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Withdrawal Negotiations

Volume 642: debated on Thursday 14 June 2018

We reached agreement on more than three quarters of the legal text of the withdrawal agreement, locking down full chapters on citizens’ rights, the implementation period and the financial settlement. We continue to build on the progress of March, technical talks have continued and we are focusing on negotiating the right future relationship. These conversations are now well under way, with detailed discussions on future economic and future security partnerships.

In my latest meeting with Michel Barnier on Monday, we discussed a range of issues, from questions of the Northern Ireland protocol, which has just been discussed in the House, to product standards and market access. It was a productive and positive discussion. We will continue to work hard and at pace, and will set out further details in the Government White Paper in due course.

My constituents voted more than any others in the country to leave the European Union. In the past couple of days, this House has worked hard to deliver that. I know they will be grateful for all the Secretary of State’s work. Does he agree that there is no record anywhere in the world of an international negotiation in which a Parliament in place of a Government has delivered a successful micro-managed outcome?

My hon. Friend is exactly right. As we made clear this week on consideration of Lords amendments to the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill, we cannot accept amendments that allow Parliament to instruct the Government on what steps we should take in international negotiation because that undermines one of my three tests, and because such a move would be constitutionally unprecedented.

The current constitutional arrangements have served this country well for hundreds of years over thousands of treaties. Those who have argued for something different did not argue for the House of Commons to negotiate directly our accession to the European Union, or the Lisbon, Amsterdam or Maastricht treaties. It is rather odd that they make such an argument now.

In the light of the House’s rejection of Lords amendments on the European economic area and customs union, will my right hon. Friend now head to Brussels with renewed vigour to support many of my constituents who voted for Brexit, and who want the Government to get on and deliver the result?

I would hope that my vigour does not need renewal, but I will take my hon. Friend’s wishes as I am sure he meant them.

We had a constructive debate in both Chambers and I am pleased that we are now in the final stages of the Bill. This crucial piece of legislation is designed to deliver continuity of law after exit, and ensures that from day one we have a functioning statute book, which will give certainty to both individuals and business. We will build on the hard work at home and in Brussels, and continue to work towards a withdrawal agreement and future framework in October.

I concur with the comments of my Cornish colleague, my hon. Friend the Member for North Cornwall (Scott Mann). People in my constituency simply want the Government to get on and deliver the Brexit that they voted for. Will my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State confirm that the Government’s position remains that they will take back control of our borders? Will he therefore resist all calls for us to join the EEA, which would precipitate continued freedom of movement and not deliver what the majority of people voted for?

Yes. As my hon. and learned Friend the Solicitor General stated in yesterday’s debate on the Lords EEA amendment, continuing to participate in the EEA agreement beyond the implementation period means accepting all four freedoms of the single market, including free movement of people. In the last election, both main parties clearly said that they would not accept that. It is therefore clear that continuing to participate in the EEA agreement beyond the implementation period would not deliver control of our borders or our laws, which the British people voted for. That point was made by a number of Labour MPs in yesterday’s debate—the right hon. Member for Don Valley (Caroline Flint) is not here, and I do not often compliment her, but she made one of the best speeches of the day on exactly that subject.

Our proposals are designed to deliver the best access to the European market consistent with taking back control of our laws and borders. That is what we will do.

The Government’s proposal for a backstop in Northern Ireland did not include an approach on regulatory standards, which is presumably one reason why Michel Barnier, in rejecting it, said that it would lead to a hard border. Do the Government intend to submit a revised proposal to the EU negotiators before the June European Council?

The right hon. Gentleman is uncharacteristically inaccurate. Michel Barnier did not reject our proposal. He said in a tweet after his press conference that he would be discussing it with us, which he did on Monday.

The Government have rejected giving Parliament a meaningful voice in the Brexit deal, but does the Secretary of State recognise that the businesses we represent are crying out for some sort of clarity so that they can deliver on the investment that drives jobs in my constituency? When will he deliver that clarity?

Again—the hon. Lady is wrong. The Government have provided 250 hours of debate on this Bill alone, and there are probably a dozen other pieces of primary legislation, including the withdrawal agreement and implementation Bill later this year. There is a huge range of areas in which Parliament has had its say and will have its say. To come to the point about business investment, in the past year high-tech investment alone—the most important for our future in many ways—was three times in the UK that of any European country. Indeed, it was as much as the next three countries put together.

Political leadership in negotiations is clearly key to their success, but in response to a question I tabled, the Under-Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union, the hon. Member for Wycombe (Mr Baker), informed me that until last Monday the Secretary of State had met Michel Barnier only twice since December—once in February and once at a press conference in March. Two meetings in six critical months. Can the Secretary of State explain his absence? Does paralysis in the Cabinet leave him with nothing to say? Or has he simply been sidelined by officials closer to the Prime Minister?

Is it not wonderful to have the Labour party, of all people, accusing us on this? I am looking at the hon. Member for Huddersfield (Mr Sheerman)—don’t worry. I read a tweet only this morning in which the Labour Whips Office was celebrating the fact that only 75 Labour Members rebelled against the amendment yesterday.

I am slightly pleasantly surprised to see the Secretary of State still in his place—[Interruption.] I suspect that if I am surprised to see him in his place, the Secretary of State and the Prime Minister are significantly more surprised. Particularly as the negotiations go on to look at our future and long-term relationship with Europe, they will inevitably impinge significantly on matters that are properly and constitutionally devolved to the three devolved nations of this Union. This week, we saw the Government force through without debate provisions allowing Ministers unilaterally to remove and change the powers of those devolved nations. Will the Secretary of State tell us what assurances the people in the devolved nations can have that our interests will not be sold out during the next stage of the negotiations?

First, might I say that I am touched that the hon. Gentleman is pleasantly surprised that I am still here? I am very pleasantly surprised to see so many of his colleagues with him today.

On the important substantive question, the Government came up with a number of proposals during the course of the Bill which sought to arrange the mechanism by which powers are passed from the European Union through to the devolved Administrations. Those proposals were welcomed by the Welsh Administration but not by the Scots one. Nevertheless, we are continuing in our discussions with the Scots Administration to endeavour to come to an agreement, and while we are doing our work on the White Paper, we are also talking to them about the policy elements of that so they can have an input.

I remind the Secretary of State once again that it was not the Scottish Government who refused the legislative consent motion but the elected Parliament of Scotland. Four out of five parties agreed that the Government’s actions were not acceptable. Will the Secretary of State confirm that as the Government’s intentions stand, it would be perfectly possible for the Government to return from Brussels with a deal that substantially damaged the interests of the three devolved nations of this Union, and that the only option that Members of Parliament from those nations would have would be to accept that sell-out or to accept a car crash no deal? That is the Government’s intention just now, is it not?

I made it very clear from the beginning of the negotiation process and the policy creation process that we treat the interests of every nation in the United Kingdom extremely seriously and will defend them to the utmost of our ability. There will be a statement later from the Scottish Secretary on the Sewel convention.