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European Union

Volume 785: debated on Monday 6 November 2017


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government whether they have had any discussions with the European Commission about its proposals for the future of the European Union.

My Lords, until exit negotiations are concluded, the UK remains a full member of the European Union, and all the rights and obligations of EU membership remain in force. During this period, the Government will also continue to negotiate, implement and apply EU legislation. We have been engaged in discussions about the future of Europe, including through our input into the Commission work programme 2018, through conversations at COREPER and at the recent General Affairs Council in October.

I thank the Minister for that helpful Answer. Bearing in mind that paragraphs 9 and 10 of the Prime Minister’s Florence speech were a massive paean of praise for the Commission and the European Union sovereign member states’ future plans for modernisation and development, why do we not join in that excitement and work with them on a long-term basis, not least because Brexit is getting more and more problematical?

My Lords, would it not be somewhat impertinent of the Government to seek to influence an organisation from which they have pledged to withdraw their membership?

Yes. It is in our interests for the EU to do well and to succeed, but obviously it would be wrong of us to try to influence where its members might want to take the organisation in the future when we are no longer a member.

My Lords, under Article 50, we will leave the European Union on 29 March 2019. Does my noble friend share my worry that sometimes, the noble Lord, Lord Dykes, tends to have a temporary lapse of memory about that?

My Lords, can the Minister assure us that, as the EU reforms and changes, the Government will ensure that the United Kingdom plays to its strengths in Europe, such as in the single market, of which Mrs Thatcher was the architect, and in justice, security and defence, rather than running away from these major assets that we contribute to the EU?

On the subject of defence and security, we have proposed a bold new strategic partnership with the EU, including a comprehensive agreement on security, law enforcement and criminal justice co-operation.

My Lords, regarding the debate on the future of Europe, has the noble Lord read the speech that President Macron of France made at Sciences Po in September, in which he proposed lots of interesting ideas for future co-operation on climate change, Africa, migration, technology and the development of defence procurement? Does he think that the Government might take on board some of those ideas in drawing up the framework for future co-operation and the future relationship, which they are required to do under Article 50?

I have seen President Macron’s speech. He made some interesting proposals on how the EU should develop. I am sure that we will want to look closely at those and that we will consider them alongside contributions from leaders of other member states.

My Lords, I welcome the noble Lord to his new position and ask him to forgive me if I ask a question that I have asked the Government many times without getting a satisfactory answer. What is now the point of the European Union? If our departure hastened its demise, would that not be good for Europe’s democracies, which could collaborate and trade freely together without its malign, expensive and destructive self-interest?

I think that what happens to the European Union after we leave is a matter for the remaining member states to determine.

My Lords, will the Minister confirm that, if it appears over the coming months that the Government will fail to get anything but the hardest of hard Brexits, and if in the meantime these ideas about the future of Europe develop, the Government still have the option to withdraw their Article 50 application?

My Lords, we had a referendum: both Houses of Parliament voted for the triggering of Article 50. We are leaving the European Union in March 2019.

My Lords, the Minister has given three replies now which imply that from the day we leave the European Union, we shall not have the slightest interest in how it develops or think it proper to express our views on how it develops. I think his successor on those Benches may find that hard to swallow. Could he reconsider what he has been saying? I do not think that we no longer have any interest in the future of Europe—even when we have left.

My Lords, I do not think I said that. Of course we have an interest in co-operation with our European partners, and that will include an interest in how the EU develops. As I have said, we will want to take forward a close and constructive partnership, including on security and defence matters, so of course we will have an interest in how it proceeds.

Has my noble friend noticed that the referendum to which he referred was established by Parliament very clearly as an advisory referendum? Should that not be something we respect before we consider any further action?

The referendum took place. The Government spent, I think, £9 million on sending round pamphlets saying that we would respect the outcome of that vote, and that is what we are doing.

My Lords, The Times reported that Mr Gove was joining the Brexit “war cabinet”. I trust that is not the Government’s phrase—we are not at war. Does the Minister agree that we should be talking to our European friends about a close, perhaps a special relationship with the EU after March 2019, and not about being at war with them?

I agree totally with the noble Baroness. I am sure she is not asking me to comment on everything that the media and the press say—we would be here for a long time if we were to do that. Yes, I agree with the points she has made.

Will the Minister accept, as his predecessor accepted, that the normal standard in treaty negotiations is that nothing is agreed until everything is agreed? Will he confirm that today, and confirm that it is on the basis of everything being agreed that this House, like the rest of Parliament, will have a vote on what the future relationship should be?

Yes, I can confirm that to the noble Lord: nothing is agreed until everything is agreed. That is a standard principle of European negotiations I have taken part in, as many of us in this House have done. We are also committed to a meaningful vote at the conclusion of those negotiations.