Exiting the European Union
The Secretary of State was asked—
Third-country Trade Agreements
I have had a number of discussions with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for International Trade, as we build on the political declaration’s recognition of an independent free trade policy. As with the withdrawal agreement, we will be free to negotiate, sign and ratify free trade agreements during the implementation period.
On a personal level, may I welcome my right hon. Friend to his new position? Britain must seize its amazing opportunity to forge a new role in the world as a beacon of free trade, and an important part of that is implementing not only primary but secondary legislation. Will the Secretary of State update the House on the progress of primary and secondary legislation, and say when some of it will come forward?
My hon. Friend is correct to focus, with his keen eye, on the importance of secondary legislation, and significant progress is being made. To date, we have laid before Parliament more than 220 statutory instruments out of a target of 700. We have made significant progress, and my hon. Friend is right also to look to the opportunity that we will have as an independent free trade nation.
May I join the hon. Member for North East Hampshire (Mr Jayawardena) in welcoming the Secretary of State to his first appearance at questions to the Department for Exiting the European Union? When he and Oliver Robbins appeared before the Exiting the European Union Committee on Monday, the question was raised about what will happen to the 40 or so trade agreements to which we are party because of our membership of the European Union and which relate to about 70 countries. We were told that the EU has said that it intends to inform those countries that they ought to interpret those deals as continuing to apply to the UK during the transition period, but Mr Robbins said that that is “not the same” as a guarantee. What assurances can the Secretary of State give to businesses that trade under those arrangements in many parts of the world if our own negotiators say that there is no guarantee that the deals will continue to apply?
I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his kind remarks. He is right—we did explore that issue in Committee—and the point is about the significant progress that has been made in our bilateral discussions with those countries. He is right to say that that is not an absolute guarantee—that was the point made by Mr Robbins—but significant progress is being made.
Further to the question from my right hon. Friend the Member for Leeds Central (Hilary Benn), contracts in those trade agreements are worth more than £73 billion of exports and about £74 billion of imports. That is a serious matter for businesses in the Secretary of State’s constituency, and mine, that might be trading under those agreements. In the event of no deal, we will lose those agreements from 30 March next year. Is it time that he and the Government made a statement to the House, to set out in detail the implications for UK businesses of losing access to those trade agreements, which we have been part of negotiating over the past 45 years?
The hon. Lady and I explored that point in Committee, and it is not the case that in the event of no deal we would lose those agreements, because we are having those bilateral discussions. She points to a wider point, however, which is that the deal on the table from the Prime Minister is the way to deliver the certainty that our country needs and what the business community wants. That is why it is the right deal, the only deal and the deal the House should support.
I welcome the Minister to his new post, and I hope he stays around long enough to realise how complex the world is in terms of international trade. Will he look forensically at what really happened with Bombardier, which was part of a complex supply chain? He does realise—does he not?—that no deal is as good as staying in the European Union.
I feel that I should look to the hon. Gentleman when it comes to sticking around, because he is a good model for many of us in the House. He is right to mention the importance of Bombardier. Notwithstanding points that have been raised from a constitutional perspective—I know colleagues in the Democratic Unionist party have raised that issue—the head of Bombardier in Northern Ireland made it clear that the deal that the Prime Minister has secured from the European Union is the right deal for Bombardier and for Northern Ireland.
We continue to put the legislative building blocks in place to deliver our exit, and we have made good progress in passing the required primary legislation, including on nuclear safeguards and sanctions. As I said earlier, we are laying exit-related statutory instruments before Parliament.
Given that in politics one is sometimes asked for short answers, I feel that I should stop my answer with the word “yes”. Yes, we will be ready. This is an opportunity to pay tribute to the work that the Under-Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union, my hon. Friend the Member for Daventry (Chris Heaton-Harris), is doing on no-deal planning; a significant amount of work has been done. Let us not lose sight of the fact that the situation will also be very challenging: there is a huge amount to do as part of that no-deal planning. So yes, we will be ready, but significant work will be required.
I thank you for hosting the Patchwork Foundation MP of the year awards last night, Mr Speaker; I thank the organisation for the great work it does for people of non-traditional backgrounds.
The Prime Minister and her Ministers continue to prove Danny Dyer right, who talked of the “mad riddle” of Brexit. They pose their deal, no deal or no Brexit. What concrete assurances can they give the university representatives I met yesterday about what happens to their millions of euros of monthly research funding if we crash out with no deal on 1 April? The last they heard was a letter from the now long-departed hon. Member for Orpington (Joseph Johnson)—he, they, I and the majority of my constituents want no Brexit.
We are both dealing with the complexity of the issues.
On the substance of the point raised by the hon. Lady, I should say that this is the very essence of why we need the certainty that the deal offers. The alternatives that she points to are the uncertainty of no deal or of a second referendum. I know she desires a second referendum, given a number of questions she has put to the Prime Minister, but that would bring uncertainty to our democracy and politics.
If, or when, the withdrawal agreement is voted down next week, no deal is not the only option. There is a third option—to revoke article 50. We know what the Advocate General said earlier this week. Is the Secretary of State aware that the Grand Chamber of the Court of Justice of the European Union will give its final opinion—the opinion of 26 judges—on this issue at 8 am on Monday? MPs will therefore have the answer to the question whether article 50 can be unilaterally revoked. Can the Secretary of State confirm that he will be coming to the Chamber, in the wake of that decision, on Monday afternoon, to make a statement about the implications of the judgment of the Grand Chamber?
The hon. and learned Lady has discussed these issues with the Attorney General on a number of occasions. Obviously, I cannot prejudge the court case, but the position of Her Majesty’s Government is very clear: we will not be revoking article 50, and there is a reason for that. The Commission has a very similar view: if someone could revoke, in essence they could go to the last day of a judgment and then revoke and retrigger the process. That would make a mockery of the two-year period for article 50 and that is why we do not think that is the right position.
The Office for Budget Responsibility’s analysis of the recent Budget suggested that there could be an underspend of up to £400 million in the £1.6 billion Brexit funding pot that the Chancellor allocated back in March to prepare for leaving the EU. Will the Secretary of State tell the House precisely how much of that Brexit funding pot has not yet been spent?
Such is the Labour party’s desire to spend that the idea of any underspend is anathema—there is always a desire to spend more and spend more again. As the Chancellor has made clear, the Budget money will be allocated to deliver on the no-deal plans. The significance of those plans is recognised in government and all the requests that have been made have been discussed in the usual way and gone through the usual Treasury clearing process.
Given that the Department’s role is now largely confined to domestic preparations for exit, many will find that answer deeply troubling. But it is not surprising that no-deal preparations are not being taken seriously, because they have been a bluff from the start. Yesterday, the Chancellor told the Treasury Committee that the infrastructure works needed to prepare the port of Dover for an exit on World Trade Organisation terms would take years, not months. With 113 days left, will the Secretary of State now take this opportunity to rule out a no-deal Brexit once and for all—before this House does it for him?
The hon. Gentleman has clearly not read the transcript of my session at the Select Committee. What he will see from that is that the role of the Department is not constrained to merely the domestic side, although that is of huge significance. We are also focused on moving forward on the political declaration and looking to the future. Yes, the withdrawal agreement deals with the winding-down of our relationship of over 40 years with the European Union, but we are also focused on taking forward the political declaration to deliver on the future trading relationship that we want with our closest trading neighbour.
Free Movement and Scotland
With your permission, Mr Speaker, I will take Questions 3 and 19 together.
The Secretary of State has regular discussions with his Cabinet colleagues. We also engage with the Scottish Government through the Joint Ministerial Committee and the ministerial forum, which I co-chaired on Monday. The political declaration makes it clear that free movement will end. We will design a future immigration system that works for all parts of the UK.
We all recognise the valuable contribution of EU citizens in our communities. That is why we are looking to secure a deal that makes sure that EU citizens working and living in the UK, and UK citizens living in the EU, are fully protected under the terms of the withdrawal agreement.
Freedom of movement is fantastic for Scotland’s economy and provides amazing opportunities for our young people. To what extent would migration form part of negotiations on the future relationship, and why have we not seen the immigration White Paper?
I am sure the Home Office will be coming forward with details of future immigration policy shortly. However, it is also important that we set out in our White Paper—it is reflected in the political declaration—that important elements of labour mobility will form part of those negotiations. It is also clearly reflected in the political declaration that free movement will come to an end when we leave the EU.
I welcome the Secretary of State to his first Question Time. The Prime Minister listed the end of the free movement of people as the single biggest cause for celebration in her deal. The reality is that, every week, Fife is losing talented young families, who are leaving their home and the land where they belong because they do not want their children growing up in a place where they have been regarded as bargaining chips and queue jumpers. That is causing enormous heartache to thousands of my fellow Fifers and to hundreds of thousands of my fellow Scots. Will the Minister explain why I should celebrate that?
From the Prime Minister downwards, we have always been clear that we hugely value the contribution of EU citizens living all over our country; we want them to stay, and we will make sure that they can stay under any circumstances. However, the best way to do that is to secure the agreement we have negotiated and to secure citizens’ rights arrangements for 4 million citizens, including many UK citizens living in the EU.
It is very hard to reconcile the reassuring words from the Minister with the fact that the Prime Minister herself used the phrase “queue jumpers” to refer to thousands of my constituents and tens of thousands of my fellow Scots. The Government’s own analysis has shown that every single Brexit scenario they could think of—ending the free movement of people, cutting migration from the European Union to somewhere close to their ridiculous target—damages our economy in the longer term. As well as being morally repugnant and socially divisive, ending the free movement of people is economically stupid and violates the sovereign will of the people of Scotland. Does the Minister agree that anyone in this House who claims to stand up for Scotland has only one option next week, and that is to thoroughly reject this miserable deal and to get back round the negotiating table?
I do not think the hon. Gentleman will be particularly surprised to hear that I do not agree. I believe that the sovereign will of the people of Scotland he referred to was to stay in the United Kingdom. The United Kingdom has voted to leave the European Union and end free movement. However, every scenario in the Government’s analysis showed our economy continuing to grow.
No unexpected question pairings this time, Mr Speaker.
I have appeared twice in front of the Assembly’s External Affairs and Additional Legislation Committee this year, most recently on 11 October, to provide evidence on the UK’s exit from the European Union. I also regularly engage with the Welsh Government, with whom I had a call this morning. Earlier this week, I co-chaired the sixth meeting of the ministerial forum for EU negotiations, which three Welsh Ministers attended. We remain committed to engaging fully with the devolved Administrations and legislatures.
I thank the Minister for that answer. In the Exiting the European Union Committee on Monday, the Government’s chief Brexit adviser told me that Welsh representatives will not sit on the new joint committee of five. He said that the Joint Ministerial Committee might be used, or
“other structures that may be invented in due course.”
The JMC is widely seen as not being fit for purpose—for example, by the recent inter-parliamentary forum on Brexit, which I attended. What are those proposed invented structures, and when and how will they be activated?
This is an issue that we take very seriously. The ministerial forum, which I co-chair with the Parliamentary Secretary, Cabinet Office, my hon. Friend the Member for Norwich North (Chloe Smith), who is the Minister for the constitution, has had some very useful engagement, in addition to the JMC structure. My new Secretary of State has already attended his first meeting of the JMC. We intend to keep moving forward and talking to and including the devolved Administrations in our approach.
The hon. Gentleman asks an interesting question. Clearly, work is still ongoing on the UK shared prosperity fund. There is a huge opportunity to do better than the European structural funds. Our country sends millions of pounds into the European structural fund system, and they never return to our country. In the future, the UK shared prosperity fund can deliver more effectively for every part of the United Kingdom.
The Government’s analysis shows the deal that the House is considering will deliver for every section, region, nation and sector of our country, including the manufacturing sector. I assure the hon. Member for Blaydon (Liz Twist) that it has grown by 9.5% since 2010.
The Attorney General’s legal advice on the backstop states:
“any GB goods crossing the border into the EU will be subject to third country checks”.
How much damage does the Minister think that will cause to manufacturers, like those in the north-east, where my constituency is based, who rely on just-in-time supply chains?
The prospects for manufacturing under the Government’s policy are actually very strong. [Interruption.] I will answer the hon. Lady’s question. I think the House will be very interested to learn that Sir Roger Carr, the chairman of BAE Systems, which has locations near the hon. Lady’s constituency, said that the deal is
“something that had the key elements of what people were looking for, particularly in the sense of a pathway to frictionless trade, control of our borders and preservation of the UK.”
Manufacturing has nothing to fear from this deal.
Dunbia Cardington is a major employer in Bedford. Despite years of trying to recruit staff locally, the business relies on workers from the EU, who make up 90% of the workforce. Does the Minister agree that the Government’s future immigration policy, which restricts the low-skilled workforce that the factory depends on, puts the future of the company at risk?
I completely reject that idea. As we have stated very clearly, the rights of EU citizens who are already here are absolutely guaranteed under the terms of the withdrawal agreement. We look forward to having a skills-based immigration policy that will absolutely guarantee that the talent we need can come to this country.
Those are my hon. Friend’s figures, and I know what his views on the subject have been over many years. The deal under consideration will be a sure footing on which we can grow the economy. I think the scare stories are misplaced and we have a bright future ahead, particularly in relation to our exports and our trade policy.
The Minister will be aware that engineering employers and the CBI have given cautious support to the Government’s proposal on the basis that the transition and the common customs area will protect their supply chains. What further reassurance can he give them that these arrangements might be long term, or even permanent?
The right hon. Gentleman is absolutely right, and I commend him for his honesty in suggesting that many businesspeople think the deal is a very good one. Certainly, businesspeople in my constituency want the deal to go ahead. I think that we will secure a frictionless or very good free trade arrangement with the EU, and I think that our businesses will grow and be encouraged by the free trade agreement that we get.
Labour’s policy of a permanent customs union is supported by, among others, the TUC, the CBI and the Engineering Employers Federation, which said:
“Loss of access to both the single market and the customs union would condemn the manufacturing sector to a painful and costly Brexit.”
On 17 July, this House came within six votes of accepting a customs union as a negotiating objective. Is it not obvious that if the Prime Minister supported it and ignored the empty threats of the European Research Group, there would be a majority in this House for a customs union?
The hon. Lady makes a fair point, but she will also appreciate that the deal under consideration is supported by businesses for that very reason. It can secure ongoing relationships with the certainty that we need. The problem with the Labour proposal of permanent membership of the customs union is that it completely destroys any idea that we can have an independent trade policy, which is set out on the first page of the political declaration. The Labour proposal is unambitious and completely constrains our ability to do the independent trade deals that will drive our economy in the future.
Scotland’s Place in Europe
As co-chair of the ministerial forum on EU negotiations, I regularly engage with Scottish Government Ministers, most recently with Ministers Dey and Wheelhouse earlier this week. They presented me with a copy of the document to which the hon. Gentleman’s question refers. The deal protects key Scottish interests, including by protecting UK geographical indications and exploring continued participation in EU programmes such as Horizon. However, contrary to the Scottish Government’s assessment, the political declaration confirms that we are leaving the common fisheries policy and does not link access to waters with access to markets.
The European parliamentary research service has estimated that a potential value of up to €1.1 trillion per year could be realised from further easement of cross-border movement of goods and services, completing the EU digital single market and increasing cross-border public procurement. Surely, the UK Government should listen to the Scottish Government and look at staying in the customs union and single market for the financial benefits that doing so will bring.
The hon. Gentleman makes the very good point that the single market in services was never completed, and it probably never will be. It is in the UK’s interests to deliver on the outcome of the referendum, move on from leaving the single market and the customs union and deliver a new relationship with the EU. Many people, including those in the party to which the hon. Gentleman belongs, told us that that would never be possible, but the political declaration makes it clear that it is.
The Government are paying lip service, at best, to the views of the Scottish Parliament and Scottish Government. In reality, I think they simply do not give a stuff about what people think north of the border. Yesterday, Scottish Conservative spokespeople were describing a debate in the Scottish Parliament as “needless”. Does the Minister honestly agree with them that the Scottish Parliament—and, for that matter, the Welsh Assembly—do not need to debate or vote on Brexit?
DExEU Ministers and officials, as the House probably knows, engage regularly with the Department for International Trade on EU exit and trade matters. Our officials also jointly attend the US-UK trade and investment working group, which has met five times already. As the withdrawal agreement states, we will be free to negotiate, sign and ratify free trade agreements during the implementation period, and we will be able to bring them into force after that implementation period is complete.
President Trump can justify his remarks for himself, but the US ambassador, Mr Woody Johnson, recently said:
“Britain is the perfect trading partner for the United States”.
That relationship is already the strongest we have—the United States is our single biggest trading partner, accounting for 20% of our trade—and there is no reason to suggest that that would be in any way jeopardised by the deal.
There has been much talk about the backstop. In the unlikely and frankly unwelcome event that we find ourselves in it, will the Minister please confirm our position with respect to being able to sign trade deals with the United States and other countries?
As I suggested in my earlier response, the United States is our single greatest trading partner as of today. There is no reason to suggest that that relationship cannot develop. Under article 129 of the withdrawal agreement, as Members know, we can negotiate, sign and ratify free trade agreements. It is very important to emphasise that point. Those relationships will kick in and take effect after the end of the implementation period.
Since the legal advice of the Attorney General has proven that Northern Ireland is to consider GB as a third country, will the Minister outline how our trade relationship will proceed if this dastardly and despicable deal manages to slip through?
As the hon. Gentleman has heard me suggest from the Dispatch Box, this is a good deal. It works for Britain and it is a very secure basis on which to provide the certainty from which our businesses can grow. With regard to the Northern Ireland backstop, it is not a situation that we want to be in; we hope to conclude a free trade arrangement before the backstop kicks in, and I have every confidence that we will manage to do so.
Can we have a little bit of honesty in this House? The Minister knows full well that as long as we remain in the backstop, we can talk as much as we like to the United States, and we can sign an agreement with them, but we cannot implement an agreement with them or indeed with anyone else as long as we remain in the customs union. Will my hon. Friend just get up to say, “Yes, that’s true actually”?
I think that my hon. Friend’s interpretation of the withdrawal agreement is slightly different from my own. The first thing I should say is that the backstop is a hypothetical situation; it is not a situation that the Government intend to be in. Let me repeat to the House: if we complete a free trade agreement, the backstop falls away—it is not something that we intend to pursue. [Interruption.] With respect to concluding trade deals, as he knows and as I have said, the withdrawal agreement states that we can sign those deals and they will be—[Interruption.]Forgive me—they will absolutely be concluded, or kick in, after the end of the implementation period.
I repeat the question from the hon. Member for Lichfield (Michael Fabricant), because the Minister did not answer it. He surely has to confirm at the Dispatch Box that the deal means that any trade deals that might be signed cannot be implemented until we are out of the customs union and single market. He just has to get up and say that that is true.
I simply reject the premise of the hon. Lady’s question. It is clear, and is stated clearly in the political declaration, that we will embark on negotiations with the EU and we will conclude them. That is our principal objective—to conclude a free trade agreement with the EU before the end of the implementation period.
Immigration White Paper
I have regular discussions with my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary and, as he has said, the Government will shortly publish an immigration White Paper setting out the details of our future immigration system.
As immigration was one of the key issues of the 2016 referendum, is it not a complete failure of Government that we will not have that White Paper before we vote next Tuesday? Can the Secretary of State say what he believes will happen with the crisis in our social care workforce once Brexit happens?
The hon. Lady is correct that it was a key area of debate during the referendum, and that is why it is also one of the key wins that the Prime Minister has secured in the withdrawal agreement. She has made it clear that freedom of movement is coming to an end and that we will put in place a skills-based system, so that we can recruit on the basis of what our economy needs, whether that is in social care, health or other sectors such as fintech. We can recruit on the basis of skills, rather than nationality. It is one of the key wins secured by the Prime Minister, and that is why this is a good deal.
As the Secretary of State has acknowledged, those campaigning for Brexit made controlling immigration central to their case. The Government have put it top of the 40 reasons to back the Brexit deal. Yesterday was assigned for Parliament to debate the issue, but the Home Secretary was unable to give any indication of the Government’s plans. The promise to publish the White Paper before Tuesday has been broken, apparently because Ministers have deeply conflicting views and cannot agree a policy. Blindfold on our future economic relationship and blindfold on migration, how can they expect the House to support them on Tuesday?
The exact opposite is the case. The clarity of the Government’s objective on immigration is signalled by the way that in the withdrawal agreement we have control of the way forward. That is why we will be able to take forward a skills-based system. It is for the Home Office to set out through the White Paper its approach. That is what it will do shortly, as I said a moment ago.
My Department and I continue to work closely with the Secretary of State for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and his team on future fisheries policy. The Government’s vision was set out in the fisheries White Paper and will come into force via powers in the Fisheries Bill. As an independent coastal state, we will take back control of our waters, setting quotas and adapting our fisheries management regime for the first time in more than 40 years.
When we leave the EU, we leave the common fisheries policy and become an independent coastal state. We therefore need to enter upon a new fisheries agreement with the EU, just like Norway, Iceland and the Faroe Islands. Does my hon. Friend agree that Ministers and officials from the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs should, with input from stakeholders across the fisheries sector, take the lead in those negotiations?
I know that my hon. Friend has battled hard over the years for Scottish fishing communities. He is like a machine in his relentless enthusiasm and passion for this subject, so I am sure that he already knows the answer. In fact, I am doubly sure that he already knows the answer because he asked exactly the same question of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs just last week. I can assure my hon. Friend that DEFRA and my Department are on the same page, and that the Government have consulted the fisheries industry throughout the negotiations and will continue to do so. It is right that we continue to use the expertise inside and outside of Government to get the best deal for fishermen in Banff and Buchan, Scotland and the whole United Kingdom.
I thought that the Minister might like to know that a recent survey by the chamber of commerce in Cornwall found that 80% of its members wanted to stay in the European Union. Their concerns included the risk of fish caught in Cornwall and exported by truck via Dover being caught in traffic jams. What is he going to do in relation to that and fishing policy?
The right hon. Gentleman, like me, represents one of the most landlocked constituencies in the country, but his question is important none the less. Perhaps he should step back from spreading scare stories about what will happen over the short straits. All he has to do is google what we as a Government are doing and what the French Government are doing to ensure flow over the short straits. He should be happy with what he sees, as should people in Cornwall.
UK-EU Trade Policy Options
DExEU Ministers and officials hold regular discussions with the Department for International Trade on EU exit and trade matters. We are working at pace to ensure that the necessary arrangements for our future partnership are in place for December 2020.
Being in the customs union with the European Union means that we cannot negotiate our own independent free trade agreements. If negotiating our future trade relationship with the EU required us to extend the transition period by a year, that could be seen as negative, but the reality is that negotiations with most major countries, such as China and the US, will take time to conclude. Does my right hon. Friend therefore agree that extending the transition period by a year would be better for securing independent free trade agreements than being stuck in an indefinite backstop?
I know that my hon. Friend has considerable experience, particularly on issues such as China, in which I know he takes a deep interest. The key point is that it will be a sovereign choice for the UK whether it extends the implementation period. He alludes to the fact that significant work is already going on. For example, the economic and financial dialogues the Treasury has with countries such as China, India and Brazil lay the groundwork for much of the trade discussions that colleagues in the Department for International Trade are concluding.
The Secretary of State for International Trade promised that he would have 40 trade deals ready to sign the day after we leave the European Union. What assessment has the Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union made of his right hon. Friend’s progress on that?
I am both pleased and encouraged by the progress that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for International Trade is making. The point is that, through the deal that the Prime Minister has negotiated, we now are in a position where we can pursue an independent trade policy. That is clear on page 1 of the political declaration. Part 5 of the political declaration sets out a clear timetable to put momentum into the discussions in order that we can not only negotiate and sign during the interim period but get to that future trade agreement with the European Union, which will allow us to start those trade agreements with the rest of the world.
Agriculture: No-deal Planning
We continue to have regular conversations with representatives of the agriculture sector on all aspects of exit, including no-deal planning. While the Government have been clear that we do not expect no deal, we continue to do the responsible thing and prepare for all eventualities. As set out in our technical notices, in a no-deal scenario farm payment and rural development programme beneficiaries will continue to receive payments under the funding guarantee.
In September, the National Farmers Union warned its members that, in the event of a no-deal Brexit, we could be out of the EU market for up to six months while the process of registering the UK as a third-party country is undertaken. For Shetland farmers and crofters, for whom Europe is an enormously important market for lamb exports, that could be very serious. What is the Minister doing to ensure that we are not left in that position?
I know that the right hon. Gentleman takes these matters very seriously on behalf of his constituents. As he will know, we want to get the deal that is on the table at the moment, because that guarantees these things, but as I mentioned, we have already published technical notices detailing what farmers would need to do to export their products in a no-deal scenario. We have been clear that there would be some changes in the way we export animal products, for example. However, in November, the European Union published a document on its no-deal planning, in which it set out that it will swiftly list the UK as a third country if all applicable conditions are fulfilled. That would allow us to continue to export live animals and animal products to the European Union. We are continuing to maintain dialogue with our European Union partners and take concrete steps to minimise any disruption that might occur in those circumstances.
The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs continues to say that there will be no deal with any country that does not share our high standards in animal welfare and environmental protection. Does the Department for Exiting the European Union share those views?
Support for Farmers
We continue to have regular conversations with ministerial colleagues across Government on all aspects of exiting the European Union, including support for farmers. The Agriculture Bill is part of the Government’s programme of critical legislation to deliver a smooth exit from the European Union and seize the opportunities of a green Brexit. It will allow us to break from the EU’s common agricultural policy and free farmers to continue producing world-class food.
The EU is our biggest export market for agricultural goods, including a huge amount that we export from south Gloucestershire. Does the Minister agree that maintaining unfettered access to that market is absolutely essential for businesses around the country, including the many farms in south Gloucestershire in places such as Chalford?
I absolutely agree, which is why we have a deal on the table that will deliver that, and why the political declaration sets out the plan for a free trade area for goods, including agri-food. It recognises that controls and checks will depend on the UK’s commitments on regulatory co-operation, including the level of alignment with EU rules. We need to agree that balance as part of the future negotiations, but we have agreed to be as ambitious as possible.
A key concern to Cheshire farmers is to know what discussions the Secretary of State has had with his counterparts in the Departments for International Trade and for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs about protecting UK food and farming standards following exit from the EU.
We continue to have regular conversations with colleagues across Government, including the Department for International Trade, on all aspects of exit, including farm and food standards. As we leave the European Union we are clear that consumers must be confident that food has been produced to a high standard and that we must protect highly integrated supply chains to the benefit of customers across Europe. That is why we have this deal on the table.
Less than a week after the Environment Secretary declared that the UK would lead a GM food revolution, the UK Government’s Minister for Trade Policy claimed that dropping food import standards would cause “untold damage”. Does the DExEU Minister agree with his colleagues?
No Deal Contingency Plans
While the chances of no deal have been reduced considerably because of the deal that we have on the table, the Government continue to prepare for all eventualities. Extensive work to prepare for a no deal scenario has been under way throughout Government for more than two years, with more than 300 unique work streams. That work continues apace. We have published 106 technical notices to help businesses and citizens; successfully passed critical legislation; signed international agreements; recruited additional staff; and guaranteed certain EU funding in a no deal scenario.
I welcome the Secretary of State, along with my great friend the Under-Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union, the hon. Member for Spelthorne (Kwasi Kwarteng), who takes his rightful place on the Government Front Bench. Will the Minister set out specific examples of what the Government have done in their no-deal preparations? Does he agree that the actions he has outlined are far better than the zero pounds that the shadow Chancellor committed to prepare for no deal?
The whole House will be aware that we have passed a lot of critical legislation, including the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018, the Haulage Permits and Trailer Registration Act 2018 and the Sanctions and Anti-Money Laundering Act 2018. We have signed key international agreements, including new bilateral nuclear co-operation deals with the US, Australia and Canada. We are recruiting new staff to prepare for the day the UK leaves the EU, including more than 600 new Border Force officers in addition to 300 officers deployed by the end of this year.
It is rumoured today—I read it on Twitter, so it must be true—that the Privy Council is to be briefed by the Cabinet Office civil contingencies department on its preparations for no deal. In the interests of balance, will the Minister ensure that the Privy Council is also given a full report of his Department’s readiness for a no-deal outcome so that it is fully informed?
I do not know whether that was a bid from my hon. Friend to become a Privy Counsellor, but he would be a worthy recipient of that honour. My Department always remains open, and I remain open to talk to all colleagues, from whatever part of the House, about the Government’s no-deal planning.
We seem to have a slightly contrary position here. Earlier, we heard from Ministers that there is nothing to fear for manufacturers about no deal and that there are scare stories in this place, but we also hear that there is lots of contingency planning. I have visited manufacturers, and they remain scared of no deal. This week Bristol City Council has published its assessment of a no-deal scenario. Have Ministers met with leaders of Core Cities to discuss and debate what a no-deal scenario means for these drivers of our economies across England?
The very simple answer is yes, Ministers have been meeting with councils up and down the country. There are four Ministers within my Department and the Ministry for Housing, Communities and Local Government who also do that. I suppose it is an interesting balance, when trying to get a deal with some of our best friends, whether to float above the surface the extent of the no-deal planning we might be doing, but a responsible Government plans for everything.
As a responsible Government, we will do whatever it takes to ensure that cross-channel trade continues to move as freely as possible, and we have a range of contingency plans in place just in case. Our top priority is ensuring that traffic and goods keep moving, which is why we have been speaking directly to industry across the medical supply chain, from pharmaceutical trade bodies to storage providers, so that consumers continue and will continue to get medicines in the same way as they do now in the event of there being no deal.
Northern Ireland Backstop
We had discussions on alternative arrangements to avoid the need for the backstop to come into effect, and that is why the political declaration includes a specific commitment to consider how facilitative arrangements and technologies could be used to develop such alternative arrangements to avoid a hard border in the island of Ireland. To ensure that those are developed quickly, the forward process section sets out how preparatory work should begin before we leave, enabling rapid progress after our withdrawal.
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Spelthorne (Kwasi Kwarteng) and the Secretary of State on their new positions on the Front Bench. They will do their job admirably. The truth of the matter is that existing techniques currently used in the EU can be applied to all EU borders. Will my hon. Friend update the House on those technologies and how they can be properly applied?
My right hon. Friend makes an interesting point. It is an argument that we have made a number of times earlier in the process. There are techniques that can be explored. I think it is fair to say that discussions have further to go on this front to ensure that both parties are agreed on how we implement those. That is what we will want to take forward very rapidly under the political declaration.
It is not just what you say, but what you do that matters. My very first meeting as Secretary of State was with the Scottish and Welsh Governments, and I hope that underlines my personal commitment to that dialogue. As the Prime Minister committed on Tuesday, we will continue to engage with the devolved Administrations on the detailed positions on the future relationship.
Eleven days ago, the Government published the EU withdrawal agreement and the political declaration on the future relationship between the UK and the EU. We have achieved a deal with the EU that delivers on the referendum, that the nation can unite behind and that Parliament should back.
I welcome the Secretary of State to his new role on the Front Bench. Will he explain or elaborate on the work he is doing across Government to enhance connectivity post Brexit for international trade across the county of Essex and in our regions to get the economic growth that is required and to expand our ports and airports to ensure that our trade not only flows but increases when we leave the EU?
My right hon. Friend makes an extremely important point, and I am very conscious of it in the East Anglia region. The border delivery group is working with Departments to ensure that plans are in place to engage fully with traders in advance of exit and indeed, it has visited each of the 135 port and airport locations. My right hon. Friend brings considerable experience to the subject and I am happy to meet her to discuss it further.
I welcome the Secretary of State to his place and genuinely wish him well in his role.
On 15 October, the Prime Minister made an important point from the Dispatch Box to reassure MPs who were worried about the backstop arrangement. She said that
“if the EU were not to co-operate on our future relationship, we must be able to ensure that we cannot be kept in this backstop arrangement indefinitely.”—[Official Report, 15 October 2018; Vol. 647, c. 410.]
Does the Secretary of State agree?
I thank the right hon. and learned Member for his generous welcome. I also take the opportunity, as I did on Monday night—although technically it was Tuesday morning—to pay tribute to him for serving as shadow Secretary of State throughout this period. On the core of his question about the UK’s ability to exit from the backstop, he will know, as a former lawyer, that the legal process is clear in terms of the role of the Joint Committee and the arbitration, and that there is legal wiring in the withdrawal agreement that requires the EU to act in good faith. Those issues were explored in much more detail with the Attorney General on Monday, but in short I very much agree with the Prime Minister because there is a legal connectivity between the withdrawal agreement and the backstop arrangement.
That is a very sensible position. The Secretary of State suggests that he agrees with the Prime Minister that, if the EU does not co-operate, we cannot be kept in the backstop indefinitely. The problem is that the Attorney General’s legal advice, which was published yesterday states, in terms,
“in international law, the”
“would endure indefinitely.”
He went on to say:
“This remains the case even if parties are still negotiating many years later, and even if the parties believe that the talks have clearly broken down”.
That is the complete opposite of what the Prime Minister said she intended to achieve.
The right hon. and learned Gentleman makes the same point in essence as my very distinguished predecessor, my right hon. Friend the Member for Esher and Walton (Dominic Raab), about where the balance of risk sits. The right hon. and learned Gentleman quoted the Attorney General, so it is worth drawing the House’s attention to exactly what the Attorney General said on that point. [Interruption.] Well, he quoted part of what the Attorney General said, but my right hon. and learned Friend said more than what has been quoted in isolation, and the right hon. and learned Gentleman will be the first to accept that when considering these issues, one looks at the whole, not selective comments. The Attorney General said:
“I do not believe that we are likely to be entrapped in the backstop permanently”.—[Official Report, 3 December 2018; Vol. 650; c. 552.]
However, he also said that
“the matters of law affecting the withdrawal can only inform what is essentially a political decision”.—[Official Report, 3 December 2018; Vol. 650, c. 546.]
It is a question of where one assesses the balance of risk to be. I looked at that very issue when I considered the matter. The Attorney General has addressed that, as is reflected in his comments to the House on Monday.
I thank my hon. Friend and parliamentary neighbour for his question. I know how hard he works in his constituency, and he always puts me to shame with the amount of work he does for his constituents.
I remind my hon. Friend of the answers he has heard on this so far, before giving him some extra bits. We already have over 300 plans that we are delivering to ensure that, should we be in a no deal scenario, it goes smoothly. We have plans for our border, and he will have heard about the amount of legislation, primary and secondary, that is going through the House, and I have some specific examples.
On 2 November. Canada signed a nuclear co-operation agreement with the UK. Later in November, the Competition and Markets Authority started its recruitment campaign to hire staff to fulfil the obligations of its new state aid role. We have begun a pet travel awareness campaign to advise pet owners of the actions they would need to take to be able to travel to the EU with their pets from March 2019. The Home Office has recruited 300 people to its readiness taskforce, and it was on track to be deployed in November. I could go on.
Can I very gently say to Ministers that they appear today to be adopting what I can only describe as an Oxford high table approach to political debate? That no doubt has its own merits, but we are subject to the constraint of time, and therefore I would urge a degree of pithiness of exchange.
I pay tribute to the hon. Gentleman for his approach of working with other Plymouth MPs, my hon. Friends the Members for Plymouth, Moor View (Johnny Mercer) and for South West Devon (Mr Streeter). I recognise the importance of this to the three constituencies, and I am happy to raise the issue with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence. We recognise the importance of Barden as a firm, and I am happy to work with the hon. Member for Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport (Luke Pollard) and his constituency neighbours as we take the issue forward.
I am very happy to reassure my hon. Friend. A number of the safeguards have been debated at some length in the House, including safeguards on extending the implementation period, on the undesirability of the backstop to the EU27 and on the due legal process. Given the commitments in the withdrawal agreement, the due process that applies, in terms of the joint committee and the arbitration, would follow. There are clear safeguards in the text that the Prime Minister has negotiated as part of the wider achievements that have been secured in delivering on the referendum. There is an independent coastal approach, and we are coming out of the common fisheries policy and having a skills-based immigration system.
If there is an outlier to which the hon. Gentleman refers—I always enjoyed our dealings in my previous ministerial role, given his health expertise—the overwhelming feedback we have received from business is its support for the deal and its desire to see the implementation period. Business does not want the uncertainty of crashing out, but it also does not want the uncertainty of a second referendum.
My hon. Friend will appreciate that a key focus for me since taking on this role has been to review the work on the state of readiness and to ensure that those discussions are held with Cabinet colleagues. That is exactly what I am doing, and it is supported by the excellent work of the Under-Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union, my hon. Friend the Member for Daventry (Chris Heaton-Harris).
I trust the hon. Lady is not trying to scare any vulnerable constituents we might have. I know she does not necessarily trust what a Minister might say, but all she needs to do is look at what other countries are doing to guarantee that the flow of all medical supply continues across borders, by googling what might be going on at the French border, to see that her concerns are unwarranted.
I very much hear the point that my hon. Friend makes. As I am sure he is aware, I am meeting colleagues and listening to concerns, including those on the backstop. Obviously, we also need to be mindful of the imperative of the guarantee that we have given to the people of Northern Ireland, which was given for a reason, in terms of the peace process and ensuring that we honour the obligations that have been given to the people of Northern Ireland.
We always pay attention to what the devolved Assemblies and devolved legislatures do. We, of course, take note of its decision, but it was a UK referendum that decided we should leave the UK, and Wales also voted to leave.
The Government’s own analysis shows that my constituents will be worse off under this deal, but the Secretary of State argues that they will gain sovereignty and future trade agreements. Can he explain precisely in engineering terms how supply chains between the north-east of England and north-west France, for example, can be replaced by ones with the mid-west of America or Western Australia?
The hon. Lady usually speaks on business matters with great experience, but it is a misreading of the economic analysis to suggest that her constituents will be poorer or less well-off. The issue within the economic analysis is what the impact will be on the rate of growth; it is not whether people will be worse off than they are today. One key achievement of the Prime Minister’s deal is that it keeps open the option of frictionless trade, because it moves from the binary choice that was initially offered, of either a Canada-style or Norway-style deal, and recognises a bespoke option.