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Brexit: Negotiations

Volume 782: debated on Monday 24 April 2017


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the principal Brexit negotiation issues following the invoking of Article 50.

My Lords, the Prime Minister’s letter to the President of the European Council comprehensively articulates this Government’s assessment of the principal negotiation issues. We are pleased that the indications are that both sides wish to approach these talks constructively and we look forward to negotiations beginning when the time comes.

I thank the Minister for that Answer. Bearing in mind the importance from now on of very close relations with another leading member state—France—and the importance of trade negotiations, will the Government make an effort to have close relations with it in the context of national member states and their responses to the Brexit negotiations to make sure that, even if the Government cannot go as far as accepting the wise advice of Mr Macron when he came to London last February, they will make every effort to make sure that we have a good outcome?

I thank the noble Lord for that question. He will not expect me to comment on individual elections in other European member states, but your Lordships can rest assured that my ministerial colleagues and I are doing all we can to have relationships that are as cordial as possible and to build the atmosphere of trust that we wish to see before the negotiations begin.

My Lords, what assessment have the Government made of the amount of parliamentary time that will be lost thanks to a general election and whether that can be added back in, so that there is adequate parliamentary scrutiny of the negotiations, given that the limit for the negotiations is two years and we are going to lose about two months?

I can assure the noble Baroness and all noble Lords that there will be ample time for a debate about the matters before us, not just over the months to come after the general election but in the weeks before it—I am sure everyone is looking forward to it. As regards the time lost, I draw the noble Baroness’s attention to the fact that, as I understand it, the General Affairs Council will not adopt the Commission’s draft negotiating guidelines until 22 May at the earliest. Therefore, political negotiations will not begin before early June. As the Commission has said, those negotiations will begin after the general election on 8 June.

My Lords, on the election, as TV’s Mrs Merton famously asked Mrs Daniels, “So what first attracted you to the millionaire Paul Daniels?”, perhaps I could ask Mrs May, “So what first attracted you to an election when you were apparently 20 points ahead in the polls?”. However, the Question in front of us is about Europe. We need an exit that assures access to the single market, a continuing relationship with Euratom and the other agencies, and protection of the rights of EU nationals. Some of these might require some involvement with the ECJ. Does the Minister not think that this is something the Government might now look at, so that we can achieve those broader objectives?

I am delighted that the noble Baroness is looking forward to 8 June as much as a number of us are. I can absolutely assure the House that we are looking at options as set out in the Government’s White Paper. The Prime Minister, I and other ministerial colleagues have made it clear time and again that we wish to end the primacy of EU law once we have left the EU. As regards the specific issues, I have nothing further to add to what has already been set out in the White Paper.

My Lords, given the complexity of the negotiation with the 27 other member states, does my noble friend agree that any attempts, from wherever they may come, to push the Government towards revealing their negotiating positions can only weaken those positions?

My noble friend speaks with considerable experience of negotiating in Europe, so I absolutely heed his remarks. As I have said time and again at this Dispatch Box, while ensuring that this House and the other place will have the opportunity to scrutinise the Government’s negotiating position, it is of paramount importance, as my noble friend so rightly says, that we protect our negotiating position, as that is clearly in our national interest.

My Lords, is not the deeper problem that the Eurocrats are much more interested in keeping their sinking project of European integration afloat, because it pays them so well, than they are in meeting the needs of the real people of Europe, which are much the same as ours?

The noble Lord has his own unique way of saying things and not mincing his words. I think we can be sure about that. It is in all our interests, on this side of the channel and right across Europe, to ensure that the withdrawal negotiations work in both our and Europe’s interests, and to ensure that our exit is smooth and orderly and that we continue to trade with our European partners as we have done for generations in the past. That is the overriding intention, and it is good to see that so many of our European partners are saying similar things as we speak.

My Lords, on the subject of making the best use of parliamentary time, would it not be a good start after the general election if every party in this House accepted the results of the referendum?

My Lords, that would be a very good thing. As the Prime Minister has said, this party and this side of the House will be setting forward a clear approach to those negotiations to ensure that we get the very best deal for this country in the months ahead.

My Lords, does the Minister agree with the CBI assessment that we will have to establish the equivalent of 34 domestic agencies to replace EU agencies when we withdraw—if we do—from Europe? Has any assessment been made of that and, in particular, of the cost of funding 34 agencies?

The noble Lord makes a good point. Considerable work is being undertaken by my department and right across Whitehall regarding the impact of our withdrawal on UK regulators and regulatory bodies. I shall not go into detail on that at this precise juncture, but noble Lords should rest assured that in the months ahead, were a Conservative Government to be returned, we would ensure that those plans are set out.

My Lords, I thank my noble friend for using the word “partners” so regularly. Would he remind certain Members of your Lordships’ House, including the noble Lord, Lord Pearson, that we are talking not merely to Eurocrats but to companions and friends in 27 other European nations?

My noble friend makes a very good point. As I have said before—indeed, a moment ago—it is absolutely in our interests to ensure that these negotiations are not only in our mutual interests but also smooth and orderly. It is in no one’s interest to see Europe’s prosperity or security diminished as we leave the EU.

My Lords, would the Minister care to confirm, as he has in the past, that accepting the result of the referendum does not have to imply not scrutinising what comes after?

I have enjoyed the debates that we have had in this House, and I have said many times that obviously this House and the other place will have a considerable role to play as we leave the EU in scrutinising the Government’s proposals, the way ahead and the significant pieces of legislation, not least the great repeal Bill, that Parliament will be asked to pass.