With permission, Madam Deputy Speaker, I would like to make a statement on the Government’s negotiations on our future relationship with the European Union.
Yesterday the Prime Minister met the President of the European Council, Charles Michel, the President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, and the President of the European Parliament, David Sassoli, via video conference. The purpose of this high-level meeting, as the political declaration puts it, was to take stock of progress on the negotiations and to agree actions to move forward. All parties agreed that now was the moment to accelerate the pace of these negotiations—in the Prime Minister’s words, to
“put a tiger in the tank”.
The three Presidents welcomed the Prime Minister’s call for greater pace, focus and flexibility in the negotiations, and the tempo of the talks process has now been escalated.
I am pleased to say that both sides pledged yesterday, in a joint statement that was made public immediately afterwards, that they would intensify the talks in July and, if possible, seek to find an early understanding on the principles underlying any agreement. Our respective chief negotiators and their teams will therefore intensify talks from the end of this month, starting on 29 June. I also welcome the Commission President’s statement yesterday that the EU is available 24/7, and we will be too. Meetings will take place every week in July, with a keen focus on finding an early understanding on the principles that will underpin a broad agreement. As the Prime Minister said yesterday, the faster we can do this, the better. We are looking to get things done in July. We do not want to see this process going on into the autumn and then the winter. We all need certainty, and that is what we are aiming to provide.
Yesterday’s high-level meeting followed the second meeting of the withdrawal agreement Joint Committee, which took place on Friday 12 June, again via video conference. I am grateful to the Vice-President of the European Commission, Maroš Šefčovič, for the very constructive way in which progress was made under his chairmanship. In that meeting, I set out our plans to implement the protocol on Ireland and Northern Ireland, and updated the EU on our ongoing work to protect the rights of EU citizens in the UK. This is a priority for the UK Government. I also sought assurance, for our part, that the EU intended to meet its obligations under the withdrawal agreement around the protection of the rights of our nationals currently living in the EU. We have concerns in this area, and we will continue to press the EU to ensure that our citizens’ rights are properly protected.
If we are to make the progress that we all want to see in our negotiations on the future relationship, we all need to be both clear-eyed and constructive. Our EU partners agreed yesterday that during the four full negotiating rounds completed to date, we have all gained greater clarity and understanding of our respective positions. Discussions have been productive and legal texts have been exchanged, even as both sides have had to deal with uniquely difficult challenges posed by the coronavirus pandemic.
But as my right hon. Friend the Paymaster General advised the House last week, following the fourth round of negotiations it is still the case that there has been insufficient movement on the most difficult areas where differences of principle remain. We are committed, in line with the political declaration, to securing a comprehensive free trade agreement with the EU built on the precedents of the agreements that the EU has reached with other sovereign states such as Canada, Japan and South Korea—and we are ready to be flexible about how we secure an FTA that works for both sides. The UK, however, has been clear throughout that the new relationship we seek with the EU must fully reflect our regained sovereignty, independence and autonomy. We did not vote in June 2016 to leave the EU but still to be run by the EU. We cannot agree to a deal that gives the EU Court of Justice a role in our future relationship, we cannot accept restrictions on our legislative and economic freedom—unprecedented in any other free trade agreement—and we cannot agree to the EU’s demand that we stick to the status quo on its access to British fishing waters.
There must be movement, and the clock is ticking. The transition period ends on 31 December. That was a manifesto pledge on which the Government were elected, and it was the instruction from the electorate in the 2016 referendum: to leave the single market and the customs union and to grant the opportunities of full and economic and political independence. Four years on from the referendum result, no one can argue that this is a rushed or precipitate step. It is delivering at last on democracy. We will manage the adjustment required at the end of the transition period in a flexible and pragmatic way to minimise any challenges and to maximise all opportunities, but the call from Opposition politicians to extend the transition period is not in the national interest.
Staying under the EU’s control after this December would mean paying money into EU budgets that we could spend on our NHS, accepting new laws over which we would have no say—laws shaped in the interests of others—and being prevented from taking the actions that we need to supercharge our economic recovery. That would clearly not be in our national interest. There is no intrinsic reason why a deal cannot be concluded in good time. As Roberto Azevêdo, the director general of the World Trade Organisation, confirmed at the weekend, a deal between the UK and the EU can be reached in a timely way if the political will is there.
The UK’s political will is there. Our position is reasonable, based on precedent, and we still have the time to bring a deal home. That is why the Prime Minister has led the drive to accelerate these talks, to reach agreement, and to ensure that next January, we leave the regulatory reach of the EU and embrace the new opportunities that our independence will bring. I commend the statement to the House.
Four years ago today, I was at Leeds General Infirmary with Jo Cox’s parents and her sister. I will never forget that day and all that we lost. Today we remember Jo and remind ourselves of her values and all that she stood for.
I thank the Minister for an advance copy of his statement today. Following the meeting on Friday, both the UK and the EU confirmed that there is not going to be an extension of negotiations beyond the end of this year, which puts the focus firmly on both sides to secure the deal that they describe in the political declaration. The right hon. Gentleman knows full well what a calamity leaving only on World Trade Organisation terms would be for our country. Last year, the Minister told the Oxford farming conference that small farms would be hardest hit by the barriers and tariffs of trading on WTO terms. That is on top of what many farmers fear from a lack of safeguards from cheap imports with lower environmental and animal welfare standards.
This is not an isolated incident of uncertainty. In the automotive industry, Nissan says:
“We’ve modelled every possible ramification of Brexit and the fact remains that our entire business…is not sustainable in the event of WTO tariffs”.
Similar warnings have been issued by Vauxhall’s owners about their future presence in Ellesmere Port. The Minister has made clear in the past why it is important to secure a deal, so will he explain again today why a deal is better than leaving on WTO terms?
The Prime Minister has staked his own authority on having an “oven-ready” deal, but in his statement the Minister said that we wanted to intensify talks in July and find, if possible, an early understanding of principles underlying any agreement. That does not sound like an oven-ready deal to me, and is a cause of great concern for all of us. The ingredients of such a deal were published, and the country expects them to be delivered.
The Minister has referred today to his manifesto pledges to end the transition period at the end of this year, so may I remind him of some other pledges in that manifesto? First,
“no tariffs, fees, charges or quantitative restrictions”
across all sectors. Will the Government give UK industries and workforces peace of mind and prevent their business models from rupturing in the coming months? Late on Thursday, the Government published a written statement indicating a U-turn on border controls, perhaps recognising that they simply have not done enough to prepare for new rules that they wanted to introduce. That does nothing, however, to help British businesses that export to the UK. The Minister said in his statement that the Government would manage the commitments required, but he cannot make that pledge unilaterally. How will the Government help exporters, who will face those rules from day one?
Secondly, the Conservative manifesto told voters that the Brexit deal would safeguard workers’ rights, consumer and environmental protections. Does the Minister agree that it is essential that the UK defends those standards in all trade negotiations with other countries? People want to see the UK win a race to the top, not be forced into a race to the bottom, overseen by an overseas president.
Thirdly, we were promised a
“broad, comprehensive and balanced security partnership.”
There is no greater priority than keeping the British people safe and secure. On 3 June, with regard to European criminal records data, the right hon. Member for Maidenhead (Mrs May) asked for
“reassurance that as from 1 January 2021, the UK will have access to the quantity and quality of data that it currently has”. —[Official Report, 3 June 2020; Vol. 676, c. 846.]
Will the Minister provide an answer? Two weeks ago, the Prime Minister was unable to do so.
Fourthly, we were told that whatever happens, the UK will respect the Good Friday agreement. Many Northern Irish businesses, including manufacturing firms, have integrated supply chains across the United Kingdom. Unite and GMB members working at Bombardier in Belfast are reeling from the prospect of more redundancies following the covid-19 crisis. We need to stem the tide of job losses, not exacerbate them. Firms in Northern Ireland need to know the real-world detail of the business environment in which they will be operating, the precise checks and controls that they need to implement, and the operational readiness of the systems that they will be using in just 29 weeks’ time. It is far from reassuring that according to paragraph 28 of the UK Command Paper, the Government have so far committed to
“produce full guidance to business…before the end of the transition period.”
That could be December. That simply is not good enough for British businesses.
Finally, on the same day that the Prime Minister claimed that the impasse can be resolved and a deal achieved in July, the Government signed up to two further negotiating rounds, concluding on 21 August. Is July a serious proposal, or is it one of those over-promises to which we have become accustomed from the Prime Minister, agreed in haste to win a headline only to fall by the wayside when reality bites?
With that in mind, and thinking firmly about what is best for the United Kingdom, Labour wants the Government to succeed in achieving the deal that they promised and to avoid the perils of the alternative. The Government must fulfil their pledges to the British people in order to protect jobs, secure our food and medical supplies, and protect our citizens’ safety and security. We urge both sides to show the flexibility required to achieve a deal in our national interest.
I thank the hon. Lady for her response, her questions and her support for a united effort to secure a good deal in the interests of the United Kingdom and the European Union. May I also once again extend my sympathy to her and others who were close friends of Jo Cox? Her death four years ago was an unimaginable tragedy, and I cannot begin to imagine what it must have been like for those who were so close to Jo.
The hon. Lady asked about an oven-ready deal; of course, that oven-ready deal was cooked before 31 January, which is why we left the European Union. The withdrawal agreement, which we are now faithfully implementing and which includes the Northern Ireland protocol, was a deal that secured support across this House of Commons. We are now taking all the steps necessary to ensure that that deal can be effectively implemented. Of course, we also seek a future trading relationship with the European Union but, if the European Union is incapable of concluding that relationship, we are ready to trade successfully on our own terms. That is why the steps with respect to the border that she mentioned were taken and confirmed last Friday and universally welcomed by business as a pragmatic and flexible way of providing both certainty and the flexibility that is required for business to continue.
The hon. Lady mentioned a variety of sectors that will obviously be affected by our relationship with the European Union. She mentioned agriculture; it is naturally the case that, of course, we want to maintain tariff-free access to European markets for our farmers, but it is also the case, as she knows, that we run a deficit in agri-food goods with the EU, so if there were to be no deal, European producers would be adversely affected to a greater extent than UK producers. But that would be in nobody’s interests.
The hon. Lady mentioned the importance of manufacturing. I agree with her—it is important that we secure a deal that works in manufacturing’s interests—but it is also important that we all recognise that before we left the European Union there was speculation that we would see a flight of manufacturing jobs from the UK to other countries. It is instructive to see the way in which Nissan, to which the hon. Lady referred, has reshored production to the UK, and how Unilever, after thinking about whether or not it should relocate its headquarters to the Netherlands, decided to keep its headquarters in the UK—all, as the BBC might put it, despite Brexit.
The hon. Lady asked about workers’ rights, environmental rights and consumers’ rights. The UK has a proud record in all those areas. Governments both Labour and Conservative, and politicians from Barbara Castle to Margaret Thatcher, have been in the van of ensuring that, whether it is equal pay or the fight against climate change, the UK has led and will continue to lead the world. In any trade or other agreements that we sign, our commitment to the rights of our citizens, to protection for workers and to putting the future of the planet first is absolutely non-negotiable.
The hon. Lady asked about security and the tools and instruments available. We do believe that it is possible to make progress on a suite of arrangements to safeguard the security of British citizens, but one thing that we cannot do is accept the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice. We voted to be an independent nation and we must honour that decision. Democracy is more important than any other principle.
The hon. Lady mentioned the Good Friday agreement. Of course, the Northern Ireland protocol is there and is being implemented by this Government in order to ensure that the principles of the Good Friday agreement are upheld. One of those is unfettered access for Northern Ireland businesses to the rest of the United Kingdom, and I hope that she and her party will support any legislation that may be required in order to ensure that we have unfettered access for goods across the whole United Kingdom.
The hon. Lady ended by saying that the Prime Minister was showing haste. Indeed, the Prime Minister is determined that we should conclude a deal. It is in the interests of everyone that we have certainty. As long as the Labour party is silent on whether it would seek an extension, uncertainty will still hover over this process.
Regardless of any mixed metaphors, the EU and the UK have both committed not to extend the transition period beyond December, meaning that time is of the essence and must surely focus minds. Can my right hon Friend assure me that the Cabinet Office has sufficient capacity to work intensively to strike a deal, notwithstanding other pressing matters?
My hon. Friend makes a very good point. Taskforce Europe, the team that is engaged in making sure that we secure a good deal with the EU, has drawn on resources from across Government, including from the Cabinet Office—it is led, of course, by the Prime Minister’s sherpa, David Frost—but I believe we have an excellent team well capable of taking forward all strands in this negotiation.
May I start by thanking the right hon. Gentleman? He, more than any other senior Tory, has made the single biggest contribution to the cause of independence in Scotland. It is his supreme efforts around Brexit that have pushed support for Scottish independence to sustained majority support. All of us who support an independent Scotland salute him today, and the statue will soon be commissioned in Aberdeen harbour.
I am sure all that nonsense and Euro-blaming he just spouted looks like progress to him, but for us in Scotland it just confirms why we want to get out of their dysfunctional Union. Just look at last week. The right hon. Gentleman totally and contemptuously ignored the representations from all the devolved Administrations about Brexit extension. He treated them with such disdain that they felt there was no point engaging with him any longer. They decided they would be better off washing their overabundant collective hair than listening to this Government again tell them what they should do and what to think about their chaotic Brexit plans. So I ask the Secretary of State: what is the point? What is the point of devolved Administrations engaging with him and his Government anymore? A tiger has been put in the tank. That tank is labelled “Scottish independence”.
I am very grateful to the hon. Gentleman for that gallimaufry of not so much mixed as entangled metaphors. May I first of all congratulate him on wishing to erect statues rather than pull them down? I would be delighted to be carved in marble, bronze or whatever is the appropriate material, anywhere in Scotland, but I have to say that I do not deserve it. May I also say that as long as his smiling features gaze down on us, we know that the Union is safe. We know that the cause of Scottish nationalism, despite the ardour with which he puts his case, sadly will not prevail intellectually, morally, economically or politically.
The hon. Gentleman makes the point, of course, that there has been a difference of opinion between the Scottish Government and the UK Government on the question of extension, but there has been extensive engagement between the Scottish Government, the Welsh Government, the Northern Ireland Executive and our Government. Of course, even if we have taken different views, we have also worked together in order to safeguard the interests of our United Kingdom.
The hon. Gentleman made the point that some politicians would have been washing their hair instead of engaging in serious negotiations. All I can say is that rather than washing their hair, they were washing their hands of their responsibility to the people of this country. I hope that his colleagues in the Scottish Government will continue, as they have for most of this year, to engage in the constructive fashion for which they are well known in making sure that the interest of every citizen of the United Kingdom is protected.
On 1 January, the UK will emerge as a sovereign trading nation, and it is clear from my right hon. Friend’s statement that with good will on both sides and a recognition of this sovereignty there is a deal to be done. Will he confirm that if a deal is not done, the UK stands ready and able to trade with the world?
My hon. Friend is right; should we not secure a comprehensive free trade agreement with the EU, we will be free to trade, not just with the EU, but with other nations, to our advantage.
The Government’s decision to abandon the introduction of full customs checks and controls on EU imports from 1 January is a recognition that firms are simply not ready, yet the right hon. Gentleman knows that, regardless of whether an agreement is reached with the EU or not, British businesses will face checks, controls and red tape on exports to the EU from January. Given his decision, and given coronavirus, why does he think British businesses will be able to cope with that?
British businesses responded warmly to the announcement we made on Friday as a pragmatic and flexible approach. The only alternative to the approach we outlined would be to extend the transition period. I know that is the position of the Labour party in London and in Wales, but we do not know what the position of the Labour party in London and in Leeds is. [Hon. Members: “What?”] We do not know the position of the Labour Front-Bench and the right hon. Member for Leeds Central (Hilary Benn).
Will the Minister promise that any fisheries agreement made with the EU will provide for annual negotiations and reflect the UK’s status as an independent coastal state, and that we will not see a repeat of the betrayal we saw in 1972?
I am very conscious of the mistakes made during our accession and the damage that the common fisheries policy has done, not just to our coastal communities, but to the husbanding of a very valuable marine resource. We have certainly made it clear to the EU that we will be an independent coastal state and we will have annual negotiations.
The right hon. Gentleman has come here throwing out phrases such as “tiger in the tank” and is trying to gear up on the optimism, but last week the EU’s chief negotiator said that “progress remains limited”. What makes the right hon. Gentleman think that progress, which has been so limited in the past, will all miraculously resolve itself by the end of July?
It is the case that progress has been limited, but the impetus that was lent to the talks not just by the Prime Minister but by the three European Presidents yesterday was a clear signal of intent, and we will work with good will with our European partners in order to conclude an agreement as quickly as possible.
Our two French-speaking dogs cross the channel several times a year, Mr Minister, on a pet passport. On their behalf and on behalf of all other dog owners—
What kind of dogs?
Labradors. On behalf of all pet owners who take their dogs abroad on a pet passport, may I ask my right hon. Friend whether similar arrangements will be in place after 31 December?
Yes, I completely sympathise with my hon. Friend and many other responsible pet owners. In my previous role as Secretary of State at the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, we worked on arrangements in order to ensure that travellers could take their pets abroad when they are visiting the EU and vice versa. If I may, let me say this: nous défendrons toujours les droits des chiens.
I can see why, with everything else going wrong for them, the Government want to rehash their greatest hits, but the right hon. Gentleman seems to have missed a fundamental 80% of our GDP, which is services, and financial passporting, in particular. Will he guarantee a financial equivalence regime at the end of all this or is it just blue passports that playing to the gallery allows him?
I did not mention the colour of passports in my statement, but I am grateful to the hon. Lady for reminding the House that this is one of the many new freedoms we will enjoy outside the EU. I pledged, as did the Prime Minister, always to report back to this House on the progress of negotiations, which is why I am here. On the substantive question, the question of equivalence is one the EU will grant on the basis of an objective rules-based process; it is not a matter for negotiations. Equivalence on both financial services and data adequacy flows as a result of the EU’s internal processes, rather than an external negotiation.
I welcome the statement. From speaking to businesses in my constituency, it is clear that they have gone through an unprecedented time of uncertainty with not only the current pandemic, but the prolonged Brexit saga. What we need to do now is give them clarity, so does my right hon. Friend agree that by rejecting calls to extend the transition period, we will give businesses right across the UK the certainty that they need to successfully plan for life outside the EU and get themselves ready for the many opportunities as part of a more globalised economy?
My hon. Friend makes a very, very good point. He echoes the words of Carolyn Fairbairn of the Confederation of British Industry, who said:
“We have left the EU politically. We do now need to leave the EU economically. Business does not have any interest in delaying that because that is uncertainty magnified”—
The Prime Minister once famously observed that
“there are no disasters, only opportunities”—
and indeed, opportunities for fresh disasters. While it is hard to negotiate any deal worse than no deal, it is clearly not beyond the modest abilities of even this Government to do exactly that, so why not limit the opportunity for fresh disasters by seeking an extension and taking as long as is necessary to establish a coherent negotiating position and to then negotiate the least harmful version of Brexit that they are capable of?
It is the case that we have a clear negotiating position—one that was supported in the general election last year—and it will be the case that the hon. Member’s constituents will benefit from the new opportunities that being outside the European Union will bring—being outside the common fisheries policy, having access so that Scots farmers can secure new markets for their high-quality produce, and, at the same time, safeguarding the high-quality standards on environment and animal welfare that are at the heart of the UK’s world brand.
The Government were elected with a substantial majority and a clear mandate: to get Brexit done, without delay or extension to the negotiations. Does my right hon. Friend agree that those who are calling for an extension, although it might enhance their standing in their party leadership campaign, are doing no favours for our country? All they are doing is prolonging the agony and deepening divisions when we all need to unite together, get through our current challenges and grasp the opportunities that Brexit brings.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. There is clarity and certainty from some parties in this House. The Scottish National party wants an extension, as do the Social Democratic and Labour party, the Alliance party and the Liberal Democrats. The Democratic Unionist party, like us, does not want one, but there is still uncertainty about what the Labour party wants. As long as that uncertainty lasts, business will want answers.
Over the past few weeks, I have often thought of our friend, Jo Cox, and her call that we concentrate on what unites us. She is much missed.
The north-east is a great trading region. It is part of integrated supply chains—pan-European, just-in-time supply chains—which drive prosperity, jobs and economic growth. Previous Government modelling said that a no-deal Brexit would hit our economy by 10%. Talk of a no-deal Brexit may just be a negotiating position, but will the Minister promise to publish regional economic assessments so that we know who will pay the price for failed negotiations?
As the hon. Lady knows, my professional career started in the north-east of England, and I have enormous affection and respect for the way in which she champions the interests of her constituents. She is right that part of the north-east’s economic success depends on manufacturing and supply chains. That is why we will ensure that the north-east of England not just is safeguarded, but has its economic prospects enhanced, not least by the establishment—we hope—when we are outside the UK, of a free port in the north-east.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that every time Opposition Members seek to find yet another way to keep us locked into EU bureaucracy to achieve their policy aims, they are actually saying, in a very clear sense, that they do not trust British voters to make those policy decisions for our country?
My hon. Friend is right, and he reinforces the observation that I have come to: the louder the Opposition heckle, the truer the question from a Government Back Bencher.
The parent company of Vauxhall Motors in Ellesmere Port is waiting for the outcome of these negotiations before it makes any investment decisions. To get a favourable decision, we need a guarantee that there will be no tariffs, fees, charges or quantitative restrictions in the automotive sector. Can the right hon. Gentleman give that guarantee?
That is the commitment to which the European Union has aligned itself in the political declaration, and we will hold it to that.
Without repeating what many of my colleagues have said, businesses in the Black Country have one simple ask: they want clarity, and they want us to get this done. Will my right hon. Friend give a message to my businesses in Wednesbury, Oldbury and Tipton that rejecting an extension and getting this done, with the simple ask of a free trade agreement in line with what the EU has with every other country, will give them the clarity they deserve as we come out of these unprecedented times?
My hon. Friend is right that in Wednesbury, Oldbury, Tipton and across the west midlands, businesses want certainty. That is what our announcements provide.
Two industries in Wales are particularly interested in what will happen in relation to any trade agreement. The first is Welsh lamb, because there is a real danger that the Welsh lamb industry will collapse if we do not have a completely tariff-free arrangement with the EU. We hardly sell any Welsh lamb outside Europe. The second is the avionics industry, which is so important in my patch and across the whole of south Wales, where thousands of people are already in great uncertainty about whether their job will still be there later this year. They need to know whether BA, GE and many other companies will be able to flourish in the new environment.
The hon. Gentleman makes two important points. He is right that the avionics industry is a jewel in Wales’s and the United Kingdom’s crown, and everything we do in these trade negotiations will be intended to support it. He is also right that Welsh lamb is second to none—well, apart from Scottish lamb.
Is it second to none or not?
It is second to Scottish lamb; that is my view, purely as a consumer.
You are not winning here.
Order. That is not fair.
You don’t know who my relatives are, Chris. All UK lamb is excellent, and we need to ensure that the Welsh lamb industry secures access to not only the European market but new markets as well. In the United States and, indeed, in the middle and near east, there is growing demand for excellent Welsh, Scottish, Northern Irish and English lamb. Access to those markets will make our farmers more secure financially and better able to steward the environment.
I want to pass on to the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster the thanks of the 72% of people in Stoke-on-Trent North, Kidsgrove and Talke who overwhelmingly voted to leave and are delighted that we are not extending the transition period. I am sure that he has a fine collection of ceramics from Stoke-on-Trent in his home and office. Ceramics manufacturers such as Churchill China in my constituency are keen to see us get a really good free trade deal. Ceramics has been put at the heart of the international trade agenda of the Secretary of State for International Trade. I am sure that the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster will confirm that ceramics is at the heart of the free trade negotiation on manufacturing and will happily meet me and members of the British Ceramic Confederation.
I certainly will. Only last night, I was talking to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for International Trade about what more we can do to support the ceramics industry, which is so vital to the economic health of Staffordshire and is a source of pride for all of us across the United Kingdom. Whether it is Churchill China, Royal Doulton, Emma Bridgewater or others, we should do everything we can to ensure that there are new markets for UK ceramics. I know my right hon. Friend will also ensure that we have an appropriate trade remedies authority in the UK, so that inappropriate dumping of ceramics does not undermine UK production.
The joint statement from the Scottish and Welsh Governments said that meetings including the right hon. Gentleman have
“simply been an opportunity for the UK Government to inform us of their views, not to listen or respond to ours.”
I am sure that that sounds familiar to many Members in the Chamber. His reckless decision not to extend the transition period will cost thousands of jobs at precisely the worst point. Scotland did not vote for this. How many Scottish job losses will he see as a fair price to deliver Brexit on his timetable?
I and the Paymaster General have enjoyed long conversations with representatives of the Scottish Government. Mike Russell and other Ministers, including Fergus Ewing, are always a pleasure to engage with. They bring a wealth of experience and a light touch to our conversations, which I always enjoy, appreciate, am better informed by and benefit from. The real threat to jobs in Scotland would be a reckless decision to smash the United Kingdom after 300 years of shared prosperity.
We cannot see Robert Halfon, but we can hear him.
I am glad that you are able to hear me, Madam Deputy Speaker. Given that leaving the EU means that we can control our VAT rates and cut VAT, what progress has been made in taking back control of VAT rates so that we can cut our energy bills and the cost of living for hard-working residents in Harlow and across the country?
My right hon. Friend is an indefatigable campaigner not just for Harlow but for the hard-pressed citizens of this country. He is right that outside the European Union, once we have left the transition period, we will have full control of VAT rates. My right hon Friend the Prime Minister is dedicated to making sure that we can use that new-found independence to help precisely the constituents for whom my right hon. Friend the Member for Harlow fights so brilliantly.
I am sure that the Minister agrees that all common-sense people now know that we want a deal and we want a good deal, because the health, wealth and prosperity of our constituents depend on it. Can he assure me that we will put real energy into that? It is all right to dig out a campaign for Esso petrol back in 1959, but we need some serious leadership. He must admit, surely, that the breakthrough came only when Prime Ministers at the top level talked about moving it forward. Can we make sure that we take it seriously and that the Prime Minister comes regularly to the House to report on future progress? We need a good deal and we need it soon, because turbulence lies ahead whatever deal we get.
I am amazed that the hon. Gentleman can recall an advertising campaign from 1959, because it must have occurred before either of us was born. Nevertheless, he makes an important point, which is that we need to accelerate progress in the talks. That is the Prime Minister’s aim and the EU’s aim. I look forward to updating him on our progress in weeks to come.
If hon. Members wish to be kind to their colleagues, I implore them to ask short questions, so the Minister can also give short answers. That way, everyone who has the opportunity to speak will be able to do so. If not, some people will be left out, which is not fair.
The last round of talks finished with Michel Barnier waving around the declaration from last year. Does the Minister agree that he should wave it towards EU leaders and ask them to refine his mandate so that he has more chance of making a deal on state aid and fishing?
Can the Minister outline what further progress has been secured to ensure that no additional declaration forms will need to be completed when sending goods from Northern Ireland to Great Britain? Will the Government guarantee that, in all circumstances, no business will be required to fill out such paperwork, as set out in their recently published Command Paper? Will he commit to visit firms in my constituency that have concerns in that regard?
I would be delighted to visit Craigavon, Lisburn or anywhere in the hon. Lady’s beautiful constituency to reassure her that Northern Ireland will have unfettered access to the rest of the UK.
Does the Minister agree that if the Government accepted the EU proposal of a skewed definition of a level playing field, the UK would be bound to questionable European courts indefinitely, which would be simply unacceptable to the British people, who voted again last year to restore British sovereignty?
My hon. Friend is absolutely spot on. Of course we are not going to resile from our high standards; our standards will be higher than ever before when it comes to consumer protection, workers’ rights and the environment. What we can never accept—what no independent sovereign nation could ever accept—is the jurisdiction of a foreign court on those matters.
For years, the directors of Orkney Creamery have built an export market for a high-quality product, which they have improved, with Government encouragement. Will the Minister explain to them what he means when he says that if we do not get a deal, we will be trading on our own terms, because they tell me that if they have to pay tariffs on their exports, they will not be able to compete? If they go, we lose the market for the milk for the dairy farmers. The dairy farmers will then not need the services of the vets or the agricultural merchants or all the other businesses that rely on them. Will the Minister explain to these people exactly what trading on our own terms mean?
The right hon. Gentleman is an effective advocate for his constituency, not least for the agricultural interests of fellow Orcadians. He is absolutely right; it is a high-quality product and it is always better when we have tariff-free access, not just to the European Union but to other markets. The political declaration requires that the EU should use its best endeavours to get a zero-tariff and zero-quota agreement and that is what we are all working hard to secure.
At present, the UK is offering EU citizens visa-free travel for six months out of 12. The EU is only offering 90 days in 180, which is the same as the standard Schengen agreement. That would be an unwelcome restriction to sailors, travellers and those who have homes in EU countries. Will my right hon. Friend update us on the negotiations in that area?
Yes. My hon. Friend makes a good point. We want to make sure that we have reciprocity in the way in which UK and EU citizens can enjoy sport, leisure and other activities, including business activities, in the future. I also take this opportunity to wish my hon. Friend a very happy birthday.
The covid crisis has demonstrated the need for international co-operation. Is it correct that the Department of Health and Social Care argued that we should remain part of the pandemic warning and response system of the European Union and, if so, why did the Government not listen?
I had not heard that. I have not heard any such submission from the Department of Health, but I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for raising the issue and I will ask my good friend the Health Secretary about it.
Will my right hon. Friend assure my fantastic business community in Watford and the chamber of commerce, which I speak with regularly, that we are trying to get the best deal we possibly can, that it is not the case that we are trying to chase no deal and that we are working incredibly hard to make sure that we get the best deal for this country?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. One of the reasons why the Prime Minister wanted to have the high-level meeting yesterday—one of the reasons why the three presidents wanted it as well—was precisely in order to accelerate progress towards securing a deal. We are ready for life outside the single market and the customs union, come what may, but it is our devout intent to secure a deal. I hope my hon. Friend can tell businesses in Watford, whom he represents so effectively, that their voices are heard loud and clear in Downing Street and the Cabinet Office.
At the general election, the Tories promised
“no tariffs, fees, charges or quantitative restrictions across all sectors”.
Does that commitment still stand?
That is the commitment in the political declaration, to which both the UK and the EU are working.
I and my constituents were pleased to hear that there will be no extension, but some of my constituents, particularly the businesses in Bosworth, are rightly concerned about how to prepare for the future. What steps are the Government taking to keep businesses in Hinckley and Bosworth and across the UK updated on the progress of EU negotiations, so that they can plan strategically for the future?
Businesses in Leicestershire and elsewhere will have the opportunity to secure access to an additional £50 million of Government support in order to ensure that they can export effectively not just into the EU but beyond. It is also the case that intense engagement with businesses is being conducted by Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs, the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy and others.
The Northern Ireland protocol is there to protect the Good Friday Agreement in all its parts, but it is right that we do all we can to minimise the impact down the Irish sea. Does the Minister recognise that in the event that we fail to secure a deal with the European Union and the Government opt to trade on their own terms, the impact of that border down the Irish sea will be more severe, with businesses and households facing more costs?
It is the case of course that we wish to secure a deal, and a deal would be in everyone’s interests, but the purpose of the Northern Ireland protocol, as the hon. Gentleman rightly reminds us, is to uphold the Belfast/Good Friday agreement in all its elements. Critical to that is that we all recognise that under the protocol, Northern Ireland remains not only part of the UK politically, but also part of the UK customs territory. Unfettered access is a right that all parties agree should be maintained.
I thank my right hon. Friend for his statement. As negotiations continue, to put minds at rest in the aviation sector and especially among my South Derbyshire constituents who work at Rolls-Royce in Derby, will he confirm that after 31 December the skies will still be open, our planes will still be flying and our world-class aviation companies will not be excluded from international work in Europe or elsewhere?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. I take this opportunity to say that whether it is the superb workforce at Rolls-Royce or others in aerospace, their technical expertise and manufacturing skill will be central to the future of Britain’s success. We need to make sure that we promote their expertise not just in our relationship with the European Union, but in our relationship with other countries. They are the best of British.
Last week, the Paymaster General admitted that the Government are making preparations for a no-deal Brexit, and we have seen the spectre of panic buying and stockpiling at the start of the coronavirus pandemic. What preparations has the Minister made to prevent stockpiling and panic buying by worried consumers in the event of the disruption and chaos that a no-deal Brexit would cause to the supply chain?
It is the case that if we leave without a specific free trade agreement, certain steps will need to be taken by Government and by others to make sure not only that we can meet the challenges, but that we can take the opportunities. The Cabinet Office and others constantly review at all points what we need to do, but I think the spectre that the hon. Lady invokes is not one that should bother her or others.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that the Leader of Her Majesty’s Opposition is beginning to develop a reputation for going to ground on the most contentious issues, such as whether his party supports an extension of the transition period or whether he continues to think backing freedom of movement is democratically acceptable after the 2016 referendum and the general election—
Order. Mr Hunt, resume your seat for just a second, and I will explain that the Minister is not responsible for the policy of Opposition Members. Please could you get to the question for which the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster is responsible.
Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker. Will my right hon. Friend confirm that, by contrast, those on this side of the House will be resolute and determined in ending the transition period on 31 December and freedom of movement along with it?
I can absolutely confirm to my hon. Friend that we have informed the Withdrawal Agreement Joint Committee that we will not extend. That is the position. That is settled. That is decided. As for his reference to the right hon. and learned Member for Holborn and St Pancras (Keir Starmer), on this question we do not know whether he is the Scarlet Pimpernel or the invisible man.
There is a deep and growing unease in Northern Ireland and, indeed, across the island of Ireland, at the prospect of a no trade deal exit in six months. I will not rehearse now the profound damage that would do to the economy, society and the political structures here, but specifically within the no-deal preparations, what measures are the Government taking to protect covid-19 contact tracing across these islands in the absence of a data equivalence regime after a no trade deal?
The hon. Lady raises a very important issue. Data equivalence, as I mentioned in response to a previous question from the hon. Member for Ealing Central and Acton (Dr Huq), is separate from these negotiations, but it is important on the island of Ireland that we continue to share information. We have had a very good working relationship with the Government. I congratulate Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael and the Green party on agreeing a programme for government. I wish the new Taoiseach-elect Micheál Martin all the very best in the shared work that we will engage in to deal with coronavirus.
Fisheries seem to be a major stumbling block in the negotiations, with the EU seeking to uniquely link fishing rights to a wider free trade agreement. This is not necessarily a position of cherry-picking, but perhaps one of having their hake and eating it. Does my right hon. Friend agree that unless the EU position changes and it recognises that we are sovereign coastal notion, these talks might flounder?
My hon. Friend tempts me. The truth, however, is absolutely as she depicts it. We will leave and be an independent coastal state, and the EU will negotiate on an annual basis for access for its fishers.
As we know, serious crime knows no borders and we will still need to co-operate on these issues once the transition period ends, so will the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster give the House an assurance today that, as from 1 January next year, the UK will still have access to both the quantity and the quality of data through passenger name records, the European Criminal Records Information System and SIS II—the Schengen Information System?
We are negotiating to achieve precisely that goal.
If the tiger turns out to be a pussycat and we do not end up with a deal in a few short weeks, when will the right hon. Gentleman be providing advice and guidance to the heavily regulated industries and, indeed, farmers in mainland Britain that supply Northern Ireland, so that the people of Northern Ireland can continue to legally receive medicines, for example, from 1 January next year?
There will be no question, no impediment and nothing to prevent the citizens of Northern Ireland—whose rights I know the hon. Lady has taken a keen interest in upholding—from securing access to vital medicines or any other goods after we leave the European Union.
First, I commend my right hon. Friend and our chief negotiator, David Frost, for their resolve in ensuring that we deliver our promise to end the transition period at the end of this year. Can my right hon. Friend confirm that it remains the intention of the Government to negotiate a security arrangement outside the ambit of the European Court of Justice that will ensure that we remain protected from foreign criminals coming into Britain and that we stop criminals escaping the jurisdiction of our courts so that we can bring them to justice?
My right hon. Friend was a very effective Home Office Minister, and he speaks with great authority on these questions. He is absolutely right. We need to be outside the ambit of the ECJ, but we need to ensure that we have security, criminal justice and other forms of co-operation, precisely in order to ensure that we keep our citizens safe and work with the EU to keep its citizens safe.
I thank the Secretary of State for his statement. Please be aware of social distancing as you leave the Chamber. We will suspend for three minutes.