Mr Speaker, with your permission I would like to make a statement on our preparations to leave the European Union on 31 October and the steps we are taking to get ready.
It is the strong desire of this Government to leave the EU with a deal, and our proposals to replace the backstop were published last week. I commend the Prime Minister and the Exit Secretary for their continued efforts to ensure that we can leave the EU with a withdrawal agreement in place. We have put forward a fair and reasonable compromise for all sides that respects the historic referendum result, and we hope that the EU will engage with us seriously. In setting out these proposals, we have moved. It is now time for the EU to move, too. If it does, there is still every chance that we can leave with a new deal. However, if the EU does not move, this Government are prepared to leave without a deal on the 31st. We must get Brexit done, so that the country can move on and focus on improving the NHS, cutting crime, helping families with the cost of living and further improving school standards.
In preparing for every eventuality, we are today publishing our “No-Deal Readiness Report”. This document is a comprehensive summary of the UK’s preparedness for leaving the EU without a deal. It sets out the preparations that the Government have made and how these have been intensified under the determined leadership of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, and it also outlines the steps that third-party organisations need to take to get ready.
The actions in this report reflect our top priority: ensuring that we maintain the smooth and efficient flow of goods and people from the UK into the EU, and vice versa. The actions are also aimed at ensuring that we continue to support citizens, upholding their rights and helping them to prepare for the changes ahead. My right hon. Friend the Chancellor, to prepare for Brexit, has doubled funding from £4 billion to £8 billion. We have published a significant volume of material relating to no-deal planning, including 750 pieces of guidance setting out the steps that businesses, traders and citizens should take to prepare. We have also published 31 country guides for all EU and European Free Trade Association states, setting out what UK nationals living there need to do to get ready for Brexit.
This morning, my right hon. Friend the Trade Secretary has published the temporary tariff regime, which will apply from 1 November. In all, it liberalises tariffs on 88% of goods entering the UK by value. It maintains a mixture of tariffs and quotas on 12% of goods, such as beef, lamb, pork, poultry and some dairy products, to support farms and producers that have historically been protected through high EU tariffs in the past. I should say that, as a result of cutting these tariffs, we should see a 15% reduction in the cost of honey from New Zealand, a 9% cut in the cost of grapes from South America and of course a 7% reduction in the cost of wine from Argentina.[Official Report, 16 October 2019, Vol. 666, c. 3MC.]
Businesses raised a number of points in response to the publication of the tariff schedule in March. The Government listened carefully to these representations and have made three specific changes as a result: we are reducing tariffs on heavy goods vehicles entering the UK; we are adjusting tariffs on bioethanol to retain support for UK producers; and we are also applying tariffs to additional clothing products to ensure that developing countries continue to have preferential access.
But it is not enough just for Government to get ready; we need businesses and citizens to get ready too. Even with every Government project complete and necessary IT systems in place, flow at the border would still be affected if hauliers do not have the right paper- work. If companies do not prepare, they will face challenges in trading their goods and services with the EU. While the Government can of course lobby EU member states to improve their offer to UK nationals who are living in their countries, we need individuals to act as well—to register for residency and to make arrangements for continued access to healthcare. For that reason, the Government have invested £100 million in one of the largest public information campaigns in peacetime. [Interruption.] I am glad hon. Members have noticed.
Through both mass market and targeted advertising, we are alerting business and citizens to the actions they need to take to get ready. We are also providing a further £108 million to support businesses in accessing the information and advice they need. My right hon. Friend the Business Secretary is overseeing a series of events with businesses around the country, designed to provide information on all the steps they need to take to get ready, including actions that will support the flow of trade through the short strait. My right hon. Friend the Health Secretary has also today established a trader readiness support unit for suppliers of medical products. This week, Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs is writing to 180,000 businesses, setting out the full range of steps that they need to take in order to import and export with the EU after we leave.
Of course, in advance of 31 October, we will continue to use every means at our disposal to communicate to business the need to get ready. I want to pay particular tribute to the automotive, retail and transport sectors, including authorities at the port of Dover and at Calais, as well as Eurotunnel, for the extent of their Brexit preparations. On a recent visit to the west midlands, the heartland of our automotive industry, I was impressed by the steps that manufacturers are taking to prepare. Retail businesses have also made significant strides: Morrisons, for example, now reports it is “prepared for all eventualities” in the UK, while the Co-op says it is
“prepared for the worst case”.
Of course, risks remain and challenges for some businesses cannot be entirely mitigated, even with every possible preparation in place, but the UK economy is in a much better position to meet those risks and challenges, thanks to the efforts of these sectors and companies, and to my right hon. Friend the Chancellor.
It is also the case that the impact of no deal on both the UK and the EU will depend on decisions taken by the EU and its member states. On citizens’ rights, internal security, data protection and of course the vital position of Northern Ireland in the United Kingdom, we have taken decisions that will benefit UK nationals as well as EU citizens. I hope the EU will match the generosity and flexibility that we have shown.
Through the EU settlement scheme, we have ensured that every EU citizen resident here by 31 October can acquire a formal UK immigration status, protecting their right to live and work in the UK. To date, 1.7 million citizens have applied and 1.5 million have been granted a status. Those who have not yet applied have until the end of December 2020 to do so. So far, very few EU member states have made as generous an offer to UK nationals as the UK has made to EU citizens. We do not believe that citizens’ rights should be used as a bargaining chip in any scenario. EU citizens in the UK are our friends and family, and we want them to stay. We now hope that the EU extends the same hand of friendship towards UK nationals as we have to EU nationals.
At the same time, keeping our fellow citizens safe should be a priority. My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary has written to Commission Vice-President Frans Timmermans to ensure effective arrangements are in place on the exchange of passenger name record data, disconnection from Schengen information system II and working arrangements with Europol, as well as the transfer of law enforcement data. We hope the EU will respond positively, in the interests of the shared security of us all. We have also unilaterally ensured that personal data can continue to flow freely and legally from the UK to the EU and the European economic area. A swift adequacy decision from the EU would reciprocate this arrangement, providing legal certainty to EU entities and companies.
With respect to Northern Ireland, to avoid a hard border we have committed not to introduce any checks at the border between Northern Ireland and Ireland. The limited number of checks that do need to take place, due to international obligations, will all be carried out well away from the border and will only affect a very small number of businesses. The Irish Government and the EU have not yet set out how they will manage the Irish border if we leave without a deal. We urge them now to match our commitment.
Let me, finally, turn to the opportunities from Brexit as laid out in this report. For the first time in 50 years, the UK will have an independent trade policy and we will be able to take our own seat at the World Trade Organisation. We will be able to introduce a points-based immigration system that prioritises the skills that we need as a country. We will have autonomy over the rules governing our world-leading services sector, and we will continue our leading role in setting global standards for financial services. We can be a beacon for the world in setting progressive policies on farming, fishing and the wider environment. Outside the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice, we will set our own rules, putting in place smarter, more responsive regulation.
Of course, no deal will bring challenges. I have been open about that today, as I have been in the past. It is not my preferred outcome, nor the Government’s. We want a good deal. Whatever challenges no deal may create in the short term—and they are significant—they can and will be overcome. Far worse than the disruption of no deal would be the damage to democracy caused by dishonouring the referendum result—17.4 million people voted to leave, many turning up to vote for the first time in their lives. They voted to ensure that the laws by which we are governed are set by the politicians in this place whom they elect. They voted for a fairer migration system that attracts the brightest and the best. They voted to end vast financial contributions to the EU budget, and instead invest in the people’s priorities such as the NHS and our brave police service. That is what the British people voted for, and that is what this Government will deliver. I commend this statement to the House.
The Prime Minister should be here. Talks with the EU are collapsing as we speak. The proposals that the Government introduced last week were never going to work, and instead of reacting to challenge by adapting them they are intent on collapsing the talks and engaging in a reckless blame game. It will be working people who pay the price. The Prime Minister should be here to account for his actions.
It is no good pretending that the proposals would work. That is simply not going to wash. You cannot take the UK and Northern Ireland out of the customs union and avoid customs checks. You cannot have customs checks without infrastructure in Northern Ireland. The Government know that, which is why they refuse to answer the very simple question—where will the checks take place? You cannot give a serious response to the EU’s concerns about protecting the integrity of the single market simply by saying, “We’ll put that question off until later.” You cannot be serious about upholding the Good Friday agreement while proposing what amounts to a veto for one party in Northern Ireland over the all-Ireland regulatory zone. Consent of all communities in Northern Ireland is at the heart of the Good Friday agreement, and the Government have ridden roughshod over that principle.
That is why the proposals were never going to work, but instead of responding to legitimate questions from the EU27 or in this House by actually answering them, the Government appear to be pulling the plug, descending into a reckless blame game, instead of putting the country first. Sources close to No. 10 say that a “deal is overwhelmingly unlikely”. Sources close to No. 10 say that it is “essentially impossible”. Sources close to No. 10 have begun blaming people—it is Parliament’s fault, it is the Opposition’s fault, it is the Benn Act, it is Germany, it is Ireland—absolutely defining the character of the Prime Minister, a man who never takes responsibility for his own actions.
The stark reality is that the Government introduced proposals that were designed to fail, and they still will not take responsibility for their own actions. Last night, there were even reports that the Government were threatening to withdraw security co-operation with the EU. That is an astonishing statement. If true, it is beneath contempt. Will the Minister take this opportunity to denounce those comments and confirm that that is not the Government’s position? Will he echo comments this morning by the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, who said that
“withdrawing security co-operation with Ireland is unacceptable”
“not in the interests of Northern Ireland or the union”?
I know from last week’s statement that instead of answering serious questions the Minister prefers to revert to pre-prepared attacks and gags, but today is not the day for those tricks. Can he be straight with the House? Is it the Government's official position to end negotiations with the EU, and to seek to leave on 31October without a deal? If not, will the Government either propose a different basis for negotiations with the EU, or make it clear that they will seek an immediate extension, as required under the Benn Act, on 19 October. The House and the country deserve a straight answer.
I appreciate that the Minister speaks as if he is giving a statement or a reassuring bedtime story about preparations for no deal, but I remind the House that he used the same tone last week at the Dispatch box when he said:
“The automotive sector…confirmed that it was ready. The retail sector has confirmed that it is ready”.—[Official Report, 25 September 2019; Vol. 664, c. 722.]
As he knows, while we were in the Chamber debating that, it drew a furious response. Within hours, the British Retail Consortium issued a rebuttal, stating:
“It is impossible to completely mitigate the significant disruption which would be caused by no deal.”
The Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders did likewise within hours in response to what the Minister said:
“A no deal Brexit would have an immediate and devastating impact on the industry, undermining competitiveness and causing irreversible and severe damage.”
That was only hours after the Minister said that those sectors were ready. What the Minister tells the House in his reassuring tones and what businesses say are two different things, and he knows it. This is no longer a time for games.
The reality is that no deal would be a disaster for the economy and for businesses. That is underlined by today’s figures from Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs, which estimates additional costs of £15 billion a year for businesses to comply with customs arrangements. The Institute for Fiscal Studies said today that no deal would result in borrowing rising to £100 billion, debt rising to 90% of national income, and growth flatlining. That is why it was essential that the House passed the Benn Act, which was intended as an insurance policy. We did so because we feared that the Government were more focused on delivering no deal than on doing the hard work needed to find a deal. It is clearer now than ever that the Act will be needed.
I am grateful to the shadow Brexit Secretary for his questions. First, he asked where the Prime Minister was. The Prime Minister is talking to our EU partners, attempting to secure a good deal, and he is doing so with the full-hearted support of everyone on the Government Benches. The question that many people will be asking outside the House is why, if the right hon. and learned Member for Holborn and St Pancras (Keir Starmer) says that he is anxious for a deal, he declined to support one on the three opportunities he had to do so. If he wants to be taken seriously as an advocate of compromise and a deal why, in cross-party talks in which we both took part, did he attempt to erect an obstacle at every turn to consensus across the House? That is the conclusion that people will draw.
There is another conclusion that people will draw. The no-deal report was made public three hours before the right hon. and learned Gentleman began asking questions. Having had time to absorb 156 pages, he did not have a single question about no-deal preparation; not a single point to make about how any sector could be better prepared; not a single suggestion, query or contribution about how we can ensure that British business is in a robust position. There was just a series of questions that we have come to expect from him about politics, rather than policy; about positioning, rather than practicalities.
The right hon. and learned Gentleman asked about customs checks in Northern Ireland. He knows—it has been made clear—that those customs checks can take place away from the border, at the manufacturer or other distribution sites. He also asked whether our proposals were serious about maintaining the integrity of the single market. They allow the EU to maintain the integrity of the single market, but is he serious about maintaining the integrity of the United Kingdom, because he and his party are more than willing to see a customs border erected in the Irish sea? We would be the only sovereign nation in the world with such a customs border, but he is more than prepared to dance to the EU’s tune, rather than standing up for the UK.
That is the spirit in which the Benn Act was passed. That Act signals to the EU that there are people in Parliament who do not want to conclude a deal, who do not want to leave by 31 October and who want to delay. Indeed, the right hon. and learned Gentleman is one of them. He has had every opportunity to engage meaningfully with Government, not just on the deal but on no-deal preparations.
When I last spoke to the House, on 25 September—the right hon. Gentleman referred to my statement then—I invited any MP in this House to come to the Cabinet Office and the Department for Exiting the European Union to discuss a deal and our no-deal preparations. Only one Opposition MP, the hon. Member for Leicester West (Liz Kendall), accepted that invitation. Oh sorry—and the hon. Member for North Down (Lady Hermon). Two Opposition MPs. That is the measure of the seriousness with which the Labour party, the SNP and all the Opposition parties take our Brexit negotiations: an open offer, an invitation, to come and talk rejected hands down.
Is there any surprise? The right hon. Gentleman in 2017 said of the referendum:
“We’ve had a decision and we respect that decision.”
He also said that the Labour party cannot spend all its time trying to “rub out yesterday” and not accept a result it is honour-bound to respect. As I mentioned earlier, after voting against the deal three times, he rejected the opportunity to come to a consensus between the Front Benches to get a deal through.
We in this Government have compromised. We in this Government are showing flexibility. We in this Government seek to leave without a deal, but faced with the delaying, disruptive and denying tactics of the Opposition we say, on behalf of the 17.4 million: enough, enough, enough—we need to leave.[Official Report, 16 October 2019, Vol. 666, c. 3MC.]
When Mrs Merkel says that either the UK or Northern Ireland have to stay in the customs union, is she speaking for the EU following consultation with the other 25, or is she just making it up and assuming they will go along with her totally unrealistic and inflexible view?
I do not know what the contents of the telephone call between the Prime Minister and the Bundeskanzlerin were earlier today, but we remain committed to working with the German Government and other EU Governments to find a deal. I am sure we can find a way through.
It saddens me that in the middle of this political crisis what we have is a pathetic masquerade from this Government pretending that they are competently arranging our departure from the European Union, when in fact everyone knows that there is no agreement as to how that departure will take place and that without an agreement it is simply not possible to plan in a proper way how it would take place. The responsibility for that is entirely of the Government’s own making: a mixture of their bellicose intransigence in their negotiations with our European partners and their arrogant contempt in trying to establish a political majority in this Chamber, and using the Brexit vote for their own narrow political ends.
Now the Government are in a situation where the only thing they can possibly do is contemplate crashing out of the EU without a deal. I have to remind the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster that that approach would be illegal, because we have passed a law to say that we will not leave the European Union with no deal. I therefore want to ask him why is he preparing this document, which is called the “No Deal Readiness Report”? Perhaps it should be called “Preparedness for Breaking the Law” since that is essentially the course on which he is now engaged. Why is he preparing this, rather than trying to come back to this House properly with proposals we can debate on the negotiations they are having with the European Union? To my eyes, and to those of many colleagues, it looks as if the Government are not in the least bit serious about getting a deal at all, but are in fact engaging in gesture politics, deliberately setting conditions they know cannot be met in order to come back here and try to blame everybody but themselves for the consequences that result.
I have two specific questions relating to the statement. The Opposition spokesman referred to the IFS report, a damning report that came out this morning. It tears away all credibility for there being an economic case for Brexit. The IFS is saying that the difference between asking for an extension and considering this issue further, or crashing out with a no deal in three weeks’ time, is 4% of GDP over the next three years. I invite the Minister to tell us whether this now means that, as we complete the first decade of Tory austerity, he and his Government are preparing for a second decade, because that is surely the consequence of the course they are on.
Finally, may I ask about the status of EU nationals? The Minister makes much of this, saying that everything is rosy in the garden. The truth is that most of the 1.5 million people he refers to as having some status have got what is called pre-settled status. It is not at all sure that they are going to get settled status. If he genuinely believes, and if it is the Government’s policy, that European nationals living in this country should not suffer any disbenefit to their rights as a result of Brexit, will he commit now to let each and every one of them have a permanent right to remain in this country?
I am very grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his questions. On the first question about the IFS report, we respectfully disagree with some, not all, of its conclusions. An extension would only generate further uncertainty. Not only would that extension involve us continuing to pay money into the European Union, but the uncertainty would mean that the investment decisions that business wants to make would still be put on pause. Business leaders, including many of those who backed remain such as the founder of Carphone Warehouse, now argue that we need to leave, deal or no deal, in order to have the certainty on which to plan for the future. That is what business wants overwhelmingly: to leave with a deal, but at least to ensure that we have certainty.
The hon. Gentleman asked about EU nationals, and he makes a very fair point. The majority of those who have been granted status have been granted settled status. Pre-settled status is for those people who have not been in the country, or cannot demonstrate that they have been in the country, for five years. Once they have been here for five years, however, they move automatically and smoothly to settled status. The number of people who have applied for status is increasing every day. It is also the case that our offer is significantly more generous than that for all save a tiny number of EU member states.
Those were the serious questions that the hon. Gentleman asked. I know that he used to be the proprietor of a comedy club in Scotland. I felt he was trying his hand at some Dadaist and surrealist comedy when he accused my party of trying to establish a majority for political purposes in the House of Commons. That is Scottish National party policy: trying to establish a bogus, broken-backed majority with Jeremy Corbyn as Prime Minister for blatantly political purposes. As for using Brexit for our own ends, it is the Scottish National party that has been attempting to weaponise this argument to push its separatist and sectarian agenda. As for gesture politics, that is the hallmark and stock-in-trade of the SNP. I am afraid the hon. Gentleman was guilty of a psychological phenomenon known as projection, which is accusing your opponents of the sins of which you yourself are guilty.
I thank my right hon. Friend for his statement. I am sure that the 3 million EU citizens who live in our country will very much welcome that their rights to health, education and welfare are being fully protected in the event of no deal. Does he have any hope of being able to secure similar rights for British nationals who are living, working and studying in EU countries, particularly those who may need to secure healthcare benefits?
My right hon. Friend makes a very, very good point. The picture across member states varies. Some member states, Spain in particular, have done an enormous amount. Of course, Spain is the country that has the highest number of UK nationals living abroad. I also have to commend the Government of Denmark for the approach they have taken. We are working with EU member states to ensure that there is access to reciprocal healthcare. We are also ensuring that UK citizens abroad continue to have access to pension uprating and the welfare benefits to which they entitled. I hope that more EU member states will improve the offer to UK nationals.
Notwithstanding the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster’s beguiling manner at the Dispatch Box, his statement today bears only a passing relationship to reality. No. 10 is briefing that the talks are going nowhere. He knows that if that remains the case, the Prime Minister will be under a legal obligation to write to apply for an extension which, if granted by the European Union, will mean that we will not be leaving the European Union without a deal on 31 October. The right hon. Gentleman wrote in March this year:
“We didn’t vote to leave without a deal.”
Why is he now advocating on behalf of a Government policy that he himself has admitted there is no mandate for?
I am grateful, as ever, for the thoughtful tone in which the right hon. Gentleman asks his questions. I am also grateful for the opportunity, which I hope I will have, to appear in front of his Committee to discuss in detail some of the provisions within the document. We take a different view on the Act that bears his name. I think it weakens the UK Government’s position. He in all conscience believes that it strengthens the UK’s position, but we disagree on that. It is of course possible, for a host of reasons, that we might leave on 31 October without a deal, and it is prudent that this Government—and indeed the Scottish Government and the Welsh Assembly Government, led by Labour—are preparing for that, because that eventuality is a realisable and potential outcome. In the meantime, I am anxious to secure a deal. I argued that we should leave the European Union without a deal, but if it is impossible to leave the European Union without a deal, then, much though I regret it, we have to leave.[Official Report, 16 October 2019, Vol. 666, c. 4MC.]
You will recall, Mr Speaker, that some weeks ago you afforded me the opportunity to ask the Prime Minister what provision would be made for pension uprating, healthcare and benefits for expat UK citizens. My letter seeking a clarification of the broad-brush answer awaits a response, but I have had the opportunity to read the no-deal readiness report, and not one word in it offers long-term comfort to the thousands of now increasingly frightened and elderly UK citizens living within the rest of the EU. This is not a matter of reciprocal arrangements; it is within the clear gift of the United Kingdom Government to look after our own people. Will my right hon. Friend give a clear undertaking that that will be done?
I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for raising that issue. He will be aware that on page 43 of the document, we point out:
“With regard to UK state pensions paid to eligible UK state pension recipients living in Member States, in the event of leaving without a deal the UK has now committed to uprate state pensions paid in the EU for a further three years”—
beyond the original guarantee—
until the end of March 2023”.
We have a commitment, of course, to keep this policy under review.
It is reported that a Downing Street adviser has threatened that the UK will withdraw security co-operation if Europe does not do what the Prime Minister wants. Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that given the common threats that we face—extremism, terrorism, trafficking and organised crime—this is extremely irresponsible and dangerous, and that there is no planet on which this is in our national interest? Whatever the Brexit plans, we need countries to work together, so will he condemn those threats from this Downing Street adviser? Will he agree that any adviser who makes such threats in public or private is not fit to hold any post in No. 10 Downing Street? Will he and the Prime Minister take some responsibility for removing anyone who pursues that course and argument from No. 10 Downing Street, because, frankly, when national security is at stake, we desperately need some advisers, some Ministers and a Prime Minister who are capable of behaving like grown-ups?
The right hon. Lady is right that it is vitally important that we maintain security co-operation with our European allies. It is the case that we co-operate with not just the other EU27 nations but nations outside the EU on the exchange of information by security and intelligence agencies to keep us safe. That will continue outside the EU. We will continue to co-operate with the Garda Siochana and other police forces to ensure that our citizens are kept safe and the citizenry in our neighbouring countries is kept safe. One thing that I respectfully say to the right hon. Lady—I know that she take these issues incredibly seriously—is that the Home Secretary has written to Frans Timmermans, who is the member of the EU Commission responsible for these issues, saying that we wish to continue co-operating in a number of areas, and the EU has said that it does not wish to continue co-operation. I absolutely respect the right hon. Lady’s commitment to our co-operation with the EU. It is the case that we want to co-operate with the EU more than it currently wants to co-operate with us.
I thank my right hon. Friend for reaffirming the Government’s preference for leaving with a deal—that, today, is an important commitment to many of us on the Government side of the House—but I draw his attention to page 17 of his report, where he says:
“On both the M20 and at Manston, the Government will deploy resources to establish whether drivers have the necessary border documentation prior to proceeding to their point of departure at the Port of Dover or Eurotunnel.”
May I plead—even at this possibly late stage—that some of the checking, which is essential, can be done before the lorries enter the last few miles of their journeys to the port of Dover or Eurotunnel? If we spread these checks around the country, they need not cause any pain to the local traffic system.
My right hon. Friend is absolutely right. The Secretary of State for Transport has ensured that across the United Kingdom, at service stations and other points on our motorway system where hauliers are likely to pause or pass, we are in a position to provide them not just with the information that they need to know whether they are compliant with EU rules, but with the opportunity—if they need to—to correct the paperwork that they have, or if they are not compliant, to turn back, because we want to do everything possible to ensure that non-compliant vehicles get nowhere near Kent for reasons of maintaining the flow at the border and safeguarding the interests of my right hon. Friend’s citizens and other Kent residents.
The business and local authority organisation representing Devon and Cornwall—the Heart of the South West local enterprise partnership—wrote to the right hon. Gentleman last week telling him that with the wholly inadequate mitigation measures that are already in place, a no-deal Brexit would be as bad for our region as foot and mouth, except that it will go on for a lot longer, will it not? Is the organisation wrong?
Thank you, Mr Speaker. If we put aside the rhetoric for one moment, there are granular issues that local resilience forums and local enterprise partnerships address. I would be very grateful to address those and, indeed, to meet the right hon. Gentleman if there are specific questions that he wants to put and specific easements that he wants to see put in place.
I thank my right hon. Friend for his courteous and helpful statement, but I ask the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster and, indeed, former Government Chief Whip: is he proud of the tone and character of quasi-official briefings and language coming out of No. 10? Does he think it is helpful?
My right hon. Friend was kind enough to say that I was courteous; I also thank him for the courtesy and thoughtfulness with which he addresses every issue in this House. He is right: it is important for all of us in public life, whether we are appearing here at the Dispatch Box or working for Government Ministers or Opposition figures, to use language that shows our respect for differing points of view, even as we hold robustly to our own.
This is Brexit reality: £8 billion of taxpayers’ money—the equivalent of 400 brand spanking new state-of-the-art schools—being spent on something that people did not vote for and were not promised. We have just heard about the cost to business—£15 billion—and that is before we have sorted out the tariffs. The leave campaign, of which the right hon. Gentleman was a proud leader, promised that we would not leave the European Union until we had secured a good deal. We were told that it was going to be so easy that it would take somewhere in the matter of a few days. Three and a half years on, the reason why we have not left the EU is that the simple truth is that whichever way we do it, it will harm our economy and cut jobs and the future prosperity of our constituents. He talks about the 17 million people who swallowed many of the falsehoods and fake promises that were made by him and others, forgetting the 29 million who did not vote for us to leave the EU. Is not the only way out of this crisis now to put this matter back to the British people by way of a confirmatory referendum—at last, a people’s vote?
I welcome the publication of the 31 country guides for UK nationals in other EU and EEA countries. I will ask my right hon. Friend a question that I asked our hon. Friend the Member for Worcester (Mr Walker) when he was working on no-deal preparations: is it possible to publish the preparations done by those countries all in the same place so that we can compare countries such as Spain and Denmark, which are doing the right thing for our nationals, with those that perhaps are not?
Page 104 of the document says that the agricultural support will be continued at the current level until the end of this Parliament. Given that the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster wants an election before Christmas, this is possibly the emptiest promise in the whole document. It is no wonder that the National Farmers Union described the Government’s plans as “catastrophic”. He knows that hill farmers will face 48% tariffs on lamb exports. He has a salary of £140,000 a year. They earn £14,000. How can he stand there and behave as if this is not a serious, critical, existential problem?
I am grateful to the hon. Lady for making those points about hill farmers, whom she represents with such energy and passion. She is right—I have never shied away from this fact—that if we leave without a deal some sectors of our economy will face bigger challenges than others. Sheep farmers, along with the Northern Ireland dairy sector, are perhaps two of the sectors most likely to be most adversely affected. We take very seriously our responsibilities towards those who rear and grow the food on which we depend, and that is why my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs has the necessary comprehensive support package to help anyone who may be adversely affected.
We have been extremely generous to 3 million EU citizens residing in this country at the point of no deal. Surely our EU partners could be equally generous in providing assurances for 1 million-odd of our citizens living in Europe. They have been threatened with having to reapply for residence next year, and they do not know where they stand.
Ministers recognise that the key to the level of chaos at Dover after a no-deal Brexit is the number of non-compliant trucks arriving without customs documents. In June, HMRC estimated that number to be at least 20%, or 2,000 a day. What is HMRC’s current estimate?
We are currently revising those estimates, and we hope to publish that revision. One of the key things is that the HMRC calculation of which companies will be ready depends on translating data it has on the amount of goods exported by value into data on the amount exported by volume, and as I am sure the right hon. Gentleman will be aware, that is not an easy calculation to robustly underpin.
I congratulate my right hon. Friend on this work. There is no incompatibility between being well prepared for no deal and working hard for a deal. Does he share my surprise and disappointment that the Irish Government appear to be preparing to carry out customs checks away from the border in a no-deal scenario but appear less willing to talk about customs checks away from the border in a deal scenario?
I thank my right hon. Friend for the enormous amount of work he did when he was Secretary of State for Transport to prepare us for leaving without a deal and the opportunities of life after Brexit. He worked incredibly hard with tremendous focus, passion and energy, and we in this country are all better off for his service in government. I want to put that on the record and underline my thanks to him. He is absolutely right as well that, while of course we respect the sovereignty of the EU and the Irish Government’s position, it is in the Irish Government’s interests to avoid there being infrastructure near the border by collaborating and co-operating with us to secure a deal.
This so-called no-deal readiness report is no such thing. It does not reflect the readiness of businesses in Newcastle for the devastating impact of a no-deal Brexit, it does not talk about currency fluctuations or how many businesses have got their documentation for import and exports, and most importantly it does not talk about how many jobs will be lost. How many jobs will be lost in Newcastle?
Businesses in Newcastle and the north-east, and more broadly, are at various different states of readiness. Some companies that are fully ready see opportunities to grow from the moment we leave. I hope we can work together on making sure that all businesses recognise what they need to do. That is why HMRC and others are, for example, automatically authorising EORI—economic operator registration and identification—numbers and making it easier for people to take advantage of transitional simplified procedures.
Does my right hon. Friend recognise that there will be dismay today among the UK oil refining sector at the Government’s announcement of their no-deal tariff plans, which remove the level playing field for its trade with the EU? How do the Government plan to support these important strategic assets for the country?
My right hon. Friend makes a very good point. It was important in looking at our tariffs that we did everything possible to ensure that prices remained low for consumers and industry, but there are bespoke arrangements we can put in place to support our refineries, which do such an important job.
The Prime Minister and his Government will never be forgotten or forgiven for undermining the Belfast/Good Friday agreement, which has guaranteed peace and stability for all of us in the 21 years since it was signed. That agreement was endorsed in two referendums—one in Northern Ireland, one in the Republic of Ireland. Thousands upon thousands of people voted for the agreement in those two referendums. When will the Prime Minister feel honour-bound to respect those referendums?
My hon. Friend knows that I have enormous respect for her, not just as a parliamentarian but because of her distinguished career in public service in Northern Ireland. I do not believe that it is the Prime Minister’s intention for a moment to undermine the Belfast agreement. The hon. Lady and I have talked in and outside the Chamber about the importance of supporting all those who believe in maintaining the gains of peace over the last 21 years. I do not believe it is the Prime Minister’s intention to undermine it at all. Far from it: we believe that our proposal is consistent with the Belfast agreement, but I understand that there will be people of good conscience who disagree.
I draw the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster back to the opening part of his statement, where he talked about the prospects of a deal. If the reports this morning are accurate about the call between the Prime Minister and the Chancellor of Germany, they are very worrying. It cannot be the case that we can only leave the EU by leaving part of our country behind. That will not just mean that we will not get a deal by 31 October; it will mean we will not be able to get a deal at all. If that is the position, can I urge him and his Cabinet colleagues to hold fast to our position and urge our European partners to look at the Prime Minister’s constructive proposals and negotiate them over the next couple of weeks so that we can get a deal? I am sure that all those on the Opposition Benches worried about a no deal would be in the Division Lobby supporting it.
My right hon. Friend makes a very important point. In our proposal we have said that the people of Northern Ireland will be subject to the European acquis as it applies to manufacturing goods and agri-foods. That causes some discomfort for some in Northern Ireland, but we cannot accept the idea of a customs border inside our own country. No country on earth would allow a customs border to be erected between its own people. If it is the case—I have not heard that it is —that any politician says that Northern Ireland must stay in the customs union come what may, they are saying either that we should generate dynamic forces that separate our country or that the UK can only leave the EU on terms that the EU dictates. That cannot be acceptable.
The document makes it clear that environmental standards will be not only maintained but enhanced. Yesterday, a leaked DEFRA paper, written by civil servants, said that the Department for International Trade would push DEFRA to lower UK standards governing animal welfare and pesticide residues. Does that not indicate that the document is not worth the paper it is written on?
We are taking steps to improve animal welfare standards when we leave the EU, not least by taking steps to end the live export of animals to Europe. We are also introducing legislation on everything from puppy farming to banning the use of primates as pets, which means that the UK, as a nation of animal lovers, will lead the world in animal welfare.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that the Benn Act, which was rushed through the House last month, actually makes getting a deal harder for the Government, and that if we are forced to delay, not only will it extend the uncertainty for our businesses, which want this matter resolved, but it will simply mean we are having this same discussion three weeks before the new deadline?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. I know that there were good people who voted for the right hon. Gentleman’s Act thinking that it would help the country, and I do not cast any aspersions on their motivation, but let us look at the consequences. The consequences are that it is more difficult to secure a deal, and as a result I hope that all those who voted for the Act—and I respect their motivation—reflect on the position in which we now find ourselves.
Page 49 of the document states:
“The Government has permitted EU airlines to continue to fly to and from the UK until 24 October 2020”.
How does the Minister envisage the situation after that, given the point that he has rightly made about business certainty, and what is the position regarding new routes that may be opened up during that time?
Figures from the Institute for Fiscal Studies show that after 10 years of austerity we are back to square one, with no discernible global financial crisis to explain the Government’s incompetent handling of the finances. Would any other Government whose finances were in that state consider a no-deal Brexit?
According to the feedback from local businesses at a business event that I held in my constituency, the delay created by Opposition Members who are refusing to back the deal that the Government are negotiating is more damaging than the current state of affairs. Does my right hon. Friend agree with that?
Order. All these references to named individuals are quite improper. The right hon. Gentleman no doubt luxuriated in the lather of the Oxford Union, in which he excelled, and he excels in this House other than in that respect. He should wash his mouth out, and should refer to Ministers not by name but by title, which he is well able to do.
The Minister is not being straight with us. He has the gall to claim that UK environmental standards post-Brexit will be a beacon to the world, but in reality he is planning to cut those standards. The document claims that the carbon price will apply “at a similar level” to that under the EU emissions trading system, but page 64 makes it clear that the new carbon emissions price will be about half the EU price. If the Government are going to cut incentives to tackle the climate crisis, will they at least be honest about it?
Would it not be better for my farming constituents today if the Government would listen to the concerns of Minette Batters of the National Farmers Union about the tariff regime resulting from no deal, rather than allowing their advisers to blame the EU, blame everyone else, and create new barriers to prevent a deal that the tone of last week was so determined to secure?
My right hon. Friend is absolutely right: Minette Batters is a powerful and effective advocate for farmers in the UK, and she too is right. I know from my previous job, and from my role as a constituency MP, that the sector of our economy that faces some of the biggest challenges in the event of no deal is agriculture, and within that there are particular sectors that face particularly stringent challenges. I think it important that the tariff regime that we published today provides protection for some particularly vulnerable sectors, but more needs to be done. As for my right hon. Friend’s broader point about tone, I believe that positivity and optimism are critical to ensuring that, whatever noises off there may be, we keep our eyes on the prize, which is a deal with the European Union.
May I urge the Minister just to pause and reflect on the deliberate dog-whistle briefing issued this morning by No. 10 against Angela Merkel, the German Chancellor, in respect of the phone call reported to have taken place between her and the Prime Minister? It has sparked a series of frankly racist attacks against the Germans, from Leave.EU and others. This is an extremely dangerous course for the Government to embark on, and I want to hear—right now—the Minister condemn and distance himself from it.
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for raising the matter. First, let me say that I was not in on that telephone call. Secondly, let me affirm that the Bundeskanzlerin and the Government of the Federal Republic are good friends of this country. I had the opportunity to speak at the German day of national unity event at the German embassy last week, when I affirmed our commitment to friendship and the respect that we have for the German people for their achievements since 1945 as a democracy that we can all admire. Let me take this opportunity, at the Dispatch Box, to dissociate myself entirely from any sort of racist or demeaning language towards Germany. The Germans are our friends and our allies, and Germany is a great country.
I must say to the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster that my sense is that that statement will be very warmly welcomed across the House, but also by a great many people outside this place, whatever their view about Brexit. It is important that decorous language is used, and the right hon. Gentleman has just been an exponent of it.
I agree with my right hon. Friend. As someone who voted for a deal three times, I am pleased to hear that that is still the Government’s policy.
Many people will already have plans for travel beyond 31 October. Notwithstanding point 4 on page 41 of the document, and the answers that he gave my right hon. Friends the Members for Basingstoke (Mrs Miller) and for North Thanet (Sir Roger Gale), will the Minister say how many reciprocal healthcare deals have been signed, and how many memorandums of understanding are likely to be signed, before 31 October?
We have reciprocal healthcare agreements with a number of member states. Spain is the most prominent, but we are working through each of the member states. I will be sure to write to my hon. Friend informing him of not just the details of the arrangements that we have reached with every country, but the steps that we continue to take in order to ensure that our citizens’ rights are protected there.
The Government’s business readiness fund, which sets aside just £15 million to help businesses, will be more than washed away by the cost to business of—according to the Financial Times—an extra £15 billion, 1,000 times more. Is this not just another example of the Prime Minister’s attitude towards business?
The business readiness fund has been well subscribed by organisations such as the Institute of Directors and the Federation of Small Businesses, to make sure that businesses are prepared for life outside the EU.
The leave campaign made the position clear, and people voted for us to leave both the single market and the customs union. Yes, leaving the customs union means new customs procedures with the EU, but it also means that we have opportunities to strike new trade deals with other countries, and to be a champion for freer trade across the world. Freer trade reduces prices for consumers in this country, and also helps the developing world. I should have thought that supporting the poorest in this country, and supporting the poorest globally, would recommend itself to the Liberal Democrats.
What is the cash value of the support that my right hon. Friend plans to make available for agricultural and manufacturing businesses in the event of no deal, specifically in terms of the impact on them of new export tariffs in that scenario?
My hon. Friend has made a very good point. Not just tariffs—which will particularly affect some in the agricultural sector—but other events and other frictions could have an adverse effect on specific businesses and specific sectors. That is why my right hon. Friends the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the Business Secretary have Operation Kingfisher, which is a means of making sure that we can support any company that is fundamentally viable but experiences turbulence for a short period.
Over the years, I have become something of a Gove-watcher. Is it not a fact that, in his heart of hearts, the right hon. Gentleman really now knows that this country is being led to disaster by a man whom he neither likes nor trusts?
No, I do not take that view. The hon. Gentleman is an old friend, and I therefore take his comments in good part, but no: I admire the Prime Minister, and I know that what he is trying to do is what the Government are trying to do, which is to honour the votes of his constituents so that we can leave the EU.
Three million tonnes of the Republic of Ireland’s goods travel to and from the EU via the UK land bridge, and without a deal they will be liable for customs checks, tariffs and quotas. Does the Minister agree that, more than those of any other country, the best interests of the Republic will be served if the UK leaves the EU with a deal?
My hon. Friend and I both want to make sure that the Republic of Ireland is in the strongest possible position after we leave the European Union, and the best thing for the UK, for the Republic of Ireland and for the many interests that we share across these islands is to secure a deal.
The Prime Minister is trying to shift the UK away from EU rules on the environment, safety standards and workers’ rights in order to secure a trade deal with Donald Trump. Has the Prime Minister had any discussions with the Trades Union Congress or with any trade union, and have you had any yourself, Minister?
Both the hon. Gentleman and I have been trade union members. We have both been involved in industrial action and we both know how important it is to uphold workers’ rights. I have had the opportunity to meet not just the TUC but other trade unions. My own view is that workers’ protection matters and that we have higher standards of workers’ protection than the EU mandates, and that will continue.
Although this document shows the considerable work being done on the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster’s watch, it none the less reinforces his stated view that there is no good day for a no-deal Brexit. If the Labour party agrees with him and me on that, is it not time, given that Opposition Members were all elected on a manifesto to respect the referendum, for them to say that they will avoid no deal by supporting the deal, and would that not in turn help the negotiations?
I think it would, and, to be fair, the attitude of EU member states and others towards the proposition that we have put forward would, I hope, be warmer and more flexible if they knew that it had support across the House. The hon. Members for Stoke-on-Trent Central (Gareth Snell) and for Stoke-on-Trent North (Ruth Smeeth) issued a cautious welcome to the deal, as did the hon. Member for Aberavon (Stephen Kinnock). If that were the view of those on the Opposition Front Bench, it would be better for the whole country.
May I pick up the point about this being a comprehensive summary? There are two sentences referencing border inspection posts, which will seriously impact our food and fish exports. There will be only nine, as I think the Secretary of State understands. That will lead not to hundreds of certain certificates being issued, but to tens or hundreds of thousands. Does he agree that we do not have the capacity in our local authorities or the vets to service that?
The hon. Gentleman makes an important point. The key thing is that we will be taking a continuity approach towards the flow of goods into this country. We will not be administering checks for the EU when EU businesses export to us. The EU will, of course, impose checks under its acquis, although the French authorities, for example, have ensured that the border inspection posts for shellfish will be in Boulogne-sur-Mer. That means that fish caught in Scotland on Tuesday can be on sale in France on Wednesday without any impairment.
The Prime Minister assured me on Thursday that he would seek to engage with the Deputy Irish Prime Minister, Simon Coveney, over the Irish Government’s concerns about a minority in Northern Ireland potentially having a veto over the border arrangements. I was unable to get an update yesterday from the Under-Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union. Can the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster provide us with an update on whether the Prime Minister has sought to have those discussion or not?
I know that my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union will write to the hon. Gentleman. More broadly, one of the key things that the Prime Minister and others have said is that we need to secure consent in Northern Ireland for the arrangements in our proposals, but how we secure that consent is a matter for discussion.
My right hon. Friend will recall that two weeks ago I and other hon. Members raised our concerns about the no-deal preparations being done by the Scottish Government. Has he had a chance to speak to the Scottish Government about our concerns yet? If he has, can he say how much money that has been sent north has made its way to local authorities in Scotland that need to take relevant action?
The Scottish Government have this afternoon published their own no-deal preparations. I have scanned them in detail and I cannot see that money has gone to the local authorities most in need. A miserly £50,000 has gone to each local authority in Scotland. That is not enough to ensure that local authorities such as Aberdeenshire have the capacity to issue the export health certificates that the fishing industry needs. I am deeply worried that the Scottish Government, despite containing many good Ministers, are not passing on the money that we are giving to them for Scotland’s citizens.
Page 153 is about preventing terrorism, child abuse and criminal gangs. The document says that there will be a mutual loss of capability between the EU and the UK in the event of no deal. The right hon. Gentleman is not going to let that happen, is he?
I welcome the Minister’s report and the detail that he has provided. I have a simple question for him. He knows that I have been campaigning for citizens’ rights. In the event of no deal on exit day, British citizens in the middle of treatment will receive treatment only for a further 12 months. Why can we not just provide healthcare costs for people suffering from terminal cancer or motor neurone disease, who, through no fault of their own, find themselves in this position?
The intransigence of the Irish Government and the EU has resulted in the comprehensive proposals put forward by the Prime Minister and the compromises that were required being rejected. In the light of that, will the Minister think again about his policy of not imposing duties on goods coming from the Irish Republic, in order to protect producers in Northern Ireland and put some pressure on the Irish Government to be realistic?
I congratulate my right hon. Friend on his documents and on his crisp and effective chairmanship of the daily XO—EU exit operations—committees. I notice that he talks about the environmental safeguards in great detail. Does he think, therefore, that the current desecration of Cubbington Wood by HS2, despite the moratorium, might be better controlled after Brexit?
We spoke in questions recently about pallets. I raise the issue again today because on page 113 of the recently published report the Government say that there must be compliance with ISPM 15—international standards for phytosanitary measure No. 15—to export into Europe, but on page 115 they suggest that compliance only “may” be needed. To help those trying to export on pallets that will be accepted, which is it?
Without access to tens of thousands of seasonal workers, our soft fruit industry in Angus and across the UK will suffer. Will my right hon. Friend confirm that he recognises the importance of having a mechanism in place to ensure a smooth route for businesses to continue to function by having access to labour in a no-deal situation?
Thank you, Mr Speaker. In the light of recent fake news from the Prime Minister about a shiny new hospital in Canterbury, which currently has no A&E or urgent treatment centres, can the Minister please guarantee that, with the possible chaos resulting from Operation Brock, my constituents will still be able to get to the William Harvey Hospital in Ashford for the urgent care that they desperately need?
I thank the hon. Lady for her question and underline your comments, Mr Speaker, about her amazing speech last week. We have been looking to ensure that we can accelerate the roadworks on junction 10A in order to ensure that access to the William Harvey for the hon. Lady’s constituents and others can be uninterrupted. I hope to be able to brief her and other Kent MPs on some of the other steps that we are taking in the next week.
Does the fuel supply contingency programme mentioned on page 61 make special allowance for the predicted closure of two refineries, which was outlined in the Yellowhammer document? If not, why not? When will the Government tell us which two refineries they think are at risk?
There are six major refineries across the United Kingdom. There have been representations from the energy sector about our tariff regime. We stand ready—in particular, the Business Secretary stands ready—to support all our refineries and the vital work they do.
First, may I indicate that, with your permission, Mr Speaker, I intend to raise a point of order at the end of this item of business about comments made by the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster earlier that were deeply offensive to me and many others? However, given the damage that has been done to relationships between the United Kingdom and Germany by the deliberate, malicious and almost certainly inaccurate leaking of a private phone call between the two Heads of Government, will he, the next time he speaks to his very good friend the Minister for the Cabinet Office, ask how quickly we can be given a statement by the Cabinet Office that confirms that the culprit—there are only two possible suspects—has been identified and removed from No. 10 before they can do any more damage?