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Brexit: Green Paper

Volume 777: debated on Monday 9 January 2017


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government whether they intend to publish a green paper on their negotiating objectives for Brexit.

My Lords, as the Prime Minister has said, we have committed to publish a plan before we trigger Article 50. The Government want to ensure Parliament has the necessary information so that it can scrutinise the negotiating process while ensuring that our national interest in those negotiations is protected.

Will the Government reveal to Parliament and the British people the damage to the economy that will result from Brexit if we leave the European single market?

My Lords, as the Prime Minister made clear in her interview yesterday, we are intent on achieving the widest and best possible access to the single market, and that remains our aim. I am sure that she will say more about this matter in the weeks ahead.

My Lords, given that new global value chains and a completely transformed global pattern of trade have utterly changed old notions of the single market and the customs union, is it not rather pointless now frantically to debate whether we should be in or out of the single market until we know what we are dealing with and with whom we have to negotiate about what?

My noble friend makes an extremely good point—he has written and spoken extensively on this. I have had the good fortune to meet a number of businesses large and small, ranging from very high-tech manufacturers to much smaller businesses, to discuss supply chains. He is absolutely right: this is a very important issue. It is complex and, as my noble friend implies, it suggests that the rather bland terms that we use about the Brexit debate need to be treated with great caution.

How is one more clear about the objectives than the Prime Minister was yesterday, which is to get out of the European Union as soon as possible, which includes the single market?

As the Prime Minister made clear yesterday, a range of options is open to us and we are looking for the best possible deal for this country.

My Lords, the Minister needs to offer two things to the House. The first is perhaps that he will no longer do what some of his colleagues do. The Secretary of State, Liz Truss, refused to appear before the Joint Committee on Human Rights looking at Brexit, a refusal that the committee described as unacceptable. I hope that the Minister will come to the House with not just the final vote that will happen when Article 50 is triggered, but the detail of what the Government are seeking to achieve out of negotiations when we leave the European Union.

I can certainly assure the noble Baroness that it remains the Government’s intention to build as strong a national consensus as possible around our negotiation position, to treat this House and the other place with the respect they deserve as the negotiations continue, and to give the information required for scrutiny to be meaningful and worth while.

My Lords, we all try to understand why the Government wish to keep a close hand on their negotiating objectives with Europe—we must remain very hush-hush about this in case Johnny Foreigner understands what we are up to—but would the Minister like to hazard a guess on the negotiating objectives of the 27 countries, the European Commission and the European Parliament? Surely that is not a matter on which we cannot comment.

It is very tempting, my Lords, but not on my first time back. In seriousness, the noble Lord makes a very good point. Having reflected on his question, which is a very fair one, I would like to think that our European partners see that a smooth, orderly and timely Brexit is as much in their interest as it is in ours.

I think that we will hear first from the Liberal Democrats and then perhaps we can then go to the noble Lord, Lord Pearson.

My Lords, can the Minister clarify whether the Government think it important that we are within the single market and not just trading with it? Can he also explain to us precisely why the well-being of the country is being held hostage to squabbles within the Conservative Party and Cabinet?

I totally dispute the second part of the noble Baroness’s question, I am sorry to say. As regards the single market, my right honourable friend the Prime Minister set out our thinking on that yesterday. As she said, we are looking for the best possible deal for trading with and operating within the single European market, and we want that prosperity for all businesses.

My Lords, since the EU does so much better out of our membership than we do, in pretty well every sphere of our national life—trade and jobs, security, mutual residence, agriculture, fish, the single market; not to mention the £10 billion in cash we give it every year—why do we not just tell it that we are taking back our law and our borders and that we will be reasonably generous about the rest of it if it behaves itself and agrees? Would that not be a nice clean Brexit? It need not take very long at all, need it?

The noble Lord has a unique way of putting things, which I note, but I do not think the Government would necessarily adopt quite that phraseology. It is clear: the Government have set out on numerous occasions over the past few months our intention to take control over our borders, our money and our laws, while achieving the best possible access to the single market for businesses. That is the position.

Does my noble friend not think that it would be simpler to stop referring to the single market and refer instead to what is in the treaty—the internal market—thereby making it obvious that it is absurd to argue that we should leave the European Union and be in the internal market?

As usual, my noble friend speaks with a great amount of forensic attention to detail. He is absolutely right from that point of view, but the words are the words that we seem to be using.

I listen to all manner of people, my Lords, on all sides of the political divide and on all sides of the argument on this.

My Lords, does my noble friend agree that the passage of Article 50 will be enormously facilitated if the Green Paper makes it plain that the final and negotiated terms will be subject to approval by Parliament and, if Parliament so decides, in a further referendum?

My Lords, as the Prime Minister, my Secretary of State and I have made clear on a number of occasions, the Government will comply with all the constitutional and legal obligations that apply to the negotiated deal with the EU.