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House of Commons Hansard
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05 September 2019
Volume 664
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4. What recent assessment he has made of the likelihood of the UK leaving the EU without a deal. [912277]

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The Government are committed to leaving the European Union on 31 October, whatever the circumstances. We would prefer to leave with a deal, but to achieve that the EU must be willing to reopen the previous withdrawal agreement.

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I thank my right hon. Friend for that answer. I believe the best way to avoid no deal is to secure a deal. He will know that I voted three times for the withdrawal agreement, and I will support this Government as they seek to secure a deal. Given that the comments reported overnight from Monsieur Barnier appear to be in conflict with the aspirations of our Prime Minister, will the Secretary of State say when the Prime Minister intends to deliver his proposals for the revised deal, so that that deal can be secured before 31 October?

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I pay tribute to my hon. Friend. Despite some misgivings and the way that he campaigned during the referendum, he has consistently voted for a deal, and he was consistently willing to compromise where many others were not. On the substance of the talks, the Prime Minister’s Europe adviser was in Brussels yesterday, and the Prime Minister is due to meet the Taoiseach on Monday. I am in regular contact with my counterparts, and I have visited a number of capitals in recent weeks. A significant amount of work has gone on, but we will not fall into the trap that befell the previous Government, where the Commission has an absolutist, all-weather, all-insurance position and then asks for deals on the basis of creative flexibility, and against that test then dismiss it as magical thinking. We need to have detailed discussions, but they must be done in the right way, which is what we are doing.

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The Secretary of State has said once again that the new Administration want to secure a deal, rather than leave without one, yet we know that no new concrete proposals have been presented to the EU. It has been reported that in the technical talks that took place yesterday between the UK’s chief negotiator and EU Commission officials, the UK team made it clear that the Government want to jettison the level playing field provisions contained in the withdrawal agreement. Will the Secretary of State confirm that removing those provisions is now the Government’s preference?

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As the hon. Gentleman says, the Government want to leave with a deal. We also know that Labour Members do not want a deal, they are not prepared to leave with no deal, and therefore they are not prepared to leave at all. The Government’s proposals made it clear in the letter to President Tusk that, notwithstanding concerns about the wider withdrawal agreement held by many of my colleagues on the Government Benches, the issues have been narrowed down to that of the backstop. That is distinct from the Northern Ireland protocol as a whole, and that is the constructive approach that the Prime Minister has taken. He has also answered the charge that was often levelled from the Labour Benches about what sort of deal we seek in the political declaration. The charge of a blind Brexit was often levelled at me, and the Prime Minister has answered that question. He is seeking a best-in-class free trade agreement, and he has been crystal clear on that.

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There was no answer there on the level playing field provisions. I am not sure why the Secretary of State is so reluctant to confirm that regulatory divergence from the EU, rather than alignment with it, is what the Government want to achieve. After all, as he mentioned, in the Prime Minister’s letter to Donald Tusk on 19 August that was for him “the point” of our exit. We have gone from Canada plus plus plus to Canada minus minus with barely a mention and no debate in this House. Let me ask the Secretary of State this simple question: will the Government now come clean with the British public about the fact that far from maintaining workers’ rights, Ministers want the freedom to chip away at them and environmental protections and consumer standards?

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No. What is staggering about the hon. Gentleman’s question is his—

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Answer!

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If the hon. Lady will give me a moment, I was just coming on to do precisely that. The point at issue is whether the UK is, as a sovereign state, able to determine its own laws and regulations, or whether it is in dynamic alignment, taking rules and regulations from the Commission over which we would have no vote. Opposition Members may huff and puff. What it suggests is that they want this Parliament to continue to take rules from the Commission, but in future have no say over those rules. We do want a situation where we have two sovereign states, not on the basis of deregulation but of sovereignty.

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Am I right in trusting that we have a cunning plan to leave on 31 October?

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My right hon. Friend tempts me, with his knowledge of the relevant box sets, into dangerous territory. The Prime Minister does have clarity on what he is seeking in the negotiations. The framework was set out in the letter to President Tusk, where we narrowed down the negotiating objectives to the backstop in the withdrawal agreement and to a best-in-class free trade agreement in the political declaration. That is the plan. It is very clear.

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Order. In calling the hon. Member for Brecon and Radnorshire (Jane Dodds), I should like again to congratulate her warmly on her splendid maiden speech yesterday afternoon.

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Thank you, Mr Speaker. Diolch yn fawr iawn. What would the Secretary of State say to the National Farmers Union, which says that a no-deal Brexit would be catastrophic for farmers? The Farmers Union of Wales says it would have disastrous consequences for farmers. What would he say sitting opposite family farmers in places like Brecon and Radnorshire and across Wales who really fear for the livelihoods and their futures?

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May I join you, Mr Speaker, in welcoming the hon. Lady and paying tribute to her maiden speech yesterday? I thought she spoke with great distinction. The specific issues pertaining to the sheep industry were addressed, at much greater length than perhaps the Chair can allow me now, in the Adjournment debate by the Minister of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, my hon. Friend the Member for Camborne and Redruth (George Eustice), so I would first refer the hon. Lady to the comments and the issues the Minister of State—

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So, no answer!

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I can go into it. I watched the Adjournment debate. The Minister talked about the misunderstanding by an Opposition Member of the impact of depreciation on experts. We can talk about the measures put in place in terms of headage and the support for the industry. We can talk about the level of exports. We can get into the detail with the hon. Lady; it is just that the Chair will, I am sure, want me to be fairly succinct, and the Adjournment debate covered the issue at greater length.