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Brexit: No Deal

Volume 792: debated on Tuesday 11 September 2018


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government whether their policy towards withdrawal from the European Union remains that no deal is better than a bad deal.

My Lords, we do not want or expect a no-deal scenario. As a result of the significant progress made in negotiations, and the agreement reached at the March European Council on the implementation period, we remain confident that we will secure a mutually advantageous deal with the EU.

My Lords, I find that answer reassuring. It must be to the mutual benefit and prosperity of both the United Kingdom and our friends and allies in the EU to have a proper deal, but could my noble friend illuminate me on one point? If there were to be some form of division between Northern Ireland and Great Britain—be it by keeping Northern Ireland in the customs union or single market or whatever it might be—would that amount to a good deal or a bad deal?

The proposed backstop on Northern Ireland is the subject of intense negotiations at the moment. We remain committed to there being no hard border in Northern Ireland and we remain committed to the Belfast agreement, and we are negotiating with those two matters in mind.

My Lords, the leaked no-deal alternative to Chequers from the ERG amounts, in the words of the esteemed former Chancellor, George Osborne, to,

“a whole load of other batty ideas from the nether reaches of the Tory Right”,

coming out of the woodwork. He says that they include a “star wars” system and an,

“expeditionary force to retake the Falklands”—

although Argentina is supposedly one of our new trade friends. Can the Government still, with a straight face, give any credence to no deal?

I cannot comment on the document referred to by the noble Baroness because I have not read it. However, as I have said repeatedly in this House, we do not want no deal. We are negotiating to get a good deal, but a responsible Government will prepare for every eventuality, and we are preparing for no deal through the issuing of technical notices.

My Lords, while of course it is the case that at this stage no one knows what the outcome of these discussions will be, can the Minister confirm that, just as it was parliamentary statute which authorised the Brexit referendum, as the Supreme Court has ruled, whatever the outcome may be, it must be laid before Parliament?

Yes. The withdrawal agreement—about which we spent many a happy hour debating in this House—enshrined that in statute. When we have negotiated a deal, it will be put to a so-called meaningful vote in the House of Commons and it will also be debated in this House.

Many people in this House will be thinking about the D-day celebrations next year, and of course they will be the first since we will have withdrawn from the great lesson of the war which led to the setting up of the European Union.

If there was to be no deal, it is hard to know what would be the most fearful thing. Would it be that 2 million UK citizens living in the EU had lost their status? Would it be a hard border in the island of Ireland? Would it be the sudden VAT rules, rules of origin and tariff checks at the border? Perhaps it will be the faces of the Brexiteers who meant only to blow off the wheels, not crash the whole economy. The Government are saying that Chequers is the only game in town, but they are throwing millions into preparing for no deal. Will the Minister take a message back to the Secretary of State that Chequers really has no chance of flying and that, by November, we have to have a deal that is acceptable both to Parliament and to our partners in the EU?

I can agree with the very last part of the statement made by the noble Baroness. Yes, we want a deal that is acceptable to Parliament and acceptable to our partners in the EU.

My noble friend Lord Robathan referred to the possibility of a division between Northern Ireland and the rest of our country. Will the Minister confirm that under no circumstances—no circumstances —will such a division be permitted?

I thank my noble friend, but we have made it very clear to our EU partners that their version of the backstop, which would produce a customs border in the Irish Sea, is completely unacceptable to us. That is why the negotiations are still continuing on that matter.

My Lords, the Minister says that it is unacceptable, but is it not the case that unless a deal is agreed with the European Union, that is exactly what could happen?

My Lords, deal or no deal, does the Minister agree that clamouring for a second referendum erodes the basis of democracy by suggesting that rule by majority is an insufficient condition for democratic legitimacy? Would that therefore lead to a third referendum, and a fourth to verify the third?

I agree with my noble friend that we have had a people’s vote and we are certainly not contemplating a second one. We are going to implement the result of the first referendum in a way that commands the support of this Parliament.

My Lords, the idea of voting eroding democracy is a very new concept. Can the Minister outline how he expects the public to have confidence when Ministers and other government representatives are advising the stockpiling of food and pharmaceuticals, thus causing alarm to many people, particularly those who are dependent on drugs that come through the EU?

We are not advising anyone to stockpile food. I think that the noble Baroness has misconstrued the situation. At the risk of repeating myself, we are negotiating hard for a deal. We expect a deal and we want a deal, but as a responsible Government, we need to prepare for the possibility of a no-deal scenario; namely, either that we cannot reach a deal with the European Union or, alternatively, that Parliament rejects the deal we have negotiated. That is the responsible thing to do. The Liberal Democrats may wish to bury their heads in the sand, but we are taking action to ensure that we are well prepared.

I interpret them in the same way that I interpret all comments made by Michel Barnier. Of course his comments of yesterday are welcome, but they need to be followed up with action. We have produced a proposal in the form of the Chequers proposal. We have set it out in a White Paper and we have transmitted it to our European partners. We are actively talking to other European Governments about it. We have compromised, but if there is to be an agreement, there now needs to be similar movement and compromise on the part of the EU. Actions will speak louder than words.

My Lords, I understand that the Prime Minister is against the idea of having EU customs officials on the UK side of the border. Will that affect the UK immigration officials working in Gare du Nord?

I do not want to go into the specifics of negotiations at the moment, but we are negotiating hard. Clearly, customs is an outstanding area where we need to reach agreement with the European Union. We are looking for pragmatic, sensible solutions.

My Lords, the Government’s papers on preparing for a no-deal scenario stated that to avoid any disruption in trade, all existing trade agreements made under the aegis of the EU will have to be translated into UK law on exit day. Liam Fox said that a second after midnight next March, they will all be ready. Is that still the Government’s position?

The Government’s position is exactly what the Secretary of State for International Trade said.