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EU Withdrawal Agreement: Covid-19

Volume 675: debated on Monday 4 May 2020

What assessment he has made of the effect of the covid-19 outbreak on the Government’s ability to implement and apply the withdrawal agreement by 31 December 2020. (902098)

From 20 to 24 April, a full and constructive negotiating round took place, with a full range of discussions across all workstreams. Our next scheduled round of talks with our EU friends will take place in the week beginning 11 May.

Everyone will understand that we have left the European Union and everyone will understand that the impact of covid-19 might have an impact on the timetable for negotiating our future relationship, so why will the Minister not give businesses the reassurance they need that if the Government need more time, they will take more time? Is it dogma; is it vanity; or is it paranoia?

The hon. Gentleman provides a helpful list of conditions, but it is none of those. It is plain prudence. Were we to perpetuate our membership of the European Union-lite through the transition period, we would end up spending more taxpayers’ money, which could be spent on the NHS. We would have to accept new EU rules that might constrain our ability to fight covid-19 and to deal with other crises, and we would, of course, be unfortunately and unfairly trespassing on the EU’s need to concentrate on other vital priorities.

Can my right hon. Friend inform my constituents in Don Valley whether the covid-19 pandemic is likely to lead to an extension of the transition period?

I can reassure my hon. Friend and the good people of Don Valley that the Government are not going to extend the transition period at the end of this year.

Michel Barnier, the leader of the EU negotiating team, has expressed frustration that the UK’s negotiators seem happy to run down the clock on leaving the transition with no deal in place at the end of this year. We have already heard repeated warnings of the perils of a cliff-edge Brexit, which could be calamitous for the economy at a time when businesses are fragile and crave stability. Will the Chancellor of the Duchy do the right thing by ensuring that his party does not bring about this calamity?

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for raising this issue. There have been cordial conversations and negotiations between our negotiator David Frost and Michel Barnier, and I would not want to prejudice those by making any criticism of Michel Barnier, other than to say that he will negotiate hard on behalf of the Commission, but we will negotiate hard on behalf of the whole United Kingdom.

Is it not the case that what businesses want more than anything else is certainty that this Government will not do anything to compound the economic difficulties caused by this pandemic? The Government could not of course do anything to stop covid coming to our shores, but it is in their hands to stop further economic misery from a disastrous Brexit. Does the Minister agree that the last thing businesses need is more economic turbulence and that the certainty they seek is one that says there will be no no-deal Brexit and there will be an extension to let them recover from this pandemic?

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for the point he makes. There will not be a no-deal Brexit; we have a deal, and that deal was legislated for in the House of Commons. I think he is right: it is important that we give business certainty, and I think one of the best ways of giving business certainty is recognising that we respect referendums. That is why this House has voted to respect the referendum that saw the British people take us out of the European Union, and I would urge him and others to respect the referendum that made it clear that the people of Scotland want to stay in the United Kingdom, instead of having the damaging uncertainty of an indyref2 hanging over future investment decisions.