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Commons Chamber

Volume 648: debated on Thursday 25 October 2018

House of Commons

Thursday 25 October 2018

The House met at half-past Nine o’clock

Prayers

[Mr Speaker in the Chair]

Oral Answers to Questions

Exiting the European Union

The Secretary of State was asked—

No Deal: UK Border Delays

1. What assessment he has made of the potential for UK border delays in the event that no deal is agreed for when the UK leaves the EU. (907258)

6. What assessment he has made of the potential for UK border delays in the event that no deal is agreed for when the UK leaves the EU. (907264)

7. What assessment he has made of the potential for UK border delays in the event that no deal is agreed for when the UK leaves the EU. (907265)

The Government have published 106 technical notices addressing the no-deal scenario. We are striving for a good deal with our European Union partners, but we will be ready for all outcomes from the negotiations.

Recent National Audit Office estimates state that if customs declarations are required for trading between the UK and the EU, the total number of declarations could increase by about 360%, from 55 million currently on non-EU trade to 225 million. What estimate has the Minister made of the additional staff that will be required and, not least, the likely tailbacks that could ensue at UK ports?

There certainly is a risk of no deal, especially if the EU engages in a deliberately intransigent approach. The hon. Gentleman asks about staff. We are recruiting 300 extra staff, with a further 600 planned. We have given a range of advice through our 106 technical notices, half of which gave advice on customs procedures for businesses. There have been 300,000 letters sent to current customs users and 145,000 letters to VAT-registered businesses.

The Health Secretary told pharmaceutical companies to stockpile six weeks’ worth of medicines in case of a no-deal Brexit because of potential delays at the border. Will the Brexit Secretary confirm whether he envisages circumstances where companies could be asked to stockpile for longer than six weeks?

The hon. Lady is right to raise this issue, not least because Government and the pharmaceutical industry already liaise on stockpiling for far longer periods in other circumstances, including in relation to vaccines. We will keep it under review, but this is something the industry is used to doing and we are used to co-operating with it.

In September, the Borders Delivery Group reported that 11 of the 12 major projects to replace or change key IT systems were at risk of not being delivered on time or in a workable condition. Many of my constituents who work at the port of Felixstowe are at their wits’ end about how this is going to work. Can the Secretary of State tell us what is going to be done with those IT systems?

We had an extended Cabinet session last month. We looked at a whole range of action points right across the piece, including some of the IT issues to which the hon. Gentleman refers. We want to make sure we are in the best position to manage, avoid or mitigate any risk in a no-deal scenario, but of course we are striving for the best deal with our European partners.

A very significant number of automotive parts enter the UK and the European Union from third countries for just-in-time delivery. It seems to work, doesn’t it?

My right hon. Friend will know that that is one of the reasons the White Paper proposals deal with the kind of customs arrangements and co-operation with our EU partners which will not just prevent friction at the border, but, particularly in relation to just-in-time manufacturers, provide them with the frictionless trade they need.

Can we be absolutely sure that, should this House reject a deal brought back by the Government, we will still leave the European Union on 29 March, and that those who vote against that deal will be responsible for no deal?

My right hon. Friend raises, responsibly and assiduously, the stark reality of those who would seek to wreck the deal, as the Labour party leadership has suggested, come what may. Every hon. Member of this House will have a choice to make between the good deal we are confident we will bring back and the alternatives.

Will my right hon. Friend confirm that in the event of no deal the UK Government will not create a hard border on the island of Ireland? And if we do not do it, who does he think will?

My hon. Friend is attempting to draw me down an avenue of inquiry I will not be pursuing. What I will say is that we have made it clear that under no circumstances will we see or erect a hard border in relation to Northern Ireland.

This week the NAO warned that not a single one of the Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs’ preparations for a no-deal Brexit was in anything other than a red-amber state of lack of preparedness. That is on top of the 80,000 lost Scottish jobs, £2,300 out of the pockets of every Scottish household and a 9% hit to our economy that a no-deal Brexit is likely to bring. Is the Secretary of State seriously telling us that it is possible for him and the Prime Minister to bring back a bad deal that is worse than that?

The hon. Gentleman is right to point to the risks of no deal, but the point is to have the planning and preparations in place to ensure we can avoid or mitigate those risks. In addition to the remarks I made earlier, £8 million of funding for customs intermediaries has been announced. We also need to prepare for the worst-case scenario, whereby the authorities at Calais are deliberately directing a go-slow approach, by supporting a diversion of the flow to more amenable ports in other countries.

HMRC will not have the capacity to cope and the Border Force will not have the capacity to cope, but at least we know that the Government’s capacity for incompetence is utterly unbounded. The Secretary of State is criticising others for so-called intransigence. Is it not time for the Government to drop their own intransigent stance, go right back to the beginning, rub out the three stupid red lines and start again?

If the hon. Gentleman thinks that at this late stage of negotiations, we can go back to the beginning, I am afraid his approach is rather delusional. We have made good progress and we are close to agreeing a deal. The responsible thing for Members from all parts of the House to do, regardless of their views on Brexit, is to get behind the Government so we can clinch that good deal for all quarters and all parts of the UK.

Has the Secretary of State made the Republic of Ireland aware that if the French start mucking about with Calais and a go-slow in the event of no deal, the biggest impact will be not on UK trade but on trade with the Republic of Ireland that passes through this country?

I am confident that the authorities in Dublin are well aware of the implications of no deal. All of us, on all sides—not just in this House but in the EU—want to lock horns, close the outstanding issues and seal the good deal that will serve everyone’s interests.

As you will know, Mr Speaker, Labour’s 2017 general election manifesto was rightly hailed as a transformative blueprint for a Britain that works for the many, not the few, but even we did not go so far as to propose the nationalisation of roll-off, roll-on lorry ferries. In addition to contingency plans for Government-owned or operated logistics, can the Secretary of State tell us which other industries the Government are considering taking into public ownership under a no-deal scenario?

The hon. Gentleman is right to say that we need to look at all possible contingencies to ensure that in a no-deal scenario British businesses and livelihoods are safeguarded. I think it was rather unfortunate of him to refer to the Labour manifesto, because with the Labour party’s current commitment to rejecting any deal that the Government bring back opening the door to a second referendum, the Labour leadership have driven a coach and horses straight through the promises that they made to every Labour voter at the last election.

Leaving the EU

2. What steps his Department is taking to protect the integrity of the UK after the UK leaves the EU. (907259)

We are negotiating to secure a strong deal that works for the whole United Kingdom, and our White Paper proposals will deliver on that.

I do not believe in a second referendum, and I have grave doubts about referendums in general. We had the vote, and the people voted to leave. I voted to remain. Now, after all this time and division, what are we going to do to heal the scars left by the referendum?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right; a second referendum would create far more uncertainty than it would resolve, and would erode public trust in our democracy. We will heal the divisions created by the campaign and the politics of Brexit by delivering on the outcome of the referendum, and by making sure that we deliver jobs for working families and build homes for the next generation beyond the Brexit negotiations.

Now that we know that the referendum that delivered this entire process was conducted illegally, surely that is another reason to give us all a people’s vote at the end of the process. The Secretary of State can have his Bill endorsed, and we can have the option to remain, because we know what that looks like.

I always listen to the hon. Lady, who is thoughtful and passionate in her views. However, I think that a second referendum would create a huge amount of uncertainty, returning us to square one and eroding public trust in the system.

Has my right hon. Friend been able respectfully to persuade our negotiating partners that Northern Ireland is not some enclave of the character of those around the area of the Bodensee, for example, but an integral part of the United Kingdom that is not, in any circumstances, to be split off from our country?

My hon. Friend makes an important point. We have made the point that we would never accept any proposals that would threaten the integrity of the United Kingdom, whether constitutional or economic. We have also made the point that a lot of the proposals that we have seen would not be acceptable to many on the EU side, given the separatist pressures in places such as Corsica, Catalonia and other parts of Europe.

Does the Secretary of State agree that Brexit represents a real opportunity to become a global United Kingdom, free to make vital trade deals with countries across the world? Does he feel that increasing the backstop would be unhelpful because it would only hamper our ability to negotiate trade deals and would not help to resolve any outstanding issues?

I certainly agree that we must secure the right deal that strikes the right balance between preserving the frictionless trade that we want with our EU partners and taking advantage of the global opportunities of the future, from Latin America to Asia. We have committed ourselves to providing a backstop in case there is a gap between the end of the implementation period and the coming into effect of the future relationship, but we will do nothing to threaten—and will not accept anything that does threaten—the integrity of the United Kingdom.

Every nation in our Union exports more to the rest of the UK than it does to the EU27, and the UK internal market accounts for 61% of Scotland’s exports. Can the Secretary of State assure me that he will do what makes sense for the Union and for the Scottish economy?

I can give my hon. Friend that assurance. It is true that we have a large export relationship with our EU partners, but equally, as the EU itself recognises, the vast majority—the lion’s share—of future growth opportunities will lie with the growth markets of the future, from Latin America to Asia, as I said earlier.

Last Sunday, when the Secretary of State was asked on “The Andrew Marr Show” how long the proposed UK-wide customs backstop might last, he said:

“It could be time-limited, there could be another mechanism.”

Whichever of the two it turns out to be, can the right hon. Gentleman assure the House that the backstop—if needed—would not be terminated before the conclusion of our negotiations on the future partnership? If he is not able to give that assurance, will he tell the House what would replace it to ensure that the border in Northern Ireland remained open?

The Chair of the Select Committee is right to say that we need to respect our commitment to provide a bridge between the end of the implementation period and the future relationship. That does need to be something we are not locked into indefinitely, and, of course, the EU side cannot agree anything under article 50—which provides only for the winding down of the EU arrangements—that would allow something to be indefinite, so this ought to be a matter that there is mutual interest in and agreement on resolving.

Border Arrangements

3. What progress he has made on securing an agreement with the EU on future border arrangements between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. (907260)

Our White Paper proposals will ensure that there is frictionless trade at the border, which is in the interests of businesses but will also avoid any potential extra infrastructure at the border in Northern Ireland.

Does the Secretary of State understand why some of us who have Irish heritage are worried by what is said by some Conservative Members such as the hon. Member for Wycombe (Mr Baker), who said a moment ago that under no circumstances could Northern Ireland be split off from the United Kingdom? He knows full well that the Belfast agreement envisages that prospect if the people of Northern Ireland and the people of Ireland agree to it, and that is Government policy. Will he confirm his commitment to the Belfast agreement, and will he also confirm the Government’s commitment to the agreement made last December with the EU about the future of the border in Northern Ireland?

I certainly do understand all the sensitivities on this side. In fairness, I think my hon. Friend the Member for Wycombe (Mr Baker) was referring to the negotiations, and whether we would accept anything relating to them that would have the effect of drawing a line down the Irish sea or threatening the integrity of the UK. But, of course, the Belfast agreement says that nothing should happen in relation to Northern Ireland without the consent of Northern Ireland, and we will not allow the EU to threaten that.

Last week I met a group of young people from Northern Ireland who were members of Our Future Our Choice. They were clearly extremely worried about the border arrangements, and also very worried that they might not retain the right that I have had, and the Secretary of State has had, to live, work and study in the European Union. What guarantees can the Secretary of State give them that they will be able to continue to do that after we have left the EU?

I think we can provide that assurance, not just in relation to the progress that we have made in the withdrawal agreement, but as a result of the commitment made by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister that would guarantee the rights of EU nationals in the event of no deal. For those who are anxious about the uncertainty that lies ahead, the very worst outcome would be a second referendum, which is the policy of the Liberal Democrats, and which would only make that uncertainty worse.

On Monday, the Prime Minister said that if the UK and the EU were to make a legally binding commitment to a

“temporary UK-EU joint customs territory”,—[Official Report, 22 October 2018; Vol. 648, c. 47.]

the EU’s proposal for a Northern Ireland-specific customs proposal “is no longer needed”. If it is “no longer needed”, does that mean that it will no longer be in the withdrawal agreement, or does the Prime Minister really mean that she thinks it will no longer ever need to come into force?

I think the Prime Minister was very clear on that. We will not be able to accept any Northern Ireland-specific arrangement that would leave Northern Ireland in a customs regime that was separate from that of the rest of the United Kingdom. It is as simple as that.

Transition Period

4. What changes there will be in the relationship between the UK and the EU during the transition period after the UK leaves the EU on 29 March 2019. (907261)

After the UK leaves the EU on 29 March 2019 the implementation period will provide a bridge to our future relationship, ensuring that citizens and businesses only have to plan for one set of changes. During the implementation period the UK will no longer be a member state of the EU, nor will it have MEPs at the European Parliament or a judge at the European Court of Justice. We will have the freedom to negotiate, sign and ratify new trade deals with third countries, although they will not come into force until the end of the implementation period.

I thank my hon. Friend for that answer, but clearly the position should be that on day zero we are a full member of the EU and by the end of the transition period we have no connection other than the future arrangements that we have. It seems to me that instead of a curve as we reduce the transition period, all we have is a postponing of the cliff edge and a delayed departure. Will my hon. Friend comment?

I take note of my hon. Friend’s comments. The aim of the implementation period is to provide certainty for businesses and individuals with access to each other’s markets on terms similar to those today. There will be a number of changes to reflect the UK’s new status as a third country—those I mentioned before—but crucially we have got new opportunities to start taking steps to enjoy our new freedoms, and that time should be used effectively.

20. It is reported that the Government are considering a proposal to make the transition period renewable on an annual basis. Are those reports accurate? (907279)

Carbon Tax

5. If he will hold discussions with the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy on proposals to introduce a carbon tax to replace the EU emissions trading system in the event that the UK leaves the EU without a deal. (907263)

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his question. The Secretary of State and I meet regularly with ministerial colleagues to discuss a range of EU exit-related matters. As the recently published meeting climate change requirements technical notice made clear, in the unlikely event of no deal the UK Government will initially meet our existing carbon pricing commitments via the tax system, taking effect in 2019.

The carbon tax as outlined would be devastating for companies such as CF Fertilisers in Stockton and energy-intensive industries across the country. Will the level of relief against the proposed carbon tax or any other new arrangement for energy-intensive industries leave exposed industries with no greater financial burden than they have under the EU emissions trading scheme?

That is a very good question for a Treasury Minister. More details will follow at next week’s Budget, with legislation to follow in the upcoming Finance Bill.

Some excellent biotechnology research is going on in universities across the UK, including in my constituency. What steps is the Minister taking to ensure that will continue to be the case after 29 March next year?

The Government are committed to ensure that science and new technologies such as the one the hon. Gentleman mentions are able to continue and thrive in a future relationship, deal or no deal.

Gibraltar

8. What steps the Government are taking to ensure that HM Government of Gibraltar is consulted throughout the negotiations for the UK to leave the EU. (907266)

The Government remain committed to fully involving the Government of Gibraltar as we leave the EU together. We have been working closely together including through the Joint Ministerial Council for Gibraltar on EU negotiations, which has met seven times since the referendum. In addition, I am in regular contact with the Chief Minister of Gibraltar, most recently at the Gibraltar Day celebrations in London this week, when we both welcomed the real progress made in negotiations.

I warmly welcome the apparent agreement on Gibraltar with our Spanish friends—and I do mean friends, because 10,000 Spaniards work in Gibraltar every day, the UK is Spain’s fifth biggest trading partner, and 18 million Brits went to Spain last year. Will the Minister confirm that it is in the best interests of Spain, Gibraltar and the UK that we have as frictionless a flow of goods, tourists and workers as possible?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right: a good deal is in the interests of all sides. Gibraltar is an engine of prosperity for the surrounding area, and a deal that benefits Gibraltar will also benefit the wider region. A well-managed and smoothly operational Gibraltar-Spain border is vital for prosperity. It is important not only for the flow of frontier workers, but, as my hon. Friend says, for the flow of tourists and other visitors, who make a key contribution to Gibraltar’s thriving economy. And our strong relations with Spain are underpinned by deep economic, cultural and people-to-people links, which we want to strengthen moving forward. We look forward to enhanced co-operation, which will benefit Spain, Gibraltar and the UK.

I refer to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests. Does my hon. Friend agree that it is most significant indeed that yesterday the Chief Minister of Gibraltar, in saluting the support the Prime Minister has personally given to the negotiations, observed that for the first time the Prime Minister of Spain has publicly accepted that the inclusion of a protocol to protect the interests of Gibraltar is a done deal if there is a deal and an agreement? Does that not demonstrate how important it is for any friend of Gibraltar that there is a deal and it is carried in this House?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. I know that he has worked assiduously through the all-party parliamentary group on Gibraltar to protect and promote the interests of Gibraltar. I would like to return the compliment to the Chief Minister of Gibraltar, who has played a crucial role in these negotiations.

Environmental Protection

9. What discussions he has had with the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs on the effect on UK environmental protection of the UK leaving the EU. (907267)

We continue to have regular conversations with ministerial colleagues across the Government on all aspects of exiting the European Union, including environmental policy. The UK has a long history of environmental protection, and the Government have been clear that they have no intention of weakening our current environmental protections as we leave the European Union.

I visited one of my local schools a few weeks ago, and the young people there are very worried about plastic use. This Government are unambitiously pledging to eliminate avoidable plastic waste significantly later than the EU target. Does the Minister agree with me and with the children at the Lincoln Carlton Academy that, with climate change posing an immediate threat, Britain’s environmental protections must not be downgraded after we leave the EU?

Yes, and we would not be doing that. In fact, the Prime Minister has announced that a new environment Bill will be introduced in the second Session to build on the vision we have set out in our 25-year environment plan to leave our precious environment in a better state than the one we inherited. It will help us to create richer habitats for wildlife, improve air and water quality and curb the scourge of plastic in the world’s oceans.

Will the excellent Minister tell the House who he thinks will be better prepared to look after the United Kingdom’s interests on the environment: this Parliament or EU bureaucrats?

I thank the excellent Back Bencher—my neighbour—for his question. I obviously believe that this Parliament is better placed to do that.

Yesterday’s National Audit Office report on the lack of no-deal preparations lists a whole raft of serious issues facing our country in the eventuality of no deal, particularly on environmental standards, where it points to a collapse of our biosecurity standards. What is the Minister’s response to this, given that the Secretary of State said a moment ago that he was looking at all scenarios? Frankly, that is not good enough, so what will he and his Department do to ensure that we are adequately prepared?

I hope that the hon. Lady will forgive me, but I just do not read the NAO report in the same way that she does. We are obviously preparing for a no deal. We have regular meetings to ensure that we will hit all our targets, and I am confident that we will do so.

Citizens’ Rights

10. What steps the Government are taking to secure citizenship rights for (a) UK citizens residing in the EU and (b) EU citizens residing in the UK after the UK leaves the EU. (907268)

We have agreed to protect the rights of EU citizens in the UK and UK nationals in the EU under the withdrawal agreement. Our message to EU nationals is that we value the contribution that you make and we want you to stay.

My question has been prompted by a particular case at my surgery involving a German couple who have been here for many years and contributed hugely to my town of Solihull. They have been concerned by scare stories and by EU intransigence on this issue, and they would like me to ask the Secretary of State whether he can clearly confirm that, after Brexit, EU citizens in the UK and UK nationals in the EU will be able to continue to live their lives as they do today.

I thank my hon. Friend for his question. Of course, under the withdrawal agreement, we have set out very clearly the rights that people would have in order to give effect to the assurance that he is seeking. They include the right to stay in this country; the right to work; protection for those working as frontier workers; the right for close family members to join them; the recognition of EEA professional qualifications; and a role for the independent monitoring authority in relation to the application of the citizens’ rights element of the agreement, which would mirror what the Commission will do for UK citizens on the continent.

Does the Minister seriously believe that the Home Office will be able to cope with the number of applications from EU citizens, when its existing immigration systems are in overload?

I have had a number of conversations with the Home Secretary and indeed with the Cabinet to ensure that not only the legislation but the operational systems will be in place.

A technical notice on EU citizens in the UK was expected as part of the no-deal preparations. That was confirmed in a recent technical notice from the Department for Transport, but it has not yet been produced and the Prime Minister’s spokesman apparently told journalists on Tuesday that there were no more notices in the pipeline. Will the Secretary of State clarify which is correct? If there is to be a notice, will he tell us when it will be published?

Most hon. Members would agree that citizens’ rights are an issue of scale, importance and sensitivity, which means that it will be dealt with not in technical notices, but in a different format. However, I reassure the hon. Gentleman that all the details will be coming along shortly to provide the assurances that I think both sides of the House want to give to EU nationals here. We value their contribution and want them to stay.

Both sides of the House certainly do want those assurances, but I am unsure whether that answer provides them, so let me try with another issue. The Prime Minister said that, in the event of no deal, she will make a unilateral offer to EU citizens remaining in the UK, but the right to remain in itself does not provide the reassurance that they need. Will the Secretary of State therefore confirm that, in those circumstances, their rights will be identical in every respect to the provisions in the withdrawal agreement as currently drafted?

The hon. Gentleman is right that the Prime Minister made that commitment after the Salzburg summit. We are going to set out all the details in due course, but I can give him some reassurance right now, because the healthcare Bill, which is due to be introduced shortly, will provide reassurance, for example, in the context of reciprocal healthcare for UK nationals who live in, work in or visit the EU, regardless of the outcome of the negotiations. The hon. Gentleman will have to wait just a bit longer for all the details.

Customs Arrangements

11. What recent discussions he has had with Cabinet colleagues on negotiations for customs arrangements with the EU after the UK leaves the EU. (907269)

15. What recent discussions he has had with Cabinet colleagues on negotiations for customs arrangements with the EU after the UK leaves the EU. (907273)

I have regular discussions in Cabinet, led by the Prime Minister, on all aspects of our future economic partnership with the EU, which of course includes the customs arrangements.

How is the Secretary of State going to persuade the hardliners on the Conservative Benches behind him about the benefits of a customs union for jobs and for defending the United Kingdom?

We made a clear commitment that we will be leaving the customs union, so I do not think it is a question in the way the hon. Gentleman has described. Our White Paper proposals are designed to secure frictionless trade at the border, which is important for all businesses, particularly the UK’s just-in-time manufacturers.

Will the Secretary of State tell us what discussions he has had with the Secretary of State for Scotland about the incompatible arguments that the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland can have different customs and trading arrangements but have no border, but Scotland and England would require a border if Scotland were independent? Is the Brexit that the Government are pursuing not just giving more succour to the nationalists?

The hon. Gentleman is right to raise that issue. I have regular discussions with all my Cabinet colleagues, and we are clear that we will not allow any proposals to be accepted by the EU that would threaten the territorial, constitutional or economic integrity of the United Kingdom, and that means the whole of the United Kingdom.

21. On the subject of the long-term customs relationship between the EU and the UK, what discussions has my right hon. Friend had with his EU counterparts? (907280)

We have regular discussions with our EU counterparts about all aspects of the relationship, and we are making good progress. Of course, I cannot give the full details or provide the reassurance that my hon. Friend and others would want until we have the full deal, because there is no deal until we have the whole deal.

The withdrawal agreement makes provision to bind us into paying an exit payment of £39 billion. What provisions are there to ensure that the future trade agreement, which will only be in the form of a political statement, will actually get delivered and that we will not find ourselves paying the £39 billion without locking in the future trade arrangements in return?

I thank my hon. Friend for that question. I know that he and other hon. Members are concerned about that. We need a package in place that not only deals with the separation issues and the money in the way that he described, but has a clear path and a clear commitment to put the future relationship into effect.

It has been reported that, in the event of a no-deal Brexit and chaos at the Channel ports, the Government will need to charter additional vessels to bring in food and medicine. What is the assessment of cost for both the Government and industry? What capacity is there in alternative ports to do that?

The hon. Gentleman raises an important point. Of course, any blockage at the border ought to be addressed with pragmatism on both sides to alleviate it, but we must ensure that we are in a position, regardless of what the EU, the French or any other EU member state does, to weather any short-term disruption. We will ensure not only that we have the money and investment in place, but that we are co-operating with businesses and port authorities not just in the UK, but in Belgium, the Netherlands and other parts of the EU.

Fishermen

12. What discussions he has had with the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs on support for fishermen after the UK leaves the EU. (907270)

We continue to work closely with the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs on support for fishermen after we leave the European Union. The Fisheries Bill, introduced today, will allow us, for the first time since 1973, to take back control of our waters, set our own fisheries rules and exclusively determine who fishes what in our seas as an independent coastal state. That will ensure a sustainable and profitable fishing industry that will regenerate coastal communities and support future generations of UK fishermen.

Sea fishermen and cocklers are greatly looking forward to our leaving the European Union at 11 o’clock on 29 March 2019, but will my hon. Friend reassure them that their expected increase in living standards will not be damaged by any extension to the transition period?

I fully recognise the importance to fishing communities in Leigh-on-Sea of leaving the common fisheries policy, and my hon. Friend is a strong voice for those communities. We fully expect to negotiate as an independent coastal state in 2020 and, as the Prime Minister set out earlier this week, the interests of UK fishermen are at the forefront of our thinking as we consider the different options that have been proposed. What is clear is that, when EU rules no longer apply, the UK will be making its own decisions. We will control access to our own waters and we will seek to gain a fairer share of quotas.

What discussions has the Minister had with the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and with the Scottish Government about replacing the European maritime and fisheries fund and devolving the equivalent budgets?

All European maritime and fisheries fund projects approved before the UK leaves the EU will be fully funded under the Treasury guarantee, even when those projects are not completed by the UK exit date. Work is under way to consider the long-term future of all the programmes that are currently EU funded. Leaving the EU means that we will want to take our own decisions about how to deliver the policy objectives previously supported by EU funding.

With the Fisheries Bill being presented later this morning, and with the Lowestoft fishing industry coming forward with exciting plans to regenerate the industry, will the Minister reconfirm that in December 2020 the UK will negotiate fishing opportunities for 2021 as an independent coastal state?

As I said, we fully expect to be negotiating as an independent coastal state in 2020. Any of the options put forward will take account of all that has been agreed in the draft withdrawal agreement. We have clarified that the UK share of quotas will not change during the implementation period and that the UK can attend international negotiations. I am sure my hon. Friend is aware of the structures that have been agreed to ensure that the UK has a representative voice in those negotiations.

Support for Businesses

22. What steps his Department is taking to support businesses to prepare for the UK leaving the EU. (907282)

We recognise the importance of a pro-business agenda for Brexit, and we have engaged across the economy on getting a deal that works for business. That includes seeking frictionless trade with EU markets and an implementation period, allowing businesses time to prepare and ensuring only one set of changes.

Businesses in my constituency are reporting having to pay six-figure sums for Brexit contingency planning. How much of that will they be able to claim back from Government?

It is vital that both the Government and businesses work together on contingency planning, which is why the Government have published the 106 technical notices. We will continue to work closely with businesses to ensure that they can bring their contingency plans up to form. We will also continue to work on a deal that means those contingency plans do not have to be put into force.

Will the Minister elaborate on an earlier answer? The continued success of Nissan is really important to my region. What specific action is he taking to support the manufacturing businesses that operate in the supply chain that supports the Nissan car factory?

The hon. Gentleman makes an excellent point about the huge importance of our automotive sector. We continue to engage with the automotive sector, both with the big companies and organisations such as the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders, and with the supply chain to ensure that we are taking their views on board. Securing frictionless access to the European market is so important to protecting those supply chains, which of course exist both in the UK and in Europe.

The port of Immingham in my constituency, measured by tonnage, is the largest in the UK. When I meet businesses on the port, they constantly tell me about the opportunities they foresee for Brexit to extend trade through the port. Will the Minister, and the Government as a whole, support them by talking more about the opportunities of Brexit, rather than talking down those opportunities as the Opposition do?

My hon. Friend makes an excellent point. There are huge global opportunities for the UK as a global trading nation, and ports such as those in his constituency will thrive as the UK pursues global free trade.

In the spirit of helpfulness to new Members, may I gently say to the hon. Member for Banff and Buchan (David Duguid), whom I know wished to come in on the previous question, that with modest guile it would be perfectly possible for him legitimately to shoehorn his inquiry into the current question?

Thank you very much, Mr Speaker. As has been said, the Fisheries Bill is to be introduced today. So does my hon. Friend find it as strange as I do that the Scottish National party is leading a delegation to Brussels today to advocate not only staying in the single market and customs union, but, presumably, the common fisheries policy, as well as all the other institutions of the EU in which it is the SNP’s policy to remain? Can she confirm that it is this Government’s position to stay in none of those institutions?

We are grateful, Mr Speaker. I can absolutely confirm that it is our Government’s position to leave the CFP. Having met the Scottish Fishermen’s Federation and the Scottish Seafood Association to discuss these issues, I think they would be as shocked at the SNP’s position on this as my hon. Friend is.

Second EU Referendum

After sustained public debate, a clear majority of the electorate voted to leave the EU in June 2016, with the highest number of votes cast for anything in UK electoral history. We must respect both the will of the British people and the democratic process that delivered that result. As such, it is a matter of Government policy that there will not be a second referendum on our exit from the EU.

I am grateful to the Minister for that response. As someone who voted remain in that referendum, I was naturally disappointed by the result. But I am also a democrat, and it is important that we all respect the results of all elections, regardless of whether we win or lose them. Putting aside the questions on the so-called “people’s vote” and what it would actually achieve and deliver, does she not agree that it would undermine fundamental principles of democracy in this country?

My hon. Friend makes his point skilfully. People trusted that their voices would be heard, and to ask the question all over again would be a betrayal of our democracy and of that trust. Whether on Brexit or on Scottish independence, politicians north and south of the border should think twice before they choose to let people down in this way.

When are this Government going to wake up to the madness of where we are? There is no deal I can see coming from Europe that will look after my constituents better than remaining in the EU. Whether it is through reasserting parliamentary sovereignty or having a second referendum —yes, I was out on the march in Parliament Square on Saturday—can we please have a Government who wake up to their responsibilities and look after the future of this nation?

Looking after the future of this nation means respecting the democratic voice of this nation. Yes, 700,000 people marched on Saturday, but 17.4 million people voted to leave, and we do not simply ignore their voices just because we do not like what they said. I ask the hon. Gentleman, who obviously supports a second referendum and, worse still, one that would have remain as an option, to take a long, hard look in the mirror and ask himself whether he can truly call himself a democrat.

I should say to the hon. Member for Huddersfield (Mr Sheerman) that I was speaking at a theatre in Colchester last night and I referenced him in the course of my remarks. Knowing that he is not altogether averse to a focus upon himself from time to time, I think he would have enjoyed my observations.

Does the Minister agree that, if the 2016 referendum is not honoured, a second referendum would have no credibility whatsoever?

The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. This is not the best of three. It is not about, “You keep trying until you get the result you want.” This was a historic vote, when millions of people put their faith in democracy. To do anything other than revere that vote would undermine democracy and cause a collapse in that faith.

I am relieved to see that the hon. Member for Redditch (Rachel Maclean), who is a most assiduous attender in the Chamber, has beetled into the Chamber just in time. This is very good news.

No Deal: Other States’ Preparations

16. What steps the Government have taken to co-operate with other EU states on those countries’ preparations for the UK leaving the EU without a deal. (907274)

We are committed to negotiating a successful exit and, as a responsible Government, we are also preparing for the unlikely scenario in which we leave without a deal, including by co-operating with member states to minimise disruption to citizens and businesses. We will continue to impress on member states our joint responsibility to work together.

Thank you for your patience, Mr Speaker.

Although we do not expect a no-deal scenario, which is clearly not in the interests of anyone, does the Minister agree that it is completely incumbent on EU member states to work with the UK, because it is in their own interests to get a good deal as well?

I completely agree with my hon. Friend. Member states are playing a key role in ensuring the successful delivery of our exit and in negotiations. We hope to work with them fully in future.

Have the discussions with the Republic of Ireland Government about the possibility of our leaving with no deal next March identified that they would have a clear obligation, enforceable quite quickly through the European Court of Justice, to impose customs and other checks on trade across the border with Northern Ireland?

I think the right hon. Gentleman will find that the Irish Government have said that they would not do that.

In the event of no deal, the EU’s free trade agreements will cease to apply to the UK. How many of those 37 free trade agreements have the Government successfully agreed with our partners to retain and carry over in the event of no deal?

We are currently in negotiations with all those individual partners so that we can do exactly that.

Leaving the EU: Devolved Administrations

17. What recent discussions he has had with the devolved Administrations on the negotiations for the UK leaving the EU. (907276)

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State holds detailed discussions with the devolved Administrations on the negotiations, through monthly meetings of the Joint Ministerial Committee (EU Negotiations). I co-chair the Ministerial Forum (EU Negotiations), which met most recently on Monday. We had a productive discussion on co-operative accords, including on science, education and culture.

Has the Secretary of State read the Scottish Government’s most recent publication, “Scotland’s Place in Europe: Our Way Forward”? Will he pledge to consider the recommendation in the report that staying in the single market and customs union would be best for jobs and the economy?

I am clear that the Government’s position is that we will leave the single market and customs union, but I did receive a delightful bound copy of said report at the ministerial forum and will of course take it away and give it due consideration.

Yesterday, the Russian Federation formally objected to the post-Brexit schedule proposed by the UK at the World Trade Organisation. Unless the Russian veto is removed, if there is no deal, Welsh companies will not be able to trade on WTO terms. What discussions has the Minister had with the Welsh Government about this catastrophic likely outcome for the Welsh economy?

The hon. Gentleman refers to something that happened yesterday. I understand that the Department for International Trade has already responded and said that such objections at the WTO are not unusual and that it is already taking steps to address them.

The Minister knows that I am the vice-chair of the British-Irish Parliamentary Assembly, of which he is a much-missed member. The assembly recently visited the Scottish Parliament, where we were shown the recent report. I have recently been to Wales and BIPA has just had its conference in London. The Minister greatly respects the United Kingdom and its constituent parts, but may I pick up on what the Secretary of State said? It is not good enough to keep on talking to Cabinet colleagues; Brexit is undermining the integrity of the Union. How often has the Secretary of State visited the Scottish Parliament, the Welsh Assembly and Northern Ireland to talk to the people there about how they really feel about the strain in our constitution?

I congratulate the hon. Lady on her important work with BIPA, of which I was a keen member as a Back Bencher. We take the Union very seriously. The Secretary of State regularly meets representatives of the two devolved Governments and the Northern Ireland civil service at the Joint Ministerial Committee. Although he is relatively new in his role, I am sure that he will visit all four parts of the United Kingdom during the course of his duties.

Leaving the EU: Legislation

18. What estimate he has made of the volume of legislation that would be required in the event of the UK leaving the EU without a deal. (907277)

We are continuing to put in place the legislative building blocks to deliver our exit, whatever the outcome of the negotiations, including the unlikely event that a deal cannot be agreed. The Government have stated consistently that a wide range of legislation will be required to correct retained EU law and ensure a functioning statute book on exit day. Examples include the recent Nuclear Safeguards Act 2018, which is now law, and statutory instruments on civil aviation and airports.

Greater Manchester has started to draw up plans for the catastrophe of a no-deal Brexit. Council leaders have warned that supermarkets in the north-west do not have warehouse space to stockpile food. Planes from Manchester airport could be grounded. Councils have already faced eight years of austerity, and they will be the ones picking up the pieces after no deal, providing housing and children-and-adult services to people who are out of work because of economic downturn. Will the Minister commit to sharing the Government’s no-deal planning with local authorities?

The Government take very seriously the concerns of local authorities when it comes to Brexit preparations. I have met local government leaders all over the country to talk about the subject. I am glad that the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government has set up a Brexit delivery board to co-ordinate the work of local authorities and Government on preparations for Brexit—deal or no deal.

Aerospace Sector

19. What steps the Government are taking to support SMEs in the aerospace sector to prepare for the potential effect on that industry’s cash flow of the UK leaving the EU without a deal. (907278)

I thank my hon. Friend for his question. We firmly believe that it is in the interests of both the EU and the UK to strike a deal, but it is the job of a responsible Government to prepare for all scenarios. The UK aerospace industry is a high-growth, high-value sector driven by innovation. The Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy is working with the sector to ensure that the UK continues to be one of the most competitive locations in the world for aerospace.

I thank the Minister for that answer. No deal would be extremely serious and damaging for aerospace both in the EU and the UK, so it is vital that we avoid that. In terms of cash flow, I ask him, even if there is a deal, to look very seriously at ensuring that cash flow is available for businesses, particularly small and medium-sized enterprises that are likely to be impacted even by small disruption to their business.

I thank my hon. Friend for his supplementary question. Although there are programmes already in place, including the Sharing in Growth performance improvement programme, I will happily take away the point that he has made and perhaps have a conversation with him about it later.

Topical Questions

Since I last updated the House, our negotiations with the EU have continued and the withdrawal agreement is now 95% agreed. There is one key outstanding issue, namely the Northern Ireland border. Earlier this week, the Prime Minister set out the proposals that we are discussing with the EU and, as we intensify our negotiations to secure a good deal, we are also expediting preparations for no deal just in case the EU does not match the ambition and the pragmatism that we have demonstrated.

It is clear that no deal would be a national disaster and the thousands of EU citizens living in Battersea fear that a no-deal Brexit risks causing personal disaster and their rights to be jeopardised. Groups such as the 3 million have called for the citizens’ rights section of the withdrawal agreement to be ring-fenced so that there is no change to their rights in the event of a no deal. Why will the Secretary of State not make that commitment?

The Prime Minister and I have made the commitment to secure the rights of EU nationals here. We will set out the details very shortly, and we do expect the EU to reciprocate in relation to UK expats abroad.

T2. No deal will be damaging for both sides, so does my right hon. Friend agree that, in effect, to rule out supporting any agreement that the Prime Minister agrees with 27 other EU states on the basis of contrived tests puts politics before principle and does not serve the national interest? (907284)

It is a deeply irresponsible approach. I have to say that it is one that the Labour leadership have taken, but it is one that all Members on all sides might have to think about very carefully when we bring back a good deal from the EU.

The Secretary of State has now published 106 technical notices relating to no deal. The analysis by the Institute for Government shows that, taken together, his own technical notices commit the Government before next March to the creation or expansion of 15 quangos, further legislation in 51 areas, the negotiation of 40 new international agreements either with the EU or other countries, and the introduction of 55 new systems and processes. That is a huge legislative task for any Government, let alone this troubled Government. That is his own analysis. On a scale of one to 10, can the Secretary of State indicate how confident he is that this can all be done in the next 22 weeks?

I thank the shadow Brexit Secretary. What he has set out, of course, is the concerted plans and preparations that we are rightly undertaking to make sure that, regardless of the outcome of the negotiations—and we want a good deal—we will be ready to deal with the short-term risk, which there will undoubtedly be, and make a success of Brexit.

I notice that I did not get a number between one and 10, and I notice, therefore, that the Secretary of State is not adopting the blind confidence in the face of the fact that his predecessor went in for. The truth is that it is already too late to plan for no deal. This is bluff not planning. May I ask a very simple question? Why was this legislation not introduced months ago?

There has actually been a variety of legislation, including the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018, which is now in place. The irresponsible thing to do is take the position of the shadow Chancellor, who has said that he would make no financial provision for no deal. That is deeply irresponsible, as it would leave us as a hostage to the negotiations and leave the UK overexposed in the unlikely and regrettable outcome that we do not get a deal with our EU partners.

T4. Torbay’s language colleges are delighted to welcome thousands of students from across Europe each year to enjoy the beautiful bay and to learn English. Will the Minister outline how the needs of that sector have been considered in our negotiations with the EU? (907288)

Studying abroad is a great opportunity for many students and we want to ensure that it continues. We have proposed a UK-EU co-operative accord on culture and education for after we leave, allowing British and EU students to continue to visit one another’s countries, and study in one another’s colleges and universities.

T3. A number of my constituents—from musicians to those in financial services—regularly travel to Europe for work, and they are worried and anxious about how the arrangements after Brexit will affect their lives and work. Will the Minister assure my constituents that plans for travel will cause no or minimal disruption to their work, and can he tell the House when the plans will be made available for scrutiny? (907286)

The hon. Lady makes an excellent point. In our White Paper, we have set out a labour mobility framework that includes visa-free travel for tourists and short-term business visits. I think that that would address her constituents’ points.

Will the Government ensure that our contingency plans reflect what we know of our European partners’ contingency plans?

I thank my hon. Friend for his work on no deal when he was the Minister, and the preparations that have been in place for more than two years. As he will know from his experience in the Department, we closely monitor what our European counterparts are saying. If he were to listen to our French counterparts at this point in time, he would be hearing noises about two-minute checks at the border, not longer. France is employing lots of customs guards to ensure the flow of goods and trade, and will increase the number of border posts at Calais.

T5. To mitigate any possible loss of trade following Brexit, will the Secretary of State lobby Cabinet colleagues to develop the green economy? An increased domestic demand for items such as electric vehicles that are manufactured in the north-east will help to boost jobs and develop the green economy. (907289)

Through our White Paper proposals, we are absolutely committed not just to secure and build on our brilliant trading relationship with the EU, but to take advantage of the growth opportunities globally. We are also committed—not just through the EU withdrawal Act, but through the legislation that will be coming forward—to ensuring that we leave the country in an environmentally stronger position for the next generation.

If anyone were to cut up rough at the borders, what is the significance of our being a signatory to the World Trade Organisation trade facilitation agreement?

The WTO rules provide some legal checks in relation to discrimination and other aspects, but the reality is that there would be disruption at the border. We can mitigate to a large degree, but not wholly; that will depend on the response from our EU partners and friends. The French, the Belgians and the Dutch are co-operating with us constructively with regard to Eurotunnel. My hon. Friend will have heard what the Minister for no deal planning said about the French approach. We are confident that there would be a constructive approach on both sides in the case of a no-deal scenario, but we do need to prepare for all eventualities.

It has always been the case in these negotiations that we have to agree the whole deal in order for it to apply. It is right to say that we have made a great deal of progress on that protocol, but it is linked to the overall withdrawal agreement.

Witnesses to the Select Committee on Justice on Tuesday stressed the importance of ongoing contractual continuity and certainty of enforcement. That is especially important to the financial services sector, where many of my constituents work. Will the Minister meet me to discuss progress on a number of the important technical aspects around this issue?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. He will remember that I answered questions on this topic before his Committee when I was a Justice Minister. These are key aspects of the future relationship, and aspects that we continue to negotiate. We will continue to engage with him and his Committee to ensure that we get the right approach.

T7. Today we learnt that Nigel Farage could be in line for a £150,000 pay-off when we leave the EU. Our Future, Our Choice has produced a report analysing the impact of Brexit on young people, revealing that those aged 18 to 29 could lose £76,000 in earnings by 2050—or even more in a worst-case scenario. With young people hit hardest by a bad deal, will the Secretary of State agree to meet Our Future, Our Choice to discuss its findings? (907291)

Any pay-offs to MEPs are obviously a matter for the EU rather than the UK. In relation to young people, we need to be very clear on the benefits of Brexit, both in relation to trade and to the global horizons that will be the USP of this country. In relation to the mobility provisions that allow them to keep studying, travelling and taking advantage of the rich cultural and educational opportunities on the continent, we will engage with all sectors and all stakeholders.

Yesterday, at our evidence session in the Exiting the EU Committee, representatives of Northern Irish businesses made it quite clear that no deal would be really damaging for them and for the people of Northern Ireland. Does that not therefore make it absolutely imperative that the whole question of the Northern Ireland backstop is resolved, and resolved quickly?

My hon. Friend is always a very constructive commentator on these issues, and I welcomed my time serving with him on the Brexit Committee. He makes a very important point. We want to see a sensible approach to the bridge between intellectual property and the future relationship; the de-politicisation, frankly, of this issue; and making sure, which is in both sides’ interests, that we resolve this issue and get the deal done, which is good news for both sides, and particularly for Northern Ireland.

T8. We now know that the Government are drawing up plans to charter ships to import emergency food and medicines in the event of a no-deal scenario. So what level of lunacy is required before the Government actually wake up to the right solution, which is staying in the EU, the single market and the customs union? (907292)

Stockpiling is a part of what the NHS and businesses do already. We will be leaving the European Union successfully on 29 March next year, and we will be getting a deal.

The UK has the world’s third-largest aviation industry, yet there are no WTO defaults in the event of no deal. What discussions are taking place to help the aviation industry to plan for all Brexit scenarios?

My hon. Friend raises an important issue. He will have seen, no doubt, the technical notices that have been issued relating to the aviation sector, which set out very clearly that we would seek to strike the relevant bilateral agreements to ensure that aviation companies and aeroplanes have access to each other’s airspace.

We hear a lot of fighting talk from the Front Bench, but what attempt are the Government making to heal the terrible divisions that still scar our country, and what attempt are they making to listen to the concerns of remain voters such as mine in Bristol West?

It has nothing to do with fighting talk; it is to do with the professionalism and the smart approach we are taking to the negotiations, both on the substance and the detail of our proposals. The hon. Member for Sheffield Central (Paul Blomfield) is laughing, but Labour has come up with no serious alternative on the substance. We will continue to make sure that we get the best deal for the country, because that would provide the unifying effect and the healing of the divisions that the hon. Lady refers to.

When I came back from Berlin during the October holidays, I went through the blue lane rather than the red lane or the green lane at customs. What lane will I use on 30 March next year, on 30 March 2020, and on 30 March 2021?

I hope that the hon. Member for Glasgow North (Patrick Grady) is now clear about his domestic arrangements for the future. No doubt we will get an update in due course.

Bed manufacturing contributes over £330 million to the UK economy, employing 7,000 people in over 155 companies. In Batley and Spen alone, there are 35 bed manufacturers employing over 1,000 staff. What conversations has the Secretary of State had with bed manufacturers to protect them from a no-deal Brexit?

We engage with all sectors and businesses of all kinds, both through the business advisory group, which I have gone and presented to, and the CBI’s business committee. We want to make sure that manufacturers like those in the hon. Lady’s constituency are protected in a no-deal scenario in relation to their EU trade links, but also their global ones. The best thing she can do is to get behind the Government so that we get the best deal for them.

I am grateful, Mr Speaker.

On this sitting day in 1971, by 356 votes to 244, this House voted to join the EEC. Could the Secretary of State give us the benefits of that decision?

I am not quite sure of the point that the hon. Gentleman is trying to raise, but I gently suggest to him that life has moved on a little bit since the 1970s, although some on the Labour Front Bench are a bit slow in catching up. We had a referendum in 2016. The British people voted to leave and we are going to get the best deal for them.

This morning, a family-owned business in my constituency, FreestyleXtreme, announced that it is moving some of its jobs to Bucharest because of uncertainty about Brexit, and particularly the fact that it might be hit by tariffs after exit day. It warned me several months ago that that move would have to be on the cards. What reassurance can the Secretary of State give to small companies? I can see further businesses taking the same option if they do not get more clarity.

The hon. Lady is right to point to the uncertainty at this moment in time. The best way of alleviating that is for us to get a good deal. The economy is doing well. Youth unemployment is half the level it was in 2010. Wages are rising at the highest level since the financial crash. In terms of businesses voting with confidence in the UK economy, Rolls-Royce, Unilever and Amazon recently announced fresh investment in this country, and that is the reason we should go into these negotiations with economic self-confidence.

I am sorry, but we must now move on.

Before we hear the urgent question, I wish to make a short statement about the recording of names in the Division list printed in Hansard relating to new clause 7, in the name of the hon. Member for Walthamstow (Stella Creasy), to the Northern Ireland (Executive Formation and Exercise of Functions) Bill.

I am sorry to report that there are a large number of errors in that list. Those appear to have been caused by a technological failure. The numbers recorded as voting on either side of the Division are recorded by the Tellers. Those numbers—I hope the House is following me—are correct. Moreover, the names recorded on the Commons voting app—with which all present, I feel sure, will be closely familiar—are also correct. Urgent steps are now being taken to correct the record, and the Clerk Assistant is investigating what went wrong, with a view to taking necessary corrective action. He has asked me to pass on his apology to Members concerned. I cannot identify them individually—that would be a most burdensome and lengthy task—but I hope that they will take this as an apology to all. A revised, corrected list will be printed. I hope that that satisfies the House for now.

I am always grateful for the assistance proffered from a sedentary position by the hon. Gentleman.

Nuclear Treaty: US Withdrawal

(Urgent Question): To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if he will make a statement on the planned US withdrawal from the intermediate-range nuclear forces treaty and its implications for UK and European security.

I am afraid that the hon. Gentleman will have to put up with the Minister of State this morning.

If I may, I will first set out some of the context. The intermediate-range nuclear forces treaty is an agreement signed 31 years ago, in 1987, between the United States and the Soviet Union. The treaty eliminated nuclear and conventional ground-launched ballistic and cruise missiles with intermediate ranges. For over three decades, the INF treaty has played a valuable role in supporting Euro-Atlantic security. By removing an entire class of US and Russian weapons, the treaty has contributed to strategic stability and reduced the risk of miscalculation leading to conflict.

Russia’s aggressive actions, including the threat and use of force to attain political goals, continue to undermine Euro-Atlantic security and the rules-based international order. Full compliance is essential for the treaty to be effective, yet a pattern of behaviour and information over many years has led to widespread doubts about Russia’s compliance. Of course, it was the Obama Administration in 2014 that first strongly called out Russia’s non-compliance with this treaty. It is important to remember that this has been a long-running concern for several US Administrations and, indeed, for their European allies.

Alongside NATO allies in July, we made clear that in the absence of any credible answer from Russia on the 9M729 missile, the most plausible assessment would be that Russia was now in violation of the INF treaty. Since then, we have received no credible answer and so judge that Russia is indeed in violation.

In the interests of preserving the treaty, to which we in the UK and I think all our allies in Europe remain fully committed, we urge Russia to address these concerns in a substantial and transparent way, and to come back into full compliance with the treaty. The situation in which only one side—the United States—adheres to the treaty and Russia remains in non-compliance is not sustainable, as I am sure the hon. Gentleman would agree.

It is important to recognise that the US has not yet withdrawn from this treaty. While the treaty remains in force, we shall continue to support it, and in particular to press Russia to return to full and verifiable compliance. Indeed, it is worth noting media reports that Presidents Trump and Putin plan to meet in France next month—on Remembrance Sunday—to discuss this further. May I reassure the hon. Gentleman, and indeed the House at large, that dialogue is ongoing and that we shall remain in close contact with our US and NATO allies?

Thank you, Mr Speaker, for granting this urgent question. I thank the Minister for a very helpful reply.

As the Minister said, last week President Trump announced that the United States intends to leave the intermediate-range nuclear forces treaty, which was signed by the US and Soviet Russia in 1987. At that time, the threat of nuclear war brought the two great powers together at the negotiation table. The result of those negotiations was the elimination of all short and intermediate-range nuclear missiles, many of which were placed in Europe. Worryingly, however, nuclear war seems more tangible and real today than at any time since Reagan and Gorbachev signed the INF. Yet instead of realising this very real threat and its implications for global peace and security, the United States has apparently decided unilaterally to pull out, offering no alternative proposal or replacement. That is why I very much welcome the Minister’s comments.

What we are seeing at the moment is the erosion of the rules-based international order that underpins global peace and security. I must point out that the US was at the forefront of painstakingly creating such a system over the past 70 years. Leaving the INF is a dangerous unravelling of part of the architecture of trust and understanding that has prevented nuclear conflict. That system began exactly 50 years ago with the signing of the non-proliferation treaty, and certainly Labour Members—and, I am sure, those on both sides of the House—strongly support it.

Many experts have concluded that we are now entering a new arms race that has the potential to be more unpredictable and dangerous than at any time during the cold war. Have the UK Government consulted the United States on the implications that an arms race might have for European and United Kingdom security? I ask because this has deep implications for European security. In 1987, Europe was at the epicentre of the cold war and the arms race between Russia and America. Today, events in places such as Ukraine, and even here at home in Salisbury, have shown that Europe is at the forefront of a new conflict between east and west.

Withdrawal from the INF brings back the spectre of Pershing missiles being stationed in Europe and here in the United Kingdom, which I remember vividly from the 1980s. If such a nuclear conflict was to happen between the two major nuclear powers, the UK and our European allies would probably be the first to be hit. Finally, have the Government been given assurances by the United States Administration that we will not see a return of the deployment of short and intermediate-range missiles in Europe?

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his comments. I know that he and I agree—I hope the whole House would agree—that there is a great worry that there seems to be an erosion of the international rules-based order on which we have relied since the second world war. I think that we all recognise that that order perhaps needs to evolve and adapt to the world we are living in, and we need to engage with as many partners as possible to ensure that that comes to pass.

We have long-standing concerns about Russia’s development of a range of new capabilities that stand ready to undermine strategic stability. The US is a responsible nuclear power, with which we work closely. I have twice been to the UN Security Council in the past year for the debates that have taken place on non-proliferation. Interestingly, those debates were held at the behest of Kazakhstan and other nations that one would not necessarily think of as being immediately concerned about such matters. It is very much the policy to reduce the number of nuclear weapons. We shall continue to work with all partners across the international community to prevent proliferation and to make progress on multilateral nuclear disarmament.

I wish to touch on one other matter that the hon. Gentleman did not mention but is worth commenting on. As he is aware, there is also the bilateral new strategic arms reduction treaty. It was signed in 2011 by the US and Russia, and is designed to expire, under a 10-year process, in 2021. We are very pleased that both sides met limits by the deadline earlier this year, and we welcome the continued implementation of that treaty, which has an important impact on the broader proliferation of nuclear and other weaponry. New START contributes to international stability, and allies have expressed strong support for its continued implementation, and for early and active dialogue on ways to improve strategic stability.

This week marks the anniversary of the Cuban missile crisis, when the world came to the brink of nuclear war. Clearly the most important issue is that both sides have to come to compliance. Will my right hon. Friend confirm that Russia needs to come to compliance with its obligations under the treaty to make the world safe?

My hon. Friend was alive during the time of the Cuban missile crisis, unlike one or two of us on the Government Benches—and elsewhere I am sure, but I would not wish to be too glib about it.

We absolutely recognise the seriousness of the challenge that lies ahead. Tackling INF is essential for the security of the US and Europe, but we need to ensure that all sides that sign up to such agreements continue to implement them fully. That is where we are at the moment—working with all our allies to get Russia back to the negotiating table and keeping to its obligations.

I was definitely not alive at the time of the Cuban missile crisis, but I have been to eastern Ukraine, and two miles from the contact line with its occupied part, so I am under no illusion about the threat from Russian aggression. The Minister knows that Scottish National party Members have supported the Government on that when required. However, if we believe in the integrity of this vital treaty—the shadow Minister was right to adumbrate its importance—it cannot be the case that we can bring Russia into compliance at the same time as the United States is threatening to depart from it. It therefore follows that we cannot be cheerleaders for the US departing from the treaty. There were somewhat mixed messages—the Minister has partly cleared things up this morning—coming from the Defence Secretary in New York at the tail end of last week, when he stated that we would be with the United States should it choose to leave the INF treaty. I hope the Minister will confirm that the British Government should not take such a position. I would hope that Britain will knock heads together. He will have our support if he chooses to do that, because if the integrity of the treaty is unravelled by President Trump—I am mindful that this is all during an election campaign—we will all be the worse off for it.

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his wise comments. It is important to recognise that the US has not yet withdrawn from the treaty, and clearly we are in discussions with all our allies to avoid that outcome, but it is equally important that Russia returns to full and verifiable compliance. It is also worth reflecting, as I did in my comments about New START, on the fact that there are other treaties around. I accept that this issue very much focuses the minds of all of us on the European continent, but other treaties are still being adhered to, and that is a positive starting point in trying to bring both sides together.

It is my understanding that it would take six months to withdraw from the treaty under the formal process. Is it effectively the case that we now have a crucial six-month period in which to make some progress in reaching an agreement between Russia, America and ourselves?

I reassure my hon. Friend that we engage routinely with the US on a wide range of foreign policy and security issues, and similarly, this week US officials in Moscow will be talking about a range of issues. There is a timeframe, as my hon. Friend rightly points out. We very much want to adhere to the treaty while it is in place, and in our view it is Russia’s responsibility to come to the table and ensure the proper implementation of its obligations.

President Trump’s decision to withdraw unilaterally from hard-won international agreements, including the Paris climate accord and the Iran nuclear deal, is cause for concern. I agree with the Minister that states need to honour the commitments they have entered into, but does he agree that it sends a damaging message about the need for international agreements to solve the problems of the world when the United States of America can no longer be relied on to uphold agreements that it freely entered into?

The right hon. Gentleman will be aware that the Government also have concerns about the Paris climate change agreement, and we think it greatly to be regretted that the US decided to withdraw from it. I reiterate that it is important to recognise that the US has not yet withdrawn from this treaty, and it is the work of allies—particularly here on the European continent, and not least the big three of the United Kingdom, Germany and France—to try to exert as much pressure as possible in that regard. The easiest way to resolve this matter is to ensure that the bilateral arrangement that has been in place for 31 years is adhered to by one of the parties that is not doing so. In a way, this is frustration boiling over, and as I have pointed out, this is not something new to the Trump Administration; this high-profile issue goes back almost half a decade, including during the Obama Administration.

I am sure that the Minister agrees that none of us wants a return to the era of thousands of short and intermediate-range nuclear warhead missile delivery systems in Europe that could potentially be used at a moment’s notice to start a world war. Does he agree that when Russia has developed a new missile system that is potentially in breach of this treaty, we must be clear that that treaty will not survive if one party ignores its obligations?

My hon. Friend is right and there are very deep-seated concerns, not only for the US but for all allies about Russia’s development of new missile systems. Those long-standing concerns are shared by all NATO allies, not least those close to the Russian border. Along with NATO allies, and supported by US efforts, we worked to bring Russia back into compliance as recently as the NATO summit last July.