I beg to move,
That the draft Prohibition on Quantitative Restrictions (EU Exit) Regulations 2020, which were laid before this House on 9 November, be approved.
As I am sure hon. Members recognise, it is important that we have full sovereignty over our regulatory regime for goods at the end of the transition period. The statutory instrument will help to ensure that we are not challenged if we choose to diverge from EU regulations. At the end of the transition period, EU treaty rights on the movement of goods stemming from articles 34 to 36 of the treaty on the functioning of the European Union will be retained in UK law unless they are removed by this SI.
I thank the Minister for giving way. Obviously, the statutory instrument is about divergence, and the UK Government talk about taking back control. What is the position on consent to the regulations from the devolved nations? More importantly, what discussions have the Government had with the devolved nations to make sure that their wishes are not overridden and that divergences are not forced on the devolved Administrations?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his question. I will come on to that later in my opening comments.
The EU treaty rights prohibit quantitative restrictions or equivalent measures on imports and exports, meaning that divergence from EU regulatory requirements could result in a challenge from a business or importer if they deem it a barrier to placing their goods on the market in Great Britain. To be clear, the SI is not a pre-condition for divergence: as of 1 January, Parliament will of course have the ability to introduce new regulations. Instead, it is about removing potential grounds for legal challenge based on retained treaty articles that have no place on our statute book once we have fully regained our independence.
The SI will remove the aforementioned EU treaty rights so they no longer apply in England, Scotland or Wales. It will not result in any immediate changes for goods in the UK but will protect our right to diverge from EU goods regulations in future, where we so choose.
The SI will protect our ability to regulate goods as we see fit and ensure that challenges do not require us to keep in line with the EU regulations. I commend it to the House.
On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. I asked the Minister a specific question about consent and the devolved Administration and the Minister said that she would come on to that in her speech. Can you advise me on how I can get that answer from the Minister?
Thank you for that point of order. The Minister may respond at this point or she may wish to respond at the end of the debate. If she wants to do it now, that is—
I will respond at the end. [Interruption.]
That is the Minister’s right, but she has given an undertaking that she will respond at the end to the points raised, so we will leave it at that.
On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. I am not sure that I have ever heard such a cursory explanation of a statutory instrument in the Chamber. The whole point of Ministers coming to the House, rather than doing statutory instruments elsewhere, is that they give a full and proper explanation of the legislation that they are advancing. Is there any way in which we can make sure that the Minister provides a full and proper explanation of why this statutory instrument is necessary?
I think we need to move on. The Minister has undertaken to come back at the end. I am sure she will have heard the points made by Members in the Chamber. I am sure she will come back at the end and perhaps respond to some of the points that have been made. I really would like to move on at this point.
Can I also, at the beginning of this debate, express, I am afraid, my absolute shock and disgust, frankly? This statutory instrument was deemed so important that it was brought to the Floor of the House rather than a Committee. Frankly, I could have been there as well and given a cursory speech and been at home with my children. But, instead, I prepared a proper speech that is fitting of a debate on the Floor of this House on a statutory instrument that has wide-ranging—very wide-ranging—powers.
The Minister and I do not usually stand opposite one another. We did have that pleasure this morning. This morning, in the debate we had in Westminster Hall, I thought to myself that I respected the Minister. It was the first time I had seen her in action, and I really did think what a sound and reasonable Minister she was. But, frankly, she is taking instructions from her Whips. That is her judgment to do. But in time, that will not be very fitting of her ministerial role. I know she will feel deeply uncomfortable with what she is being asked to do and it is pretty embarrassing for her.
I am listening to this, and I have to say that the impression I am getting is that the shadow Minister, whom I thank for giving way, is being asked to do the job of the Minister—namely, explaining to the House the basis of the statutory instrument that is before the House. Surely that is not the role of the shadow Minister.
Absolutely not, and my hon. Friend is right to make that point. It is not just we in this House who need these explanations. Frankly, businesses in particular are being left completely blind at the moment about how on earth they are supposed to prepare for the end of the transition. We are no further down the road with a deal, and they have no idea of the terms under which they are going to be trading in a few weeks’ time. I am sure many of those businesses, notwithstanding the total chaos that they are subject to at the moment as well, are tuning in to the parliamentary channel today to try to shed some light on this issue, and they did not even get a hello or a by your leave from the Minister.
On the point that my hon. Friend has just made, anyone who was watching the Public Accounts Committee session yesterday with three permanent secretaries—I had an opportunity as Chair of the Future Relationship with the European Union Committee to guest—would have found that in respect of Northern Ireland, just to take one example of uncertainty, it is impossible at the moment to answer any questions about how the arrangements are going to work. And we are—what?—39 days away from actually leaving the transition period.
My right hon. Friend is absolutely right. He makes a very important point. Really, if this Government want to have any standing whatsoever with business, which is very shaky at the moment, I have to say—their reputation with business is incredibly shaky—they must do better. Any business tuning in right now would be, frankly, appalled because this has given them no information whatsoever.
I am now beginning to share the indignation of my hon. Friend on the Front Bench, because we have gone through a process from “eff business” to an “oven-ready” deal that frankly was not oven-ready, and now we have businesses waiting, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Leeds Central (Hilary Benn) says, to find out what is looming upon us in 39 days, and there is still no absolute clarity. Does my hon. Friend agree that the real problem is that the progression is getting steadily worse, with steadily more disrespect for the business that pays the bills of this country?
I absolutely agree. I said at the Dispatch Box a few weeks ago that the Conservative party was no longer the party of business. The Government are doing themselves no favours whatsoever. I do not know what shenanigans are going on or why the Whips are telling the Minister to speak for only a minute or two. I thought that such shenanigans would depart when Dominic Cummings left No. 10, but it seems that they are going to continue. If this is about curtailing debate, well, I am very sorry but I have news for the Government, because we are not going to be curtailing this debate.
I was particularly irritated by the Government’s cursory presentation of the measure before us because, although clause 1(2) states that the regulations
“extend to England and Wales and Scotland only”,
there has not, as I understand it, been a full consultation with the Welsh Government or the Scottish Government, and I was looking forward to having an opportunity to explore precisely where we are going on this with the Government Minister—she is the only person who can really answer that—not least because one of my biggest anxieties is that in this whole process the Government’s relations with the devolved Governments have been so bad that they are tearing at the structure of the Union.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. I have not even started my substantive speech yet, which I intend to make, but I will come on to make some of those points. Time and again this Government show disregard not only for business but for devolution and power sharing. I think we have made our point about our real—[Interruption.] The Minister is now taking further instructions from the Whips, and I have no doubt that her winding-up speech will be even shorter than her opening remarks. She might want to maintain a bit more social distancing while she is doing this, because that is nowhere near—[Interruption.] Oh, are you allowed to sit that close together?
There is another possibility, of course, which is that the Government Whip on the Treasury Bench is explaining the basis of this statutory instrument to the Minister because she was not aware of it.
I don’t know what is going on, but I want to put on record my huge disappointment on behalf not just of those of us who have spent time preparing for this debate but of all those watching these goings-on. If this statutory instrument is important enough to be brought to the Floor of the House, it is important enough to be debated. I can see that there are decent, honourable Conservative Members who have not withdrawn and who are here to make a substantive speech for themselves, and I hope that the right hon. Member for Wokingham (John Redwood) will take his time in doing so.
I will now get on to my speech, as I have perhaps taken up a lot of the time that the Minister might have used to explain the statutory instrument to us. We do not oppose this statutory instrument today, because we recognise that it is a natural consequence of leaving the EU and an end of the transition period.
The Opposition Front Benchers might not be opposing this measure, and there might be things in it that we quite like, but if the Minister does not reply properly and fully and explain the measure before the House, I cannot see how the House can possibly support her, in which case we would have to force a Division.
My hon. Friend makes a good point, and I agree with him. I am beginning to change my mind as we stand here discussing this. Well, I say “discussing” it—we are discussing these issues, but discussion in a vacuum is not really proper discussion at all, is it?
This statutory instrument leaves more questions than answers, as we still have no idea what, if anything, will replace aspects of the current EU framework for the movement of goods in a future trade deal. Any deal is almost certain to make arrangements for the continued market in goods across the UK-EU border. Even with no deal, there would still be a number of implications for trade within the UK, as has already been mentioned by the hon. Member for Kilmarnock and Loudoun (Alan Brown). We want the Government to get such a deal, and we want them to do so urgently. As each day passes, the uncertainty for UK businesses is prolonged at a time when many of them are coping with unprecedented uncertainty due to the covid pandemic and the ensuing economic crisis.
The Prime Minister promised us an “oven-ready” deal, but it seems that in reality it is anything but. He promised us a future relationship, which included
“no tariffs, fees, charges or quantitative restrictions across all sectors.”
I have not seen much sign of that today. He promised that he would safeguard workers’ rights and consumer and environmental protections, and keep people safe with a
“broad, comprehensive and balanced scrutiny partnership.”
My hon. Friend mentions tariffs, and of course we are all hoping for an agreement that means no tariffs are charged. The Government have already made clear to the motor industry and to car manufacturers that they have failed to get a satisfactory agreement on rules of origin, and therefore for some exports of the British car industry. We send, I think, just under 2,000 cars a day to the European Union. If they do not meet the rules of origin requirements, given the Government’s failure in the negotiations, they will face tariffs.
Absolutely. My right hon. Friend makes an excellent point, and that is why this debate is so important. It coincides with worrying rumours—I hear that they are rumours, but rumours can cause a great deal of worry—about the future of the Nissan car plant in Sunderland.
The shadow Minister took the words from my lips. Nissan is in the north-east, and although we are 30 miles away, businesses in my constituency and throughout Teesside rely on it to buy their products. Within the last few days we have heard Nissan say that if we do not get a good enough deal, it will be off. That must be a terrible blow to any region, but to the north-east, where unemployment is nearly double the national average, it simply does not wash.
My hon. Friend makes an excellent point, and those are the real risks that we currently face. There is real uncertainty around the deal. Many of the previous commitments made are now undermined, and that will have a devastating impact on particular sectors, such as the automotive industry and the aerospace industry—perhaps my hon. Friend the Member for City of Chester (Christian Matheson) wants to come in on that. Both those sectors are particularly powerful when it comes to the so-called levelling-up agenda, and I worry about that.
I was going to talk about the automotive sector, but since my hon. Friend tempts me, I will mention the aerospace sector, which is a major employer in my area and the region that we share. Aerospace jobs with prime contractors or first-tier members of the supply chain have a jobs multiplier effect of four, five or six jobs for every one job in that prime or first-tier supply chain. It is not simply about the aerospace companies; the manufacturing industry right across is holding on, dangling, and waiting for some kind of hope of a deal, but we are not getting it.
My hon. Friend makes a powerful point. Those big manufacturing businesses are waiting every hour that passes for some news on a deal, and today they will be tuning into the Parliament channel to find out what will happen with the movement of goods after we end the transition period. Those cornerstone companies are what communities are built on, and when they go, they are gone. That is why this debate is so important, and frankly the Government’s disregard for it is embarrassing.
The hon. Lady and her colleagues are making important points. She mentioned the levelling-up agenda. Is it ironic that although the UK Government talk about levelling up across the regions and nations of the UK, the areas that will be hit hardest by no deal and by a lack of preparation are the very areas that the Government pretend they are trying to level up? They speak with a forked tongue every time. Should not the Minister be giving us more information from the Dispatch Box?
Absolutely. This agenda could not come at a more critical time, because these same sectors and industries have been left on their knees as a result of covid-19. They just cannot cope with all these things coming at once.
My hon. Friend will realise that businesses from Nissan to the chemicals industry on Teesside rely on a just-in-time supply chain. They need things to be crossing borders almost daily in order to complete the process of manufacturing goods. If there is any further delay in that process, some of these companies will say, “Well, we may as well manufacture in Spain.”
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. That is one of the reasons we wanted to support this statutory instrument today. Businesses have no resilience left anymore. Any money or time that they set aside for end-of-transition preparations and so on has all disappeared because of the coronavirus pandemic and the ensuing economic crisis.
It is important to remind the House of the things that the Prime Minister promised as the negotiations with Brussels enter their endgame, because I really am not sure that the results are going to match the initial promise that we were given at the election last year. A deal that fails to deliver on the commitments made in the political declaration and to the British people at the general election risks making life considerably harder for jobs, businesses and communities already grappling with the economic challenges of covid-19, as so many Members have already raised.
I used to have a farm in the Rhondda. One of the issues that I know is facing Welsh farmers in particular at the moment is that tupping has already happened for the spring flock. A pregnancy in a sheep takes roughly 152 days, so lots of commercial decisions have already been made by lots of farmers. How are they to proceed when they do not have the faintest idea what tariffs may or may not apply to Welsh lamb, 50% of which is sold in the rest of the European Union, on 1 January?
My hon. Friend’s knowledge of sheep gestation periods is far superior to mine, but I very much take his point about planning and the need for certainty. Not only is there all the uncertainty around tariffs and the trade in goods and services that we are now facing; add to that the fact that I am sure some of those Rhondda farmers had been planning for a bumper Christmas with some of their lambing earlier in the year, but that will no longer be the case. That is the double whammy that most businesses are facing, whether they are agriculture or manufacturing businesses.
With time running out, the Government really do need to get on with it and get a good deal for the British people and British businesses. I know that the Minister and her colleagues are in touch with businesses as much as I am. Businesses have real concerns that they will not have the bandwidth for Brexit alongside the pressures of dealing with the pandemic, nor will they have the time to implement whatever is expected from a deal, should one be struck.
Presumably, the Government’s argument today—not that we have heard it, so I have no idea what it is—is that they need to bring forward this legislation now, without knowing what will replace it, because time is running out to pass all the necessary legislation ahead of the transition. Why do they not recognise—perhaps the Minister might respond to some of these things in the 30 seconds that her Whips have given her—that the same applies to businesses up and down the country? They need time to do these things ahead of the Christmas period too.
Businesses have real concerns that the Government will blame them for any disruption and make them the fall guys. I wondered whether the new No. 10 internal arrangements might have changed its attitude towards business, but after today’s performance I am not sure that businesses will have that reassurance. [Interruption.] The Minister’s Parliamentary Private Secretary, the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mark Fletcher), moans from a sedentary position. He is more than welcome to speak in the debate, but I see that all his colleagues have withdrawn.
Is not it ironic that at the election we were all promised certainty? Where are we now? We have no certainty in this process at all.
We do not even have certainty about what we are going to do at Christmas, do we—let alone any of the certainty that we were hoping for beyond the new year? As I said earlier, the Conservative party really is losing face with business. It used to be the party of business, but right now I am really not sure that it is.
My hon. Friend the Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant) mentioned a moment ago a farm in his constituency. I do not know whether my hon. Friend the Member for Manchester Central (Lucy Powell) saw the comments of the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs on “Marr” the week before last. When he was asked about the impact that tariffs, in the event of no deal, would have on lamb farmers, he said, “Well, they’ll just have to diversify into beef.” Is she aware that the chief executive of the National Sheep Association, Mr Phil Stocker, said:
“Mr Eustice’s comments will have angered many of our nation’s sheep farmers”?
Does not that reinforce the point that she has just made—that the Government are, frankly, losing face in the business community?
My right hon. Friend makes a good point. It is not only the business community, but the farming community—communities that have historically both been the base of the Conservative party. I am not sure whether that was the same interview in which the Environment Secretary also made false claims about Lurpak butter which had to be rectified by the company afterwards.
The hon. Member is absolutely right. It is quite clear that the Tories are no longer the party of business. As she correctly says, they are alienating the farmers with their attitude. Laughably, they call themselves the party of workers. Is it not the case that it is the workers who are going to be shafted most by Brexit? Many workers in the UK, including the 3 million, are currently excluded from any support from the UK Government whatever, so the Government are actually doing a good job of alienating the entire population.
The hon. Member is absolutely right. Company directors who have not had any support during this crisis are particularly aggrieved, and they are part of the 3 million excluded, who he rightly mentions. I know that he has been making these points consistently, so maybe the Minister will respond to that point; you never know.
Will my hon. Friend give way?
I was just going to get on to the detail of the statutory instrument. I have not actually started the substance of my speech yet, but I will give way.
My hon. Friend mentioned Christmas and the former vicar in me sort of bubbled up, and I remembered all those terrible years when I had to sing “Hark the Herald Angels Sing” 77 times before we even got to Christmas eve; lots of vicars will not be upset if they do not have to sing it quite that often.
Let me turn to the serious point. As I understand it, the delay in getting any kind of deal with the European Union almost certainly means that the European Parliament may have to sit on 28 December. Is it not perfectly possible, given that we do not even know the Christmas recess dates for this House yet, that we too may have to sit on 28 or 29 December? There is nothing in this measure that makes it clear what would need to change, whether a deal is sorted or is not.
Order, just before the shadow Minister responds to the intervention, she said herself that she will now be turning to the substance of the matter before us. As much as it is always interesting to consider the history and choir practice of the hon. Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant)—
Not all of it.
Oh, no. I did not say “all of it”—not by any manner of means.
You don’t know the half of it.
I think that is just as well. That which refers to his singing specifically of “Hark the Herald Angels Sing” is interesting, but not relevant. I am quite sure that the shadow Minister will come to the relevant points before us.
Thank you very much, Madam Deputy Speaker. Of course, my hon. Friend the Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant) is very good at writing books. He has one out—I think for Christmas, actually—at the moment, but the book that we are all waiting for is his diaries. I am not sure when they will be published, but maybe they will be a Christmas bumper when they do.
As the Minister said briefly in her opening remarks, this statutory instrument will end the application in the UK of the rights derived from articles 34 to 36 of the treaty on the functioning of the European Union. The removal of these provisions will ensure that there is no barrier to divergence from EU rules should the Government choose to diverge. As the memorandum that accompanies the statutory instrument sets out, the Government plan for the UK to have its own regulatory regime for goods after the end of the implementation period.
One of the things that will be covered by that regime is the movement of food, which does not just go from this country to Europe but comes in the opposite direction as well. Many businesses in this country are extremely worried that food for which there might be a lead time of three weeks could end up sitting on the docks for hours on end if we do not get the agreement that we need.
My hon. Friend makes an important point. I hope the Minister has taken note of that and that we can hear about it when she responds, because it is especially important at this time of year—not to keep on with the Christmas puns, Madam Deputy Speaker.
If the Minister is allowed to, will she update us on what the EU-UK trade regime will look like and what rights and protections will be in place at the end of the implementation period? When will we get the details? More importantly, will businesses have plenty of time to prepare for the regime’s implementation? Ministers have repeatedly said that in many policy areas the rights and protections that we have enjoyed inside the EU will be maintained and improved on when we are outside the EU. Will the Minister set out where she thinks we might diverge from EU standards and requirements in future? How will she ensure that divergence benefits British businesses, instead of putting in place new barriers to trade that could cost them dear?
My hon. Friend is talking about the import of different foods, as my hon. Friend the Member for Stockton North (Alex Cunningham) just mentioned. Is she aware of the specific situation for the UK overseas territories and whether or not they are being properly considered in the transition arrangements? I am aware of serious concerns from the Falkland Islands in particular in respect of their squid industry, which provides much of the calamari in European markets. They are concerned about whether those concerns are being heard in the negotiations and about whether or not at the end of December they will face a cliff edge that could be devastating to their economy, which relies so heavily on fish products. Does my hon. Friend agree that the UK Government ought to be standing up for the Falkland Islands and their fishing industry and ensuring that they are able to continue the excellent trade that they have with other parts of the EU?
My hon. Friend makes an excellent point about squid in the Falkland Islands that I was not aware of. It is important to bear that in mind. We are talking about the Conservative party losing its reputation, whether on business or agriculture; those of us who are halfway through the new series of “The Crown” will also be reminded of the importance of the Falkland Islands to Conservative Members. One would have thought that that would be at the forefront of their minds.
I hope that the Minister will be able to address this point when she responds, because my understanding is that the Falkland Islands have been raising their concerns. There are meetings this week with the Minister for the Overseas Territories, but the Falkland Islands have written to the Prime Minister about this issue several times and my understanding is that there has not yet been a formal reply to the substantive concerns that they have raised. That is very concerning, because it leaves them in a great deal of uncertainty about what will happen post the end of December.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. This statutory instrument should and could be an opportunity to clarify those matters but, as I said at the beginning of my speech, it will take provisions away without any of us understanding what will replace them. That is causing a huge amount of uncertainty, not just here in the UK but, as my hon. Friend says, in the UK territories. I am sure that, given its closeness to the EU, Gibraltar will be worried as well.
My hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff South and Penarth (Stephen Doughty) is absolutely right. I was grateful to visit the Falkland Islands during the squid-fishing season as a guest of the Falkland Islands Government. Squid fishing is a major part of their economy. It is an utterly inevitable consequence of what has happened that our overseas territories—my hon. Friend the shadow Minister mentioned Gibraltar as well—will feel out on a limb. We need to be able to assure them, as soon as possible, that they are not out on a limb. That assurance is still not forthcoming with, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Leeds Central (Hilary Benn) has said, 39 days to go. These are territories that choose to be British and they are not getting the kind of reassurance that they desire.
My hon. Friend makes a powerful point. Perhaps next time he goes on a delegation there he can see whether I want to join them, as the shadow business Minister. It sounds like a good trip, and I am partial to a bit of calamari, so I would enjoy that.
This statutory instrument relates not just to UK-EU trade, but to the requirement for a new framework for UK-wide trade, as we have been debating through the United Kingdom Internal Market Bill—now in the other place—because current treaty provisions also govern trade in goods across the UK. Will the Minister update us on where these issues are now up to, as we need to know before stripping away all the trade regulations that currently apply across the UK? As has been raised, any divergence needs to be agreed with the devolved Administrations, and that is why we are hoping that common standards for trading agreements will be agreed via the common frameworks put on a statutory basis. Ministers herald this approach yet refuse to put them on a statutory footing. There have been many long discussions on this in the Chamber and in the other place. The Government recently lost votes on this aspect of the internal market Bill, so we are hoping that the Government will accept these amendments when they return. Can the Minister confirm that?
My hon. Friend posed the question of where there is likely to be divergence. We know already that there has been divergence on food standards, paving the way for importing chlorinated chicken, hormone-fed beef and all manner of things. Those goods are going to end up in the stomachs of the poor people—the people on low incomes—in my constituency and in my hon. Friend’s. Does she not agree that we need to tighten this up and make sure that all our people are protected with proper standards and proper regulations?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. That is why it is such an important issue, and we really are hoping and expecting that the Minister will confirm today that the Government will accept the amendments on this that were passed in the other place, because it is about how we as a country are coming to an agreement about standards. I am sure that these issues will be raised later in the debate.
The Government must respect the devolution settlement and work collaboratively, in good faith, with the devolved Administrations to build that strong and thriving internal market with common standards underpinning it. Not doing so would threaten our precious Union by putting rocket boosters under the campaign for independence in Scotland. I know that the Prime Minister is very keen to talk about Christmas at the moment, but he seems to be giving the Scottish First Minister all her Christmases at once by his constant undermining of devolution recently. He seems to have made another blunder on that recently, propelling her campaign for Scottish independence by, as I said, putting rocket boosters under it.
On that point, I wonder whether the Minister would also explain to us the status of this statutory instrument. It is my understanding that her colleague, the Under-Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, the hon. Member for Stratford-on-Avon (Nadhim Zahawi), wrote to his counterparts in the devolved Administrations to seek their consent for him to lay this statutory instrument, which she is taking on his behalf, as some goods potentially affected by this instrument fall under devolved competence. I understand that consent has been received from the Welsh Government, but not yet from the Scottish Government—I do not know whether the hon. SNP spokesman wants to come in on this. I am not sure whether we can lay and agree to this statutory instrument today on that basis. What happens if the Scottish Government do not consent to it but Parliament already has? I do not know whether anyone knows the answer to that or if the Minister wants to rise to clarify that.
Maybe my hon. Friend knows.
We can do better than that, of course, because we had word from the Prime Minister last week, who described devolution as “a disaster”. Conservative Members are playing fast and loose with the Union. They are playing fast and loose with the United Kingdom. They are playing fast and loose with devolution, and their attitude to devolution was shown from the very top by the Prime Minister. That surely answers my hon. Friend’s question.
Order. We will stick to the terms of this statutory instrument, which is fairly narrow.
Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker. The point is important to the statutory instrument, because I am not sure of its status. As my hon. Friend says, is it just another example of a total disregard for devolution and power sharing, further undermining that at such an important juncture. It is important to know whether, in writing to the devolved Administrations before laying the statutory instrument, the Government decided just to plough on anyway and totally disregard that consent, or whether consent is required on a retrospective basis. I really am at a loss on that and it makes me wonder whether we are discussing this statutory instrument on the basis on which we all thought we were discussing it, so I think that is an important point for the Minister to address.
Paragraph 2.2 of the explanatory memorandum reminds us that the provisions, which, as I understand the regulations, the Government are proposing to disapply, are the part of the EU treaty that encourages the free movement of goods by avoiding quantitative restrictions. The whole purpose of the negotiation, according to the Prime Minister’s word, is to achieve a deal that does not involve quantitative restrictions, yet we are being asked to disapply them. Furthermore, in the next paragraph it states:
“For clarity, as the GB intends to have its own regulatory regime after the transition period, these rights are being disapplied as it is no longer appropriate for them to coexist”—
coexist with what?—
“and pose some risk of challenge if we decide to diverge from EU law.”
Would it not be helpful to the House if the Minister, in replying, were to give us some explanation of the potential risk of challenge to something that the Government say is their objective in the negotiations—the free movement of goods without quantitative restrictions?
As always, my right hon. Friend makes an incredibly powerful point. Although on the face of it the statutory instrument looks like it is fairly narrow, it is actually of huge significance and importance. It is inextricably linked to the current negotiations. That is why, as the shadow Minister, I thought—foolishly maybe—that the Government had decided to bring it to the Floor of the House. As I say, there are aspects that look narrow, but it is a hugely significant statutory instrument. That is why I was flabbergasted at the beginning of the debate that the Minister did not seem to have anything much to say about it.
As other colleagues have pointed out in other statutory instruments and through the passage of the United Kingdom Internal Market Bill, it is still unclear what checks, controls and processes will be put in place on qualifying Northern Ireland goods, which are also implicated in this statutory instrument, moving from Northern Ireland to Great Britain. Despite the Government’s protestations at the time about the very real dangers, as they saw them, of EU attempts to blockade NI-GB movement and goods, there was absolutely nothing to deal with that apparent clear and present danger in the Bill, as we discussed at the time. We support unfettered access for Northern Ireland businesses to the rest of the UK market. However, there are a number of issues that stand relating to the breadth of the definition of qualifying Northern Ireland goods. My right hon. Friend the Member for Leeds Central (Hilary Benn) is across that matter as well. The Government appear to acknowledge that it is problematic, but it remains unclear what they are going to do about it.
Today’s statutory instrument sheds no further light on that. In fact, it probably makes it even more complicated. We need further clarification, because the definition is not sufficiently tightly drawn to provide the protections intended. The wide drafting of the definition of “qualifying goods” is the problem, because it includes anything that is in circulation within Northern Ireland without being subject to customs control while there. However, it also includes goods processed in Northern Ireland from Great Britain-derived goods, which are themselves subject to customs control in Northern Ireland. I hope people are keeping up, as this is quite a complex subject, which is why I hope the Minister will properly respond. As my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield Central (Paul Blomfield) has said, that could include whisky imported from Scotland to Northern Ireland, which might be in duty suspension in Northern Ireland but then is used to make mince pies in Belfast. That would leave those mince pies as qualifying Northern Ireland goods, despite the whisky used to make them being subject to customs controls. So we have argued that the definition of qualifying Northern Ireland goods is not sustainable in the longer term. It appears that Ministers agree, but will the Minister let us know today what plans the Government have in place to resolve this?
My hon. Friend is making an important point. She will know that I raised these issues in the statement the other day on Northern Ireland-related issues and trade with Wales. Is she aware of the concerns raised today on BBC Wales by hauliers, who are describing how they fear mayhem at the port of Holyhead in Ynys Môn—Anglesey? The Irish Road Haulage Association fears that the processes are not ready and in place. For example, it is concerned that the IT systems to deal with these changes are not ready. Does she agree that the Government have not answered a whole series of questions, which will have impacts on ports and trade in Wales, and of course on goods transiting the Republic of Ireland to Northern Ireland and back and forth? This is far, far more complex and people are simply not convinced by the answers they have had from the Government so far.
My hon. Friend makes an extremely important point about the impact on ports, including Holyhead. That is why, as things stand, this statutory instrument is at best making the situation worse; all it is doing is pulling away some of the existing frameworks, without our understanding what they are going to be replaced with. That is probably the worst of all worlds for anyone following these issues and having to try to plan around them. Road hauliers are at the forefront of that. I was talking to businesses about this the other day. It beggars belief that in the current situation, with the pandemic and what is going to be happening over Christmas, we could even be countenancing lorries stacking up on motorways and other roads, and gridlock at our ports, with all the paperwork that has not yet been agreed and sorted out. I just do not know what Government, at any time, would actively seek that, but that is what this Government seem to be doing.
My hon. Friend mentions paperwork. One issue with organic materials is the SPS—sanitary and phytosanitary —checks, which require certificates. We currently have a shortage of vets to carry out these certifications. Is that not another problem that will lead to our ports being blocked and further delays?
I really am learning some things today, and, yes, I very much think that that would lead to that. My hon. Friend raises another important point. These are the wide-ranging implications of what we are seeing and the huge uncertainty. Can the Minister tell us today whether a more refined definition of qualifying Northern Ireland goods will be introduced? When will we have the clarity we all need on that?
We are also concerned about the impact on standards across the UK. Given that Northern Ireland is, in essence, within the EU single market for goods, any good allowed to be sold within the EU as complying with the EU single market must be allowed to be sold in Northern Ireland. So if, for example, Wales decided to extend the EU environmental standards applicable to vehicle emissions, the combinations of regulations would mean that Wales could not succeed, because a lower standard vehicle would be on sale lawfully in Northern Ireland and would be a qualifying Northern Ireland good. The mutual recognition principle in the United Kingdom Internal Market Bill would override that desire of the Welsh Government. Given that processed goods from Northern Ireland may include components originating outside the country, does the approach outlined in the statutory instrument for qualifying goods have wider implications for the UK’s approach to the rules of origin with the rest of the world? I do not know whether the Minister wants to take this opportunity to respond—she may have had a chance to brief herself a little more during my speech while considering her closing remarks. As she will have understood, the statutory instrument, far from being a cursory, quick bit of legislation, has massive implications for businesses and others who, I am afraid, have been left wanting, given what we have heard today.
As this debate has shown once again, there are—[Interruption.] You are nodding, Madam Deputy Speaker; I am on my peroration, you will be pleased to hear. As the debate has shown, there are huge uncertainties still facing businesses that trade in goods and services, even those whose markets are mainly internal. Given that that now comes on top of the biggest economic crash that we have seen probably for 300 years, and the huge uncertainty still surrounding businesses, not least our manufacturers, as we have heard, due to the covid-19 crisis, the Government really need to step up and get a Brexit deal done, allow time for businesses to prepare and absorb the consequences of that deal, and get on and sort out all of these outstanding issues relating to the UK internal market. The House has expressed huge disappointment and shock that the Government have not taken this very important opportunity of its own making to come to the House today to explore and update us all on these very important matters facing business. The Minister will have an opportunity shortly to respond, and I hope that she will answer the many, many questions that we have raised today.
I have declared my business interests in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests. May I reassure the Opposition that I wanted to make a few comments in this debate, and I submitted a request to participate on my own initiative? I have not received any message from the Whips, either before or during these debates, that I should not make a few remarks. With the permission of the House, I will exercise that democratic right.
I understand that there is a parliamentary game going on and that the Opposition want to extend this debate because there are some other things that they do not want to discuss, but that is a matter for them. Oppositions are quite entitled to use what time is available for their own purposes.
May I ask the right hon. Gentleman whether the game is not on the Government’s side, given that they have withdrawn all their speakers, except for his good self?
On the contrary. As I have just explained, there has been no pressure to withdraw my application. Some of my right hon. and hon. Friends who thought that they were going to speak in the debate have reread the proposal and realised that, given the incisive eloquence we would hear from the Minister, there was absolutely no need for them to come to the Chamber and duplicate and triplicate that. I have been foolish enough to think that I can add something to the Government’s case, because I support the measure. The fact that my right hon. and hon. Friends seem to have better things to do shows that they are 100% behind the measure, and just want it to be passed as quickly as possible as they attend to their other duties as busy MPs.
So why do I support these regulations, and why are the Government doing this? The first reason is to take back control. That is what millions of people voted for, and many of us are very frustrated that it still has not happened. As the Minister stated clearly, this is about ensuring that, from 1 January, we in this House, on behalf of the British people, can decide for ourselves within international law what the rules shall be on tariffs, quantitative barriers, restrictions and inducements to trade—and how right that is.
I always find it so disappointing that the Opposition, who now say that they understand the spirit of Brexit and have embraced it, do not believe that they can come up with any single improvement on the great body of European law that has been forced on us over many years. I am more optimistic. Working with the talent on the Government Benches, I can see lots of ways of improving on European law. It can be better, not worse, and more rather than less in the right areas. Surely our trade policy should be geared to the interests and concerns of businesses that back this country by investing and creating jobs in it.
I raised a serious point in an intervention on my hon. Friend the Member for Manchester Central (Lucy Powell) about the Falkland Islands. Does the right hon. Member agree that the UK family is a large one, including our overseas territories, and we ought to be backing the fishing fleet in the Falkland Islands that are trying to export squid and calamari to the EU? Will he join me on a cross-party basis in urging the UK Government to address the concerns of the Falkland Islands?
Of course I hope we can do things to help the Falkland Islands, as we have over many years. They are clearly part of our family, and blood and treasure have been shed to ensure that they are part of our family, so I above all think that we should do all we can.
From 1 January, we in this House can do the things that are in the power of an independent country. We cannot instruct the EU when we are out of it any more than we could when we were in it. There have been a glittering array of failed issues that we put to the EU on which it did not sympathise with us. We had a series of Governments who were so broken backed that they only ever accepted things that the EU wanted to do and did not try to do anything that we wanted to do, which is why it got so frustrating as a member of that body.
It is about taking back control, and I urge everyone here to be more optimistic about the powers of this House. What is the point of someone being a Member of Parliament if they do not believe that they can improve on anything in the inherited corpus of EU law? Why do the Opposition, on the whole, say, “Everything EU perfect, everything generated in this country rubbish”? It is not plausible, and it is against the spirit of the Brexit majority in this country. They want us to get a grip and do better. If we do not do better, they will change us. That is the joy of Brexit—they, at last, will get back control over us. If the law went wrong in the European Union, it did not matter who was in the Government. Even if they threw the Government out, nothing changed, because the EU would not change the law, whereas if we get the laws wrong, the public will know what to do—they can throw Ministers out.
Will the right hon. Member give way?
I am not giving way, because I have a couple of points to make, and I am conscious that many Members wish to make speeches.
Where are they then?
There are clearly Members on the Opposition Benches wishing to catch Madam Deputy Speaker’s eye.
The second point I want to make is that this is about our balance of trade and our balance of payments. One of the tragedies of our membership of the European Union over nearly 50 years was how we transformed ourselves from an industrial country with a strong farming and fishing industry into one that had been badly damaged by the rules and tariffs that the EU imposed on us and our trade with the rest of the world. It was asymmetric and very cruel.
We lost a large chunk of our motor industry in the first decade of our membership—I think it halved—and we lost a lot of our steel industry. We moved from being a net exporter of fish to being a heavy net importer, with much of our fish taken by foreign vessels and foreign industry. We have lost a lot of our self-sufficiency in temperate food, because the common agricultural policy did not suit us. State aid, cheap energy and so forth on the continent helped places such as the Netherlands to outcompete us on salads and flowers, for example.
We have a big job to do to rebuild ourselves as an industrial, farming and fishing country that is capable of cutting the food miles, cutting the fish miles and delivering more to ourselves and to our own plates through import substitution. I hope that from 1 January, if not before, Ministers will use these new powers to review all the restrictions and rules about trade and tariffs and create a British model that is better and fairer to Britain, so that “made in Britain” means something, and more is made in Britain and willingly bought by British people. It is very difficult for the Opposition to oppose that, although they will doubtless try to, because they always want to sell Britain short and to build the EU up to greater heights. None the less, outside this Chamber there will be great relief to know that at least some people in Parliament wish to see a revival of British fishing, British farming and British industry and to understand that the rules of trade and the skewed subsidies and tariffs against the rest of the world have been extremely damaging to people who want to build businesses and farming activities in the UK and that it is time for a reversal. I wholeheartedly support this measure. I want to take back control and I urge more MPs to get into the spirit of it, and, instead of cavilling and criticising every move that this country wishes to make to be independent, contribute to the debate about how we can be better.
I do not often say this, but it is a pleasure to follow the right hon. Member for Wokingham (John Redwood). I am glad that he actually came and contributed here today. At the end of his rousing speech, I admired his optimism. He has retained that optimism all this life. He spoke about what could be done better. Perhaps he should have a word with his Minister about that, because she did not give us very much in the way of what could be better, or of what is happening as a result of this legislation. Perhaps his words will be heard by those on the Front Bench.
As everyone in this Chamber is aware, we on the SNP Benches are trying to work our way out of this place. We do not always hold this place in the utmost respect, and today is another day that illustrates that, to be perfectly honest. The Minister took an intervention from me, said that she would answer my point and then sat down. She did not answer the intervention, did not respond to the point of order and did not give us very much in her speech at all. Then we have seen the Government Whips—my goodness, they have been busy today. We had seven withdrawals in the previous debate and something like 15 withdrawals in this debate. Madam Deputy Speaker, I take it that there is nothing you need to tell the House about why so many Conservative Members have had to withdraw from this debate.
The hon. Gentleman is asking me, but I have absolutely no idea. Unfortunately, I have no responsibility whatsoever.
I thank you for that, Madam Deputy Speaker. The way things are just now, I worry about why so many people are withdrawing. Hopefully, everything is all in order. We know that the Whips usually try to force people to speak in debates, especially debates that might be short or dry, so it is certainly unusual that the Whips have been pressuring their colleagues to withdraw from today’s debate.
I hope that you can show some forbearance, Madam Deputy Speaker, because as I thought there were so many speakers in the previous debate, I did not expect to be called so early in this one, so my notes are a wee bit haphazard; hopefully, you can bear with me on that.
I must commend the shadow Minister for her speech and for the amount of information that she covered. She highlighted the deficiencies that the Minister did not cover. She said that, in actual fact, when we talk about the movement of goods, one of the key issues is what it means for businesses and whether they are ready for this. We can talk about divergence in standards of the EU, but are businesses ready for what will happen on 1 January 2021? Have the Government given enough support to businesses? When we turn on the radio just now, it tells us all, “Get ready for Brexit”. That is all very well, but it does not actually tell us what we need to do. What is the point telling us to get ready, when there is no information that is clearly accessible to businesses about what they need to do? Are IT systems up and running? The companies need to know what they have to do to be able to export, and that is before we even get to divergence.
Just today, ironically, my office got a letter from the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, which is supposed to be aimed at all businesses, but I can assure the Minister that although that letter might be a bit of propaganda, it does not clear up what businesses need to do going forwards.
I hear that from businesses across my constituency as well. A lot of them do not know exactly what they are supposed to do or how they are supposed to prepare. The simple solution to this surely is to extend the transition period, as we called for in our Opposition day debate before the summer. There would be no shame in the Government taking a little bit more time to get the negotiations right and to give people time. If they do not want to call it the transition period any more, they can come up with a different name for it—call it the implementation period or the adaptation period, or something like that. There would be no shame in it; we are in the middle of a global pandemic—no one foresaw this coming. It would do nobody any harm, and then one day they would get the glorious Brexit they are looking for, rather than the cliff edge that we seem to be barrelling towards.
I thank my hon. Friend for that intervention. I am pretty sure that many businesses across the UK would agree with what he said. It would be a simple, common-sense approach. It could be called the emergency covid implementation period—something that would give businesses a bit more certainty in the short term, while the Government sort out the mess.
The key question I had for the Minister earlier is about where we are on the consent of the devolved nations. Importantly, what discussions have been had with the devolved nations about what will happen if the UK Government wants standards to diverge from those of the EU? What would that mean in terms of how the devolved nations operate? What will it mean going forward? Are they going to ride roughshod over the wishes of the devolved Administrations, as with the UK Internal Market Bill and the shared prosperity fund, which was a mechanism to bypass the wishes of the devolved Administrations? Is that what we are looking at? It is symptomatic of the entire Brexit process and debacle.
I looked at the explanatory memorandum at the weekend—unusually for me, on Saturday night I was sad enough to read an explanatory memorandum. It said that the Welsh Government had granted consent, but the Scottish Government had not. The explanatory memorandum has now been changed and does not reference either the Welsh Government or the Scottish Government. It would be great if the Minister would clear up where things are on that. I would be happy to take an intervention—I am still happy to take an intervention. I see there are none coming.
I refer to a letter from Ivan McKee to Michelle Ballantyne MSP, convenor of the Economy, Energy and Fair Work Committee. He said:
“The UK Government is seeking to lay the SI as soon as possible in order to secure a debate in the UK Parliament before the end of the year. This timeframe means that the SI would need to be laid before Scottish Parliament consent is confirmed, however Mr Zahawi’s letter states that they will not debate the SI until consent is received, therefore the Scottish Parliament should have the usual 28 day period in which to scrutinise the notification.”
In the preceding paragraph, he also says:
“Scottish Ministers therefore consider that consenting to the regulation remains appropriate.”
The Scottish Government have indicated that they are willing to consent to the SI and are willing to work with the UK Government on it. The UK Government committed not to debate the SI until consent was given. As we are now debating the SI, I ask the Minister again whether consent has been formally given. Perhaps we can assume it has not been; it would be great if the Minister could clear that up later on.
This is about divergence. I understand the UK wants to protect itself from challenges. We can understand that—there is a need to have some legal protections—but the Minister did say it is not a precedent to diverging. Could she confirm that? Why would we want to diverge from the EU, especially at the moment, when we are still negotiating this trade deal that really determines the future of the UK, particularly in the short term, on 1 January? What is the status of the trade deal discussions? Surely the UK thinking about diverging has a massive impact on the trade deal because the trade deal will confirm what divergences are possible or not. It seems to me that the cart is before the horse. We can talk about taking back control, but unless the UK Government are capable of joining up the dots in the big picture, this SI matters not a jot.
I suppose we should commend the right hon. Member for Wokingham (John Redwood) for turning up and contributing to this debate. Taking back control was supposed to be what it was all about, and where are they? Where are the Tories—the European Research Group, the Maastricht rebels and all the rest of them?
We had the same last night with the statutory instrument that directly amended primary legislation passed by the Scottish Parliament. Fair enough, it was relatively technical in nature, as is this measure, but it goes to the point of respect for the devolution settlement, and it goes to the point of democratic accountability that Brexit was supposed to bring forward.
Was the Labour Front-Bench spokesperson not right when she said that when the Government force through relatively technical stuff such as this statutory instrument what they are doing is driving a coach and horses through the devolution settlement, and they are doing our work for us, because they are undermining the case for the Union?
I wholeheartedly agree. The shadow Minister used the phrase “rocket boosters” under the argument for independence, and I hope we do have these rocket boosters in place and getting fired up right now.
Despite the fact that we share nationality, we do not share that particular ambition for separation. Some things about that worry me a lot if Scotland does eventually go independent. One is, do I get a passport? But more important than that, will I still get my supply? Will the divergences be in place for me to get my square sausage, my Scottish black pudding, my sliced sausage and, of course, my supply of Talisker?
I will need to catch up with the hon. Gentleman in better surroundings, and we can share a sausage and Talisker, but of course he makes a serious point. In actual fact, the devolved nations want a common framework for agreeing how goods move about. To be honest, if we get our wish of independence, we are going to operate that way as well. We want to work with the other nations, and that is really important. But the way this UK Government are going about it, they want to impose their will on the different devolved nations, and it is like it or lump it. Hopefully, we can toast a wee dram to independence and we will discover we will still be friends after that as well, even though we do not share the same aims at the moment.
I am sure the hon. Member for Stockton North (Alex Cunningham) will be entitled to a passport as well, but is not the point that Lorne sausage and Scotch whisky—the indicators of these vitally important products—are at risk because of the lack of the UK Government’s ability to conclude a deal with the EU? That is the kind of thing that ought to be being addressed through statutory instruments like this, Madam Deputy Speaker, and that is why it is relevant to this debate.
For clarification, I was not suggesting that the hon. Gentleman was in any way out of order in the points he made. I am just really concerned about the square sausage.
Yes, so we all share the same good taste in food then.
I agree with the point my hon. Friend made. Following up his earlier point about the contribution from the other Benches, I actually thought, “Oh my goodness, I’m going to have to listen to another 15 Conservative MPs tell me how great Brexit is going to be, how they are taking back control, how this is just another step in the way of taking back control and there’ll be wonderful trade deals.” So in one way there is a blessing: I do not have to listen to 15 speeches the same. But in another way, it is disappointing that they have not turned up here to actually do their job and actually say what they wanted to say. That is disappointing.
The right hon. Member for Wokingham (John Redwood) actually talked about taking back control, but he talked about Parliament taking back control, yet we are seeing statutory instrument after statutory instrument giving more power to the Executive. Is that really Parliament taking back control?
I agree absolutely 100%. Again, if Parliament was taking back control, we would expect parliamentarians in here doing their job debating it. But not only have the Executive taken more power, but we know there is more power invested in unelected bureaucrats who were advising the Prime Minister. I am sure nobody is shedding a tear that Dominic Cummings has actually left, but there is too much power in unelected bureaucrats behind the scene. It is double ironic when Brexiteers come here and talk about taking back control, and the Government were in hock to unelected officials.
We do have to wonder what divergences are planned by the UK Government, but also how these divergences are going to be managed. What is the process going to be? Will there be proper impact assessments undertaken, and will there be complete transparency on divergences that are proposed and what that means for businesses? How will we ensure that there are no unintended consequences by diverging in one area, which might affect more businesses adversely by stopping the export of their goods or preventing vital imports coming in? Those vital imports might prop up the supply chain of the key industries mentioned earlier, such as aerospace and automotive, because we rely on an EU-wide supply chain, with goods in the supply chain going backwards and forwards two or three times sometimes to create a finished product.
Does the hon. Gentleman agree that it is about not only the import of goods, but exports? One of our key exports is shellfish, which is very important to the Scottish economy. Does he agree that any barriers or disruptions of that could have a huge impact on the fishing industry in the UK?
I agree wholeheartedly. That is the problem with the silo approach that the UK Government have taken sometimes. They talk about the fishing industry and fishing quotas and, sure, the fishing quotas are important, but for the Government they have become the symbol of Brexit, so fishing quotas seem to be getting looked at at the expense of everything else and that includes shellfish. We also rely on the free movement of people at the moment coming from the EU to do the processing of the fish and different things, so we might end up with bigger fishing quotas without the ability to process the fish and then export them. It is hugely ironic, and that is why the Government need to always have their eye on the big picture and to join up the dots, rather than making headline announcements, looking for the headline in The Daily Telegraph. They need to understand what this means for ordinary people up and down the UK.
I am sure my hon. Friend is just clearing his throat to get started, but on the issue of the free movement of people, is the issue of immigration not a red herring—if Members will pardon the pun—in the context of fishing? The UK Government said that this was all about reducing migration, but in order to do most of these trade deals, they will probably have to do a lot of visa-free travel for countries such as India?
Absolutely. It is about looking at the big picture but, instead, the Government make big headline announcements to get some plaudits. It might help them to win an election in the short term, but what does that mean in the long term for the UK? That is something that the Tory party needs to consider.
I was speaking about divergences. I hope that the Minister will clear up how the divergence process will work and how it will be transparent, because we need to ensure that no divergences are given to some cronies who shout the loudest, because that again might have a wider impact on other businesses. So far, there have been allegations of cronyism in how covid has been dealt with, in terms of supplies of personal protective equipment. I would never accuse the Government of cronyism in giving contracts to people they know and who might favour the Tory party, but other people have done that, so I hope that the Minister will give us assurances that, going forward, any divergences from the EU will be done with the best interests of UK businesses at heart and, again, done with the wishes and agreement of the devolved Administrations.
I would be so bold as to put on the record that this Government have been guilty of cronyism. But that is not just in the context of Brexit or the pandemic. For example, there is also the cronyism in terms of Richard Desmond and the Westferry scandal. So I would caution my hon. Friend. It is not just in terms of the pandemic that the Government have been guilty of cronyism; it goes much wider than that.
Order. As the hon. Gentleman said, the point he has just made goes very wide, and very much wider than the particular statutory instrument before us. So I am sure that the hon. Member for Kilmarnock and Loudoun will stick very strictly to the terms of the SI, which he has done very well so far in his long speech.
Hopefully, I will not be too much longer—these notes might be deceiving.
A key point, as I said, is divergences and this is all about the movement of goods. Where are we with regards to the movement of goods in terms of a no deal? Are we still reliant on the EU making concessions, just because the UK is not in a position to check in common goods? If we are going to look at diverging, we have to be able to manage what we have got just now, never mind changing things going forward.
This was raised yesterday. The Minister at the Dispatch Box was not able to answer it but, on checking goods and the movement of goods, how many custom agents will be required? How many have been trained? Yesterday, the hon. Member for Bristol East (Kerry McCarthy) highlighted that the Cabinet Secretary estimated that 50,000 customs agents are needed, but that it is also estimated that only 10,000 have been trained to date. The Minister could not clear that up. This Minister has been taking lots of notes, so although she has not intervened, I am expecting a lengthy response. I hope that she can tell us where we are with training and employing customs agents and whether there will be enough in place on 1 January 2021.
My hon. Friend has been incredibly generous in giving way. On the point about customs agents, Brexit was sold on the premise of us taking back control. Does he share my concern that “taking back control” was just something on the side of a bus and that when we look at the greater detail, we find that the Government have done very little preparation, which is worrying?
Yes, it is very worrying. There has been very little preparation—all last-minute stuff. That is also why the Government are unable to engage with the devolved Administrations and businesses. They have not planned or done enough to get us to where they want to be—not where I or my hon. Friend want to be—in time for 1 January 2021.
The reality of Brexit preparations, as described by my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow East (David Linden), was illustrated yesterday by the passing of the Kent borders regulations, which allow the police to stop lorry drivers entering Kent because of the fear of the utter chaos at the border in January. That shows how the UK Government have not done enough and that more work needs to be done. Clearly, all those issues matter in the immediate short term and need addressing in the long term before we start looking at divergences of standards.
Is there any planned divergence for agricultural standards? That has been touched on and is important. The UK Government resisted protecting those standards for future trade deals in the Agriculture Act 2020. What does the SI mean regarding the UK’s ability to diverge from the EU? While the UK wants to avoid challenge, what does that mean for the devolved nations in terms of the UK Government protecting themselves? Will they impose their will on the devolved nations? I mentioned the point earlier, but on divergences, will the internal market Bill become the kicker through the back door by allowing divergences to be forced on the devolved nations against their will?
We do not accept that the UK Government have any legitimacy in imposing divergence from the EU acquis on Scotland’s behalf as a member of the UK. On democratic principles, we do not consent to allow any withdrawal of Scotland from the EU. That applies to the withdrawal agreement and any subsequent legislation used to enforce the unwanted and undemocratic divergence from the EU, which Scotland voted overwhelmingly to remain a member of.
We do not accept the economic impact of diverging from EU rules, and that also applies to leaving the transition period, particularly because, as we discussed, the economy faces unprecedented challenges as we try to recover from the covid pandemic. We do not support or accept the need for the UK internal market Bill, which potentially allows divergences to be forced on the devolved Administrations against their wishes. We really need better co-operative working from the UK Government.
It would be ironic, when there seemed to be consensus from the Opposition that they would not oppose the SI, if, unless we start to hear decent responses from the Minister, there was a vote on it after all.
I have been informed that the Member who is No. 5 on the call list has withdrawn from the debate, as have the Members who are Nos. 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18 and 19. We therefore come directly to the Minister.
I thank the House for its consideration of this statutory instrument and for the valuable contributions made to the debate.
I stress that my opening speech was short because these regulations do not result in any immediate change and will not introduce any changes for business. The regulations mean that if we choose to diverge from the EU requirements, either actively or by changing our legislation, or by not keeping pace with the EU regulations, we cannot be challenged under the EU treaty. As I have made clear—
Apologies, but I will not be giving way.
As I have made clear, the SI is not a precondition for divergence, nor does the SI itself introduce any diversion from current laws. I have set out today, however, the importance of this SI for ensuring that we are not faced with legal challenges that seek to keep us in line with EU regulations. This will ensure that we have the freedom to regulate in Great Britain how we see fit, considering the impact on businesses and consumers, while ensuring that UK product safety remains one of the strongest in the world.
We have engaged with officials across all the devolved Administrations, sharing drafts of the SI and taking them through the changes as appropriate. Consent has been received from the Welsh and Scottish Governments as some of the changes are subject to devolved competence. The SI will not impact on Wales’s and Scotland’s ability to regulate those that fall under these areas of devolved competence. Articles 34 to 36 of the treaty on the functioning of the European Union will still apply in Northern Ireland by virtue of the Northern Ireland protocol. It is therefore not necessary for this SI to extend to Northern Ireland.
Will the Minister give way?
Apologies, but I am not giving way.
Coming on to business participation, since the summer the Department has been rolling out an ambitious series of readiness events for businesses and has published a range of guidance, including on this requirement, on placing goods on the market from January 2021. Let me once again stress that this SI itself does not—
On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. Call me old-fashioned, but I thought that the usual convention for a winding-up speech is to respond to the debate. All the Minister appears to be doing is reading her civil service—
Order. That is not a point of order—it is a point about the content of the Minister’s speech, which is entirely a matter for the Minister, and she does not have very long, so we must let her finish.
Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker.
Let me once again stress that this SI itself does not introduce any changes for businesses.
These regulations give business greater certainty that as UK rules change they will not be rolled back after any legal challenges based on them. At the end of the transition period, EU treaty rights on the movement of goods stemming from articles 34 to 36 of the treaty on the functioning of the European Union will be retained in UK law unless they are removed by this SI. The UK will have its own regulatory regime after the end of the transition period. However, if retained, these EU treaty rights could impact our ability to diverge from EU regulation in the future. The EU treaty rights prohibit quantitative restrictions of equivalent measures on imports and exports, meaning that divergence from the EU regulatory requirements could result in a challenge. This SI will remove the EU treaty rights flowing from articles 34 to 36 of the treaty on the functioning of the European Union.
My Department published guidance on gov.uk on 1 September and 10 November detailing requirements on placing goods on the Northern Ireland market, as well as arrangements for access to the rest of the UK. My Department also issues regular transition bulletins that provide the latest readiness information. When the SI comes into force on 1 January 2021, it will protect our right to diverge from the EU regulations without being challenged under the EU treaty rights. I commend these regulations to the House.
Question put and agreed to.
That the draft Prohibition on Quantitative Restrictions (EU Exit) Regulations 2020, which were laid before this House on 9 November, be approved.
I am going to suspend the House for a few minutes in order that we can have a change of Members and Ministers.
Order. I call Minister Lucy Frazer to move motion 5. It is not moved, so I call the Leader of the House to motion 6. It is not moved, so I call the Leader of the House to move motion 7. It is not moved, so we come to motion 8, relating to virtual participation in debate.
On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. Given that we have just clipped through three items of business and the Leader of the House has been handling the Dispatch Box, should the House not be suspended again so that the Dispatch Boxes can be sanitised and Members who want to participate in the next item of business can make sure that they are present?
I appreciate the point that the hon. Gentleman makes, but I have taken the decision that, as we have just suspended and we have been sitting again for only two or three minutes, a further suspension is not necessary, and that the Leader of the House’s touching of the Dispatch Box was momentary.
Further to that point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. In the interests of physical hygiene, it may be the case that the Leader of the House will use the Government Dispatch Box next, but should he rise to move the next debate, there is a possibility, of course, that the Opposition Dispatch Box has been touched by another Member and should be cleaned in advance of the right hon. Member for Walsall South (Valerie Vaz) arriving.
I appreciate the hon. Gentleman’s help in advising me on this matter, but I am satisfied that the necessary precautions have been taken to make sure that the Chamber and the Dispatch Boxes have been suitably cleaned and sanitised, and that we are that we are covid-compliant and that we will now proceed.