Skip to main content

Brexit: Negotiations

Volume 783: debated on Thursday 7 September 2017


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government when they will next report to Parliament on the progress of negotiations with the European Union with regard to Brexit.

My Lords, on Tuesday, the Government made a Statement to the House of Commons on progress made in both the July and August negotiation rounds, which I repeated in this Chamber. The Secretary of State made a clear commitment to give an update to the House of Commons after each round of negotiations. With the leave of this House, it will also be repeated here.

Will my noble friend confirm that when we leave the European Union on 19 March 2019, the jurisdiction of all the bodies throughout Europe that have governing powers will cease, that that is the essence of Brexit, and that the rest of the issues are consequential and could be settled in their own time?

My noble friend has raised questions which I am sure will occupy this House with great interest and elicit investigation over the period until we do leave the European Union. He raises a crucial point that in leaving the European Union, we take back control of our own laws, and this is about how we do that and the pace at which we do it. We have made it clear that, for example, the direct jurisdiction of the Court of Justice of the European Union will end as we leave the European Union. But another place is currently discussing the withdrawal Bill, which makes it clear that there would still be some role for the CJEU, for example in pending cases. It is a complex matter and my noble friend is right to raise it.

My Lords, given the timescales, there will be important negotiations during recesses. Our EU Committee asked the Secretary of State to report back during the Summer Recess, and was clear that if he was unable to attend on the particular date it offered, it would be happy to hear from another Minister, the Permanent Secretary or the Permanent Representative. The invitation was declined—not just for that date but until October. Yet the Secretary of State found time to be part of the entertainment at the Edinburgh Festival, as a guest of Alex Salmond. This is a question of priorities, and that shows more respect for the comedy fringe than it does for Parliament. Is it right that Ministers can ignore Parliament in this way throughout any recess, particularly when it is the Government who choose the recess dates?

My Lords, the Government have not ignored Parliament. We made clear at the beginning of the process, when the British public decided they wanted to leave the European Union, that there would be regular reporting to Parliament. Indeed, what we do is far beyond what is available to the European Parliament, in effect, because we make available Statements, debates and Questions in which all parliamentarians may participate. In addition, in just the 15 months since my own department was founded, the Secretary of State appeared before the EU Committee on 11 July and, as the noble Baroness said, of course he plans to attend very shortly. He has also provided evidence to the Select Committee on Exiting the European Union in another place on two occasions, and will appear before that committee when it has been re-established. In those 15 months, there have been a further 14 occasions where my department’s Ministers and officials have given evidence to a wide range of committees. We continue with our commitment to engage fully with Select Committees. There are various ways in which we can do that, and I very much look forward to discussing those matters in detail with individual committees and their chairs.

My Lords, does my noble friend think that there is any prospect that when the Government report on the negotiations to this House and to the other place, we will not see the same speeches made by the same people who are still fighting the referendum campaign and trying to reverse the result brought about by the British people?

Immediately after the result of the referendum last year, when I said that I had voted to remain, I also said that when democracy makes a decision you accept it and move on. My noble friend is right.

My Lords, we are moving from general principle to detail on the negotiations now, and it is the detail that we find extremely difficult. I remember that before we joined the single market, when Mrs Thatcher was negotiating it, a study demonstrated that, actually, the British accepted US regulation in domestic law as a matter of course, because we had to accept international regulation on a whole host of things. We are now discovering about the detail, and if we are leaving the EU both Houses need to be kept informed on the question of which international regulations we accept, and how we proceed, on everything from blood supplies to airline regulation. Many lobbies will be extremely interested, and that is the hard stuff that we need to be kept informed about. Can the Minister give us some reassurance?

The noble Lord is absolutely right about how crucial it is that, as negotiations progress and there is more of a convergence of agreement about what is, as he says, very detailed technical information about the status of regulations after Brexit, we are able to transmit that information. I assure him that that is what we have sought to do throughout the summer. One brief example is provided by the common position paper, published by both the EU Commission and the UK, on our negotiations on the status of citizens. Clearly a wide range of issues, including highly technical ones, are involved, and after the August round we updated the online convergence annexe immediately and made sure the information was in this House. That really shows how we are trying to transmit that detail. But I do not underestimate the complexity or the amount of detail that I know the House will wish to scrutinise.

My Lords, does the Minister recognise that the issue of periodicity of reporting, which the noble Lord, Lord Spicer, raised, is not the only one at stake? There is also, of course, the content of the reports, which up to now has left something to be desired—and also the ability of this House, when the report is made, to have more than the time that is made available when a ministerial Statement is made. Will the Minister consult the usual channels to see whether, in the case of Brexit, which is a matter of huge interest to all parts of this House, the time allowed for discussion following a ministerial Statement on the progress of the negotiations is a bit longer than is allowed on a normal one?

My Lords, I think there are many views around the House about how noble Lords wish to participate in the scrutiny of these matters. A Statement is, as the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, said, just one method. There are indeed occasions when the usual channels can arrange debate, and I thank my noble friend the Captain of the Gentlemen-at-Arms for being so generous as to put time on the Order Paper next Tuesday so that this House can examine the position papers at length. That is a measure of the generosity of the Government; I hope that it will be met in good spirit, and not undermined by others.