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Brexit: Data Transfer

Volume 785: debated on Thursday 16 November 2017


Tabled by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what discussions they have held with the European Commission on an adequacy decision for data transfers between the United Kingdom and the European Union after Brexit.

My Lords, on behalf of my noble friend Lady Ludford, and at her request, I beg leave to ask the Question standing in her name on the Order Paper.

My Lords, the Government set out their approach to our future data relationship with the EU in our paper published in August. The paper examines the UK’s unprecedented point of alignment to the point of exit with the EU’s data framework and explores a future EU-UK model for exchanging and protecting personal data, which could build on the existing adequacy model.

My Lords, in preparation for Brexit, this House is currently engaged in the process of enshrining European law on data protection into UK law—copying and pasting European legal language that is alien to the UK legal system in many cases. So much for taking back control. As the UK is rejecting all European redress systems, how does the UK expect to secure permission to continue exchanging data once we have left the European Union?

My Lords, the deep and special partnership that we wish to negotiate will provide sufficient stability for businesses, public authorities and individuals, and will enable the UK’s Information Commissioner’s Office and partner EU regulators to maintain effective regulatory co-operation and dialogue for the benefit of those living and working in the EU.

My Lords, has the Minister seen the disturbing reports in the media today that the Russian Government have been using data transfer through social media to influence the outcome of the EU referendum in favour of the leave side? Does this not now cast doubts on the legitimacy and credibility of that referendum? I understand that it is to be investigated by the Intelligence and Security Committee. Does the Minister not now agree that that referendum can no longer be considered to represent the will of the British people?

Unsurprisingly, the noble Lord will find that in fact I do not agree with him. He should not necessarily believe everything he reads in the press and the media—particularly those bits for which he is responsible.

I am sorry to do this, but I had hoped that the Minister was going to make a statement. The last time he was at the Dispatch Box he will recall that I rose to correct something that he had said. I am loath to do this in front of the noble Lord, Lord Pannick, who knows this better than me. The Minister was requested by the noble Viscount, Lord Ridley, to,

“confirm that the judgment of the Supreme Court in the case brought by Gina Miller confirms in precise terms that Article 50 is irreversible”.—[Official Report, 13/11/17; col. 1845.]

The Minister said, “I can confirm that”—but it is clearly not the case. Paragraph 26 of the judgment makes it clear that, although the Government asserted as a matter of law and not just of policy that it was irreversible, the Supreme Court judges ruled that they took no view on that. They did not express a view at that point on the legal assertion that the Government made. Will the Minister take this opportunity to clarify from the Dispatch Box the position that, when the Government made the legal claim that it was irrevocable, it was not what the Supreme Court found—it made no view on it?

My Lords, I am happy to confirm that, as a matter of firm policy, our notification of Article 50 will not be withdrawn. This was the position the Government put forward—

Perhaps noble Lords could wait for the rest of the answer, please. This was the position that the Government put forward in the Supreme Court case. The Supreme Court proceeded on this basis and decided that it was not necessary for it to consider the legal position on this specific point any further. We have laid a letter in the Library of the House to the same effect.

My Lords, does my noble friend not agree that it is high time that the Members on the Liberal Democrat Benches and others accepted the decision of the British people and joined Team UK and started arguing for the interests of our country rather than against them?

As usual, the noble Lord is correct. It would be nice to think that Members opposite would be in favour of getting a good deal on behalf of the UK. I assume that they are all democrats and would therefore want to respect the result of the referendum.

The Minister said earlier that there will continue to be full co-operation between this country and the EU in relation to data. Can he please explain how that will occur if this country does not follow the judgments of the Court of Justice in Luxembourg on that issue, and if the laws of this country therefore diverge from those of the EU?

My Lords, we have said that, in exiting the European Union, we will bring to an end the direct jurisdiction of the Court of Justice of the European Union in the UK. This is without prejudice to the final details of the negotiations and the implementation period—but we are very clear on that point.

My Lords, I am very grateful to the Minister for correcting the record of what he inadvertently said on Monday when he affirmed that the Supreme Court expressed no view on the question of revocability—on which I have a clear view. Perhaps he might suggest to his noble friend Lord Ridley, who misled him into misleading the House, that it would be appropriate also for him to withdraw his remarks.

The noble Lord has a widely expressed opinion on Article 50, but I think he will find that 17.4 million of our fellow citizens also had an opinion.

My Lords, before we get into too tetchy an argument, and further to what my noble friend Lord Forsyth said a few moments ago, would my noble friend acknowledge that to state the facts and to question how we are tackling the European negotiations is not to be unpatriotic?

I am very happy to agree with my noble friend that of course questioning matters of policy, tabling amendments and debating the important legislation that is going through this House and another place is not unpatriotic. It is a duty of parliamentarians.