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UK-EU Future Relationship Negotiations and Transition Period

Volume 685: debated on Monday 7 December 2020

(Urgent Question): To ask the Minister for the Cabinet Office if he will make a statement on the progress of the negotiations on the UK’s future relationship with the EU and preparations for the end of the transition period.

I am grateful for this opportunity to update the House on the progress of our negotiations with the European Union.

Intensive talks continue. In fact, the United Kingdom’s negotiating team, led by Lord Frost, has been in talks with the EU almost every day since 22 October and is working tirelessly to get a deal on our future relationship. This also affords us in this place the opportunity to show our collective resolve to get a good deal, our expectations of what that needs to look like, and what we will not accept. While there has been some progress across many areas, familiar differences remain on the so-called level playing field, fisheries and governance. Of these, the level playing field issue is currently the most difficult.

On Friday, after an intensive week of talks in London, the respective chief negotiators, Lord Frost and Michel Barnier, issued a joint statement. This outlined that the conditions for an agreement had not been met, and that talks should pause briefly to allow the Prime Minister and the Commission President to discuss the state of play on Saturday. Following their telephone call, the Prime Minister and President von der Leyen issued a joint statement. It welcomed progress, but noted that an agreement would not be feasible if the issues on the level playing field, fisheries and governance were not resolved. They agreed that a further effort should be made by the UK and the EU to assess whether the outstanding differences can be resolved, and instructed the chief negotiators to reconvene in Brussels.

We are at a critical moment in the negotiations. Teams are negotiating as we speak, and the Prime Minister will call the Commission President later this afternoon to discuss progress again. My right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster is in Brussels today, meeting the European Commission vice-president; they are meeting in their capacity as co-chairs of the UK-EU Joint Committee under the withdrawal agreement.

We are all working to get a deal, but the only deal that is possible is one that is compatible with our sovereignty, and that takes back control of our laws, trade and waters. While an agreement is preferable, we are prepared to leave on so-called Australian-style terms if we cannot find compromises. As the Prime Minister has made clear, people and businesses must prepare for the changes that are coming on 31 December, most of which are related to our departure from the EU single market and customs union, and not the outcome of these talks.

Mr Speaker, we will continue to keep the House updated as we seek to secure a future relationship with our EU friends that respects our status as a sovereign, equal and independent country.

Last year, the Prime Minister said that to leave with no deal would be a “failure of statecraft”, so this Government must take responsibility for their failure if we leave without a deal. We will hold the Government to account for whatever they bring back—deal or no deal.

With just 24 days to go until the end of the transition period, let me ask a few basic questions about this Government’s and our country’s readiness. Trading on World Trade Organisation terms would mean tariffs on lamb exports of 40%, so what is the latest assessment of how many farms would go to the wall in the event of no deal? Tariffs on car exports would be 10%, so what is the viability of our great automotive industry if there is no deal on rules of origin?

The Office for Budget Responsibility said last week—I am surprised the Chancellor did not mention it at all in his spending review statement—that if we leave without a deal, GDP would fall by an additional 2% next year, unemployment would rise by an additional 1% and inflation would be up 1.5%. Those are not just numbers; this is about British industries and people’s jobs. The detail does matter, so will the Minister admit to the House how many of the 50,000 customs agents who the Government agreed are needed by the end of the year have actually been recruited?

Today, the Minister for the Middle East and North Africa claimed that the oven-ready deal had already been delivered. If that is the case, it must have been sent to the wrong address, because the whole country is still waiting for the comprehensive trade and security deal that was promised to the British people at the general election less than a year ago.

Mr Speaker, you will remember that the former International Trade Secretary, the right hon. Member for North Somerset (Dr Fox), once said that a trade deal with the EU would be the “easiest in human history”. Let me finish by asking the Minister: is that still the view of this Government?

I have some sympathy with Her Majesty’s Opposition today, because although I have been involved with various aspects of the negotiations and am vice-chair of the Joint Committee under the withdrawal agreement, I have not been in the room for these negotiations, and neither has any Member of this House. I understand that we have so much invested in getting a good result, for all the reasons the hon. Lady sets out. This is how it must have been for an expectant father waiting for news outside the delivery room. I can understand the tension and frustration many Members must be feeling at this critical moment.

We are all waiting for what we hope is good news, but we are not powerless in this. We are all active players and participants, and we should all be doing everything we can at this critical moment to ensure that our negotiating team are supported, and that we get the best result for this country. That means that we should provide clarity and resolve about what we want from a deal and what we are not prepared to accept, and show united support for our negotiating team. I hope that all Members of this House will join me in sending our resolve and good wishes to Lord Frost and his team as they continue to work on our behalf. We must also provide the necessary focus to get the negotiations over the line, which many Members of this House did by ensuring that we did not extend the transition period.

Sadly, the hon. Member for Leeds West (Rachel Reeves) and her colleagues on the Opposition Benches have failed to do any of those things to help us secure a good deal for this country. That is fair enough if Labour does not have a position on Brexit, but it might like to get one in the next few days.

All of us in this House must show support and resolve to get the deal that the hon. Lady articulates, and that we all want for citizens and businesses, not just within the UK but throughout the remainder of the EU. [Interruption.] I am turning to her questions; there were not that many. The tariff issues are published on I know that she has recently written to the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, who will reply to her in detail, as he always does.

What I would say to the hon. Lady, having been involved with transition preparations, is that when we have got into some of the detail—site visits and so forth, and helping ports, for example, put together their bids for the port infrastructure fund—assumptions that have been made about what we will need have been reduced. In my own local patch, for example, we were looking at having to have 10 freight gates. We now need only three because we have had greater clarity about how things will work.

We will keep the hon. Lady and all Members of the House updated on this front, but I assure her that we are making every effort to secure a deal. That is our aim. That is what everyone, I think, in this House would want, but that deal must respect the United Kingdom’s sovereignty and its integrity as a nation. We want to be able to control our own borders, set our own robust and principled subsidy control system, and control our waters. Those things are not up for compromise. We will not compromise. If the hon. Lady and colleagues want to assist Lord Frost and his team in that, that is the message that they should send them this afternoon in this place.

I thank my right hon. Friend for the statement. I, for one, absolutely have confidence in Lord Frost and the Prime Minister, who are basing their negotiations on a manifesto that won us a huge majority at the last election. The British public voted for a sovereign departure—that is to say, that we would be a sovereign nation. She is right, therefore, and does she not agree that although this is entitled a trade discussion or a trade deal, the truth is that at the end of the day, as she said, this is essentially about sovereignty? To have continuing control of our laws, our territorial waters and, for that matter, our trade are matters of sovereign control, not just trade. Will she give that message back to our negotiators, and say that they have the Government side of the House completely behind them?

I thank my right hon. Friend for his comments, and for saving my breath in saying that again. He is absolutely right. I think it has been a difficulty on the EU side to come to terms with the fact that we are a sovereign equal in these negotiations. We have made this point time and again. I know that many Government Members have made that point many times, but that is the sticking point. I hope that the EU negotiators, and all member states, have heard his message loudly and clearly.

So here we are at the 59th minute of the eleventh hour, where we were arguably always going to be. What was supposed to be the easiest deal in history has become the biggest unconcluded disaster of modern times. The oven-ready deal was in fact a barely defrosted turkey. We still do not know if it is to be a low deal or a no deal. The chaos is due to commence in a few short weeks, and we still do not know the scale of the carnage that each sector will have to endure.

What we do know, I suppose, is that it will all be the fault of these Europeans. We know that even if it is a low deal it will cost every Scot £1,600 and Scotland’s GDP will fall by 6.1%, and we know, of course, that Scotland rejected this whole miserable project. Will the Minister concede that these negotiations have been nothing other than a shambles, that the Government simply do not care about the repercussions of no deal, and that the views of Scotland simply do not matter? If the Government do not care about the views of Scotland, why should Scotland endure this misery any longer?

The hon. Gentleman has surpassed himself today. As someone who has worked very hard with Mike Russell and other colleagues to ensure that their views and ideas are taken up by the negotiating team, I can tell the hon. Gentleman that throughout the course of the negotiations the position has evolved to take on board many aspects of what his colleagues have been asking for—for example, participation in programmes. The team changed their original position and have gone in to negotiate very hard on things that they have asked for. If we have good news in the coming days, I hope that he will give the UK Government the entire credit.

Will my right hon. Friend ensure that the Government point out to our European partners that under their own treaty there cannot be any kind of deliberate go-slow or disruption of UK exports to the continent, whether or not we have a free trade agreement, because under their own treaty they are obliged to pursue free and fair trade with their neighbours, and, under article 8(1), to pursue good neighbourliness? Both the UK and the European Union have also signed up to the trade facilitation agreement at the World Trade Organisation, which obliges us to ensure that trade flows and does not get blocked by people doing box-ticking exercises, which are basically unnecessarily.

My hon. Friend makes an excellent point, and is absolutely right. If our European partners were to do such a thing, they would also be disadvantaging the businesses in their own member states.

We all wish the negotiators well, not least—as my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds West (Rachel Reeves) pointed out earlier—because of the assessment of the Office for Budget Responsibility that no agreement could reduce real GDP by a further 2% in 2021, on top of the adverse consequences that will come from Brexit anyway. Does the Minister agree with that assessment? If so, can she explain to the House why, in the middle of the worst economic crisis for 300 years, the Prime Minister still appears to believe that no deal would be a good outcome? British business certainly does not.

The right hon. Gentleman will hear no argument from me to say that no deal is going to be better than getting a deal, but everyone is working to get a deal; that is our objective. That is why Lord Frost, as I speak, is there with his team trying to secure that. I would say to the right hon. Gentleman that delaying a decision and extending the negotiations—[Interruption.] Well, I think that is what he is driving at, but the facts are not going to change. We have all the information and the positions are as they are. It is only by continuing those negotiations, and by us continuing to put the pressure on for those negotiations to be concluded, that we will, I hope, arrive at a deal.

We all want to see a deal, but the difficulties are not really about trade. Uniquely, we began these negotiations with an entire identity of regulations, of tariffs and of trade law, which is unprecedented in the history of trade negotiations and should have made this more straightforward. Does my right hon. Friend agree that this is not really about trade difficulties, but about EU politics? It is about ensuring that no country follows the United Kingdom in exercising their legal powers to leave the European Union, and about the desire of some in the EU to limit the competitive potential of post-Brexit Britain.

I agree with my right hon. Friend. It is not just the issues that I have set out in the UK’s position that should be focusing the minds of the EU’s negotiating team and the Commission; it is also what is in the interests of their member states. Britain’s position—the United Kingdom’s position—is that we want this outcome not just for our own benefit, but for the benefit of all member states, and the businesses and citizens within them.

According to the Cabinet Office’s leaked reasonable worst-case scenario document, in the event of a no-deal Brexit, the supply of medicines and medical devices could be reduced by up to 40%. In the spirit of doing all we can, can the Minister advise us of which products might be affected and whether my constituents, and indeed the constituents of every Member in this place, should start to stockpile them?

As has been said at the Dispatch Box before, a reasonable worst-case scenario is not a prediction; it is the worst case that we need to prepare for and mitigate for. We thought it was right—as we do across many areas, including covid—to think through those consequences and put those documents in the public domain, and the reasonable worst-case scenario was a document that we published. Whether it is food supplies, medicine or anything related to the covid pandemic, we have put in place mitigations for all sorts of things that could happen and could go wrong. We are not anticipating disruption to those supplies, and the work that we have undertaken includes the stockpiling of certain goods, securing our own freight capacity and many other things.

With regard to the fact that we are the first country in the world to have approved a vaccine for covid-19, does my right hon. Friend agree that we benefited from the ability to act quickly, nimbly and dynamically and that one of the key benefits of Brexit is that it will extend that ability across a number of different areas—for example, international trading relationships and social employment legislation? Will she assure me that, whatever happens come 31 December, we will have that ability and that power as a country to chart our own course and have a wonderful future?

I supported Brexit—I voted for it—and I think there are many positives and opportunities that will come from it, not least being able to increase our collaboration and co-operation with many countries around the world. Unless we eradicate covid, and unless we ensure that every nation has access to vaccines and can benefit from the science, whatever its provenance, we will not defeat this pandemic. We are an incredibly connected nation, and we need to do that. With the future that we have, we will be able to be a major player in ensuring that that happens.

The Government are doing the right thing in resisting any demand from the EU to take the power to impose penalties on the UK at some time in the future if Brussels deems that we have not kept pace with laws made outside the United Kingdom. Taking back control is the whole point of Brexit. In resisting the level playing field demands of the EU, the Government must also ensure that the EU’s demand for Northern Ireland to be included in its level playing field is resisted. If the Government do not do that, we have not taken back control—we have surrendered part of the United Kingdom to EU demands.

The right hon. Gentleman makes very good points that he has made many times over. The level playing field is the most difficult issue facing the negotiating teams at the moment, and I thank him for his comments, which will have been heard by the team today.

In simple terms, could my right hon. Friend confirm that the UK Government will not sign up to any agreement that compromises our sovereignty or our ability to reach new trade agreements with the many countries around the world that are very keen to do business with an independent Britain?

I can give my hon. Friend those assurances. The Prime Minister has been very clear on this point, and it is something that the EU negotiating team will be fully apprised of.

The Minister might know that I am a member of the Select Committee on the Future Relationship with the European Union, which will be abolished next week. As a member of that Committee, I have witnessed the sheer incompetence of the Government’s leadership. On Small Business Saturday this weekend, a businesswoman said to me, “We have suffered 1,000 cuts in the last year from covid. Why would any Government inflict another 1,000 cuts by coming out of Europe on the wrong terms, in the wrong way?”

What would be damaging for business is more prolonged uncertainty. Our businesses, as we have seen especially over the past year, are incredibly resilient and can cope with all sorts of things. What they cannot cope with is every eventuality as opposed to any eventuality. We need to give them certainty. I hope that we will soon be able to inform them of the remaining issues that the negotiating teams are working on. That will provide them with 100% clarity about the situation that they are facing. We will continue to support them to get ready for the transition.

We all wish the Prime Minister, Lord Frost and the negotiating team every success in securing a deal with the EU, but should the trade talks fail, the Government’s reasonable worst-case scenario suggests that there might be significant issues with the flow of imported medicines in the first few months. Will my right hon. Friend therefore reassure all our constituents that, come what may, there will be no impediment to imported covid-19 vaccines and other crucial medicines—if need be, in the worst-case scenario, deploying military transport?

I can give my hon. Friend and his constituents those assurances. This is an incredibly serious matter. The supply of medicines and medical devices, even without the pandemic, has always been a priority, going right back to last year and the potential no deal scenario planning that went on, with huge efforts. His question affords me the opportunity to pay tribute to the civil servants, military personnel, local resilience forums and many other people who have been planning and conducting exercises—and of course all the people who have been working on the winter planning assumptions around that. I can give him those assurances that we take this very seriously indeed.

Those assurances were flatly contradicted only last week by the head of the UK’s pharmaceutical industry, Richard Torbett, who said that border delays and, crucially, the absence of mutual recognition standards in the event of no deal will disrupt the supply of vital medicines to this country, including vaccines. Why should we believe Government Ministers rather than the man who heads our multibillion-pound medicines industry and knows what he is talking about?

There are many potential problems, but those problems have been methodically thought through. As I say, they range from administrative issues that the right hon. Gentleman refers to, right through to freight transport issues, including our securing back-up plans if commercial transport is not available or we have issues of pinch points on the key transit routes. In addition to that, and in addition to the phased approach to the border that is being taken next year, we have also, for the first few weeks, put additional measures in place to really try to ensure that there are no delays and no snarl-ups on those key freight routes.

I refer to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests.

My right hon. Friend is right, of course, to observe that it is in everybody’s interests that there should be a deal, and that uncertainty is damaging for everyone. Will she bear in mind that that is particularly acute for the people of Her Majesty’s territory of Gibraltar? Will she ensure that they, above all, as we have responsibility in these negotiations, are not allowed to become collateral damage? Will she also undertake to ensure that the Government of Gibraltar are kept fully informed of all developments and every assistance is given to ensure that whatever the outcome, there is a smooth and flowing land frontier and the delivery of essential services for Gibraltar?

I agree with all the points that my hon. Friend has made. I can assure him, from my involvement in the negotiations and keeping our partners informed, that all those issues with regard to Gibraltar are absolutely at the heart of our negotiating position. I thank him for raising that on the Floor of the House today.

In the worst case of no deal, tariffs on food imports from the EU would on average be over 20%, but on beef mince they would be 48%, cheddar cheese 57%, oranges 12%—the list goes on and on. Over the weekend, however, the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Secretary said that the impact of tariffs would be “modest”. Will the Minister concede that that is not true for the third of children in Wales who live in poverty, or for poor children all across the UK?

As I said, information about tariffs has been published on What I would say to the hon. Gentleman is that we are negotiating to ensure that we can get a deal. I understand his concerns, but our efforts are to secure that deal. I hope he would join us in that effort and send a clear message today to the EU negotiating team that that is in the interests not just of his constituents, but of all citizens across the EU.

There is no doubt that it is in the best interests of all parties to secure a deal. However, for many residents in Aberconwy who voted to leave, sovereignty was a key driver. It has been cited throughout the negotiations as a red line, so will my right hon. Friend reassure all our constituents that, come what may, deal or no deal, after we leave the negotiations, we will do so with our sovereignty intact?

I can give my hon. Friend those assurances. The Prime Minister has been very clear on that point and the EU negotiating team will recognise that it is a point from which we will not move.

My right hon. Friend knows more than most how increasingly unstable our complex world is becoming. Does she agree that the threats we face, from both state and non-state actors, do not recognise international borders or the membership of political unions, and that no decision taken this week should diminish our collective security responsibility?

I agree with my right hon. Friend absolutely. It is one thing I have never accepted about what has been said about the EU’s negotiating position. I do not believe that member states would tolerate their own citizens being put in the way of greater harm. The security and defence co-operation we have between member states and ourselves is highly valued, and I think that would be recognised by all member states in that respect.

Does the Minister see the irony of UK negotiators trying to persuade our EU counterparts of our good faith when it comes to compliance with the rules of any new trade deal at exactly the time that the Prime Minister is today asking Parliament to vote to break international law by ripping up rules that were agreed barely a year ago? Can she tell us why the Government are apparently yet to agree to non-regression over current standards, when Ministers have repeatedly assured us that they intend to maintain and even enhance our own environmental standards?

I think that the trust for which the United Kingdom is renowned is deep. I think it is very well understood that the moves the Government have taken with regard to the United Kingdom Internal Market Bill have had to be taken as an insurance policy to preserve the integrity of our country. The Prime Minister and the Minister for the Constitution and Devolution, my hon. Friend the Member for Norwich North (Chloe Smith) have been very clear, as has been the Secretary of State Justice, on why we are taking this particular course of action. I still think that the United Kingdom is held in very high esteem in that respect.

A large number of colleagues have already mentioned the importance of parliamentary sovereignty, which we recognise as one of the most important cornerstones of our democracy. With people across the country voting overwhelmingly to get Brexit done, will my right hon. Friend assure Bishop Auckland residents and the House that any deal we sign will categorically not undermine our sovereignty and our ability to set our own border policy, or our ability to strike free trade deals with our global friends around the world?

Quite right. We have as a nation been on a rollercoaster over the past few years, and the British people have been absolutely resolved, as demonstrated at the last general election, that we are going to get this done. I think it would be a very difficult discussion to have with our constituents if we had gone through that rollercoaster for no upside. We have to secure these freedoms; we are a sovereign nation, and that is the future we must all look forward to.

Like the rest of the UK, Northern Ireland badly needs to see a deal, not least because no deal means the prospect of some tariffs being levied down the Irish sea interface. However, regardless of a deal or no deal, can the Minister give this House an assurance that the Government will work in good faith with the EU over the coming days to conclude the discussions in the Joint Committee around the implementation of the protocol, and that that will also include consideration of a grace or adjustment period for Northern Ireland businesses, which simply no longer have the time to prepare for 1 January?

Yes, I can give the hon. Gentleman those assurances. Although we are talking about issues that are extremely difficult, particularly the three issues that I alluded to earlier, the talks and negotiations are constructive and they are continuing apace. I hope that we will have good news in the coming days.

In light of the Opposition’s recent refusal to make any decision—as their constituents sent them to this place to do—in support of or opposition to the tier restrictions, what assessment has my right hon. Friend made of demands from some parts of the House for the Government to reach any deal with the European Union, while simultaneously considering voting against or not at all if any such deal is brought before this House?

I agree with my hon. Friend that it only makes sense to keep one’s powder dry if one is prepared to accept no deal, but the position of the Opposition is a matter for them—I just hope they get one in the next few days.

This is a shambles. I held a meeting with local businesses in my constituency about the impact of this ongoing uncertainty all year. One owner of a logistics company said to me that the damage has been done. She waited throughout November for the deal; it did not come, and her business has now been killed and her staff have lost their jobs. Will the Minister apologise to business owners such as my constituent for this utter mess?

I am sorry to hear about the plight of the hon. Lady’s constituent. As I have reiterated many times before, I am available every day on covid or Brexit issues, if hon. Members want to talk. I am available at 10 am every single day and have been for weeks. I am not making a political point, but saying to all hon. Members, “If businesses are in difficulty for whatever reason, please do get in touch.” We would have liked this resolved earlier, but we are not prepared to compromise on matters that are of immense importance to many of her constituents. We will not compromise on those, but we are working incredibly hard to resolve the remaining issues, and I hope that in short order we will be able to provide her constituents and everyone else with the certainty that they need.

The Prime Minister has done a fantastic job over Brexit; he has taken the United Kingdom out of the European Union and I am absolutely confident that he will only bring back a deal to this House if it takes back control of our laws, borders and trade. In fact, I would bet my house that he will not betray those principles. However, may I ask the excellent Minister why the negotiations are still continuing? The EU said the absolute deadline for these negotiations was 31 October, and here we are on 7 December. Was the Minister hinting to us in her answer to the previous question that tonight we will get a decision one way or the other, a deal or no deal?

I am not hinting at that, although it would be jolly nice. In my opening response, I outlined what I am expecting to happen this afternoon in terms of the Prime Minister’s speaking to the Commission President. I am not raising that hope, but these negotiations are continuing because a deal is still possible, and we will continue to negotiate until that ceases to be the case.

Brexit has already cost our country billions, and we have seen investments slump in crucial sectors, a rise in unemployment, and some businesses leave our shores before we even reach the artificial, self-imposed deadline at the end of this year. How many more jobs will be lost? How much more economic damage will we suffer, and what further undermining of our international influence and national security will it take, before those who peddled the false promises of 2016 admit that they are simply undeliverable, in these negotiations or anywhere else?

I would ask the hon. Gentleman to reflect on why he thinks that our nation, collectively and together, voted to leave the EU. I am sure there was a range of issues. Some were economic, because people may not have wanted to be tied to the eurozone, but there were many other reasons. For many, it was about sovereignty, and being able to shape our own future. The policies that we are carrying out and doing our best to secure a deal for, are what we have a mandate to do from the British people. We put the question to them, they gave us their response, and it is incumbent on all of us in this place to act on their wishes.

The Government are under huge pressure this week to secure a deal—any deal. Does my right hon. Friend agree that the long-term economic and political consequences of a bad deal that keeps the UK in the regulatory orbit of the EU and not as an independent sovereign state, would be far worse than any temporary short-term consequences that might flow from no deal?

I agree with my hon. Friend. There has to be a point to all the upheaval that we have been through together as a nation over the past few years, and we can look forward to many positives with those new-found freedoms, including being able to make the right choices for this country. I say again: this is not just about the interests of the United Kingdom; I think that the negotiating position of the UK is also of benefit to the remainder of the EU.

The National Police Chiefs’ Council has said that losing access to criminal information if there is no negotiated agreement would have a “major impact” on counter-terrorism and serious organised crime. Obviously we all hope that a full agreement is imminent, but if an agreement is not reached on fish or level playing fields, have the Government drawn up proposals for a fallback security agreement? Does the Minister agree that if the UK and EU negotiators fail to secure arrangements that protect our citizens’ security, that would be highly irresponsible of both?

The right hon. Lady makes an excellent point, and that is one reason why a deal is in everyone’s interest, and why I have always thought that nations would not compromise on the security of their citizens. It is the responsibility of the Government on every aspect—whether on those issues raised by the right hon. Lady, freight transport, or whatever—to have thought through the consequences and prepared for them. That is the case for all issues, including the ones she raises.

The 70% of my constituents who voted to realise this country’s potential four years ago want the negotiating teams to succeed in obtaining a deal. I represent communities that are heavily based on manufacturing, so can the Minister reassure me that the negotiating team will continue to negotiate robustly on the point about rules of origin, and that they will stand up for manufacturing businesses, such as those in Wednesbury, Oldbury and Tipton?

I can give my hon. Friend those assurances. The team have done a tremendous job, and I know the detail they have gone into on each sector on that issue. It is helpful that my hon. Friend has reiterated the importance of those matters to his constituents this afternoon.

Even if there is a deal at this eleventh hour, it will be very thin, inflicting customs costs and delays on sectors that are already struggling to survive covid. The Minister has called on businesses to get ready, but the Government’s own IT systems are not ready; indeed, the fish export service will go live just two days before the end of transition. Does the fact that this Government are having to plan military flights to bring in medical supplies, including the vaccine, not make them pause for thought before such an act of self-harm?

It is right that we prepare for every possible contingency. There are all sorts of things that we have not mentioned this afternoon that are part of the Government’s in-tray—all sorts of contingencies that we have to think about. In the Cabinet Office, for example, I look after cyber issues. There are many things that we have to think about and many things that we have to prepare for, and it is right, particularly on medicines and medical devices, that we ensure that we have every contingency in place.

However, I would also point out to the hon. Lady that the border operating model and many things that businesses will need to do to get ready are not contingent on the final negotiations going on. We have invested heavily in support services for traders, businesses and citizens, and it has been right to do so. Again, if colleagues have issues with their constituents or businesses, please talk to me and I will do my best to get an official to talk to the business and put it in touch with the many webinars that are going on to help support businesses and citizens to make this transition.

I, for one, am delighted that we are finally going to reach a Brexit conclusion on 31 December. I am pleased to hear the continued commitment from my right hon. Friend to the red lines that have been set, and I know that many of my constituents will appreciate the stance taken by Lord Frost and the negotiating team. Will my right hon. Friend also recommit that, regardless of the outcome of trade talks, the Government will ensure that a UK shared prosperity fund is realised and that it finds its way to those places across the UK that most need it?

I thank my hon. Friend for his question. I do hope that next year, as we hopefully recover from the covid pandemic and make progress on the phased approach to the border and all the other things that we have been working so hard to put in place, we will really be able to turn to how we get economic growth happening across the whole United Kingdom and ensure that communities such as the one that he represents get the investment that they need and the opportunities that they deserve.

Scottish Government modelling of a basic trade agreement of the type that the Government are still trying and, it would appear, failing to negotiate finds that Scottish GDP is estimated to be 6.1% lower by 2030 compared with continued EU membership. That equates to an equivalent cost of around £1,600 for each person in Scotland, and that now looks like the best-case scenario. What assessment have the Government made of the combined impact of Brexit on top of the already severe impact on business and those about to lose their jobs due to the covid crisis?

What we need to be focusing on is how we ensure that, in every part of the UK, we can get the economic growth that we need and the infrastructure investment that we need. There will be opportunities that come from some of the investments that are being made over the transition period, and I would ask the hon. Gentleman to turn his energy and focus to those issues. We have left the EU. We will hopefully have news of a deal, but we will certainly have certainty for all our businesses and constituents in the coming days. We need to turn and look to the future and how we can help realise our constituents’ ambitions, and I encourage him to do that.

The 17.4 million people who gave such a clear instruction some four and a half years ago will look on with bemusement that there are still voices seeking to undermine that democratic mandate. Does my right hon. Friend agree that, in order to respect that democratic mandate, despite all the negativity and the negative voices undermining our excellent trade negotiators, the verdict must be a binary one—either we will be sovereign or we will not?

There is no question but that we will be sovereign; this is not an issue we are prepared to compromise on, but, as he has mentioned leave voters, I will stick up for remain voters. I have said this before, but I will say it again: the greatest act of patriotism in the past few years was shown by them in accepting the democratic result of the referendum. I think that everyone in this country wants us to be successful and make use of the opportunities that will be there next year as we come out of this ghastly pandemic. I hope that all Members will be working positively in the interests of all their constituents to do that.

I confess that I find all of this very depressing, partly because if I understand the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs correctly, the anticipation is that if there is no deal, the Government will be paying Welsh farmers to burn Welsh lamb carcases next spring when they cannot sell them in Europe. If I understand all the police forces in the UK and the National Crime Agency correctly, if there is no deal they will not be able to have the same access to EU databases to be able to track down criminals and send them to prison. Even more worrying than that for me is that historically, this House and this country have always been good at doing deals. Frankly, we have always been the country that has compromised. We have always known how to get the signature on the paper, but every time another Member from the Government Benches stands up and demands more intransigence from the Government, the more likelihood there is that there will be no deal, and that will be a catastrophe for all of us.

I would say two things to the hon Gentleman. There are many things that we can point to. In fact, the Prime Minister has tabled a statement this afternoon—I think it was tabled before I came into the Chamber—that points to two things that he has offered the President of the Commission as a way of moving this forward with regard to the United Kingdom Internal Market Bill. We have at many stages compromised and sought to find ways to encourage the EU negotiating team forward, so, with all due respect, I reject the hon. Gentleman’s description of how the Prime Minister and the negotiating team have operated. They have operated in good faith and have compromised on many areas, but there are some areas we will not compromise on, because it is not in the interests or the integrity of the United Kingdom to do so.

Finally, I just point the hon. Gentleman to the plan that the DEFRA Secretary set out at the start of the weekend just gone about the opportunities that exist for UK farms. We have opportunities to look after the environment, to actually have scientists at DEFRA, as opposed to lawyers, and many other things that are hugely beneficial to UK farming and the environment. I encourage him to look at them.

May I convey my full support to Lord Frost and the Prime Minister for their stance during these negotiations? I genuinely do not think they have put a foot wrong throughout this entire process. Like the Minister, I want to see a comprehensive free trade deal with the EU, but certainly not any deal and definitely not a deal that leaves us shackled to EU rules and regulations in perpetuity. I urge the Government to stand firm in these negotiations to ensure that we deliver on the Brexit that so many people voted for and that so many of us campaigned for over so many years.

I thank my hon. Friend for his comments, and I absolutely can give him those assurances. His question also affords me the opportunity to pay tribute to not just to the negotiating team and Whitehall civil servants, but the very many individuals, politicians and civil servants in the devolved Administrations, the Crown dependencies and elsewhere, who have worked incredibly hard to get us this far. It is because of all those efforts that I want to ensure that we get this over the line. All the encouragement that my hon. Friend and others can give in that respect is gratefully received.

The north-east region has consistently exported more than it imports, and the Government promised the people of the north-east an oven-ready deal with no tariffs, fees, charges or quantitative restrictions—a deal that would safeguard workers’ rights, consumer and environmental protections and keep people safe through a comprehensive security agreement. With the negotiations now going late in the day, and those promises looking increasingly overcooked, what are the Government doing to ensure that businesses and individuals in the north-east are able to properly prepare for and manage these changes to come?

The hon. Lady raises a very important point. I reiterate that we are working to get a deal. We will continue to negotiate until that becomes an impossibility, but I am hopeful that we will get a deal. We have invested a huge amount in ensuring that businesses are ready. Most of the things that businesses and citizens will need to do are already known and are not contingent on the final negotiations. I stand ready to assist if the hon. Lady’s constituents or businesses have particular issues, but an enormous amount of support is available—not just information but webinars and dialogue with experts and officials—to ensure that people have all the information. There is also, of course, the substantial campaign, which has been running for many weeks, to ensure that people are fully informed about what they need to do before the end of the year.

I am sure that my right hon. Friend will join me in congratulating the International Trade Department on the new trade deals with major markets, including Japan, Kenya and Canada, with many more to come. Will she confirm that nothing will be done in our negotiations with our friends from the European Union that will compromise our ability to do new trade deals around the world?

I can give my hon. Friend those assurances. That is one of the main motivating factors as to why people wanted to leave the EU. Many other reasons related to the EU’s trade policies, protectionism and their impact on developing nations in particular. I will happily join my hon. Friend in praising the International Trade Department, which has had a huge amount of work to do in not only forging new trade relationships, but rolling over and improving existing arrangements with many nations. That does not often make the press, but it is a substantial amount of work and the Department has done an excellent job.

The covid-19 pandemic has led to a tsunami of job losses in the British manufacturing sector, and thousands more will be lost if tariffs are slapped on British goods. What steps are the Government taking to help British manufacturers make the critical investment needed to save jobs and skills and to compete internationally in the event of a no-deal Brexit?

I reiterate that we are working to get a deal, and the issues raised by the hon. Gentleman are at the forefront of our mind as we do that. The Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy has done a huge amount: it has sector committees and structures, and it is working hand in glove with the sector, listening to its needs. That is, obviously, informing policies produced from the Treasury and elsewhere. As we enter a new year and a new start, we want to ensure that exactly those types of businesses, particularly those that have been eroded in certain parts of the country, have what they need in order to have a renaissance. That will be our focus in the new year.

Is my right hon. Friend aware of the strength of solid support from the Conservative Benches for the Government’s negotiating position? Does she agree that a deal can be done, with all the necessary compromises that will entail on both sides, only if it starts from a point of fundamental acceptance of the United Kingdom as a sovereign, independent third country?

I agree entirely with my hon. Friend. I thank him for his support and I thank all Members in this House who are getting behind the negotiating team and sending that clear message to the EU negotiating team this afternoon. There is huge support not only on these Benches but in our constituencies. Whichever way people voted in the referendum, they know that this is the way forward. They want to get these final issues resolved swiftly so that we can all get on with it in the new year.

The REAF—Renaissance of East Anglia Fisheries—project sets out an exciting vision for the renaissance of the East Anglian fishing industry. Two preconditions for achieving this are the certainty that significantly more fish will be available to land in ports such as Lowestoft and that there is a framework for promoting investment in ports and the processing sector. Will my right hon. Friend confirm that these two requirements are not being compromised in the negotiations that are taking place?

I can give my hon. Friend those assurances. Clearly, fish is one of the sticking points. The negotiating team are obviously working very hard, but it is a sticking point because we will not compromise on these issues. I have to say, in a former life I was coastal communities Minister and, having visited his constituency and discussed the potential that is there for the renaissance of that industry, I think that is a prize worth holding out for.

The Government spend goodness knows how much money on radio adverts and newspaper adverts telling businesses to be ready for 1 January. A business in my constituency—a nursery that imports plants from Europe—wants to be ready to continue importing, but the C1800 form for handling freight imports is not available on the Government website so it does not know what inspection arrangements will be. Are there any inspection agents for plants? Where will inspections take place? Nobody knows what the conditions in road haulage will be for outgoing goods. Can the Minister tell me what I can tell my constituent about how his business can continue to trade successfully from 1 January, because it is not apparent from anything I have seen?

I am sure that the hon. Gentleman has done his homework and done his best to help his constituent. I do not know whether he has used the toolkit that was sent to his casework team on, I think, 26 November—[Interruption.] Okay. That will give contact details for him to get in touch with officials who are standing ready to talk to businesses to give them the bespoke advice that many of them will need. If he wishes to pass the details of the company to me after this, I will ensure that the relevant official can speak to them—I mean this very genuinely; I am not trying to get one over on him. We are making every effort to ensure that all Members of the House have the information that they need if people need further help than what is on and the webinars and so forth that are going on. We want to ensure that every business is supported in these efforts and, if he passes me the details, I will ensure that his constituent is.

What does my right hon. Friend say to those on both sides who seem to believe that now is not the best time to make a deal and that perhaps it will be better to come back next year when a better deal could be done? Surely that is ridiculous and this is by far the best time for a deal. It is pretty much now or a long time in the future.

I am tempted to say no, no, no. I think my hon. Friend makes a very good point. We know that delaying negotiations—extending the period of negotiations—is not a possibility now, but it is also the wrong thing to do. We need the focus and resolve for both parties to come together and agree a deal. It is very clear what that needs to look like from our point of view, but the negotiations are still continuing and I remain optimistic.

Despite the recent re-signed fisheries framework agreement with Norway, there is currently no legal basis for UK fisheries’ distant water vessels to fish cod in the Norwegian economic zone from the end of this year, as they have been doing for decades. In the event of a no-deal Brexit, what are the Government doing to ensure continued access to these waters?

Our position is exactly in line with the existing precedent of the EU’s current fisheries agreement with Norway. We now have a seat at the forums that decide these matters—we have our UK seat back. On the specifics, I will ask a DEFRA Minister to write to the hon. Lady. If she wishes to give me any further details about a particular company that is having difficulties, I will connect it with the relevant official.

Beaconsfield businesses are bracing themselves for and embracing the end of Brexit and the transition period, but will my right hon. Friend provide further assurances of the plans and the support that is in place for supporting businesses, particularly small businesses in Beaconsfield?

As I have stated, all Members have special information that has been put together to help signpost any inquiries that come to their offices, but clearly we have put in place a huge amount of support for each sector. There is the Trader Support Service that has been stood up and the work that is going on in the relevant Departments for each sector. The officials have done a tremendous job and spoken to tens of thousands of businesses across the UK, through webinars and, in some cases, on a one-to-one basis, to talk through the issues. As I have said, we know about the bulk of things that businesses need to do. I also give a nod to the Central Office of Information, which has been running the campaign that colleagues have spoken about this afternoon. That has had a great effect in raising awareness and ensuring that people are ready by the end of the year.

Orchestras in the UK are being hit by a double whammy of the covid pandemic and uncertainty around what they need to do to perform on tour after 31 December. The Northern Ireland protocol means that goods moving between Great Britain and Northern Ireland will require customs declarations. Orchestras that work between Great Britain and Northern Ireland have to transport their instruments to perform there. Can the Minister confirm whether an orchestra in this position will require carnets for their instruments after 1 January because orchestras have not been able to find out, despite the Government promising to give the information and support needed for the end of the transition period?

I suspect that there is more to it than all the information that I heard in the question, because I do not think that orchestras should require—if I have understood the journey correctly—any paperwork of that sort. Again, if the hon. Lady would like to give me the details of that case, I will get her a swift answer on that.

I remain confident in the ability of Lord Frost’s negotiating team to strike a deal over the next few days, but it is right that my right hon. Friend and Lord Frost’s team stand firm on reclaiming our sovereignty. Can she confirm to me and the people of Workington who stand squarely behind her and Lord Frost that we will leave the transition period on 1 January 2021, on Australian terms if necessary?

As I have said, we will work until there is no hope left of getting a deal. I, too, have the same great confidence that my hon. Friend has kindly expressed in Lord Frost and the great team that are supporting him. None the less, it is very clear that if we cannot resolve these final issues, in particular the three that I mentioned in my opening remarks, we will not be able to conclude that deal. We must ensure that our sovereignty is not up for grabs. We have been crystal clear from the get-go on that, and I think that that is what the people of the United Kingdom expect.

I thank the Minister for her answers to the urgent question and also wish the negotiating team all the best for the next few hours, and perhaps the next few days. I have seen many concerning reports regarding the deals that have been done in reference to our seas. I ask for a clear and unequivocal assurance from the Minister on behalf of the fishing sector in Portavogie in my constituency that there will be no surrender of our seas or our rights to European fisheries and that we will bring the fishing industry back home, as was promised by our Government in the past.

I can give the hon. Member those assurances. Sometimes, people say that we should not be holding out on these issues, that this is a small contributor to the economy or that it has got some kind of talismanic status because of what went before many years ago, when we first went into the EC. It is not because of those things. This is an incredibly important part of the economy, but also of our communities and our identity as the United Kingdom, and we will not compromise on that. We are a sovereign nation, and these are our waters. We have plans for a resurgence of these industries, and he has my assurances that the Prime Minister will not compromise.

Exactly a year ago today, I was banging on doors in Ashfield telling people we were going to get Brexit done, and we are getting Brexit done, but there has been some speculation over the past few days regarding Brexit negotiations, which has led to a number of Ashfield residents contacting me with their concerns. Could my right hon. Friend please assure the residents of Ashfield and Eastwood that we will regain control over our borders, laws and fisheries, and our economic and political independence will be restored?

I hope that if the EU negotiating team have not heard the resolve of Members on these Benches this afternoon, they will have heard the resolve of my hon. Friend’s constituents. It is absolutely right that this has been confirmed not just in a referendum, but in a general election, giving a very clear mandate about what the British people expect us to deliver on. As we enter the final stages of these negotiations, I hope that is well understood by the other negotiating team, and the sooner they come to terms with that and the Prime Minister’s resolve, the sooner we will be able to get a deal.

Can I first congratulate my right hon. Friend on the work she has done in getting the country ready for the new regulations that are coming at the end of this month? I must admit that it seems a bit like the millennium bug, when everybody thought it was going to be a disaster, but we did the prep work and got there in the end. Could I ask her what plans she has in place for other things that may happen between now and 31 December that businesses will need to be ready for and what action plan she has, because the work she has done so far has been outstanding and I would not want it to stumble at the last hurdle?

I thank my right hon. Friend for his very kind words. It would be remiss of me not to mention, in his absence today, the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, who has done an incredible job, in addition to his work on the covid pandemic, with chairing XO—the EU Exit Operations Committee—every single day, I think. Since I have been in this post, I have been the default chair, but I have only chaired it on a few occasions. He has done that, he has done a huge amount of work in building rapport with his oppo on the Joint Committee on the withdrawal agreement, and I think he deserves huge credit for the immense efforts that he has taken both on the transition and on ensuring that the withdrawal agreement Joint Committee and its specialised committees are churning through the work that they need to do not just for UK citizens, but for citizens in the rest of the EU. So I shall take my right hon. Friend’s praise and pass it on to the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster.

As I said, there will be very few things that are outstanding that businesses will need to be apprised of that are contingent on the final negotiations. We have put together comprehensive information for all Members in this House, and they will find that in their inboxes. We will also conduct webinars with their caseworkers if there is a demand for that. We have a programme already set up to do that. I would also put on record the incredible work of the border delivery group and civil servants in all Departments, who not just have ensured that we are ready for the transition and whatever comes to pass, but have been working to secure these negotiations. I thank all Members for putting on record in the Chamber today our resolve and our will to get a deal, but not a deal at any price.

Sitting suspended.