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Brexit: Reports to Parliament

Volume 788: debated on Monday 8 January 2018


Asked by

My Lords, we are committed to keeping Parliament informed on the UK’s exit from the EU. The Government have provided regular Statements to update Parliament, which have been repeated in this House. There have also been 23 occasions when DExEU Ministers have given evidence to a wide range of committees in both Houses. We will continue to uphold this commitment and will update Parliament at the next appropriate moment.

Is my noble friend aware that the British people are now much tougher in their attitude to the negotiations going on in Brussels? They are tired of seeing arrogant and rude officials speaking on behalf of the EU. They want full details of what is now proposed from Europe, as opposed to what they are getting at the moment.

They are certainly getting full details from us. The noble Lord makes a point that I am not sure I necessarily agree with. All our dealings with our interlocutors in the European Commission have been courteous and civil.

My Lords, it has been widely reported that the Prime Minister is going to appoint someone as a “no deal” Brexit Minister. Will that person have the same responsibility to report back to both Houses as other Ministers?

My Lords, I am always suspicious of a question that starts off, “It has been widely reported”. The noble Lord will know that ministerial appointments are a matter for the Prime Minister; I am sure he will be the first to know if she decides to make such an appointment.

My Lords, in light of the speculation about a “no deal” Minister, what calculation are the Government making about the likelihood of a no-deal scenario? Have they—in the form of any new Minister or the Secretary of State for DExEU—thought about writing a report on the impact of no deal; or is that just to be left to your Lordships’ excellent EU Select Committee?

I totally agree with the noble Baroness that the EU Select Committee is an excellent grouping. We report to it regularly and I am sure we will be doing so in future. There has been a wide range of discussions with all sorts of parties about what might happen. We already have a Minister in the department—Steve Baker—who is planning for a no-deal scenario, but we hope that will not be the case. We want a full, fruitful and special partnership with the EU and we are continuing negotiations to that effect.

My Lords, following my noble friend’s intervention, does the Minister agree that if we have no deal on the table, we are much more likely to get a good deal?

It is important to bear in mind any possible outcome. We plan for all eventualities, but of course we are planning for a full and special partnership and we hope that will be the outcome.

My Lords, discussions are meant to be taking place within the UK as well as with the EU 27. Indeed, the Government promised back in March that there would be “intensive discussions” with the devolved Administrations, but at the moment we know that they are not minded to pass the consent Motions on the withdrawal Bill. Can the Minister undertake to update the House on those discussions before we get to the withdrawal Bill, when, obviously, we will want to know whether consent is likely to be given or withheld?

As the noble Baroness correctly observed, we have regular discussions with the devolved Administrations; I myself chaired a meeting with the devolved Ministers from Scotland and Wales and officials from the Northern Ireland Office in December, when we discussed ongoing EU business. Separate discussions take place with them on the withdrawal Bill and its implications. Those discussions are detailed, and I am sure that we will want to update the House as soon as we have a conclusion.

My Lords, as we begin a new year, which we hope can be slightly more harmonious than the last, is it not important that, while we all recognise that the verdict of the referendum was that we should leave, it was decided by a very narrow majority? It is therefore important that those who were on the winning side demonstrate a degree of understanding and magnanimity, so that we get a proper deal and a real compromise that preserves the stature and economic prosperity of this country.

My noble friend makes a good point. We want a Brexit that will command the maximum possible level of support across this House and—I am not sure that the two things are related—across the country as well. We will want to involve as many people as possible, and of course we want to try to make that process as harmonious as possible, involving all different shades of political opinion.

My Lords, instead of planning for no deal, should not the Government be trying to get a coherent, unified position on the kind of deal they are aiming for? Once they have reached that coherent, unified position, will they report back to Parliament to allow us to debate that proposition before it is put to Brussels?

We will want to do both things. We want of course to plan for the—hopefully small—likelihood of there being no deal, but we also want a unified government position going forward. The Brexit Bill will shortly arrive in this House and I am sure we will have many hours of debate on the important issues contained in it. I am sure the noble Baroness will make lots of contributions to that.

My Lords, given that the Government were forced to accept regulatory alignment in December to resolve the impasse on the Northern Ireland border and to keep it open, which everybody says they want, how does that differ from staying in the single market, and is that possible unless membership of the single market is retained?

It is perfectly possible and we have made statements to that effect. We are leaving the customs union and the single market. At the moment, of course, our regulations are identical to those of the European Union. In the future we will need to manage the process of divergence if we want to go our own separate way. Those issues will need to be discussed fully.

My Lords, has the Minister noticed that Mr Nigel Farage is meeting Mr Barnier, purporting to represent the views of the British people? Will the Minister make it absolutely clear that even though some of us do not have much faith in the Conservative Ministers who are negotiating on our behalf, at least they were elected to the House of Commons, unlike Mr Farage?

I see that this week Mr Barnier is having meetings with a wide range of people, one of whom is Mr Farage. I do not think that Nigel would ever say that he represents the people—

Okay—the noble Lord has an advantage over me; I have not seen the interviews. However, Mr Farage is the leader of a group in the European Parliament and I suspect that that is the basis on which Michel Barnier is meeting him. Mr Barnier has met Peers from this House and Opposition and Back-Bench MPs from the House of Commons, but he is very clear that he will negotiate with only one party.