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Brexit: Article 50

Volume 793: debated on Monday 29 October 2018


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government whether they will (1) withdraw their notice under clauses 2 to 5 of Article 50 of the Treaty on European Union, and (2) offer through the Council of Ministers continuing free trade under the World Trade Organisation, and residence and security to European Union citizens, before agreeing any financial settlement in the Brexit negotiations.

My Lords, the clear position of the Government is that our notice under Article 50 will not be withdrawn. We will be leaving the EU on 29 March 2019, and are negotiating to that timeline. We remain on track to deliver the withdrawal agreement and the future framework, ensuring that there is clarity about the terms of our exit and our shared ambition for the future relationship.

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for that reply, which suggests that the Government have not understood the superior strength of our hand in Brussels, or how to play it.

Are the Government aware that many states, including the United Kingdom, have unilaterally left international treaties some 225 times since 1945? So why do we feel bound by these clauses of Article 50, when they are being used against us?

Can the Government not even see that the—

This is my second question. Can the Government not even see that the Commission’s main aim is to keep the EU project afloat, which our successful exit would further threaten? So why do we go on negotiating with the Commission—

Why do we not try to talk to the real people of Europe, who would benefit far more from the offers in this Question than would we?

That is a slightly strange question from the noble Lord, because of course if we withdrew our notice under Article 50 we would remain members of the EU—which the last time I looked at it, was not the policy of his party. Therefore his other options do not really hold water. We do not unilaterally abrogate treaties in this country. We are a law-abiding nation, we abide by our legal agreements and commitments; and the proper and correct legal way to withdraw from the EU is under Article 50, and that is the process that we are following.

Does my noble friend agree that the Question from the noble Lord seems to be opening the way to a departure from the European Union with no deal at all? Is it not clear that that is not supported not only by your Lordships’ House but by Her Majesty’s Government either?

The noble Lord’s Question would result in us remaining in the EU, if we withdrew our notification under Article 50. Of course the Government do not support a no-deal exit. We are preparing for that unlikely eventuality, as is the responsible thing to do, but we hope to negotiate a good and ambitious deal with the European Union.

My Lords, since the Question is from the noble Lord, Lord Pearson, I would like to know from the Minister whether there has been any progress since the noble Lord, Lord Ahmad, told my noble friend Lady Northover last Wednesday:

“It is important that we review our procedures to ensure that individuals such as Tommy Robinson do not enter the heart of democracy”.—[Official Report, 24/10/18; col. 859.]

It was the noble Lord, Lord Pearson, who hosted this racist, Islamophobic character, who has multiple convictions, to a celebratory lunch after Robinson was released on bail—not acquitted—on a contempt of court charge that has been referred to the Attorney-General, which concerns actions which threatened to derail the Huddersfield trials. Can the Minister tell me when we will see action to ban Tommy Robinson from this House, not least to protect House of Lords staff from having to wait on this man?

My Lords, as far as I am aware, the Government have no policy on the dining companions of the noble Lord, Lord Pearson. I understand that the opinions of the House were made very clear last week but ultimately this is a matter not for the Government but for the House authorities.

My Lords, to return to the Question on the Order Paper—if the House will allow me—do the Government expect to adopt a differing negotiating position on Brexit as a result of the significant number of states which are querying the terms we have with the WTO?

My Lords, back in June the Prime Minister assured us that the transition period in the withdrawal agreement would be time-limited, saying that it would give,

“everyone the certainty that this will not go on for ever”.

Last Monday, however, the Prime Minister told Parliament that we need,

“to create an option to extend the implementation period”.—[Official Report, Commons, 22/10/18; col. 47.]

Given that the Prime Minister wants to bring certainty to the situation, how does the option to extend the transition do that?

As the noble Lord will be aware, the extent and length of the implementation period was agreed. It was green text in the withdrawal agreement. I understand that the possibility of extending it has been raised in the discussions in Brussels but no agreement has been made and discussions on such matters are continuing.

My Lords, since we know that Brexit is valued by the Government at only 50p—which is what they are going to produce on exit day—the question just raised about the WTO schedules is vital. We understand that only 14 of the deals that we have as part of the EU have so far been rolled over. The prospect of the crisis if we crash out without a deal is so serious that is it not time that the Government started paying more attention to getting a deal which is good for the country and acceptable to the House of Commons, rather than spending £150 million on consultants on how to deal with no deal?

We are able to multitask as a Government and we are doing both. We are concentrating all our efforts on getting a good deal but we are also mindful that it may not be possible to get a deal and therefore we are stepping up our preparations for no deal. Actually, the EU is doing the same. I really do not understand the position of the Opposition that we should do nothing at all to prepare for something that has a possibility of happening.

My Lords, is my noble friend able to tell the House whether we have sufficient parliamentary time to scrutinise the primary legislation and the up to 1,000 Brexit-related instruments that the House has to consider and pay proper scrutiny to before 29 March?

Of course, we will not know how much time we have until we actually get a deal but I am sure the Leader and the Chief Whip are paying close attention to the words of my noble friend.

Is it not helpful for the noble Lord, Lord Pearson, to raise these matters in this House? The Government are under attack from all quarters for their handling of the EU negotiations. Indeed, we are now talking about it being six years before the deal is finally completed. It is time that the Government take note of what the people and the press are saying and get on with the job and get us out.

We are taking note of what everyone in this House and in the media are saying. I can assure the noble Lord that we are getting on with the job. We are trying to negotiate the best possible deal and arrangements for our departure from the European Union.