Exiting the European Union
The Secretary of State was asked—
Future Relationship: Public Vote
The Government’s position on a second referendum has not changed.
I am sorry to hear that. Brexit was supposed to deliver frictionless trade, the exact same benefits as the single market and the customs union and an extra £350 million a week for the NHS, but the Prime Minister was not able to deliver and any actual Brexit deal will fall far short of those promises. Should not the voters get the choice between proceeding on the basis of whatever deal is actually available or remaining?
The voters in the right hon. Gentleman’s constituency, such as those at Tate and Lyle, should get the choice. Eight hundred and fifty people work at Tate and Lyle in his constituency. It is a business that has suffered because of the EU protectionism applied to sugar beet and a business where 19,000 lorries bringing sugar in could be transferred if we moved to cane. He should be listening to voices such as those at Tate and Lyle who want to see us leave because they see what the voters who voted to leave the EU saw, which is the opportunities that Brexit will unlock.
Prior to the referendum, the right hon. Members for Haltemprice and Howden (Mr Davis), and for Wokingham (John Redwood) and the hon. Member for North East Somerset (Mr Rees-Mogg), none of whom are in their places today—no women are on the Conservative Benches either—plus Nigel Farage from outside this House all argued that, if the result were close, we would have to have a confirmatory referendum to be sure. Three years on from parliamentary stalemate on a deal that the EU will not reopen and in a process that involves election law illegality, surely they had a point, as does the Chancellor who says that a people’s vote is perfectly credible. To break the logjam, the will of the people should now prevail.
The hon. Lady talks about a people’s vote. What she really means is a politicians’ vote. What she should do is listen to the voice of people such as John Curtice, a very respected voice, who wrote on 23 June:
“Our poll of polls of how people would vote in another referendum continues to report that the country is more or less evenly divided between remain and leave, much as it was three years ago.”
There are 19,000 EU nationals in my Kensington constituency who have no say over their future post Brexit. They pay their tax, but they have no voice apart from mine. How can I reassure my constituents that I and those who do have a vote will be able to make their representations on the deal?
It is a slightly odd position to take to be talking about how people can be heard in their vote by overturning a vote in which people are seeking to be heard. We have had three questions, all from London MPs, ignoring the fact that, across the nine regions of England, eight voted to leave and only one voted to remain. It is time that we heard more than the voice of London from the Labour Benches.
Perhaps a representative of Leeds might ask a question.
One of the arguments for going back to the people is the economic consequences of a no-deal Brexit. Over the past three weeks, the Select Committee has been taking evidence from the leading industrial sectors of the country representing great British success stories, and we asked them what a no-deal Brexit would mean for them. They said that it would lead to prohibitively high tariffs on farmers and medicine shortages. They said that it would be disastrous, the worst possible option. In the words of Make UK, it would be
“nothing short of an act of economic vandalism”.
Does the Secretary of State support leaving the EU without a deal on 31 October, and, if so, what would he say to those industries?
What I say is, it is better to leave with a deal. That has always been my position, which is why I have consistently voted for a deal. The question for the right hon. Gentleman is why, although his party’s manifesto said that he would respect the referendum result, he is against leaving with no deal and is also against leaving with a deal. The truth is that he wants to remain, and he should be candid about that.
On Monday the Leader of the Opposition asked the Prime Minister a question, but unfortunately she did not answer it, so I am just going to ask the Secretary of State the same question. What would be worse: crashing out with no deal in October, or putting this issue back to the people for a final say?
What would be worse is going back on the democratic decision of the British people—the 17.4 million people who voted to leave. We are committed to honouring that result. The question for the Opposition is: if they do not want to leave on a no-deal basis, why have they consistently voted against a deal when the EU itself says that it is the only deal on the table?
This is questions for the Government, not the Opposition. My grandfather fought in the second world war, and then served in Malaya. When he returned to the UK, he worked at ICI on Teesside. In 2019, there are 7,500 people working in the chemical industry on Teesside. I ask the Secretary of State to put himself in the shoes of one of those workers. For that worker, which is worse: no deal or a second referendum?
The point about the second referendum—[Interruption.] Which is worse? I have answered this question many times. The choice the hon. Lady presents me with would actually be between no deal and no Brexit, for which a second referendum is a proxy because, as the right hon. Member for Don Valley (Caroline Flint) has said, a second vote is actually a stop Brexit referendum. If a Member on the shadow Minister’s own Benches can be honest about that, she should be equally candid. In answer to her question, between those two options, I think no Brexit is worse than no deal. No deal would be disruptive, and I have been clear about that to colleagues in my party, but the shadow Minister has consistently voted against a deal, and it is the deal that would have secured the interests of businesses such as the chemicals industry.
I assure the House that we continue regularly to meet our counterparts from across the EU and its member states on a number of issues, including our security relationship after the UK leaves the EU. The political declaration sets out a shared UK-EU commitment to a comprehensive future security partnership. That partnership will include close co-operation on law enforcement, criminal justice, foreign policy, defence and cyber-security.
Given that we do not know what our future relationship will look like at this moment in time, can I seek assurances from the Department that, in the event of a clean break from the European Union, we will be seeking mutual co-operation on matters such as security?
I assure my hon. Friend that that is absolutely the case. We have a long history of co-operating with our partners in Europe and are working closely with many of our EU partners on Europe’s key defence challenges through capabilities such as Typhoon, A400M and Meteor.
According to Mr Barnier, a no-deal scenario would represent
“a break in the level of talks…risks to intelligence pooling… inconsistencies in applying sanctions regimes”,
and would leave the rules of co-operation with Europol and Eurojust still to be determined. Given the risks that no deal would present to our security, is the Minister happy that both of the Tory leadership contenders crow about their willingness to deliver no deal?
Of course, I have always championed the deal and the right hon. Gentleman has voted against the deal three times. In the case of no deal, we will absolutely co-operate with our EU partners, including through making use of Interpol and the Council of Europe conventions. For example, on extradition, we would rely on the Council of Europe’s 1957 European convention on extradition. There is huge scope for co-operation, even in the event of no deal.
Does the Minister agree that we must increase our level of security on the border between Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic, given the threat that dissident republicans pose? In the knowledge that we are now moving to a position where hopefully we will leave in a few short months, we need to be exceptionally mindful of that security risk to all our citizens.
We are absolutely mindful of the risk that the hon. Gentleman describes. He knows that the Government are fully committed to ensuring that the dark days of the 1970s do not return to Northern Ireland.
I see that yesterday the Minister tried to mitigate fears about a no-deal departure by saying that it
“is not a world war.”
That might be an insight into his thinking, but is “less damaging than a world war” really a benchmark for success? Does he agree with the Security Minister, the right hon. Member for Wyre and Preston North (Mr Wallace), who said:
“A no-deal situation would have a real impact on our ability to work with our European partners to protect the public”?
I appreciate the hon. Gentleman’s questions, as always, but I would like to point out that he has wrenched my comments completely out of context, and they were made not yesterday but on Monday. I was merely echoing what the former Governor of the Bank of England, the highly respected economist, Mervyn King, has said about our GDP growth since 1800. On an annualised basis, there would be very little impact, even in the case of no deal.
No Deal: NHS
Ministers and officials in the Department for Exiting the European Union have regular discussions with their counterparts in the Department of Health and Social Care, who are working closely with industry to ensure that the NHS and patients are prepared for all exit scenarios.
Before March, the NHS was stockpiling medical supplies, including body bags, medicines and blood. Many people with long-term conditions fear that essential drugs or specialist food supplies such as those for people with PKU—phenylketonuria—will not be available. What discussions is the Secretary of State having with the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care to ensure that medicines and other medical supplies are consistently available, on time, for people who need them?
The hon. Lady raises a very important point—one that has, sadly, been subject to quite a lot of misleading scare stories. She will have seen the written statement we published yesterday setting out steps we are taking to ensure the smooth flow of goods, and medicines will be the priority within that. She will be aware that it is not simply an issue of flow, but also of stock and of regulation. The Department of Health, in particular, is doing considerable work on these issues.
May I remind the Secretary of State that this is not just about medicines, although that is important enough, but also about staff? Is he aware of how many distressed loyal servants of the NHS have now decided that this is a hostile environment in our country and are going home to their own European countries? That is very sad. Will he remind the contenders to be our next Prime Minister that they do not have a majority in the House of Commons and when they get back here they are going to get a short shower of reality on them?
The hon. Gentleman, like me, cares deeply about the NHS, but it is a fact that there are 700 more doctors working in the NHS today. He shakes his head, but it is a fact. There are 700 more doctors working in the NHS today than at the time of the referendum. It is important that we are welcoming. We recognise the talent, the service and the importance of EU citizens in our NHS. As a former Health Minister, I absolutely agree with him on that. But it is also important that our debate in this place reinforces that positive message and recognises that more doctors have come here, not fewer, since the referendum.
Over 100 third-sector organisations are supporting my private Member’s Bill calling for an independent evaluation of the effect of Brexit in the health and social care sector. They all agree that the UK simply cannot afford to cut itself off from the labour market on which we have become so dependent and will become increasingly dependent. What assurances can the Secretary of State give to the sector that that will not happen?
I will not dwell on the specific merits of the hon. Gentleman’s private Member’s Bill, but he will be aware that health is a devolved matter, and we are working closely with the Scottish Government in our planning. In terms of immigration, which goes back to the point made by the hon. Member for Huddersfield (Mr Sheerman), of course it is important that we retain staff. We are working to do that, and if we look more widely at staff figures, we see that there are 5,200 more EU citizens working in our NHS since the referendum—the numbers are up, not down.
No Deal: Preparedness
As a responsible Government, we have been preparing to minimise any disruption in the event of no deal for more than two years. In the light of the extension, Departments are making sensible decisions about the timing and pace at which some of that work is progressing and what further action can be taken, but we will continue to prepare for an EU exit in all scenarios.
The Chartered Institute of Environmental Health has called on local authorities across the whole United Kingdom to set up food resilience teams to assess how different Brexit outcomes could affect food supplies. What reassurances can the Minister and the Secretary of State give that food supplies will not be impacted in the event of no deal?
Only yesterday, I had a bilateral meeting with my counterpart Minister in the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, and we discussed the advanced plans that that Department has made in this area. I have also had meetings with the Food and Drink Federation, which represents sectors in the industry, and the British Retail Consortium. The Government are making significant plans to ensure that key supplies, including food, are available in the event of a no-deal Brexit.
The hon. Gentleman is a very busy fella, with a full diary. We are all greatly impressed.
One of the major risks of leaving without a deal, which I very much hope will not happen, is cash-flow problems, particularly for small and medium-sized businesses. I had understood that the Treasury and the whole Government were making plans to ensure that additional cash flow would be made available, particularly for SMEs, for delays in payments, customs dues and so on. But at the Exiting the European Union Committee yesterday, we heard from all witnesses that they were not aware of any such plans for their members. Can the Minister set out clearly what those plans are and when they will be made known?
The Government absolutely remain committed to ensuring that businesses, whether they are large, small or medium-sized, thrive in any Brexit-related scenario. The Governor of the Bank of England has said that we are well prepared. I will ensure that more details are circulated about what mitigating measures the UK Government will put in place for small and medium-sized businesses.
In the finest traditions of this Government, the Brexit Secretary used an interview in The Times today to publicly air his frustrations with colleagues from the Treasury and the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy at their unwillingness to waste yet more public money on ramping up preparations for a no-deal Brexit. In the same spirit of openness, can the Minister tell the House precisely how much additional funding his Department believes should be allocated to no-deal planning before 31 October and what it should be spent on?
The Treasury has made available over £4 billion for preparations for Brexit in all scenarios. As has been discussed at the Dispatch Box before, it is not possible to disaggregate the spending between planning for a deal and planning for no deal. If the hon. Gentleman or anyone else in the Chamber is concerned about the implications of a no-deal Brexit, I remind them that they have had a number of opportunities to take the prospect of a no-deal Brexit off the table, which is what they say they wish to do, by voting for a deal. The fact that he has failed to do so means that the Government have had to take sensible, pragmatic actions to ensure that we are ready to leave in the event of no deal, but it is not too late for him to repent.
Given that the Brexit Secretary who negotiated the last deal was so disgusted with it that he resigned in protest, I think it is a bit much to blame anyone on this side of the House for not supporting it.
As the Minister will know only too well, we are still waiting to see the results of the coronation of the next Prime Minister—a Prime Minister who will be chosen on the votes of less than one quarter of 1% of the people of these islands. The lead contender—in fact, both contenders have made it clear they are prepared to go for a no-deal Brexit. Will the Minister accept that there is no mandate for a no-deal Brexit in this Parliament, and that there has never been a mandate for a no-deal Brexit from the people of the United Kingdom?
In the 2016 referendum, the mandate was given to this place from the British people to leave the European Union.
The Minister was asked what assurances he could give about food supplies in the event of a no-deal Brexit, and he gave none. He was asked what mandate exists publicly for a no-deal Brexit, and his answer made it perfectly clear there is none. The man who is about to be imposed on us as Prime Minister promised he would get a deal that would not be a no-deal Brexit, and if the new Prime Minister’s promises are worth nothing, whose are?
May I take the Minister back to the desire expressed a few minutes ago by his boss, who wants this House to listen to more than just the voices of London? “Yeah, tell us about it” is all I can say to that. May I suggest that he listens to one of the equal partners in this Union, where the Scottish National party is the stop Brexit party? The only time no-deal Brexit has been specifically put on the ballot paper in the form of the official Brexit party, the Scottish National party—on a promise to be the stop Brexit party—got more votes than not only the official no-deal Brexit party, but the unofficial no-deal Conservative party and the “don’t know what they’re doing about Brexit” Labour party, all three added together. Does he not accept that the people of Scotland, who his Government accept are sovereign, have overwhelmingly rejected any promise of a no-deal Brexit, as indeed would the majority of the people of these islands if they were given a choice? Why does he not make sure that no deal is taken off the table once and for all?
I happen to be one of the people in this Chamber who is in the habit of respecting the outcome of referendums. I am conscious that the hon. Gentleman is a representative of a party that is less comfortable with respecting the outcome of referendums. The simple truth of the matter is that the people of Scotland decided to remain an active part of the United Kingdom and the United Kingdom collectively decided to leave the European Union, and we are delivering on that referendum.
No Deal: Resilience
The Government’s priority remains to ensure that a deal is brought before and agreed by Parliament, allowing the UK to leave the EU before 31 October. In the run-up to 12 April, various Departments were preparing civil contingency plans, which were regularly discussed with colleagues, with co-ordination from the Cabinet Office.
Devon and Cornwall’s deputy chief constable, Paul Netherton, is the national lead for civil contingencies. When asked by Plymouth Live, “What’s the worst case scenario for Brexit?”, he replied, without a moment’s hesitation, “No deal”. What conversations is the Department having with the Tory leadership contenders so that both of them truly understand the gut-wrenching and dangerous implications of leaving without a deal on 31 October?
The position that the Government have taken mirrors, without necessarily using the same language, the prioritisation of the hon. Gentleman’s deputy chief constable. It is that of the two Brexit scenarios available—leaving with an agreement, or leaving without an agreement—the Government’s preferred option of the two is leaving with an agreement. That still can be done if Opposition Members vote to do so. As a sensible and pragmatic Government, we are making sure we prepare for a no-deal Brexit, but we have said a number of times from the Government Front Bench that our preferred Brexit option is to leave with an agreement and for this House to vote to do so.
Across the Government, but especially in the Treasury and the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, there is a big drive to improve the nation’s productivity. In the run-up to a potential no deal on 31 October, are there not projects that would improve the nation’s productivity, but also enhance our nation’s resilience to a no deal, especially with regard to transport infrastructure around ports, and better prepare us for a no-deal situation?
My hon. Friend makes a very good point. The Government are looking at and planning a number of activities that will benefit the United Kingdom, irrespective of the nature of our departure. As we progress those plans, I am more than happy to share them with him.
What recent discussions has the Minister had with the Irish Government regarding co-operation and security on the Irish border were we to leave the EU on WTO terms? Will he reassure the House that there will be no stop to the freedom of movement of people and goods across the Irish border?
The Government have regular meetings with international partners. Indeed, my colleague, Mr Walker—[Interruption.] I apologise, Mr Speaker, I mean my hon. Friend the Member for Worcester (Mr Walker). He will be joining others at the British-Irish Council to discuss those issues, and ensure that the concerns highlighted by the hon. Gentleman are addressed.
EU Settlement Scheme
I have regular discussions with Home Office Ministers regarding the EU settlement scheme. The scheme is operating well, and I am pleased that more than 800,000 applications have been received, and that almost 700,000 people have already been granted settled status.
The Government have reached a bilateral agreement with Luxembourg to ensure the rights of UK citizens living there, and Luxembourgish citizens living in the UK. Those rights include the right to vote and stand in local elections. Similar agreements are in place for citizens from Spain and Portugal, but we have not had confirmation for EU citizens from other countries. Will the Minister guarantee that no EU citizen will have their name deleted from the UK electoral roll as a result of a no-deal Brexit?
The hon. Lady is right to point to those important bilateral agreements. We want to secure more of those, but the Government have no plans to change the register. It is the responsibility of Cabinet Office Ministers to look at the domestic franchise, and they have assured me that they have no plans to change that in the foreseeable future.
There is no back button on the app. I have been told of a citizen who mistakenly clicked to send a hard copy rather than completing online. When he tried to remedy that, the app told him that his application was withdrawn, and that he would have to wait three months to reapply. When will the Government admit that this “computer says no” system is an embarrassment, dump it, and restore some dignity to these citizens?
The hon. Lady raises a specific case, and if she would like to write to me about it, I would be happy to take it up with colleagues at the Home Office and ensure it is looked into. The numbers suggest that the scheme is working well, and that the vast majority of people are being granted settled status quickly. Of course, if it is not working properly in particular cases, we need to look into those and solve them. This scheme is about helping people to prove their status and allowing them to stay, and that is what we want it to do.
What discussions has the Minister’s Department had with the Home Office and the Local Government Association about applying for settled status for children in the care of local authorities? It is feared that some of them are being wrongly refused settled status, offered only pre-settled status, or that the local authority or the corporate parent is not applying for settled status for them at all.
The hon. Lady makes an important point that has been raised during questions to this Department before. I have taken it up with the Department for Education and the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government to ensure that all efforts are made to make sure that children in care are properly entered into the settled status system by those who care for them. I am happy to forward that correspondence to her so that she can see the follow-up that has already been done on that front.
GATT: Article 24
The Government and the European Commission have been clear that our trading relationship must comply with WTO rules. Under the withdrawal agreement, the implementation period is compatible with GATT article 24. In addition, paragraph 17 of the political declaration envisages the UK and the EU forming a free trade area, which will also be compatible with article 24.
On an all-party visit to the World Trade Organisation, it was made clear that if there was the prospect of a negotiated free trade agreement in the future, tariff-free trade could continue. Does the Minister agree that if the EU does not agree to that negotiated free trade in the future, which would allow tariff-free trade on leaving, that will be because it wants to punish the UK, not come to the best agreement in the interests of its people?
I am not in a position to credibly assess the motivations of the European Union. The British Government’s position has been clear—it is a long-standing position—that it is in our mutual interest to come to a trading relationship between the UK and the EU. We will continue to seek to do so.
No Deal: Economic Impact
I have regular conversations with Cabinet colleagues on all aspects of our EU exit. The Chancellor has provided £4.2 billion to prepare for all areas of our exit.
I have spent this week at the Community trade union conference, the steelworkers’ union, trying to reassure steelworkers around the country from British Steel that their industry has a future and that the right hon. Gentleman’s Government are doing all they can to support them. If we leave the European Union with no deal, however, there will be an instant 25% tariff on steel exported to the European Union, which will cost the British steel industry £1 million a day. The industry has been very clear with me: no deal means no steel. Please, will the Secretary of State rule it out?
Again, the way to rule out no deal is to back a deal, but the hon. Lady raises an important issue in relation to British Steel. As she is well aware, the Government have been working very closely with the industry and the owner, Greybull Capital. She will be well aware, given her constituents’ interests, of some of the global issues in terms of demand, but this is a live issue. I am discussing the issue with industry leaders and trade unions, too.
Even the International Trade Secretary appears to recognise that article 24 of GATT cannot be invoked unilaterally. There will be no transition period in the event of no deal. That much must be clear to everyone by now. Will the Secretary of State agree that no self-respecting Minister could possibly serve in the Government of a Prime Minister in denial about the reality of a no-deal Brexit?
The clue is in the hon. Gentleman’s own question. He talks about “unilaterally”. Clearly, GATT 24 would need to be agreed. I think all the leadership contenders recognise that.
Beckie Hart, the director of Yorkshire and the Humber CBI, said recently that many firms are unaware that it is not just their relationship with EU customers that is at risk from a no-deal Brexit, but relationships across the globe. Tonight, Hull MPs and the shadow Brexit Secretary are meeting the Hull and Humber chamber of commerce to discuss our region’s economic prospects under Brexit. What reassurances can the Secretary of State give to Humber businesses on what is being done to avoid a no-deal Brexit, and what is being done to prepare for it to minimise the damage to the northern powerhouse from years of underfunding and austerity from his Government?
The hon. Lady raises a number of issues within the question of how we are preparing for no deal. It is essential, which is why the Government are investing in that preparation. I am keen to see to us do so at pace. In terms of the wider economy, it is about looking at, if we were in a no-deal situation, what flexibilities we could exploit, what issues of mutual benefit to the EU and the UK we can agree on, and where the flexibilities are that we can work on with the industry in that particular region. Those are the discussions we are having with applicable sectors. We are looking at key sectors to the region, such as offshore wind, and seeing what support the Government could provide in that situation.
No Deal: Agriculture
We continue to have regular conversations with ministerial colleagues across the Government on all aspects of exiting the EU. To provide certainty to farmers and landowners, the Government pledged to commit the same cash total in funds for farm support until the end of this Parliament. That commitment applies to the whole of the UK in both a deal and no-deal scenario.
After studying the Government’s no deal notices, the National Farmers Union has said that a no-deal Brexit would be “catastrophic” for British agriculture. Why then does the Secretary of State talk up a no deal as a viable option and back a leadership candidate who supports leaving on 31 October, “do or die”?
We have had a deal, which the hon. Gentleman and his hon. Friends and colleagues rejected three times. It makes absolutely no sense for them to complain about the prospect of no deal when they rejected a deal so comprehensively on three occasions.
What progress has been made in setting up the successor scheme to the EU’s geographical indications system, which has proved so commercially lucrative for food and drink manufacturers, including people who produce Welsh beef and Welsh lamb?
We have made a lot of progress on trying to replace a lot of the EU’s funds and the regional way in which they allocate money. We have the UK shared prosperity fund, details of which will be introduced next year.
In the recent Tory leadership debate, the Foreign Secretary challenged his rival over no deal, saying:
“Let me ask Boris a question: what would you say to a sheep farmer in Shropshire that I met whose business would be destroyed by 40% tariffs?”
What would the Minister say to that sheep farmer?
We have already made a commitment in this House to support our agricultural industries and our farmers under any circumstances, whether that is a deal or no deal. We have an Agriculture Bill that will allow the Secretary of State to provide the support that our people need.
No Deal: Pharmaceutical Products
Our highest priority is for patients to continue to have access to the medicines and medical products that they need. Since the extension of article 50, close engagement with the pharmaceutical industry has continued and we are confident that we will have the necessary plans in place to ensure continuity of medical supply.
A no-deal Brexit would see the UK lose access to the falsified medicines directive, which prevents substandard and counterfeit medicines from entering our market. The head of the Healthcare Distribution Association has said that, as a result, the UK would be “less safe”. What steps has the Minister taken to prevent that?
The hon. Gentleman will be unsurprised to hear that I have had recent meetings with the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry. We have discussed the quantity and nature of cross-border movements of medical supplies and pharmaceuticals. The British Government take this as one of our top priorities, protecting the supply in general and ensuring the quality as well as the quantity of medical supplies, and we will continue to do so.
Citizens’ Rights: Elections
The Cabinet Office is responsible for the domestic franchise, but my Department has been pressing to negotiate bilateral agreements on voting rights and I have regular contact with Cabinet Office Ministers on this matter. After writing to each member state, we have now signed agreements, as discussed earlier, with Spain, Portugal and Luxembourg to secure voting rights for UK nationals in EU member states and EU citizens here.
In my constituency, I have more than 10,000 Romanian citizens, who are contributing directly to our economy, working hard and contributing to Britain. They want to know when their voting rights will be safeguarded. Given the all-party basis that we have for safeguarding citizens’ rights, why do we not bring forward legislation on a cross-party basis to deliver precisely that?
My hon. Friend makes an interesting suggestion. As he appreciates, it will be for the Government to decide what new legislation is brought forward. It is already the case in law that EU citizens from all member states have the right to vote in our domestic local elections, and it would require a change in the law to alter that.
That is usually a polite way of saying, “I hear what you say and will look at it in the round.” If the hon. Member for Harrow East (Bob Blackman) is encouraged by that, he is very easily encouraged.
Article 50 Extension
The Government’s policy is not to extend article 50.
I am grateful to the Secretary of State for that unequivocal answer, because people in Corby and east Northamptonshire are tired of the delay and the attempts here in Parliament to frustrate Brexit. They are particularly frustrated, by the fact that that is denying certainty for businesses. I am clear that there must be no more extensions and that we must leave on 31 October—no ifs, no buts. What steps is he taking to ensure that outcome?
I share my hon. Friend’s frustration that we have not left; I have consistently voted to leave. I represent a constituency where 70% of voters voted to leave, and three years on, they are keen to ensure that this House delivers on that. There are over 300 no-deal workstreams in progress across Government. Considerable work is ongoing, and it is important that we prepare while continuing to seek a deal.
Customs Union: British Ceramics Confederation
Ministers continue to carry out extensive engagement on EU exit across all sectors of the economy, including with the British Ceramics Confederation, in meetings that in many cases have been organised by third parties. I have personally engaged with business and civil society organisations at national and regional level, and we have met representatives of the security, voluntary and engineering sectors, among others.
I thank the Minister for that answer. The British Ceramics Confederation has been clear that what it wants to see is a deal for certainty for the ceramics sector, but as part of that it also wants to see the UK’s participation in a customs union. The benefits of a customs union work for EU-UK trade, but without that common external tariff and the continuation of trade deals with countries such as South Korea, which is now the biggest emerging market for the ceramics sector, our industry will suffer significantly. Will Ministers meet me and a delegation of ceramics providers so that we can look at ways of mitigating those problems if necessary, and ultimately changing Government policy for the better?
I am pleased to note that the hon. Gentleman has belatedly come around to the merits of a deal. I hope that we can get a deal and leave in an orderly way. I am always happy to meet him and other representatives of the ceramics industry to discuss the interests of his constituency.
Economic Effect: Scotland
The Secretary of State has frequent discussions with the Secretary of State for Scotland, who ensures that Scottish interests are always well represented around the Cabinet table. He and I regularly speak with the Scottish Government. Indeed, we are both looking forward to seeing Mike Russell tomorrow at the Joint Ministerial Committee on EU negotiations.
The Scottish chamber of commerce has warned that the drop in GDP in April and the widening of our trade deficit does not bode well for Scotland’s economic fortunes. When will the Government realise the damage they are already doing to Scotland’s economy and offer business some certainty?
This Government can be proud of the record high employment across the United Kingdom. Perhaps the Scottish Government need to look at the poor performance of the Scottish economy compared with the rest of the UK.
Since I last updated the House, treaties on reciprocal voting rights have been signed with Luxembourg and Portugal, and work continues on other bilateral agreements, led by the Under-Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union, my hon. Friend the Member for Worcester (Mr Walker). I attended the General Affairs Council in Luxembourg last week and spoke with a number of senior EU figures. Technical and business groups have met in the past weeks to work on alternative arrangements for the Irish border. My Department is preparing for all scenarios in the run-up to October. I want to put on the record my thanks to officials for their continued professionalism and dedication.
The best chance of getting a good deal is to be deadly serious about no deal. Could the Secretary of State update the House on the current status of no-deal planning?
As I mentioned in answer to an earlier question, considerable work is ongoing across Government. All the primary legislation necessary for no deal is in place, over 500 statutory instruments have already been laid, and work continues to ensure that we are ready for that scenario, while remaining focused on our priority, which is to leave with a deal.
In a letter to the Secretary of State this morning, I said that he has a duty to give an honest assessment of the difficult choices facing the next Prime Minister. He will be aware that in recent days his preferred candidate for Prime Minister, the right hon. Member for Uxbridge and South Ruislip (Boris Johnson), has made a number of misleading statements about Brexit. Therefore, on behalf of the Government, could the Secretary of State make it clear today, first, that it is simply not possible to guarantee no tariffs under a no-deal Brexit—in particular, can he scotch the nonsense spouted about article 24 of the general agreement on tariffs and trade, which, as he well knows, is simply not available under a no-deal scenario—secondly, that technological solutions for the Northern Ireland border do not currently exist; and thirdly, that the UK cannot cherry-pick the withdrawal agreement?
There used to be a scurrilous rumour in the House that when a Minister got advance notice of questions, it was perhaps the work of the Whips Office tipping them off. I am grateful to the right hon. and learned Gentleman for his courtesy, because he actually emailed me his questions half an hour before Question Time—he has always been a courteous fellow, but this morning he has exceeded himself. Never mind “buy one, get one free”, this is a four-in-one question.
In his letter, the right hon. and learned Gentleman listed a number of issues. Because he sent the letter ahead of Question Time, the first of them has already been addressed by the hon. Member for Sefton Central (Bill Esterson), who asked about GATT. As the right hon. and learned Gentleman will know, there is a difference between what is possible and what he may argue is probable, but it is a distinction that the candidates have addressed.
As for side deals and cherry-picking, again there is an inconsistency. I have been asked by the House on a cross-party basis, following what is referred to as the Costa amendment, to seek a side deal with the European Union to protect citizens’ rights, and I am happy to do so, but there is that inconsistency. The House has called for me to reach out to the European Commission, as indeed I have, because I agree with the House that it is right to protect citizens’ rights, but the right hon. and learned Gentleman says that side deals are cherry-picking and should not be sought.
The right hon. and learned Gentleman asked about technology. He will know that, in the Strasbourg statement, the EU itself has accepted that technology has a role to play on the border. Indeed, it stands ready to work with us as soon as the withdrawal agreement has been ratified. What is getting in the way of that is the Labour party’s consistent opposition to the withdrawal agreement—and that is because, notwithstanding the manifesto on which he stood, the right hon. and learned Gentleman’s true position is that he wishes us to remain in the EU. That is what his letter did not say, yet that is what he actually means.
I thought that, with a bit of notice, we might get a better answer than that. The answers to my three questions are no, it is not possible to guarantee no tariffs under a no-deal Brexit; no, technological solutions are not currently available in relation to the border in Northern Ireland; and no, the UK cannot cherry-pick the withdrawal agreement. Perhaps, since I am giving the answers, we should swap places sooner rather than later.
Let me ask the Secretary of State just one further question about a claim that has been made in recent days. Will he answer it with a simple yes or no? Can the UK secure an implementation period with the EU without a withdrawal agreement—yes or no?
As the right hon. and learned Gentleman knows full well, the implementation period was part of the withdrawal agreement, which he himself voted against. He talks of swapping places, but the clue is in the name of the Department: it is the Department for Exiting the European Union. However, the right hon. and learned Gentleman does not want to exit the European Union, so it is rather odd for him to be auditioning for a role when his whole purpose is not to do what it says on the tin.
My hon. Friend has made an astute observation. He will be aware that 40% of Irish exports go through the short straits between Dover and Calais. We hear forecasts of delays at Calais from Labour Members, but it is not simply UK goods that will be delayed there; it will obviously be Irish exports too, as well as the many Irish imports.
There are a number of areas in which it is in Ireland’s interests to avoid the disruption of no deal. There has been very little debate in the UK about the impact on Ireland, and my hon. Friend is right to highlight it.
The hon. Lady will know that this is not Department for Transport questions; this is questions to the Department for Exiting the European Union, and she will know from the written ministerial statement we published yesterday that we have set out a framework. But in respect of Seaborne Freight it is worth reminding the House that it was a contract in which payments were linked to performance, and as the performance did not flow the payment did not go with it.
My hon. Friend asks me to detail what actions have been taken; those actions are so numerous that I would not want to list them all, because I am sure you want to have time to go on to other things this morning, Mr Speaker. But I have already highlighted a number of meetings that I and ministerial colleagues have had with representatives of industry, helping them to understand what actions the Government have already taken and what actions they and their members can take for a no-deal Brexit. We have also had international meetings on both a bilateral and multilateral basis. Discussions among officials and Ministers and at Cabinet level happen regularly to ensure that the UK Government and UK businesses are in a good place to leave under no deal if needs be.
Yes, it is possible. The question is whether the EU would reciprocally agree, and that is what the right hon. and learned Member for Holborn and St Pancras (Keir Starmer) is questioning, as he does not feel that it is a probable outcome. There is a distinction between those two positions; I have addressed it, but I am very happy to address it again.
I congratulate my hon. Friend on his record of championing the aerospace industry in his constituency; he is a fine advocate of its interests. Working together through the partnership, industry and Government have made a joint funding commitment of £3.9 billion to aerospace research from 2013 to 2026, as he will be aware. Ministers and other officials across Government remain in close contact with the aerospace sector, and we have met more than 100 companies in the supply chain across the UK to discuss the implications of exiting the EU.
The Secretary of State referred earlier to the number of statutory instruments that have been laid to date; can he tell the House how many SIs remain to be enacted in order for us to exit the EU in an orderly fashion on 31 October?
The answer to that question is that one cannot give a precise figure, because as we saw—[Interruption.] I am coming to the precise issue; the number will be around 100, but one cannot give a precise figure because issues may arise such as we saw in the run-up to the March and April exit date; a correction of a previous SI might be required, or as part of the planning for exit certain issues might come to light through the Commission that necessitate an SI. So it is not possible to give a definitive number, but it will be in the region of 100.
Will my right hon. Friend detail the discussions he has had with the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy on the preparedness of British business for a no-deal Brexit?
I have had regular discussions with my right hon. Friend on that issue, and to a degree I would point to the difference between large business and small business. A lot of large businesses have undertaken considerable work to prepare for the possibility of no deal; we have more concern about the extent to which some small businesses have prepared. Often part of what flows into that is the debate in this place, where they are told that it will not happen and therefore the assumption is made that it is not necessary to prepare. It is worth reminding the House—particularly Members who look for a second referendum or for some other outcome—that it is the EU’s decision, to which any one of the 27 member states could object, whether any extension is offered, notwithstanding the position of certainly one of the two Conservative leadership candidates not to seek such an extension.
In the answer that the Under-Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union, the hon. Member for Spelthorne (Kwasi Kwarteng) gave to my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol East (Kerry McCarthy) a moment ago about the devastating impact of tariffs on sheep farmers in the event of a no-deal Brexit, he appeared to give the impression that the Government would compensate farmers for the cost of those tariffs. Can he please clarify this for the House: is it the Government’s policy, in the event of a no-deal Brexit, to pick up the cost of the tariffs that farmers would face—yes or no?
What I endeavoured to suggest was that the Government would continue to support those industries. We cannot guarantee a specific payment, as the right hon. Gentleman suggests, but there is a broad commitment to support those industries, as we have done for more than 80 years.
Data flows are absolutely vital for business, for health and for security, and in many other areas, but the problems would be immense in the case of a no-deal Brexit. We heard yesterday in the Exiting the European Union Committee that, even in the case of leaving with a deal, the UK would no longer have any influence over the general data protection regulation, even though the GDPR is becoming a standard right around the world, well outside the European Union. Is this a case of giving up control or taking back control?
My hon. Friend makes an important point about data adequacy and the EU Commission’s position on that. Unilateral action can be taken to put standard contractual terms in place, for example, which a lot of firms and organisations have done. The wider point, however, is that 40% of the EU’s data centres are within the UK, and many of the underground cables carrying data go through UK waters. It is important to remember that there are reciprocal benefits in coming to sensible arrangements on data adequacy, because not having a flow of data would be devastating to many European firms if they were to find themselves unable, for example, to send personal data linked to tourists. That is just one of the many examples that I could cite.
The hon. Member for Stafford (Jeremy Lefroy) is absolutely right. The Prime Minister failed in her aim to secure a continuing place for the UK on the European Data Protection Board, which oversees GDPR. Is it not a profoundly unsatisfactory aspect of the Prime Minister’s deal that, in that area and lots of others, we would have to comply with loads of EU rules over which we would have no influence at all?
The right hon. Gentleman raises an important point. Within any future trade deal, whether with the EU or further afield, there will always be a trade-off around what access we would get and what sovereignty we would trade. He knows from his time in the Treasury that that is always at the core of the debate around trade deals. In relation to the political declaration, when the debate around medicines and a number of other EU agencies has come up, we have said that we stand ready to work with the Commission on developing good regulatory standards. There is no race to the bottom on regulation from this Government, but there is also the question of what the Commission is willing to agree. It is in our mutual interests to come to sensible arrangements on data, for the reasons that I gave to my hon. Friend the Member for Stafford.