House of Commons
Wednesday 9 December 2020
The House met at half-past Eleven o’clock
[Mr Speaker in the Chair]
Virtual participation in proceedings commenced (Order, 4 June).
[NB: [V] denotes a Member participating virtually.]
Oral Answers to Questions
The Secretary of State was asked—
Green Industrial Jobs
The Secretary of State for Scotland meets Cabinet colleagues regularly to discuss all matters of importance to Scotland. This Government are committed to levelling up across the whole United Kingdom, and that is why the Prime Minister has set out his ambitious 10-point plan for our green industrial revolution, which will support up to 250,000 jobs.
The SNP has joined the Tory party in abandoning workers at BiFab, forgoing the green industrial jobs they claim to want to encourage. Within days of the Scottish Government withdrawing their support for BiFab, they launched the Scottish National Investment Bank, stating it would support Scotland’s transition to zero carbon emissions. They say one thing and do another. What discussions has the Secretary of State had with Scottish Ministers about protecting jobs at BiFab and developing a green supply chain in Scotland to facilitate the expansion of its offshore wind capacity?
After exploring all options, both the UK and Scottish Governments have concluded that there is currently no legal right to provide further financial support to BiFab in its current form. A joint working group will be formed between the Scottish and UK Governments to consider ways to strengthen the renewables supply chain in Scotland and to secure future possibilities and opportunities. Both of Scotland’s Governments have committed to exploring options for the future of the yards and to strengthen measures to support the renewables supply chain.
The Minister’s seeming disinterest belies the whole problem. His original words were fine. The reality is that when BiFab, the only manufacturer of the steel cases for these turbines, went into administration, the Edinburgh Government and the London Government walked hand in hand away from that situation. What does that say about the ambition to be the Saudi Arabia of offshore wind production, and what does it say to the workers and the skills base at BiFab when the Government simply abandon them?
The situation at BiFab is a culmination of a number of issues, the main one being the unwillingness of the parent company and majority shareholder, JV Driver, to provide working capital, investment or guarantees for the company. We are determined to secure a new future for the yards in Fife and the Western Isles, and we will explore options for the future of these sites and, through the new working group, work with the Scottish Government to strengthen the renewables and clean energy supply chain.
Does my hon. Friend share my disappointment at the SNP Scottish Government’s continued dogmatic opposition to nuclear power, despite the fact that in recent weeks it has been the leading source of zero carbon generation in the UK? Does he agree with me that the refusal to contemplate a replacement of the Chapelcross power station at Annan in my constituency is depriving the area of the high-quality green jobs from which it has benefited from the last 60 years?
It will come as no surprise that I do share my right hon. Friend’s disappointment. This Government believe that nuclear has an important role to play in reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Nuclear power stations provide the dependable, low-carbon power that is required to complement renewable energy to ensure a low-cost, reliable, diverse generating mix to meet our net zero ambitions for 2020.
Mr Speaker, this is the first Scottish questions since the Scottish football team qualified for Euro 2020, so I am sure you will allow me to pass on my congratulations to Stevie Clarke and his team for cheering up our nation, and of course we look forward to being further cheered when we win at Wembley in the championships in June next year.
I am sure the Minister is aware of the Proclaimers song “Letter from America”, which includes the line “Methil no more”, and that is what the decision of his and the Scottish Governments have delivered in reality for that community in Fife. Just a few weeks ago, the Prime Minister announced that he was launching a 10-point plan for a green industrial revolution that would deliver a quarter of a million new green jobs. I did not of course realise he meant jobs that were overseas. Can the Minister inform the House how many current and potential green jobs will be lost following the Scottish and UK Governments’ joint decision, in the words of the Scottish Trades Union Congress, to collude to “pull support” from BiFab in Fife?
I share the hon. Gentleman’s enthusiasm. As a former card-carrying member of the tartan army myself, I might be enthused about rejoining it, but being a member of the Whips Office, I am not sure I would always get slipped to attend the matches.
We understand from the Scottish Government, who are closest to the company, that there is no commercial way forward that is compatible with state aid. The UK Government are equally bound by the state aid rules, at least for the moment, and therefore there is no legal way for either Government to intervene at this stage.
I am sure that it will not have escaped anyone’s attention that the UK and Scottish Governments have just hidden behind EU state aid rules—the irony of that. The Minister did not give a figure, so let me give the figure: 500 highly skilled green jobs in Scotland abandoned. And it is not just the Tories who are to blame; unbelievably, the SNP has repeatedly hidden behind the same EU state aid rule, despite initially agreeing to support BiFab and then pulling it without notice. It has ignored a Scottish parliamentary vote to sort it out, and on the SNP’s watch fabrication contracts for offshore wind farms have recently gone almost exclusively—where? —overseas. The post-covid recovery has to be about jobs, yet both Governments are unnecessarily abandoning good clean jobs, and this Government are risking a disastrous no deal Brexit, which will further decimate jobs. So I ask the Minister this: the Prime Minister has broken his promise of an oven-ready Brexit deal, so how many jobs will be lost in Scotland as a result of the Tories delivering a no deal Brexit?
I have already discussed this Government’s commitment to the 10-point plan and the up to 250,000 jobs across the whole of the UK. That is still in play, but this is obviously a disappointing situation, and the recent revelation that a private firm bought a majority stake in BiFab for just £4 before it went into administration raises serious questions about how the SNP Scottish Government could pour tens of millions into a company without securing that yard’s future. I agree with the hon. Gentleman that this whole matter requires a proper inquiry.
My Department meets regularly with the Ministry of Defence to help raise concerns that are specific to Scotland. British armed forces personnel in Scotland play a crucial role in defending the whole of the United Kingdom, keeping us safe both at home and abroad, and assisting with such dedication at the height of this covid-19 pandemic.
I welcome the landmark £24 billion investment in our UK armed forces, as announced by the Prime Minister just last month, bringing economic and security benefits to all four nations of our great United Kingdom. Does my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State agree, therefore, that this demonstrates the true value of the Union to Scotland, bringing jobs to Scotland, enhancing the security of the nation, and delivering on the Prime Minister’s levelling-up agenda across the country?
I absolutely agree with my hon. Friend. Scotland has always played a crucial role in the UK’s defence, and the projects that are supported by this spending, including shipbuilding on the Clyde, will directly benefit the people of Scotland, bringing security and economic benefits. This level of spending and investment is only possible through Scotland’s place in the United Kingdom.
I very much welcome the Secretary of State’s response, but can he set out what support the British Army is providing to the Scottish Government to ensure the efficient delivery of the coronavirus vaccine in my constituency in the borders, but also across Scotland more widely?
The Scottish Government requested a military planning team to assist with the planning for the roll-out of the vaccine in the borders and across Scotland, and I am very pleased that I was able to approve that request. The scale of the task is very considerable, but the logistics expertise with the British armed forces is making a huge difference.
The Secretary of State will be aware of the work that soldiers from Kinloss barracks in Moray have done throughout this pandemic in our fight against covid-19: they have been in Liverpool since last month, and earlier this week started assisting Wirral Metropolitan Borough Council in its community testing programme. This is in addition to the work they did throughout the highlands in the summer, covering 80,000 miles and conducting well over 3,000 tests. Will the Secretary of State join me in congratulating everyone at Kinloss on the effort they have put in during this pandemic, and agree that it underlines yet again the outstanding work they do in Scotland and across the United Kingdom?
I absolutely join my hon. Friend in thanking everyone at Kinloss barracks. At the start of the pandemic our British armed forces distributed essential equipment and personal protective equipment. They helped build hospitals across Scotland and were instrumental in getting vital equipment to the Glasgow lighthouse lab. They operated the mobile testing centres, and, currently, as I said to my hon. Friend the Member for Berwickshire, Roxburgh and Selkirk (John Lamont), there are 21 military planners working with Scottish health boards and the Scottish Government on logistical planning for vaccine deployment. Our offer remains open: if the Scottish Government require further assistance from our amazing armed forces, they are standing by and are ready to help.
Tay Cities Deal
Good progress has been made on the Tay cities regional deal. The Chancellor announced at the spending review on 25 November that the UK Government investment will now be compressed to 10 years. We are working with local partners to get the full deal signed on 17 December.
It has been almost a year since I was elected, and in all that time we have been assured that the Tay cities deal is just around the corner. I am delighted to hear that the deal is over the line. It will be a Christmas present for North East Fife and elsewhere, for which people have been waiting for some time.
I am grateful to the hon. Lady for those comments. I know of her hard work especially in helping the Eden Campus project in her constituency to be a leading part of the deal. I had hoped to be up visiting it a few weeks ago, but unfortunately covid restrictions precluded that. I very much look forward to visiting in the new year when circumstances allow.
I too thank the Minister for the reprofiling of the Tay cities deal from 15 years to 10 years. That will really help the projects. We now need to know when it will be signed. He will also know that we have an issue with the internationally renowned James Hutton Institute in my constituency. That is primarily a UK Government-financed project, but its place in the Tay cities deal has been put in jeopardy because of all the delays. To ensure that it can be started in year one, the Hutton needs the Government to draw down its funding early. Will the Government do that? If not, how do they intend to ensure that this crucial project can be guaranteed?
I have had many constructive dialogues with the hon. Gentleman on the Tay cities deal, and I am happy to confirm that we look good to go next Thursday to sign the deal. The delay was for a very good reason: as he alluded to, we were trying to get the UK Government side of the deal down from 15 years to 10 years. I am aware of the specific circumstances at the James Hutton Institute. I had a very constructive meeting with it on Friday last week, and I can assure the hon. Gentleman that we are exploring every option to ensure that it gets its funding but that all the other very worth- while projects in the deal do too.
As confirmed in the Prime Minister’s 10-point plan for a green industrial revolution, the Government are committed to the development of hydrogen as a decarbonised energy carrier for the UK. We are developing our strategic approach to hydrogen and its potential to deliver against our net zero goals, and we will set out our plans shortly.
SGN has just secured vital funding from Ofgem to progress its landmark trial of green hydrogen in a new domestic gas network. I congratulate everyone at SGN and those working on the project in Fife on achieving that. Does the Minister agree that innovations such as that trial and the H21 project in Teesside, which is led by Northern Gas Networks, prove that the UK is leading the world in the hydrogen economy?
I certainly agree with my hon. Friend, and I congratulate him and the all-party parliamentary group on hydrogen, which he chairs, on their work advancing the hydrogen agenda. I also congratulate SGN on achieving up to £18 million from Ofgem’s network innovation competition to support development of a hydrogen demonstration network in Levenmouth, bringing carbon-free energy to around 300 homes from late 2022.
United Kingdom Internal Market Bill
I have frequent discussions with Cabinet colleagues on the United Kingdom Internal Market Bill, which is vital to protect seamless trade and jobs across all four corners of the United Kingdom following the end of the transition period.
Of course, what the Secretary of State did not say is that the internal market Bill is a blatant attack on devolution. That should not come as a surprise, because just three weeks ago the Prime Minister said that devolution was Tony Blair’s biggest mistake—a bigger mistake than even the illegal Iraq war. Does the Secretary of State disagree with the Prime Minister?
What the Prime Minister said was that devolution was a mistake when it was set up to be put in the hands of separatists, and I completely agree with that. I totally agree with it. The Scottish National party is a campaigning organisation for independence—for separation of the United Kingdom—masquerading as a party of Government.
The Secretary of State has regularly explained that, as we leave the EU, the United Kingdom Internal Market Bill will serve to strengthen the UK’s economy and the Union as a whole. Does he feel that the announcement yesterday from the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster and Minister for the Cabinet Office that Northern Ireland will have the “best of both worlds”, meaning that Northern Ireland will still have access to both EU and UK markets after Brexit, undermines his claims about the Bill?
As the Secretary of State knows, Scotland voted to remain in the EU. The Scottish Government subsequently published a framework for how Scotland could still have access to the single market post Brexit. That was rejected outright by the UK Government. Given that Northern Ireland has been promised the very same thing, will he now make the case for Scotland to get the same concessions, and, like his predecessor, will he consider his position if such a request is not granted?
The Secretary of State would do well to remember that the SNP is a democratically elected party of Government in Scotland. Although we take nothing for granted, pollsters continue to suggest that the SNP will win a majority of seats in the Holyrood elections this coming May, and 15 consecutive polls show a clear majority mandate for Scottish independence. Does he believe that his Government’s disastrous internal market Bill has contributed to that rise in support for the SNP and Scottish independence?
There is nothing disastrous about a United Kingdom Internal Market Bill that has mutual recognition and non-discrimination at its base, and that protects jobs in Scotland and people’s livelihoods, when 60% of Scotland’s trade is to the rest of the United Kingdom, worth over £50 billion and, as the Fraser of Allander Institute said only last week, providing 554,000 jobs.
The Secretary of State for Scotland and I have frequent discussions with colleagues on the opportunities for COP26. That includes through the COP26 devolved Administration ministerial group, which brings the COP president, territorial Secretaries of State and devolved Administration Ministers together to ensure effective engagement and collaboration on COP26 and net zero.
I am exceedingly grateful to you, Mr Speaker, for allowing the Minister to answer the question.
COP26 in Glasgow, as the Minister knows, is no ordinary summit. It is a huge opportunity to set the global agenda we need to tackle the climate emergency, but in my opinion the Government have so far not afforded it the attention and weight it requires. That has to change—urgently, I would argue—to make the summit the success the planet needs it to be. Cutting overseas aid has had a devastating effect on countries on the frontline of the climate emergency. That will undermine our role as hosts of COP26, as well as our international standing and moral authority around the world. What steps is the Scotland Office taking to ensure that, as hosts of COP26, we are leading by example and not turning our back on those who are living on the frontline of the climate emergency?
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his question. I point out that we will still be one of the world’s largest net donors to the most deprived communities around the world. That commitment remains absolute. We will be working over the next months to ensure that COP26 in Glasgow is as big a success as it can be. We will lead the global climate change agenda and I can think of nowhere better than my home city of Glasgow to be the showcase for that. There are lots of partners, from very small local companies right up to big multinationals, who will be playing a part. My colleagues and I will be engaging with them very much over the next few months.
End of the Transition Period: Preparedness
I have regular conversations with the Scottish Government on preparedness for the end of the transition period, including meetings of the EU Exit Operations Cabinet Committee and the Joint Ministerial Committee on EU Negotiations.
I thank my right hon. Friend for that answer. I know he will agree with me that the Scottish Government have failed to prepare for the end of the transition deal and are letting the Scottish people down, in particular by failing to recruit the required number of environmental protection officers to assist our fishing industry as we leave the transition deal at the end of this year. Will he confirm that the British Government stand ready to assist the Scottish Government, should they require it, to get the required number of protection officers in place to support our fishing industry?
As my hon. Friend knows, it is the Scottish Government’s responsibility to ensure adequate certifier capacity for exports to the European Union. The UK Government have been engaging closely with the Scottish Government, Food Standards Scotland and Scottish local authorities to clarify the capacity in Scotland for certifying export health certificates, and with them, we have determined the level of additional capacity that is needed. That is the sort of boring answer. I would add that we have provided the Scottish Government with £138 million of Brexit preparedness support for this purpose.
Dearie me, Mr Speaker. Let me try this one. NHS Tayside has stated that a hard Brexit could
“lead to an inability to deliver safe and effective care”,
and NHS Lanarkshire says that Brexit poses a “very high” risk to the delivery of healthcare services. We also know that the Ministry of Defence is putting plans in place to fly the Pfizer vaccine into the UK to avoid the Government’s entirely self-inflicted border ports chaos. Given that we did not vote for any of this and that 15 polls in a row now show support for independence, does the Secretary of State still believe that the Union is “firing on all cylinders”, as he wrote at the weekend?
The Union is absolutely firing on all cylinders, whether it is the support of over 900,000 jobs in Scotland, the UK Government procuring, supplying and paying for all the vaccines for the United Kingdom, or the armed forces helping with the roll-out. As regards the scare story the hon. Gentleman is trying to start over the MOD flying the vaccine into the United Kingdom, all good Governments have robust contingency plans. That is No. 5 on the list of contingency plans, and they are not just for the transition period outcome. Those contingency plans are made for potential strikes, weather events and so on. It is entirely responsible to plan that way.
The end of the transition period has been described by Scottish businesses as a “catastrophic” situation. Some have argued that if they cannot trade with the EU, they are out of the game—it is an existential threat. Can I ask the Scottish Secretary to actually show some authority in the Cabinet and insist on a minimum six-month grace period, so businesses do not fall foul of regulations which are not yet developed for a deal that is not yet agreed, but which is supposed to be in place in barely three weeks’ time? This needs to be done; it needs to be done today. Otherwise, businesses will struggle dreadfully on his watch.
There has been a major public information campaign running for businesses and citizens, telling them exactly what they need to do. We have always been clear that, whether it is deal or no deal, there are steps that have to be taken when the transition period comes to an end. We are not going to delay the end of the transition period, because it is only by sticking to that date that people can prepare responsibly, and it also holds the EU’s feet to the fire in getting a deal. We have been clear what measures they need to take. They need to look at the UK Government website, where they can see very clearly what preparations they need to make for the end of this month.
An effective response to covid-19 does indeed need to be a co-ordinated response across the whole United Kingdom, informing every aspect of the UK Government’s response. For instance, on 24 November, the UK Government and the three devolved Administrations published a joint statement on UK-wide arrangements for the festive season. We are currently working with the devolved Administrations on the deployment of vaccines and community testing across the UK.
Last month, an opinion poll revealed that 68% of Scots want the Scottish and UK Governments to work more closely together. Minister, why is it that, despite that, the Scottish and UK Governments are not able to work in a co-ordinated manner, and why are we constantly seeing mixed messages and infighting?
It is not for me to say what mixed messages the hon. Gentleman might see in the press or get from political parties. The UK Government and all assemblies across the whole UK work together on a co-ordinated basis to deliver not just what has been delivered up to now; there was the excellent news yesterday of the first vaccines being provided across the whole UK—not in one part of the UK or another but across the UK on the same day. Vaccines are an excellent example of that co-operation between the UK Government and the devolved Administrations, and the UK Government are procuring vaccines on behalf of the UK as a whole. The prioritisation of the vaccines is a devolved matter—
The news of the vaccine’s approval is incredibly encouraging, but we now face the greatest organisational challenge perhaps since the second world war in distributing it to all who want and need it across the four UK nations. Given the botched roll-out of the flu vaccine in Scotland this year, how is the Minister going to ensure that Scottish Ministers are able to get the delivery of the covid vaccine right?
I am conscious of the time, so I shall give a very brief answer. Local deployment of the vaccines is a devolved matter, but Ministry of Defence Ministers have made military planners available to the Scottish Government to facilitate the complex task of mass deployment.
The Prime Minister was asked—
I visited Guy’s and St Thomas’ hospital yesterday to see the first clinically approved vaccine being given to people in London, as it is now across the country. This is a fantastic moment for all of us in this House, and I know that everybody will want to join me in thanking the NHS, the vaccine taskforce, the scientists and all the volunteers who have made this possible.
This morning I had meetings with ministerial colleagues and others. In addition to my duties in this House, I shall have further such meetings later today.
When I was a spear carrier in the Brexit referendum campaign, led by my right hon. Friend, we assured the British people that a trade deal was entirely achievable, so may I urge him to make one last effort? Surely that deal is achievable, because we have no intention of lowering our standards, but the EU should know this: if, consistent with national security, he cannot secure that deal for us, this parliamentary party will back him to the hilt, because strength comes with unity.
I thank my right hon. Friend. He is entirely right: a good deal is still there to be done, and I look forward to discussing it with Commissioner von der Leyen tonight, but I must tell the House that our friends in the EU are currently insisting that, if they pass a new law in the future with which we in this country do not comply or do not follow suit, they should have the automatic right to punish us and to retaliate. Secondly, they are saying that the UK should be the only country in the world not to have sovereign control over its fishing waters. I do not believe that those are terms that any Prime Minister of this country should accept. I must tell the House and reassure my right hon. Friend that, whether our new trading arrangements resemble those of Australia’s with the EU or whether they are like those of Canada with the EU, I have absolutely no doubt that, from 1 January, this country is going to prosper mightily.
I join the Prime Minister in his comments about the vaccine roll-out. It was fantastic to see the first person, Margaret Keenan, receive the vaccine yesterday. It is a huge national effort, and I want to thank everybody who has been involved with it. Mr Speaker, I also want to thank you and the House authorities for enabling me to participate today, notwithstanding the fact that I am self-isolating.
A year ago, the Prime Minister stood on the steps of Downing Street and promised the country
“a permanent break from talking about Brexit”.
Can the Prime Minister tell us: how is that going?
I am delighted to welcome the right hon. and learned Gentleman here, from his vantage point of exile in Islington, his spiritual home, and wish him all the best in his self-isolation. His own silence on this matter has been sphinx-like. I wonder quite what it is that has kept him from asking this question for so long. We delivered Brexit on 31 January, in case he failed to notice.
It is Camden, not Islington. The Prime Minister starts straightaway by deflecting—it is the same old, same old, whether on covid or Brexit. Twelve months ago, he told the British people that he had an “oven-ready deal”. He did not say he had half a deal or that the next stage would be very, very difficult. In fact, he faced the British people and told them, before the election, that the chances of no deal were “absolutely zero”. The Chancellor, as he is now, obviously took him at his word, because the Chancellor said in the run-up to the election:
“We won’t need to plan for no-deal because we…have a deal.”
So a year on, why should anyone who trusted the Prime Minister when he said he had a deal, including his Chancellor, apparently, believe a word he says now?
I hesitate to accuse the right hon. and learned Gentleman of deliberately trying to mislead people, but let us be in no doubt that we had an oven-ready deal, which was the withdrawal agreement, which the people voted for, as he rightly points out, and by which this country left the customs union and the single market, and delivered on our promises. I can tell him, although he must know this, that whatever happens from 1 January this country will be able to get on with our points-based immigration system, which we have put into law, in fulfilment of our manifesto commitment. We will be able to get on with instituting low-tax free ports, in places where jobs and growth are most needed around the country. We will be able to honour our promise to the British people and institute higher animal welfare standards; we will be able to do free trade deals; and we will get our money back as well. I do not know what else he wants to see from 1 January, but all those things will be delivered.
Oh, I see. Apparently, “Get Brexit done” just meant the first part of it—the easy bit. I do not remember that being written on the bulldozer at the time. Last September, the Prime Minister actually hit the nail on the head when he said that leaving without a deal would be a “failure of statecraft”. It would be—it would be a total failure—and it will be the British people who pay the price. Does the Prime Minister agree with his own spending watchdog, the Office for Budget Responsibility, that the cost of that failure—of leaving the EU with no deal—would be higher unemployment, higher inflation and a smaller economy?
The more the right hon. and learned Gentleman talks about Brexit, the more I can see why he tried to avoid the subject for the past year. We did leave with a very good deal, and in any circumstances this country will prosper mightily. He talks about the possible adverse consequences for this country of a deal on Australian terms—I think that is what he is talking about—but we have yet to hear from Labour party members what their view is of that matter. Would they vote for it, yes or no? He remained totally Delphic last week about his policy on fighting coronavirus and he is totally Delphic about what to do on Brexit as well.
The Prime Minister talks about indecision; he is absolutely stuck—this is the truth of it—and dithering between the deal that he knows we need and the compromise that he knows his Back Benchers will not let him make. I genuinely hope that this is the usual Prime Minister’s bluster and that, like one of his newspaper columns, a deal arrives at the last minute. But for some people, and their jobs, it is already too late.
Yesterday, INEOS, a major employer in this country, announced that it will not now build the new Grenadier car in Bridgend and will move production to France instead. This is a project that just two months ago the Prime Minister said was “a vote of confidence”. Hundreds of skilled jobs now will not go to Bridgend. Can the Prime Minister tell us how many more British jobs have to go overseas before he gets on with delivering the Brexit deal that he promised?
I think it is a bit much of the Leader of the Opposition to criticise the Government for failure to come up with a policy on Brexit and to attack the putative consequences of coming out on Australian terms when he cannot even say whether he would vote for that deal—yes or no. If he cannot say whether he would vote for our deal—yes or no—he simply cannot attack the Government’s policy. Until he is able to come up with a position of his own, wrap a towel round his head and decide what he actually thinks, I find it very difficult to take his criticisms seriously. What I can say is that this country will be ready for whether we have a Canadian or an Australian solution, and there will be jobs created in this country—throughout the whole of the UK—not just in spite of Brexit but because of Brexit, because this country is going to become a magnet for overseas investment. Indeed, it already is and will remain so.
The Prime Minister asked me how I will vote on a deal that he has not even secured. Secure the deal, Prime Minister; you promised it. I can say this: if there is a deal—and I hope there is a deal—my party will vote in the national interest, not on party political lines, as he is doing. This is about leadership. The Prime Minister has done 15 U-turns, he has had five different plans on covid, and last week 53 of his own MPs voted against him, so if I were him I would not talk about leadership.
The Prime Minister has not always wanted to listen to business—we know what his message to business is —but he should. Let me quote the CBI, which says that the message from business is this: “get a deal…quickly”. The National Farmers Union says:
“Time is really running out and…it’s very hard to get final preparations in.”
These are the people the Prime Minister should be listening to, not his Back Benchers.
On the question of preparation, the Government knew months ago that they needed 50,000 customs agents trained and ready to go from 1 January—deal or no deal—so can the Prime Minister tell the House how many of the 50,000 agents will be in place on 1 January? That is in 23 days’ time.
It is wonderful to get to the end of that question. I can tell the right hon. and learned Gentleman that we have already invested £1 billion in getting this country ready for whatever the trading relationship is that we have on 1 January. We have invested £84 million into supporting customs agents across the UK and £200 million into supporting our ports, and they are doing an amazing job. I want to thank business for the incredible job it is doing to get ready. We have all got to get ready, because under any view there is going to be change from 1 January—there will be change in the way we do business and there will be more opportunities for this country around the world. I am delighted by what I take is the increasing signalling from Camden, because the message from Camden seems to be that, given the choice, the right hon. and learned Gentleman would vote for a deal rather than not. Did my Back-Bench colleagues get that impression? I think I did.
I take it that the answer is the Prime Minister has no idea whether the 50,000 customs agents will be in place on 1 January. He either does not know or he does not care. The Prime Minister said he had a deal. He did not. He said he would protect jobs. He did not. He said he would prepare for any outcome. He has not. Whatever may happen in the next few days, there is no doubting that his incompetence has held Britain back. Will he end this charade? In that uncertainty, will he get the deal that he promised and allow the country to move on?
I want to thank the right hon. and learned Gentleman for his final baffling question. Last week, as I have said, he sphinx-like avoided any pronouncement on how this country was going to fight covid. He refused to support the measures that we have put in place. This week, he remains deafeningly silent on what he really thinks about a Brexit deal. While he puts a cold towel round his head, lost in thought, and tries to work out what his position is, we are getting on—[Interruption.]
Mr Speaker, you should summon him back—he seems to have vanished.
While the right hon. and learned Gentleman tries to work out what his position is, we are getting on with the work of government. As he says, it is a year since this people’s Government were elected and I am very proud that we are delivering on the people’s priorities: 6,000 of the 20,000 police officers; 14,800 of the 50,000 nurses already; and we are getting on with building every one of the 40 hospitals—it is about 48 hospitals—that we are going to deliver, along with the biggest programme of infrastructure investment in this country for a century. We are uniting and levelling up across the whole of the UK. Whether the outcome is Canada or Australia, we will be taking back control—we have already taken back control—of our money, our borders and our laws and we will seize all the opportunities that Brexit brings.
I was saying, Mr Speaker, that my hon. Friend is completely right about the power of great infrastructure projects to deliver jobs, which is why we are getting on with both the eastern leg of HS2 and Northern Powerhouse Rail. What I have asked the National Infrastructure Commission and Network Rail to look at is how those two projects can best be integrated to boost the economy of the whole of the north of the country.
Yesterday, by this Government’s own admission, it was confirmed that Northern Ireland is getting the best of both worlds: access to the EU single market and customs union. This is great news for businesses in Northern Ireland, but it leaves Scotland, which also voted to remain, dealing with the hardest of Brexits. What is good for Northern Ireland is surely good enough for Scotland. Why is Scotland being shafted by this double dealing? Can the Prime Minister explain to Scottish businesses why this is fair?
In common with the whole of the rest of the United Kingdom, Scotland will benefit. It will benefit from substantial access to devolved powers, it will benefit from the regaining of money, borders and laws, and, as I never tire of telling my friend, the right hon. Member for Ross, Skye and Lochaber (Ian Blackford), that, in spite of all his jeering, Scotland will take back control of colossal quantities of fish, which is something that the people of Scotland deserve to be able to exploit for the advantage of those communities.
The Prime Minister can spin all he likes, but everybody can now see the total contempt that this UK Government have for Scottish interests. Northern Ireland gets the single market and customs union; we get nothing. Members of his Scottish branch office told him how unfair and damaging it would be to deny Scotland’s access to the EU single market and customs union while at the same time delivering it for Northern Ireland. Ruth Davidson even said that such an act would “undermine the integrity” of the United Kingdom. The former Scottish Tory constitution spokesperson said that it would be the end of the Union. They, along with the former Secretary of State for Scotland, said that if this were to happen, they would all resign. Since the Prime Minister is ready to sell out Scotland’s interests with his Brexit deal, does he expect to receive these resignation letters from Baroness Davidson and her cohort before or after her travels to Brussels tonight?
The only reasonable answer to that question is that I think it is highly unlikely that those letters will arrive. The right hon. Gentleman does a gross injustice to Scotland and the future of Scotland, which will be assured within the single market of the United Kingdom. In spite of the slight negativity that I detect from him, I believe that Scotland, along with the rest of the UK, will benefit from a very strong trading relationship with our friends and partners across the channel, whatever the circumstances, whatever the terms we reach tonight.
I am sure that I speak for many hon. Members when I say that I am a massive supporter of subtitles myself—particularly with some of these crime dramas from America. The campaign that my hon. Friend mentions is excellent. All the Departments that have a stake in this will be working with her to see what we can do to take the matter further.
Last week, we learned that UK Export Finance has been approached to back the east African crude oil pipeline. This is a climate catastrophe that will produce emissions equivalent to all the UK’s annual flights. Not only that, but a recent response to one of my written parliamentary questions confirmed that UKEF has six more fossil fuel projects under consideration. Ahead of the climate ambition summit this weekend, how can the Prime Minister claim any climate credibility while ploughing public money into dirty fossil fuel projects overseas? Are these the actions of a rogue, out of control Government Department—or, worse, does the Prime Minister actually approve of them?
I hope the hon. Lady knows that we are moving away dramatically and at speed from UK Export Finance supporting fossil fuel exploration around the world, but, of course, hydrocarbons remain a significant industry in Scotland and many other places. In so far as there are legitimate contracts that are at risk of being frustrated, we cannot do that. I really think that her criticism of the Government is absurd. Look at the overall record and ambition of this Government; this is the first country in the developed world to set a target of net zero by 2050. I know that when she is being less polemical, she has had some kind words to say about the Government’s programme, and I certainly support her in that.
The people of Scotland, as the hon. Gentleman knows very well, voted in 2014, by a substantial majority, to remain in the UK. I believe that was the right decision, and I believe that were they ever to be asked the same question again in the future, it would be the same answer. But has he has said, and as his hon. Friends have said, many times, it was a once-in-a-generation event.
I thank my hon. Friend. No. 1, yes of course we will do everything we can with NHS Test and Trace, plus our armed forces, to roll out community testing in Stafford; and No. 2, of course we want to support Stafford and the people of Stafford with a massive programme of business support, including nearly £1.4 million in bounce back loans, grants, rate relief and VAT deferrals.
The Government of this country have done everything we can to support business and support lives and livelihoods throughout this pandemic, with now, I think, more than £260 billion of support, and that remains the case. The hon. Gentleman mentions France and Germany. He should know that unemployment, in spite of all the difficulties this country has faced, remains lower in this country than in France, Italy, Spain and the United States. Yes, it is tough, but we are going to get through it and we are going to get through it together.
I thank my hon. Friend and congratulate him on his achievement and on his anniversary. The Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy is looking very seriously at the project that he mentions. I know that the Department is going to be assessing that application very carefully and will keep him informed.
I am delighted to accept the thanks of the hon. Gentleman. I have to say that it is really thanks to him and the Scottish National party that we have been able to keep our wonderful United Kingdom together, because it was the sheer incoherence of their position, their refusal to address the tough questions of what breaking up the UK really means—the impact on our budgets and our economy and the impacts on Scotland and on our whole country—and their manifest inability to explain what they actually mean that meant that the people of Scotland voted in 2014 to remain part of the UK. They were right then, and they will be right in the future to stay.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right to draw attention to this injustice and what is happening with leaseholders at the moment. That is why we have put £1.6 billion into removing unsafe cladding. I do not want to see leaseholders being forced to pay for the remediation, and I can assure my hon. Friend that we are looking now urgently—before the expiry of the current arrangements—at what we can do to take them forward and support leaseholders, who are in a very unfair position.
Is the Prime Minister aware that his Government risk failing a generation of children in my constituency of Enfield North and across the country, as analysis shows this week that only one in six pupils on free school meals—those who are most likely to fall behind their peers—will benefit from the programmes to help them catch up on learning lost as a result of covid? Does the Prime Minister agree that is simply not good enough, and can he explain why we are in this dire situation nine months on?
I share the hon. Lady’s anxiety about the impact of differential learning on kids in our schools across the country, because there is no doubt that different groups have been affected in different ways by the pandemic. That is why we have put a billion pounds or more into the catch-up funds, but it is also why it is so important to ensure that kids go to school and stay in school. That is why we have put all the emphasis, as we have throughout this pandemic, on maintaining kids in school, even if that has put pressure on the hospitality sector and other parts of our economy.
I am thrilled that the Black Country Living Museum is in line to be a covid vaccination centre. I have had many happy meetings with my hon. Friend in the Black Country, and as a proud former resident of Bilston, I look forward to returning before too long.
Mr Speaker, I know you are a strong supporter of the Falkland Islands. The Falkland Islands face the prospect of their fisheries exports to the European Union being subject to tariffs of between 6% and 18% from 1 January. Fisheries exports to the European Union account for more than 40% of the islands’ gross domestic product, and up to 60% of their Government’s revenue. This poses a serious challenge to the Falkland Islands. Will the Prime Minister raise this matter when he meets with the President of the European Commission later?
Indeed. The hon. Gentleman is right to raise the issue of the Falkland Islands and, indeed, other Crown territories and overseas dependencies around the world, whose future and future trading arrangements must be secured. That is indeed something that we have raised and will continue to raise on their behalf to make sure that they get the satisfactory assurances they need.
I will indeed. I think everybody in the House recognises the distress that unauthorised camps and encampments can cause to local communities, and my right hon. and learned Friend is right to draw attention to this. He is also right to call attention to the new powers we are giving both to the police and to councils to tackle the matter, and I am glad to have his support.
Could the Prime Minister kindly explain to the people of tier 3 Birmingham, with a population of over 1 million and where almost 2,000 have lost their life, why he has not considered them a priority for receipt of the vaccine?
I really must respectfully disagree with the hon. Gentleman. The Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation has set out very clear criteria for the groups, starting with those over 80, care home workers, NHS workers and those in care homes, and he knows the criteria very well. Birmingham, of course, will be among them, and of course that is right. I am afraid that I simply cannot accept the premise of his question.
Yes, and just this morning I was discussing Derbyshire’s bid for a big community testing programme. We will obviously do everything we can to support them, and I thank my hon. Friend and local leaders for what they are doing to promote community testing.
Real-terms pay cuts for millions of public sector workers, an insulting 37p increase in benefit levels and broken promises on minimum wage increases show that the Prime Minister wants to pay for this crisis on the backs of the working class. Would it not be fairer to impose a windfall tax on the wealth of the super-rich and on those who have made super-profits out of the covid crisis, including those who won contracts because of their links to top Tories?
I must, again, strongly disagree with what the hon. Gentleman says. Everybody on this side of the House is proud not just of the living wage but of record increases in the living wage, of above inflation pay rises across the board and, of course, of what we have done to support nurses and the NHS with record investment. I do not think anybody who looks at the investment this Government have made in the public sector could doubt our commitment. We will continue to do that, but what we want to see is our economy recovering and our strong and dynamic private sector, which the hon. Gentleman disparages, enabling the country to forge forward as it should.
It is crucial to understand that the 10-point plan for the green industrial revolution is about jobs, jobs, jobs. This plan, whether it is retrofitting homes or making wind turbines, will generate 250,000 jobs across the country in just the first few years.
Many constituents, especially those emanating from the Punjab and other parts of India, were horrified, as I was, to see footage of water cannon, tear gas and brute force being used against peacefully protesting farmers. However, it was heart-warming to see those very farmers feeding those forces who had been ordered to beat or suppress them. What indomitable spirit—it takes a special kind of people to do that. Will the Prime Minister convey to the Indian Prime Minister our heartfelt anxieties and our hopes for a speedy resolution to the current deadlock? Does he agree that everyone has a fundamental right to peaceful protest?
Of course. Our view, as the hon. Gentleman knows well, is that we have serious concerns about what is happening between India and Pakistan, but these are pre-eminently matters for those two Governments to settle. I know that he appreciates that point.
I thank my hon. Friend for his campaign and for everything he does for his constituents. I can tell him that the bid process for the remaining eight hospitals, on top of the 40, is currently being designed. The Department of Health and Social Care is working with a variety of trusts, including the Queen Elizabeth Hospital King’s Lynn NHS Trust, as that work continues.
EU Withdrawal Agreement
With permission, Mr Speaker, I would like to update the House, and indeed the people of Northern Ireland, on the implementation of the Northern Ireland protocol as part of the withdrawal agreement with the European Union. Throughout 2020, we have worked intensively to ensure that the withdrawal agreement, in particular the Northern Ireland protocol, will be fully operational on 1 January 2021. Our aims, and the proportionate and pragmatic way that we intended to pursue them, were set out in the Command Paper that we published in May, “The UK’s Approach to the Northern Ireland Protocol”. This set out three key commitments that we believed needed to be respected in all scenarios.
We had to ensure that Northern Ireland businesses retained unfettered access to the rest of the UK market. Northern Ireland’s place in the UK’s customs territory had to be protected, and that meant that goods that stayed in the UK were not subject to tariffs. We had to ensure that the important Great Britain-Northern Ireland trade flows, on which lives and livelihoods depend, were not disrupted; we needed to ensure a smooth flow of trade with no need for new physical customs infrastructure.
I am pleased to say that on Monday, the European Commission Vice-President Maroš Šefčovič and I, as co-chairs of the Joint Committee set up to negotiate the implementation of the protocol, came to an agreement in principle on a deal that meets all those commitments and puts the people of Northern Ireland first. I would like to begin by paying tribute to Maroš Šefčovič and his team for their pragmatism, collaborative spirit and determination to get a deal done that would work for both sides. I would also like to thank the First Minister, the Deputy First Minister and all the Members of the Northern Ireland Executive for their crucial intervention at significant moments to ensure that the rights of the people of Northern Ireland were protected.
I turn now to the first Government commitment. This deal protects unfettered access for Northern Ireland businesses to their most important market. As the Prime Minister underlined, this had to be protected in full, and that meant removing any prospect of export declarations for Northern Ireland goods moving from Northern Ireland to Great Britain. That is what our agreement will do. There will be no additional requirements placed on Northern Ireland businesses for these movements, with the very limited and specific exceptions of trade in endangered species and conflict diamonds.
On the second commitment, the deal safeguards Northern Ireland’s place in the UK’s customs territory. As recently as July, the Commission had envisaged a default tariff scenario in which
“all goods brought into Northern Ireland”
“considered to be at risk…and are as such subject to the Common Customs Tariff.”
If that had been implemented, that would have raised the prospect of a 58% tariff on a pint of milk going from Scotland to a supermarket in Strabane or a 96% tariff on a bag of sugar going from Liverpool to the shops of Belfast. As we have repeatedly made clear, this could never have been an acceptable outcome.
Instead, I am pleased to say that under the agreement that we have reached, Northern Ireland businesses selling to consumers or using goods in Northern Ireland will be free of all tariffs, whether that is Nissan cars from Sunderland or lamb from Montgomeryshire. Internal UK trade will be protected as we promised, whether we have a free trade agreement with the EU or not.
Thirdly, this deal would keep goods flowing between Great Britain and Northern Ireland in January and provide some necessary additional flexibilities. It protects Northern Ireland’s supermarket supplies. We heard throughout the year that traders needed time to adapt their systems. That is why we have a grace period for supermarkets to update their procedures. Our agreement prevents any disruption at the end of the transition period to the movement of chilled meats. British sausages will continue to make their way to Belfast and Ballymena in the new year, and we have time for reciprocal agreements between the UK and the EU on agrifood, which can be discussed in the months ahead. This deal also protects the flow of medicines and vet medicines into Northern Ireland. That means we will grant industry a period of up to 12 months to adapt to new rules under the protocol, which will avoid any disruption to critical medical supplies.
So those are three commitments entered into, and three commitments that we have upheld. But this agreement goes further still, providing additional flexibility that will enable us to make the most of the opportunities that face us as the transition period ends. As you know, Mr Speaker, this House has been concerned about the risk of so-called reach-back from the state aid provisions that the protocol applies. The concern that many colleagues had was that a company in Great Britain with only a peripheral link to commercial operations in Northern Ireland could be caught inadvertently by the tests within the protocol’s text. That would not have been acceptable, nor was it what the protocol had envisaged. That is why I am pleased that the agreement we have addresses that risk. It means that firms in Great Britain stay outside state aid rules where there is no genuine and direct link to Northern Ireland and no real foreseeable impact on Northern Ireland-EU trade. That is an important step forward in dealing with an issue raised by a number of Members across the House.
This deal also ensures that Northern Ireland will be out of the common agricultural policy, which means that the Northern Ireland Executive have full freedom to set their own agricultural subsidies for Northern Ireland’s farmers. It also means appropriate and flexible arrangements, so that more than £400 million of spending each year is totally exempt from state aid rules. As well as that, the deal ensures that support for fishermen in Northern Ireland will be exempt from EU state aid rules, which means more than £15 million of flexibility for Northern Ireland’s fishermen over the next five years. And, of course, Northern Ireland’s services industries are totally outside the scope of the protocol and its state aid measures.
The agreement also respects the protocol provisions, which were endorsed by Parliament, that allow some EU officials to be present at Northern Ireland ports as UK authorities carry out our own procedures. Let me be clear: there will be no Belfast mini embassy or mission, as some in the EU originally sought, and the EU officials will not have any powers to carry out checks themselves. There will instead be sensible, practical arrangements, with co-operation and reciprocal data sharing, so that both sides can have confidence in these unique arrangements. We also want to leave no doubt about our ongoing commitment to peace and prosperity in Northern Ireland. My right hon. Friend the Northern Ireland Secretary will set out in the coming days further measures of financial support to help businesses and communities to prosper and thrive from the end of the year and beyond.
We have been able to deliver a package which now means that the protocol can be implemented in a pragmatic and proportionate way. It takes account of the Belfast/Good Friday agreement in all its dimensions, and it protects the interests of both the EU single market and, more importantly, the territorial and constitutional integrity of the whole United Kingdom. This agreement will be approved officially at a Joint Committee meeting in the coming days. Of course, the agreement we have reached also enables the Government to withdraw clauses 44, 45 and 47 of the United Kingdom Internal Market Bill and avoids the need for any additional provisions in the Taxation (Post-transition Period) Bill. Having put beyond doubt the primacy of the sovereignty of this place as we leave the EU, we rest safe in the knowledge that such provisions are no longer required.
We know that we now need to get on and give further clarity to business as to the specifics of what this deal means for them and how it will work in practice, and we will do that through the publication of further guidance. That will sit alongside the ongoing intensive work that we will take forward to implement the protocol. Above all, we will always work with the interests of the people and businesses of Northern Ireland in mind, as this agreement and the important flexibilities it will provide reflects. We must all remember that, if the protocol is to work, it must work for the whole community in Northern Ireland. Whether it is to be maintained in the future, as the protocol itself sets out, is for the people of Northern Ireland to decide through the democratic consent mechanism that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister negotiated. On that critical note of the primacy of democracy, I commend this statement to the House.
I thank the Minister for advance sight of the statement. We welcome it and are pleased that a decision has been reached on the Northern Ireland protocol. The Good Friday agreement is a source of immense pride on this side of the House, given the role that Tony Blair’s Labour Government played in building on the work of Sir John Major in achieving it. Neither of those Governments would play games with the peace process, and nor would a Government led by my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Holborn and St Pancras (Keir Starmer). Game playing, with threats to break international law, has consequences, and it is also a dangerous distraction.
Northern Ireland’s Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs says that the border infrastructure simply will not be ready in time. Manufacturing NI says that just 9% of businesses in Northern Ireland are ready for the end of the transition period. The systems needed to make trade flow, such as the trader support service, reportedly will not even be going live until 21 December—eight working days before the end of the transition period. This really does give new meaning to “the night before Christmas”.
Last December, the Prime Minister said:
“We’re a UK government, why would we put checks on goods going from NI to GB or GB to NI? It doesn't make sense.”
With that in mind, will the Minister explain why today’s documents confirm that on trade from GB to NI there will indeed be a range of checks? The trusted trader scheme will be removed after three and a half years and reviewed then, with further uncertainty at that point.
The exemption on agrifood checks is available for only three months, so will the Minister tell us what guarantees there are on prices and availability of fresh food supplies in Northern Ireland after 1 April? Will custom checks be required just three months into 2021? All that raises the question: did the Prime Minister actually know what he had signed up to last year, and then give false assurances to the House, or did he simply not care? This is a disgraceful way to treat businesses in good times, never mind in the middle of a pandemic.
On the trade deal needed for Northern Ireland, and for Great Britain too, we are told that the level playing field remains an outstanding area of disagreement, yet the Prime Minister’s political declaration, which he signed with the EU, spoke of a future relationship with
“open and fair competition, encompassing robust commitments to ensure a level playing field.”
Some Conservative MPs are agitated by the idea of a floor on workers’ rights. Indeed, no fewer than three Cabinet Ministers jointly wrote a book that said that British workers are
“among the worst idlers in the world.”
We on this side of the House do not agree with that statement. Neither do the people of our country, who want more security at work, not less. There are some siren voices among those on the Government Benches, who appear to view any agreement with the EU as a betrayal. The Minister should know that the true betrayal would be job losses, border chaos and price rises in our shops.
The Minister referred to cars from Nissan and lamb exports from Wales, and that they will be tariff-free in Northern Ireland, but as he knows, they need to be tariff-free with the EU too. We on this side of the House want the negotiations to succeed. We want the Government to keep their promises and come back with the oven-ready deal that we were promised at the general election less than a year ago. Sometimes it feels as though we on this side of the House want the Government to succeed and bring back this deal more than those on the Government’s own Back Benches do.
Deal or no deal, there are preparations that still need to be made for Northern Ireland, and for Great Britain too. I want to ask again about customs agents, because just minutes ago, the Prime Minister did not seem to have any answers on how many there are. Earlier in the year, the Minister agreed with industry estimates of 50,000 customs agents needed. Since then, he has told the BBC that the number had increased fourfold, but he omitted to tell us what the figure was. Let us give him another chance: how many customs agents are in place and are we ready for the end of the transition period?
It is not just me asking these questions. Richard Burnett, chief executive of the Road Haulage Association, says:
“The big issue that we face is that there are insufficient customs agents”
and that without them and the correct paperwork,
“we are likely to see vehicles being turned around… That is going to create significant chaos and significant queues.”
On lorry parks, will the Minister tell us how many inland border facilities are ready and will they ensure the free flow of lorries and vehicles from 1 January? Can he guarantee the House that there will be no disruption to medical or food supplies from 1 January?
Ours is a great country, and Labour wants to see a good life for all our people, but, as great as our country is, it cannot afford to be afflicted by Government incompetence. Every price rise, every traffic jam, every lost contract and every redundancy caused by this Government’s mistakes and poor planning holds our great country back. Next year must be a year of rebuilding and recovering from covid-19, not dealing with the fallout of reckless decision making, tariffs or incompetence. So this is decision time for this Government, and it is time to get the deal.
I am very grateful to the hon. Lady for the warm welcome that she gave to this agreement, and I also thank her for the kind words she offered Sir John Major: the process of concluding the Good Friday agreement, as she quite rightly reminds us, was a signal achievement of Tony Blair’s Government but was also achieved as a result of hard work across this House. And of course there has been since the Good Friday agreement was concluded 22 years of progress in Northern Ireland, and it is important that we seek to underpin and secure that.
The hon. Lady asked about border infrastructure. Let me emphasise that this border infrastructure is there to ensure that sanitary and phytosanitary checks can be made. As she and the House know, it is already the case that the island of Ireland is a single epidemiological zone, and therefore when live animals move from Great Britain to Northern Ireland there are physical checks. There will be border facilities in order to ensure that these limited and proportionate SPS checks can be carried out at the port of Foyle, Warrenpoint, Belfast and Larne, and we have reassured the Commission, and indeed others, about the speed and effectiveness with which the necessary limited infrastructure will be in place.
The hon. Lady also asked about the trader support service, which is there to help Northern Ireland businesses. I am pleased that we spend over £200 million in order to support Northern Ireland businesses, and I think it is the case that more than 10,000 businesses are now signed up to the trader support service in order to ensure that they will incur no costs as a result of the protocol.
The hon. Lady also asked about the future of the trusted trader scheme, which, as she rightly pointed out, guarantees that goods being sold in Northern Ireland and businesses operating in Northern Ireland will face no tariffs. It is the case that we will have an opportunity to review how that scheme operates, but it will only need to be reviewed if there is a demonstrable diversion or illegal activity, and in those circumstances there is an obligation on both parties to seek alternative arrangements. I should stress again that no additional customs checks will face goods going from Northern Ireland to Great Britain.
The hon. Lady asked about customs agent capacity overall. It is the case that £84 million has been made available in order to increase capacity, and the latest survey by HMRC shows that there has been a fourfold increase in capacity. Of course, one of the reasons why we are phasing in import controls over six months next year is to ensure that the sector can increase even further, but that fourfold increase in capacity gives us the confidence we need that all the staff will be there.
The hon. Lady mentioned Richard Burnett of the Road Haulage Association. He, along with Dave Wells of Logistics UK and other figures in the haulage and logistics industry, has played an invaluable role in making sure that the Government do everything necessary to prepare, but I would never shirk from saying that more needs to be done.
The hon. Lady asked about the level playing field and workers’ rights. We have a proud tradition of upholding workers’ rights and ensuring that we have social and environmental protections in this country that are higher than in many other European countries. That will not change—that is a source of pride—but one thing we cannot accept in the course of the level playing field negotiations is the demand from some in the EU that if the EU adopts new laws, we would automatically have to follow those laws or face penalties. We are not afraid to say that our standards are high and we will uphold them, but we are also not afraid to say that the people of this country voted to take back control, and that is what this Government will do.
The implementation of the Northern Ireland protocol has become my right hon. Friend’s equivalent of the Schleswig-Holstein question, given the variety of interpretations that surround it, but fundamentally does what my right hon. Friend agreed yesterday make it more or less likely that a free trade agreement with the European Union that, crucially, ensures United Kingdom sovereignty in its entirety can be secured?
I thank the Chairman of the Select Committee on Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs for his question. I think it was Palmerston who said that there were only three people who knew the answer to the Schleswig-Holstein question: one was dead, another was mad, and he himself had forgotten what the answer was. But on the Northern Ireland protocol, there are all sorts of hon. and right hon. Members in this House who have played a part in making sure that we can indeed secure Northern Ireland’s constitutional future within the UK and ensure that we leave the European Union as one country, whole and entire.
I thank the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster for his statement. It is one of these statements that I suppose is good news until we actually see the scale of the Brexit horrors that are now just in front of us. We are now at the stage of this chaotic Brexit where we have a sort of Schrödinger’s deal—one that is sort of there but also not.
I do not know whether the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster has come to the House today looking for some sort of “congratulations and well done” for all this. I suppose it is “well done” for taking us all to the very brink with the very worst of negotiation statecraft on what was supposed to be the easiest deal in the world, “well done” for the emerging chaos at our ports and businesses taking flight, or maybe even “well done” for in a few weeks denying our young people the right to live, work and love freely across a continent. Tonight, we are going to have the last supper—but we know it is the British people who will be crucified.
Yes, what Northern Ireland has got is great for it. “Best of both worlds” is a phrase that we in Scotland are pretty much familiar with; it is what we were promised in 2014. Now, in 2020, we are faced with the worst of all worlds. We would give our right arm for access to the EU single market and unfettered access across the rest of the UK market, so can the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster explain to the Scottish people exactly why Scotland is the only part of the United Kingdom that will not get any part of what it voted for on Brexit?
I am very grateful to the hon. Gentleman once again for his questions; they are masterpieces of metaphorical concatenation. He managed to bring in both Schrödinger’s cat and the Easter and Passiontide narrative before he eventually got to his question. It was a masterpiece, as I say, of lyrical concision, which we would expect from Runrig’s principal star.
On the basic question, it is the case—the hon. Gentleman recognises, as I recognise—that Northern Ireland has a unique position within the United Kingdom as a result of having a land border with the European Union, which no other part of the United Kingdom does, and that requires specific arrangements. But whatever those specific arrangements, it is the case that Northern Ireland, by the will of its people, remains part of the United Kingdom. Long may it remain so.
I very much agree with what the Prime Minister said today at Prime Minister’s questions. Does the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster also agree? And is there anything in his statement that would be allowed to undermine the unfettered sovereignty of the United Kingdom as asserted by successive democratic votes and the referendum, and successive Acts of Parliament, including sections 30 and 38 of the European Union (Withdrawal Agreement) Act 2020?
Will the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster also confirm today that he will appear before the European Scrutiny Committee? As he knows, he has declined to do so on at least three occasions, most recently on 26 November. We put this to him in writing but so far he has not been able to come. Will he please commit right now, today, to coming before the Committee as soon as possible?
On the first point, my hon. Friend is absolutely right: section 38 of the Act that gave effect to the withdrawal agreement upheld the sovereignty of this place, and there is nothing in what we have concluded that in any way diverges from that. On the second question, I am very sorry that I have played hard to get, but I will make sure that we can have a date before Christmas when the two of us can meet in suitably covid-compliant surroundings.
I welcome the right hon. Gentleman’s statement, because it shows what can be achieved with political commitment, and I do hope that we will see more of that later today. However, he seems to have brought back not a permanent arrangement but a series of grace periods, and I want to ask him about that.
For example, it has been reported that food products coming from GB into Northern Ireland will be exempt from export health certificates for a period of at least three months, and that chilled meats—the right hon. Gentleman referred to sausages—will be allowed for a period of time, pending a review, after which they might be prevented any more from moving from GB to Northern Ireland. What is going to happen after those dates? How exactly are businesses going to be able to prepare when they have not yet seen the detailed arrangements, because the Joint Committee is not going to meet for a couple of days, and when those details may well change yet again in a few months’ time?
I am very grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for his questions—and indeed for the work of his Future Relationship with the European Union Committee, which has helped us as we have sought to resolve these issues—and his welcome is very welcome. On the detailed points he makes, we have been talking to traders, supermarkets in particular, to make sure that they are ready for any export health certificate requirements. We know that some supermarkets are already ready. One or two others need time in order to get ready, and they requested a grace period. Originally, those in the Commission argued that that would be impossible or, if it did exist, that it could only be a matter of weeks. We have managed to secure three months, which is sufficient time, we understand, to ensure that supermarkets are ready. On the chilled meat provision, it is the case that we have secured a six-month period during which there will be absolutely no change. Again, it was the case that there were some in the EU who argued that that should be a strictly non-renewable provision. We secured an approach that meant we could keep under review how things were operating in order to ensure that we provided people in Northern Ireland with access to the food they currently enjoy, without any disruption to the integrated supply chains that supermarkets have and which they will adjust.
Many of the life science and other businesses of South Cambridgeshire export to Northern Ireland. Can my right hon. Friend reassure them that they will not face any new bureaucratic obstacles or tariffs as they sell their goods and services there?
My hon. Friend is a brilliant advocate for the life science sector, and I know that it provides jobs and investment in Cambridgeshire and beyond. It is also the case that there is a thriving life science and pharmaceuticals sector in Northern Ireland, and it will be the case that there are no impediments to the continued successful integration of that work.
The right hon. Gentleman and I have known each other for many years, and while we might have differed on Brexit, there is another issue—and it is Scotland—on which we are very much in agreement. Can the right hon. Gentleman assure us today that every effort will be made to ensure that this agreement, good as it is for Northern Ireland, is not used to undermine Scotland’s position within the Union, and does he consider that my constituents in Edinburgh West and elsewhere might benefit from the same sort of phasing-in agreement as has been agreed for Northern Ireland?
I have known the hon. Lady, as she says, for a few years—she is a brilliant MP and she is absolutely right. The shadow Minister said that people should not play politics with the Good Friday agreement, and I do not think they should. I think it is important to recognise that Northern Ireland is in a unique position within the UK, and I think the majority of people in Scotland and across the UK recognise that, but it is also important—the hon. Lady is absolutely right—that in our arrangements with the EU, we take specific account of the needs that Scotland has. On everything from the provision of seasonal agricultural workers to making sure that we can expedite fish and shellfish from the north-east to the EU, and indeed the principled position that my right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade is taking on whisky exports, it is absolutely important that we recognise that Scotland has distinct needs and that working with the Scottish Government and Scottish MPs, like herself, we can advance Scotland’s interests.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. There were some in the EU who wanted to mount a sort of land grab, as it were, and to have a part of Northern Ireland that was forever Brussels. But what we have agreed is a pragmatic approach, which means that the EU, quite rightly, can have people in Northern Ireland so that it can be assured that the UK officials who are carrying out our own sovereign procedures are doing so in a way in which everyone can have confidence. I want again to place on record my thanks to Vice-President Maroš Šefčovič for making sure that it was pragmatic arrangements, rather than symbolism, that won through.
I know that the right hon. Gentleman is as passionate as I am about the Union. Article 6 of the Act of Union states very clearly there should be no barrier to trade between Great Britain and Northern Ireland, as is now. Article 16 of the Northern Ireland protocol also makes it clear that if
“this Protocol leads to serious economic, societal or environmental difficulties that are liable to persist…the United Kingdom”
“may unilaterally take appropriate safeguard measures.”
Safeguarding the Union is not a three-month, six-month or three-year project; it is an enduring commitment. Will the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster now give a commitment that, if necessary, the Government will introduce safeguard measures to ensure unfettered access in both directions for trade between Great Britain and Northern Ireland?
The right hon. Gentleman makes a very important point in drawing attention to a very important provision within the Northern Ireland protocol. The Government came under criticism from some for having provisions in the United Kingdom Internal Market Bill that upheld the sovereignty of this place in order to uphold the constitutional and territorial integrity of the UK. We no longer need to use those provisions, because of the agreement we have reached, but he is absolutely right. Of course, that provision remains, but I hope it will be the case that through patient and pragmatic discussion we can resolve any future issues in the way that we have resolved existing issues.
I congratulate my right hon. Friend on reaching his agreement in principle, which shows that Britain is willing to make constructive compromises. As it now stands, is there any part of the withdrawal agreement that requires direct application of EU law to any part of the UK?
Yes, it is the case that as a result of some of the provisions in the Northern Ireland protocol, there will be a requirement on some businesses in Northern Ireland specifically to follow the acquis. That is one of the ways in which we can ensure that there is no need for border infrastructure between Ireland and Northern Ireland.
We welcome yesterday’s agreement. We want for Northern Ireland just what we want for Wales: unfettered access to our most important markets with the rest of the UK and with the EU. However, the fundamentals of trade, particularly between Wales and Northern Ireland and indeed the Republic of Ireland, remain uncertain. Hauliers fear serious disruption on the Holyhead to Dublin route, with the Welsh Government’s plans, agreed on Monday, for contraflows and parking lots being too little, too late. What steps has the right hon. Gentleman taken to lessen this potential disruption?
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his question. I know that because of the geographical proximity of his constituency to Ynys Môn—to the island of Anglesey—he has a particular concern. However, we have been working well with the Welsh Government—I particularly thank their Counsel General, Jeremy Miles—to make sure that we will have infrastructure in Holyhead that can ensure that the second busiest roll-on roll-off port in the UK continues to prosper.
May I just point out to my right hon. Friend that whatever he agreed in the Joint Committee yesterday remains subject to the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice under the disputes procedure? Moreover, whatever he agreed yesterday was agreed only because we had the clauses in the UKIM Bill that were threatening to block the ECJ’s jurisdiction. Does he agree that it is very important that we maintain the position that this House can at any time put blocks in front of the ECJ while this withdrawal agreement remains in force?
My hon. Friend is right: this House is sovereign. This is as a result of bringing forward the UKIM Bill. I understand some of the unease and controversy that it generated, but he is absolutely right that following on from that we were able to make progress. We are now no longer in a position where we need to bring forward those clauses, but of course it is the sovereign right of this Parliament to legislate as it thinks fit.
We welcome details that businesses have sought anxiously all year, and of course we keenly anticipate a wider trade deal that might finally allow us to continue to enjoy the conditions that we currently enjoy. How does he propose to ensure continuity of supply for squeezed Northern Ireland households so that they can have choice and affordability after mitigations on export health certificates expire in six months?
We have been working with supermarkets and other traders to ensure that their supply lines and the provision of all the goods that consumers in Northern Ireland currently enjoy, which I hope in future will be enhanced, can remain. The Trader Support Service is there, alongside other support that we are giving to businesses in Northern Ireland and indeed across the UK, to make sure that a fully integrated part of the UK internal market enjoys the same access to the same goods as the rest of us.
Can my right hon. Friend assure me and all my constituents that, should we strike a trade agreement with the EU, we will not compromise in any way on our fishing waters, our borders and our laws, and, most importantly, that any governance arrangements that may flow from any trade agreement are completely consistent with those of a fully sovereign country?
I wish we were in a different place, where we did not need the protocol, but I recognise the progress that has been made through the provisional agreement. Does the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster recognise that there is a range of unfinished business in relation to protecting the Northern Ireland economy, including on issues such as: transit from Great Britain via the Republic of Ireland into Northern Ireland; access to EU free trade agreements, particularly for our agrifood and dairy sectors; data adequacy and the protection of the service sector on an all-Ireland basis?
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for those points. He is right that there is important work still to be done. As I think he noted, it is the case that the services sector in Northern Ireland is totally exempt from any state aid provisions. However, it is also the case that Northern Ireland has benefited from commercial links with the Irish Republic, as well as its strong position within the UK internal market. More work is required to strengthen Northern Ireland’s formidable competitive position.
The good people of my Workington constituency stand squarely behind my right hon. Friend and Lord Frost in the negotiations. Will he confirm that, with the agreement on the protocol in place, the UK will leave the transition period at the end of this month regardless of whether we reach an agreement with the EU?
The Secretary of State will be—I hope—aware that many of us will feel very sad that his career will end in failure if we do not get an agreement with the European Union today or very soon. The Committee on the Future Relationship with the European Union, of which I am a member, recently listened to leaders from the Northern Ireland business, manufacturing and farming communities saying that they do not think that everything is fully operational. They do not think anything is oven-ready. They think that if anything were in the oven, it would be pretty thin pickings. Will he please, please, at this late stage, make every effort to make sure we get a deal, rather than leave without a deal?
I am very grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his words. We will do everything we possibly can to get a deal, but it cannot be a deal at any price. As for his point about my career ending in failure, my career has, I am afraid, been marked by failure consistently in so many ways. Often in politics I am reminded of the words of Winston Churchill, who said that success means going from failure to failure with undiminished enthusiasm. That is what I hope to do.
I thank my right hon. Friend for his statement and careers advice. I warmly welcome the news of this significant progress, but can he reassure the House that while the Government have said they will withdraw clauses 44, 45 and 47 of the United Kingdom Internal Market Bill, the rest of the Bill will remain in place, so we can ensure that goods can move seamlessly across the UK, benefiting businesses and consumers across all four nations?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. The United Kingdom Internal Market Bill is a critical piece of legislation which safeguards the rights of producers and consumers across the UK. The clauses she mentions excited controversy, but I think they were necessary. In any case, that controversy can now pass because they are being withdrawn. I hope the Bill will pass as well.
The Government’s “Get Ready for Brexit” campaign looks lovely, but it does not answer the question: get ready for what? Deal? No deal? What deal? Businesses have a pandemic to deal with. Will the right hon. Gentleman admit that the combination of Brexit shambles with the absence of proper support for small businesses facing covid-19 measures, and the total exclusion from support of so many businesses, means that the Government are totally letting down small businesses in the north-east and across the country?
It will probably not surprise the hon. Lady to learn that I do not agree with her. When it comes to Brexit transition, we know that because we are leaving the single market and the customs union, and whether or not we secure a free trade agreement, much of what most businesses need to do is broadly the same, and of course the Government stand ready to help businesses to adjust.
The fate and the future of businesses in the north-east are very dear to me, having lived and worked in Newcastle in the past. It is striking how many of those who work for businesses in the north-east voted Conservative just 12 months ago, which is why Conservative MPs in Blyth Valley, in Bishop Auckland, in Redcar and across the north-east are standing up—[Interruption.] I will mention more constituencies that the Conservatives won if the hon. Lady likes: North West Durham, with Consett, is now a Conservative constituency; Sedgefield, with Spennymoor, is now a Conservative constituency—[Interruption.] Anyway, as the hon. Lady and the House know, the north-east is Tory, and that is because we stand up for workers.
I remind Opposition Members that we all want a deal. There is no one on this side who does not want a deal, but it must be a fair deal and one that respects the UK’s integrity. On that point, my right hon. Friend has said on many occasions that we must leave together. In answering questions from my right hon. Friend the Member for North Somerset (Dr Fox) and my hon. Friend the Member for Harwich and North Essex (Sir Bernard Jenkin), he said—unless I am incorrect—that EU law will apply in Northern Ireland, as will the European Court of Justice. We have gone to all this effort to be free of those structures. Can he say whether I have got it wrong or he has got it wrong—one or the other?
My hon. Friend never gets it wrong, and he is right. It is there in the withdrawal agreement and in the protocol that we accept the acquis in a specific number of areas in Northern Ireland. That is part of the withdrawal agreement, which was signed before the general election, and which many, though not all, Members of this House supported. It was also in the Conservative manifesto. Of course there were understandable concerns that the way in which the protocol applied would mean that we would face tariffs and other restrictions. The agreement that we have concluded means that that will not be the case. The UK will leave and Northern Ireland will be capable of benefiting from trade deals that we do as a result of Brexit; it will also be outside the common agricultural policy and it will benefit from the Australian-style points-based immigration system that applies across the UK.
While the Minister is telling Northern Ireland that it can have the best of both worlds, he is using the same reasoning to tell Scotland, “Shut up and get back in your box,” all the while claiming that any negative impacts are not Brexit-related. Perhaps he has now become the Government’s very own Bart Simpson, causing chaos in presenting their agenda regardless of cost while claiming, “I didn’t do it. Nobody saw me do it. You can’t prove anything.”
The Simpsons character I most remembered was Groundskeeper Willie, because he is an Aberdonian. [Interruption.] I am not sure what his position is on independence, but as jannies go, he is certainly one of the best. To the hon. Gentleman’s point, Scotland does have the best of both worlds. It has a devolved Administration in Holyrood and representation by great MPs such as himself here in Westminster.
I commend my right hon. Friend for the role he has played and very much welcome this agreement. It is good news that the EU has compromised; its previous position on everything from unlimited checks to export declarations could have choked trade between Great Britain and Northern Ireland. Given that this agreement will add an impetus to the wider trade talks, will he commend the Prime Minister for not making last-minute compromises just to get a trade deal over the line? The Prime Minister has the support of the Conservative party, should he decide to walk away and trade on Australia and Canada terms. After all, a trade deal is for keeps, not just for Christmas.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. The point he makes, and the point that my right hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough (Sir Edward Leigh) made earlier, reinforce the fact that the Conservative party is united behind the Prime Minister. It is willing him to get a deal, but it is also ready to accept that if we cannot get the deal we want, we will not accept a deal at any price. That has to be the right way forward.
Some 95% of Cumbrian farm exports are to the single market, so our farmers too need unfettered access to that market. The Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs said at the weekend that British farmers would not find tariffs with the EU to be “manageable”. In addition, in three weeks’ time, deal or no deal, English farmers will see the beginning of huge, uncompensated cuts to their income. We risk the loss of hundreds of family farms in the Lakes, the Dales and elsewhere. Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that a country that cannot feed itself has no sovereignty?
The hon. Gentleman makes several very important points. The first is that we absolutely need to support upland farmers, not just in his beautiful constituency and Cumbria, but across the United Kingdom. It is the case that sustainable livestock farming is the only way in which we can make sure that we have agriculture in the future in upland and grassland areas such as the one that he represents. The second thing is that, yes, there is a prospect of tariffs if we do not secure a free trade agreement, which is why we need to have support systems in place for those. The third point is that the new system of support that we are giving to farmers combines support not just for small farmers, but for the climate change and environmental goals that we both share. It is important that we reform the common agricultural policy in that way, but I look forward to continuing to work with him, because I know that his commitment to rural England and our farmers is resolute.
I welcome the principle that exit summary declarations for goods from Northern Ireland to the rest of UK will not be required, but while it is reasonable for EU authorities to supervise the application of the protocol to Northern Ireland, can my right hon. Friend assure me that all processes in UK sovereign territory will be carried out by UK authorities?
This was the never-ending story, but it seems a bit like it is turning into a never-ending nightmare for businesses, which have been told not of a settled situation, but that the can is going to be kicked down the road for three to six months. Is it not time to be honest with the British people and say, “This will never end. Negotiations will continue forever,” because this Government are just not capable of securing decent deals that are settled wills with the European Union?
I absolutely take the hon. Gentleman’s point, but it is the case that in the future we will be negotiating new free trade deals, as it happens, with other countries outside the European Union that we could not have negotiated inside the EU. These negotiations are led by my brilliant colleague, the President of the Board of Trade. She has secured deals—for example, with Japan—that are even better than that we had in the EU, so negotiating going on is what Trade Secretaries do, and we are lucky to have the best in the world.
I welcome my right hon. Friend’s statement, in which he spoke of the importance of providing clarity for business. Will he confirm that clarity will include ensuring that manufacturers from across the UK will continue to be able to trade freely with a market of 500 million consumers who are on our doorstep?
My hon. Friend makes an important point. He has been a consistently strong and coherent voice for manufacturing, not just in his native west midlands, but across the United Kingdom. One of the things that we want to secure is a free trade agreement that ensures that our manufacturing and advanced manufacturing sector can continue to sell into a market on our doorstep.
I, too, welcome this package and what it means for business, peace and our Union. Dare I say that news of tariff-free lamb comes close to being glad tidings for the shepherds on the hillsides above Aberconwy this Christmas time. Lest we get lost in that kind of detail, will my right hon. Friend confirm that there is nothing in this agreement that compromises the integrity of either our sovereignty or the Union?
The Democratic Unionist party opposed the protocol and warned about all the problems that the Minister is now having to address. We welcome the changes that have been made today. Nevertheless, the real test will be how these measures work on the ground, rather than the spin that we get in this House. As far as EU officials are concerned, is it not a fact that although they will not carry out the searches and investigations, they will be able to direct UK officials on the ground, and, under article 5 of the protocol, UK officials will have to carry out their demands? The Irish Government are now spinning that the six-month period is simply to allow supermarkets in Northern Ireland to source their products from the Irish Republic. Does the Minister believe that we have gained back sovereignty if we are allowing EU officials to direct our officials and other Governments to tell us where we can get our food from?
As the right hon. Gentleman quite rightly points out, there were a number of very principled opponents of the whole idea of the protocol itself. He and his colleagues in his party laid out some of their concerns in a very cogent fashion. In the end, the House of Commons decided that the protocol, as part of the withdrawal agreement, was the right way to proceed, but, as he quite rightly points out, it was important that a number of difficult questions were addressed. He is also absolutely right that the proof will be in the implementation on the ground.
Let me turn to the two specific areas that the right hon. Gentleman mentions. It is the case that the limited number of EU officials—I think it is probably no more than two dozen at most—who will come into Northern Ireland will be working alongside UK officials. The UK officials will be in the lead there, but we want to provide the EU with assurance. On the matter of where goods are sourced from, I cannot think of any better place for goods in Northern Ireland supermarkets to be sourced from than Northern Ireland itself. Wonderful though produce in the Republic of Ireland is, I do not think it is the case that there is any better producer—[Interruption.] The hon. Member for Glasgow North (Patrick Grady) asks about bananas. I think he is referring, of course, to SNP policy on trade. But when it comes to pork products, there is nothing better than an Ulster fry.
Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker, for your kindness—and I thank my right hon. Friend the Minister for the Cabinet Office for his kindness—towards my many children, who have been here on many occasions. My nine-year-old, Atticus, said to me when he got sight of the question that I was going to ask today, “But, dad, the answer to that question is so obvious!” I am going to ask it anyway. Despite our desire for a good trade deal with the European Union, does my right hon. Friend agree that we must never again cede control of our borders or coastal waters to a foreign power?
Well, I knew that my hon. Friend was a great dad, because his son absolutely hits the nail on the head in saying that the answer to that question is obvious. No, we absolutely should not cede that control. Very good question; the answer is clear. Excellent son; brilliant dad.
The vehicle industry has consistently warned that a no-deal Brexit risks the future of UK plants and skilled, unionised jobs. Without a deal, Luton-made Vauxhall vans could face tariffs of 22%. Coupled with covid, cuts to our council and no support for our aviation industry, for Luton no deal would make this a job-killing Government. With just 22 days to go before the end of the transition period, can the Minister guarantee that there will be no tariffs on vans and cars made in this country?
The automobile sector is important not just in Luton, where there are so many skilled people producing fantastic products, but across the UK. Of course, if we secure a free trade agreement, it will be a zero-tariffs, zero-quota agreement. If we do not secure that agreement, there will be tariffs, but there will also be tariffs on automobiles coming into the UK, and that will have an impact on industry in the EU.
I see that I have some agreement from the right hon. Gentleman, who is quite far down the list. I must therefore insist on having questions—just short questions—and not great big statements. We all know what has already happened. Let us just have questions for the Minister, so that we can then just have answers from the Minister.
I welcome the agreement and thank my right hon. Friend and his civil service team for getting us to this stage, but may I urge him to spend some time with the Protestant Unionist loyalist community, who have retained concerns about the detail? I suggest that Mikala’s Kitchen on the Shankill Road is the best place for that engagement. Could he also now spend some time with the nationalist community, unaligned voters and passionate supporters of the European Union in Northern Ireland to demonstrate to them that the practical approach that he and the EU have taken on the protocol can now be replicated on issues such as climate change, health, jobs and the future of all people across the island of Ireland?
My right hon. Friend is absolutely right: there is more work to do. I always enjoy any opportunity to be in Northern Ireland with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland. My right hon. Friend the Member for Skipton and Ripon (Julian Smith) was an outstanding Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, and he makes a series of very important points that I take completely to heart.
Honda has just announced that it has had to pause production because of problems with getting components through ports. Does the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster suggest that failing to get those parts is entirely down to Honda, or do the Government share some of the blame?
I welcome the withdrawal of clauses 44, 45 and 47 of the United Kingdom Internal Market Bill, but has the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster any plans to carry out an assessment of the impact of the threats to breach a recently signed treaty on the United Kingdom’s international standing and its ability to enter future agreements, given that it is now known across the world that the United Kingdom is prepared to break its word to get its way?
My right hon. Friend has played a blinder, but given that the EU withdrawal means that British Government procurement will no longer be subject to Official Journal of the European Union rules, what concrete steps will he take to ensure that Northern Ireland companies and businesses across Great Britain that wish to procure contracts with Government can do so only if they employ a significant number of apprentices?
The Chairman of the Select Committee on Education makes a very important point. My noble Friend Lord Agnew will shortly bring forward a paper on procurement reform, which will show exactly how we can achieve the ambition for apprenticeships that my right hon. Friend has so consistently and brilliantly put forward.
May I follow on from the question asked by my hon. Friend the Member for Warwick and Leamington (Matt Western) about the situation with Honda? Given that chaos at ports is already occurring before the end of the transition period—I understand that that is because people are stockpiling because they are so worried about what will happen next year—can the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster confidently say that the perfect storm of Christmas, Brexit stockpiling, covid restrictions and the new customs regime will not lead to significant disruption come January?
It is a very fair point that a number of things are coming together this Christmas, and it is helpful that the hon. Lady contextualises the fact that the situation with containers is a result of many factors. We are doing everything we can to ensure that trade continues to flow freely, but as she quite rightly points out, there are a number of factors with which all Governments are having to grapple.
With clauses 44, 45 and 47 of the United Kingdom Internal Market Bill now withdrawn, can my right hon. Friend reassure the House that seamless trade between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK will continue, despite any suggestion from the European Union to interpret the withdrawal agreement in such a way as to prevent our internal market, which has functioned for centuries?