership of equals, the Government’s preferred legislation will still allow a power grab by Westminster against the devolved nations? It looks like a power grab; it reads like a power grab; and it certainly smells like a power grab. Why will the Government not admit that it is a power grab?
It is absolutely clear that not a single power that the devolved Administrations currently have would be taken away or in any way affected by this Bill. We are talking about a significant increase in the powers, as they return from Brussels, for each of the devolved Administrations. I think that is something that all parties should welcome.
Yesterday, following the JMCEN, the First Minister of Scotland said of the Scottish Government:
“We can’t have our powers restricted or reduced”.
Does my hon. Friend recognise the irony in that, given that the only people who are willing to reduce the powers of the Scottish Parliament are those in the SNP, whose policy continues to be that those powers should remain in Brussels instead of coming back to the United Kingdom?
My hon. Friend makes an excellent point. I continue to hope that we will all be able to come together to ensure that the powers of each of the devolved Administrations are increased through this process and that we will all be able to work together to secure the prosperity of the UK—Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and England.
As the Secretary of State explained in December, we want to ensure that UK producers have the maximum freedom to trade with and operate in European markets and to let European producers do the same in the UK. At the same time, we have 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.
One third of British-grown lamb is exported, 90% of it to EU markets and much of it from my constituency. Can my hon. Friend reassure the House that access to these markets will continue to be friction-free and tariff-free post Brexit?
I will seek to provide that reassurance. As the Prime Minister outlined in her Mansion House speech, we want a deep and special partnership with the EU that allows the freest and most frictionless possible trade in goods, so we do not want the introduction of any tariffs or quotas, and we will want to ensure open markets for each other’s products, including agricultural products. We are confident that it is in our mutual interests to agree such an FTA.
Health and Social Care Services
We continue to work closely with the Department of Health and Social Care on delivering a smooth exit that works for the health and adult social care sectors. We value the huge contribution that EU nationals make to our public services. The agreement reached in principle in December and set out in our joint report will provide EU nationals with certainty about their rights.
With the likely effects on the workforce, data sharing, health research and drug access, does the Minister not agree that there should be a formal impact assessment of the effect on the health and social care sector of leaving the EU?
I remind the hon. Lady that the latest figures from NHS Digital show that there were over 3,200 more EU nationals working in the NHS in September 2017 than before the referendum result. Formal impact assessments will, of course, be produced in the normal way in connection with legislation.
UK Fishing Waters
We have been working closely with our colleagues. In England, the Marine Management Organisation is working with the Ministry of Defence and the Royal Navy, as well as the Border Force, the inshore fisheries and conservation authorities and other organisations to deliver fisheries protection and regulation, irrespective of whether an agreement has been reached when we leave the common fisheries policy.
Remainers and leavers are united in the opinion that the very worst aspect of our EU membership is the common fisheries policy. When we leave the European Union, we leave the common fisheries policy. On that day, the armada of EU trawlers that have been plundering Britain’s historic fishing grounds since 1973 are not going to be happy that their best years are behind them. Will the Minister ensure that the Royal Navy has the resources it needs to protect our sovereign waters and ensure the rebirth and renaissance of the British fishing industry?
My hon. Friend makes a serious point, with his usual force. We hope to reach an agreement in our mutual interests but, as the Prime Minister made clear in her Mansion House speech, we are leaving the common fisheries policy, and the UK will regain control over our domestic fisheries management rules and access to our waters. On enforcement, we will strengthen our surveillance capability and make sure that the appropriate capacity is in place to patrol our waters and enforce regulations, as required. This will be underpinned by a robust approach to risk-based assessments.
Thanks to the succinctness of colleagues, we got through every question.
In recent weeks, the Prime Minister has set out in more detail the two key pillars of our future partnership with the European Union. In Munich, she set out our clear desire to continue to work closely with our European partners on all aspects of our security policy, both internal and external. At Mansion House, she set out a clear path towards a comprehensive future economic partnership that recognises our unique starting point, our shared history and our common values, but that also respects the result of the referendum and ensures that as we leave the EU, we return control over our money, laws and borders to this House. In the coming months, we will be using the negotiations with the EU to deliver that.
Is my right hon. Friend able to reassure the House that, following next week’s EU Council meeting, the negotiations will be able to move beyond the transition arrangements?
On the implementation period, we have made significant progress in a number of areas, and although negotiations are still ongoing, we are confident that we can reach an agreement on that at next week’s EU Council. As my hon. Friend will be aware, article 50 is clear that the withdrawal agreement shall be agreed in line with the framework for the future relationship. We expect new European Union guidelines covering the negotiation of the terms of our future relationship to be agreed at the March Council, as set out by the EU in December. The Prime Minister has set out a vision of the breadth and depth of the future relationship in a number of speeches, and we hope that the EU guidelines will be sufficiently flexible to allow the EU to think creatively and imaginatively about our future partnership. Indeed, I say to him that at least half the effort in the past three months has been aimed at ensuring that we get those flexible, open and broad guidelines by addressing that very issue with the 27 that make up the Council, as well as the Commission.
In January last year, the Secretary of State stood at the Dispatch Box and assured the House:
“What we have come up with…is the idea of a comprehensive free trade agreement and a comprehensive customs agreement that will deliver the exact same benefits as we have”.——[Official Report, 24 January 2017; Vol. 620, c. 169.]
The Government stood by that assurance for 14 months, but then the Prime Minister’s Mansion House speech downgraded the Government’s ambitions to reduced access to European markets. What does the Secretary of State have to say for himself now?
I would say two things to the right hon. and learned Gentleman. Of course, in a negotiation, we go in with the highest possible aspirations, and that is what we intended. Incidentally, he should read his own policy, which I recall has the same aspirations—not very effectively. What we are about is getting the best possible outcome for this country and that is what we will do.
We have had a lot of non-answers this morning, if I may say so, Mr Speaker. In addition to downgrading the ambition for the final deal, the Government are also delaying vital legislation in this House. We were expecting to consider the trade and customs Bill this week on Report and Third Reading but, apparently, they have been parked until May because the Government fear losing key votes. There is no sign of other vital legislation coming down the track. This should have been a busy period in Parliament. General debates on the EU are always interesting, but meaningful votes are better. What is going on?
I thought that business questions came after this session, not now. However, if Opposition Members continue to try to thwart the will of the British people by blocking votes at every turn, that is their responsibility, not ours.
My hon. Friend is exactly right. As the Under-Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union, my hon. Friend the Member for Fareham (Suella Fernandes), said earlier, that is one of the great prizes that will come out of our departure from the Union. Indeed, I am rather sorry that the right hon. and learned Member for Holborn and St Pancras (Keir Starmer) did not raise the issue of a customs union explicitly. I know that he has difficulties with his own leadership on these matters, so I thought I should find a leader of whom he did approve, Mr Tony Blair, who said:
“So the way I look at it is that the Labour party position is: it’s pulled up its anchor and it’s left the kind of, what looks like a safe port, but actually isn’t, of being in the same position as the Government…but they’d be very unwise to drop anchor at the customs union, because the truth is that doesn’t really resolve your problems. By the way, it doesn’t really resolve your problems in Northern Ireland, either.”
I have had extensive discussions with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government about the shared prosperity fund. I have heard the hon. Lady’s point and will take it up with him.
My hon. Friend has become a relentless champion of the fisheries cause, as exemplified by his speech in the Chamber yesterday. He is a doughty champion of his constituents and of the fishing cause more widely. The Government share his impatience to leave the common fisheries policy. The view of the House has been made clear in questions on fisheries today. We will take that impatience to leave the CFP forward to our negotiations. As an independent coastal state, we will have control of our exclusive economic zone, be responsible for the management of natural marine resources in that area, and be able to control and manage access to UK waters, including fisheries.
We are not and we never have been. We have been clear from the start that we will protect all our workers’ rights.
The Government recognise the importance of supporting smaller farms, including family farms, as we leave the common agricultural policy. Our consultation paper sets out our detailed proposals for a gradual transition during which we continue direct payments while applying reductions—for example, starting with those in receipt of the highest payments. The Government are seeking views on the proposals and inviting all those affected to contribute to the discussion. I hope that my hon. Friend will ask his constituents to play their part.
While talking about Northern Ireland, the Under-Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union, the hon. Member for Fareham (Suella Fernandes), made the significant statement that the report by Mr Lars Karlsson did not meet the Government’s test of there being no physical border infrastructure. Will the Secretary of State repeat that statement and say that, in his view, the report does not meet that test?
That is an important question. I will certainly say to the right hon. Gentleman that it does not meet all our criteria. We want to maintain no physical structures at the border and no visible border—a very light-touch border. I remind him, however, that the border does exist as a financial border. There are different fiscal and excise policies north and south of the border, and we have to manage that now. We do so without the border being visible, and we will do that in the future.
If we leave the single market, we will also leave the passporting regime, as the Prime Minister has made clear. What steps is the Department taking to negotiate successor arrangements for UK financial services firms that access EU markets?
We are working closely with the Treasury to prepare for a comprehensive and ambitious arrangement on financial services. The Prime Minister gave an indication of that in her Mansion House speech, and we are very clear that it should be in the interests of both the UK and the EU to reach agreement in this area, not least to protect the financial stability of Europe.
I very much welcomed the Secretary of State’s most recent answer, but it would be helpful to understand whether all the Government’s requirements can be met without any infrastructure whatsoever. Last night, my hon. Friend the Member for Darlington (Jenny Chapman) made a generous offer when she said that she and I would take him to the Irish border so that he could see for himself how it works now. I absolutely support her in that offer, so will he join us on a visit to see how the border works?
I will not take the offer, I am afraid. The Under-Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union, my hon. Friend the Member for Fareham, referred to my previous look at the border. The purpose then—it was around the time of or just before the Belfast agreement—was to look at the issue of smuggling. [Interruption.] That was one occasion. This is an important issue—indeed, the very last conversation I had with Martin McGuinness was about exactly this—and I will do so when the time arises. The simple truth is that this border issue is resolvable if we have a free trade agreement and, if we have a customs agreement, it is resolvable by technical means as well.
May I applaud the Government’s practical and sensible decision regarding their intention to remain part of the European Aviation Safety Agency after Brexit? Can we expect similar sensible and practical discussions around open skies?
My hon. Friend can expect similar sensible discussions around open skies. I was reassured that President Tusk mentioned that aviation was one of the key things that he wishes to address.
There are several Airbus Beluga flights every day between manufacturing sites at Hamburg and Toulouse, and Chester. That complicated manufacturing and supply chain will be put at risk unless we get regulatory certainty soon. When will we get detailed regulatory certainty on manufacturing?
This is why we wish to move quickly to agree an implementation period and to discuss our future economic partnership. As we have said, we hope to be in a position to give certainty on our future relationship by the time we get to October.
I have to confess that Broxtowe does not have many fishing men or women in the constituency. Well, it has some, but their activities tend to be confined to the Beeston canal. The fisheries and agricultural policies of the European Union are important. Will the Secretary of State confirm that Norway has complete control over its agriculture and fisheries policy as a member of the European Free Trade Association and the European economic area, and a successful member of the single market?
Well, yes, but, of course, it is a rule taker. Its economy is substantially different from our own and it is outside the customs union. We just need to make sure that we follow a path that suits our economy, and that is the path set out by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister.
On what date were officials first instructed to begin drafting amendments to clause 11 of the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill?
We have been working on clause 11 of the Bill for some weeks and months; we have, of course, been discussing our approach with the devolved Administrations. It was always our ambition to achieve agreement on those amendments with the devolved Administrations.
Last week, I met the chief executive of the Hull and Humber chamber of commerce, Ian Kelly, who expressed support for the concept of exploring free port status for the Humber ports. Is this yet another opportunity that the Government will have after Brexit?
With my fellow Minister, my hon. Friend the Member for Wycombe (Mr Baker), I was pleased to meet my hon. Friend the Member for Cleethorpes (Martin Vickers) to discuss the issue with the local port authority from his constituency. Although this is a very interesting opportunity that flows from taking control of our trade policy, it is one of many options that the Government are considering.
May I ask the Secretary of State directly whether he has seen the investigation from the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy that apparently shows the disastrous effect that Brexit will have on manufacturing all over the country, but particularly in the north and the regions? Has he seen it, and, if he has, is he colluding to keep it private?
I do not recognise the document that the hon. Gentleman is talking about.
Will the Minister confirm that when we leave the European Union, it will be our policy to control our fishing waters, not to give free and unfettered access, as is currently demanded by the European Union?
As the Secretary of State and I have both said, we will be leaving the common fisheries policy and taking control of our waters. My experience of fishermen is that they do wish to access European markets. We need to approach the fisheries negotiation in the same constructive spirit as other aspects of our negotiations but, yes, we will be taking control of our waters.
Will the Government make it their policy to fully implement the international code of marketing of breastmilk substitutes following Brexit to protect our most vulnerable consumers from the predatory grasp of formula companies?
I did not quite hear the full detail of the hon. Lady’s question, but I can say that our focus on consumer protection is absolute. I spoke at the Which? conference earlier this week to show how we will put consumer rights at the heart of our approach to Brexit.
Ah! I have a choice between Bone and Hollobone. I call Mr Philip Hollobone.
Does the promotion of leaker-in-chief and Brexit-phobic Martin Selmayr to the EU’s top civil service post help or hinder our stance, or make no difference at all?
As a matter of diplomatic policy, we never comment on internal operations in other Governments.
We have had the Hollo; let’s have the Bone.
Thank you for saving me up, Mr Speaker.
Hon. Members know that we will leave this dreadful European Union superstate in 379 days, but they might not know that that will also mark the end of the Secretary of State’s grand tour of Europe. He is in a unique position to advise the British people about which countries like us and which do not so that we will know which countries to go to after we leave. Will the Secretary of State tell us the answer?
I am very tempted to give my hon. Friend the list from the last three weeks, which would take about five minutes. Two things have struck me while talking to all my European opposite numbers: all of them are sad that we are going; and they all want a strong future relationship. They all want to stay our friends and allies, and that is what we will deliver.
I have to notify the House, in accordance with the Royal Assent Act 1967, that the Queen has signified her Royal Assent to the following Acts:
Finance Act 2018
Supply and Appropriation (Anticipation and Adjustments) Act 2018
Space Industry Act 2018
City of London Corporation (Open Spaces) Act 2018.