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Brexit: Negotiation Programme

Volume 782: debated on Monday 20 March 2017


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government when they will produce their programme for negotiating the United Kingdom’s exit from the European Union.

My Lords, the Prime Minister’s speech at Lancaster House on 17 January and the subsequent White Paper articulate our objectives and the rationale for our approach to the forthcoming negotiations. We will trigger Article 50 next Wednesday, 29 March.

My Lords, would my noble friend confirm that this is not a planted Question? I had absolutely no idea a month ago that the Government were going to choose this day to announce the date of the application under Article 50. Perhaps I may press him on one issue, which is that of reversibility. I assume that, once the application has been put in under Article 50, it is not reversible.

My Lords, I shall repeat what I have said before. It is a matter of firm policy that, once Article 50 is issued, it will not be revoked, and I can also assure all noble Lords that the Government are indeed intent on delivering the result of the referendum. The United Kingdom will leave the EU and, to quote from the first line of the White Paper:

“We do not approach these negotiations expecting failure, but anticipating success”.

My Lords, I am sure that the Minister has read the report of the Constitution Committee. He may also have read the IFG report from this morning. In the light of those, could he tell the House something about how we will deal with the great repeal Bill? Will it have pre-legislative scrutiny? Will we need some mechanism for the extra 5,000 statutory instruments that we will be met with? Does he agree with the Institute for Government’s assessment that 10 to 15 other pieces of primary legislation could be brought before us?

I am sorry to disappoint the noble Baroness and your Lordships, but I am not going to go into that much detail now. Good things will come to those who wait. As noble Lords would expect, a lot of thought has gone into not just the amount of legislation that will be required, be it primary or secondary, but the need to make sure we get those statutes on to the statute book in time, while balancing the need for effective and proper scrutiny. I have been taking a close interest in this. We will publish a White Paper in due course. I am sure that there will be plenty of debate about that. As always, my door absolutely remains open to any one of your Lordships who may have views on that White Paper.

My Lords, the Brexit Secretary, David Davis, last week told the Brexit committee in the other place that the Government have not carried out a full assessment of the economic impact of the “no deal” pledged—or threatened—by the Prime Minister. He said that he might be able to do it in about a year’s time. Does this not show that the Government’s brutal Brexit policy, driven by blinkered ideology, is totally incompetent and irresponsible? Does it not reinforce the need for Parliament to be in charge to prevent a plunge off the cliff and for voters to get the final say?

I am very sorry to disappoint the noble Baroness, but I do not think it will come as a great surprise that I disagree entirely with the premise of her question. We are not seeking the kind of outcome that she has just outlined. As I just said, we are seeking success in these negotiations. We are seeking a partnership because we see it as in our and Europe’s interests to come to such an agreement. I am entirely of the view that we will come to such a partnership and that we will be able to strike an agreement, so long as both sides enter these negotiations in the spirit in which we will enter, which is one of good faith and good will.

My Lords, now that the Minister has told us the date, will he tell us whether the communication on Article 50 will be published and made available to Parliament at the time that it is communicated? Will he say whether the Government have yet appointed a negotiating team to conduct negotiations, which will be starting in slightly over a week, and whether we will be told who they are?

As my right honourable friend the Prime Minister told the Liaison Committee in December, the negotiations will be conducted at a number of levels. She said that she would have a role to play relating to discussions with other European leaders and that my right honourable friend the Secretary of State would have an important role to play. Other technical negotiations and discussions will take place at official level. Regarding the first part of the noble Lord’s question, we are indeed looking at the proposals to ensure that, as we have said many times before, Parliament gets the same information as the European Parliament. My right honourable friend the Prime Minister confirmed today that she will make a Statement to Parliament next Wednesday.

My Lords, the Question asked by the noble Lord, Lord Spicer, was whether Article 50 was reversible, but the Minister said in answering that it would not be revoked. Are they not two completely different issues?

The noble Lord picks me up on an interesting point. We have said that, regardless of the legal position, we do not intend to revoke our notice to withdraw.

My Lords, will the noble Lord confirm that the Government have not ruled out the possibility of asking for a specific chapter in the negotiations to deal with the particular problems of Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales in this context?

My Lords, the noble Lord raises very important points, especially regarding the situation of the island of Ireland. I am not going to get into the structure of the negotiations nor the outcome, but I have to reassure him that we are very focused on that issue.

My Lords, with whom on the other side does the Minister think at this stage we will be negotiating? Will it primarily be with the Commission, with the national capitals or with a mixture of both?

My Lords, the negotiations will be with the Commission, but as your Lordships would expect, the Government have ongoing relationships and conversations with national Governments across the European Union.

My noble friend on the Front Bench asked the key question. Can I ask the corollary? In view of the huge volume of legislation that will be needed in order to implement Brexit, will there be any time for any other legislation?

My Lords, we have a very full, action-packed manifesto which we are determined to see through as far as possible.

I am sorry, but that is what happens when you get elected: you get elected on a manifesto and then you see it through. That is what we are going to do.