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Brexit: Negotiations

Volume 783: debated on Wednesday 13 September 2017


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty's Government whether they will publish a comprehensive timetable for Brexit negotiations with the European Union; and whether they will make publicly available all position papers and all other documentation and correspondence relevant to those negotiations.

My Lords, the UK and EU teams have agreed a broad timetable for the Brexit negotiations, which has been published on the GOV.UK site. This provides indicative dates for negotiation rounds and acts as a framework rather than a hard timetable to progress discussions as effectively as possible. All published information about the negotiations is being made available on the DExEU website, at

I am really grateful to the noble Baroness for her helpful answer. She will agree with me that it is the European Union Select Committee of this House that does the detailed work on this issue, but does she share my disappointment that the Secretary of State is not going to give regular reports to that Select Committee on the progress of the negotiations? Is it not a double disappointment that he also refuses—as he said to me again yesterday— to allow the noble Baroness to stand in on his behalf to give reports on the negotiations? Will she ask him to think again on this? As far as we are concerned in this House, we have faith in the noble Baroness doing that job properly.

My Lords, both the Secretary of State and I have made clear our commitment to the value of parliamentary scrutiny. Last night, in the excellent debate that we had in this House, I was able to put on record our commitment and to make it clear that there is, perhaps, a little bit of misinformation and misunderstanding about the way in which Ministers have been appearing before Select Committees. What has happened is that, when Ministers—whether it is the Secretary of State, me or another—appear in front of a Select Committee, the officials supporting us are the negotiators. Therefore, it was important that not only are we responsible to Parliament but we ensure that the negotiations can proceed. It is that balance that we have sought to maintain, which is why the Secretary of State has made it clear that, having appeared once just recently in July, he will be appearing again fairly shortly before the Select Committee of this House and before the Brexit committee in another House. There have also been 14 other ministerial appearances—all to make sure that we keep our position and that parliamentary support is properly carried out.

Will my noble friend confirm what she implied, I think, at the end of her speech last night, that there would be a valuation of all our assets held by the European Union as part of the calculation of what is owed in net terms?

My Lords, I was alluding to the fact that there are indeed obligations from the EU as well as obligations from the UK to the EU. As part of that process it will be important to have a valuation of assets.

My Lords, in the debate last night, one of the most interesting contributions was from the noble Baroness’s predecessor as Minister, the noble Lord, Lord Bridges of Headley. He said:

“We must be honest about the task we face—its complexity and scale. We must be honest about the need to compromise and about the lack of time that we … have to come to an agreement on our withdrawal”.—[Official Report, 12/9/17; col. 2431.]

Are the Government going to take his advice?

My Lords, on 4 July, the noble Lord, Lord Bates, in reply to a Question from me confirmed that 10.9% of the UK’s overseas development assistance is spent through the two main funds of the European Union, and that that totals £1,327 million. He also gave an assurance to your Lordships’ House that the transition period would be handled in such a way as to ensure that all the many projects protected by these funds, many of which save lives around the globe, would not fall off a cliff. There is no mention of either these funds or that commitment in the position paper launched yesterday by Her Majesty’s Government. Can the Minister give us that assurance here again today?

My Lords, there are, of course, several streams through which funds available for international development are derived. Although the Department for International Development holds the ring in that regard, clearly this goes through many different portals. The noble Lord is right to point to the importance of the work being done on international development through the EU. We have given our commitment and made it clear that we are not going to devalue that. I am afraid it is, as ever, a matter for negotiations how we are able to fulfil that commitment, not only while we continue to be a member of the European Union but as we leave.

My Lords, does the Minister believe it would be a good idea for the Select Committee to invite the Commission to brief it so that at least it can find out what is going on in the negotiations?

My Lords, the person in charge of the negotiations at the Commission, Michel Barnier, has, I think, spoken twice to the European Parliament. He does have confidential meetings with a self-selecting group. This House has been much better served for information than has the European Parliament by a country mile.

My Lords, will the Minister at least give a preliminary indication of how the Government will solve the Irish border problem?

My Lords, last night I was able to answer a significant question from the noble Lord, Lord Jay, about what happens next. I set out a couple of points where there are technical issues to be resolved but also pointed out that after the last round of negotiations we were able to provide a whole area where there is convergence. However, when I asked where there was no convergence between the position of the EU and the UK, the answer was none—we are converging.

My Lords, the position papers so far published have not clarified the Government’s position with regard to the Interreg funds, which are of considerable benefit to the western part of Wales as well as to the Irish Republic. Is it the Government’s intention to publish something? Can the Minister give any indication of thinking on this?

The noble Lord is right to raise the issue of funding for these matters. We are keenly aware of the importance of the position of the economies of all parts of the United Kingdom, and that is being taken into account. Further papers are coming forward. I am not in a position to say which ones at this stage as they are published in relation to the negotiations as they proceed. However, I certainly take the noble Lord’s point seriously.

My Lords, is the noble Baroness aware that the Leave Alliance is briefing that the Prime Minister is going to use her speech on Europe next week to announce that she is giving formal notice to leave the European Economic Area, and, in an attempt to bypass the Commission, extend an invitation to all EEA member states—the European Union ones and Lichtenstein, Norway and Switzerland—to enter into direct talks with the UK to create some sort of new EEA agreement? Surely this bonkers idea cannot possibly be true?

My Lords, I am intrigued to hear that the noble Lord has leave publications. It is a side to him that I never knew before, and no I have not seen it.