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Exiting the European Union

Volume 655: debated on Thursday 28 February 2019

The Secretary of State was asked—

Cross-party Talks

1. What progress the Government have made on cross-party talks on potential changes to the withdrawal agreement and political declaration. (909487)

As this is my first opportunity to do so, may I pay my tribute to the former hon. Member for Newport West? Paul Flynn was a true parliamentarian and he was respected across the House.

The Prime Minister, supported by the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster and others, has met and continues to meet MPs from across the House to understand what will command the confidence of the House. Those discussions are ongoing.

I pay my compliments to Paul Flynn. He was a lovely man. He put his arm around quite a few of us in the early days when we were new Members.

We have had months of no progress or compromise on the deal from either the UK or the EU, but there has been some good news. Donald Tusk said that the letter from the Leader of the Opposition offered a “promising way forward” to solve the Brexit impasse. Surely the Secretary of State agrees that this could be the basis for cross-party talks, and that we could crack the need to protect jobs, trade and rights, and even help the Irish border question, through a comprehensive customs union?

As the shadow spokesman, the right hon. and learned Member for Holborn and St Pancras (Keir Starmer), said yesterday, there have been discussions between the respective Front Benches. I agree with him that it is right that we do not go into the details of those discussions on the Floor of the House, but there have been discussions and I think that that is welcome. Both the Chair of the Select Committee, the right hon. Member for Leeds Central (Hilary Benn) and other distinguished Members, such as the right hon. Member for Birkenhead (Frank Field), noted in the debate yesterday that there had been progress. It is important that we continue to have those discussions, but that those of us on the Government Benches stand by our manifesto commitments in respect of not being part of a EU customs union.

21.   I have heard from people from Plymouth living in the rest of the EU who are sick to the stomach with worry about what will happen to them in the event of a no deal. What meaningful changes can the Secretary of State make to the withdrawal agreement or the political declaration to give them the certainty that these people rightly deserve? (909508)

The hon. Gentleman is right that we need to secure change. The Brady amendment showed that in terms of the legally binding change to which the Prime Minister has referred. I am sure the hon. Gentleman’s constituents, like mine, also want to see us move on. The way that we do that, and end that uncertainty, is to back the Prime Minister’s deal.

Will the Secretary of State confirm to the House that in the discussions to which he has just referred the EU has made it absolutely clear that the backstop will not be removed from the withdrawal agreement?

The EU has made it clear that it wants a deal that will pass this House. It has heard the concerns about what it says is a temporary agreement—what article 50 says is temporary—and the concern expressed by the Attorney General in his legal advice that it could be indefinite. It has heard the concerns of this House. That has been very much the message that the Attorney General, the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster and I have expressed in those discussions. The EU is engaging in a discussion on how we can address that.

There is significant cross-party support to ensure we do not leave the EU without a deal. On Tuesday, the Prime Minister promised that if her deal failed to win support by 12 March the Government would give the House a chance to reject no deal the following day. Can the Secretary of State succeed where the Minister for the Cabinet Office failed yesterday, by telling the House how the Government will vote on such a motion?

I admire the way in which the hon. Gentleman asked a question that has been put to the Prime Minister and to the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster. I very much echo the replies that they gave to the House. He also touches on a wider point. The positions of the parties on the winding-down arrangements in the withdrawal agreement are closer than the debate may sometimes indicate. I think that across the House we agree that we should respect our legal obligations. Across the House there is a shared commitment to avoiding a hard border in Northern Ireland. As we saw yesterday over the amendment tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for South Leicestershire (Alberto Costa), there is also cross-party support to protect EU citizens’ rights and the rights of UK citizens in the EU. There is much on which we agree. The question is whether Members across the House will back the deal to end the uncertainty that businesses and citizens face.

The Secretary of State is right to talk about ending the uncertainty. Frankly, this is not good enough. Business demands certainty and the country needs clarity. This House has already passed a motion expressing our opposition to a no-deal Brexit, so the Government risk being in contempt of the House. Let me give the Secretary of State one more chance: when the motion comes forward, will they vote to reject no deal—yes or no?

The hon. Gentleman puts the same question a second time—[Interruption.] The point is that he talks about ending uncertainty, and the way to end uncertainty is for the Labour party not to go back on its manifesto and have a second referendum, because a second referendum will prolong the uncertainty. We may end up with the same result but just a further level of uncertainty as we go through a second referendum. What we need to do is back the deal, move on and give businesses—as he and I agree—the certainty they need.

Further to the Secretary of State’s comments about a second referendum, does he agree that there is considerable cross-party support opposing a second referendum?

As so often on these matters, my hon. Friend speaks a lot of sense. There is no consensus not just about a second referendum, but about what the question would be in a second referendum, because those supporting the second referendum do not even seem able to agree on what question would be put.

European Arrest Warrant

2. If he will hold discussions with Cabinet colleagues on the potential merits of seeking changes to the political declaration for continued UK access to the European arrest warrant. (909488)

The political declaration provides a basis for agreeing effective arrangements based on streamlining procedures and time limits for the surrender of suspected and convicted persons. That is the operational capability that we want to maintain which is currently in the European arrest warrant.

It should be a source of great anxiety to all of us in this place that the four Children’s Commissioners of the UK have had to write to the Secretary of State expressing their worry about the lack of safety for our children and the clarity in the political declaration. It is very important that we get that clarity. The political declaration is vague, broad and, frankly, unconvincing. When will the Secretary of State give us clarity? How can we in good conscience vote for the deal when we do not know if we will be as safe afterwards?

On this point, the hon. Gentleman and I agree: we want to be in a position where we can surrender those suspected of crimes in Europe to those countries and they can surrender those individuals to the UK. That is in our mutual interest. The political declaration does not rule that out and it is in both sides’ interest. After all, we surrendered far more people—around 8,000—to the EU over the last eight or nine years, compared with around 1,000 that were surrendered the other way. If there is a murderer or rapist who has committed an offence in Germany, the victims of that crime want to ensure that that perpetrator is surrendered there. We also want that to happen. That is why it is in both sides’ interest to reach an agreement.

Of course Germany will not allow the extradition of people held there to the United Kingdom if we leave the European Union. Is the Secretary of State aware that Scotland Yard’s deputy assistant commissioner, Richard Martin, said yesterday that leaving on a no deal would lead to a significant slowing down of police activities on such things as the European arrest warrant? What discussions has the Secretary of State had with the Home Office about what extra resources might be needed by the police to maintain the same level of security in a no-deal scenario as currently applies?

There was a reason that I chose Germany out of the EU27 countries as my example. The point I was seeking to raise is that it is in both the EU’s and our interest to enhance our mutual security by having arrangements. Of course, the EU has other arrangements, but the most streamlined way of doing that is to have the operational capability, and that is the point that the Home Secretary is making.

Workers’ Rights

3. What recent discussions he has had with the Trades Union Congress on the protection of workers’ rights in the event of the UK leaving the EU without a deal. (909489)

Obviously, the Government’s priority is to secure a deal, but it is quite true and correct that Ministers and officials have carried out extensive engagement with trade unions to listen to and reassure them on workers’ rights. In fact, we have workers’ rights standards that often exceed EU standards. Whatever the scenario, the Government have pledged to maintain those workers’ rights, and my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has committed to giving Parliament, whenever the EU standards on workers’ rights change, a vote to keep up with those standards.

The Government’s own guidance states that workers’ rights will be maintained at the existing level in the event of a no-deal Brexit, but the TUC and other organisations have expressed concern that future UK Governments could choose not to enhance workers’ rights in line with the requirements of EU employment standards. Does the Secretary of State agree that there should be a dynamic alignment between the UK and the EU on workers’ rights in the event of no deal?

As I said a moment ago, my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has given a categorical undertaking that the House will have an opportunity to vote to keep up with EU standards on workers’ rights as they change. Given the hon. Gentleman’s reference to the TUC, I should mention that Len McCluskey, general secretary of Unite, has said:

“A second referendum could damage the UK’s democratic fabric.”

That is exactly the voice of the TUC. [Interruption.] The right hon. and learned Member for Holborn and St Pancras (Keir Starmer) is chuckling somewhat with embarrassment, but that is the position of the TUC.

I will be supporting the deal because I think that it is in the best interests of our country and will protect our workers, but can the Minister assure me that the Government are committed to making the United Kingdom a gold standard for workers’ rights, not just in Europe but in the world?

As I said in my earlier answer, the UK is currently a leader on workers’ rights, and there is no reason why that position should change after Brexit. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has made it clear on a number of occasions that we do not want to see any diminution—any reduction—in the quality of workers’ rights and protections. My hon. Friend is absolutely right: we must vote for the deal, and we must move forward.

Can the Minister assure me that, whatever the way in which we leave the European Union, workers will receive protection that is commensurate with, or greater than, that enjoyed by others across the continent of Europe?

As I think the hon. Gentleman understands, today the UK enjoys workers’ rights protections which in most cases exceed the EU minimum, and there is no reason why they should be in any way diminished after we leave the EU.

Devolved Administrations: Talks

On Monday I co-chaired the eighth ministerial EU negotiations forum in Cardiff. During the meeting, Jeremy Miles from the Welsh Government, Graeme Dey from the Scottish Government and I discussed the issue of data in the context of our future relationship with the EU, which I know is very important to the devolved Administrations in the discharge of their responsibilities. In addition, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State attends the Joint Ministerial Committee (EU negotiations), and, indeed, did so on his first day in office.

Does the Minister agree with the submissions made more than two years ago by the devolved Administrations, and confirmed by more recent analysis by his own Government, that staying in the single market and the customs union would be the best outcome for the whole UK economy?

We have, of course, taken careful note of the submissions from the devolved Administrations, but we have Governments led by different parties with different political positions. We discuss that regularly in the ministerial forum. What we need to do is work together to ensure that our approach works for the whole UK, and that is what we will continue to do, recognising the differences of opinion that exist between the respective Governments.

Will the Government now admit that if they had engaged properly with the devolved Administrations two years ago and had meaningful discussions with the Scottish Government about their—the Scottish Government’s—paper “Scotland’s Place in Europe”, they would not now be in the position of having to blackmail the House into choosing between a bad deal and no deal?

We have engaged on those papers, and we have had a range of meaningful discussions over the years, in many of which I have been personally involved. However, we respect the fact that we will take politically different positions on some of these issues. The UK Government believe that they must discharge their responsibility for the UK to leave the EU, and the Scottish Government do not agree with that. Nevertheless, we will continue to work together to find the best approach to these challenges.

Given that the shadow Secretary of State for Scotland has supported a differentiated deal for Scotland in the event that Scotland is removed from the single market by the UK, and given that the Government support a differentiated deal for Northern Ireland, will the Secretary of State confirm that a similar option would be possible for Scotland?

The circumstances of Northern Ireland, with the UK’s only land border with the EU, are different in that respect, but more importantly the deal we have negotiated is for the whole of the UK, and it is vital that we recognise that it was a UK-wide referendum and therefore we should deliver on that deal for the whole of the United Kingdom.

When my hon. Friend meets Members of the Welsh Assembly does he remind them that the people of Wales voted for Brexit with far greater enthusiasm than they voted for a Welsh Assembly? Will he urge them, along with some of the more recalcitrant members of the Cabinet, to get behind the Prime Minister and deliver Britain out of the EU with or without a deal by the end of March?

My hon. Friend makes his point with his usual force and power, and of course he is absolutely right that Wales did vote to leave the EU. I have indeed in Select Committee sessions at the Welsh Assembly reminded some Assembly Members of that, but the Welsh Government have engaged constructively with us in the ministerial forums and we will continue to work with them to deliver an outcome that works for the whole of the UK.

Last week the Government announced a new fund to help local authorities with ports to manage Brexit. It appears that the fund covers only England, and in Wales the Welsh Government provide no such dedicated ports assistance. Will the Minister please raise this with Welsh Ministers, because information provided by my local authority in Pembrokeshire, with its ferry connections to Ireland, suggests that my county is not getting the assistance it needs?

My right hon. Friend as always is a champion for his county, and may I in advance wish him a happy St David’s Day? I will certainly be happy to take this up with colleagues in the Welsh Government, and I know that my ministerial colleague my hon. Friend the Member for Daventry (Chris Heaton-Harris), who is in charge of no-deal preparations, will be looking at that in our overall approach to ports.

May I remind my hon. Friend that devolved administrations need not only be the nations of the United Kingdom? They could also include the combined authorities, including the one in the west midlands.

My hon. Friend makes an excellent point, and I know my hon. Friend the Member for Spelthorne (Kwasi Kwarteng) sitting beside me on the Treasury Bench has engaged in some very useful discussions with the combined authorities, including Andy Street.

I have had correspondence from one of my companies, Clandeboye Yoghurt, and had a second meeting last Friday with another of my companies, Lakeland Dairies, both of them concerned about packaging. The issue is clear: the packaging needs to be in order before 12 March—another D-day—so the products are ready to leave on 29 March. They have been in touch with the Northern Ireland devolved Administration Department—the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs—and the Department here; can we have some idea of what is happening?

I will be very happy to take that issue up on behalf of the hon. Gentleman with the relevant Departments—the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and the Department for International Trade—and make sure that they are engaging with the Northern Ireland civil service.

Dynamic Alignment with EU

5. If he will hold discussions with Cabinet colleagues on the potential merits of seeking changes to the political declaration to provide for dynamic alignment with the EU on (a) workers’ rights, (b) consumer rights and (c) environmental protections. (909491)

The UK has a tradition of exceeding EU standards, so we do not need to follow EU rules to continue to lead the way. It is a matter for Parliament to decide, and the Prime Minister has signalled her intent to give Parliament more control on these issues.

The Secretary of State needs to stop playing games on this, because he knows that even if commitments on workers’ rights and other rights are put into primary legislation, once we leave the EU they can be overturned by a future Tory Government, and for years we have heard from those on the Conservative Benches about their aspirations to deregulate the labour market and make it easier to sack people. The single market is the only way of having a binding guarantee on workers’ rights; will the Secretary of State accept that?

I think the person playing games, with respect, is the hon. Lady, who is ignoring the fact that in a number of areas we exceed the European standards. For example, on maternity leave the UK offers 52 weeks, 39 weeks of which are paid, whereas under the pregnant workers directive just 14 weeks are paid. I do not accept the paucity of the hon. Lady’s ambition: the UK should be looking to go beyond that and provide better workers’ rights than she seems to be seeking.

Article 50: Extension

We do not want to see article 50 extended. Our focus is on getting a deal that Parliament can support and on leaving on 29 March. Extending article 50 simply defers the moment of decision and extends that uncertainty.

The Prime Minister has, since Tuesday, opened up the possibility of extending article 50, subject to EU agreement. From the UK’s perspective, this could be used for three options: to deliver Brexit, a general election or a people’s vote. Can the Secretary of State think of any other options?

We are clear that we want to secure a deal and that we do not want to extend. The hon. Lady should really come clean, because she says that she wants to extend but what she really wants is to go back on the largest vote in our country’s history and revoke Brexit entirely. She does not want to extend in order to secure a deal; she wants to stay in the EU and go back on the deal. She is praying in aid an extension when that is not really her policy.

We have already had this question twice, but I am happy to refer the hon. Gentleman to the answer I gave a moment ago. We are committed to securing a deal; that is the Government’s objective.

Does the Secretary of State really think that, without an extension, he can get the necessary legislation through before we leave the EU? By the way, I am not trying to obstruct us leaving.

I respect the way in which the hon. Gentleman has framed his question, because I know, as he does, that his constituency voted leave and that many of his constituents will be keen, as mine are, to ensure that we get this deal over the line. Clearly, the withdrawal agreement Bill is a significant piece of legislation and we will need to get it through the House, but the key issue is getting the deal through, because once we have done that, we will have the basis for the necessary consensus in the House to approach that legislation.

I entirely agree with the Secretary of State that extending article 50 is a very unsubtle way of thwarting the will of the 17.4 million people who want to leave. Does he agree that one way of avoiding having to extend article 50 would be to ensure, in the negotiations, that the Malthouse proposals—which he has asked a taskforce to work up into detail—should be put into the legal text of the treaty with a definitive implementation date?

I pay tribute, as the Prime Minister did, to the work that my right hon. Friend and a number of colleagues have done on taking forward the alternative arrangements work. He will be aware of the time pressure relating to the derogations required as part of that, and that is why this is seen as a phase 2 issue by the European Union. He can be reassured, however, that, as the Prime Minister has set out, there is a commitment to £20 million of funding to take that work forward, together with civil service resource. That shows the goodwill and intent of the Government in relation to progressing the alternative arrangements.

Paul Flynn told me that I had star quality, but as my friend, I do not suppose that he was an objective observer. In the event of the withdrawal agreement being defeated a second time, the Government must be committed to voting in favour of a no-deal Brexit; otherwise, they will in effect have taken no deal off the table, won’t they?

I am sure that the former Member for Newport West was not the only person to say that my right hon. Friend had star quality. The key issue is that we need to give businesses certainty and we need to secure the deal. Unlike my right hon. Friend, I am optimistic that there is an opportunity for the House to come together on the areas on which we agree. This is about the winding-down arrangements, but many of the issues on which there is further debate to be held relate to the future economic partnership. We have already signalled that we want to work much more closely across the House on taking that work forward.

I am very glad that the right hon. Member for New Forest West (Sir Desmond Swayne) was heartened by the tribute from Paul Flynn, but it seems to be manifest and incontrovertible that he exhibits star quality. Indeed, it is as manifest, incontrovertible and predictable as the passage of the seasons, for goodness’ sake.

During yesterday’s debate, the Minister for the Cabinet Office clarified that, in the event of the House voting on 14 March for an extension to the article 50 process, the Government would be required to bring forward legislation and that the House would have a chance to approve whatever final extension length might be agreed with the EU. I have a simple question for the Secretary of State: do the Government foresee that legislation being primary or secondary, and will it be the means by which the House could express its view on the proposed length of the transition?

The hon. Gentleman is getting slightly ahead of himself. Before the vote on 14 March, we have a vote on 12 March. This Government are committed to winning that vote, and therefore the vote on 14 March will not apply.

Bioethanol Industry

8. What representations he has received from the bioethanol industry as part of the negotiations for the UK leaving the EU. (909494)

Of course the Government have engaged extensively on EU exit with businesses and industries across all sectors of the economy and all regions of the UK. I am pleased to tell the House that I visited Tees valley to discuss EU exit issues with representatives of the chemical sector, including the bioethanol industry, and they made it very clear that supporting the Prime Minister’s deal is the one way they can get certainty and clarity.

I thank the Minister for his response but, on behalf of the British bioethanol industry, may I highlight the devastating impact that a zero-tariff regime would have on the industry? Tariffs ensure a level playing field, and the UK industry cannot compete with US bioethanol, which has substantially lower energy costs and feedstock prices. The biofuel plant at Wilton in my constituency is only just about to restart after a production pause, but with reduced operations. British jobs are hanging in the balance.

Will the Minister meet members of the bioethanol industry again to reassure them on this point? Will he assure the House today that a zero-tariff regime for bioethanol will not come into force at any point, deal or no deal?

As the hon. Lady knows, I am of an open disposition. I am happy to meet representatives of any industry, particularly from her constituency. I make it clear that the political declaration clearly states that the EU and UK will agree on a free trade area for goods. There is no question of having damaging tariffs, in the way she describes, on the industries she mentions.

I call Nick Smith. [Interruption.] I will give the fellow a chance in due course, but I think there may be some domestic difficulty if I do not call the Front Bench.

I am grateful, Mr Speaker.

Paul Flynn never told me that I have star quality, but he did say that I might have a fighting chance if I bought his book.

Is the Minister, like me, opposed to unnecessary testing on animals? If he is, will he make sure that, as we seek to replicate regulatory regimes on the chemical industry, not a single unnecessary duplicate test is conducted on animals in this country?

This issue definitely came up in the debates on the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018 last summer, and it was very much the Government’s position at the time that we would try to maintain standards on the protection of animal rights.

And the regulations. I am determined to resist any idea of a second referendum, because that would extend the uncertainty and lack of clarity.

Business Community

9. What recent discussions he has had with representatives of the business community on the potential effect on the UK economy of leaving the EU without a withdrawal agreement. (909495)

I am glad that the hon. Gentleman, my friend, knows his place. If only he could keep his wife’s pegs in the Members’ Cloakroom as tidy as he keeps his own, all would be well in the world. I thank him for his question.

Getting a deal is the best way to give the business community the certainty and clarity it needs and is asking for. This year alone, we have published over 250 pieces of advice to businesses of all sizes to provide the information they need to prepare for our exit from the European Union. This week alone, Ministers have met businesses from across the economy, including the financial services, energy and automotive sectors, to discuss this plan.

If we crash out, what will the Minister say to Welsh farmers when they cannot sell their lamb to European markets because they face tariff rates of 46%?

I gently remind the hon. Gentleman that his constituency is one of the few that voted in greater numbers to leave the European Union than mine did. People took in a whole bunch of factors when they made that decision, and they expect us to deliver on it. The best way to avoid the scenario he outlines is to vote for the deal that is coming before the House.

16. Scottish Government analysis published last week highlights the impacts of a supply shock caused by a no-deal Brexit, which include: the destruction of supply chains; restricted supplies; significant restrictions on imports and exports; a reduction in business turnover; companies delaying investment; and the depreciation of sterling. Why does the Minister think this is worth it? (909503)

And at the same time, business investment in the UK stood at almost £47 billion in quarter 3 of 2018, which is an increase of 30% on quarter 1 of 2010. The World Bank considers the UK to be one of the best and easiest countries in the world in which to do business, with it ranking ninth out of 190. Last month, London retained its position as the top tech investment destination in Europe. I could go on and on and on.

Thank you, Mr Speaker. I feel really sorry for the Secretary of State and his poor little team. It is going to be Shrove Tuesday next Tuesday and my resolution will be to be a little nicer to them every day for the whole of Lent, because they are the carrying the can that has been kicked down the road by the Prime Minister and the Cabinet. The truth that has not been articulated this morning is that the mess we are in is the Government’s mess—it is the Tory party’s mess. They called the referendum, they got it wrong and now the British people and the British businesses that I represent are paying the penalty. Why does the Minister not get up, speak up for Britain and sort out our businesses, which are terrified of investing in this country?

I should have what he had for breakfast more often, Mr Speaker. Unlike the hon. Gentleman, however, I am pretty aware of what my constituents voted for back in June 2016. I am pretty sure they wanted to leave the European Union. I am pretty sure they are pleased with the Norwegian sovereign wealth fund saying that it is going to invest billions of pounds in our country going forward. He should be positive about the future of the country and not such an Eeyore.

Investment and the UK Economy

11. What recent discussions he has had with Cabinet colleagues on the effect of the ongoing negotiations for the UK leaving the EU on investment and the UK economy. (909498)

The Secretary of State has regular conversations with Cabinet colleagues on all aspects of our EU exit. The UK remains a great place to do business. Only yesterday, INEOS announced £1 billion-worth of investments in the UK oil and chemical industries, something I am sure the hon. Gentleman is about to welcome wholeheartedly.

Yesterday, I met the Cheshire and Warrington local enterprise partnership, which told me how the Government’s prolonged approach to Brexit negotiations was already having a major effect on business decisions in our locality—this is a concern spread right across the UK. Will the Government act now to protect jobs in my constituency and elsewhere? Will they remove those red lines and negotiate a customs union, close ties with the single market and proper protection for workers?

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his question. I think he can probably guess part of the answer: the best way to do those things that he wants is to vote for the deal. May I gently remind him of something he tweeted in June last year? He wrote:

“I campaigned & voted to remain. As much as I don’t like the result of the referendum, as a democrat I have to respect it.”

He should do so.

Can the no-deal Minister confirm to the House that the UK is No. 2 in the whole world for foreign direct investment after only China and that although the doom mongers before the referendum said that by now we should have been in recession, with hundreds of thousands of jobs lost, this year we are going to have the fastest growth in Europe, with record numbers of people in employment?

I thank my hon. Friend and constituency neighbour for his question, and I can confirm that. I can also confirm that the economy has grown continuously for the past nine years and is expected to grow throughout the Office for Budget Responsibility’s forecast period. There are now 3.3 million more people in work than there were in 2010, and the employment rate is at a record high of 75.8%. This country is doing well—is that despite Brexit?

Reciprocal Healthcare Arrangements

13. What discussions he has had with Cabinet colleagues on reciprocal health arrangements for UK and EU citizens in the event that the UK leaves the EU (a) under the terms of the withdrawal agreement and (b) without a deal. (909500)

The Secretary of State and I have regular discussions with Cabinet members on all EU exit-related matters. The withdrawal agreement safeguards the reciprocal healthcare entitlements of UK nationals in the EU and of EU nationals living in the UK. Although we remain committed to leaving the EU with a deal, as a responsible Government we are preparing for all outcomes, including in respect of reciprocal healthcare. The Foreign Secretary and the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care have written to EU partners to seek to protect healthcare arrangements.

Will the Minister confirm that the Healthcare (International Arrangements) Bill will guarantee reciprocal healthcare rights for all citizens? Will it gain Royal Assent before 29 March?

The Healthcare (International Arrangements) Bill has completed its passage through the House of Commons and is awaiting Report in the House of Lords. We are confident that we will have the necessary legislation in place, with Royal Assent, by exit day. The Bill will enable the UK to strike the reciprocal deals that will provide the certainty for which my hon. Friend asks.

EU Exit: No deal

As the Prime Minister said on Tuesday, the only ways to rule out no deal are to revoke article 50, which we will not do, or for Parliament to vote for a deal. We are working to achieve legally binding changes on the backstop, and we have set out commitments to protect workers’ rights and the environment and to an enhanced role for Parliament in the next phase of negotiations. We are determined to address the wider concerns of those who voted to leave. We all know that the House needs to support a withdrawal agreement, and we are working hard to deliver that.

It is not quite as simple as that. Surely the best way to take no deal off the table is for the Government just to say that they are taking no deal off the table, so why, when the SNP put an amendment to Parliament last night, did the Government whip their MPs, including Scottish Tory MPs, to walk through the No Lobby and not take no deal off the table?

There are a whole host of reasons. First, we want to get a deal over the line. May I just remind the hon. Gentleman what the House voted for, or against, yesterday? It voted against an SNP amendment by a majority of 36. Interestingly, were one to take that result literally, that now means that there is a majority of 36 in this House for keeping no deal on the table.

The Department’s own report shows that almost a third of the Government’s essential no-deal projects will not be ready for 29 March. The Minister will not say how the Government will vote on 12 March, but if the House votes against no deal, will that be respected?

I am fairly hopeful that the vote on 12 March will be carried by the House because it is the one for the deal.

Does the Minister agree that, although it is the Government’s policy to leave the European Union with a deal, the SNP’s position is to accept no deal whatsoever, and they are therefore trying to manoeuvre the debate to the point of no deal, which would suit their argument—chaos, leading to an independence referendum, leading to the break-up of the United Kingdom?

My hon. Friend makes a strong point, with which I mostly agree, although the Government have been preparing for two and a half years for our leaving without a negotiated deal so it would certainly not be chaotic.

I remind the Minister that the fact that a majority of Conservative MPs votes for something does not make it right. Certainly, the experience with the Scottish Tories is that they vote not for what they want to happen but for what they want their Whips to see them voting for.

Will the Minister comment on the statement made by his colleague the Secretary of State for Scotland last night? He said that the Government voted to leave no deal on the table to make sure that it did not happen, and the SNP voted to take no deal off the table to make sure that it did happen. Does the rest of the Cabinet share the Secretary of State for Scotland’s particular and idiosyncratic form of logic?

Personally, I think we are lucky to have such a brilliant Secretary of State for Scotland. I completely understand that the hon. Gentleman has taken a very principled position on not wanting to leave the European Union; I just wish that there were others, perhaps on the Opposition Front Bench, who would be honest with the British people—especially those in northern Labour leave seats around Barnsley and south Yorkshire, the east and west midlands, Manchester and so on—and say, “Actually, the new Labour position is to stay in the European Union” and that they disrespect the votes in the referendum.

Yet again we see that, when it suits the Government, they insist on looking at the voting pattern of individual constituencies in the north of England but ignore the voting patterns of entire nations that are supposedly partners in this Union. If the reason why we want to take no deal of the table is that, secretly, we want it to happen, does that give us an explanation of why the Government keep telling the Scottish Government to take independence referendums off the table? Are they secretly wanting that to happen as well?

I might have misheard the hon. Gentleman, but may I gently remind him that the Scottish people voted to stay within the United Kingdom?

Regeneration of Towns

15. What discussions he has had with Cabinet colleagues on the effect of the UK leaving the EU on funding for the regeneration of towns. (909502)

Of course, my hon. Friend will be well aware that leaving the EU creates fresh opportunities to allocate growth funding according to our own UK priorities, including the regeneration of towns. The Government are committed to creating the UK Shared Prosperity Fund to tackle these inequalities across our communities. Leaving the EU with a deal will mean, of course, that we remain in the existing programmes until they close. We have also protected this funding in the case of a no-deal scenario.

Will my hon. Friend confirm how we will make the Shared Prosperity Fund better than the EU programmes that it will replace?

My hon. Friend, and I think everyone across this House who has an elementary grasp of arithmetic, will know that for every €20 that we put into the EU pot we got €10 back, so we were a net contributor. We were the second biggest net contributor, and the logic of that is that we can more than compensate for the loss of EU funding across our communities. The UK Shared Prosperity Fund will go some way to meeting those concerns.

Anyone with an elementary grasp of arithmetic can also read the latest studies showing that, had the United Kingdom being staying in the European Union, we would have received far more in regional development funding because of the increase in regional disparities under this Government’s austerity for the past 10 years. Will the Minister tell me that the Shared Prosperity Fund, of which we have no details with only 30 days to go to Brexit, will match the increased funding that we would have had from the European Union?

The point I was trying to make was that we as a country were a net contributor. We were the second biggest net contributor in the system that redistributed those funds. There is no doubt that the UK Shared Prosperity Fund can more than match EU funds. The details of that, as the hon. Lady well knows, will be discussed as we leave the EU on 29 March.

May I quietly and politely encourage the Minister to speak to his colleagues in the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy and the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government to make sure that funding from the UK Shared Prosperity Fund, which will come in once we have left the European Union, is not required to be on a match funding basis? Our small towns up and down the country are unable to raise the match funding to access such funds, so the money ends up in the big cities, where the capital is available.

That is obviously an important part of the ongoing discussion. There is no doubt that, with the UK Shared Prosperity Fund, we will be able to have a better, more sensitive regional allocation than is currently the case under the EU system.

UK Citizens: Rights in EU

19. What steps his Department has taken to ensure that the rights of UK citizens living in the EU are protected in the event that the UK leaves the EU without a deal. (909506)

The UK Government have been unequivocal that, under any scenario including no deal, EU citizens and their family members living here at exit will be able to stay. We are calling on member states to reciprocate that unilateral offer for UK citizens. Alongside that, the Government supported an amendment moved by my hon. Friend the Member for South Leicestershire (Alberto Costa) yesterday to seek to ring-fence the citizens’ rights part of the withdrawal agreement. We will write to the European Council to seek its views on this as soon as possible.

I thank the Minister for his answer. Following the Government’s acceptance last night of the amendment of my hon. Friend the Member for South Leicestershire, which I was pleased to support, what action will they now take to introduce the necessary legislation to safeguard EU citizens’ rights in this country and also to protect UK citizens in the EU?

My hon. Friend raises a very important point. We have already introduced some of the legislation for the settled status scheme to ensure that it is available for EU citizens in the UK. Of course, safeguarding the overall package for UK citizens in the EU will require a reciprocal agreement. It is for that reason that we will be writing to the European Council to raise the issue and seek to take forward talks on it as early as possible.

Devolved Administrations and Local Government

20. What discussions he has had with Cabinet colleagues on the potential effect on the devolved Administrations and local government of the UK leaving the EU. (909507)

The Secretary of State engages regularly with Cabinet colleagues, including the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government, the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster and the Secretaries of State for the territorial offices. We will use Brexit as an opportunity to strengthen the Union, and we will engage directly with the devolved Administrations and local government across the UK. For instance, the Secretary of State for Scotland recently met the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities.

Engagement with the devolved Administrations is very important on devolved issues, but what steps is my hon. Friend taking to involve MPs from the devolved nations in reserved issues, because every MP in this House is equal to every other?

My hon. Friend makes an excellent point. Of course, MPs in this House will have an important role to play on UK-wide frameworks, which we are working to develop as soon as possible. Once we leave the EU, directly elected parliamentarians in this House and the devolved Administrations will be responsible for more than they were during the period of our membership.

Topical Questions

Since the last departmental questions, this House has given a clear indication of what it needs to support a deal with the EU. The Prime Minister, the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, the Attorney General and I have held discussions with key EU figures, and the Prime Minister made it clear in her statement on Tuesday that we are making good progress and remain committed to leaving with a deal on 29 March.

The threat of a no-deal exit from the EU means that the ability of businesses to use 2019 emissions trading scheme credits to address 2018 ETS costs is at risk, meaning that businesses may be subject to multimillion-pound bills that they can ill afford. Will the Secretary of State urgently take action to prevent businesses such as British Steel in my constituency from suffering heavy financial penalties through no fault of their own?

The hon. Gentleman makes an important and fair point. He consistently speaks up for the steel industry, and the 2018 emissions surrender under the European emissions trading scheme is an issue of concern to that industry. I have spoken to my right hon. Friend the Business Secretary and he is happy to meet the hon. Gentleman to discuss the matter. The Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy is undertaking an analysis of the issue, and I am happy to engage with the hon. Gentleman regarding that.

T7. I will continue to vote to leave the EU on 29 March with a deal, but will the Minister explain how funding for university programmes such as those carried out in the University of Nottingham, which employs a number of my constituents, will be protected in a no-deal scenario? (909518)

My hon. Friend will have seen the announcements about the Treasury guarantee for the funding measures she mentioned. We are also exploring more long-term alternatives, so this work is ongoing.

Thirty days ago the Government backed the Brady amendment and the Prime Minister said she would try to obtain

“legally binding changes to the withdrawal agreement that deal with concerns on the backstop”.—[Official Report, 29 January 2019; Vol. 653, c. 788.]

It is clear from yesterday’s debate that some Members on the Government Benches have a high expectation that legally binding changes may yet be agreed, even at the eleventh hour. Against that background, will the Secretary of State confirm that, although discussions have taken place about work streams and possible additional words to further explain the backstop, in the 30 days since the Brady amendment, the Government have not drafted or put forward to the EU any proposed words that could conceivably be described as “legally binding changes to the withdrawal agreement” in relation to the backstop?

The right hon. and learned Gentleman is right to refer to the package of measures that we are putting before the European Union, and the Prime Minister touched on that in her remarks on Tuesday. In terms of the specific wording, these are obviously live discussions and need to be given the space to be conducted. As the Prime Minister set out in her statement on Tuesday, we have been very clear with the European Union that the effects of these changes have to be legally binding. That is what the Brady amendment required and it is the clear will of the House; that is the crux of the issue that we are discussing with the European Union.

Well, this may be Brexit questions, but it is clearly not Brexit answers. The Secretary of State can evade questions all he likes, but his evasion tells its own story. He knows and I know that the Government are not even attempting to change a single word about the backstop in the withdrawal agreement, and he knows the expectation among his hon. Friends that there are going to be those changes to the withdrawal agreement. Can he not simply admit that the only plan the Government have is to run down the clock and attempt to force MPs to choose between the same basic deal that was rejected in the first meaningful vote and no deal?

With respect to the right hon. and learned Gentleman, there is an inherent contradiction in his question. He says that the Government are trying to run down the clock while, at the same time, we gave a clear commitment yesterday to give the House a vote, if the meaningful vote does not go through on the 12th, on whether the House would then support leaving without a deal. That is not in the Government’s interest. It is also not in our interest to run down the clock because, as he is well aware, we need to ratify the agreement through the withdrawal agreement Bill prior to leaving, and therefore we need time for that ratification to take place, so there is a contradiction within his question.

It is not in our interest to run down the clock, and, further, it is not in the interests of the business community, because they want the uncertainty ended as soon as possible. I gently say to the right hon. and learned Gentleman, while congratulating him on perhaps winning a battle on his Front Bench on a second referendum when so many of his fellow shadow Ministers have spoken out publicly against it, that a second referendum will prolong the uncertainty, and I do not think that is in the interests of business.

T8. Does the Minister agree that if a no-deal Brexit was really akin to the arrival of the four horsemen of the apocalypse, Members in all parts of the House would be rallying behind the Prime Minister to support the deal that will get us out by the end of March? (909519)

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. The deal is absolutely essential across the piece, and that is exactly what we are focused on. If we can secure a deal, we will leave in an orderly and timely way. Given the efforts of the Under-Secretary, my hon. Friend the Member for Daventry (Chris Heaton-Harris), in preparing this country for no deal, I do not believe that a no-deal scenario will lead to the sort of destruction that the doomsayers on the Opposition Benches have suggested. We are doing lots and lots to secure our safety and our prosperity in the case of no deal.

T2. In Cambridge, it is local elections season. When I knocked on my first door on Sunday, I interrupted someone who modestly described himself as a mid-career academic. He was filling in a job application to move to Switzerland and told me that a number of colleagues in his department were doing the same, the reason being that his department faces losing 20% of its funding from the European Research Council. These are senior scientists who have heard what the Government have to say but have concluded that their future lies elsewhere. How can the Secretary of State reassure the 48% who feel that their future has been put at risk? (909513)

I am very happy to tell my fellow Cambridgeshire MP how I reassure the academics of Cambridge on this issue. If we look at just how many European Union universities are in the top 50 compared with the number of British universities in the top 50, we see that the determination of their success is not based on their membership of the European Union.

The Scottish Government are demanding additional funding for preparations to leave the EU. Can the Minister confirm that in 2018-19, despite receiving £37 million, the Scottish Government allocated only £27 million for that purpose—a gap of £10 million?

My hon. Friend has some good figures, and I have some extra, updated figures for him. The devolved Administrations received a total of £120 million in the 2019-20 EU exit funding allocations. The Scottish Government received £54.7 million for that period. We have been working behind the scenes with the Scottish Government, who have been nothing but professional, courteous and actually quite excellent to deal with on no-deal preparation.

T3. Does the Secretary of State recognise that if the Prime Minister returns with an amended version of her deal, there is a very strong case that parliamentary approval being subject to subsequent ratification in a public vote? (909514)

We have had a public vote. The people voted in record numbers, and they gave us a clear instruction to deliver on that. I simply remind the right hon. Gentleman that he, like so many Labour Members, stood on a manifesto that committed to give force to that vote. Many voters in his constituency and others across the country will be baffled as to why, given that manifesto, his party now seems to be going back on it and supporting a second referendum. That is not what it was saying at the general election.

Magna Carta states:

“All merchants may leave or enter England”—

of course, now the United Kingdom—

“in safety and security. They may stay and travel throughout England by road or by water, free from all illegal tolls, in order to buy and sell according to the ancient and rightful customs.”

Does that remain the policy of Her Majesty’s Government?

It has been a while since I heard Magna Carta quoted in the Chamber. I reassure my hon. Friend that we are committed to the principles of free trade to which that excerpt from Magna Carta alludes. We want a free trade agreement. We have been a champion of free trade over many centuries, and I strongly urge him to back the deal so that we can craft an agreement that will ensure free trade.

T4. The Under-Secretary of State, the hon. Member for Worcester (Mr Walker), told the House earlier that Scotland could not get a differentiated deal, as remain-voting Northern Ireland has, because of border issues. However, there is also a differentiated deal for Gibraltar. Can he explain why remain-voting Scotland is not to be treated with the same level of respect as Gibraltar and Northern Ireland? Does he agree with his former party leader and Prime Minister, John Major, that this Brexit madness strengthens the case for Scottish independence? (909515)

No, I do not agree with that statement. I made it clear in my previous answer that we are negotiating on behalf of the whole United Kingdom. That is why we have forums for engaging with the devolved Administrations. Sadly, Ministers from the Northern Ireland Administration are not available to engage with us, but they will be treated in the same way as Ministers from the other devolved Administrations.

Does my hon. Friend agree that the UK prosperity fund gives the UK Government and Scottish Government the opportunity to work together to improve all aspects of Scots’ lives?

T5. New industrial units were constructed at Moorfield industrial estate in my constituency, thanks partly to money from the European regional development fund. How much money are the UK Government allocating to replace the south-west Scotland regional development fund, and will they devolve it to the Scottish Government? (909516)

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his question. He will know that the multi-annual financial framework, from which that fund comes, finishes in a couple of years, so more certainty can probably be delivered to businesses such as those in his constituency from the shared prosperity fund.

T9. Following on from the question asked by my hon. Friend the Member for Cambridge (Daniel Zeichner) about European research funding, can the Minister clarify whether the Government intend to maintain that level of funding, whichever pot it comes out of, after we leave the EU? The University of Warwick is very concerned about that. (909520)

The Government are stepping up investment in research and development and building up the amount by which the UK leads other countries. As per the Secretary of State’s answer, I expect the strong position of our universities to continue to strengthen in years to come.

T10. Can the Secretary of State guarantee that in the event of a no-deal Brexit, the UK will have stocks of the essential dietary products for people with the rare disease phenylketonuria, or PKU? (909521)

Probably better than my confirming that is for me to point the hon. Lady to the written ministerial statement laid before the House earlier this week, which goes into great detail. I will happily give her a copy afterwards.

The Secretary of State or one of his colleagues mentioned the Healthcare (International Arrangements) Bill, but there is also the Agriculture Bill, the Fisheries Bill and numerous statutory instruments. We are days away from leaving. Why on earth are the Secretary of State or any of his Ministers confident that we will have a functioning statute book at 11.1 pm on Friday 29 March? I am not.

I am surprised that the hon. Lady is not. I believe she has sat on a number of the statutory instrument Committees. We have nearly completed our statutory instrument programme to get ready for a no-deal situation, and we have plenty of mitigating measures in place should other primary legislation be held back inadvertently by Members not wanting as smooth a departure as possible if we are to leave without a deal.

The recent Government report states that only 40,000 of the 240,000 British businesses that trade exclusively with the EU have applied for their export registration number. Businesses say that it could actually be given automatically if they are registered for VAT. Is this just incompetence, or are the Government looking for a scapegoat in the event of a disastrous for business no-deal exit?

No. As the hon. Gentleman will be aware, we have been significantly scaling up our communications to those businesses. We have capacity under the website registration to register 11,000 a day. Part of the challenge has been that many of those businesses are hopeful of a deal, and are therefore holding back until 12 March to await the decision on that deal. However, they can scale up, and we have the capacity to scale up, as the paper provided to the right hon. Member for Broxtowe (Anna Soubry) set out.

In the light of the fact that EU negotiators have said they need a significant reason for extending article 50 on their side, if Parliament votes to extend article 50 on 14 March, what reasons will the Government give, and what preparations are they making now to ensure that it is secured and honoured?

What EU leaders have said is that they want to have the certainty of a deal. They do not want to see an extension, particularly any extension of uncertainty. The hon. Lady, as some other hon. Members have, talked about 14 March. The key issue is the vote on the 12th—the meaningful vote—and getting a deal. That is what EU leaders have said they want, and that is what this Government want.

I voted for Labour’s Brexit deal, but does the Secretary of State agree with the CBI that a no-deal Brexit will mean

“a lost decade, stifling the UK’s potential and leaving us less competitive, productive and prosperous for years to come”?

When the hon. Gentleman says he voted for Labour’s Brexit deal, I am slightly confused about which one, because its position has obviously changed somewhat. Given that his own constituents voted in a majority to leave the EU, I would say that I share their optimism for the future. We are a country that can go out into the world and succeed, and we can make Brexit an opportunity for us, rather than as portrayed in the way he sets out.