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Brexit: Devolved Administrations

Volume 785: debated on Tuesday 24 October 2017


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what discussions they have had with the devolved administrations regarding Brexit.

My Lords, we are clear that the devolved Administrations should be fully engaged in our exit from the European Union. We are in discussions with them—both on our negotiations with the EU and on the domestic implications of exit—bilaterally and through the Joint Ministerial Committee on EU Negotiations, which met most recently this month. We will continue to engage the devolved Administrations as we seek a deal that works for the entire United Kingdom.

My Lords, since the Irish border is the most intractable of the many problems of Brexit, and since a resolution needs the approval of the Northern Ireland Executive and Assembly, neither of which is attending these joint ministerial meetings, how can any agreement be achieved while they remained suspended?

My Lords, the noble Lord points to one of the issues of concern to all Members of both Houses. It should be possible as soon as maybe to achieve a resolution to the constitutional position in Northern Ireland. It is for everybody’s benefit that they do so. In the meantime, with regard to engagement with the devolved Administrations, we continue to work closely with the Northern Ireland Civil Service at an official level on all the technical aspects.

The noble Lord thinks it is not good enough. As a Government, we stand ready to assist as far as possible in resolving the position in Northern Ireland. Clearly it is not a matter to be taken lightly, and we do not.

My Lords, does my noble friend not think it extraordinary that the Scottish nationalist Government should prefer our fishing and agriculture policy to be decided in Brussels and not by this United Kingdom Parliament in the interests of the United Kingdom?

My Lords, is it not a principle of good governance that powers once devolved should not be lightly withdrawn? Does the Minister agree that it is not beyond the wit of parliamentary counsel, properly instructed, to draft proposals to maintain the status quo and to provide for the interregnum in the meantime?

The noble and learned Lord, as ever, makes an important contribution on these matters. We are listening to discussions about the drafting of the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill arising out of amendments tabled in another place. It is the intention of this Bill that no decisions currently taken by the devolved Administrations will be removed from them. Each and every part of the noble and learned Lord’s intervention is key to our decision to draft the Bill as it currently stands.

My Lords, is the Minister aware that the LSE has produced figures which show that the Scottish economy could lose £30 billion as the result of Brexit? My own city of Aberdeen could lose 7% of its economy over the next five years. Will the Government now acknowledge that leaving the single market and the customs union cannot be a deal for the United Kingdom, but would betray the United Kingdom and put it at risk?

This Government will never betray the United Kingdom, and we will not betray the fact that, when the referendum was held, over a million more people in the United Kingdom voted to leave than to remain. We will continue to negotiate for a deal that is best for the whole United Kingdom. That is why, in her Florence speech, the Prime Minister set out the importance of making further progress, of having an implementation period and of ensuring that there is certainty as we move to the next phase of being able to make our own decisions in our own way.

My Lords, it was the UK which made the decision to leave the EU. The other 27 members were not asking us to leave. They were sitting around minding their own business when we decided to go. We are now trying to negotiate an exit with 27 entities which have no urgency or incentive to provide us with a good deal. Applying commercial logic—

Yes, it’s coming, if you hold on a second. Be patient.

Will the Minister advise the House what negotiation experience and skills those who are handing this important matter on behalf of the UK have? Please correct me if I am wrong but, from my perspective, it seems that they are politicians and civil servants who have spent their whole lives in politics and, with respect, possibly have no clue about negotiating tactics.

My Lords, the United Kingdom negotiating team is several hundred strong and has already shown great expertise. I have had the benefit of briefings from lawyers and accountants and all those with expertise both outside and inside Whitehall. I cannot say whether they would meet the standards set by the noble Lord on his television programme but they certainly meet mine.

As the Minister will know, without changes to the Government’s land grab over what is coming back from Brussels that ought to be going to the devolved Administrations, the Scottish and Welsh Governments have said that they will withhold consent to the Bill. Will the noble Baroness go a little further than she did and give an undertaking that the Government will accept the amendments tabled in the other place to Clauses 10 and 11 so that we respect and retain the devolution settlement?

My Lords, the way in which the Bill is drafted does precisely that: it protects the current constitutional arrangements. It is important that we achieve agreement on a common framework. There has been real progress at a technical level in the discussions with the devolved Administrations on how we may achieve that. I put on record my great appreciation of all those I have met in non-Brexit negotiations when I was talking about ongoing business with the devolved Administrations in the JMC Europe meetings. I know that that very constructive approach has been maintained through JMC (EN). We are all working together to achieve the best for the whole United Kingdom.

My Lords, the noble Lord is correct: at this moment in time Northern Ireland has no power-sharing devolved Government. There is an urgency to resolve the current big impasse. The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland has set a new deadline of 6 November. However, that deadline will pass and there will be no resolution. It is sad for me to have to say that in this House. Negotiations are all about compromise but one political party in Northern Ireland is insisting on a take-it-or-leave-it approach and is saying very clearly that there has to be a stand-alone Irish language Act or there will be nothing. I say to that party in that case there will be nothing. The Government need to look at other methods of properly informing politicians in Northern Ireland about Brexit. I say to them that there is a feeling in Northern Ireland that politicians are not being properly informed.

My Lords, I simply reflect upon the fact that Members around this House feel passionately about our United Kingdom and ensuring that the Northern Ireland peace agreement, which was achieved at such cost, is maintained for our lifetimes and well beyond.