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Brexit: Negotiations

Volume 787: debated on Thursday 7 December 2017


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what are their red lines in their negotiations with the European Union over Brexit.

My Lords, the Prime Minister has set out the goals for our future relationship with the EU—to create a long-term relationship through which the EU and UK can work together for the mutual benefit of all our citizens—and the Government are conducting these negotiations with that ambition, with due regard to not undermining our position by providing a continuing exposition of our negotiating position.

My Lords, we can probably all agree that things, shall we say, could have gone better in Brussels on Monday. Will my noble friend reassure the House that the Government remain unwavering in their commitment to honour the decision made by the British people in the referendum last June to leave the EU, and that they furthermore stand by the manifesto pledge, for which nearly 14 million people voted only in June, to leave both the single market and the customs union?

I can certainly say to my noble friend that, while I cannot go into red lines which are germane to the negotiating process, our clear objectives have been frequently restated: leaving the EU, leaving the single market, leaving the customs union, restoring the supremacy of the British judicial system, preserving the integrity of the United Kingdom and forging a strong relationship with the EU for the future with an ambitious free trade arrangement.

My Lords, anyone who has been involved in negotiations knows that one of the most important things at the outset is to establish the good faith of all the parties—in other words, their ability to conclude the deal that they are purporting to negotiate. Last week, the Commission and the Irish Government clearly assumed that the Prime Minister was negotiating on behalf of the United Kingdom. Actually, she was not: she was negotiating ad referendum to the DUP. In those circumstances, why did she not explain the position to her counterparties on the other side of the table, and why did she not get the DUP alongside, negotiating on their behalf?

The Prime Minister is negotiating for the national interest of the United Kingdom and all its parts with rigour and determination—a determination, I may say, acknowledged by no less a person than President Juncker, who described her as a tough negotiator. That is what I want in Brussels; thank goodness, that is what we have in Brussels.

My Lords, does my noble friend agree that there are many border crossing points between the EU and territory which is outside both the customs union and the single market—namely in Switzerland? Many of these borders are not just soft but completely imperceptible, because Switzerland has trading agreements with the EU. Does that not illustrate what the Government have always said: that the issue of the Irish border can be finally and substantively solved only in the context of the trade negotiations, part two?

I agree with my noble friend that the trade negotiations are critical to the end point, the final shape of what we want to see. We have always been clear that we do not want a hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland and that we want to ensure that the particular needs of Northern Ireland are recognised, but equally we are clear that whatever solution we come up with must be a solution for the whole United Kingdom.

My Lords, should not the only red line that the Government be working to be the prosperity and well-being of the British people, not the dogmatic obsessions of the Brexiteers? When will the Cabinet discuss and decide on a sensible policy, which the Chancellor admits it has not done yet, one backed by evidence, which the Brexit Secretary admitted yesterday it has not got?

Yes, well that is interesting coming from where it comes from, that observation. I repeat what I said. The Prime Minister is on record as negotiating and, I think indeed, with what has been achieved, is demonstrably illustrating that she is negotiating for the good of the whole United Kingdom, and I applaud that.

On the specific issue of the impact or sectoral analyses to which the noble Baroness referred, the Government have always been very clear that we do not have a series of impact assessments. We never have had that. But we have been clear that we have had a series of sectoral analyses, and we have taken time—

Well, anyone who takes the trouble to go into the Reading Room—which, given the interest in this Chamber, I would expect to be stowed out, with a queue back into the street—will find details of those analyses. We have been clear that it is an overall programme of work that we are engaged on; it is comprehensive, and the sectoral analyses are simply one part of it. It is not exhaustive or the final say on any of these issues.

My Lords, following up on the question from my noble friend Lord Lamont, paragraph 5 of the EU guidelines for the negotiations, which were published on 29 April, makes it abundantly clear that the overall understanding on the framework for the future relationship between the UK and the EU would be dealt with solely in the second phase of the negotiations. Given that, would my noble friend give the assurance and remind the House that the EU cannot insist on any reference to that future relationship as part of the agreement currently being negotiated on citizens’ rights, the budget or the Irish border?

I think that my noble friend will understand, and understand better than anyone, that I am very hesitant to dwell on details of negotiations. Everyone will understand that they are at a sensitive and very critical stage. You can lay me over that Table and flail me with Dods Parliamentary Companion, but I am not going to be drawn on detail.

My Lords, the truth is that, whoever we trade with, we will have to go along with their regulations. If we trade with the Americans, we will have to go along with their regulations. Given that there is this great big market of 500 million near us, could the Minister distance herself and her Government from the extraordinary comment of Jacob Rees-Mogg that the regulatory divergence between the UK and EU should be an indelible red line?

At the risk of being tedious, I say to the noble Baroness that negotiations are currently at a very sensitive stage, and it is important that I am not drawn into terminology which can lead to profound misunderstanding. What I want to see happen is the now recognised mutual good will from all parties. We see the mutuality of interest in getting a deal, and I want to see that crystallised during the negotiations—and I am positive that something positive will be coming out of that.