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Brexit: Government Position

Volume 793: debated on Monday 12 November 2018


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty's Government what statement on Brexit they will present to the next meeting of heads of state or government of the European Union.

My Lords, our position has always been the same. We want to get a deal, as soon as possible, agreed in the autumn. We will continue to work constructively and intensively, together with the EU, to make this happen. Some 95% of the withdrawal agreement is now agreed, with 5% still outstanding on the issue of the backstop. We also have broad agreement on the structure and scope of the future relationship.

My Lords, I quote:

“The UK is making a spectacular demonstration of how to make a fool of yourself with the entire world looking on”.

Those are the wise words of a leading European journalist writing in the UK press on 6 November. Armed as they are also by the wise words of Jo Johnson, does the Minister not yet grasp the reality that the Government are leading this great country to an unforgettable disaster?

I profoundly disagree with the noble Lord. Against repeated challenges throughout the last two years, the Government have been able consistently to produce evidence of good progress. The 95% to which I referred is not imaginary. A number of your Lordships attended the briefing meeting for Peers last week; it was a very constructive discussion at which we looked at the recent White Paper, and that is a most substantive document. The Government have shown determination and conviction and are straining every fibre with the EU to get an agreement.

In wishing the Chief Whip a happy 75th birthday, can we also congratulate him on not having received a resignation from the noble Lord, Lord Callanan, today, despite ministerial resignations being all the rage elsewhere? More seriously, on a day when the former Foreign Secretary calls for a mutiny despite the whole country remembering what a country united can do in the cause of peace, can the Minister confirm that the Government will never allow a no-deal exit which, it is now abundantly clear, would be a complete disaster?

The noble Baroness will be very well aware of the Government’s position. We want a deal, and we believe that we can get a deal. That is what we are trying to achieve and are negotiating for with great energy. Neither the UK nor the EU wants a no deal but, as is entirely appropriate and sensible, the Government have made preparations for a no-deal scenario. The noble Baroness will be aware of what those preparations are, and of the various notices that have been issued and the other discussions that have been engaged upon. I was rather struck by her reference to ministerial resignations. If I am correct, at the last count, reportedly, the number of resignations from Jeremy Corbyn’s Front Bench has topped 100. I very much hope that the noble Baroness will not be adding to those.

My Lords, does my noble friend agree that not only has a great deal of progress been made so far but everything hinges on the final details and the neuralgic points, and that until those have been resolved and we know exactly what the Prime Minister is bringing back and exactly what has been agreed, it is quite futile to take up a position and attack the Government on what is as yet not known? Therefore, the best thing to do is to leave Ministers to negotiate and then to form a judgment.

My noble friend undoubtedly speaks with huge authoritative experience and with great wisdom. There were two certainties at the beginning of this process. One was that the negotiations would go to the wire; the other was that not everybody would be content with the progress of the negotiations. However, we are awaiting the outcome and remain very optimistic.

My Lords, it is rare that I disagree with the noble Lord, Lord Tugendhat, but I fear that on this occasion I have to make an exception. Should the Minister, and indeed the Prime Minister, not recognise that the views of Johnson and Johnson are perhaps accurate—that the Prime Minister has managed to unite remainers and leavers in an understanding that the deal likely to be on offer will be worse than remaining—and that it is time to look again and perhaps conclude that leaving is not really necessary?

I repeat what I said earlier and reaffirm what my noble friend Lord Tugendhat has just said. These are sensitive negotiations. Everyone can see that significant progress has been made—if some people were honest, they would say unexpected progress, but that progress is substantive and real. We are very optimistic that we can get a deal but these are sensitive times and we must be sure that we do nothing to imperil these negotiations.

My Lords, does the Minister agree that the noble Lord, Lord Dykes, was somewhat harsh in his Question when you consider that he is talking about the next Heads of State meeting, yet Her Majesty’s Government have had to cancel tomorrow’s Cabinet meeting because they cannot agree a position to put to it? So Mr Dykes has been too harsh on the Heads of State.

It is Lord Dykes. I thank the noble Lord, Lord Tomlinson, for his question. He might have a crystal ball, which I do not possess. All I can do is reaffirm that the negotiations are live and energetic. People will be aware of how extensive they were yesterday, reaching into the small hours of this morning. These negotiations are happening and we remain very hopeful that there will be a good outcome for the UK.

My Lords, at these difficult and delicate moments do we not all, whether we are leavers or remainers—the House knows that I was very sad when the referendum went the way that it did—have an obligation to follow the advice of my noble friend Lord Tugendhat, and should not his strictures apply particularly to members of the Cabinet? They should exercise Cabinet responsibility until a result has been determined and then we can all make up our minds on it.

My noble friend speaks with wisdom, for a great many people. This is a time for hard-headed focus, holding firm, holding our nerve and keeping calm. It also a time for respecting, implementing and demonstrating collective responsibility.

My Lords, is not the Minister being completely disingenuous when she says that 95% has been agreed because the 5%—the Irish backstop and its relationship to the single market and the customs union—is key? It is that which unites the Johnson brothers in agreeing that it would be vassalage to take all the EU rules without any say in them. That is why we need a people’s vote for people to reassess their opinions.

In response to the noble Baroness’s latter point, I say no we do not. I take the view that we had a vote. Like many, I was disappointed—it was not what I chose as an outcome but it is what happened. In Scotland we have a real sensitivity to referenda and what it means to have a referendum. By golly, I expect the result of a referendum to be respected. That is what the Government are doing. The Government have put forward a very substantive proposal to the EU. I do not agree with the noble Baroness—I think that 95% agreed is excellent news. I do not dispute that the remaining 5% is tough but at the same time the Government are the only ones who have put a workable proposal on the table and that is what we are arguing very determinedly for.