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Oral Answers to Questions

Volume 657: debated on Thursday 4 April 2019

Exiting the European Union

The Secretary of State was asked—

European Parliamentary Elections

1. What plans the Government have made for potential UK participation in the forthcoming European Parliamentary elections. (910210)

It should be clear to all Members of the House that asking the public to participate in elections for an organisation that we are meant to have left would damage trust in politics. However, there is no guarantee that the UK will not participate in European parliamentary elections if the House refuses to support a deal.

So no real plans then. Participation in the EU elections will be the death knell for the British public’s waning faith in our democracy. The fact that this week councils were advised by the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster and Minister for the Cabinet Office, the right hon. Member for Aylesbury (Mr Lidington) to prepare for EU elections is yet another example of the dire consequences of the Prime Minister and the Government’s failure to secure a deal that commands the majority of the House. Is that not true?

With respect to the hon. Lady, that is a rather confused question, given that she—as I understand it—voted against the withdrawal agreement, which gave us a legal right to leave on 22 May. It is odd to vote against the means of departure and then criticise the absence of a departure.

The Conservative party national convention—the meeting of all local party chairmen—made it clear in February that were Brexit to be delayed so that we took part in the European elections, it would be a betrayal of the referendum result and inflict untold damage on the reputation of the Conservative party. Is that not right and does the Secretary of State agree?

I agree with my hon. Friend that to have European parliamentary elections three years after the country voted to leave would be damaging for our politics as a whole, but he will also have seen the vote in the House last night, which sought to take the option of leaving without a deal off the table. He will also be aware that the House has today refused to back any of the options for a deal that have been put to it.

Whether we participate or not depends on the progress of the talks currently taking place between the Prime Minister and my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition. If those talks do not succeed, the Government have committed to giving the House the opportunity to hold a series of indicative votes. Can the Secretary of State clarify whether the propositions before the House will be drafted and presented solely by the Government, or will Members on that occasion have an opportunity to submit their own motions for discussion and vote?

The right hon. Gentleman, as Chair of the Select Committee, is usually an expert on these matters, but I must, with respect, take issue with the statement within his question. It is not subject to the discussions with the Leader of the Opposition. The vote last Friday in which the right hon. Gentleman and his colleagues opposed the withdrawal agreement means that it is no longer the sovereign right of this Parliament whether we leave: it will be a matter to be agreed at the European Council, because the right is affixed to the withdrawal agreement, not to whatever the House decides in votes in the coming days.

Is it not simply the case that for as long as we are members of the European Union we have rights and responsibilities that go with that, and participating in democratic institutions such as the European Parliament is crucial? Can the Secretary of State confirm exactly what process is needed to trigger the elections? Will there be a debate on a statutory instrument, in the House or in Committee, or is it simply a stroke of the pen by the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster?

The hon. Gentleman is right in terms of the legal position. If we are a member of the European Union, under treaty law we will be required to have European parliamentary elections. Again, there has been some confusion in the House previously, with ideas such as rolling over the existing Members of the European Parliament or having them on a ratio similar to the composition of the House. If we were to still be a member of the European Union, which is not the Government’s intention, we would need to have European parliamentary elections.

NHS

2. What discussions he has had with the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care on the effect on the NHS of the UK leaving the EU. (910211)

6. What discussions he has had with the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care on the effect on the NHS of the UK leaving the EU. (910215)

DExEU Ministers and officials hold regular discussions with the Department of Health and Social Care. The safety of everyone who uses the NHS health and care services remains a key priority and is reflected in our planning for all scenarios.

As if the fact that the NHS is down by 8,000 nurses since December 2016 was not bad enough, 47% of them in a recent survey cited Brexit as the reason. Reports from Ealing show a similar exodus from the social care sector—distinctly unglamorous but important given the demographic time bomb coming down the track and the Government’s obsession with high-skilled migration. What is the Secretary of State doing to head off a crisis in that Cinderella sector?

I think the hon. Lady mischaracterises the position. The number of staff recorded as EU27 nationals working in the NHS trusts and clinical commissioning groups in England increased by more than 5,200 between June 2016 and December 2018—there has actually been an increase in EU nationals. She also omits to mention the record investment—£20.5 billion a year extra—that this Government are making in the NHS, the NHS apprenticeships we are bringing through, and the change in tier 2 visas for talent around the world in order to attract more doctors and nurses to the NHS.

In my former job, before I came to this place, I was an emergency planner for the NHS locally in Bristol. The NHS has had to put in contingency plans and major incident plans to cope with a no-deal scenario and the future. What compensation will the Government give local NHS bodies for the time and money they have spent and wasted on incident planning that probably will not come into effect because of the Government’s incompetence?

I know from my time as a Health Minister that the hon. Lady always asks very pertinent questions in respect of health matters. She will be well aware of the statement issued by the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, which said how well prepared the NHS was. It has been our priority to ensure that we maintain the supply of medicines and to ensure that the NHS is a priority in our contingency planning. That is the responsible thing for a Government to do.

Brexit Preparations: Cost

3. What estimate he has made of the cost to the public purse of his Department’s preparations for the UK to leave the EU. (910212)

Since its formation, our Department has spent £25 million in 2016-17 and £58 million in 2017-18, and it has budgeted £96 million for 2018-19, but of course the Government have also allocated substantial sums to fund departmental preparations and preparations by devolved Administrations for EU exit.

I thank the Minister for his answer. Has his Department conducted any analysis of the costs of running a second referendum, and will he confirm that a second referendum is not Government policy?

I can certainly confirm the latter. A second referendum would create further uncertainty and division. We do not think it is the right way forward.

Has the Minister had a chance to discuss with the Transport Secretary the full cost to the taxpayer of Seaborne Freight, given the extension to article 50 and the costs incurred accordingly?

As the right hon. Gentleman will know, this was a contract where it was supposed to be payment by results, so that full cost is extremely limited.

What estimate have the Government made of the cost to the public purse and the potential damage to the economy if this has prevented them from implementing their manifesto commitment to leave the customs union?

I direct my hon. Friend to the Government’s own published cross-Government analysis, which looks at a range of different scenarios. It is clear that there are opportunities for pursuing international trade that we can take only if we are outside a customs union.

Will the Minister further outline the essential nature of the work to provide support and guidance to businesses, and the vital nature of support to the business community throughout the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland?

The hon. Gentleman makes a very important point. There has been a huge amount of engagement across Government, particularly from our Department, with businesses, both on a no-deal scenario and the contingency planning that has to continue until we have secured a deal, and on the potential for the future partnership. We will continue that engagement with businesses large and small. Of course, a huge amount of information is now on the gov.uk website, which I encourage businesses to look at to see what steps they might have to take in the event of no deal.

Visa Arrangements

4. What plans the Government have to negotiate visa-free travel between the UK and the EU for short visits after the UK leaves the EU. (910213)

9. What recent progress the Government have made on visa arrangements between the UK and the EU after the UK leaves the EU. (910218)

The UK and the EU have committed to discussing the reciprocal provision of visa-free travel for short-term visits under the future relationship. Both sides have also said that they do not intend to require visas for short-term visits in a no-deal scenario.

EU countries are some of the biggest contributors to our inbound tourism industry. We had 6 million visitors from the EU in the last three months of 2018 alone, and we are always pleased to welcome hundreds of thousands of them to Worcestershire. Does the Minister agree that the continuation of visa-free travel is vital to our tourism industry, which sustains 3 million jobs in the UK?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Last year, EU residents made 25.6 million trips to the UK, spending more than £10 billion. Like him, I would like to see more of them come to beautiful Worcestershire and admire our part of the world.

Absolutely. My right hon. Friend is right. That is the indication we have heard from all member states and from the European Union. They will want to continue to welcome UK tourists.

Why then, have the Government not considered sorting out the problems that they have created with the post-study work visa?

The hon. Gentleman will know that the recent suggestions from the Migration Advisory Committee included specific recommendations for lengthening the opportunity for people to stay after study. It determined that the best way to do that was to reform the existing system rather than institute a different one.

Short visits are vital for business as well, whether it is for servicing aircraft engines, installing software or so much else. What plans do the Government have for ensuring that those reciprocal arrangements can continue?

My hon. Friend raises an excellent point. As he will know, we set out to achieve a labour mobility framework that will allow for travel for short-term business visits. This is an important part of the next stage of the negotiations. The absence of a requirement for visas for short-term travel is a useful backdrop to that for both the UK and the EU.

Political Declaration: Dynamic Alignment on Rights and Protections

8. What recent discussions he has had with his EU counterpart on including dynamic alignment on rights and protections in the Political Declaration on the framework for the future relationship between the EU and UK. (910217)

The United Kingdom has a tradition of exceeding EU standards. We do not need to follow EU rules to continue to lead the way. An example of that is that UK maternity entitlements are nearly three times greater than the minimum EU standard.

Does the Minister agree with the TUC that the Government’s proposals on workers’ rights after Brexit are nothing but “flimsy procedural tweaks”? How will they be strengthened during current negotiations with the Leader of the Opposition?

As the right hon. and learned Member for Holborn and St Pancras (Keir Starmer) knows, we had discussions yesterday and there will be further discussions today. I am sure that workers’ rights will be among a range of issues that we will discuss. The hon. Gentleman will know that the Prime Minister has already said that she will bring forward a package of measures to strengthen enforcement of workers’ rights, and that is in part following discussions that we have had with a number of Opposition Members.

The Secretary of State talks about the Government being committed to exceeding EU standards, but practice does not seem to match his words. His Conservative colleagues in the European Parliament voted against the amendment to the posting of workers directive, which strengthens workers’ rights and addresses many of the concerns expressed about freedom of movement during the referendum. He will know that our obligation to transpose it into domestic law continues as long we are EU members and during the transitional period. When are the Government going to do that?

There is a real inconsistency here. Night after night we are told that we should trust the votes of the House of Commons. The Prime Minister has made a commitment not to lower standards below the current levels for workers’ rights and the environment, and our proposals on immigration go further than the commitments found in standard free trade agreements. It is odd that Opposition Members have so little faith in this House to protect the rights that workers need.

Article 50 Extension

10. What recent discussions the Government have had with the EU on the possibility of an extension to the Article 50 negotiations. (910219)

The Prime Minister agreed the terms of a short extension at the March European Council. Were the House to have approved the withdrawal agreement by 29 March, we would have had an extension until 22 May. Given that the hon. Gentleman and his colleagues voted against that, he will be aware that we do not have that right, and the current right will be terminated on 12 April.

We are moving inevitably towards a situation in which we need an extension in order to have a confirmatory referendum. If a trade union negotiated an exit from a deal, it would go back to its members and ask them to confirm that that was still what they wanted, and to confirm the terms. Is that not a logical, sensible and inevitable outcome of this process?

I would have thought it was logical for the hon. Gentleman to follow his manifesto, which said that he would respect the referendum result. Going back to square one and asking the question again is not consistent with the manifesto on which the hon. Gentleman stood at the last election.

21. Let us see if I can get an answer from the Secretary of State. A recent poll highlighted that six out of 10 people favour a people’s vote, and an extension is required for one to take place. I do not know how many times the Prime Minister has said there will not be a people’s vote, but should the Government not face reality and accept that there will be one and that they might as well start planning for it now? (910234)

I do not know which selective poll the right hon. Gentleman is quoting from, but in our democracy we address these issues through the ballot box. In 2016 we had in essence the ultimate poll and 17.4 million people cast their vote to leave. The key message we get in our constituencies and very clearly from the business community—I do not need a poll for this—is that people do not want this process to drag on further. They want it to come to a resolution, and they want the House, instead of being against everything, to come to a decision. It is time we moved on and got this delivered.

Last night, the House voted to prevent a disastrous no-deal Brexit and to exert greater control over the process of extending article 50. The Secretary of State’s views on an extension are well known, but will he confirm that when the European Union (Withdrawal) (No. 5) Bill returns from the other place, he and the Government will comply with the spirit of it and dutifully seek a further extension of article 50 beyond 12 April?

I am very happy to confirm that, as set out in the “Ministerial Code”, Ministers will abide by the law. If the law of the land dictates a certain course of action, Ministers will, under the code, follow the law. The hon. Gentleman gets slightly ahead of himself, because the Bill passed Third Reading with a majority of only one last night, and it was passed in such haste that many of my colleagues had as little as two minutes to speak on Second Reading. I pointed out to the House flaws in the Bill, which I am sure their lordships will wish to explore. We will need to see what consideration takes place in the other House before any further deliberations are necessary in this place.

The House will have noted—I think with disappointment—the Secretary of State’s attempts to undermine the clear will expressed last night. The Opposition have no doubt that the Lords will discharge their duties quickly and efficiently in the circumstances. Given the clear will of the House as expressed in the Bill’s passage last night, I ask him to set out his view at this stage about what the Government believe the role of this place will be in the event that the European Council proposes a date different from that set out in a motion approved by the House, or if the Council agreed to the proposed date but attached conditions.

That is an odd response, if I might say so. The hon. Gentleman started by saying he was disappointed by my answer, in which I said I will follow the law and the ministerial code—I thought the Opposition would have expected that. He then said that he had “no doubt” that the Lords will pass the Bill, which carried in the Commons by just one vote. That is pretty condescending to the other place. By having no doubt that their lordships will simply approve the Bill, he takes for granted the scrutiny process in the other place. Given the many constitutional experts there are in the other place, I would have thought that their lordships would want to scrutinise this Bill, which was passed in haste with its constitutional flaws.

No Deal: Prevention

On Tuesday, my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister set out a process through which we will seek to agree a plan to leave the EU with a deal. She has asked for a short extension in order to do that. The best way to avoid no deal, as the House well knows, is obviously to agree a deal. While no deal remains the legal default, the Government must go on preparing for this scenario as a contingency.

All of the leave campaigns promised that we should leave with a deal. Last week, no deal was rejected by over 71% of MPs, and the Prime Minister’s deal has also been overwhelmingly rejected. Will the Government finally admit that there are alternatives to leaving without a deal that can gain more support from Parliament than the Prime Minister’s deal?

The hon. Lady is absolutely right. If she has followed events this week, she will know that that is exactly why my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has extended the negotiations to and engaged in conversation with the Leader of the Opposition. It is precisely to find a solution to the impasse.

No deal did not appear on any ballot paper in 2016 and was ruled out by all the main leave campaign groups. Does the Minister therefore agree that it would be totally unacceptable to crash out without a deal, without first putting it back to the people?

The hon. Gentleman is quite right: the House has shown no inclination to leave the EU without a deal. That is why my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister is looking for a way forward and engaging with the Leader of the Opposition on precisely that issue.

Leaving without a deal would affect everybody, not least our dentists. I hope you will find it in order, Mr Speaker, for me to raise the issue of dentistry in a no-deal situation at this point. A third of the 6,500 European qualified dental registrants intend to leave UK dentistry. The British Dental Association chair, Mick Armstrong, has said:

“Government has failed to even acknowledge the scale of the crisis”.

I know that Ministers have recruitment and retention issues of their own at the moment, but is not the chair of the British Dental Association right, and what are the Government going to do about it?

I would like to pay tribute to my former colleague, my hon. Friend the Member for Daventry (Chris Heaton-Harris). He was a wonderful Minister and it is a shame that he has left us.

On the issue of professional qualifications, it is in the withdrawal agreement and it has always been the stated aim of the Government that there will be mutual recognition of qualifications. This is not controversial, and I think that it will assure many EU citizens in our country that they can continue to pursue their professions without any interruption or uncertainty.

The Government have had any number of opportunities to take no deal off the table. Last night, Parliament had to start the almost unprecedented step of passing legislation that is fiercely opposed by the Government to put Parliament and these islands where the Government should have put us a while ago. Last week, we had the astonishing spectacle of the Chief Whip going on the record to say that the Prime Minister had got it all wrong. Does the Secretary of State agree with the Chief Whip?

What my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has got right is the fact that we need a solution to the impasse. That is why this week, she has very openly invited the Leader of the Opposition to talks to track a way forward.

It is very noticeable that the Prime Minister is still refusing to talk to anyone who might say anything she disagrees with, but we will see what comes out of the talks. Given that it is the clear will of this House that no deal must be avoided and that this Parliament is in the process of passing legislation to prevent no deal from happening, is it tenable for any Minister of the Crown to continue actively to promote a no-deal Brexit that has been rejected by Parliament and was never endorsed by the people in the first place?

In respect of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister listening to diverse views, my understanding is that she spoke to the First Minister of Scotland yesterday and has been engaged in conversations with her. The position of the Government has always been the same: we favour a deal. We want to leave the EU with a negotiated deal, but it would be irresponsible of the Government not to prepare for no deal, because that still might happen. Indeed, Michel Barnier said this week that it was likely. It is therefore exactly the right thing for the Government to prepare for the scenario of no deal.

Devolved Administrations: Discussions

12. What recent discussions he has had with the devolved Administrations on the UK leaving the EU. (910221)

I regularly meet Ministers from the Scottish and Welsh Governments. On Monday, I spoke to Graeme Dey MSP and Jeremy Miles from the Welsh Assembly. The Secretary of State also meets his counterparts in the devolved Administrations. Indeed, he met his Scottish and Welsh counterparts on his very first day in the job.

Scotland voted overwhelmingly to stay in the EU and to retain free movement of people, which is essential for our economy and social wellbeing. What account has been taken of those facts in developing the UK’s Brexit strategy?

There has been a huge amount of engagement with the Scottish and Welsh Governments through the Joint Ministerial Committee and the Ministerial Forum, which I co-chair. A number of issues have been raised about Scotland’s place in Europe and our shared policy is to pursue, for instance, co-operation with Europe on universities. However, the hon. Gentleman will recognise that Scotland’s share of UK immigration is very low, and it is, as the Migration Advisory Committee has made clear, only really possible to have an immigration policy for the whole UK.

Legislative Proposals: No Withdrawal Agreement

13. Whether the Government plan to bring forward legislative proposals to prepare for the UK leaving the EU without a withdrawal agreement. (910222)

The Government have undertaken extensive work to identify the legislation essential to deliver our exit from the EU. In fact, as I speak, almost all the statutory instruments—93% of them—required for a functioning statute book on exit day have been laid before Parliament.

The Government have failed to pass the Trade Bill, the Agriculture Bill, the Fisheries Bill, the financial services Bill and the environment Bill, and they have even failed to introduce the EU withdrawal Bill. Does that not show those who think we are ready to leave in a no-deal situation on 12 April that the Government are not prepared for that at all?

I reject the assumption behind the question. As I stated, almost all the SIs required—93% of something like 600—have been passed. She is quite right that there are Bills currently in Parliament that are being discussed and that are going through both Houses. All those Bills provide for a range of negotiation outcomes, as she knows, including a no-deal scenario.

Is it not now inconceivable to pass a meaningful vote before the EU Council next Thursday and therefore unavoidable to seek a lengthy Brexit delay and to hold European Parliament elections?

Given what we have seen in the past few weeks, I would never use “inconceivable”; anything can happen, as the right hon. Gentleman knows. I am confident that we will get a deal through. I am hopeful of that, because that is the only way that we will get a negotiated and orderly exit from the EU.

UK Manufacturing: Mutual Recognition of Regulatory Standards

14. What assessment he has made of the effect on UK manufacturing of the UK leaving the EU without mutual recognition of regulatory standards in that sector. (910223)

The hon. Gentleman will be aware that we have had extensive meetings across the country, and I have seen many companies. We continue to recognise the importance of UK manufacturing and of maintaining a close trading relationship with the EU. As the political declaration sets out, we have already agreed to establish a free trade area for goods. We recognise that manufacturing is an essential part of the economy.

That was not really much to do with my question, which was about regulatory standards. Weightron Bilanciai, a Chesterfield-based industrial weighing machine manufacturer, had to spend around £50,000 to have all its products re-certified in the Netherlands, because they will no longer be certified and recognised for sale in the EU after we leave. Are the costs paid by UK manufacturing and the impact on British businesses the most serious example of the Government’s failure to come up with a trade deal?

I will tell the hon. Gentleman about failure. What is actually crippling and increasing uncertainty for his manufacturing sector is his repeated rejection of the deal, which would actually have an implementation period and would give certainty and direction to the very companies he seeks to represent in the House.

The Minister said that anything can happen. Total Lindsey oil refinery contacted me this week to warn me about the risk, in the event of no deal, of the equivalent of Chinese steel dumping but with US gasoline if we end up with 0% import tariffs. That will result in the loss or downgrading of up to 900 jobs in my area. Does he agree that that would irrevocably damage our local economy?

The question I ask myself—[Hon. Members: “Answer!”] I am answering the hon. Lady’s question. Given that she has so much concern for manufacturing interests in her constituency, why on earth has she rejected, on three occasions, the only deal that would provide certainty and a degree of consistency for the companies she seeks to represent?

No Deal: EU Citizens’ Rights

15. What steps his Department is taking to help maintain the rights of EU citizens in the UK in the event that the UK leaves the EU without a deal. (910224)

The UK Government have been unequivocal that in any scenario, including no deal, EU citizens and their family members living here by exit day will be able to stay. We want them to stay; they are our friends and our neighbours.

I thank the Minister for his response, but can he specifically reassure EU citizens living in Banff and Buchan and, indeed, across Scotland that, contrary to suggestions and letters being circulated by the Scottish National party, the UK Government value them, want them to stay and are committed to upholding their right to live and work in the United Kingdom? [Interruption.] I have seen the letters.

My hon. Friend is exactly right. It is hugely irresponsible for people to stir up fear in the way that we have seen. EU citizens are highly valued members of their communities and play an integral part in the economic, cultural and social fabric of the UK. I enjoyed engaging with EU citizens from the Nordic countries on a recent visit to Edinburgh, where we made it very clear that we want them to stay. We have designed the settled status scheme to help them to stay.

No Deal: UK Manufacturing Sector

16. What recent assessment he has made of the effect on the UK manufacturing sector of the UK leaving the EU without a deal. (910225)

Obviously, manufacturing is vital to everything we do. We remain committed, through our industrial strategy, to making the UK the best place to start and grow a business. There are now 3.5 million more people in work than in 2010. It seems very remiss for Opposition Members to complain about uncertainty when they have rejected the deal not once, not twice, but three times. This deal will provide the certainty that the hon. Gentleman’s manufacturing interests will recognise and appreciate.

We all had a late night last night, but this is a zombie Secretary of State with zombie Ministers. When will they wake up? Yesterday, the all-party parliamentary manufacturing group, which I chair, was told by a leading professor from the business schools of both Sheffield and Birmingham that, however we leave Europe, we will have a 4% to 5% drop in GDP, but that GDP in the constituencies and towns that voted to leave will drop by a crippling 17% to 20%. That may not include Spelthorne, where I grew up, but it will devastate this country’s manufacturing base.

First, I would like to confirm to the House that we are not zombies. Secondly, Spelthorne has manufacturing interests, as the hon. Gentleman’s constituency does. The manufacturing interests in my constituency always tell me, “Back the Prime Minister’s deal—back certainty. Let’s get this thing over the line and move on with our lives.” That is what they want.

The highly integrated supply chains in the motor and aviation industries require convergence and regulatory alignment with product manufacture, both in the EU and in the UK. What guarantees can the Minister give that, in the event that the UK leaves the EU without a deal, we will have a role in shaping the future regulatory framework?

Obviously, it has been the Government’s repeated intention not to leave without a deal. The hon. Gentleman will know that part 3 of the withdrawal agreement deals extensively with the kind of regulations that would be in place in the implementation period, which, if the deal goes through, will give us another 20 months to negotiate a free trade agreement.

Second Referendum

18. If he will make an assessment of the potential negative effect on his Department’s policies of a second referendum on the UK leaving the EU. (910230)

My hon. Friend will appreciate that a second referendum would have a very corrosive impact not only on our politics, but on trust, which has been mentioned many times. A clear instruction was given in 2016 to withdraw from the EU, and that is what the Government remain absolutely committed to fulfilling.

I am grateful to the Minister for that answer. Beyond that impact, what assessment has he made of the democratic and financial impacts of pursuing such a change in policy?

My hon. Friend is quite right: holding a second referendum would create enormous uncertainty that would undermine the strong economic achievement of the Government and of our businesses. It would essentially take us back to square one and result in more delay at a time when the public simply want politicians to deliver what they promised.

After the talks with the Labour party leader yesterday, the Chancellor said this morning that a second referendum is more likely. Are we seeing the start of yet another U-turn from a Government who have abandoned all their promises on going forward with no deal, having no border down the Irish sea and ensuring that we leave the EU on 29 March?

In respect of the second referendum, as I said to my hon. Friend the Member for Corby (Tom Pursglove), it is Government policy to honour the 2016 referendum. That is what we have been tasked to do, and that is what we are 100% focused on. The second referendum is a red herring, frankly. It is not something that we countenance. We want to deliver on the 2016 referendum.

Financial Services Sector

19. What recent assessment he has made of the potential effect on the financial services sector of the UK leaving the EU. (910231)

As part of the political declaration, the Government have negotiated an agreement on the future relationship for financial services that would be of greater depth than any other the EU has with a third country, while enabling our financial services sector to take up the global opportunities on offer.

Is the Secretary of State aware of the latest Reuters Brexit city tracker index, which revealed that no less than 7.6 million square feet of new leases were signed in the City of London last year, which is a record? The market is currently within 5% of its record high. Fewer than 2,000, or 0.5% of City jobs, have either relocated or been substituted elsewhere on the continent. When is this Armageddon because of Brexit going to happen?

As a former City Minister, I take a close interest in these issues. My hon. Friend is absolutely right to draw the House’s attention to some of the developments we have seen in recent months in the City. The City has opportunities in growth areas of finance. Green finance is a key opportunity, for example, and FinTech is another. There are very good opportunities for the City in a post-Brexit world.

There seems to be some confusion about customs unions. Can my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State confirm that a customs union would not cover how we regulate our financial services, how we fish, how we farm or freedom of movement? It should be perfectly possible to discuss a customs union without using any F-words.

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. There is one tweak around fishing and fish, but other than that I absolutely agree with her. I remind the House that financial services alone contribute, from memory, around £71 billion in tax to the UK economy. With an economy that is 80% services, there is an opportunity post Brexit for us to take a more bespoke approach that will enable us to maximise the opportunities on offer.

No Deal: UK Citizens’ Rights

20. What steps the Government are taking to help ensure the protection of the rights of UK citizens living in the EU in the event that the UK leaves the EU without a deal. (910233)

After much urging by the UK, we are pleased that all member states have given some public assurance to protect the rights of UK nationals. We will continue to call on member states to fully reciprocate our unilateral offer. The Government supported the amendment from our hon. Friend the Member for South Leicestershire (Alberto Costa) and have sought the EU’s views on ring-fencing the citizens’ rights parts of the withdrawal agreement. Michel Barnier has responded, and we are now considering our response to his letter.

I thank my hon. Friend for his answer. I am deeply opposed to the legislation that was passed in this House last night. I strongly favour leaving with no deal if we cannot get a deal with the EU. However, I would be grateful if my hon. Friend updated me on the steps he is taking to protect the rights of our citizens in the EU and EU citizens in the UK, should we leave with no deal.

Where I agree with my hon. Friend is that we should absolutely protect the rights of citizens and do everything in our power to do so. We have always been steadfast in our commitment to protecting those rights. Today, we have announced a further series of measures to protect UK nationals in the EU and those who choose to return to the UK after exit. There are important measures on social security co-ordination, a seven-year transition period for UK nationals in the EEA and Switzerland to continue to access student finance and home fee status in England and a transition period for UK nationals who return to the EU with their non-UK family members for those family members to apply to the EU settlement scheme.

It was very welcome news this week that Germany will be unilaterally guaranteeing the rights of UK subjects in Germany. Will my hon. Friend tell us which if any of the EU27 are not known to be guaranteeing the rights of UK nationals?

My right hon. Friend raises an important point. We welcome some of the steps that have been taken. He mentioned Germany, and the Czech Republic has been clear in reciprocating our unilateral offer. There is a varied playing field within the European Union, it is fair to say. Some member states have not been as generous as we might like them to be. We will continue to urge them to meet the generosity of our unilateral offer and continue to explore what we can do reciprocally to ensure that the best possible protections are in place for our citizens.

Topical Questions

Since I last updated the House, my hon. Friend the Member for Daventry (Chris Heaton-Harris) has left the Government. I take this opportunity to pay tribute to his outstanding service as a Minister. He will be greatly missed in the Department and by his colleagues, but I know he will continue to serve his constituents in Daventry in an exemplary way.

Since our last departmental questions, we have not only had a large number of debates with the right hon. and learned Member for Holborn and St Pancras (Keir Starmer), but votes, and the House has not yet been able to find something that it is for, as opposed to lots of things that it is against. That is why my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister set out on Tuesday that this division—this lack of conclusion—cannot continue and drag on. We have reached out to the Leader of the Opposition to see whether we can agree on a plan to leave the European Union with a deal. Those discussions will continue later today.

The public know that the withdrawal agreement is a long way from the Brexit that was promised. Does the Secretary of State agree that the public have been badly let down and that whatever agreement is drawn up by this Parliament should now be subject to a confirmatory public vote—on a real rather than a fantasy Brexit deal?

The hon. Gentleman seems to confuse the winding-down arrangements—the withdrawal agreement—with a future deal. The EU has been clear: first, that any deal reached will need to include the withdrawal agreement; and secondly, that that withdrawal agreement is not open to renegotiation. Therefore, any deal to move forward in an orderly fashion needs to come with a withdrawal agreement. That is why it is so remarkable that the hon. Gentleman voted against the withdrawal agreement—whatever the deal to leave the EU, it will require a withdrawal agreement. The only conclusion is that perhaps he does not want to honour his own manifesto and perhaps he does not want to leave at all.

T3. Will the Minister confirm that it is still the Government’s position to take us out of the common fisheries policy, with the UK participating in annual negotiations as an independent coastal state no later than December 2020? (910237)

Yes, I am very happy to confirm to my hon. Friend that that is our policy. It was good to meet the Scottish Fishermen’s Federation in his constituency to hear why it sees that policy as a sea of opportunity.

Normally I complain that in these sessions we do not get any of our questions answered. We have moved on this morning: instead of answering questions, the Ministers are now asking themselves questions, or inventing questions that they would like to answer and then answering them. I had better be careful how I frame this question for the Secretary of State.

Last week, the Prime Minister said:

“unless this House agrees to it, no deal will not happen”.—[Official Report, 25 March 2019; Vol. 657, c. 25.]

That was a very important commitment, particularly now that we are eight days from 12 April. The simple question for the Secretary of State to ask himself is this: does he agree that, unless this House agrees to it, no deal will not happen?

What the Prime Minister was referring to, which was played out in the debate in the House yesterday, was that where the House of Commons passes a law—subject to the other place, that is the position of the vote last night—then in law, bound by the ministerial code, Ministers will need to abide by it. At the same time, the Prime Minister has always been clear that the decision by this House not to approve the withdrawal agreement means that any extension will need to be agreed by the EU Council 28, which includes the United Kingdom, but it can be opposed by any member of the European Union. It is not solely within the control of this House whether we leave with or without a deal; it is also now subject to the decision of the EU 27.

When we do get a question and answer, it gets interesting. That is a rowing back on what the Prime Minister said. When she said that unless this House agreed to it no deal would not happen, that was not in the context of the Bill last night—that Bill had not even been drafted. She said it as a general proposition in the debate last week. I hope that the Secretary of State is not rowing back, and I would like him to confirm that he is not rowing back. Otherwise, we have elicited something here of some importance.

May I also go on to ask the Secretary of State whether he now regrets voting against an extension of article 50 in this House on 14 March—that was an extension beyond 29 March? Does he now regret voting against the Cooper-Letwin Bill last night? Had the House followed his vote, does he appreciate that it is highly likely that we would be in a no-deal situation right now?

First, we have the oddity of the right hon. and learned Gentleman accusing the ministerial team of not answering the question, then pointing out that indeed we have answered it in an interesting way. Putting that to one side and going to the substance of his question, as I pointed out to the House, one of the defects of the legislation passed last night is the potential for it to increase the risk of an accidental no deal, where the EU Council decides to offer a different extension from the one agreed by this House. Under the terms of that legislation that would have to come back to this House for approval the following day, by which time the EU Council would have concluded. I do not think that was the intention of the right hon. Member for Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford (Yvette Cooper), but it is a possible outcome. It is subject to their lordships deciding whether they want to correct what I regard as a defect, although the right hon. and learned Gentleman’s shadow ministerial colleague says that, no doubt, their lordships will just nod it all through without scrutiny and without addressing that defect.

Regarding the right hon. and learned Gentleman’s second point, I was alluding to a statement of the law. I do not differ at all from the Prime Minister, who has always been clear that Ministers abide by the ministerial code, and I am sure that he would expect no less.

Thirdly, on the extension, we have addressed this issue in previous debates because the three amendments had all been defeated by the time we got on to the fourth vote. A further commitment had been given to an amendable motion for the following week, which was addressed. But the bottom line is that I want to respect the referendum result. I think asking people to vote for Members of the European Parliament three years after they voted to leave the EU is damaging to trust in our democracy. The question for Opposition Members is: why do they keep voting against everything when their own manifesto said they wanted to respect the result?

T6. The digital single market copyright directive is on its way to becoming law in the EU. This could have significant implications for the UK’s intellectual property-rich creative industries, particularly publishing, whose successes are underpinned by the gold standard copyright system. How consistent will the UK’s copyright regime be with the EU’s when—perhaps I should say if—we leave? (910240)

T2. The Prime Minister has confirmed that the future declaration is not legally binding, so what assurances can the Government give us on trade tariffs, rights at work, food standards and environmental protections that will be binding on whoever ends up negotiating our permanent deal with the EU? (910236)

As the hon. Lady knows, there will be ample opportunity for the House to legislate during the passage of the withdrawal agreement Bill. As she also knows, there is legal wiring—for example, through article 174, which deals with best endeavours and good faith obligations under the withdrawal agreement, and how they connect. If it is one of the matters the House looks at in the future, it will be able to choose to put into legislation negotiating objectives. The point is that the hon. Lady has opposed the withdrawal agreement that the EU says is necessary for any deal, and we cannot get on to the future relationship without a withdrawal agreement.

T8. Regulatory alignment is a euphemism for them making the rules and us having to implement them, is it not? (910242)

My right hon. Friend, as always, is short and to the point. He correctly identifies the risk of rule taking. We talked earlier about financial services and the tax take from that sector alone. The UK taxpayer, who underwrites the liabilities of a sector such as financial services, will have concerns if the rules are being set in countries in Europe, rather than in this Parliament.

T5. When in 2017 the former Brexit Minister, the hon. Member for Wycombe (Mr Baker), claimed that so many DExEU staff were on loan from elsewhere in the civil service because the nature of the Department was temporary, I bet he did not foresee his own departure, along with five other Ministers, the latest one being the no-deal Minister, the hon. Member for Daventry (Chris Heaton-Harris), who says his work is done now. When do the Government envisage the job of exiting the European Union being complete, enabling this young Ministry, which has experienced so much churn, to be wound up? (910239)

As the Prime Minister has already informed the House, the Department for Exiting the European Union will lead during the next phase of the negations. As the hon. Lady is well aware, we need to get on to those negotiations in order that the Department can undertake them. That is what businesses up and down the country want. They want this uncertainty to be brought to a close and they want us to get on into the implementation period for the certainty that that will bring. It is also what EU citizens living in this country and UK citizens in Europe want to see.

T9.   Will the Minister outline what conversations he has had with the Home Office to ensure that the settled status scheme works effectively for EU nationals? (910243)

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that question—it is important to make sure the scheme works as effectively and smoothly as possible. The Home Office is providing assisted digital support over the phone from more than 200 centres throughout the UK, and at home with a trained tutor. Applicants can have their identity verified by the identity document checkout at more than 50 locations, one of which I am pleased to see is in my constituency, as well as by post. I am pleased that my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary confirmed recently that Apple has said it will make the identity document check available on its devices by the end of the year.

T7. The Government have been warned that EU nationals’ children who are looked-after or care leavers will fall through the gap when it comes to the settling of their status. These are vulnerable children in the care of the state, yet the Government, their corporate parent, do not even know how many of them there are and are refusing to give them automatic settled status or to waive the fees of those eligible for citizenship. Why is that? (910241)

I absolutely disagree with the hon. Lady about the Government’s attitude to this group. We want to ensure that all those who are eligible for settled status, particularly children, are given a smooth and orderly process. I am certainly happy to take up her concerns with the Home Office, but I do not agree that the Government do not take their responsibilities in this regard extremely seriously.

Yesterday, in the International Trade Committee, we heard from the Minister for Trade Policy that, should we ever get there, it will not be DIT negotiating our future trading relationship with the EU but, I presume, DExEU. If that is the case, what lessons will be learned from the fundamental strategic flaws in this opening phase of negotiations? What detailed discussion is under way with DIT about the impact of whatever DExEU negotiates on our ability to build future trade agreements?

My hon. Friend is right that my Department will lead on the future trade agreement—the future economic partnership with the EU—but she will also be aware that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for International Trade will lead on our trade deals with the rest of the world, and he and I speak regularly. In respect of the lessons from phase 1, as in the corporate world, as in Government: there are always lessons. There are things that have gone well in phase 1 and things on which we can improve. It was a major new endeavour for the Government to undertake and we have had a number of discussions in the Department to ensure we take those lessons on board.

North-east manufacturers have achieved great success as part of integrated, just-in-time pan-European supply chains, which mean that, as one manufacturer puts it, their stock room is somebody else’s delivery van. These manufacturers are now having to stockpile as a consequence of this Brexit chaos, and that has implications for their cash flow and finances. What help is the Minister looking to provide for them and what hope of future economic integration can he offer them in the case of there being a deal without a customs union?

I have travelled in the north-east, although not quite in the hon. Lady’s constituency, and I have seen chemicals firms in the petrochemicals industry. They say with one voice that they want a solution to this impasse, just as we do in this House. They want to have a deal, to have the implementation period and to move on from this.

Forcing the UK to take part in European parliamentary elections would show a fundamental lack of respect for our democratic process, wouldn’t it?

I have already addressed this point. Three years after the country voted by record numbers to leave, there is a strong desire to ensure that we get on with it and do so. The Prime Minister has compromised and reached out. We are endeavouring to deliver on the will of the British people as expressed in that referendum vote, and on the manifesto commitments of both main parties.

The hon. Member for Redditch (Rachel Maclean) appears to be on the receiving end of mentoring from her right hon. Friend the Member for New Forest West (Sir Desmond Swayne). It will probably be extremely helpful to her—it would be to any Member—and it is a great tribute to the right hon. Gentleman.

Can the Secretary of State just enlighten the House as to what he thinks has actually gone well during this first phase?

I think what has gone well in this first phase is that we have an agreement with the EU that gives certainty to EU citizens, that respects our legal obligations and that will ensure that there is no hard border on the border of Northern Ireland. In part, one of the achievements of both parties, but particularly of the Labour party, was the Good Friday agreement. It is why those Members in Northern Ireland get so agitated with Members on the hon. Lady’s Benches over their failure on the withdrawal process. We have a deal; it is on the table; and it is the only deal that the EU is willing to offer.

The clear and solemn commitment in the Conservative party manifesto, on which the Secretary of State and I were elected, was:

“As we leave the European Union, we will no longer be members of the single market or customs union.”

Will he ensure that the Prime Minister does not renege on that commitment at the European Council next week?

My hon. Friend correctly identifies that commitment in our manifesto. He will also be aware that the manifesto gives a commitment to have a deep and special partnership with the EU. It is that balance that we are trying to seek. That is why the Prime Minister brought forward a deal that delivered on the referendum result—on things such as control of our borders, a skilled immigration system, control of our fisheries, control of our agriculture, and putting an end to sending vast sums of money to the EU—but also respected the fact that 48% of the population did not vote for leave. It is that compromise that has not been pure enough for some Members on the Government Benches to support it.