I am grateful for the opportunity to update the House again on the progress of our negotiations with the European Union. The Prime Minister met the Commission President yesterday evening in Brussels. They, along with the chief negotiators, Lord Frost and Michel Barnier, discussed the significant obstacles that still remain in the negotiations. It is clear that we remain far apart on the so-called level playing field, fisheries and governance. However, they agreed that talks should resume in Brussels today to see whether the gaps can be bridged. They also agreed that a decision should be taken by Sunday regarding the future of the talks.
We are working tirelessly to get a deal, but we cannot accept one at any cost. We cannot accept a deal that would compromise the control of our money, laws, borders and fish. The only deal that is possible is one that is compatible with our sovereignty and takes back control of our laws, trade and waters. As the Prime Minister said, whether we agree trading arrangements resembling those of Australia or Canada, the United Kingdom will prosper as an independent nation. We will continue to keep the House updated as we seek to secure a future relationship with our EU friends that respects our status as a sovereign, equal and independent country.
The country was hoping for a breakthrough last night, yet there was none. There is a sense of huge dismay, as we all wanted to hear significant progress, but we heard more about the Prime Minister’s meal than we did about his deal. In fact, we have not heard from the Prime Minister at all, even though he was supposed to be taking charge of these negotiations.
On Sunday, we will have just 18 days to go until the end of the transition period. How has it come to this? Businesses desperately trying to plan need to know what on earth is going on. If talks break down and the Government pursue no deal, what happens next? Will the Government look to swiftly restart negotiations, or do the Government believe there should be no talks next year or even for the rest of this Parliament? Or have the Government not thought that far ahead?
I want to focus in my question today on the security implications of no deal. The political declaration, signed by the Prime Minister, stated that there should be a
“broad, comprehensive and balanced security partnership.”
Yet despite numerous questions from the Opposition, and indeed from the right hon. Member for Maidenhead (Mrs May), Ministers have been unable to tell us how border officers and police will be able to access security data. The Government’s “No-Deal Readiness Report” admitted that, without a deal on security and data, the UK would lose access to key law enforcement tools such as SIS II—the second-generation Schengen information system—Europol and the European arrest warrant. These databases help us to fight organised crime and terrorism. Can the Minister guarantee that the security of the British people will be in no way undermined in the event of no security agreement?
The Labour party believes that the security of our country and our people are crucial. The Government will not be forgiven for undermining those. So for our economic prosperity and for our country’s security, will the Government do the responsible thing and bring back the deal?
I thank the hon. Lady for her comments. First, let me assure her of the Prime Minister’s resolve, efforts and determination to secure a deal. It is one reason why she is having to endure me today and not others. We are going to do everything we can to secure a deal. The best outcome is a Canada-style arrangement, and we are going to leave no stone unturned. We will carry on in talks and carry on negotiating until there is no hope of that happening, but at the moment there is hope of that happening, even though things do appear gloomy.
I appreciate also that Members are very concerned about these matters. Ministers are always happy to come and answer questions and update as much as we can on these issues, but I would say to all colleagues, particularly those on the Opposition Benches, that calling for urgent questions or asking other questions on the Floor of the House with the express mission of trying to undermine our negotiating position by pretending we are not ready for any outcome that these negotiations might yield is not helping to secure the outcome we all want, and it is certainly not in the interests of the country. These are serious times and none of us should be doing anything that may undermine the possibility of us getting the deal we all want.
Let me turn to the issues the hon. Lady raises. We have been clear that the end of the transition period will bring both opportunities but also challenges. We have been making extensive preparations for a wide range of scenarios at the end of the year, including whether it is an Australian-style outcome, and we are ready to seize those opportunities of being outside the single market and the customs union. This includes investing over £700 million in jobs, technology and infrastructure at the border and providing £84 million in grants to boost the customs intermediary sector, alongside implementing border controls in stages and ensuring that we have the necessary time to prepare.
We will not compromise on security. This has been an absolutely key part of our preparations on any outcome, and it is one of the reasons why, even in these gloomy times, I still am optimistic that a deal can be secured, because I do not believe that any European Union member state would wish to affect or compromise the security of its own citizens. But if we leave on an Australian-style outcome, we have measures in place to ensure that our citizens will be safe, and that we will be able to share intelligence and the other things we need to do to ensure our security arrangements are as they should be. I urge all colleagues, whatever their political hue or imperative, to put our nation first over the next few days, to support our negotiating team, to demonstrate our readiness under any scenario and our resolve, and to help us get a deal.
It was interesting that the hon. Member for Leeds West (Rachel Reeves), who speaks for the Opposition, did not address the central question at the root of these issues, which is about the ability of this House of Commons to make decisions about our rules without the European Union being able to override it. That is the central question and on that question I would like the Government to hold firm. My constituents voted to leave the European Union and to take back control of making our laws. Will my right hon. Friend take a message to the Prime Minister that, whatever decision he takes on Sunday—I am glad we are still talking, which shows that there is still opportunity—to secure the ability of this House to make our laws, he has the support of this side of the House? Perhaps the other side of the House should reflect that their approach is why they have lost the last two general elections and are probably going to lose a third.
I thank my right hon. Friend for his remarks. It is helpful for the negotiating team that we are facing across the table to hear the resolve of Members in this House and that they are representing the views of their constituents. We have had many years of wrangling over this, but the Government have a clear mandate to deliver on the referendum result. We will do that and we will hold to our promises.
Here we are again—yet another deadline. October was a deadline, then it was November, then 1 December, then Friday, then Monday, then it was the last supper and now it is Sunday. God knows what it will be after that. I remember the good old days when Brexit was concluded and this was the easiest deal in history. The easiest deal in history now has more cliffhangers than “EastEnders” and we are just 21 days away from a likely no-deal Brexit—a no deal that will bring chaos, disruption and ruin for many.
The only policy in the negotiation position that the Government seem to have left is the forlorn hope that the EU will back down to their demands and concede that the British are right. The Government have made themselves hostage to their own Brexit right wing—any compromise will now be interpreted as a sell-out by that right wing. They have only themselves to blame, with the appalling language that they have used against the EU and their demonisation of the EU as some sort of cartoon villains. The EU are not going to back down, this Government are not going to compromise, so what is going to change in the next few days?
I am going to miss these exchanges with the hon. Gentleman, but my experience of my involvement on the Joint Committee under the withdrawal agreement and all aspects of these negotiations is that they have been done constructively and that there has been good rapport. The critical factor, however, in this is the EU recognising that the United Kingdom is a sovereign equal in these negotiations. That can be laid on the table in a charming way, but that is the bottom line, the cold hard facts of this situation. I appeal to the EU not only to recognise that fact, but to put the interests of the citizens and businesses in their own member states first, above any political project and above the political imperatives of the Commission. That is what we should all be doing. The negotiating position of the United Kingdom is one that creates that mutual beneficial outcome and I am hopeful that the EU will recognise that before the time runs out.
We all want a deal, but UK businesses—let us be frank—are looking at the prospect of no deal with utter dismay. In the political declaration, the Government signed up to common high standards
“commensurate with the scope and depth of the future relationship”
and agreed to robust level playing field commitments to
“prevent distortions of trade and unfair competitive advantages.”
What proposals has the UK made in the negotiations to maintain common high standards in the years ahead, given that it is inevitable that these standards may change on both sides of the relationship?
We have always given that commitment. Clearly, there have been discussions in recent days focused on that precise issue, but right back even when we set out our opening positions, the UK position made those commitments. This Government and future Governments would not want to roll back on those standards, so we did not hesitate in giving those guarantees. The sticking point is our ability to control our own destiny. The EU has got to recognise that it cannot keep us within its own orbit, and that is something we will not compromise on.
Many on the Opposition Benches see that the biggest failure would be for there to be no deal, but does my right hon. Friend agree with me that actually the biggest failure would be to capitulate and to accept a deal that would not fully respect a sovereign Britain leaving the EU? Also, does she agree with me that it is not a great look for the Opposition Benches when it comes to this negotiation—and, of course, it does take two to tango—to incessantly, all the time, be seeing reasonableness in the EU and unreasonableness in our own Government? For a party supposedly looking to reconnect with some of its patriotic voters, this is hardly a good look.
I thank my hon. Friend for his remarks. I would say that we have compromised on a great deal. We have not been intransigent in these negotiations. We have compromised on all sorts of things, including accepting an overarching framework to the agreement. We are going to be as creative and as determined as we possibly can be in the next few days in order to try to secure that deal, but he is right: we will not compromise on those fundamental issues.
Can I assure the right hon. Lady that no one, as far as I am aware, on this side of the House in any way wants to undermine the negotiating position of this Government in Europe, because so much about the future of this country hangs on successful negotiations with the European Union? But in the rollercoaster of emotions that we have been through in the past few days—there is going to be a deal, there is not going to be a deal—and at the end of four years of a rollercoaster, would she accept that what we need is some reassurance that if, by Sunday, there is not an agreement, the Government will not give up on trying to reach a trade deal with the European Union that does not see us crash out on 1 January, with all the catastrophic effect that could have for our local businesses and for the economy?
We are already out, I would just remind the hon. Lady, but clearly we have prepared for every eventuality. We have a phased approach to the border. We have many pots of work going on into the new year to ensure that there are not those cliff edges that she refers to. We have thought long and hard, and there has been a huge effort by the civil service to ensure that, whatever the outcome, it will be as smooth as possible for our businesses and our citizens. I thank the hon. Lady, who has been consistent in helping us secure a deal, and I urge all Members of this House to follow her example. I think that all Members can, from whichever seat they sit in in this Chamber, help us, and I would ask that everyone does that in the coming days.
One of the concessions the Government made this week is on clause 45 of the United Kingdom Internal Market Bill, which would have allowed the UK Government to apply UK state aid rules in Northern Ireland. Given that the UK Government feel comfortable conceding on this clause, will the Minister now also look at deleting clause 50, which reserves the power to Westminster to apply state aid rules in Scotland and Wales?
The Government have already published an economic impact assessment of no deal. Will the Minister ensure that they publish an economic assessment of any EU deal on offer, so if any deal is rejected we will all know at what cost?
At the moment efforts are on securing a deal, and the deal that is there—the component parts of it—is in the best interests of the people of the United Kingdom and in the best interests of the citizens and businesses in the member states of the European Union. That is very clear and that is what we are all hoping for and all working towards. The question is: will the EU accept that?
We end 2020 with Britain as the first country in the world to be protecting its citizens against covid with a properly authorised vaccine. For millions of workers in the manufacturing sectors—automotive, aerospace, food and drink, pharmaceuticals, chemicals—to end 2020 with a free trade agreement will be a huge relief and boost to confidence, so can my right hon. Friend reinforce with the Prime Minister the opportunity for 2021 to be a very much better year for Britain than we might have expected a few months ago, and to use all his personal efforts, energy and creativity to secure a deal in the remaining days ahead?
I thank my right hon. Friend for that and assure him again of the Prime Minister’s resolve to leave no stone unturned to get the Canada-style arrangements that we would all hope for. I would say to him that, as well as a boost for our own manufacturers and scientists and everyone else in the United Kingdom, securing such a deal would be a boost for the world economy and I hope that that focuses minds over the next few days.
In terms of the internal market Bill, we all remember Scottish Tory MPs in this House voting against amendments from the other place that would have forced the Government to seek the consent of the people of Scotland, and time and again we have witnessed the utter violation of not only the devolution settlement but potentially Scotland’s entire constitutional existence. We in Scotland did not vote for this Brexit, or indeed any Brexit, and we will not watch idly as our work and relations with our European friends and neighbours is unravelled. We will make our voice heard at next May’s Holyrood elections, but the truth is that the people of Scotland have had enough now. So I ask the Minister: come May, will she accept our democratic intent, or will we in Scotland always come a distant second to such reckless Tory ideology?
I would ask the hon. Gentleman if he thinks his constituents and the people of Scotland would benefit from us securing the deal that we seek. Would they benefit from us being able to take back control of our waters and not cede that to European partners? If he thinks that is the case, and I understand that is his position, he might like in the coming days to add his voice to those of Scottish MPs on these Benches who are supporting our negotiating team.
I am sure it was absolutely no coincidence that the Prime Minister dined on scallops and turbot last night. I represent a coastal community. Can my right hon. Friend assure me that this is not about the fact that fishing is a necessarily small part of our GDP at the moment; it is about what the future can be for our coastal communities? It is so important to return sovereignty and that those coastal communities have a fishing future that includes my constituency of North Norfolk.
My hon. Friend understands these issues very well and makes those points very well. He will also understand the Prime Minister’s resolve on this issue. I can reassure him that, with the exception of the scallops and that very fine piece of turbot, fish was not on the table last night.
I get on well with the Minister, but I must tell her this morning that it is our duty to hold this Government to account at this crucial time for all our constituents. That being said, being creative and determined is all very well, and I have been impressed by the negotiating skills of the two men leading this over these weeks, as I sit on the Committee on the Future Relationship with the European Union, but this is about leadership. As soon as the Prime Minister gets his sweaty hands on this issue, there is failure—failure of leadership, failure of determination and failure really to deliver this Government’s message. I hope the Minister comes back on that.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for the kind remarks that he makes about our negotiating team. They have done an incredible job. It is an incredibly technical job, with many details to work through, and their respective teams have done an incredible job. We owe them an immense debt of gratitude, whatever the outcome of these negotiations.
The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right: it is the job of Members of Parliament to hold the Government to account. We will always be here, whether it is on an urgent question or other matters. Again, I should plug that I am available at 10 am every day to take calls from Members of Parliament on any issue, whether it is Brexit or covid-related. But I would just say to him: please do not misinterpret the Prime Minister’s determination on sticking to these fundamental principles as somehow a negative in these negotiations. The only way we are going to get any arrangement that will enable our country to thrive is if he sticks to his guns, and he is going to stick to his guns.
A free trade agreement is manifestly, overwhelmingly to the advantage of both sides, and it should be pressed for to the very last opportunity. However, does my right hon. Friend also recognise that security issues are critical to the welfare of this country, and so is civil justice co-operation? Those do not depend on a free trade agreement as such. The data adequacy agreement would certainly be of great advantage in sharing intelligence information. Now that the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster has reached an agreement in relation to the Joint Committee and it is not necessary for us to deal with certain potentially controversial clauses in the United Kingdom Internal Market Bill, it would be greatly to the advantage of both sides if the EU Commission were to withdraw its objection to the UK joining the Lugano convention on civil justice co-operation in its own right. That would benefit both sides too, regardless of whatever else is decided.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. There are many things that we could agree to and could do that would be beneficial to both parties. Of course, what lies behind the politics and the negotiations are decades of relationships between law enforcement and all the agencies, services and forces that work together and will continue to work together in the interests of all our citizens.
On Monday, the Paymaster General had no opinion as to whether a 20% average tariff on food imports would be “modest” for poor people. With the prospect of a no-deal resolution now greater than ever, does she think that an export tariff of 48% on lamb and 84% on beef would be modest for Welsh farmers?
Clearly, the information on tariffs has been published. It is on gov.uk, but I stress to the hon. Gentleman that we are working to secure a deal that is in the best interests of our farmers, our hauliers, our businesses and our citizens, and we will continue to do that until all hope is exhausted.
Would my right hon. Friend accept that even if a deal is done now, it will be very late for businesses to have a chance to understand and interpret it? Will she therefore urge the EU to go further than in the announcement that it made this morning and mirror our proposals not to impose the full import formalities for a period of six months to give a period of time for business to understand and get used to the new rules?
I thank my hon. Friend for that suggestion. I think it is in everyone’s interests if a pragmatic stance is taken on all these issues. That has, by and large, been the case to date. We should continue to do that as we go into the new year, no matter what the outcome of the future relationship.
The Minister will be aware of my party’s support for a deal, and we wish the Prime Minister well in his continued negotiations. She will also be aware of my party’s views on the Northern Ireland protocol and our opposition to it. In light of the announcement yesterday, will the Minister outline what actions she and the Government plan to take at the end of the six-month derogation on chilled meats moving from GB to Northern Ireland, so that businesses do not look elsewhere for those supplies? Will she commit to take unilateral action where necessary if all these new arrangements are seen to be detrimental to Northern Ireland’s economic wellbeing?
I thank the hon. Lady for her question. She will know that throughout all this we have sought to provide not just the practical support that Northern Ireland businesses need, but also the confidence in the environment that businesses need to continue to make investments. She will be aware that this morning the Northern Ireland Office announced a further £400 million, which has been committed to assisting businesses and boost economic growth, and to support throughout the transition. She has my assurance that the success and some new opportunities that will come with this if we get it right for Northern Ireland are there to be seized.
My right hon. Friend and I both campaigned for leave in the referendum, but more importantly 70% of voters in Dudley South and a majority nationwide decided to take back control over our laws, our borders and our trade. Does she agree that an agreement is only going to be possible if it respects that decision and ensures that laws are made here in the United Kingdom?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right, and this comes to the heart of it. I cannot, I am afraid, give him any guarantees as to whether the EU will reconcile itself with those facts, and I cannot say what the outcome will be. All I can assure him of is that the Government will stick to those principles and are absolutely determined within that to do everything we can to secure a deal.
I would like to press the Minister further on the issue of policing, justice and security co-operation. This is, of course, of huge importance to the whole of the UK, but particularly so for us in Northern Ireland given our problems with organised crime and terrorism, and the existence of a land border. Given that the UK is facing a cliff edge at the end of the month in this regard, can she tell us what will be happening specifically on matters such as extradition, data sharing and data adequacy?
Of all people, I know the importance of these matters to every part of the UK. We will be gaining access to new information via safety and security declarations. These will be required by the middle of next year. For every issue the hon. Gentleman raises, there are clear plans for how we can ensure a smooth transition to new arrangements. However, I would also just emphasise the fundamental principle that I do not think anyone—a member state, in the Commission and certainly not in this Government—is going to compromise on matters of security.
Whether it is a Canada or an Australia deal, the people of Stoke-on-Trent North, Kidsgrove and Talke, 72% of whom voted to leave the European Union in 2016, are rightly proud that this Government are sticking up for the United Kingdom’s interests, something the Labour party desperately needs to learn if it wishes to regain the red wall in the future. Will my right hon. Friend assure me that no matter what comes out of these negotiations, the fine world-leading potteries have an exciting future in global Britain?
I thank my hon. Friend for that upbeat question. He is absolutely right to say that we have taken care of the challenges in any scenario, and again great credit goes to the civil service for preparing for that. There are also opportunities, which is why the people of this country voted to extract themselves from the EU. We would be doing them a disservice if we did not create the conditions for us to be able to seize those opportunities, and that is what we will do in the coming days.
Last October, in preparation for a possible no deal, the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster told us that stockpiles had been built up of essential medicines, including asthma inhalers, antibiotics, paracetamol and ibuprofen. That was just as well, given that they were needed in the coronavirus pandemic. Have stockpiles of those things been returned to the levels they were at in October 2019?
The hon. Gentleman is right to say that the efforts the civil service went to in order to prepare for a no-deal scenario last year stood us in much better stead for what then happened with regard to the pandemic. That is not an argument for Brexit; it is simply a fact that this nation was much more resilient because of the no-deal planning scenario. I cannot give him drug by drug, line by line details on the stocks, as he will appreciate, but I am sure the Department of Health and Social Care can. I can, however, reassure him on those matters. A huge amount of work has done, in a multi-layered approach, asking suppliers of medicines, medical products and other medical devices to help us replenish those stocks, while making sure that they themselves are trader-ready, so that their businesses are not interrupted. [Interruption.] No, I am saying that he should have reassurance on the points he has raised, and I will be happy to follow up with him with further detail regarding paracetamol and the other items he mentioned.
Financial services are crucial for not only London but Scotland and many of our regional cities. Will my right hon. Friend assure me that financial services, and indeed the service sector as a whole, will be at the forefront of our minds in the next few days, given the importance of services to our economy?
I can give my hon. Friend those assurances. Services were one area where we were very poorly served by our membership of the EU. As well as the negotiations, the Department for International Trade has been doing fantastic work in signing roll-over trade agreements and new agreements with many nations. There are fantastic opportunities for our service economy in those nations.
Investing in green industries and our transport infrastructure will be key to building back better after the pandemic and transitioning to net zero. With Government support, the automotive sector, including Vauxhall in my constituency, could move more quickly to producing more electric vehicles and councils could move to implementing the required green infrastructure to support them. Will the Minister outline whether a position on what is considered state aid has been reached, and whether any agreement will enable Government to invest in and subsidise green sectors?
There were certainly elements of the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster’s statement earlier in the week that touched on that, but the hon. Lady is absolutely right to say that we want to be able to secure opportunities to set the conditions for our economy to thrive. Clearly, we have very challenging environmental goals that we wish to reach. Those are the freedoms we are working and fighting for.
The end of the transition period will present both opportunities and significant challenges for those involved in the agriculture and food production sector. Will my right hon. Friend reassure those in that sector in Penrith and The Border, Cumbria and the wider UK that sufficient provisions are in place for veterinary and certification work at borders? Will she reassure farmers in sectors that may face severe challenges in tariffs, such as the sheep and beef sectors, that the Government are prepared to step in and provide support?
My hon. Friend raises two important points. I can assure him that a great deal of thought has gone into ensuring that we have the supplies and enough personnel to meet the requirements on the veterinary side of things. We have always stood by any sector or part of the UK that is facing tough times, and we will continue to do so.
England and Wales were due to qualify for BSE negligible risk status next year, but due to the diversion of Government resources and staff to work on Brexit and covid, the Government missed the OIE—the World Organisation for Animal Health—submission deadline. Will the Minister apologise to my constituent in Bedford who runs Dunbia Cardington, who, despite his attempts to send out a message in a post-Brexit world that he is open for business and has the highest food standards in the world, will have to wait at least another year for his meat to qualify for this world-class status because of her Government’s failure?
Will my right hon. Friend confirm that, if we cannot find suitable compromises with our European friends on the remaining issues of the level playing field, governance and fisheries, we will be fully prepared to leave the transition period on Australian terms on 1 January?
Yesterday the Prime Minister said that Scotland “will benefit” even if the UK crashes out of the EU single market without a trade deal with the EU, despite the fact that no deal will mean higher food prices, additional costs for businesses and job losses. As we stare down the barrel of a no-deal Brexit, can the Minister explain to what extent she believes Brexit is turning into the titanic success that the Prime Minister predicted it would be?
I say to the hon. Lady, as I have said to her colleagues, that if she does not want that scenario—and I get that impression from the tone of her question—she ought to be helping this Government to secure the deal that would be in the interests of her constituents. I urge her, even at this late hour, to consider that.
I have no doubt that the Prime Minister will achieve a good trade deal for this country if there is one to be achieved. However, when I was in business and negotiating international trade deals with Governments, I found that they could only be concluded if there was a firm deadline, or they would continue to be pushed back. Given that, could the excellent Minister confirm that Sunday is the absolute deadline, which will make people focus on the negotiations and come to a conclusion?
I can give my hon. Friend greater assurance than that, because there is a very firm deadline, which is that at the end of this year, we and others have to legislate. Time is running out. We will carry on negotiating until there is no hope left, and the statement made yesterday would indicate that, unless progress is made, Sunday may well be that deadline.
On Tuesday, the chief executive of the Food and Drink Federation said that his members could not agree export sales for next year with any certainty as they cannot be sure what tariffs may apply, what delays they may face or how much they will get paid for their goods. He also said that there is a shortage of general ambient warehousing space and cold chain storage. Businesses are trying to stockpile against the shocks and offset increased costs, but how can they do that if there is not facility for that stockpiling? What are the Government going to do about that, and why on earth have they not thought this through sooner than just three weeks before exit day?
These are serious issues and, partly because of the stresses that global trade is under with regard to the pandemic, there are other issues—for example, containers being at the wrong end of the globe to enable particular trade to continue—to contend with in addition to the ones the hon. Lady mentions. For each of these issues, the relevant Department has a mitigation plan that it is carrying out. I understand that this situation is very difficult for business, but we are here to provide both the practical and the financial support, as we have done through the investments we have made in infrastructure, technology and people. Where specific issues affect particular sectors, the relevant Departments are doing all that they can to rectify those situations.
I know that my right hon. Friend agrees that it is good that the negotiations continue—we all want a good trade deal—but will she convey to the Prime Minister that if the EU refuses to recognise or accept British sovereignty, which was at the very heart of the 2016 vote, and there is no deal, he has the party’s full support? After all, both the UK and the EU trade very profitably with much of the world, including the United States, China, India and Australia, on no-deal terms.
In acknowledging its importance yesterday, the Minister for the Cabinet Office told me that he could “see no reason why” a data adequacy agreement with the EU should not be in place by the end of the month. Will the Minister confirm that one has actually been applied for? When is a decision expected? Does she recognise that, in the national interest, we must have one?
The Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport is the lead Department on that issue; I will ask the Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport to update the right hon. Gentleman on the precise timetable that the Department is working to. The right hon. Gentleman is right at the heart of what he says: there is no logical reason why all sorts of things cannot be agreed to—they are in the interests of all parties and I hope that that is the conclusion that the EU negotiating team come to in the coming days.
Does the Minister accept that even the sovereign United States believes that trade disputes can be resolved through internationalised mechanisms such as the World Trade Organisation and others? In that context, is not the concern of business about a crash-out no deal limited by the fact that it is not so much the Prime Minister’s guns that he is sticking to but the guns of those siren voices behind him who want that no-deal Brexit?
No, I think the Prime Minister has been very clear about what the optimum outcome is. We are not crashing out; what is being decided over the next few days is which set of rules will be taken forward for our future relationship with our European friends. There are plans and support in place for every scenario and I think what business really wants is the certainty of what that will look like. We are talking about an incredibly resilient group of organisations and people who can prepare for any scenario; what has been a strain is preparing for every scenario. They will get certainty in the coming days.
I am clear that most of my constituents in Bracknell, and those beyond, really want a free trade deal, but given the ongoing inability of the bully boys in Brussels to accept that we are now a sovereign nation, does the Minister agree that there may be a point in time at which a clean break is the only option, with a view, perhaps, to returning to the table in 2021, as a sovereign nation, to secure a deal that other sovereign nations have already achieved?
If we have to go on those terms then that is what will happen and we will prosper, but it is clearly not our first choice. The key factor in this is whether the EU is going to place above its own political interests, the interests of the citizens and businesses in its member states. Fundamentally, that is what is at the heart of this, and if the EU does not do that, that will be a very serious mistake.
The EU is the source of 26% of the UK’s food. The next highest country of origin for food imports to the UK provides only 4%. Considering that we are not acceding to any new markets on 1 January, never mind that we are leaving one with which we have unfettered access, will the Minister finally come clean with consumers and shoppers that no deal will mean increased costs for putting food on the table and that it is the actions of this Government that are directly responsible for this?
Will my right hon. Friend reassure the House that, because of the agreement reached by the Joint Committee on the Northern Ireland protocol and regardless of the outcome of our negotiations with the EU, there will be no new customs infrastructure required in Northern Ireland?
I can give my hon. Friend that assurance. We accept our responsibilities with regard to the Northern Ireland protocol, as does the EU, and, again, I put on record my thanks and congratulations to the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster on all the work that he has done to secure that.
I spent yesterday in meetings listening to businesses small and large, locally and nationally, including the aerospace industry, farming, hospitality, tourism, finance and manufacturing. They had two things in common. Thing one was that they spent the past nine months completely battling all they could to protect their workers and to keep their heads above water during the covid crisis. The other thing they have in common was complete and total frustration and dismay that we are three weeks off a new arrangement of one kind or another and whatever great contingency plans the Minister speaks of, she has not shared them with them. Will she allow businesses in this country to do the best for our country by giving them an adjustment period after whatever happens on 1 January, so that they are not clobbered by changes for which they are not prepared?
I can certainly give the hon. Gentleman that assurance. It is called the phased approach to the border. The civil service and the experts that we have on all these matters relating to the border, whether they sit in Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs or elsewhere, have spoken to tens of thousands of businesses at literally thousands of events and on webinars. When colleagues in this House request access to that expertise, those meetings are set up by my office. We will do everything we can to give them the right advice and support. Colleagues can help in this, too. I do not know whether he has seen in his inbox the pack that we put together for his caseworkers.
Good. Please use it. There is contact information in there if there are technical questions that he needs to follow up on. We know that this is really hard for businesses, and that our businesses have been amazing in dealing with everything that they have had to in the past year. We will do all we can to support them, both practically and in the information that we will give them, so please do use the services that are there.
My right hon. Friend will know that, throughout this process, some have tried to suggest that the Government actively want to trade only on WTO terms, but does she agree that the huge amount of time and effort spent on the negotiations in these months shows that the Government do want a good trade deal, but, rightly, not at any cost?
Absolutely. As someone who has been very close to this whole process and sits on the Withdrawal Agreement Joint Committee, I can say that that is our prime effort. It is the focus of the Prime Minister, but he is, as my hon. Friend says, not prepared to compromise on those issues that would affect our ability to capitalise on our new-found freedoms. That is what, I think, the people of this country understand and expect.
I, too, thank the Minister for her hard work and for her positive responses to the urgent question. Will she outline the steps that are being taken with regard to the beef, sheep and pork industries and the vegetable sector—particularly the potato sector—to secure tax-free, hassle-free and EU bureaucracy-free transport between Northern Ireland and the other nations of this great United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland?
The hon. Gentleman will be aware of the very large amount of work that DEFRA and other parts of Government have undertaken to get the best possible outcome and smooth the path for businesses, whatever the destination of their products. I mentioned the announcement today of £400 million of new money from the Northern Ireland Office; that is obviously on top of the £650 million UK investment announced in August, to deliver the trader support service and our contribution to the PEACE PLUS programme.
In the four years since the referendum, the Opposition have wanted to be in, to be out, to shake it all about. Does my right hon. Friend agree that their failure to support any deal that we deliver means that they have learned nothing from last year’s general election and that they cannot be trusted to deliver on the will of the British people?
Second only to the outcome of the negotiations is what Labour’s position on Brexit will be. We all need to focus on the first job, which is to secure a good deal for this nation. I hope all Members of this House, whatever their political hue, will recognise the seriousness of this moment and will support the Government in securing that objective.
The only thing that those on the Labour Benches want is a decent deal that serves the people of this country well and supports business. There are just 18 days left for businesses to prepare, and they certainly do not have the tools to understand, digest and implement a new deal. What additional resources will the Minister bring forward for businesses across my community and others to ensure that they can be helped not only to the end of the year but beyond 1 January?
Most of the things that businesses will have to do are not contingent on these final negotiations. As I mentioned, there has been a huge amount of investment in people, technology and infrastructure, and there will be a phased approach next year. We are giving businesses, colleagues and other intermediaries who will be working with those businesses the information they need to prepare well; that includes the hon. Lady’s casework team, who will have had the pack that I mentioned earlier. If there are outstanding issues, specifics or technical matters that you need help on—I am sorry, Mr Speaker: I mean “the hon. Lady needs help on”, or indeed you, Mr Speaker—we are available to assist. Please do make use of those services.
This Saturday, it will be a whole year since I was elected on a manifesto pledge to get Brexit done. Two thirds of people in my community voted to leave the EU and take back control of our laws, borders, fishing waters and money. Will the Minister confirm that we will not sell out on any of those priorities, and that no trade deal remains better than a bad trade deal?
This afternoon, the Government are finally removing the clause from the United Kingdom Internal Market Bill that would break international law, arguably after having committed to do so as a concession to secure a deal. If there is a no-deal outcome this weekend, do the Government have any plans to bring forward new measures that break international law, either in the Taxation (Post-transition Period) Bill, which was introduced this week, or as part of any unknown business?
The hon. Lady will know the reasons why those clauses were in the UKIM Bill. We will not compromise on the integrity of the United Kingdom. The fact that the Prime Minister made that offer shows that we are doing everything we can to be creative and try to ensure we get a preferable outcome. As I say, the Prime Minister has resolved that he will not move on those red lines.