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Devolved Administrations: Discussions

Volume 653: debated on Thursday 24 January 2019

The hon. Lady asks about recent discussions. Having been in post for just over two months, all my discussions seem fairly recent. She will be aware that on my first day in post I met the devolved Administrations as a priority. I have had meetings with the Prime Minister and the First Minister of Scotland. Indeed, the Prime Minister met the First Minister again yesterday, and they had a phone conversation last week.

This week’s report from the Institute for Government suggests that Whitehall Departments are not yet prepared for Brexit, deal or no deal. The UK Government started talking last summer about stockpiling, so why was the list of critical drugs not shared with the Scottish Government until just before Christmas?

I think that the assessment in Whitehall is that Whitehall is more prepared than the devolved Administrations. We are looking to work closely with the devolved Administrations. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care has been very clear that medicines and medical products are our No. 1 priority for the supply of goods, and the extra ferry capacity has been purchased with that very much in mind.

If the discussions were about the maintenance of frictionless trade, a customs union of itself will not deliver that, will it?

My right hon. Friend is absolutely right. It is not just about what tariffs apply; it is also about what regulations apply on non-tariff barriers. Much of the debate in this place is about tariffs, but standards and regulations are also relevant.

The Secretary of State will know from his discussions how concerned the Welsh Government are about the prospect of a no-deal exit—the Prime Minister was told that last night. The Secretary of State will also have seen the comments from the chief executive of Airbus this morning, and his stark warning about no deal. Will he therefore take this opportunity to condemn the comments of his Conservative MEP colleague David Bannerman, who described Mr Enders’s warning as

“a German CEO putting EU interests first before his own employees”?

I take very seriously the warning from the chief executive of Airbus, but I remind the hon. Lady that he supports the Prime Minister’s deal. Many in business regard the deal as the way of delivering certainty through the implementation period. There is a lot of positivity with Airbus. If I look at the work that my hon. Friend the Member for Filton and Bradley Stoke (Jack Lopresti) has done to champion the “wing of the future” at the research and development centre there, I see that there is huge opportunity. What the chief executive and others in the business community are clear about is that they want a deal in order to avoid the uncertainty of no deal, and that is why they are backing the Prime Minister.

Welsh lamb producers send 90% of their exports to the European Union. In the event of a no-deal Brexit, they will face an effective tariff rate of 46%, so how are the UK Government working with the Welsh Government to support our farmers in this very serious situation?

We are talking closely with the Welsh farming community, as are Members on both sides of the House. The Prime Minister was at the Royal Welsh Show last year as part of that engagement. The hon. Gentleman will know that the National Farmers Union in Wales, and indeed across the United Kingdom, has made it clear that the best way of supporting farmers is by backing the deal.

The Prime Minister has promised that her discussions with the devolved nations and the Opposition parties will be without preconditions, so clearly she will not refuse even to discuss the prospect of extending article 50, because that would be a precondition; she will not refuse even to discuss the prospect of taking no deal off the table, because that would be a precondition; and she will not refuse even to discuss the possibility of giving the people another say, because that would be a precondition. Can the Secretary of State therefore confirm on the record that all those topics will be available for discussion, in honour of the Prime Minister’s promise that there will be no preconditions?

The Prime Minister was clear in her statement to the House on Monday that there are no preconditions. That is why she is engaging not just with the devolved Administrations; today I will be joining her for meetings with trade union leaders as part of that engagement. As the hon. Gentleman will know, the extension of article 50 is not a unilateral decision—it requires the consent of the other 27 member states. However, the main issue, and in fact, probably the only precondition that one could apply, is the fact that we need to honour the referendum result, and that is what the Prime Minister is committed to doing.

The Prime Minister was very clear in her statement to the House that there were no preconditions. She has been equally clear in a letter to my right hon. Friend the Member for Ross, Skye and Lochaber (Ian Blackford) that there are preconditions. The Secretary of State, and indeed the Prime Minister, will be becoming only too well aware that within probably a fairly short time the UK Government will be bombarding Scotland with promises about how much they love us, how equal a partner we are, and how much they want us to stay. Can I suggest to the Secretary of State that if he expects the people of Scotland to be conned by those false promises again in 2019, he should at the very least make sure that his Prime Minister stops breaking the promises she made to the people of Scotland last week?

Let me just say very gently to the hon. Gentleman that the con is to have a referendum and then say that one will not honour the result. We had a referendum on independence in Scotland. The Scottish people spoke very clearly in that. I suspect that one of the reasons for that was that the trading relationship within the United Kingdom is the most economically beneficial to them. Having taken that decision, the next referendum was on a UK-wide basis, and it needs to be respected on that basis.