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Future Relationship with the EU

Volume 683: debated on Thursday 12 November 2020

Negotiations are continuing in London this week, and this of course is a continuation of the intensive talks that both sides agreed to on 21 October. Progress is being made, but divergences remain. That said, the UK will continue to engage in negotiations on a free trade agreement, and the UK’s negotiation team, led by Lord Frost, will continue to work hard to find solutions that, of course, fully respect the United Kingdom’s regained sovereignty.

In pursuit of the levelling up agenda, which we are so passionate about, will my right hon. Friend provide an update on the progress being made to ensure that powers that are being released from EU treaties are devolved to local and regional government, where they may most appropriately sit?

My hon. Friend makes a very important point and, as a distinguished former local government leader, he knows the power of good local government to make a difference for the better for all our citizens. That is why, as we take power back from the European Union, we are working not just with the devolved Administrations in Holyrood and Cardiff and Belfast, but also with local government leaders and metro Mayors—including, of course, the superb metro Mayor in Teesside, Ben Houchen—to ensure that we exercise the distribution of power in a more equitable and progressive fashion.

These negotiations are not going well and time is running out. The best the UK can now hope for is a very basic trade deal with the EU. The Minister knows that in all negotiations there needs to be concessions and some give and take on all sides, so what exactly, if anything, is the UK willing to concede or compromise on?

The UK has already shown a great degree of flexibility in these negotiations, but it is that the European Union shows flexibility too, and in particular there needs to be full recognition that we are sovereign equals, and any attempt to continue to tie the UK into EU processes or to extend EU jurisdiction by other means will be quite wrong.

May I remind the Minister that the Road Haulage Association described the Government’s preparations for the transition as not only “chaotic” but “pathetic” and said that

“logistics may not be able to deliver”?

The Minister has a deserved reputation for politeness, but can he also be candid and give us a guarantee that there will be no jobs lost and no goods not delivered, particularly to and from Northern Ireland, when we hit the end of the transition period?

The hon. Gentleman makes a very important point, and in his time in this House he has been a distinguished champion of the rights of the people of Northern Ireland. It is very important in the discussions that we have in the Joint Committee that we make sure that we implement the protocol on the future of Northern Ireland in a way that ensures that its people can continue to have unfettered access to the rest of the UK, and in particular that we can maintain the flow of goods that are so vital to the life of the Province. That is why I am confident that the Vice-President of the European Commission, Maroš Šefčovič, who is the co-chair of the Joint Committee, will work pragmatically, as he has in the past, to ensure that the people of Northern Ireland have a secure future.

When the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster made his statement to the House on the negotiations on 19 October, his former boss, the right hon. Member for Maidenhead (Mrs May), was left incredulous when he told her that without access to previously shared databases, the UK could act

“more effectively to safeguard our borders outside the European Union than we ever could inside.”—[Official Report, 19 October 2020; Vol. 682, c. 761.]

So can he explain precisely how without that access we will get the real-time information needed to pick up foreign criminals at the point of entry in ports and airports?

One of the things that we will be able to do when we take back control is to have total discretion over who comes into this country. One of things that we will be able to do, for example, is to end the abuse of ID cards, which are easily forged, easily used by organised criminals, and utilised in order to gain access to this country. Once we are out of the transition period, we will take back control of our borders, a precondition of greater security for all.

Frankly, we are at a stage of this process where empty reassurances and dodging questions just will not do. Earlier this week, the president of the Police Superintendents Association said that without this access, information sharing will be “less effective”, and highlighted his concern about the implications for policing and security. So let me try again. At the Home Affairs Committee on 4 November, the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, the hon. Member for Torbay (Kevin Foster), was asked repeatedly by the Chair to state which real-time system will be available for Border Force to identify foreign criminals, without access to SIS II. Repeatedly, the Minister was unable to give an answer, so can the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster simply answer that question?

Yes, of course; it is the case that Border Force will be in a stronger position to be able to detect a criminal—[Interruption.] Well, if the hon. Gentleman keeps asking the same question, I will give him the same answer, which is that Border Force will be able, through the deployment of safety and security declarations, to have a more effective means of monitoring organised criminals. The truth is that when we take back control of our borders, we enhance our ability to deal with criminality.