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Volume 776: debated on Thursday 3 November 2016


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the impact on their negotiations with the European Union on Brexit and the United Kingdom’s future relationship with the European Union of the pursuit by other European Union member states of ever-closer union.

My Lords, the future direction of the EU is a matter for its remaining members, but we intend to co-operate and collaborate on matters of mutual interest once we leave the EU. We do not see Brexit as ending our relationship with the EU; it is about starting a new one that is dynamic and constructive.

Perhaps this morning’s developments indicate how fast moving and difficult it is to predict the direction that these negotiations and discussions will take. I am increasingly concerned about this talk of hard and soft Brexit when crucially, regardless of what happens with the court decision at the end of the day, what matters is that Parliament is involved in trying to work out a good arrangement—good for the United Kingdom and good for the European Union. Many of those members will continue to move towards ever-closer union. We must be sensitive to that, and I hope that the Minister will confirm that.

My Lords, absolutely, and I thank the noble Lord for giving me the opportunity to say this. As my ministerial colleagues have said, while we are leaving the EU, we are certainly not going to turn our backs on Europe. I share the noble Lord’s concern about the use of language. The Prime Minister has made it very clear that we are not adopting an off-the-shelf approach; we are looking for a bespoke approach. We want a relationship that will reflect mature, co-operative arrangements in the future, with close friends and allies with whom we have been partners for a number of years and with whom we continue to face common challenges. Once we have left the EU, those common challenges will remain, and it will be utterly in our national interest to look to see how we can continue to co-operate with our European partners once we have left.

My Lords, clearly it is in the interests of the United Kingdom that the European Union is a stable partner, so ever-closer union for the 27 might be desirable. But in light of today’s developments, will the Minister bring forward a Statement letting us know how Parliament might be involved in triggering Article 50?

I had expected that question. The Government are clearly disappointed by the court’s judgment. The country voted to leave the European Union in a referendum approved by an Act of Parliament, and the Government remain determined to respect the vote of the referendum. We will appeal this judgment. I have nothing further to say at this precise juncture. I am sure that more will be said in due course.

My Lords, it is interesting that Brexit was all about parliamentary sovereignty. We regret that the Government will now appeal against the judgment to give this decision back to Parliament. In fact, if the Government do not like the Supreme Court’s decision, perhaps they will try the European Court of Justice. We accept that we will trigger Article 50, but what is important now are the terms of that. Parliament can help to shape the basis on which we leave. It would be better to welcome this decision—and I ask the Minister to do that—to work with the judgment of the court and to take this important decision to Parliament.

I have nothing further to add to what I said a moment ago. The Government’s decision is to appeal this judgment. The referendum result was clear. Some 17.4 million people voted to leave, and the Government have made it clear that they wish to deliver on that.

My Lords, does the Minister agree that the Question underlines the importance of this country’s role in all the other European institutions other than the EU?

Yes, I think the noble Lord is referring to the institutions that operate external to the EU and which have helped to underpin our security. At the same time, I would point out that, as regards defence, the Government believe that NATO is the bedrock of our defence policy. On the wider point that is implicit in the noble Lord’s question, there are a number of areas of co-operation as regards defence, security, and research and development which we will wish to look at in the future to see whether our continued co-operation and collaboration fulfil our national interest.

My Lords, I am afraid that it is woe after woe for the Government. On top of this morning’s decision by the High Court, has the Minister had a chance to read the clear statement of the chair of the European Parliament’s Constitutional Affairs Committee, Danuta Maria Hübner, who has made it absolutely clear that any EU follow-on free trade agreements will not occur simultaneously with Brexit—in other words, it will be possible to negotiate only at the end of the Brexit arrangements? Those discussions will be subject to a unanimous vote, including of the sub-state parliaments in Europe. This has the potential to add years to the process and is a complete contradiction of the statements expressed publicly by the Secretary of State for International Trade. Will the Minister respond?

I have little to add to what my colleague the Secretary of State for International Trade has said, other than that we will obviously abide by the obligations set out by the WTO when we look to forge future negotiations, and likewise with the EU when we look to forge future arrangements with other non-EU countries. I have nothing further to add at this juncture.

My Lords, will my noble friend confirm that the Government are determined to carry out the wishes of the British people and enable us to leave the European Union? While understanding that the Government were required to indicate that they would have to appeal in order to take the matter forward, they do not have to go ahead with that. Given that the Opposition have made their position absolutely clear—indeed, noble Lords will recall that the leader of the Opposition called for us to implement Article 50 immediately—what exactly is the difficulty with having a vote in the House of Commons on that matter of principle?

My Lords, the Government have made their position clear as regards this judgment, but I can assure my noble friend that we intend to deliver on the verdict of the British people in the referendum, and furthermore to deliver on our manifesto promise to respect the outcome of the result of that referendum.

My Lords, I appreciate that the noble Lord has restricted himself in the comments he may make, but perhaps I may ask him whether he agrees with two principles. The first is that, no matter how high you are, the law is above you. Secondly, will he affirm unequivocally the sovereignty of Parliament?

My Lords, we absolutely will abide by the sovereignty of Parliament, but I should also say that the reason we are abiding by the process before us is to ensure that we follow the options open to us as regards appealing. That is what we are doing.

My Lords, if all the other member states really are determined to go on sailing straight at the three icebergs of the euro, immigration and the EU’s ruinously uncompetitive overregulation—and there are signs that some of them are not—surely we should be even more determined to get off their “Titanic” as soon as possible.

My Lords, a number of options are open to us as we leave the European Union. We intend to make the most of the opportunities that present themselves, while maintaining the freest possible access to the market of the European Union.