My Lords, with the leave of the House, I will now repeat a Statement made by my right honourable friend the Prime Minister in another place. The Statement is as follows:
“Mr Speaker, today the Government act on the democratic will of the British people and act, too, on the clear and convincing position of this House. A few minutes ago in Brussels, the United Kingdom’s Permanent Representative to the EU handed a letter to the President of the European Council on my behalf, confirming the Government’s decision to invoke Article 50 of the Treaty on European Union.
The Article 50 process is now under way and, in accordance with the wishes of the British people, the United Kingdom is leaving the European Union. This is an historic moment from which there can be no turning back. Britain is leaving the European Union. We are going to make our own decisions and our own laws. We are going to take control of the things that matter most to us. And we are going to take this opportunity to build a stronger, fairer Britain—a country that our children and grandchildren are proud to call home. That is our ambition and our opportunity. That is what this Government are determined to do.
At moments like these—great turning points in our national story—the choices we make define the character of our nation. We can choose to say the task ahead is too great. We can choose to turn our face to the past and believe that it cannot be done, or we can look forward with optimism and hope and to believe in the enduring power of the British spirit. I choose to believe in Britain and that our best days lie ahead, and I do so because I am confident that we have the vision and the plan to use this moment to build a better Britain, for leaving the European Union presents us with a unique opportunity. It is this generation’s chance to shape a brighter future for our country, a chance to step back and ask ourselves what kind of country we want to be. My answer is clear: I want this United Kingdom to emerge from this period of change stronger, fairer, more united and more outward looking than ever before.
I want us to be a secure, prosperous, tolerant country, a magnet for international talent and a home to the pioneers and innovators who will shape the world ahead. I want us to be a truly global Britain, the best friend and neighbour to our European partners but a country that reaches beyond the borders of Europe too, a country that goes out into the world to build relationships with old friends and new allies alike. That is why I have set out a clear and ambitious plan for the negotiations ahead. It is a plan for a new deep and special relationship between Britain and the European Union: a partnership of values, a partnership of interests, a partnership based on co-operation in areas such as security and economic affairs and a partnership that works in the best interests of the United Kingdom, the European Union and the wider world. But perhaps now more than ever, the world needs the liberal, democratic values of Europe, values that this United Kingdom shares. And that is why, while we are leaving the institutions of the European Union, we are not leaving Europe. We will remain a close friend and ally. We will be a committed partner. We will play our part to ensure that Europe is able to project its values and defend itself from security threats, and we will do all that we can to help the European Union prosper and succeed.
So in the letter that has been delivered to President Tusk today, copies of which I have placed in the Library of the House, I have been clear that the deep and special partnership we seek is in the best interests of the United Kingdom and of the European Union too. I have been clear that we will work constructively and in a spirit of sincere co-operation to bring this partnership into being, and I have been clear that we should seek to agree the terms of this future partnership alongside those of our withdrawal within the next two years. I am ambitious for Britain and the objectives I have set out for these negotiations remain. We will deliver certainty wherever possible so that business, the public sector and everyone else has as much clarity as we can provide as we move through the process. It is why, tomorrow, we will publish a White Paper confirming our plans to convert the acquis into British law, so that everyone will know where they stand, and it is why I have been clear that the Government will put the final deal that is agreed between the UK and the EU to a vote in both Houses of Parliament before it comes into force.
We will take control of our own laws and bring an end to the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice in Britain. Leaving the European Union will mean that our laws will be made in Westminster, Edinburgh, Cardiff and Belfast, and those laws will be interpreted by judges not in Luxembourg but in courts across this country. We will strengthen the union of the four nations that comprise our United Kingdom. We will negotiate as one United Kingdom, taking account of the specific interests of every nation and region of the UK.
When it comes to the powers that we will take back from Europe, we will consult fully on which powers should reside in Westminster and which should be passed on to the devolved Administrations. But no decisions currently taken by the devolved Administrations will be removed from them. It is the expectation of the Government that the devolved Administrations in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland will see a significant increase in their decision-making power as a result of this process.
We want to maintain the common travel area with the Republic of Ireland. There should be no return to the borders of the past. We will control immigration so that we continue to attract the brightest and best to work or study in Britain, but manage the process properly so that our immigration system serves the national interest. We will seek to guarantee the rights of EU citizens who are already living in Britain, and the rights of British nationals in other member states as early as we can. This is set out very clearly in the letter as a priority for the talks ahead.
We will ensure that workers’ rights are fully protected and maintained. Indeed, under my leadership, not only will the Government protect the rights of workers but we will build on them. We will pursue a bold and ambitious free trade agreement with the European Union that allows for the freest possible trade in goods and services between Britain and the EU’s member states; that gives British companies the maximum freedom to trade with and operate within European markets; and that lets European business do the same in Britain. European leaders have said many times that we cannot cherry pick and remain members of the single market without accepting the four freedoms that are indivisible. We respect that position, and as accepting those freedoms is incompatible with the democratically expressed will of the British people, we will no longer be members of the single market.
We are going to make sure that we can strike trade agreements with countries from outside the European Union too. Because important though our trade with the EU is and will remain, it is clear that the UK needs to increase significantly its trade with the fastest-growing export markets in the world. We hope to continue to collaborate with our European partners in the areas of science, education, research and technology, so that the UK is one of the best places for science and innovation. We seek continued co-operation with our European partners in important areas such as crime, terrorism and foreign affairs. It is our aim to deliver a smooth and orderly Brexit, reaching an agreement about our future partnership by the time the two-year Article 50 process has concluded, then moving into a phased process of implementation in which Britain, the EU institutions and member states prepare for the new arrangements that will exist between us.
We understand that there will be consequences for the UK of leaving the EU. We know that we will lose influence over the rules that affect the European economy. We know that UK companies that trade with the EU will have to align with rules agreed by institutions of which we are no longer a part, just as we do in other overseas markets. We accept that. However, we approach these talks constructively, respectfully, and in a spirit of sincere co-operation. For it is in the interests of both the United Kingdom and the European Union that we should use this process to deliver our objectives in a fair and orderly manner. It is in the interests of both the United Kingdom and the European Union that there should be as little disruption as possible. And it is in the interests of both the United Kingdom and the European Union that Europe should remain strong, prosperous and capable of projecting its values in the world.
At a time when the growth of global trade is slowing and there are signs that protectionist instincts are on the rise in many parts of the world, Europe has a responsibility to stand up for free trade in the interests of all our citizens. With Europe’s security more fragile today than at any time since the end of the Cold War, weakening our co-operation and failing to stand up for European values would be a costly mistake. Our vote to leave the EU was no rejection of the values that we share as fellow Europeans. As a European country, we will continue to play our part in promoting and supporting these values, during the negotiations and once they are done.
We will continue to be reliable partners, willing allies and close friends. We want to continue to buy goods and services from members of the EU, and sell them ours. We want to trade with them as freely as possible, and work with one another to make sure we are all safer, more secure and more prosperous through continued friendship. Indeed, in an increasingly unstable world, we must continue to forge the closest possible security co-operation to keep our people safe. We face the same global threats from terrorism and extremism—that message was only reinforced by the abhorrent attack on Westminster Bridge and this place last week—so there should be no reason why we should not agree a new deep and special partnership between the UK and the EU that works for all of us.
I know that this is a day of celebration for some and disappointment for others. The referendum last June was divisive at times. Not everyone shared the same point of view or voted in the same way. The arguments on both sides were passionate. But when I sit around the negotiating table in the months ahead, I will represent every person in the whole United Kingdom: young and old, rich and poor, city, town, country and all the villages and hamlets in between—and, yes, those EU nationals who have made this country their home. It is my fierce determination to get the right deal for every single person in this country.
For, as we face the opportunities ahead of us on this momentous journey, our shared values, interests and ambitions can, and must, bring us together. We all want to see a Britain that is stronger than it is today. We all want a country that is fairer so that everyone has the chance to succeed. We all want a nation that is safe and secure for our children and grandchildren. We all want to live in a truly global Britain that gets out and builds relationships with old friends and new allies around the world. These are the ambitions of this Government’s plan for Britain—ambitions that unite us so that we are no longer defined by the vote we cast but by our determination to make a success of the result.
We are one great union of people and nations with a proud history and a bright future, and now that the decision to leave has been made and the process is under way, it is time to come together. For this great national moment requires a great national effort—an effort to shape a brighter future for Britain. So let us do so together. Let us come together and work together, and let us together choose to believe in Britain with optimism and hope. For if we do, we can together make the most of the opportunities ahead. We can together make a success of this moment, and we can together build a stronger, fairer, better Britain—a Britain our children and grandchildren are proud to call home. I commend this Statement to the House”.
My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness for repeating the Statement. It is now over nine months since the result of the referendum was announced and the Prime Minister has sent the letter that starts the process of our withdrawal from the European Union after a relationship of over 40 years. Just like any other divorce, there will be some who rejoice and look forward to new opportunities, but others will despair over the shared past and lost love. A few will fondly recall the marriage, divorces and remarriage of Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor with some hope, but, through it all, the only people to get rich were those trying to unravel those 40-plus years of relative harmony—the lawyers.
Through it all there will be one common emotion—uncertainty about the future, because the Prime Minister herself has to concede that no one can yet know what the final deal or arrangements will look like. So we now have to focus on what comes next, and what comes next is complex. While some fear for the worst, we will all work for the best. As I have said previously, the debates and negotiations cannot be left to those who have no doubt. We have to engage the talent, experience and wisdom of our whole nation together in the national interest.
Today’s letter specifies our negotiating position with the European Union. The Labour Party has set out six tests by which the Government will be judged on the final deal. They include migration, national security and crime, employment and social rights, and the need to support all regions and nations in the UK as we develop our future relationship with the remaining 27 countries in the EU. The sixth test is the Government’s own, as set out by David Davis to the House of Commons on 24 January: that on trade, the Government’s aim is to deliver,
“a comprehensive free trade agreement and a comprehensive customs agreement that will deliver the exact same benefits as we have”.—[Official Report, Commons, 24/1/17; col. 169.]
That is a pretty high bar, but it is a bar set by the Government and one that the Government will be held accountable to.
Today, I set one further test for the Government. It is not controversial and I hope that it will be willingly accepted by the Government and the noble Baroness the Leader of the House. The seventh test is the one that will set the tone for the debate, the negotiations and the mood of the nation in accepting and understanding the outcome. This test is the test of complete honesty. As the Prime Minister and her team enter into the negotiations, there will be good days and there will be difficult days; there will be days when everything seems possible and days when nothing goes right. The Prime Minister has, on many occasions, been clear about her confidence that she can and will negotiate a good deal in the interests of the UK. But there are others who are confident that any deal, or even no deal, is better than where we are now. We totally reject that. This process must not be so ideologically driven that the Government accept anything and claim it is a good deal. That is where honesty comes in. If the Prime Minister is disappointed or dissatisfied with the negotiations or the outcome of agreements, she must in the national interest be prepared to say so. If there is to be a truly meaningful vote at the end of this process, it has to be undertaken with the certainty that Parliament has the information needed to make an informed decision in the best interests of this country.
I want to raise some specifics on the Statement and the letter. On the devolved Administrations, despite the Prime Minister’s warm words that she intends to strengthen the four nations of the UK, I have to say that that is not how it feels at the moment. I have three questions on the significant increase in the decision-making powers of the devolved Administrations. What discussions have there been so far? Can the noble Baroness give an assurance on the ongoing consultation, particularly given the concerns already raised by the First Minister of Wales? Will any of these powers require primary legislation?
I am pleased that in her letter to President Tusk the Prime Minister specifically mentions Northern Ireland and the Northern Ireland border. It is right that she sets this as a priority, and I believe that the issue, if not yet the solution, is also understood by the remaining 27 European countries. However, the Prime Minister refers in the letter to it being the only land border with the UK. While that is technically correct, I remind her that we have a land border between the British Overseas Territory of Gibraltar and Spain. I appreciate that a trigger letter could never include all of our negotiating issues, but I was extremely disappointed at the omission of any reference to the people of Gibraltar and their concerns in either the Statement or the letter. The Prime Minister says that she will take into account the specific interests of every nation and region. Can the noble Baroness the Leader give this House an assurance that we will not abandon Gibraltar and that its interests will also be represented?
The commitment to seek an early agreement to guarantee the rights of EU nationals in the UK and our nationals in the remaining 27 countries is welcome. The noble Baroness will be aware of the disappointment of your Lordships’ House that our amendment to include a guarantee in legislation was rejected by the Government and the other place. The Prime Minister confirms in her letter that making this part of the negotiations is complex. I hope, therefore, that given the support of your Lordships’ House, the Government will accept the Motion in the name of my noble friend Lady Hayter, to be debated next week, that the Government should report back to Parliament before the end of this Session on progress.
I also welcome the assurance in the Statement of what the Government call the “phased process” of implementation of the new arrangements and agreements. I know that the Government do not like talking about transition and call it instead an implementation phase. I am equally happy with either. What is important here is that change is practical, workable and pragmatic and not ideologically driven towards the cliff-edge scenario. I welcome that and thank the noble Baroness and the Prime Minister for their assurances on that point.
On Euratom, I understand from the letter that the Government consider that we must come out as part of our EU exit, but given the importance of this issue, I would have liked to have seen a commitment to seeking early agreement for a new practical partnership.
I want to register concerns about the misleading language where the Prime Minister appears to connect trade and national security in her letter to President Tusk. On page 3 of the letter, she makes reference to,
“a deep and special partnership between the UK and the EU, taking in both economic and security cooperation”,
and I wholeheartedly endorse that. She then rightly points out that:
“If, however, we leave the European Union without an agreement the default position is that we would have to trade on World Trade Organisation terms”.
So far, that is clear. But the very next sentence states:
“In security terms a failure to reach agreement would mean our cooperation in the fight against crime and terrorism would be weakened”.
Because it is unclear which agreement she is referring to, the letter to President Tusk appears to state that if we cannot reach an agreement on trade, this will have an impact on security agreements. I am grateful for the reassurance and clarity from Downing Street that that was not the intention, but given the complexity and sensitivities of the negotiations that we are about to start, it is essential that there is no misunderstanding at all or lack of clarity. I suggest that, for the avoidance of doubt, in future issues such as trade and security are never linked. They are both essential in their own right and a responsible agreement on one is not dependent on the other.
Tomorrow, we wait with some anticipation the White Paper on repealing the 1972 legislation and enshrining EU legislation, in which we played our part, into UK law. However, noble Lords will have seen the comments from some on the Government Benches about this being an opportunity for deregulation or cutting so-called red tape—in other words, doing away with protections and rights for UK citizens. I seek an assurance from the noble Baroness that this is not the part of the so-called great repeal Bill and that the Government will resist any attempts to bring in such changes by the back door, thus seeking to avoid proper parliamentary scrutiny. In that she will have our support.
Finally, I welcome both the tone of the Prime Minister’s Statement and the emphasis that she has placed throughout on partnership. Only the most ideologically driven have ever suggested that this process will be easy or problem free. It will not; it will be difficult and complex. The tone of the Prime Minister’s remarks about our place in Europe may help to ease that path, but it will be important that the Government commit to being open and transparent with Parliament and the country. As we move forward, transparency, openness, engagement and honesty will be expected and will be essential.
Next week, the other Motion that we will debate, in my name, seeks to establish a Joint Committee of both Houses to work together to establish the best way to ensure that Parliament has the best information possible and the best processes to have a meaningful vote on the final agreement. I urge the Government to support this because, as the Prime Minister makes clear, we must all work together in the national interest.
My Lords, today is for me and my colleagues an extremely sad day. It marks the point at which the UK seeks to distance itself from its nearest neighbours at a time when, in every area of public policy, logic suggests that we should be working more closely together rather than less.
But sadness is a passive emotion, and it is not the only thing that we feel. We feel a sense of anger that the Government are pursuing a brutal Brexit, which will rip us out of the single market and many other European networks from which we benefit so much. We believe that the country will be poorer, less secure and less influential as a result, and we feel that at every point, whether it be the calling of the referendum itself or the choices made on how to put its result into effect, the principal motivation in the minds of Ministers has been not what is best for the long-term interests of the country but what is best for the short-term interests of the Conservative Party.
We do not believe that the Government have the faintest clue about how they are going to achieve the goals that they set out in their White Paper last month or the Prime Minister’s Statement today, and we have no confidence in their willingness to give Parliament a proper say either as the negotiations proceed or at their conclusion. We therefore believe that, at the end of the process, only the people should have the final say on whether any deal negotiated by the Government —or no deal—is preferable to ongoing EU membership. We will strain every sinew to ensure that outcome.
In her Statement today, the Prime Minister makes a number of rather extraordinary claims. She says that she is going to build on existing workers’ rights rather than diminish them. Can the Leader of the House give just one example, or even a clue, of what that might mean and how it might be achieved? Can she also take this opportunity to repudiate the proposal by a number of leading Brexiters in recent days that the working time directive be either watered down or repealed altogether?
The Prime Minister says that the world needs the liberal democratic values of Europe more than ever. Far be it from me to claim any knowledge of liberal democratic values, but can the Leader explain how leaving the EU can do anything other than reduce Europe’s ability to protect those values on the international stage?
The Prime Minister says that she will strengthen the union of the nations which comprise the United Kingdom. Given that to date the effect of the Brexit vote is to threaten the union at every point, what form do the Government expect this strengthening to take?
She says that membership of the single market will be jettisoned because it would be incompatible with the expressed will of the British people. Given that this proposition was not on the ballot paper, that it is the opposite of what was said in the Conservative Party manifesto, that many leading Brexit supporters left open or actually supported the continuation of our single market membership, and that all subsequent polling shows overwhelming support for our continued membership, on what basis is she making that assertion?
She says that Europe has a responsibility to stand up for free trade. Does she not think that the EU will find that a bit rich, coming from this country at the point when we are leaving the single market and customs union?
She says that she wants to be a committed partner of the EU, but when we are walking away from the EU because of the belief that membership of it is damaging to the country’s interests, what can commitment mean other than a shrunken and grudging relationship?
Moreover, does the Leader of the House accept that when the Prime Minister says that when she sits round the negotiating table, she will represent every person in the UK, she is mistaken? She has chosen to promote an extreme version of Brexit and one which is completely at odds with her own views of less than a year ago. In doing so, she has chosen not to speak for the many millions who voted to remain in the EU and the single market, and she certainly does not represent them or me or my colleagues on these Benches.
The Prime Minister claims that Brexit will make us stronger, fairer and better, but it will not. The Government’s approach will make us poorer, less generous and diminished as a nation. It is perfectly legitimate for the country to go down such a route, but it did not do so on 23 June last year, and the people should have the final say on whether this is the fate they really want.
I thank the noble Baroness and the noble Lord for their comments. On the noble Baroness’s first point, although the letter makes it clear that if we leave the EU without an agreement the default position would be that we have to trade on WTO terms, it also makes it clear that that is not an outcome that either side should seek. We want to work very hard to avoid that, and that is exactly what we will be doing.
I also reassure the noble Baroness that we will be working closely with all the devolved Administrations to deliver a Brexit that works for all parts of the UK. Part of that will mean working very carefully to ensure that as powers are repatriated from Brussels to the UK, the right powers are returned to Westminster and the right powers passed to the devolved Administrations. We will continue to work closely with our devolved colleagues.
On the noble Baroness’s points on Gibraltar, I understand that the reason why Gibraltar was not mentioned in the letter is that it is not part of the UK for the purposes of EU law. However, we are very clear that Gibraltar will of course be covered in our exit negotiations and will be fully involved. We have set up a new joint ministerial committee with the Gibraltar Government to ensure their full involvement. In fact, my noble friend Lady Goldie met the Chief Minister and had a very constructive, positive discussion. The Gibraltarians are very positive about their engagement with the UK Government so far. We will continue to ensure that we work closely with them.
The noble Baroness and the noble Lord also mentioned the status of EU nationals, which we have discussed at length in this House. I repeat: securing an agreement to guarantee the status of EU nationals here and UK nationals in the EU is one of our top priorities. Indeed, it is set out explicitly in those terms in the letter. As Michel Barnier has said, this is also a priority for the Commission, so we will be doing all we can to ensure that we can provide the clarity that noble Lords have been asking for.
On security, I can absolutely confirm and reassure noble Lords that we are committed to ensuring that we continue working closely with our European partners on security, defence and foreign policy, as I said. We want a partnership where we can continue contributing to the security of Europe using our range of defence and security capabilities as well as our global standing, networks and influence, input into policy developments and information sharing. That remains of key importance to us.
The noble Lord and the noble Baroness referred to parliamentary scrutiny and involvement. Once again I reiterate that we have said there will be a Motion on the final agreement to be approved by both Houses of Parliament before it is concluded. We expect and intend that this will happen before the European Parliament debates and votes on the final agreement. We intend that Parliament’s vote will cover not only the withdrawal arrangements but the future relationship with the EU.
The noble Lord talked about leaving the single market. I will read from the letter:
“Since I became Prime Minister of the United Kingdom I have listened carefully to you, to my fellow EU Heads of Government and the Presidents of the European Commission and Parliament. That is why the United Kingdom does not seek membership of the single market: we understand and respect your position that the four freedoms of the single market are indivisible and there can be no ‘cherry picking’”.
We have also been very clear that we will protect workers’ rights. For instance, I point to the introduction of the national living wage, which has ensured an increase in income for some of our poorest paid.
My Lords, the point has often been made in this House that people did not vote in the referendum to make themselves poorer. I believe that they also did not vote to break up the United Kingdom, threaten the peace process in Northern Ireland, or worsen the relations between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. If at the end of these negotiations it seems that there will be a choice between staying in the EU or breaking up the UK, will the Government think again and allow the people to think again?
As the letter and the Statement make clear, from the start and throughout the discussions we will negotiate as one United Kingdom. Importantly, it is our expectation that the outcome of this process will significantly increase the decision-making power of each devolved Administration. We believe we will get the best deal for all parts of the UK and all parts of the UK will be involved in the negotiations.
My Lords, from these Benches we welcome the Prime Minister’s Statement, especially the intention of both sides to work together as a priority to solve the complex issues of EU and EEA nationals, not least the many students and academics in our universities. Indications from Michel Barnier earlier this week implied that the EU will negotiate in full transparency, publishing all documents relating to the negotiations. Will Her Majesty’s Government, while not wanting to give a running commentary, make the same commitment, enabling Parliament and the public to follow and scrutinise negotiation materials, given that such transparency will contribute to maintaining the strength of our union in the United Kingdom and future partnerships with the EU?
We have been clear that we welcome and anticipate intensive parliamentary scrutiny, and we will be as transparent as we can, but we will not give away our negotiating hand or damage our negotiating stance.
My Lords, as chairman of your Lordships’ European Union Committee, may I very much welcome the tone of the Government’s Statement and of the letter to President Tusk, in particular the reference to the very first principle of negotiation: that we should engage with one another constructively and respectfully in a spirit of sincere co-operation? In the same vein, and having regard to the fact that the triggering of Article 50 is unprecedented within the membership of the European Union, will Her Majesty’s Government undertake to sit down with the scrutiny committees in both Houses and with other representative parliamentarians and representative bodies to try to hammer out some middle-way approach to scrutiny which avoids, on the one hand, micromanagement or interference in the negotiating process, which I agree is inappropriate, but on the other hand does not simply leave us to comment semi-helplessly long after events have been set more or less in stone?
I thank the noble Lord and once again pay tribute to the work of the Select Committees of this House, which have done an invaluable job already in investigating a number of very important issues and providing some very useful information. As the noble Lord will know, tomorrow we will produce the White Paper on the great repeal Bill, which will be the beginning of the discussion on the scrutiny of legislation going forward. I reiterate that key changes to policy will be brought forward in primary legislation, so this House will have the opportunity to be involved, but I know that my noble friend Lord Bridges and the Chief Whip have already been in touch with a number of committee chairs and will continue to have that discussion, as we will through the usual channels. I hope this House will accept that we have tried to be open; I know it has not always satisfied noble Lords, but we will do our best.
My Lords, may I join the noble Lord, Lord Boswell, in supporting the tone of the Prime Minister’s Statement? I draw my noble friend’s attention to the admirable article by my noble friend Lord Finkelstein in the Times today, which describes a successful negotiation as one in which both sides regard themselves as the winners. Does my noble friend agree that, in order to achieve such a negotiation, sometimes it will be necessary to ignore the advice of those who think that any element of disagreement means the end of the world, and of those who believe that any element of compromise or agreement will represent betrayal?
My noble friend is right: these are going to be extremely complex negotiations, but we will approach them with the full intention of securing a deal that delivers the best possible outcome for the UK. Of course, as we enter negotiations, we will hear people saying—we have heard it already—“That is not workable; it is not achievable”. But we are confident that we can secure a good deal, and we will go in optimistically. As noble Lords have previously said, the European Council has stressed that it wishes to work constructively for us, so I think we are starting off on the right foot.
I am sorry, my Lords, but we do have a custom of going round the House, and it is the turn of the Liberal Democrats.
My Lords, the Statement repeats the mantra that we are going to “take back control”, but the Brexit Secretary, Mr Davis, expects the Government to use this control to continue with a large volume of EU migration. The Statement admits that the consequence of breaking the manifesto pledge to stay in the single market will mean UK companies having to abide by rules over which we have no influence. If we lose the right to the single market, including free movement for British citizens, at the price of less control and a series of betrayals, how is that a gain?
I am afraid that I completely disagree with the noble Baroness, who I know approaches this subject with a pessimistic view. We have an optimistic view and I believe that we will prevail.
I welcome the tone of the Prime Minister’s letter to the President of the European Council. However, there are still key confusions on key issues in the Government’s position. David Davis, Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union, told us that this deep trade agreement or partnership would achieve exactly the same benefits as the single market. This morning, the Prime Minister talked about the best possible access to the single market. Those things are very different indeed. Which is the policy? While I welcome the statement in the letter that we should work very hard to avoid no deal, the Foreign Secretary last week claimed that that would all be okay. What is the Government’s policy? Is it okay if we have a hard Brexit, or are the Government committed to avoiding that at all possible cost?
We have been clear that we want the best possible deal with the EU and free and frictionless trade, and that we want a comprehensive and ambitious free trade agreement. The letter, of which I read out the relevant section, stated that if we did not come to an agreement, we would go to WTO terms on default, but it is not an outcome that either side should seek. We must therefore work hard to avoid it.
My Lords, while I admire the noble Baroness’s optimism, I do not entirely share it. I admire the conciliatory tone of the letter, but the country will judge the outcome of the negotiations by the words of those on the Government Front Bench. Before the referendum, Mr Davis told us that there would be no diminution of trade with the EU if we left the European Union. This year, he has told us that the exact same benefits will be secured as if we had remained in the single market and the customs union. Before the referendum, Mr Johnson told us that there would be no change at the Irish border. This year, Mr Brokenshire has told us that there will be a “frictionless” border, even though that will be the border of the EU’s customs union and it will be for the EU to decide the regime on it. Does the noble Baroness understand that, as this negotiation proceeds, the country will not forget what it was told, and Ministers will be judged by their own words?
As I have said on many occasions, we are seeking an ambitious and comprehensive free trade agreement with the EU, which includes free-flowing trade in goods and services as part of a new, deep special relationship. We want Britain to have the greatest possible tariff-free and barrier-free trade with its European neighbours and to be able to negotiate its own trade agreements. There is a strong commitment between the UK Government, the Irish Government and the Northern Ireland Executive to make sure that we do not return to the borders of the past. I think that they are quite clear statements.
My Lords, does my noble friend accept that while everyone who cares about the future of our country must wish the Prime Minister success, those of us for whom this is a sad day are concerned particularly about the future of the union of the United Kingdom? I urge my noble friend to speak to the Prime Minister and to draw her attention to what was said in this Chamber only yesterday: that she should give a degree of priority to the very delicate, fragile situation in Northern Ireland, because if the union begins to crumble there we could all live to regret it.
First, we are absolutely committed to protecting and strengthening our union. I assure my noble friend that this Government take extremely seriously the issues in Northern Ireland and we are working with all parties concerned to try to ensure that we can come to a swift resolution. None of us wants to see that fantastic country go backwards. It has moved so far forwards over so many years.
My Lords, I am sorry but I think we ought to hear from Plaid Cymru.
My Lords, does the noble Baroness understand that for some of us this is the blackest of black Wednesdays and that we will not rest until we have persuaded the people of these islands to reverse this retrograde step? Having said that, she mentioned—as the Prime Minister did—that the negotiations will be conducted on a UK basis but that they will listen to the devolved Administrations. Can she confirm in those circumstances that where discussions arise in relation to things such as the sheep meat regime and the beef regime so important to Welsh agriculture that the Welsh Agricultural Minister can be part of the UK team in the same way as he and she have been in the past—on behalf of the UK but speaking as Welsh Ministers?
I can reassure the noble Lord that we are working closely with the devolved Administrations. We have already taken forward technical discussions with both the Scottish and Welsh Governments on their proposals, in the White Papers they produced, to more fully understand and analyse their plans so as to get the best deal for Wales, Scotland, Northern Ireland and England. We will continue to do that and we will work closely with them because we are absolutely committed to achieving the best deal for all parts of the UK.
My Lords, it is the turn of the Lib Dems.
The European Union has brought an unprecedented 71 years of peace to western Europe. Have the Government given any thought to this historical reality?
We certainly have. Indeed, when the noble Lord reads the letter sent to President Tusk he will see that that is explicitly recognised.
My Lords, if the present Brussels responsibility for subjects such as agriculture is repatriated to it, will there be full financial recompense to Cardiff, Edinburgh and Belfast?
My Lords, we are at the beginning of these negotiations. We said that we will devolve and expect further powers to be devolved. I cannot go into the outcomes of the negotiations but, as I said, we will look for the best deal for all parts of the UK. We will work closely with the devolved Administrations. I believe that we will come to a deal that works for all parts of the United Kingdom.
My Lords, the Statement makes much of the Government’s desire to represent the whole nation in their negotiating strategy. However, would the noble Baroness the Leader of the House not agree that although many things could be said about the Government’s Brexit strategy, the one thing that cannot be said is that it reflects the concerns of the whole nation? It certainly does not reflect the concerns of the 48%. It does not even reflect the concerns of the 52% now that the Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union has conceded that immigration cannot be expected to reduce consistently once we exit the EU.
The Statement acknowledged the fact that for some people this is a day they have waited for but for many it is a day of great disappointment. The Statement also said that we need to bring the country together now and work for the best deal. We need to have an optimistic outlook for Britain because we are a great country and we can make a great success of our future.
I apologise to the noble Lord but it is in fact the turn of the Conservative Benches so I think we will hear from my noble friend Lady Wheatcroft.
My Lords, the Prime Minister has made much of her intention to agree trade agreements around the world. Will my noble friend assure the House that Parliament will be able to scrutinise these deals before they are signed? After all, a bad deal may be worse than no deal.
We have been very clear that we will be as transparent as we can, but we will not give away our negotiating hand.
The Statement mentions opportunities on several occasions but does not say what opportunities the Government have in mind. It just provides a string of vacuous adjectives and, in true PR style, mentions the word “together” about 15 times. Will the Leader concede that actually a very large number of opportunities are being destroyed—the opportunity to live and work in 27 other countries, the opportunity to travel in those countries while having the benefit of the local healthcare system, the opportunity for educational exchanges, the opportunity for leading scientific research programmes funded by the EU, the opportunities presented by 35 free trade agreements between the EU and other parts of the world, and the opportunities of the single market itself? Do the Government hope that the public will just forget about these important opportunities that are now being wantonly abandoned?
As I have said, we are looking for a new, deep and special relationship with the EU and we believe it will be a very fruitful relationship. In terms of other opportunities, we are looking for excellent trade agreements with countries across the world. We have fantastic bilateral agreements with countries across the world. We are looking to be a global nation.
We did say that we would try to do this in order. It is the Lib Dems’ turn, and then perhaps we will hear from the Cross Benches.
My Lords, it is axiomatic that Britain’s withdrawal from the European Union will weaken it. Is it not all the more curious, therefore, for the Prime Minister to be extolling the virtues of European values at the same time as undermining the very institution that embodies them?
Not at all. We have made it very clear that we share the same values and we want to see them remain strong. That is one of the things that we have in common and one of the things that will ensure that we continue to have a strong relationship with our European counterparts.
My Lords, I am one of those who think that today is a pretty sad day but I also do not think it is a day to carp or criticise. The Prime Minister and the Government are setting off down a road which can best be described as a magical mystery tour, the destination of which they have no clue—any more than the rest of us do. But I wish them well in this thing, and I would like to put two questions. First, while I very much welcome the very strong emphasis the Government have put on the mutual benefit of maintaining and, indeed, strengthening the co-operation against all forms of international crime, can the Leader say by what process of adjudication any disputes on those matters will be resolved? Secondly, yesterday the Prime Minister urged us to,
“get out into the world”.
Can the Leader give us one example of circumstances where we are prevented from doing that by our present membership of the European Union?
On the latter point, obviously we will be looking to negotiate new free trade agreements with countries across the world. On the noble Lord’s first point, that will be a matter for negotiations.