Skip to main content

Contingency Planning

Volume 664: debated on Thursday 5 September 2019

The Government are delivering more than 300 specific no-deal projects across a range of sectors and delivery is well advanced. There is still more work to do and we are turbo-charging our preparation under the leadership of the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster.

We have heard so much nonsense this morning—in fact over the last three years—that it was not really a surprise to hear the Secretary of State talk about a “depreciation of experts” in the Government. Last night, this House voted for legislation to block a no-deal Brexit; does he accept the vote of this House and will his Government strictly adhere to the rule of law when this Bill has Royal Assent?

It is a little dismissive for the hon. Gentleman to say that all this is nonsense. That was the first SNP question, so saying that we have already heard the nonsense seems a tad premature. The reality is that the Government are preparing extensively for no deal. We have a big information campaign that has launched, over 300 projects are under way, and we are working actively and constructively with the devolved Administrations, including the Scottish Government.

23. If the Bill that passed through this House yesterday becomes an Act of Parliament, it would govern what we do in this country, but of course we cannot guarantee a no deal, because the European Union might not agree to an extension. So will the Secretary of State confirm that the Government will continue to prepare for no deal despite any Act of Parliament, because what happens is not within our control? (912297)

My hon. Friend is a keen observer of these matters, and he is absolutely correct: the decision on an extension is not a—[Interruption.] The hon. Member for Wallasey (Ms Eagle) says “So what”; I am merely stating the legal position. I am sorry that she finds the legal position somewhat distasteful, but that is the legal position. The legal position on an extension is that it requires the support of every member state including the United Kingdom, so my hon. Friend is correct. [Interruption.] The hon. Lady keeps chuntering, but my hon. Friend is correct: we would need to continue to prepare for no deal, because it is within the scope of any member state to block an extension. That is the legal position.

21. The Scottish Parliament tonight will vote overwhelmingly, I am sure, to oppose this Government’s intention to crash out with no deal and to condemn their decision to prorogue Parliament for five solid weeks. Nobody in Scotland voted for no deal, and Scotland voted overwhelmingly to remain in the European Union, so will the Government pay attention to the views of Scotland, or do they simply not care? (912295)

Not just this Government will pay attention; I am sure the people of Scotland will pay attention to a vote against democracy. It is not the first time that those on the SNP Benches have ignored the votes of the British people, whether in the referendum in 2014 that they want to overturn or in the referendum of the United Kingdom in 2016. They seem to have a problem with listening to the democratic will of the people.

In my discussions with Associated British Ports, which manages the port of Immingham and the other Humber ports, there is a clear indication that they are well prepared in their contingency plans to handle any problems that may occur. Can the Secretary of State confirm that our ports are indeed well prepared for no deal and also that they can take much heart from the advantages, such as free-port status, that will be available post Brexit?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Before the reshuffle, I met the ABP and others looking at these issues, and their preparations are well advanced. He will also know that the Government have allocated additional funding for those ports, and he will be aware that, although in this place a huge amount of the debate tends to focus on Dover because of the vehicle flow through it, in terms of the containers and value of goods, the other ports are actually more significant.

The Yellowhammer report that the Government are determined to hide from us warns of delays of up to two and a half days at ports, freight target capacity being reduced by between 40% and 60% and, in terms, medical supplies being vulnerable to severe extended delays. The Government tried to pretend that that was an old report, but that was not true. It is dated August 2019. They also tried to pretend that it represented the very worst case scenario, but that is not true either. It is a reasonable worst case scenario: not the most likely, but likely enough to need to be planned for. When will the Government accept that all the trade organisations, professional bodies and people who understand the industry who are saying that no deal will be a disaster are right, and that it is this Government who are wrong?

There is an oddity within the hon. Gentleman’s question. He accuses us of hiding the Yellowhammer documentation, yet it is shared with the Scottish Government as part of our internal working to prepare for no deal. We are not hiding it; in government we prepare documents and on that basis we put in place funding and other measures to tackle them. In fact, the Public Accounts Committee, among others, would be the first to criticise us if that detailed preparation was not taking place.

Will the Government give absolutely unreserved and unrestricted permission to the Governments of Scotland and Wales to publish that report in full today: yes or no?

It is always the case that in government we prepare documents to ensure that we have preparations in place. The point is to determine what is likely to be the impact on the EU27, for example, and what we can put in place to address concerns such as those on the flow of goods. I referred earlier to the fact that two thirds of Ireland’s medicines come through Britain. I could also have mentioned the fact that 40% of Irish exports go through Dover. This is an issue that concerns the Commission and the United Kingdom. That is why we are preparing these documents, and we are working openly with the Scottish Government and others on that. That is what the Government should be doing.