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Oral Answers to Questions

Volume 664: debated on Thursday 5 September 2019

Exiting the European Union

The Secretary of State was asked—

Supply of Medicines: No Deal

1. What recent assessment the Government have made of the effect on the supply of medicines of the UK leaving the EU without a deal. (912274)

16. What recent assessment the Government have made of the effect on the supply of medicines of the UK leaving the EU without a deal. (912289)

17. What recent assessment the Government have made of the effect on the supply of medicines of the UK leaving the EU without a deal. (912290)

The Department of Health and Social Care has assessed and contacted 448 suppliers of medicine and has regular and detailed conversations with the industry.

This week, the Nuffield Trust joined 11 union leaders to warn that no deal would disrupt the supply of life-saving medicine and exacerbate the largest staffing crisis in our NHS’s history. What level of mortality rate is acceptable to the Secretary of State as the price to pay for this devastating no-deal Brexit?

The hon. Gentleman does not reflect the reality of the significant preparation that the industry has done over the last three years, and I pay tribute to it for that. For example, one of the leading insulin manufacturers, Novo Nordisk, has 18 weeks’ worth of supplies, while the Government had asked for six weeks’ worth. The industry has gone above and beyond in its preparation, and a huge amount of work has been done.

I was recently contacted by a constituent with a rare condition. She has stopped producing cortisol and needs to take a synthetic form of it to survive. If she stops taking her medication, she will be dead within 10 days. What does the Secretary of State have to say to my constituent, who is afraid that the Government are gambling with her life?

I would say that we should not be scaring people unnecessarily. The Government have put in place a framework to ensure supply. We have also put in place an express freight service, which will give even more capacity on a 24-hour basis and between two to four days for larger pallets. There is additional capacity, and a huge amount of work has been done on storage, but this is an issue of mutual interest for the UK and the Commission, and we are working on it jointly.

Anyone who is facing cancer treatment wants to know that they can get the medicine and the medical devices they need as quickly as possible and with certainty. Dr Buscombe from the British Nuclear Medicine Society says that the system for delivering radioactive isotopes in the event of a no-deal Brexit is “fragile”. What does the Secretary of State say to patients who are concerned to hear that?

I was a Health Minister, and as part of business as usual there are always issues of supply, usually with around up to 50 lines. We have had it in the last few weeks with HRT, which is totally unconnected to Brexit. These are issues that the Department is well used to preparing for. It is in the interest of both sides to get this right. Two thirds of Ireland’s medicine comes through the land bridge in Great Britain. This is something that both sides are working to deliver because it is of interest to both of us.

I welcome the Government’s preparations to prevent medicine shortages in the event of no deal and the fact that the Secretary of State highlighted the impact this will have on the Republic of Ireland. As he rightly says, two thirds of medicines to the Republic come through and over UK motorways, so it is in the EU’s interests as well to prevent no deal.

My hon. Friend is right. This is about preparing. It is not about scaring people unnecessarily. Around 220 lorries impact Ireland. This is of mutual interest, and we want to get it right with them. That is why we are working with member states on this. It is not just about stock and not just about flow; it is also about flow the other way. A significant number of UK medicines from firms like AstraZeneca go to Europe, so this is in the interests of the EU27 and the UK, which is why considerable work has been done on it.

Exports: No Deal

2. What recent assessment the Government have made of the effect on the transportation of goods of the UK leaving the EU without a deal. (912275)

I do not get any sense from the Secretary of State that he intends to implement the decisions of this House in ruling out no deal. What would his response be to Rod McKenzie of the Road Haulage Association, who only this week said this of his experience of Ministers in relation to what he describes as the “clear and present” threat of no deal:

“What we need is action, and we need action now. And there’s this gap between what they say they’re going to do, and what they have so far failed to deliver”?

When will we see delivery from this Government? When will the Government even meet unions representing drivers to discuss their real fears about the impact of a no-deal Brexit on drivers’ hours and safety?

Again, the hon. Gentleman is ignoring the evidence. The Government are acting. He should look at, for example, the auto-enrolment of EORI—economic operator registration and identification—numbers. Some 87,955 VAT-registered businesses that trade only with the EU have, as part of auto-enrolment, had those numbers sent out. My right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster was in Calais meeting his counterpart and discussing these very issues. There are material issues to address, but it does not progress debate in this House if people ignore the reality of the work that the Government are doing.

My right hon. Friend said last week that the

“car industry’s ‘just in time’ supply chains rely on fluid cross-Channel trade routes”,

and that we

“need to start talks now on how we make sure this flow continues if we leave without a deal.”

Some of us have been making this point for some time. Can my right hon. Friend say: who are these proposed talks with, have they started, when does he expect them to finish and will he publish an update on how far they have got?

This is the first opportunity I have had since my right hon. Friend left the Government to pay tribute to the work that he did as a senior Minister, in particular, if I may say so, in relation to the British steel industry. I know he was an assiduous champion of its interests at the Cabinet table.

What I was highlighting in that thread was the talks the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster was having that Friday in Calais. The fact is that issues about the documentation required and the flow are of mutual interest. It was pertaining to the issues touched on in the communiqué issued by the Commission yesterday. It is in the interests of both sides, including those of leaders in northern France, that we get the flow of these goods right.

About 3 million wooden pallets are used every month to transport goods, including food, between the UK and the EU. After a no-deal Brexit, those wooden pallets will no longer be able to be used unless they have been heat treated or fumigated. Can the Secretary of State give the House an assurance, because this is absolutely about the supply of food, that there are sufficient pallets available to the companies that keep our food supplies moving?

We have a ministerial meeting, chaired by the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, which is tasked each day with looking at specific issues. My focus—as Chair of the Exiting the European Union Committee, the right hon. Gentleman will be aware of this—is on the negotiations, as opposed to every item such as pallets, so I will pick that up with the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster. However, considerable work has gone on. As I say, this issue applies to the EU—to its exports and the flow of goods through Calais—and it is these very issues that the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster was discussing with his counterparts in Calais last Friday.

The Secretary of State quite rightly referred to the EORI numbers, but as I understand it, businesses will also have to get a similar number from the country in the EU27 with which they trade once we are outside the EU. Are businesses aware of that, or are they just aware of getting the UK one?

My hon. Friend is right that there are a number of things businesses need to do. That is exactly the purpose behind the public information campaign that we have launched to improve readiness. Contrary to the perception often implied in this House, a huge amount of work has been done in government over the last three years and a large amount of work has also been done in large companies, including large pharmaceutical companies. The area of more concern has been within the SME community to which he refers, and that is what the public information campaign is targeting.

Would not the best way of measuring the effect of transportation of goods on the UK leaving the EU without a deal be to publish the Operation Yellowhammer documents, rather than sanitising or shredding them, and allowing Members of Parliament to interview the civil servants responsible for writing them?

A huge amount of information has already been published, not least in the form of the technical notices that the Government have issued. However, I fear—this may be a rare area of agreement between the right hon. Gentleman and me—that there is no level of documentation we could publish that would fully satisfy him.

Visa-free Travel

3. What plans the Government have to negotiate visa-free travel between the UK and the EU for short visits after the UK leaves the EU. (912276)

13. What plans the Government have to negotiate visa-free travel between the UK and the EU for short visits after the UK leaves the EU. (912286)

The European Union has confirmed that it will grant UK nationals visa-free travel for short stays, subject to reciprocity. The Government have also said that we do not intend to require visas for tourists or short-term business visitors from the European Union.

On longer-term working visas, 19% of people in the Calder Valley work in manufacturing, a sector that is now suffering from skill shortages and benefiting from very high employment. Can my right hon. Friend put the minds of businesses at rest, and explain how we can fill these skill shortfalls in the short term after Brexit that are currently filled through freedom of movement?

I thank my hon. Friend for that question, and I can certainly reassure him. As the Home Secretary set out, as we leave the EU we will transition to a new points-based immigration system that is built around the skills and talents that people have, not where they are from. In the short term, Swiss citizens and those from the European economic area who move to the UK after a no-deal Brexit on 31 October will still be able to start to study, as now.

How will we ensure that the UK continues to attract the brightest and best when we leave the EU?

My hon. Friend makes an important point—it is essential that we attract the brightest and best, not just from the EU but from around the world. That is what the Government are doing by repositioning ourselves with real growth areas around the world, alongside the EU.

Is the ministerial team aware that my constituency of Huddersfield, where I come from, is, like that of the hon. Member for Calder Valley (Craig Whittaker), the centre and heart of manufacturing in this country? We must be mobile and be able to visit places. People in the manufacturing centre of Huddersfield, and the university, are absolutely appalled by what might happen if there is a no-deal Brexit. We need access to our markets and to travel, and we believe it will be the end of the world if we crash out without a deal.

If he has studied my past, the hon. Gentleman may know that I lived in his constituency. I studied and have friends in his constituency, and I know it very well.

Last week, I spoke to Universities Scotland, which is deeply concerned about the status of Erasmus students who are currently in Scotland. If they go home for Christmas, can the Minister guarantee that they will be allowed back in, in the event of a no-deal Brexit?

No Deal

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.

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?

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.

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?

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.

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?

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.

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.

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.

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?

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 Mr Speaker 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—

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.

Ethanol Imports: Tariff Schedule

5. What plans the Government have to publish a tariff schedule for ethanol imports in the event that the UK leaves the EU without a deal. (912278)

If the UK leaves the EU without a deal, the UK would implement a temporary tariff regime. This would apply for up to 12 months while a full consultation takes place and a review of a permanent approach is undertaken.

I appreciate the Secretary of State’s response and the letter I received from the Department for International Trade this morning, but in the meetings we had with the Department, we were told that biofuels would not be covered by the protection tariffs. Ensus in my constituency tells me that the fear of a no-deal Brexit is already harming business. We know that a no-deal Brexit without tariff protection will kill British biofuels, end jobs and leave us relying on imports. Will the Secretary of State commit to working with his colleagues to maintain tariff protection on ethanol before it is too late?

The hon. Lady raises a legitimate issue in a constructive way, and I am very happy to work with her because she is championing a genuine issue on behalf of her constituents. There is always a balance in setting tariffs between protecting consumers and the issues for producers. It is about how we calibrate those two sometimes competing issues. She will understand that within the market—within the industry—there is domestic pressure, regardless of Brexit, but I am very happy to work with her on that issue.

The Secretary of State will be aware from Yellowhammer that the proposed tariff regime under no deal creates very specific risks for the UK oil-refining sector. Given that the Valero refinery in Pembroke is the largest and most important private sector employer in west Wales, will the Minister tell me what the plan is for protecting the UK refining sector if we end up leaving the EU without a deal?

My right hon. Friend will know that concerns have been raised by the industry in respect of that. Pertaining to the answer that I gave a moment ago, existing questions within that market are also a factor. I am very happy to have further discussions with him, as I am with the hon. Member for Redcar (Anna Turley), because a number of issues come into play for that industry.

There is a group of medicines that simply cannot be stockpiled and which rely on an uninterrupted supply of imports. Will the Secretary of State give a 100% guarantee that none of my constituents will suffer a shortage of that type of medicine as a result of a no-deal Brexit?

As I said, we have not only put in place an additional procurement framework in terms of capacity, but we have procured an express freight service to deliver small consignments on a 24-hour basis, and a two-to-four day pallet-delivery service. These issues are being addressed by the Department and a huge amount of work is going on exactly on that issue.

Business Preparedness

6. What recent discussions he has had with business groups to help ensure that they are prepared to leave the EU on 31 October 2019. (912279)

Since joining the Department on 27 July, I have personally met more than 20 business organisations. Since July 2016, Department for Exiting the European Union Ministers have collectively undertaken over 700 meetings with businesses and business organisations from every sector in the economy.

Northamptonshire is one of the most important logistics hubs in the UK, so what steps are the Department taking to make sure that those firms and businesses are up and ready to deal with a possible no-deal Brexit?

That is a very sensible question. The Department has engaged extensively with logistics companies and representative bodies from across the sector to ensure that they are prepared for 31 October. I encourage my hon. Friend and businesses to consult the public information campaign on to get a practical, step-by-step guide on what is required for business. That is a powerful thing to do—it is the right thing to do—in preparing to leave properly on 31 October.

What information can the Minister give us about what preparation has been done—what proactive contact his Department has made—with businesses that may not trade directly with Europe but whose supply chains or customers do so, and who therefore may not have availed themselves of the Government web pages?

I would certainly encourage those businesses to avail themselves of that opportunity. The Department has sent out 1,300 bits of information and that is captured on the website. I have engaged with businesses—I am the small and medium-sized enterprises champion for the Department—and the one thing that I have noticed is that larger businesses tend to be more prepared than smaller businesses, and particularly the type of which the hon. Lady speaks. The Government website is a rich source of information, so I encourage Members to return to their constituency and—alongside campaigning—promote the Government website.

There is a massive difference between some of the realistic concerns of businesses about no deal and some of the madcap scare stories that are going around. What is the Minister doing to ensure that there is an understanding of realistic concerns and to dismiss some of the other wild stories?

There will always be knockabout politics, but I would prefer to engage in the detail. I was in Northern Ireland last Thursday talking to businesses on the border and then in Belfast discussing alternative arrangements with a wide range of businesses, engaging them in the very real detail and not the high-level scare stories. There are concerns, and they are being dealt with, but they should not be confused with the bigger scare stories.

Discussions with EU Counterparts

7. What discussions he has had with his EU counterparts over the summer recess on the UK’s departure from the EU. (912280)

Over the summer recess, I had extensive discussions with my European counterparts—I suspect that my right hon. Friend and I saw a little less of the summer than some—including in the past fortnight in Paris, Copenhagen, Helsinki and a couple of other places. There has been extensive engagement, and that engagement continues.

I am very encouraged to hear my right hon. Friend begin to list some of his summer itinerary. I think that helps to build confidence in the fact that the Government are engaged in serious discussions with the European Commission and other counterparts. To that effect, would he be prepared to publish information on whom he has met and the discussions he has had when not in meetings, with whom and when?

Order. I would just say that I am sure that the unknown place to which the Secretary of State has referred has not forgotten that he visited it and its inhabitants.

I fear that I might get into trouble with the said unknown place, but I hope that a bit of latitude will be granted. My right hon. Friend raises a material point, because it goes to the crux of last night’s debate and the sincerity of the negotiations. The Prime Minister has also had extensive contact through the G7 and his visits to Berlin and Paris, among other places, and there has been the extensive work, to which I pay huge tribute, of the Prime Minister’s Europe adviser, who was in Brussels last week, this week and who has also travelled extensively. Significant work has been going on, and I am very happy to look at what further detail we can set out.

First, as the hon. Lady well knows, the Government do not comment on leaks. Secondly, the issue is really about looking at the substance. Look at the letter to President Tusk that narrowed down the issues. It would have been much easier for the Prime Minister to set out a long list of demands but, because of the seriousness of the negotiations, those have been narrowed down, as set out in that letter. One of the European Union’s charges against the previous Government was that they had not been specific enough about what sort of future relationship they sought in the political declaration. The letter answered that very clearly: a best-in-class FTA, and one that covers not only the economic side, but security and other aspects. There is substance there. The problem with the other side is that they do not want to leave at all, and therefore they will not take yes for an answer.

Policing and Security

8. What recent discussions he has had with the Home Secretary on the effect on policing and security of the UK leaving the EU without a deal. (912281)

12. What recent discussions he has had with the Home Secretary on the effect on policing and security of the UK leaving the EU without a deal. (912285)

I spoke this week to the Home Secretary and the Policing Minister about security matters and exiting the European Union. My Department’s Ministers and officials hold regular meetings with the Home Office, and we are working closely to prepare for business, keeping our plans under rigorous review, and I will continue to do so.

Under a no-deal Brexit, UK police would lose access to 40 enforcement tools, including the European arrest warrant and access to European information databases, which are vital for identifying international terrorists and criminals who could be targeting this country. Can the Minister explain how that is assisting us to take back control of our borders?

One thing that will certainly assist is the 20,000 extra police officers—[Interruption.] I do want to get down to the specifics, but the hon. Gentleman will forgive me for making a political point, given that we are now into an election—at least, we think that we are into an election. On the specific details, Interpol notices function very similarly to Schengen information system alerts. The hon. Gentleman reasonably talks about the European arrest warrant. In the event that we leave without a deal, the UK will operate the Council of Europe convention on extradition with EU member states. We have worked intensively with operational partners, both here and across the EU, to ensure that there is a smooth transition between the two.

Operation Yellowhammer found that a no-deal Brexit could lead to

“a rise in public disorder and community tensions”.

Do the Government not recognise that the toxic and irresponsible use of language, such as “collaborators”, “treachery” and “surrender”, deepens the divisions in our country and puts the public at risk, including Members of this House? Have they not learnt the tragic lessons of history?

Let me gently say to the hon. Gentleman that one thing that will lead to unrest and unhappiness is the ignoring of the public and the referendum result. However, we continue to work with the police and the Army in the normal way.

Legal Services Sector

9. What steps his Department is taking with the Department for International Trade to promote the UK legal services sector overseas. (912282)

Let me start by thanking my hon. Friend, who does not seem to be in the Chamber—[Hon. Members: “He is in the Chamber.”] I apologise. That was in no way an insult to my hon. Friend’s height or presence. I congratulate him on his work in the Justice Committee.

The Government are committed to maintaining, over time, the growth in the United Kingdom’s £4.4 billion trade surplus in legal services, and that includes setting the right framework in future trade negotiations.

There is always more than one way to be overlooked.

Does the Minister accept that, at present, the United Kingdom has the second largest market in legal services in the world and the largest in the European Union? That is because of the unparalleled access that British lawyers currently have to EU legal markets under the appropriate directives. Does the Minister recognise that if we are to avoid the 10% hit that the Law Society estimates would be taken by this country’s income from its legal services in the event of a no-deal Brexit, we must not only preserve maximum access to those markets, but develop a comprehensive strategy across all Departments to market British legal services as a world centre of excellence elsewhere?

I fully agree with my hon. Friend. Given that 6.5% of global legal services pass through the United Kingdom and three out of 15 top firms are based internationally in the UK, it is essential for us to work on a cross-departmental basis. The Legal Services are GREAT campaign is a good example of this ambitious programme. Since its launch in Singapore in October 2017, it has operated in more than 30 countries, with trade missions to Kazakhstan, China, Chile and Nigeria. Those missions are very effective, and they will continue.

Freedom of Movement

10. What recent discussions he has had with Cabinet colleagues on the effect on the rights of (a) EU and (b) UK citizens of immediately ending freedom of movement in the event that UK leaves the EU on 31 October 2019. (912283)

The European Union has confirmed that it will grant UK nationals visa-free travel to the Schengen area for short stays of up to 90 days in any 180-day period, even in a no-deal scenario. In the event of no deal, however, the arrangements for UK nationals travelling to European Union countries will change, and we have published advice on on the steps that they will need to take.

Many EU nationals in my constituency have endured incredible stress and anxiety owing to the uncertainty that they have faced since the referendum. Their rights have been used as a bargaining chip with the EU, and the new Home Secretary even proposed legislation to stop freedom of movement immediately after no deal. Will the Minister assure us that citizens’ rights will no longer be used as a negotiating tool and will be unilaterally guaranteed?

Citizens’ rights will not be used as a negotiating tool, and they have not been used as a negotiating tool. The hon. Lady has mischaracterised the position. It is the Prime Minister who has made a big, bold offer to EU citizens, and it is now for member states to reciprocate.

What assessment have the Government made of the impact on people with pre-existing health conditions who will no longer be able to use their European health insurance cards to cover their conditions if they either live in the EU or are travelling?

That will depend on decisions and arrangements with individual countries. The UK has made a big, bold offer to EU nationals in this country, and I encourage those countries to reciprocate.

I welcome the Minister to his post. As he will know, over the summer recess a Home Office advertisement relating to settled status was banned for being misleading. The uncertainty created by conflicting messages is causing real fear among EU citizens in the UK and the British in Europe.

On 21 August, I wrote to the Secretary of State seeking clarity on five key issues. I have not received a reply, so I wonder whether the Minister can answer one of those questions now. I am reassured by his indication that he likes to engage in detail. EU citizens were promised that if the UK left the EU without a deal, their rights would be the same as they would be under the withdrawal agreement. Can the Minister confirm that, despite previous indications to the contrary, the Government will retain the right to appeal against settled-status decisions in the event of a no-deal Brexit?

The settled status scheme is working very well: more than 1 million of the 3 million people have applied, nobody has been rejected, and people may apply all the way up to 31 December 2020.

Contingency Planning

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.

EU Settlement Scheme

14. What recent discussions he has had with the Home Secretary on the level of uptake for the EU settlement scheme. (912287)

I spoke to the Home Secretary this week on the issues of the EU settlement scheme. The scheme is operating well: 1 million people have passed through the scheme out of the 3 million, and there have been no rejected applications. The Prime Minister has made a big, bold offer to EU citizens, who remain our friends and neighbours and who are welcome here in the United Kingdom.

The Minister says that the system is working well, but I can tell him that the reality is that it is not. My wife Cyndi is an EU citizen, and due to the Government rhetoric, she reluctantly decided to apply for settled status. I can tell the Minister that the system crashed, and that the officials operating it said that they could not handle the volume of traffic. Is it because this process is a shambles that the Government have had to do a U-turn on the threat to end freedom of movement on 31 October, or is it the threat of court action that has caused the U-turn?

We have improved the system on an ongoing basis, and we are keen to do so. The default position is that we want people to get that settled status. The hon. Gentleman makes specific points about a specific case, and I am sure that the Home Office would be happy to look at that and to understand how it can improve the system further.

Topical Questions

Since I last updated the House, I have had the pleasure of welcoming the Under-Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union, my hon. Friend the Member for Rochford and Southend East (James Duddridge) to his ministerial place. I should like to take this opportunity to thank my right hon. Friends the Members for Spelthorne (Kwasi Kwarteng) and for Braintree (James Cleverly), who have now both joined me in the Cabinet. We have a new Prime Minister, who is committed to leaving on 31 October, and within the ministerial portfolios, I welcome the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, my right hon. Friend the Member for Surrey Heath (Michael Gove), who has taken on responsibility for domestic operational planning in the context of no deal. This enables me and my Department to focus on negotiations with the EU, in which we will seek to achieve a best-in-class free trade agreement. Throughout the summer, I have visited a number of European capitals and had regular conversations with my key interlocutors, including the Deputy Prime Minister of Ireland and the French Europe Minister, with whom I had recent productive meetings in Paris.

If I was still a serving police officer and I arrested a European national who, unbeknown to me, was wanted for a string of serious violent sexual offences, at the moment I would simply have to access a database on booking him into custody to find that out. Will the Secretary of State spell out in detail how I or my custody sergeant would do that if we were to leave without a deal on 31 October?

Under the current position, that would depend upon to which member state the situation pertained. We already have in place a bilateral arrangement with Ireland to reflect the common travel area, but the arrangements vary between member states. However, the premise of the hon. Lady’s question is right, because the UK puts more data into the European arrest warrant system than any other member state, and we think that the UK’s contribution is of value to the European Union and that it is not in its interest to put its citizens at risk by not reciprocating. We stand ready to work with member states, but it is the European Commission and my counterpart Michel Barnier who have ruled out what he calls “mini-deals” to address the hon. Lady’s concerns.

T3. When we leave the EU, with or without a deal, will my right hon. Friend confirm that the provision of medicines into the UK will remain uninterrupted? (912301)

As was covered earlier in the question session, a huge amount of work has been done by the Department of Health and Social Care, including on additional procurement capacity and express delivery. That builds on extensive work by the industry, including the additional stock and additional flow capacity that it has procured.

I want to ask specifically about the important issue of Northern Ireland. Will the Secretary of State confirm that the Government remain fully committed to all the existing elements of the December 2017 joint report between the UK and the EU negotiators? Yes or no?

Our commitments were set out in the letter to President Tusk. It contains our commitment to the Belfast/Good Friday agreement, which includes putting no infrastructure at the border to impede north-south flow.

I asked a careful question, and I got a careful answer, which did not confirm full commitment, so let me press on. It has been reported this week that EU member states were told by the European Commission that the UK Government were proposing to reduce the ambitions of the 2017 joint report relating to Northern Ireland—not the Good Friday agreement, but the 2017 joint report. In particular, it has been reported that the UK is rowing back from the “legally operable” solutions to avoiding a hard border to what has been described as “aspirational” measures—that is quite specific. The pledge now is only to have trade across the Irish border that is “as frictionless as possible”—again, a difference. These are important issues, and I know that there has been a bit of knockabout this morning, but this is of huge importance across Ireland. Will the Secretary of State take this opportunity to reject those reports and make it clear that there will be no rowing back from the solemn commitments made two years ago in the 2017 joint report?

First, as I said in my previous answer, there has been no rowing back from the Belfast/Good Friday agreement, which is an area of common accord between us. Secondly, the reason I pointed towards north-south co-operation is that, as the right hon. and learned Gentleman will be well aware, the Prime Minister drew a distinction in the letter to President Tusk between the backstop and the Northern Ireland protocol. The right hon. and learned Gentleman will also know that, while the two terms are often used interchangeably in the Chamber, there is a distinction between them, particularly on the basis that the north-south co-operation, the common travel area and the benefits of the single electricity market are distinct from the points in terms of alignment.

As for right hon. and learned Gentleman’s further question around the legally operative text, I addressed that point to some extent in my remarks in the Chamber yesterday in that there is a distinction between the European Commission saying that all aspects need to be set out in a legally operative text by 31 October and looking at, for example, what role the joint committee will have during the implementation period, because the implementation period means that things need to be in place by the end of December 2020 or, if extended by mutual agreement, for one or two further years. It is therefore within that that there is a distinction to be drawn.

T4. Does the Secretary of State think there should be a general election before the next European Council meeting so that the British people can decide whether they want the Leader of the Opposition as Prime Minister, who will keep us in the European Union, or whether they want to return our excellent current Prime Minister, who will take us out by 31 October? (912302)

Yes, we need to know who, at the 17 October council, can negotiate for the British people and, in particular, who can deliver on the express will set out in the referendum. What we have from Labour Members is doublespeak that will leave us in legislative purgatory, because they are saying, on the one hand, that they will vote against every deal that is put forward—three times they voted against the deal, and their own deal was rejected by the House as well—yet they also vote against no deal.

Well, the inevitable consequence is that they are not prepared to leave, even though their own manifesto said they are. The real question for the British public at the next election will be, how can they trust what Labour says in its manifesto on Brexit when it has gone back on every word it said at the last general election?

T2. Further to the question of my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Holborn and St Pancras (Keir Starmer), we are now halfway through the time period set by the German Chancellor to produce alternatives to the backstop. In the light of the Government’s decision to prorogue Parliament, perhaps from next Monday, will the Secretary of State ensure that their proposals come to this House so that they can be scrutinised by this House, including the Select Committee on Exiting the European Union? (912300)

I think the Chair of the Select Committee would concede that, of the holders of my role—I know there has been more than one—I have probably been the most frequent in appearing before his Committee and others. Actually, that is not the case when compared with my right hon. Friend the Member for Haltemprice and Howden (Mr Davis), but it is when compared with my right hon. Friend the Member for Esher and Walton (Dominic Raab), who is now Foreign Secretary.

On the substance of the question, there has been a huge amount of work. My right hon. Friend the Member for Ludlow (Mr Dunne) asked about the different working groups, for example, and I chair the technical working group. The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union chairs the business group, and he was in Northern Ireland with that group over the summer.

Again, it goes to the question asked by my right hon. Friend the Member for Ludlow. Work has been going on throughout the summer on alternative arrangements, but if it is simply published against an all-weather, all-insurance test, it will be dismissed, as it was under the last Government, as magical thinking. That is what the last Government experienced. We need to get into the detail, and that work is going on, but it needs to be discussed in the appropriate way.

T5. Will my right hon. Friend confirm whether, since 25 July, the Department has had any discussions with the financial sector about the implications of any revised policy, which would be a policy of regulatory divergence? (912303)

My hon. Friend raises a specific issue and, as a former Economic Secretary to the Treasury, I know the markets take a keen interest in such discussions. If I may, I will ask the Chancellor or the Economic Secretary to come back to him on this specific issue.

T6. Thousands of Tooting residents have signed my local petition against this Government’s dangerous Brexit plans. Like me, Tooting wants to remain. The Brexit Secretary voted against legislation to block a disastrous no deal. Tooting is absolutely furious. Why is he trying to drive this country blindly off the Brexit cliff? (912304)

I think the hon. Lady would agree that there is more than one voice in Tooting. I am sure there will be a range of voices, as indeed there is, but I do not resile from the fact that I am sure she speaks for a majority in her constituency in making that point.

My approach is that when this Parliament says it will give the British people their say, when the Government of the day write to the British people saying they will honour the result and when this House then votes by a significant margin to trigger article 50 to deliver on that result, it undermines our democracy if Members of this House, on the one hand, vote against a deal and then, on the other hand, say they will not countenance no deal. I think that is a threat to our democracy, and I think it is a threat to our international reputation as a country that defends democracy around the world.

T8. What steps is my right hon. Friend taking to protect farmers and manufacturers in the hopefully unlikely event of a no-deal Brexit? (912306)

I thank my hon. Friend for that important question. The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs has confirmed that it will support farmers in the same cash terms as they have been supported under the current scheme. We are working with farmers to look at new markets and, across the Government, we continue to work with businesses, both large and small. We are particularly encouraging small businesses to engage with the Government in their preparation for the eventuality of no deal.

I congratulate the Secretary of State on his grand tour of Europe in recent weeks during the recess, notably to Finland, a nation of 5 million people and an enthusiastic member of the European Union. Given that the UK was only the seventh largest importer to Finland in 2018, how will leaving the single market and the customs union improve that dismal position?

On the one hand, colleagues question whether we are engaging and on the other hand, the hon. Gentleman appears to suggest that we are engaging too much. He needs to make up his mind.

On how we promote further trade, first, there are opportunities beyond Europe that we are keen to seize, and we have a Secretary of State for International Trade. [Interruption.] On Finland, about which the hon. Gentleman is chuntering, I chaired a breakfast meeting with business leaders when I was in Helsinki and we looked at, for example, links on key areas such as timber where there is an appetite to strengthen bilateral trade further. There was a huge appetite among the business leaders I spoke to there to do more trade with the United Kingdom, including with Scotland as part of that United Kingdom.