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UK-EU Negotiations

Volume 686: debated on Thursday 17 December 2020

What recent assessment he has made of the effectiveness of negotiations on the UK’s future relationship with the EU. (910431)

What recent assessment he has made of the effectiveness of negotiations on the UK’s future relationship with the EU. (910433)

What recent assessment he has made of the effectiveness of negotiations on the UK’s future relationship with the EU. (910443)

With your permission, Mr Speaker, I will take questions 5, 6 and 7 together, because they are such good questions. They really are superb questions, and it is only right that they be taken together, in a one-er, in a group, as a collective. Intensive talks are ongoing, with both negotiating teams working day and night to reach a deal. We are going the extra mile and continuing the negotiations to see whether an agreement can be reached, and we will of course continue to keep Parliament informed on our progress.

I thank my right hon. Friend for his slightly delayed answer. He showed last week how successful the UK Government can be in negotiating with the EU, in their successful agreement in the Joint Committee. Will he therefore confirm that, although he has shown that the UK can do a deal with the EU, the Government will only conclude a deal on a free trade agreement that is in the best interests of our country and will be willing to walk away if they have no other choice?

My hon. Friend is right; even if sometimes results are coming later than we might have wanted, I know that we will be doing everything to secure a good free trade agreement in the interests of the whole United Kingdom. The electors of Bishop Auckland, whom she represents so brilliantly, were clear when they voted to leave the EU that we need to do so by 31 December, and we will.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the Opposition’s apparent position of agreeing a deal no matter what is a ridiculous one to take during any negotiation?

My hon. Friend is right; the Opposition party has taken a number of different position on Brexit over the past few months, weeks and perhaps even days, but one thing that has never been clear is where exactly its red lines are. Ours are clear: we will always stand up for the United Kingdom. May I also pay tribute to my hon. Friend for the magnificent way in which she stood up for our coastal communities and fishing sector? Outside the common fisheries policy they will prosper, thanks to her.

Fishing is reportedly a sticking point in the negotiations. My local fishermen in Hastings and Rye need to have faith that this Conservative Government will not sacrifice them, as previous Governments have, for free trade with the EU. Can I be confident in reassuring them that this Government will provide the basis for trust to be restored and built upon?

Yes; my hon. Friend does an excellent job in standing up for her constituents in Hastings and Rye. The fishermen she represents so effectively know that we, as an independent coastal state, will be in control of our waters at the end of the transition period. Of course we want to make sure that we manage shared stocks in an appropriate way with all of our neighbours, including those outside the EU, but as an independent coastal state we are in control.

We all wish the negotiators well in this final stage, as they demonstrate that sharing sovereignty—gaining benefits by accepting obligations—is what will be required in order to reach the agreement that the Government say they want and which we all want. Can the right hon. Gentleman tell the House whether the legislation that will be required to give effect to any agreement will need to pass all of its stages in Parliament by 31 December this year in order to provide clarity to individual businesses about what they can do from 1 January next year, which is, after all, only 15 days away?

The right hon. Gentleman reminds us all of the importance of seeking to conclude these negotiations as quickly as possible. If they are concluded satisfactorily, we will request that the House returns in order to make sure that we can legislate effectively. We believe we can pass the necessary legislation before 31 December to give businesses legal certainty for the future.

This is how the Prime Minister described his oven-ready deal last November:

“put it in Gas Mark 4, 20 minutes and Bob’s your uncle.”

The Minister is nodding. Clearly, the Government have delivered half of it—leaving the European Union—but we have now passed six of the Prime Minister’s deadlines for the other half, which is the agreement on our new relationship with the EU. In those same comments last November, the Prime Minister promised to end “dither and delay”. This week, we have heard of companies that have stopped exporting to the EU because of the uncertainty created by the Government’s handling of these negotiations. Has the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster made an assessment of how many jobs have been lost through their incompetence?

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for reminding us that the Prime Minister not only secured a handsome election victory just over a year ago but did so on the basis of having secured a withdrawal agreement that passed this House, which meant that we left the European Union in January. Part of that withdrawal agreement was a protocol on Northern Ireland; some doubted that we would be able to reach a satisfactory conclusion, but we did. Others doubt that we will be able to have a satisfactory cause for celebration at the end of this year, when the transition period ends; I invite the hon. Gentleman to wait and see on that.

I think we are all waiting to see.

Let me ask the Minister about a different part of the negotiations. When I have asked him previously, he has been unable to confirm that we will have access to the real-time information systems that we need to identify foreign criminals at our borders. We both understand why the Government’s position has prevented him from giving that confirmation. This morning, speaking on Radio 4 just over an hour ago, the Home Secretary was pressed on the issue and said:

“All the type of channels that we have used in the past we will continue to use going forward.”

Was she right? Anything less than an unequivocal endorsement will indicate that she was not.