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House of Lords Hansard
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Brexit: European Parliament Resolution
06 April 2017
Volume 782

Private Notice Question

Asked by

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To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment it has made of the potential impact of the adoption by the European Parliament of a resolution on the UK’s withdrawal from the EU on its ability to achieve the negotiating objectives set out in its White Paper.

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My Lords, I beg leave to ask a Question of which I have given private notice.

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My Lords, we note the European Parliament’s views on our upcoming negotiations and we shall carefully consider the content of the resolution. We recognise and respect the vital role that the European Parliament will play in our exit process and we shall stay engaged with it throughout that process.

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I thank the Minister for that. The significance of the resolution is that the European Parliament will base its decision on whether to grant—or, indeed, withhold—its consent to our withdrawal deal on whether its objectives have been met. In the light of that, I ask the Minister, first, whether she will give some thought to a Parliament-to-Parliament dialogue so that both bodies with a potential veto can discuss and debate the issues together? Secondly, what is the Government’s response to the resolution’s suggestion that an association might be appropriate for our future relationship with the European Union?

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I thank the noble Baroness for raising two important points. On the question of inter-Parliament relationships—between the Parliament of the United Kingdom and the European Parliament—the negotiating conduit is clearly from the UK Government to the European Commission. But it seems a perfectly healthy suggestion that the Parliaments should engage; and indeed that is for the Parliaments themselves to determine, as government does not control Parliament and nor should it do so. On the second important issue, it was helpful that the European Parliament recognised the importance of the citizenship issue. The Prime Minister has made it clear that in so far as citizenships are concerned, from the UK perspective we want to have that at the forefront of our negotiations. In relation to the European Parliament resolution, we certainly look forward to an early resolution of the issue of citizenships and citizenship rights.

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My Lords, speaking as one who sat through the entire three hours of the debate in Strasbourg yesterday, will the noble Baroness accept from me that the pervading feeling there was one of sadness? Is she aware that Michel Barnier suggested that the three conditions for successful negotiations were: first, unity, by which he meant success for both sides; secondly, to dispel uncertainty; and thirdly, the establishing of appropriate sequencing of the negotiations? Will the Government endorse that approach?

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I thank the noble Lord for his question. What was reflected in the European Parliament yesterday echoes much of what the United Kingdom Government have been saying. Quite simply, there is a mutual interest for the UK and the EU in conducting these negotiations in a harmonious, constructive and, yes, robust fashion. That means that there will be issues where firm positions have to be taken, but I very much hope that a mood of constructive concord will prevail. In so far as the particular points made by Mr Barnier are concerned, I am sure that all these matters are already in the mind of the UK Government and that they will pay close attention to those issues.

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My Lords, will the Minister agree that one part of the position endorsed by the European Parliament—which is to talk about sequential rather than concurrent negotiations on the new partnership—is thoroughly unhelpful? Will she recognise that there is broad support, I believe, in this House and in the other place for the Government’s view that the negotiation on all these matters should go ahead without further delay? If she does agree, will she tell us what the Government are doing to persuade the members of the European Council and the European Parliament to soften their unfortunate attachment to a sequential approach?

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I thank the noble Lord for his question. We are all aware that the backdrop to this is now a timeframe of two years. I think that that will focus minds, and I have noted with interest what he has said. There is a recognition that there is a complex and challenging negotiation ahead. There is a great deal of material to be debated, discussed, digested and, we hope, then agreed upon. That will require minds to focus within the timescale available. I am very grateful for the noble Lord’s observation and am sure that when he asks me what the Government will do, they will pay close attention to his wise words.

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My Lords, rather than the Government talking up their dangerous no-deal option, will they now accept that a timeframe of two years is completely unrealistic and that a transitional deal will obviously and inevitably be required? If they accept that, as they should, will they also acknowledge that the European Court of Justice will have authority over that transitional deal, as confirmed in the draft Council guidelines as well as in the Parliament’s resolution, so that the Government will be unable to fulfil their pledge to remove the UK from ECJ jurisdiction by March 2019 if they are to fulfil their aim of agreeing a trade deal? Will they now openly acknowledge that point so that there is no more disingenuous avoiding of it?

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I thank the noble Baroness for her question. The fundamental difference between the position of her party and the position of my party is that my party respects democracy and will abide by that referendum result.

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That is something which I believe is an alien concept to the Liberal Democrats.

Everyone is realistic about the timeframe pressure of two years. I do not agree that it is impossible to negotiate a sensible deal within that timeframe any more than I think the EU thinks it is impossible to do it. I think the EU is being constructive. The European Parliament debate and resolution show that the EU is being constructive. That is a great encouragement for the United Kingdom, and we will now proceed with these negotiations in a constructive and optimistic spirit.

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My Lords, does my noble friend accept that it is not just with the European Parliament that we need a constructive concord? We need constructive and intensified relations with the Parliaments of the other 27 members and, indeed, some of the local Parliaments as well. This is a major task, but in this digital age it is very much easier than it would have been in the past. Will she encourage all kinds of contact between our Parliament and the Parliaments of the other member states of the European Union?

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I thank my noble friend for his observation. It is a positive contribution. It should be made crystal clear that the conduit for the negotiations has to be between the United Kingdom Government and the EU Commission. That is the silo, if you like, for the negotiations. That does not prejudice the normal diplomatic discourse and the desirable conversations that will take place between the United Kingdom and other member states. That is an ongoing and healthy process, but we should be clear that the formal channel for the negotiations is between the UK Government and the EU Commission.

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My Lords, the Minister—

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My Lords, has the Minister had time to consider paragraph 29 of the European Parliament resolution, which calls for the relocation of the European Banking Authority and the European Medicines Agency from the United Kingdom to another country in Europe as quickly as practicable? Have the Government made any assessment of the impact of that?

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If I can recover from the stereophonic effect of the contributions from the Labour Benches, I thank the noble Lord for raising that issue. It is specific to the negotiations. I am certain that it will be discussed within the negotiations. It would be quite wrong for me to pre-empt an answer to that, and I am not going to do so.

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My Lords, in order to calm the rhetoric in the European Parliament, will my noble friend think of sending a certain United Kingdom Member of that Parliament a definition of the word “mafia” and a copy of How to Win Friends and Influence People?

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As ever, my noble friend seeks to pour oil on troubled waters. I am sure his comments will be noted.

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The Minister is right to say that it is for the two Parliaments to decide this matter, but in view of her special knowledge, will she accept a proposal that I have already made to the noble Lord, Lord Bridges, that the Government consider giving support to the idea of a model similar to the British-Irish Parliamentary Assembly, which could be very good for both Parliaments in building a positive relationship between the UK and the EU?

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That is among a number of very positive suggestions that have been made. I am sure that the Government are interested in and will listen to such suggestions and will give due consideration to such matters in future.