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House of Commons Hansard
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Leaving the EU: Foreign Policy Co-operation
04 September 2018
Volume 646

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4. What recent discussions he has had with his EU counterparts on continued foreign policy co-operation after the UK has left the EU. [906711]

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7. What discussions he had with his EU counterparts during the summer recess on diplomatic relations after the UK has left the EU. [906714]

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Over the summer I visited seven EU countries and had substantive bilateral talks with 18 EU Foreign Ministers, and to all of them I said the same thing: if there is not a deal on our exit from the EU, Britain will find a way to survive and prosper, but it would be a big mistake for the continent of Europe, because at a time of great international upheaval, countries that share the same values should stand together.

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Last week, my hon. Friend the Member for Brent North (Barry Gardiner) met with the Port of Dover in my neighbouring constituency. The port, my colleagues, and all those dealing with trade matters in particular would appreciate clarification on whether other EU countries have signalled their willingness to collect tariffs on behalf of the UK and continue full co-operation with other EU agencies.

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The facilitated customs arrangement is one of the issues being negotiated. Many discussions are happening between my colleague the Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union and Michel Barnier, and we are starting to make progress, but there is a long way to go.

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What steps is the Secretary of State taking to ensure that the benefits of the European health insurance scheme for EU and UK citizens will continue post Brexit, and can he confirm reports that the UK will guarantee the rights of EU citizens to access the national health service and the social security system regardless of the outcome of negotiations?

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That is something I can talk about a little bit, because of my last role as Health Secretary. We have made it clear to the EU that we are very happy to continue with the European health insurance card scheme, which allows British citizens to access healthcare free of charge anywhere in the EU and the same for EU citizens coming to Britain, but obviously there has to be agreement with the EU to do that, and we are waiting to see whether that is the outcome. On EU citizens living in the UK, we have made it clear that we want them to stay here—they make an important contribution to our economy and national life—with broadly the same rights as they currently have.

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It is nice to see you after the summer, Mr Speaker. I welcome my right hon. Friend to his new position. The Foreign Affairs Committee looks forward to working with him to deliver a policy overseas that delivers for British people wherever they find themselves and in whatever difficulty they may be.

On the EU and Europe, I want to ask my right hon. Friend about the defence of Europe. With an expansionist and aggressive country to the east corrupting and using its influence in various of our European allies, does he agree that standing up for NATO is just as important as standing up for co-operation with our EU partner states, and does he not also agree, therefore, that tying in the United States is important and that, for example, naming the new NATO headquarters after Senator McCain, a man who did so much for European defence and trans-Atlantic partnership, would be a strong symbol on both sides of the Atlantic that we are in this together?

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I very much look forward to working with my hon. Friend in his role as the Chair of the Foreign Affairs Committee. I have great sympathy for what he says about Senator John McCain, who was a great statesman and friend of this country. He is absolutely right, too, that we have an opportunistic foe testing our defences at every opportunity, and we are far more likely to be successful if we stand together with our allies across Europe and the Atlantic.

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One of my right hon. Friend’s first visits was to see his German opposite number, Heiko Maas, in Berlin. Could he tell us a little bit about the discussions he had with him about Russia, and specifically about sanctions? Given that 40% of the western traded affected by those sanctions is with Germany, it is important that Germany remain resolute in pursuing economic sanctions against Russia.

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I heard many compliments when I went to Germany about my right hon. Friend’s diplomacy with and links to Germany, and we had very good discussions with Heiko Maas on the issue of sanctions. That is going to become more important in the months ahead, because the United States has said it will introduce sanctions as a result of the Salisbury attacks and is very clear that it would not be appropriate for Europe not to respond in kind, given that the attack happened on European soil. That is an area where we hope to make common cause with Germany.

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I am delighted that the Secretary of State is taking this question. I hope he will answer a very simple yes or no question that his predecessor always refused to answer: does the new Secretary of State believe that cameras and number plate readers placed on roads are physical infrastructure?

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What we want is no physical infrastructure, because we want to defend the Good Friday agreement, and that is what our current proposals do.

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I welcome the Foreign Secretary to his post. Given the greater importance of bilateral relations after the United Kingdom has left the European Union, what steps is he taking to increase British diplomatic representation, not only in the 27 other EU countries and the four states in the European economic area, but in the countries in which we are currently represented largely through an EU office, and in which we do not have our own mission?

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My predecessor has already increased the budget for our representation throughout the European Union as a response to Brexit and the need to raise our game when it comes to diplomacy inside the EU. When it comes to diplomacy outside the EU, I hope that it will sometimes be possible for the co-operative arrangements that we have now to continue—because I think that that works to the benefit of both sides—but we shall have to see whether the other countries are still up for that.

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I congratulate the Foreign Secretary, and welcome him to his post. I know that he will take the job seriously, and I know that, at the end of his time, he will have at least tried in everything that he does, but will he now tell me what impact a challenging, divisive and difficult Brexit will have on our relationship with our European partners?

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I welcome the hon. Gentleman as one of my shadows. Our objective is a friendly, smooth Brexit, which is why we have made the proposals that we have made. We think that a messy divorce is in no one’s interests. However, the hon. Gentleman will understand that this Government would never sign up to proposals that were not consistent with the spirit and letter of the referendum decision, and we must honour that as well.

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I think that we need to probe our relationship with our European partners as we go forward. The Foreign Secretary was right to point out—and I am glad he did—that countries in Europe need to stand together at this critical juncture, given the challenges in Syria, Ukraine and elsewhere. What damage will a no-deal Brexit do to that relationship?

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I think that a no-deal scenario would inevitably have an impact on the friendship that we currently have with European nations. That is why I think that all sides should think carefully before proceeding. I would say that this country is proud and strong and we would find a way in which to prosper and succeed whatever the outcome of these talks, but that, given the threats that we face, it would be better to stand together.