This is the first time I have appeared at the Dispatch Box since I moved on from the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. I would like to take this opportunity to thank the superb team of civil servants at that Department, who do so much to improve the lives of so many across this country.
With your permission, Mr Speaker, I would like to make a statement about preparations for our departure from the European Union. More than three years ago, in the biggest exercise in democracy in our country’s history, the British people voted to leave the EU, but so far this Parliament has failed to honour that instruction. Now, our Prime Minister has made it clear that we must leave by 31 October, and so we must. Trust in this House depends on it and trust in our democracy depends on it.
Of course, this Government are determined to secure our departure with a good deal, one that paves the way for a bright future outside the single market and the customs union, and the response the Prime Minister has received from European leaders shows that they are ready to move—they want a deal, too. And they are moving because the Prime Minister has been clear that matters must be resolved by 31 October. If we drift, the incentive on them to deliver will quickly dissipate, so I hope that my colleagues in the House of Commons will give the Prime Minister the time and the space he needs to pursue the opening he has secured and to get a good deal that we can all support.
But of course we must be prepared for every eventuality; the European Union may not change its position sufficiently before 31 October, and it may be that a deal is not secured. So we must be ready to leave without a deal on 31 October. Leaving without a deal does not mean that talks with our European partners end altogether. In those circumstances, after we depart without a deal in place, we will all want to discuss how we can reach new arrangements on trade and other issues. But while those conversations go on, we must ensure that we are ready for life outside the EU as a third country, trading on World Trade Organisation terms.
There has been extensive speculation about what leaving without a deal might mean for businesses and individuals. Moving to a new set of customs procedures, adjusting to new border checks and dealing with new tariffs all pose significant challenges, and nobody can be blithe or blasé about the challenges we face or the scale of work required. But provided the right preparations are undertaken by government, business and individuals, risks can be mitigated, significant challenges can be met and we can be ready. Leaving without a deal is, of course, not an event whose consequences are unalterable; it is a change for which we can all prepare, and our preparations will determine the impact of the change and help us also to take advantage of the opportunities that exist outside the EU.
We have, of course, to prepare for every eventuality, and that is the function of Operation Yellowhammer. It is an exercise in anticipating what a reasonable worst-case scenario might involve and how we can then mitigate any risks. Operation Yellowhammer assumptions are not a prediction of what is likely to happen; they are not a base-case scenario or a list of probable outcomes. They are projections of what may happen in a worst-case scenario, and they are designed to help government to take the necessary steps to ensure that we can all be ready in every situation.
Since the new Government were formed, at the end of July, new structures have been put in place to ensure that we can be ready in every situation and that we can accelerate our preparations for exit. Two new Cabinet Committees have been set up—XS and XO—to discuss negotiating strategy and to make operational decisions about exit respectively. XO meets every working day to expedite preparations for exit, and we are in regular contact with our colleagues in the devolved Administrations, including the Northern Ireland civil service, and thousands of the best civil servants across the UK are working to ensure the smoothest possible exit.
We have all been helped by the Chancellor’s move to double Brexit funding for this year, announcing an additional £2.1 billion, on top of expenditure already committed. So £6.3 billion in total has been allocated to prepare for life outside the EU. That money is being used to provide practical help to businesses and to individuals.
Guaranteeing the effective flow of goods across our border with the EU is, of course, central to our preparations, and that will require action by business, to adjust to new customs procedures, and intervention by government, to ensure the freest flow of traffic to our ports. That is why Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs has announced an additional expenditure of £16 million to train thousands of customs staff, traders and hauliers, so that trade with the EU continues as smoothly as possible. It is also why today we are announcing £20 million more to ensure that traffic can flow freely in Kent and trucks arriving at Dover are ready to carry our exports into the EU.
On business, we have automatically allocated an economic operator registration indicator—EORI—number to 88,000 companies across the UK, and businesses can also register for transitional simplified procedures to delay the submissions of customs declarations and postpone the payments of duties. New transit sites have been built in Kent to smooth the flow of goods into the EU, and we are recruiting 1,000 new staff to help to maintain security and to support flows at the border.
The Government will do all that they can to support businesses to get ready, but many of the steps required to ensure the smooth flow of trade fall to business. We will provide advice, finance and flexibility over how revenue payments may be settled, but it is important that businesses familiarise themselves with the new requirements that exit will involve. That is why we have launched a public information campaign, “Get ready for Brexit”, to give everyone the clear actions that they need to prepare. As well as TV and radio advertising, there is now a straightforward, step-by-step checker tool, available on the Government’s website at gov.uk/brexit, so we can all identify quickly what we may need to do to get ready.
The Government have also acted to provide assurance that business and individuals can have the maximum level of confidence about the future. We have signed continuity agreements with countries, covering more than £90 billion in trade. We have replacement civil nuclear energy trading agreements with Canada, America, Australia and the International Atomic Energy Agency. We have secured aviation agreements with 14 countries, including the US and Canada, and we also have arrangements with the EU on aviation, roads and rail to ensure smooth travel between the UK and European nations. We also have arrangements on education exchanges, social security, fisheries, climate change and a number of other areas. Agreements are in place covering financial services, so that transactions can continue to take place and financial and market stability can be underpinned. Of course, we have a robust legal framework in place: six exit-related Bills that cater for different scenarios have been passed, and the Government have also laid more than 580 EU-exit secondary instruments.
Of course, the Government are determined to ensure that we protect the rights both of UK nationals in the EU and of EU citizens in the UK. I personally want to thank the more than 3 million EU citizens who live and work here for their positive contribution to our society: you are our friends, family and neighbours—we want you to stay and we value your presence. Under the EU settlement scheme, more than 1 million EU citizens have already been granted status. Let me be clear: EU citizens and their family members will continue to be able to work, study and access benefits and services in the UK on the same basis as now after we exit the EU.
The Government will of course do everything in our power to make sure that UK nationals can continue to live in the EU as they do now, but the Government cannot protect the rights of UK nationals unilaterally. We welcome the fact that member states have drafted or enacted legislation to protect the rights of UK nationals; today, we call on member states to go further and fully reciprocate our generous commitment to EU citizens, so that UK nationals can get the certainty they deserve.
There are other decisions that the EU and member states have said they will take that will have an impact on us all if we leave without a deal. The EU’s commitment that we will be subject to its common external tariff in a no-deal scenario will impose new costs, particularly on those who export food to Europe. Indeed, the EU’s current approach to the rules of the single market will, as things stand, require the Republic of Ireland to impose new checks on goods coming from Northern Ireland. For our part, we will do everything that we can to support the Belfast agreement, to ensure the free flow of goods into Northern Ireland and to mitigate the impacts on Northern Ireland, including by providing targeted support for our agriculture sector and for Northern Ireland’s economy.
Although there are risks that we must deal with, there are also opportunities for life outside the EU. We can reform Government procurement rules, get a better deal for taxpayers and forge new trade relationships. We can innovate more energetically in pharmaceuticals and life sciences, develop crops that yield more food and contribute to better environmental outcomes, manage our seas and fisheries in a way that revives coastal communities, and restore our oceans to health. We can introduce an immigration policy that is fairer, more efficient and more humane, improve our border security, deal better with human trafficking and organised crime, open new free ports throughout the country to boost undervalued communities, and support business more flexibly than ever before.
There are undoubted risks and real challenges in leaving without a deal on 31 October, but there are also opportunities and new possibilities for our country outside the EU. It is my job to mitigate those risks, overcome those challenges and enable this country to exploit those opportunities and extend to every citizen those new possibilities. That is why I commend this statement to the House and why I am confident that as a nation our best days lies ahead.
This is the first opportunity that I have had to congratulate the right hon. Gentleman on his appointment. He may regard it as a poisoned chalice, but no doubt the Prime Minister thought it appropriate that he took it.
I thank the Minister for his courtesy in providing advance sight of the statement—it was rather vacuous, but we did have a good chance to study it carefully. He makes much of the work that has been carried out by civil servants who have been working under intense pressure preparing businesses, individuals and wider society for Brexit. We acknowledge the very hard work of all those civil servants and thank them for their service, and we welcome the work that the Government are doing in that respect. However, the truth is that £6.3 billion is being spent on Brexit preparations, yet it is too little now, because it is too late. Even if all the preparations had been carried out in time and in a more comprehensive way, the country would still have no idea whether we will leave with a deal or with no deal.
Let me come straight to the point, because there are significant omissions in the Minister’s statement. There is no mention, for example, of medical supplies, but in the past 24 hours serious-minded health leaders have warned that no deal could result directly in medical shortages, affect treatment for UK nationals in Europe and exacerbate the already difficult NHS crisis. It has been reported that the Government are now stockpiling body bags because of concerns that there may be an increase in the mortality rate. Will the Minister assure the House that that is not the case, but if it is, will he explain what he is doing about it?
The statement mentions that 1 million EU citizens have been given settled status. We welcome that, but there are more than 3 million here. The Government’s prevarication over time and their inadequate preparations right from the beginning have caused great anxiety and left millions of people who live here, pay taxes here, have made their lives here and have their children here wondering what their future holds. It is a mark of the slow progress that is being made that the Government still have not resolved the status of UK citizens who are living in Europe, as the Minister said.
The Secretary of State talks about getting businesses ready, yet it is only a few weeks ago that these serious-minded business leaders demanded an independent inquiry into what a no-deal Brexit would consist of, amid accusations that vital information about potential problems was deliberately being held back by the Government—that was from the business community itself.
In the early part of his statement, the Minister made much of trust—trust in this House and trust in democracy—but the truth is that the Government are playing fast and loose both with democracy and with the House. I say that because of the proposal that the House be prorogued, and because the Prime Minister’s staff are now hinting at a possible cynical general election, which we are ready for. One way or another, the Government are set on closing down the House of Commons for weeks when the country is facing one of the most difficult times in our recent history. If there is an election—this is a very important point—the direction of the country and its relationship with the EU will be hotly debated. We and the country will need full access to all the relevant information. The Minister’s statement conceals more than it reveals, but can he confirm that, during an election period or a prorogation period, whichever it is, civil service preparations for Brexit will continue through the election purdah if necessary? Can he confirm whether, during the purdah, Ministers will continue to provide political guidance to civil servants on Brexit? I give notice now that the Opposition will seek immediate access to the civil service and ask to be kept fully informed, as is the convention, of all the information that the House and the country have been denied about all developments. That request must be responded to the minute the election is called.
Just eight weeks ago, the current Prime Minister told his party and the country that the chances of a no-deal Brexit were a million to one against. Yet this morning, the former Chancellor, who is no longer in his place, stated that no progress has been made and that there are no substantive negotiations going on. Is that true? The two positions cannot be easily reconciled. Either there is progress or there is not. Having heard the Prime Minister in the Chamber just now, it is clear that most people still have no idea.
To most informed observers, however, it appears that the Government’s favoured deal—whatever they say—is no deal, so let us listen to the Minister’s own words from earlier this year. He said:
“Leaving without a deal…would undoubtedly cause economic turbulence. Almost everyone in this debate accepts that.”
He went on to say:
“We didn’t vote to leave without a deal”.
That was from the man who led the whole campaign to leave the European Union. He was for May’s deal and against no deal, but now he is the Minister for no deal. How does he reconcile the progress of his career?
The House must be allowed to see the detailed assessments contained in the Yellowhammer dossier. The truth is that the Minister is hiding it, but why? The media are reporting that the Yellowhammer papers—even the watered-down versions that he is working on—paint such a disastrous picture of the country after no deal that the Government dare not publish them. Yet shockingly, leaked excerpts talk of potential shortages, delays and even protests on the streets.
Is it not a disgrace that the Government intend to close Parliament down for five weeks without allowing the House to scrutinise their detailed preparations for no deal? Members have a right to know what those preparations are, as has the country. After all, it was this Minister who said:
“We are a parliamentary democracy, and”—
listen to this—
“proroguing Parliament in order to try to get no deal through…would be wrong.”
Those were his exact words. But that is precisely what the Government are now trying to do. How can he justify the amount of resources being spent on preparations for no deal without any scrutiny or accountability to this House? It is simply unacceptable.
Under normal purdah rules, the Select Committees looking at Brexit preparations and Yellowhammer could also be suspended, leaving absolutely no scrutiny by Members of the Government’s plans. When it comes to Yellowhammer, the media appear to be better informed than the House, so let me briefly ask the Minister some questions.
What assessments has the Minister received about disruption at the ports? What assessments have been made and reported to him about the situation in Ireland? What assessments has he received about the impact of no deal on food prices? All these matters must be addressed by the House, so let him place the documents in the Library so that we all can explore them.
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his questions. I am also grateful to him for asking me how I reconcile the progress of my career—it is a question my wife asks me every night, so I am grateful to him for repeating it. I have enormous respect and affection for the hon. Gentleman. We both represent constituencies that voted to leave the European Union, and both of us are impatient to see us do so. When a Brexit delay was suggested in January 2019, he said that it
“sounds like the British establishment doing what it always does, which is ignoring the views of millions of ordinary folk, and that I am not prepared to tolerate.”
Comrades, neither am I, which is why we have to leave on 31 October.
The hon. Gentleman said that civil servants are doing a fantastic job in the preparations, and I join him in paying tribute to them for their work. He asked about medical shortages. Sadly, medical shortages sometimes occur, whether we are in or out of the European Union, as we have seen recently with the hormone replacement therapy shortages, which my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care is doing so much to help counter. But that is a shared issue for all of us. Two thirds of the medical supplies that reach the Republic of Ireland pass through the narrow straits. That is why it is so important that we secure a deal, not only to safeguard our superb NHS, but to help citizens in Ireland, who are our brothers and sisters too.
The hon. Gentleman also asked about the EU settled status scheme. He made the point that 1 million people have received the status so far, and he asked about progress. Every day, 15,000 more people are applying. The settled status scheme is working. He is absolutely right that now is the time for our European partners to extend the same generosity to UK citizens as we are extending to EU citizens.
The hon. Gentleman talked about the money being spent. At the beginning of his questions, he said that £6.3 billion was too little, too late, but subsequently at the end of his statement he asked how we can justify such expenditure. I think that is the fastest U-turn in history, in the course of just six minutes. He also talked about our contemplation of a “cynical” general election. I thought it was the policy of the Opposition—certainly the Leader of the Opposition—to welcome a general election at the earliest possible opportunity. [Interruption.] I see the Leader of the Opposition seeking guidance on this question from Mr Speaker.
Order. I know the Minister will not want to mislead the House. The Leader of the Opposition was simply alerting me to his experience of visiting Romania, which is somewhat tangential to—indeed, entirely divorced from—the Minister for the Cabinet Office’s ruminations and lucubrations, which we do not need.
Thank you very much, Mr Speaker. We all know how much the Leader of the Opposition enjoyed seeing Celtic play in Romania.
The hon. Member for Hemsworth (Jon Trickett) asked me about the extent of our negotiations, and they are extensive; the Prime Minister, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union and the Prime Minister’s sherpa have been visiting every single European capital to ensure that we can advance our negotiations. But one thing is critical: if we are to succeed in these negotiations, we need to get behind the Prime Minister. If the motion before the House is passed tonight and the legislation that it gives effect to is passed tomorrow, we will be allowing the European Union to dictate the length of any extension and to put any conditions it wishes to on that extension. That would totally undermine the Government’s capacity to negotiate in the national interest.
It has been said of some in the past that they sent out the captain to the wicket and broke his bat beforehand. Well, Labour’s approach to negotiations is not just breaking the bat; it is blowing up the whole pavilion. It is no surprise that Labour Members want to sabotage our negotiations, because they also want to sabotage their own negotiations. Labour’s policy on negotiation is to have an infinitely long extension, to negotiate a new deal with Europe, to bring it back to this country, and then to argue that people should vote against that deal and vote to remain. How can we possibly have confidence in the Leader of the Opposition to negotiate in Europe when his own party does not have confidence in him to secure a good deal for the British people?
Those of us who live in east Kent, where the efficient operation of the Dover-Calais route is essential for the smooth running of our entire road network, have a particular reason to wish my right hon. Friend well in his new task, particularly if we end up with the very undesirable outcome of a no-deal Brexit. In that spirit, I welcome the extra £20 million that he has announced today to ensure the increasingly smooth running of the road network, but can he tell the House what arrangements Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs has put in place for customs clearance of lorries coming into this country? Specifically, where is that going to happen?
My right hon. Friend makes a very good point. There are two aspects to this issue: lorries coming into this country and lorries leaving this country. When it comes to lorries coming into this country, thanks to the application of transitional simplified procedures, any duty that needs to be paid can be deferred. Of course, we will be prioritising flow over revenue, which means that we will not be imposing new checks, certainly in the first months after any no-deal exit. I agree with my right hon. Friend that a no-deal exit is undesirable. For lorries that are leaving the country, there will be six new transit sites—five in Kent and one in Essex—to ensure that hauliers leaving the UK can take advantage of the common transit convention and its provisions.
May I put on record my thanks to the officials who have been given the impossible task of trying to make sense of this Government’s plans and to do something that they should never have been asked to do when it comes to no deal? [Interruption.] The hon. Member for Shrewsbury and Atcham (Daniel Kawczynski) may laugh, but these officials are working incredibly hard because of the Government’s ineptitude.
Today in Holyrood, we see a tale of two Governments. Today, the Scottish Government have set out their programme for government to tackle a climate emergency, improve public services and introduce a fairer economy. Yet here we debate food shortages, medicine stockpiling, price increases and job losses; the height of Government ambition is hoping that it will not be as bad as the experts tell them it will. The Minister talked about a general election. We would welcome a general election. In fact, I am going to take the unusual step of inviting the Minister to come and campaign in my constituency. I would love him to do that, so that people could ask him why he is putting them out of work, why he is hitting our food and drink industry and why he is hitting our university sector. This is the height of political failure. It was only apt that the Minister quoted Geoffrey Howe earlier, who of course was attacking his own Prime Minister during an ongoing Tory civil war. I notice that nobody is arguing that this is a good idea any more. This is a Government who have no idea what they are doing and making it up as they go along. No wonder they want to duck, dive and dodge any kind of scrutiny whatsoever.
We were warned before that Parliament would need to sit. Does the Secretary of State agree with the Health Secretary that prorogation goes against everything that the men who waded on to those beaches in Normandy fought and died for? The Secretary of State likes to quote others; does he still agree with that?
On food prices, what will the impact be on food banks—on the most vulnerable, already hit by austerity from this disastrous Tory Government? What level of medicine shortages is acceptable to the Government? On the £6.5 billion, from which public services is that to be taken? Finally—I cannot quite believe I am asking this question—does the Secretary of State still believe in the rule of law, and will he accept laws passed by this Parliament?
May I welcome the hon. Gentleman to his position? May I also say that I am very grateful for his invitation to campaign in his constituency at the next general election? Given that he has a majority of just two, he is a brave as well as a principled man.
I think my hon. Friend is right. In Crail and Anstruther, as well as in St Andrews, I think people are looking forward to Conservative representation in North East Fife in due course.
The hon. Gentleman talks about a tale of two Governments. Even as the Scottish Government are unveiling their programme today, they are doing so, after 10 years in government, with education standards declining and the number of people in the health service, including doctors, declining—and unfortunately, as the recent “Government Expenditure and Revenue Scotland” figures show, Scotland, were it an independent country, would have the biggest deficit of any nation in Europe. That is hardly a record of success.
The hon. Gentleman asks about prorogation. Prorogation is necessary before every Queen’s Speech. One can no more be against prorogation in order to ensure a Queen’s Speech than one can be against the functioning of this Parliament, properly constituted.
The hon. Gentleman asks about food prices. Of course food prices fluctuate—some go up and some go down—but the temporary tariff schedule that we have put in place will protect consumers and ensure that in many cases food prices are either stable or drop.
Ultimately, the problem for the hon. Gentleman is that Scottish National party Members may talk about democracy, but we have had two major referendums in this country, both of which they seek to overturn. They want to ignore the vote to stay in the United Kingdom and they want to ignore the vote to leave the European Union. Their policy is take us back into the EU. That would mean abandoning the pound, abandoning coastal communities in Scotland, and once more recognising that the Scottish National party wants separatism and Brussels rule ahead of a strong United Kingdom and the benefits that it brings to the citizens of the whole UK.
Does the Secretary of State agree that trust—trust in this Parliament and trust in politicians—is the most important thing in any democracy, and that any party that goes out on a manifesto saying that it wants to leave the European Union and does not honour that cannot be trusted ever again in government?
My right hon. Friend makes a very good point. The Labour party said on page 24 of its 2017 manifesto that it was committed to leaving the European Union and respecting the referendum result, and the overwhelming majority of Labour Members—not all—voted for article 50, which set this year as the legal default date for departure from the European Union. I absolutely respect the rule of law, and so should the Labour Members who voted to leave the EU.
There are widespread reports that the Secretary of State is seeking to sanitise the Operation Yellowhammer documents. Can he confirm that any ministerial demand that civil servants water down Operation Yellowhammer would break the ministerial code, that no civil servants risk being disciplined if they refuse to undertake this work, and that they will be covered by whistleblower legislation?
Of course we want to make sure that any documents we publish accurately reflect the range of possibilities that leaving the European Union might entail. Thousands of pages of information were published in the technical notices that were published by my right hon. Friend the Brexit Secretary. It is also the case that on gov.uk/brexit there is much information about what leaving the European Union would entail. The right hon. Gentleman specifically refers to the Yellowhammer document. The point about the Yellowhammer document is that it is an aid to Ministers in order to ensure that we can deal with the reasonable worst-case scenario. Of course, the assumptions in the Yellowhammer document are arrived at independently by civil servants, and rightly so.
The BBC is constantly engaging with Polish diaspora groups in this country to accentuate potential problems over the EU resettlement scheme. Could the Secretary of State give me an assurance of what money has been afforded to ensure that the maximum number of EU citizens are processed as quickly and efficiently as possible in the event of no deal?
My hon. Friend makes a very good point. He is a consistent champion for the rights of Polish people in the UK and elsewhere. The largest single community of EU citizens in our country is comprised of Polish citizens. We were remembering earlier the anniversary of the second world war. We honour the sacrifice of those Polish soldiers, airmen and sailors who fought alongside us for democracy, and it is our moral duty to ensure that Polish citizens in this country are given the opportunity to stay and to enjoy the rights of which we are all proud and for which their forebears fought so proudly.
A no-deal Brexit, according to Government messaging, is something we can completely prepare for as long as we spend enough money on advertising, while at the same time so crucial and fundamental that it must be kept on the table as part of the negotiations. It cannot be both. Which is it?
I thank the hon. Lady for her question. The legal default position is that we leave on 31 October. If the EU will not move and we do not secure a good deal, we need to be prepared for that eventuality. That is the necessary outworking of article 50, for which I think the hon. Lady voted, along with many other colleagues across the House.
If she did not, I can only apologise. I think a majority of her Labour colleagues did, but I salute her independence of mind on that issue.
The broader point I would make is that, because it is an eventuality for which we have to prepare, it is prudent that we should prepare, but one thing that I think the hon. Lady and I agree on is that it is infinitely preferable that we leave with a deal. That is why we should give the Prime Minister the space and time to negotiate, which is why I hope that she, along with me, will decline to vote for any motion today that would fetter the Prime Minister’s discretion.
Last week I visited a logistics business in my constituency that sends parcels to the Republic of Ireland, and I heard about the concerns of its customers about the need for paperwork. The business has offered to do it and charge for the time spent—about 20 minutes per form—but I understand that many businesses simply will not bother, which will lead to a loss of valuable export sales. Clearly the best thing is to keep the existing arrangements, but what further advice can my right hon. Friend give to my constituent and his customers?
My hon. Friend makes a very good point. There are some specific proposals that help to deal with parcels of a lower value and can facilitate their flow across borders, but I suggest that his constituents contact gov.uk/brexit—the Government Digital Service website—or, indeed, HMRC. If he would care to write to me, I can ensure that all the facilitations and easements available are in place for his constituency’s firms and employees.
Why should anyone believe Government claims that meaningful talks are taking place in Brussels to avoid no deal when the rest of Europe flatly denies that and the Prime Minister’s own chief of staff has said that that claim is a deliberate sham to run down the clock to a no-deal Brexit?
I have huge respect for the right hon. Gentleman, but if he were to look at the number of air miles clocked up by my right hon. Friend the Brexit Secretary and talk to those involved in the negotiations with the Brexit Secretary, the Prime Minister and the Prime Minister’s official negotiator, David Frost, he would see that there has been intensive negotiation with our EU partners. It was the case, for example, that the Prime Minister just last week spent five days in France talking to not only Emmanuel Macron but other European leaders in order to ensure that we can leave with a deal.
As 36,000 delegates gather in Aberdeen to discuss and debate the future of the energy industry, can my right hon. Friend confirm that plans will be put in place in the event of no deal to maintain our just-in-time customs model, on which that industry and so many others in Scotland depend?
My hon. Friend is a brilliant advocate for the oil and gas sector, which does so much to ensure that the north-east of Scotland is an economic powerhouse. It is the case that we are working intensively with those in the energy sector and elsewhere to ensure that their business models can be robust for the future.
It was reported yesterday that analysis done for the Department for Transport in the last fortnight says that in the worst case, the average delay for lorries and freight at Dover would be one and a half days, and in the best case, there would be a wait of two to three hours—either of which would cause chaos. Can the Secretary of State confirm for the House that the Government have received that analysis? What has the freight industry had to say to him about it? It has been warning for some time that they do not think the Government are prepared.
The right hon. Gentleman is absolutely right that representatives of the freight industry have asked us to accelerate preparations for no deal. That is something that I and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport have done. On Friday, I had the opportunity to visit Calais to talk to Ministers and the president of the regional assembly. Both of them said that they proposed to take a pragmatic approach in order to ensure the maximum flow, and we shall be revisiting those assumptions in the light, not just of those talks, but of the other steps we are taking.
Farming and the food and drinks manufacturing sector matter to the economy of Carlisle and Cumbria. Clearly, future relations with the EU will also be significant to those industries. Can the Minister confirm that he believes that adequate preparations are being made for the eventuality of a no deal, to ensure that both those industries can function properly?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. One of the sectors that we most need to help and support is of course the haulage sector—this follows on from the question asked by the right hon. Member for Leeds Central (Hilary Benn)—and we are moving at pace in order to meet many of its concerns. However, as I have said at the Dispatch Box today and previously, the sector that faces some of the biggest challenges in the event of a no-deal exit is undoubtedly agriculture, and within agriculture, undoubtedly upland farmers, particularly sheep farmers. The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs is working on steps to ensure that if, as we anticipate, a common external tariff is placed on sheepmeat exports, and therefore the price of sheepmeat falls, we can support hill farmers, who do so much for our country by producing high-quality food and safeguarding the environment we love.
I have been contacted by local manufacturers and food producers who are deeply worried about no-deal tariffs. One, an exporter, says that the price of his exports to the EU will go up by 30%, and he called it “manufacturing suicide.” Another is an importer; the price of his imports will go up by 50%. A third told me that they might have to close down altogether. Can the Secretary of State confirm that all his preparations about public information and committees will not mitigate the impact of those no-deal tariffs? What is the total cost to British industry of those no-deal tariffs?
The right hon. Lady makes a very fair point, actually. The single biggest challenge in a no-deal exit is of course the existence of those tariffs—a requirement of the European Union’s single market rules. The common external tariff, which I just alluded to, is particularly high when it comes to the agricultural sector, and therefore, when it comes to exporting food into the European Union, that is a significant barrier. However, the temporary tariff regime that we are consulting on would ensure that in many cases tariffs were lower, in order to help business and consumers.
On the broader question about attempting to put a figure on the specific costs, that cannot be done in isolation, although I appreciate the sincerity with which the right hon. Lady asks that question.
More broadly, I would welcome the opportunity to talk to the right hon. Lady’s constituents about what we can do, because the Treasury is making money available for companies that are fundamentally viable but may face particular turbulence in the event of no deal, to ensure their survival in the future. I would be more than happy to talk to her about that.
Thousands of people in the UK, and in my constituency, are dependent on the chemical industry. Much of that, of course, has been previously governed by regulation in compliance with the EU. As we leave, what discussions has the Secretary of State had with those companies and with Europe about UK REACH and its implementation?
My hon. Friend makes a very important point. Those who work in the chemicals industry are absolutely vital to the health of our economy. Hitherto, the regulation of chemicals within the European Union has been governed by the operation of the REACH directive. We are replicating that in UK law and we have had extensive discussions and are putting in place steps to ensure that the chemicals industry can continue to manufacture and export as before. It is one of those industries whose business model, as we leave the European Union, necessarily requires Government support in order to ensure its continued health.
Great mention has been made of the freight industry and the importance of guaranteeing the effective flow of goods across the border. Can the Secretary of State explain what has been done since February with regard to the ISPM—international standard for phytosanitary measures—on wood pallets? Two thirds of the pallets in this country do not comply with European Union requirements.
Earlier today, the chairman of the British Medical Association in Scotland went on record to say that there are shortages of medical supplies in Scotland due to Brexit. Can my right hon. Friend give assurances that that is not the case, and that the Cabinet Office is engaging directly with the devolved Administration, local government and all Government bodies to ensure that no shortages are caused by Brexit?
My hon. Friend makes a very important point. To the anguish of many, but to the joy of some, we have not actually left the European Union yet, so it is hard to see how any shortages could be caused by Brexit. The Department of Health and Social Care and others have worked to ensure that in the event of a no-deal Brexit we can continue to have all the medicines and medical supplies that people need. I will look closely at what the Scottish BMA has said and investigate it, but sometimes—I am sure this is not the case with the Scottish BMA—one or two figures attribute to Brexit responsibility for matters that are absolutely nothing to do with our departure from the European Union.
The Minister caused some concern at the weekend about whether the Government would comply with legislation if it were passed and enacted. Can he, without dodging the question, confirm that if the law requires Her Majesty’s Government to request an extension to article 50, they will comply with the law?
That is a very important point. Steps have been taken, including working with the devolved Administrations, to make sure that we have strong maritime security and that the rights of our fishermen can be respected. We want to work in a co-operative way with other European countries, and indeed with countries outside the European Union such as Norway and the Faroes, to ensure that we can manage stocks sustainably and revive coastal communities.
There have been reports in the newspapers that the reunification of families will cease if we leave the European Union without a deal. Will the Minister clarify the Government’s position on that, and confirm that all children who are stranded without family in the UK will be able to apply as now, under the Dublin agreement, to be reunited with their families?
I am grateful to the hon. Lady for raising that question, and I am disturbed by reporting to that effect. The rights of EU citizens in this country, and of course their dependants, will be protected, but if she wants to furnish me with the report to which she refers I will look closely into it and, of course, write to her.
It would be infinitely preferable to secure a deal, which is why I and many hon. Members have voted three times to do exactly that. Can my right hon. Friend assure me that in any circumstances the security of supply of medicines will be assured, and that those medicines will be flown into the UK if necessary?
My hon. Friend, as ever, makes two characteristically acute points. I voted for the withdrawal agreement on every opportunity presented to the House. I had hoped that more colleagues on the Opposition Benches would have done so. I am grateful to those colleagues on the Opposition Benches who have done so, because it will be infinitely preferable if we leave with a deal. However, my hon. Friend is also right that, as well as ensuring the freest possible flow of goods—including medicines—over the short straits, there should be additional capacity, both at sea and in the air, to safeguard citizens in this country.
For the last couple of years, along with the president of the Royal College of Radiologists, I have been raising the issue of radioisotopes. I was ignored and patronised, and then reassured at the beginning of this year that it was all sorted and that they had been flown in. However, on 23 July a new contract was put out to tender with a closing date last week, which means that it is not sorted at all. Could the Minister possibly explain what is going to happen about radioisotopes on 1 November?
I would hope that no one would ignore or patronise the hon. Lady, who had a very distinguished record as a physician even before she came into the House. She speaks with great authority on these issues. Unless I misunderstood it, her point refers to the fact that the Department for Transport has issued a new tender for sea freight. I understand that that tender has been well subscribed, and we should have sea freight in place. We will also have air freight in place, as I mentioned in response to my hon. Friend the Member for Cheltenham (Alex Chalk), to ensure that not just radioisotopes but all medical supplies necessary for the effective functioning of the NHS across the United Kingdom are available. I hope to stay in regular touch with the hon. Lady, because her commitment to the health of our NHS is second to none.
I thank my right hon. Friend for making time to meet me during the recess and for today’s statement. Returning to the issue of medicine supply, one constituent wrote to me recently asking about her epilepsy medication. She said, “If we can’t get it easily, it will tip my life upside down”. She and I, as her MP, do not need ifs and buts or scare stories; we need hard facts. This is not a “nice to have and we’ll do our best to have in the awful event of a no deal Brexit”. This is absolutely critical. We need categorical assurance from the Minister at the Dispatch Box that there will not be a shortage of medicine supply in addition to the shortages there are at the moment—I know that as a former Minister in the Department of Health and Social Care—after Brexit.
My hon. Friend was a brilliant Health Minister and he knows that medical supplies have been termed as category 1 goods. As I mentioned earlier, as well as making sure that we have the freest possible flow across the short straits, there is additional maritime freight capacity and air capacity to ensure that vital drugs will be in place. I can therefore reassure him, his constituent and those living with epilepsy who need that medicine that it will be there.
Having previously worked as a supermarket fruit and vegetable assistant, I know how perishable and fragile supply chains are. I was therefore surprised to hear the Minister say on Sunday that a no-deal Brexit would cause no shortage of fresh food. Sure enough, soon afterwards the British Retail Consortium and the Northern Ireland Retail Consortium said that that, quite simply, was not true. It said:
“it is impossible to mitigate”
as stockpiling is not possible with such perishable produce. Will the Minister therefore accept that his statement on Sunday was inaccurate?
I express my solidarity with the hon. Gentleman. I, too, worked with fresh fruit and vegetables when I was a food hall porter in the Aberdeen branch of British Home Stores in the 1980s, so I absolutely appreciate how important it is to ensure we have a ready supply of fresh fruit of vegetables and a wide range of them. The British Retail Consortium, with which I have worked, has been working incredibly hard to make sure we have access to the full range of foods we currently enjoy. It is the case that while the price of some commodities may rise, the price of other commodities may fall, but I am absolutely certain that consumers will continue to have a wide choice of quality of fresh foodstuffs in the event of no-deal Brexit.
I am sure that my right hon. Friend will agree that business leaders and business associations will be listening intently to this afternoon’s debate. They have suffered three years of uncertainty, and endless and pointless Brexit debate. What certainty and reassurance going forward can the Minister give to business leaders who have suffered uncertainty?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right that business wants certainty. The best certainty we can give is to make sure we secure a good deal with the European Union, which is why I hope everyone across the House will give my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister the time and space necessary to secure that good deal on which he has been working so hard.
Further to the question we have just heard about food shortages, on Sunday the Minister said that there will be no shortages of fresh food. He has just told us that there will be a wide choice. Does he accept what the British Retail Consortium said, which is that his initial claim was “categorically untrue” and that a no-deal Brexit would be
“the worst of all worlds for our high streets and those who shop there”?
The hon. Lady, like me, wants to avoid a no-deal Brexit if at all possible. The British Retail Consortium, supermarkets and others involved in providing our food have been doing important work to make sure we continue to have a wide choice and a ready supply of the fresh food that we all enjoy.
Earlier in the year, when it appeared momentarily that we might leave without a deal, Mr Barnier announced that there would not, after all, be a hard border and that other arrangements would be relied upon. Where could he have possibly got that idea?