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Brexit: British Citizens

Volume 790: debated on Thursday 29 March 2018


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government, in the light of their intention for the United Kingdom to leave the European Union on 29 March 2019, whether, and on what basis, British citizens can be confident that they will have reached agreement by that date on a future relationship with the European Union.

My Lords, Article 50 states that the withdrawal agreement must take account of the framework for our future relationship and the terms of withdrawal. We have been working intensively to agree an implementation period, codify the joint report into legal text and reach agreement on the entire withdrawal agreement by October. The deal reached last week provides greater certainty to businesses and citizens. We are confident that we can reach a deal that is in the best interests of both parties.

My Lords, I am delighted to be the first of four Liberal Democrats asking Questions on this important day. Does the Government’s plan for “Brexit means Brexit” not turn out to mean “Brexit in name only” and that, in the words of Jacob Rees-Mogg, the UK will be a “vassal state”? Can the Government therefore explain, one year before they are set to make us Brexit, what the point is of going through with their version of Brexit and why they will not agree to let the people decide, on the facts, whether it is worth it?

It is interesting to hear the Liberal Democrats quoting Jacob Rees-Mogg. The point is to implement the results of the referendum. The Liberals will probably want to forget about this but the people have already had a say on the issue, both in the referendum and in the subsequent general election, neither of which went very well for the Liberal Democrats.

Is the Minister aware of a new poll showing that, by 65% to 35%, the British people oppose a second referendum, the flagship policy of the Liberal Democrat party?

I had not seen that poll but I am aware that the British people oppose most Liberal Democrat policies.

In the circumstances of there being no agreement, what would be a meaningful vote in the other Chamber? Would MPs have the option to reject going out on World Trade Organization terms and to remain in the European Union?

We have been very clear that we want a deal, and at every subsequent stage we have reached agreement, so we are confident that we will get a deal. When we have a deal, we will put it to a vote in the House of Commons and in this House. We have been very clear that if that option is rejected, of course we leave under the Article 50 process anyway.

My Lords, is it not true that polling shows that if we were talking about a vote on the deal, seven out of 10 people would like to have it? On this day, a year before the Government have chosen to take us out of the EU at whatever cost, will the Government tell the young people of this country exactly what opportunities they propose to take away from them?

When we have a deal, which I am confident we will get, we will come back to this House, we will put the option to both Houses and we will report back to the public, including young people.

Should we not congratulate my noble friend on the brilliant job that he has done during Committee on the Bill, such that the opposition spokesman on foreign affairs, Mrs Emily Thornberry, said that the Opposition will probably vote for the deal when it is put before the Commons?

I thank my noble friend for his comments, but let us see how Report goes before we get the congratulations in too early. Yes, Emily Thornberry’s comments yesterday were interesting, as were Keir Starmer’s at the weekend when he said:

“I don’t think there is any realistic prospect of”,

Article 50 “being revoked”. On the referendum, he said:

“Having asked the electorate for a view by way of the referendum, we have to respect the result”.

I never thought I would hear myself say it, but on this occasion I agree with the Labour Party.

I am glad the Minister agrees with the Labour Party. Will he also agree that the six tests that we have set should be met? This must be a Brexit for jobs, for people, for all regions of the country and for all parts of the country. That is what we want the Government to seek. Will he agree to meet those tests?

It depends on what the Labour Party’s policy is for this week, but if the six tests are the policy for this week, of course we will try to reach a Brexit deal that works for everyone, is good for jobs, for British industry and for people, and respects the result of the referendum.

My Lords, will the Minister confirm that the Eurocrats turned down our offer of mutual residence before Christmas 2016? Is this not yet another example of the Eurocrats looking after their own interests and the survival of their failing project, and putting it in front of the interests of the people of Europe? There are 4 million of them living here and only 1.2 million of us living there.

I think there are 3 million EU citizens here in the UK. I am not sure it is helpful to go back through the history of who offered what. We are delighted that we have reached a deal whereby EU citizens’ rights in this country are granted, which is where we always wanted to be, and—a very important matter—UK citizens living in other EU countries have their rights guaranteed as well. We are happy to have agreed this issue. We want to provide safety and security for those citizens in future, and I am sure the House will endorse that.

My Lords, on this historic day, can my noble friend not make a clear statement to the House that, having made this provisional agreement, we will stick to it and every European citizen living in this country will be guaranteed the rights that many of us wanted them to be guaranteed by our taking the moral high ground nearly two years ago?

Of course we intend to stick to the agreement. I agree with my noble friend: it is good to provide security to those citizens, but it is also important to bear in mind the interests of those UK citizens living in EU countries. We have reached a deal on that—both lots have their rights guaranteed, and that is a good situation.

Can the Minister explain to your Lordships’ House the basis of his confidence that we will get an agreement on Northern Ireland, for example, which is acceptable not only to the Irish people on both sides of the border but respects the terms of the agreement that his party has made—at a price—with the Democratic Unionist Party?

Of course, the Irish situation is difficult. It is proving a thorny issue, but the Prime Minister committed us to sitting down for talks with the European Commission and the Irish Government. All sides are committed to a deal and to having no hard border. It is clear that we need to look at this issue in the context of the final customs arrangement that we will enter into with the EU, but we are confident that a deal can be reached. Both sides are committed to the Good Friday agreement and we want it to work.