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Brexit: Negotiations

Volume 791: debated on Wednesday 6 June 2018


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government whether they expect to reach a full agreement with European Union negotiators on the United Kingdom’s withdrawal from the European Union before the European Council meeting in October.

My Lords, we have made significant progress on a withdrawal agreement, reaching agreement on more than three-quarters of the legal text and locking down the full chapters on citizens’ rights, the implementation period and the financial settlement. We are continuing to work hard and at pace to reach a final agreement by October.

I think the whole House appreciates that the Minister has been working hard to reassure Members of this House about these complicated matters. However, are the Government aware of the looming catastrophe they face, not least because the end-June meeting of the European Council is most unlikely to bail them out of their own mistakes? Is not, therefore, the moment of truth approaching—when the single market and the customs union will be the only practical options?

No, we have been very clear that we are leaving the single market and the customs union, and we remain optimistic, like the EU, that we should be able to reach an agreement by October.

My Lords, this is rather a shambles, is it not? In fact, we are reading on the Channel 4 website that tempers within the Government are “fraying”. That is hardly surprising. The White Paper that David Davis said would be the,

“most significant publication on the EU since the referendum”,

is not appearing. I do not know whether the fact that the White Paper has not come out is worse for Parliament and the people here or for our negotiating partners in Brussels. Either way, we need to know what is going on. Will the Minister talk to his bit of the usual channels if I talk to mine and ensure that we have a proper debate on these negotiations immediately after the June summit?

When the noble Baroness said it was a shambles, I assumed she was referring to the Labour Party’s position on the EU, which, given the statements yesterday and by Keir Hardie on the radio this morning, is a disgraceful shambles—

It would indeed be impressive if Keir Hardie had gone on the radio this morning. I am sorry, I was of course referring to Keir Starmer.

Will the Government be advising citizens to stock up on dried, tinned and frozen food, jerry cans of fuel and their prescription medicines, given that it was reported at the weekend that Whitehall is planning for the port of Dover to collapse on day one of a crash-out no-deal Brexit, leading to a critical shortage of supplies? Will the Government share this planning with the public?

The claims that the noble Baroness refers to are completely false. A significant amount of work and decision-making has gone into our no-deal plans. We hope there will not be a no-deal situation but, as a responsible Government, we need to plan accordingly.

My Lords, setting aside both Cassandra and Keir Hardie, when is the White Paper due to be published?

My Lords, when will the Government see that they hold all the best cards in these negotiations? Why do they not offer Brussels continuing security, mutual residence and free trade—all of which are much more in the interests of the real people of Europe than they are of ours—and then tell the Eurocrats how much cash we will give their failing project, which will depend on how they have behaved with all of the above? Why should that take more than a month?

As the noble Lord is aware, we have offered the EU unconditional security guarantees, as is right and proper, and we are negotiating in good faith to achieve the free-trade relationship that he talked about.

My Lords, a moment ago the Minister made reference to the Government’s no-deal plan. Will he therefore confirm that the Government are seriously confronting the likelihood of leaving without a deal?

As I also said, we hope there will be a deal. We are working towards a deal and negotiating in good faith, as we believe our European partners are. However, as a responsible Government, it is important that we plan for all eventualities.

My Lords, will my noble friend confirm that if indeed we are in the unfortunate position of leaving without a deal, we will not be paying the £40 billion to the EU?

If there is no deal then there will be no withdrawal agreement, and that bill would be included in the withdrawal agreement so the noble Lord is correct.

The Minister said we are negotiating in good faith. I thought the White Paper was supposed to be our negotiating plan. If the Government have a plan and we cannot see it, when are we going to see it? If they cannot see it either, what are they negotiating about?

We are negotiating on the issues that we discussed in the first round. We have reached agreement on citizens’ rights and the financial settlement, and we are discussing the Northern Ireland border. Of course what we want to do is get on to discussing the free-trade agreement and all the other settlement issues, which we will do in due course. We will publish a White Paper setting out our position in detail when it is ready.

My Lords, have the Government done enough to ensure that they carry domestic public opinion, including the right-wing press, with the deal that they eventually strike? I see announcements from the Government that we are going to continue to respect the decisions of the European Court of Justice in a number of areas, and clearly we are going to continue to contribute to a large number of European financial arrangements, according to the proposals that have been put out in the slide shows that were slipped out over the last two or three weekends. This is going to arouse a lot of anger on the Back Benches of the Conservative Party and in the Mail and the Telegraph. Should the Government not be preparing domestic public opinion for the necessary compromises that they are already beginning to propose to their European counterparts?

I am not sure that I would accept the scenario outlined by the noble Lord. We have always been clear that where there are areas in which we can co-operate with our European partners, in some small areas, we will make an appropriate contribution to the costs, but we have also been clear that the days of making vast contributions to the European budget are at an end.

Where does the noble Lord, Lord Dykes, get his forecasts of doom and gloom from? I hope it is not the Bank of England.

My Lords, where does the noble Lord, Lord Dykes, get all his forecasts of doom and gloom from? I hope it is not the Bank of England.

I do not presume to assume where the noble Lord gets his predictions of doom and gloom from, but they are probably wrong.

My Lords, the security of Europe is critical for the security of our nation. Seventy-four years ago today, we and the Americans invaded Normandy and ensured the safety of Europe. Do we now have agreements with the EU in the defence and security arena, because that is crucial for us?

The noble Lord is of course correct about our proud history of contributing to the defence of Europe, and we should remember the sacrifices that were made on this historic day. We do not yet have agreement on security matters, but our offer of security guarantees is unconditional and, I think, very generous.