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Brexit: Declaration of Friendship

Volume 779: debated on Tuesday 14 March 2017

Question

Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government whether, before invoking Article 50, they will lay before each House of Parliament a declaration of friendship and intent which they will then circulate to the Parliaments of the other European Union member states.

My Lords, the Prime Minister’s Lancaster House speech made clear that, while we are leaving the European Union, we are not leaving Europe. Europe matters, and the UK will continue to be a reliable partner, willing ally and close friend to all the EU member states. Friendship is implicit in our relationship with Europe and there is therefore no need to lay a declaration of friendship and intent before this House and the other place ahead of triggering Article 50.

My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that Answer, although I am sorry that it was not shorter and more in the affirmative. I am sure that she will acknowledge that it is vitally important that the friendship to which she referred, and to which the Question refers, is emphasised at every conceivable opportunity. We are sitting down with friends, neighbours and allies and not seeking to negotiate a peace treaty with enemies. It is clearly important that advancing our friendship is crucial to the success of the talks.

My Lords, let me try to reassure my noble friend. I am absolutely certain that our negotiators, in conducting these vital and extremely important negotiations, will do so in the best traditions of relations amical, amistad und Freundschaft.

My Lords, does the Minister recall the wise words of the great Liberal politician, Richard Cobden, who once said:

“Free Trade is God’s diplomacy and there is no other certain way of uniting people in the bonds of peace”?

Is not the best thing we can do to show our everlasting friendship with Europe to advance the possibility of a comprehensive free trade agreement with Europe?

I must thank my noble friend: it is certainly good to be reminded of a time when there were wise Liberals. I also thank him for his very pertinent question. I am sure that those issues will be to the forefront of our negotiators’ thoughts.

My Lords, one really important issue will be about people and the ability of all of us to travel, study, work and indeed drive in Europe and go on holidays there. One worry that consumers have is that we will possibly lose our car insurance and have to revert to the old green card. Indeed, we could also lose our European health card—the E111, as some of us still call it. My discussions so far about how much those consumer interests are being discussed have not been very fruitful, but those interests are really important. Will the Minister give an undertaking that these wider people-to-people issues will be taken seriously?

I thank the noble Baroness for raising an extremely important point. Part of the preparatory period in anticipation of triggering Article 50 has been devoted to extensive consultation. Indeed, the Department for Exiting the European Union has conducted an analysis and consultation with many sectors of society. But she raises very important issues and I am sure that her remarks will be noted.

My Lords, will the Minister, rather than trying not to answer the Question asked by the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, reflect on the fact that since it appears, if one believes what one reads in the newspapers, that the Prime Minister has given herself two extra weeks to write this important missive, she might settle down with a sharp pen and put some of the thoughts in the noble Lord’s Question into that missive?

I apologise to the noble Lord if I omitted to answer my noble friend’s Question: I thought that I had tried to do that in a rather original manner. But I reassure him that the sentiments raised by my noble friend Lord Cormack are extremely important, and they will be at the forefront of the manner in which we conduct the negotiations.

My Lords, the Minister quoted the Prime Minister as saying that we are leaving the EU but not leaving Europe. That seems to many of us to be a deliberately meaningless phrase in the face of the underlying hostility to continental European Governments of some Conservatives on the Benches behind her. The Foreign Secretary, rather more floridly, has several times said that he sees the future relationship between the UK and the European Union as similar to the relationship between a flying buttress and a cathedral. Could she explain exactly what he means by that?

I have no pretensions to architectural expertise and I hesitate to venture an opinion. What is clear is that during the negotiations we will not only seek to do whatever we can to get the best possible deal for the United Kingdom but, equally importantly, set out the parameters for our future relationship with the EU. I do not agree with the noble Lord’s dismissal of the argument that we will leave the EU but remain in Europe. I do not think that that is a platitude; it is a self-evident truth.

My Lords, would the Minister consider sending one of these declarations of friendship and intent to the Scottish Parliament?

I say to the noble Lord that if I were to articulate the words that instinctively come to my lips about the First Minister of Scotland, they would not constitute parliamentary language.

I did not quite get the start of the noble Lords question, but if his sentiment is that we are on a joint enterprise as we embark upon these negotiations, with the UK seeking to do what is best for it but at the same time engaging constructively with our EU friends and allies, then yes, there is a joint dividend and prize to be gained.

My Lords, bearing in mind that the Minister says that Europe is so important to us, should we not only welcome and thank the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, for his beguiling, romantic and enticing suggestions, but come to the conclusion that we might as well stay in the European Union?

That is a beguiling and enticing question to respond to, but the referendum result has happened. We are now in a very important part of our national affairs—arguably the most important outside of wartime. All of us collectively will want to wish our Prime Minister, Government and negotiators well for the sake of the whole country.