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Exiting the European Union

Volume 640: debated on Thursday 3 May 2018

The Secretary of State was asked—


Clearly, great minds think alike today, Mr Speaker.

We have made significant progress in negotiating our exit by agreeing on the terms of a time-limited implementation period and locking down entire chapters on the financial settlement and citizens’ rights. Negotiations are ongoing. My officials are in Brussels this week, discussing a number of issues, including issues in the agreement such as Euratom, data and intellectual property rights and the future partnership. They are discussing how we should progress the future economic partnership and how we can progress the negotiations swiftly and in parallel. Northern Ireland—particularly human rights, state aid and, to some extent, agriculture—is also being discussed. Today, in Brussels my officials are discussing the future of the security partnership.

There is now a clear consensus in this Parliament that, at the very least, the United Kingdom should enter into a customs arrangement with the EU post Brexit, but after another indecisive Brexit Cabinet Sub-Committee meeting, the Government, after two years, have still failed to reach an agreed position on the customs issue. Every 42 days, the Government lose a Cabinet Minister, and the Secretary of State is 6:1 third favourite to be the next to go. Those are good odds, if you ask me. If the eventual will of the Cabinet and the Prime Minister is to seek a customs arrangement with the EU, will the Secretary of State resign?

I am not sure whether it is constitutional to discuss my resignation, but I will say that I do not take it to be imminent.

The simple truth is that this is a complex and important issue, which will affect our country for generations. It has a direct effect on the sensitive issue of Northern Ireland and the peace process there, which we are committed to protecting at all costs. It is therefore no surprise that it will take some time to nail down the policy.

Conservative Members are confident that my right hon. Friend will achieve the best possible outcome for this country in the negotiations and will continue to serve this country for a long time thereafter. Will he confirm, however, that his task will not be made any easier—indeed, it will be made considerably harder—by some of the amendments to the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill that have been passed in the other place? Does he agree that they will need to be repealed when they come back to this House and that the Lords will press them at their peril?

I have some much more pertinent things than that to frame, Mr Speaker.

My right hon. Friend is absolutely right. The European Union (Withdrawal) Bill is essential and is in the national interest. Some of the amendments passed in the upper House—and the upper House does a very important job, as a reviewing House, in improving the quality of legislation—could have the effect of undermining the negotiation. That is a matter of critical national interest, and we will have to deal with it accordingly.

Does the Secretary of State agree with the finding of the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee that there is currently no technological solution to the problem of the Irish border?

We have said categorically that there will be no physical infrastructure or related checks and controls at the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic. We have set out clear commitments in relation to the border and have put forward two potential customs models, to which the hon. Member for Paisley and Renfrewshire North (Gavin Newlands) alluded.

I have always said that the best solution to the Northern Ireland border issue will be reached through the deep and special partnership between the United Kingdom and the European Union, recognising the unique circumstances of Northern Ireland. As the European Commission has itself acknowledged, solutions to the border issue cannot be based on precedent.

Given the fankle that the Secretary of State and the Government have got themselves into in the other place, have not the EU negotiations now descended into a game show parody? The question is, is it “Deal or No Deal”, or has the whole situation just become a bit “Pointless”?

The hon. Lady clearly memorised her question before she heard my answer. A huge amount of incredibly important work is under way, most notably on Northern Ireland. I would not reduce that to a parody.

The Secretary of State will be aware that universities in the UK punch well above their weight in terms of research funding, not least the universities of Dundee and St Andrews. Given that universities across Europe are planning for the next framework programme, what plans has he to ensure that those in the UK will have access to the same levels of funding on 1 January 2021?

The Under-Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union, my hon. Friend the Member for Worcester (Mr Walker), has visited Dundee and is very much across that issue. We have given undertakings in relation to guaranteeing the funding of the universities, but if the hon. Gentleman is interested, he can certainly discuss this with me explicitly, so that we can deal directly with the issue of the universities in his constituency.

With what level of confidence does the Secretary of State estimate the probability of our leaving the customs union on 31 December 2020?

Let me make a serious point here. The issue of leaving the customs union plays directly to the issue of how we manage our future export and trade arrangements. Almost 60% of our exports are now going to the rest of the world. That is not surprising because both the International Monetary Fund and the European Commission itself have said that the vast majority of growth in world trade will come from outside the European Union. It is our explicit aim to make the most of that, and that means we have to leave the customs union.

Will the Secretary of State set out for the House the characteristics of the customs partnership that he is discussing with his right hon. Friends, and given that according to reports that is the Prime Minister’s preferred way forward, what are the reasons for holding back on it?

There are two models. The streamline model essentially uses conventional techniques used around the rest of the world, including electronic pre-notification, the use of authorised economic operators and a whole series of other technical mechanisms. The alternative proposal—the new customs partnership—is a brand-new idea; it has never been tested anywhere in the world and involves, essentially, charging the common external tariff when goods enter the country and then rebating that. Both approaches have merits and virtues, and both have some drawbacks, and that is why we are taking our time over this discussion.

Given that membership of the European Union necessarily means being in the single market and the customs union under the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice, does my right hon. Friend agree that, to keep faith with the British people, this Parliament has a positive duty to ensure that upon withdrawal we cease to be subject to all those arrangements?

My right hon. Friend is correct: what we are doing, after all, is carrying out the judgment of the referendum, which was to take back control of borders, laws and money. During the referendum, both sides made it very plain that real removal from the EU means real removal from the customs union and the single market.

They might be over-represented in the Secretary of State’s ministerial team, but supporters of the European Research Group constitute less than 10% of the membership of this House. Why are the Government putting their red lines before the interests of the country?

I wish the hon. Gentleman a happy May Day this week, but he is basically putting—how can I express this in parliamentary language?—a non-fact in front of the House. The case is very simple: the Government are deciding on the future customs arrangements on the basis of the best interests of the United Kingdom.

I am grateful for the right hon. Gentleman’s May Day wishes, and I am sure that he will be celebrating as well. The Engineering Employers Federation says that being outside a customs union

“would condemn the manufacturing sector to a painful and costly Brexit.”

Does he really think that is a price worth paying to keep the ERG happy?

I am not going to take lectures from a party that has had 11 different positions on this so far and whose own—[Interruption.] I am speaking through the Speaker, thank you very much. And a party whose own policy has been roundly criticised in singularly unparliamentary language by its own shadow Secretary of State for International Trade, the hon. Member for Brent North (Barry Gardiner).

Space Industry

The UK space industry is a global success story, leveraging our expertise and talent to deliver ground-breaking products and services, and we want a UK space industry that captures 10% of the global market by 2030, creating 100,000 new jobs—astronomical levels! Ministers from across the Government have carried out extensive engagement on EU exit, and this has included engagement with the space sector. We have been clear in our desire to continue our involvement in EU space programmes, including Galileo, provided that the UK and UK companies can continue to participate on a fair and open basis.

I thank the Minister for her answer. Whatever the future holds for us in the UK, we are going to have to play to all our strengths, intellectually and economically. She will be aware that Her Majesty’s Government are currently considering the northern part of Sutherland in my constituency as a possible space launch site. Jobs do not exactly grow on the trees in that part of the world, and I would warmly encourage the Government to go down the route of developing the site there. It would mean a great deal to me, to my constituents and to an area that needs the help.

The hon. Gentleman raises a crucial point relating to the development of our domestic space strategy, and Scotland has a strong heritage in the sector. For example, Glasgow has built more satellites in the past two years compared with other European cities, and we also have the Prestwick aerospace park, Strathclyde University and many companies breaking new frontiers. We want the UK to reach space from our own shores, and we recently passed the Space Industry Act 2018, which is the first key step towards licensing the first missions from the UK into space. Brexit will not pose a barrier to our journey into space.

The ancients named the planets after their gods. In affirming that the United Kingdom will continue to lead geo-galactic enterprise and innovation across the continent, will the Minister explain how, goddess-like, she changed her name and tell us what role she intends to play in promoting the United Kingdom in this place, in the Government, on earth and across the cosmos?

My right hon. Friend sets the bar very high. I thank him for his question, for his stellar contributions and his work with the space sector, and particularly for his work on the Space Industry Act, which, as I said, has paved the way for our domestic policy. His reference to my goddess-like status is slightly exaggerated, but I would expect nothing less of him. Even in this space age, it takes a brave woman to follow tradition and change her name following marriage. He is right to suggest that the UK’s historic strength in the space sector will be secured as we leave the European Union and develop our own new partnership with our allies across the channel. It is in that spirit, boldly going where no woman has gone before, that I can tell the House from the Dispatch Box that, as of today, I am pleased to be known as Suella Braverman.

We are delighted for the hon. Lady, and we congratulate her on that. I would also say that, in the 25 years that I have known the right hon. Member for South Holland and The Deepings (Mr Hayes), he has always inhabited his own galaxy and been the most shining star in it.

I should like to add my congratulations to the Minister. With regard to the Galileo programme, it is reported that the procurement process will freeze out UK participation in the programme. I know that the Science Minister met representatives of the European Space Agency on Monday. Will the Minister provide an update on efforts to freeze the procurement and sort out this mess, because 400 jobs in this country are dependent on getting it sorted out?

I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his question. The Government have been clear that there is mutual benefit in the UK’s involvement in Galileo, and we are working hard with our European partners to deliver this outcome. However, as the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy made clear in his letter to Ministers in the other 27 EU member states on 19 April, that involvement must be on terms that the UK considers acceptable, including being fair and open to the UK and UK industry. That is why the Prime Minister has announced that she will task engineering and space experts in the UK to develop options for a British global navigation satellite system that would safeguard our position in terms of navigation and timing information.

Successful space businesses such as Airbus provide thousands of jobs in the UK, and their success has been built on an open, free supply-chain system with the EU. How will the Minister obtain the agreement of EU partners for the continuation of that system?

There has been considerable engagement with Airbus. The Under-Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union, my hon. Friend the Member for Worcester (Mr Walker), has met representatives from Airbus, and I have visited its site in Portsmouth. We want full access to Galileo, including the crucial secure elements that will help to guide British missiles should they be needed to keep us all safe. This is a commercial matter for Airbus, so it would be inappropriate for me to comment, but I can say that the Government have been in close contact and will continue to work with the entire UK space sector to do all that we can to ensure that the UK is able to contribute fully to the Galileo programme.

Northern Ireland/Republic of Ireland Border

3. What recent progress he has made on securing an agreement with his EU counterparts on border arrangements between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland after the UK leaves the EU. (905110)

Officials are undertaking an intensive work programme with the European Commission and the Republic of Ireland to negotiate in detail all the issues and scenarios set out in the joint report at the March Council. As the Government made clear in the joint report published in December, we are absolutely committed to avoiding a hard border between Northern Ireland and Ireland, including any related checks and controls, as the UK leaves the EU.

At the previous DExEU questions, my hon. Friend the Member for Darlington (Jenny Chapman) and I generously invited the Secretary of State to visit Northern Ireland. It was a bitter blow that he refused our offer, but we were pleased that he did manage to visit. Will he or the Minister tell us what people on the border thought about his proposed solution?

As the hon. Lady acknowledged, the Secretary of State did indeed visit Northern Ireland last week, as did the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster and Minister. I have also visited on several occasions, including visiting the border and speaking to cross-border businesses. Everyone understands the importance of having frictionless movement of people and goods across that border. That is the aspiration of both the UK and the Republic of Ireland, and it is something that we will continue to pursue through the talks.

Monsieur Barnier was at the border last week, and I am afraid that his diplomatic skills were found wanting yet again. Does the Minister agree that Monsieur Barnier should, in the intensive discussions that he is having, take some time to look at the massive hole that will be left in the EU budget after we leave and perhaps turn his mind to the political problems that there will be in Hungary, France, Germany, Poland and elsewhere, with the far right turning away from Europe, after he is done with ours?

The hon. Gentleman makes a powerful point. We need to ensure that we progress the negotiations in the interests of the United Kingdom and have a strong, friendly partnership with the EU after we leave. That should be our focus, and issues relating to the Irish border are a key part of that engagement.

It is now over 15 months since the Prime Minister promised that the Government would as a priority bring forward a practical solution to the question of the Irish border. Will the Minister enlighten us on when we might get that practical solution to consider?

We have put forward several proposals, which we are still in the process of discussing with the Commission. It is vital that we have agreed on a number of key areas in the joint report, such as the common travel area, the single electricity market and funding in Ireland, and it is right that we get the talks right so that the right language is written into law at the end of the process for both sides to follow.

The Minister and his colleagues are good at telling us what the Irish border will not be, but we are still no closer to having any idea about what it will be. This question could easily have been linked to the previous one, because the Government’s proposed solution still belongs in the realms of science fiction. If the Minister cannot tell us when we will get to see the practical solution that was promised as a priority, will he at least give us an end date—an absolute guarantee—by which, as a matter of confidence, the Government will have brought forward something that is practical or, at the very least, credible?

As I said, the talks are continuing, and we are seeking to reach agreement on the full text of the withdrawal agreement by October this year, as has been set out many times by both the Commission and the UK Government.

Has any expenditure been made or contracts entered into by any Department in relation to any equipment that might constitute monitoring at the border between Ireland and Northern Ireland?

We have been absolutely clear about there being no infrastructure at the border, so I am pretty certain that the answer to the right hon. Gentleman’s question is no.

Sixty Conservative MPs are attempting to determine the outcome of this decision. They are attempting to bully the Prime Minister into their preferred option. Will the Minister, who I know approaches this issue with particular care, take this opportunity to explain to his colleagues why their preferred option, the so-called “max fac” or maximum facilitation option, is not suitable?

I simply do not recognise the hon. Lady’s characterisation of the discussion. The reality is that we have put forward two options in the customs paper, both of which are designed to facilitate the most frictionless border between Northern Ireland and the Republic. The max fac option, combined with issues such as the local trade exemption, could provide a solution in that respect. As the Secretary of State has said, both options are still under consideration.

Non-UK EU Citizens

5. What progress has been made during negotiations on agreeing new arrangements for the rights of non-UK EU citizens after the UK leaves the EU. (905115)

As hon. Members will be aware, we have reached a reciprocal agreement with the EU that safeguards the rights of EU citizens in the UK and the rights of UK nationals in the EU. This agreement, highlighted green in the withdrawal agreement, means that citizens who are resident before the end of the implementation period will be able to continue living their lives broadly as they do now. The Government are now focusing on the successful domestic implementation of this agreement, and we are seeking further details on the steps that member states are taking to protect the status of UK nationals resident in the EU.

Following yesterday’s debate about the Windrush generation and the Prime Minister’s decision to hide the whole business behind a cloak of secrecy, what plans does the Minister have to talk to the Home Secretary to ensure that the process to deal with EU nationals will be open and transparent, and to ensure that their right to remain is fully protected, so they do not fear removal at some unknown date in the future?

Like the new Home Secretary’s parents, my parents came to this country in the 1960s as immigrants from Commonwealth countries, and they too could have been caught up in the Windrush episode. I would not be standing here as a proud Member of the Conservative party and of this Government if I had any doubt whatsoever about the commitment of the Prime Minister and the Government to resolving this issue quickly and ensuring it is not repeated.

It is with that confidence that we are learning and implementing the settlement scheme for EU citizens, which will be efficient, simple, user friendly and reliable, to ensure that the rights of EU citizens post Brexit are safeguarded rigorously and robustly.

I admire the Minister’s confidence, but I wonder whether she has had conversations with her colleagues in the Home Office, which has now declared an amnesty on Commonwealth citizens and is having to implement a helpline and support for the Windrush generation. That will extend to others, and the Home Office is also having to introduce, by November, the new fast-route EU citizens settlement programme. Does she seriously believe that, practically, the Home Office and the Government have the resources to deal with this, and can she reassure my constituents?

The UK has been clear that EU citizens in the UK will be able to enforce their rights directly in UK courts, and that will be fully incorporated into UK law in the withdrawal agreement. We have also agreed there will be an independent monitoring authority to oversee the implementation and application of citizens’ rights and of that agreement in the UK. The authority will be able to receive complaints from EU citizens and their family members, and it will be able to conduct inquiries. Those robust mechanisms, rights and frameworks will be given legal status in the withdrawal agreement and in the implementation Bill.

My constituent is currently working on a five-year project in France, and his Bulgarian wife is staying with him. What is her status, post Brexit, to return to stay in the UK with her husband and their two children?

As an EU national married to a UK citizen, if she has been here for the requisite number of years before the implementation period, her rights will be broadly the same as they are now. We want to ensure that she will have the same abilities and rights as she is able to enjoy today.

Fisheries Policy

8. What discussions he has had with the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs on negotiations on fisheries policy for when the UK leaves the EU. (905123)

We continue to have regular conversations with ministerial colleagues across Government on all aspects of exiting the EU, including on fisheries policy. The Government have been absolutely clear that when we leave the EU, and at the end of the implementation period, we will be an independent coastal state, managing our fisheries and controlling access to our own waters.

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his response. He will have seen the joint statement released by the Scottish Fishermen’s Federation and the National Federation of Fishermen’s Organisations earlier this week. Will he join me in backing the clear, clean and achievable goals that the UK-wide fishing industry is united behind?

I can tell my hon. Friend that I have read that statement with care and that we do share its ambitions. Ministers fully understand and recognise that fishing is of totemic importance to not just the fishing community but the UK as a whole—this goes way beyond its contribution to GDP. We take that knowledge forward as we go into these negotiations, working to deliver that status as an independent coastal state, with all that that entails.

In order to demonstrate that Scottish fisherman will not be treated as expendable once again, have the Minister’s discussions focused on control of Scotland’s waters being given wholly to Scotland?

As we go forward, we will continue to work with the devolved Governments to ensure that there is a settlement that works for the whole of the United Kingdom.

Notwithstanding what the Minister has just said and his colleagues have repeated many times, there are lingering doubts among the fishing community in my constituency and in neighbouring Grimsby. Can he give an absolute assurance that no further concessions will be made?

My hon. Friend and my hon. Friend the Member for Banff and Buchan (David Duguid) are both fierce champions of the fishing cause, and I am sure that they will continue to hold us to account. I say to them that the Government fully understand and recognise the totemic importance of fishing. We will take that understanding forward to negotiations, as we work to become an independent coastal state. I very much look forward to my colleagues on this side of the House perhaps one day standing here as fisheries Ministers, operating our own independent fishing policy.

I know my hon. Friend the Minister will recognise that the common fisheries policy has been a disaster for the south-west fishing industry over the past 45 years—it has declined to the point where even if quotas were repatriated, we probably could not actually use them. Will he reassure me that in his discussions with his colleagues he is making sure that we will rebuild the industry, providing the support to do so, to ensure that when powers are repatriated we can actually take advantage of them?

We will certainly work to take advantage of new powers as they are repatriated. After we have left the common fisheries policy, its two main pillars—mutual access to waters and the EU allocation of quota—will fall away. Once we have taken back control, I look forward to the regrowth of our own fishing industry, particularly as I originally hail from Cornwall.

Customs Union

9. What assessment he has made of the effect of the UK remaining in the customs union on its ability to negotiate new free trade agreements throughout the world after the UK leaves the EU. (905126)

We have been clear that we are leaving the EU’s customs union and single market in March 2019. Only by doing so will we be able to set out own tariffs on goods, deliver our own trade policy with the rest of the world and open markets for UK businesses. All of these are golden opportunities for our nation that will enable more growth, prosperity and jobs—I am sure my hon. Friend will be looking forward to this opportunity.

I am delighted I have got the services of the dynamic new young Minister. I am very grateful to her for reinforcing the point that if we stay in the customs union, that will mean that Brussels retains control of our trade policy. Will she tell the House and explain to me why, given that we have the sixth largest economy in the world and English is the language of international trade, some people are so nervous about the UK having its own trade policy?

My hon. Friend makes an excellent point. We have so many strengths in our country, which make us well placed for our future outside the EU and its customs union. Some 90% of future global growth will come from outside the EU. We had record high foreign direct investment last year and exports up by 10%, with unemployment down, inflation down and growth up—all of this is despite Brexit.

Does the Minister agree with this from the Institute for Fiscal Studies:

“Get a sense of scale, throw in some simple arithmetic and sprinkle a basic understanding of trade and it is obvious that the economic costs of leaving the customs union must outweigh the benefits”?

Will the excellent Minister explain something to me? Say we have our own trade policy with Nigeria, or another developing country, and its food is coming into this country with no tariff. If that country is suddenly told that it has to pay a tariff of 30%, 40% or 50% because that is the EU external policy, but that it might get that back at some time in future, is this new customs partnership a good idea?

The Government set out the two options in our policy papers last summer, and one of those options will be adopted in due course. Free trade has brought unprecedented prosperity to some of the poorest countries in the world. My hon. Friend referred to developing countries: free trade has lifted more than 1 billion people out of poverty by increasing choice and lowering prices for consumers. It will enable us to forge trade agreements with some of the poorer countries in the world, thereby incentivising them to capitalise and industrialise, and to be sustainable and not dependent on aid. This is a great opportunity.

Is not the reality that trade deals with, for instance, the US and Australia would require concessions on regulatory standards that would create impenetrable trade barriers with Europe? When it comes to trade policy, surely one bird in the hand is better than two in the bush.

By leaving the single market, we will regain control of our laws and regulatory regimes, which will enable us—Parliament and the Government—to set the terms on which we negotiate any future trade deals with other countries. Let us be clear: we have a trade surplus with countries outside the EU. There is excessive and impressive demand for British goods out there. We need to open our markets so that our businesses can expand their sales and capitalise on this opportunity.

It is one thing to negotiate free trade agreements—I very much support that ambition—but it is a completely different thing to benefit from them. To do that, we need a much stronger trade network around the world, particularly throughout Africa, where that network is potentially declining. Will my hon. Friend speak to the Chancellor and the Secretary of State for International Trade to ensure that our international trade network is enhanced and not diminished?

My hon. Friend raises an important point. All those who work at the Department for International Trade are highly focused on how we can forge better links with new markets and new partners through our trade envoys and working groups. This heralds a new beginning and new opportunities for our country; I cannot understand why the Opposition will not welcome it.

Research into the Government’s own EU exit analysis was carried out last month by the House of Commons Library, and it suggests that leaving the customs union and ruling out a new comprehensive EU-UK customs union will create new customs barriers that could cost the economy billions over the next 15 years. Does the Minister accept that assessment? If not, what does the Department now put the cost at?

That analysis does not represent Government policy—it does not assess the Government’s preferred objectives. We are working towards a free trade agreement with the EU that will be as frictionless as possible, so that our businesses can continue to trade with and sell their goods into the EU, and vice versa. That is going to be good for the economy, good for the hon. Gentleman’s constituents and good for the country.

Farming Policy

12. What discussions he has had with the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs on negotiations on farming policy for when the UK leaves the EU. (905130)

We continue to work closely with Ministers and officials from all Departments, including DEFRA, to further our preparations for our exit from and new partnership with the EU. The Secretary of State continues to have regular conversations with his Cabinet colleagues on all aspects of exiting the EU, including agriculture. All Ministers are clear that leaving the EU means leaving the common agricultural policy and making our own decisions for our own farmers’ benefit, for the first time in around half a century.

I am grateful to the Minister for that answer. I regularly meet farmers in Corby and east Northamptonshire who are excited about the opportunities ahead to redefine and reshape our agricultural policy. Can the Minister confirm that they will be directly involved in that process?

Yes, I can. If we are to redesign our country’s agricultural policy, it is of course right that we seek input from our farmers. Our consultation paper, which can be found on the Government’s website, seeks views on plans for a more dynamic and self-reliant agriculture industry, as we continue to compete on the world stage, supplying products of the highest standards to the domestic market and increasing exports. I strongly encourage not only farmers but everyone who cares about the food that we eat to contribute before the consultation closes next Tuesday.

The food and farming industry is already facing challenges in recruiting the skills and labour needed to keep that sector going. What will the Government do to ensure that those skills are there and that the labour force is there through and beyond Brexit?

We are taking back control of our borders, but we should always welcome people who come here to contribute to our economy. We have asked the independent Migration Advisory Committee to look carefully at how we can reach this goal. Its report is due in September and it would be wrong to pre-empt it.

When will we see a seasonal agricultural workers scheme for UK farmers to ensure that our crops do not rot in the ground?

At the moment, farmers have access to European economic area migrants. I look forward to the Migration Advisory Committee’s report. The Home Office is of course perfectly capable of instituting a seasonal workers scheme, should one be necessary, in due course.

Internal UK Trade

13. What steps his Department is taking during negotiations on the UK leaving the EU to maintain the integrity of the UK. (905131)

In December, the joint report of the UK and the EU reached a balanced set of commitments that reiterate both our commitment to avoiding a hard border and our clear position on preserving the constitutional and economic integrity of the United Kingdom. Internal trade between Northern Ireland and Great Britain is of critical importance to Northern Ireland’s economy. In 2015, goods sold from Northern Ireland to the rest of the UK stood at £10.7 billion.

It is essential to the integrity of the United Kingdom that there are no barriers to internal UK trade, including between Northern Ireland and our biggest market, Great Britain. Can the Minister confirm that, for this Government, this is an absolute red line in all of the negotiations?

I agree with the hon. Lady: we have absolutely set out that we will not accept any internal barriers within the internal market of the United Kingdom. It is important, in that respect, that the UK Government have been able to reach a deal with the Welsh Government to work together to make sure that we are able to implement frameworks. I welcome the fact that that deal is open to the Scottish Government and to a restored Executive in Northern Ireland.

Does not the integrity of the UK depend on the Good Friday agreement and the Good Friday agreement on the consent of the people on both sides of the border, both of whom voted to remain in the European Union? That consent, therefore, is dependent on an open border, and that open border can be maintained only by our continuing membership of the customs union. Is not that the irresistible logic of the position?

No, it is not, and the hon. Gentleman’s former party leader has pointed out that the customs union is not the determinant of addressing the border. We are very clear in our commitments, both to the Good Friday agreement and to there being no hard border on the island of Ireland, and we are also very clear in our commitment to the principle of consent, to which he referred. That principle of consent must be respected by both sides in this negotiation.

Remarkable self-denying ordinance on which I congratulate the hon. Lady, but we may hear from her at a later point in our proceedings.

Topical Questions

Since the last departmental questions, the Government have been making progress towards our aim of securing a deep and special partnership with the European Union. Our aims and objectives for this agreement our clear: respecting the referendum and the need to keep control of our borders, money and laws; ensuring that our relationship endures and does not need to be constantly revisited; protecting jobs and security; demonstrating our values and the kind of country that we want to be; and strengthening the union of nations and the people who make up the United Kingdom.

The joint report in December talked about a mapping exercise with regard to cross-border co-operation. I asked the Prime Minister, and I have written to her, to understand what this mapping exercise demonstrated. I have had a letter this week from Minister Baker telling me that I cannot have the list of those 140 areas in the mapping exercise. Mr Speaker, what do I, as a Member of this Parliament, have to do to understand what those 140 areas are? I could go to the EU, I could go to the Irish Government, and I could perhaps even stand on the border and conduct my own survey. It is absolutely unacceptable for me as a Member of Parliament to receive this letter.

The hon. Lady should have kept up with some of the events that have been happening over the past week or two. The Chairman of the Brexit Committee wrote to me and asked—and indeed asked me again when I appeared in front of the Committee—whether the Committee could have that list and the support for it. We have said, yes, as soon as it is complete, as soon as we have cleared the release of it with the European Union—which has, by the way, turned down freedom of information requests on the subject. That list will be available as soon as it is complete.

T3. As this country will be an independent coastal state managing and controlling access to our own waters with effect from 1 January 2021, is the Minister able to provide an assurance that such access for EU fishing vessels will not be part of the Brexit negotiations? (905134)

My hon. Friend will have heard my earlier answer. We are clear that future negotiations over trade must be separate from negotiations over access to waters. There would be no precedent to link the two, and we will continue to take this position in our negotiations on the economic partnership with the EU. The joint statement from the SFF and NFFO that was mentioned earlier made the normal position clear—that total allowable catches, quota shares and access arrangements should ordinarily be agreed through annual bilateral agreements.

When I was reading the Sunday newspapers over the weekend, I was not entirely sure that we would see the Secretary of State in his place today. This morning he says that his resignation is not imminent—I am not sure what message he is sending to his colleagues—but can I assume that his presence signals that he thinks that he won the argument with the Prime Minister yesterday and that a customs partnership with the EU has now been taken off the table?

My first advice to the right hon. and learned Gentleman is not to believe everything he reads in the papers—even about himself, let alone about me. Secondly, I made it clear earlier that the Government are spending some time, rightly, on ensuring that we get absolutely the best outcome that will preserve the United Kingdom without creating internal borders, and that will deliver the best outcome in retaining the trade that we have with the European Union and opening up opportunities with the rest of the world. That is why we are taking time to get this right.

Let me take that discussion to Northern Ireland. In December the Prime Minister made a solemn promise that there would be no hard border in Northern Ireland. That was spelled out as no infrastructure, no checks and no controls, and I know that the Secretary of State and his team take that seriously. If, on serious and sober analysis, the only conclusion is that delivering on that solemn promise requires the UK to be in a customs union with the EU, does the Secretary of State agree that that would therefore be the only position for any responsible Government to take?

The Under-Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union, my hon. Friend the Member for Worcester (Mr Walker), gave Labour Members some guidance on that earlier when he cited their former leader, who has taken a lot of interest in this issue, bearing in mind that he oversaw the last part of the peace process and takes it very seriously. In March this year, he said of the customs union:

“the truth is that doesn’t really resolve your problems. By the way, it doesn’t really resolve your problems in Northern Ireland, either.”

David Trimble, who was made Nobel laureate for his part in the peace process, also said that in pretty stark terms.

T7. As the Minister will know, one of the opportunities of leaving the EU is the chance to explore potential UK membership of the Trans-Pacific partnership. Can my hon. Friend confirm that the exit deal that the Government are seeking to negotiate with the UK will allow that? (905140)

As we design our independent trade policy, we have the chance to explore many options all around the world. Asia-Pacific is a region of great economic importance for the UK, and the Department for International Trade is closely following the progress of the comprehensive and progressive Trans-Pacific partnership.

T2. The United Kingdom will have no role in approving new drugs through the European Medicines Agency during the transition period. Will the Minister confirm that that will have no impact on regulatory standards or patients’ access to vital medicines? (905133)

I do not agree with the hon. Gentleman’s first statement. We have negotiated to ensure that we will be able to continue to work with agencies including the EMA during the implementation period. The EU has included specific language about being able to call on UK expertise, so we intend to continue co-ordination. As the Prime Minister has also set out, we are seeking, as part of our future partnership, a strong relationship with the EMA beyond our exit from the EU.

Will my right hon. Friend confirm that when the so-called WAIB—withdrawal agreement and implementation Bill—becomes law, we will be committing ourselves to a financial settlement that will be binding in international law? Does he therefore agree that we should seek to obtain as much detail as possible in the political declaration while we still have that leverage?

Of course, what will be binding in international law is what is written into the withdrawal agreement, and I would therefore expect Parliament to have views on what conditions should be in it.

T4. As we have heard, 60 Tory MPs have delivered an ultimatum to the Prime Minister threatening to bring down the Government—although I do not think the Government need any assistance in that regard at the moment—if they continue to seek a customs partnership with the EU countries. When did the Secretary of State first become aware of that document? (905135)

I wonder whether the Secretary of State has ever reflected on the fact that if David Cameron had kept his promise of staying in office, implementing the views of the British people and triggering article 50 immediately after the referendum, we would nearly be coming out of the EU now, and I would probably be arranging having a statue of David Cameron in my constituency. Does the Secretary of State get the feeling that the public are fed up with how long this process is taking and wish we could just get on with it a bit quicker?

I have been asked today to give careers advice to myself and now to past Prime Ministers, from which I will demur. Had we triggered article 50 immediately after the referendum, we would have had to absorb 40 years of European Union law into British law almost in a geological nanosecond—a very, very short time. It would not have been easy to do. Although my hon. Friend is right about the departure date, it might have been a lot more uncomfortable than it is going to be.

T5. Currently, less than 1% of our non-EU exports and imports are manually checked. That means that over 99% are processed with technological and electronic solutions. Does the Secretary of State agree that this is the way forward post Brexit, despite the cynicism of some, including about the Irish border? (905136)

The hon. Lady makes a very important point. It is important that we continue to look at all the investment in technology that we can make to ensure that our trade with the wider world is as frictionless as possible, and we need to look at these solutions with regard to the deal between the UK and the EU as well.

The amendments passed in the other place on Monday night were those of a wrecking Chamber and not a revising Chamber, were they not?

No; the House of Lords is a revising Chamber and it does a very important job that I have, in my past, depended on from time to time. I agree, however, that some of the proposals—for example, to put timetables into the negotiating arrangements, at which point control is taken away from the Government—would be a gift to the negotiators on the other side.

T6. The3million is an organisation representing EU nationals living in the UK. Last month it submitted 128 questions to the Home Office concerning the UK Government’s proposals for settled status. I realise that things are pretty chaotic at the Home Office at the moment, but what discussions has the Minister’s Department had about responding to the very real concerns of the 3 million EU nationals living in the United Kingdom? (905137)

The hon. and learned Lady raises an important point. There has been extensive consultation, dialogue and discussion between Ministers at the Department for Exiting the EU and diaspora groups. I met members of the Romanian diaspora at the Romanian embassy, and the Under-Secretary, my hon. Friend the Member for Worcester (Mr Walker), has recently met members of the French diaspora. We have this engagement, and it is important. People can rest assured that the position of EU citizens will be safeguarded through the legislation due to come through Parliament in the autumn.

I declare an interest as a trustee of the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine. Post-doctoral research fellows are a vital part of this country’s research base, and they come from all over the world, including from the EU. What discussions are my right hon. and hon. Friends having with the Home Office to ensure that our future immigration policy is based not on salaries—post-docs often receive pretty miserly salaries compared with their qualifications—but on the skills that we really need in this country?

I regularly attend the higher education and science working group chaired by my hon. Friend the Minister for Universities, Science, Research and Innovation, where we discuss these issues, and we have been feeding into the work being done by the Migration Advisory Committee and the Home Office on that front. The Prime Minister made it clear that we will want to continue to attract key talent from around the world, and Britain will want to continue to be a scientific superpower in the years to come. It is essential that we get our policies right on this.

The Government’s own analysis shows that if we leave the customs union, unemployment in the north-east will go up to 200,000, so why did the Secretary of State argue against a customs partnership yesterday afternoon and what is he going to say to the 160,000 people who lose their jobs?

I have two points in response to that. First, the hon. Lady is presuming what my arguments were yesterday at the Cabinet Committee. As far as I am aware, the minutes are not published. Secondly, what she refers to is not Government policy or indeed Government estimates.

Jaguar Land Rover in my constituency employs 9,000 people. Will the Minister assure me that securing the supply chain will be at the centre of our post-Brexit trading relationship with the EU and beyond?

Of course I can give my hon. Friend that assurance. We are seeking a deep and special partnership with the European Union, including trade that moves with the least possible friction. I look forward to Jaguar Land Rover’s future success.

To follow on from the previous question, the thousands of families in my constituency whose income and prosperity rely on the Ford engine plant are also deeply alarmed about the refusal to remain in the customs union. A large number of parts come in from Europe to create the engines built in Bridgend, which are then exported to Europe. How does the Minister envisage those supply chain needs and Ford’s just-in-time policy being met?

Both sides have agreed that we wish to have tariff-free access to each other’s markets. The hon. Member for Belfast South (Emma Little Pengelly) referred to the tiny proportion of our imports that need to be physically checked. With a degree of mutual recognition, which has been outlined by the Prime Minister, these things can be delivered through the terms of our future economic partnership, and I am confident that it is in both sides’ interest to ensure that supply chains can continue uninterrupted.

Businesses in my constituency tell me that they need the preferential trade rates with 88% of countries in the rest of the world that they currently enjoy as part of the EU. How do the Government propose to equal or exceed those preferential rates before our businesses lose contracts to EU competitors?

The EU currently has many international agreements with third countries, and it is the policy, agreed in the withdrawal agreement, that we will adopt a continuity approach, so that all those international agreements to which we are party by virtue of our membership of the EU will continue to apply after we leave the EU.

In Corby and East Northamptonshire, people voted overwhelmingly to leave and therefore to control our own borders, spend our own money, make our own laws and determine our own trade destiny. At this stage, how would my right hon. Friend judge the negotiations against that scorecard?

What my hon. Friend has described is the exact purpose of the negotiations. We are seeking to retain as much as possible of the existing European market, and at the same time open up all the rest of the world. If I may, I will refer back to the question asked earlier about Ford. One of the companies that we visited in North America, on the Canadian border, was Ford, because it is state of the art in dealing with cross-border component traffic to support car manufacturing. It is very good at that, and it will be in Europe too.

Can the Secretary of State explain to the House how the transitional arrangements he has negotiated for our fishing industry will work in relation to the renegotiation of the EU-Norway-Faroes deal on mackerel? Can he tell the House who will lead the negotiations and when that will happen?

During the implementation period, for the whole of 2019, we will apply the agreement reached at the Fisheries Council in December 2018, where we would be fully involved in that agreement as a former member state. For the 2019 negotiations, which apply to 2020, we have agreed a process of bilateral consultation between the UK and the EU ahead of negotiations with coastal states in the Fisheries Council. From December 2020, we will be negotiating fishing opportunities as an independent coastal state.

In my constituency, there are three universities and tens of thousands of students. We could remain a member of Erasmus+ when we leave the EU. Will the Minister confirm that we will do so?

The Prime Minister has set out that she believes there are great opportunities to continue to co-operate together on education and culture. We will of course need to look at what the next stage of the Erasmus+ scheme covers, but we see enormous benefits from it for students from the UK, so it is an area in which we are likely to seek further collaboration.

British Governments have repeatedly, and quite rightly, gone to European Council meetings and come back having persuaded their colleagues in other countries in favour of strong sanctions against Russia and the Putin regime. How will we be able to do that in the future when we are no longer sitting at the table or in the room?

As the Prime Minister made clear in her speech in Munich, our commitment to collaboration and partnership with our European partners on security and defence is unwavering. We have made it clear that we want to develop a new framework with the EU that ensures we can continue to work together to combat the common threats that we face. Our position in NATO obviously remains unchanged, and that underpins our worldwide influence in security and defence.

One of the key players in discussing and settling the EU financial settlement is the European Court of Auditors. As a member state, we have Phil Wynn Owen as our representative, but as it stands, he is set to leave the European Court of Auditors come 29 March 2019. Will the Secretary of State add to his negotiating list the need to make sure we have a full British representative on the European Court of Auditors during the transition period?

All of the implementation period issues are currently under discussion. I am not sure, frankly, that we will put the hon. Lady’s proposal at the top of the priority list, but we certainly aim to cover issues such as audit in the joint committee.

Can the Secretary of State name one country that has said, “As long as you leave the customs union, we’ll give you a much better free trade agreement than you have or could have had?”

No, it is the other way around: a number of countries have made it very plain that if we are still in the customs union, they will not do a trade deal with us.

The European Union set out a very clear negotiating position at the beginning of this exercise. The Government are still being undermined by their inability to make up their mind, and the Secretary of State has told us that it is going to take a bit longer to decide about customs. The whole negotiation is supposed to be concluded by October. How many weeks longer will it be before our Government have a clear position on customs?

The clarity of the position of not being a member of the customs union is absolute, and has been since the beginning, unlike the right hon. Gentleman’s party, which has had a number of different positions on this matter. Frankly, it is incredibly important that we get this right—not just for trade, which is massively important, but for the extremely sensitive issue of maintaining the peace process in Northern Ireland—and I do not undertake to put an artificial deadline on something so important.

People from the EU27 working in my constituency and Bristol West constituents living and working in the EU27 tell me that they are worried about their pensions post-Brexit. What are the Government doing to protect my constituents’ pensions?

The citizens’ rights element of the withdrawal agreement that we have reached in its entirety with the EU covers the continuity of pension provisions and the accumulation of contributions between member states. This is an issue on which we have reached agreement, and we look forward to being able to provide full certainty to all those constituents.

The threat by the US Administration to impose steel tariffs has been robustly resisted by the EU. How will the UK work with its EU partners in the future to preserve both free and fair trade in steel?

Our future trading relations are subject to negotiation, as the hon. Gentleman knows, but I have no doubt that it is in all our interests to work together on free trade agreements, working against anti-competitive distortions and having a fair trade defence regime. One of the reasons why we need to leave the customs union is of course so that we can have our own trade defence regime, and I feel quite sure we will continue to work with our partners and our neighbours to ensure that we take care of these issues.