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Brexit: EU Institution Relocations

Volume 783: debated on Thursday 6 July 2017


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government, in the light of Brexit, what assessment they have made of the impact on jobs and the economy of any relocations away from the United Kingdom of European Union institutions based in this country, such as the European Banking Authority.

My Lords, in the negotiations, we will discuss with the European Union and its bodies how best to continue economic co-operation. It is in the interests of both the UK and the EU to secure a mutually beneficial agreement for business and citizens across Europe.

My Lords, according to the briefing paper from the House of Commons, the hard Brexit expulsion of the European Medicines Agency and the European Banking Authority will cost us jobs, tax revenues and personnel with deep knowledge of banking and medicines, and will incur the costs of this relocation to another country. Could the Minister detail the bright, sunlit uplands for opportunity foreseen by Brexiteers for this dark and wilful act of self-harm?

My Lords, as this country goes into the light of being able to decide its own future and laws, we will continue to press hard for the stability and the economy we have had heretofore. That also means we will press hard to continue the safety of products in the medical and life sciences world. The locations of agencies in themselves do not determine the future health of our economy or the safety of our products. What will determine that is achieving that deep and special relationship with the European Union. That is what we shall do.

My Lords, is it not apparent to all except extreme Brexiteers that the retention of a decent trade relationship with the EU is dependent on regulatory co-operation? That means a role for EU law and the European Court of Justice. Certainly, Jeremy Hunt and Greg Clark recognised this in the case of pharmaceuticals. When will the Government put the economic interests of this country before an absurd fetish and prejudice against European judges?

My Lords, I would not know anything about fetishes. I certainly know quite a lot more about the need to ensure that this House is well informed. That is what I shall seek to do about the way the Government engage in negotiations. The noble Baroness raised an important point: we must ensure that we have security and safety in the healthcare system. That is exactly what my right honourable friends Greg Clark and Jeremy Hunt were doing this week when they set out the principles on which we will work with the regulatory system across Europe and the role that we can play there. The precise description of that is yet to come but they were not saying that it would be the European Court of Justice that made the ultimate decision. Clearly, regulations are important for safety.

My Lords, does my noble friend not find it as disappointing as I do, as an indication of the failure of our education system, that so many people, even in this House, are utterly ignorant of the fact that the United Kingdom ran its own affairs very successfully for a very long time when most of Europe was in a constant turmoil of revolutions, coups and the like? Of course we can manage on our own. We do not need their court of justice to educate us in justice.

My Lords, as a history teacher, I certainly learned that this country has a proud history and one that we should recall. It is one that our young people today can carry forward because they have great ability, and we have the duty to ensure that their great ability can be put to best use for this country.

My Lords, it would assist all sides of the House if the Minister provided a glossary of terms relating to Brexit. My noble friend referred to hard Brexit, the Liberal Democrats referred to brutal Brexit—I am sorry, extreme Brexit—and we have heard of the hardest of hard Brexits, most extreme Brexit and soft Brexit. I would really like to know what they all are, and could the Minister explain to the House the difference between soft Brexit and remaining in the European Union?

My Lords, as ever, the noble Lord, Lord Grocott, provides us with a sensible approach to this. Remember, he was a really great Chief Whip. I may no longer be a government Chief Whip, but you recognise a good one when you see one. The serious issue is that I call on those who use these terms to define them. I talk about a successful Brexit, and that is the one we are negotiating.

My Lords, bearing in mind that the reality for the Government is that the Brexit mandate effectively ended with the general election on 8 June and no longer exists, as well as keeping the agencies in London, would it not be a good idea to listen to the increasing advice from all sections of the population that we remain a member of the European Union?

My Lords, is it not rather early in the day to start anticipating what the outcome of our negotiations with the EU is going to be? It is inevitable that at this point, both sides will be taking more extreme positions. Compromises will eventually be reached, and there is no reason to believe that they will not be for the benefit of both the EU and the United Kingdom.

My Lords, how are we best to construe the fact that two Cabinet Ministers felt the need to write their joint letter to the Financial Times? That is probably unprecedented. Does it not mean that there is a certain concern among the more moderate members about the harsh line of the more extreme members? For example, regarding the licensing suggestion with the European pharmaceutical authorities, does it not mean that we have not given up altogether our hope that the European Medicines Agency will remain at Canary Wharf?

On removal, the European Commission has made it clear that it intends to move the two agencies. That is a decision for the EU to make. Regarding the letter written by my right honourable friends, who could not but welcome the fact that they refer to the importance of placing patient safety at the heart of regulation, providing certainty and long-term stability to the market and building on the UK’s legacy as a leader in medical innovation? There is entire Cabinet agreement on that.

My Lords, does the Minister welcome the decision by the European Parliament last night—which was not attended by just 30 Members—by 374 to 66 votes to reject the idea from Sinn Fein and the Irish Government that Northern Ireland should be given special status separate from Great Britain?

My Lords, I certainly noted the discussion in the European Parliament last night. The House will know that the Government’s position, taken in the speech given by my right honourable friend the Prime Minister at Lancaster House, is very clearly that there is a special relationship. We have historic ties with Ireland, and we intend to maintain the common travel area.