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Brexit: Proposed Agreement

Volume 793: debated on Wednesday 14 November 2018


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government when they anticipate publishing the details of a proposed agreement with the European Union on the terms of the United Kingdom’s withdrawal.

My Lords, a deal is in the interests of not just the UK but the European Union. We want to make progress as soon as possible, but there will not be an agreement at any cost. As the Prime Minister said on Monday, we are now in the end game for negotiations and are working extremely hard to deliver the withdrawal agreement and the future framework.

My Lords, this has turned out to be a really topical Question. Does the Minister recall that the vote that took place in 2016—contrary to what the noble Lord, Lord Bates, said in answer to the noble Viscount, Lord Hailsham—was a vote by the narrow majority to authorise the start of negotiations for withdrawal? Now that we are imminently to be told the terms, surely the choice between leaving the European Union on those terms or the status quo should be put to another people’s vote.

I should congratulate the noble Lord on his foresight in tabling such a Question for such a slow Brexit news day, but perhaps we will be able to enlighten him further. I think that he is totally wrong in what he said and I agree totally with the answer given by my noble friend Lord Bates. We have already had a people’s vote and the people voted to leave. The question on the ballot paper was, “Do you want to leave the European Union or remain in the European Union?” and people said that they wanted to leave.

My Lords, will my noble friend confirm that, if Parliament rejects this agreement—as may well be the case given that the opposition to it spans the vast gulf between a brace of Johnsons—taxpayers will save £40 billion, which could be spent on taxpayers’ priorities? The second consequence is that we would trade on World Trade Organization terms, which should not be frightening. I say that not just because I helped to negotiate the establishment of the WTO but because our trade with countries with which we trade on WTO terms has grown three times as rapidly as our trade with the single market since it was established.

I thank my noble friend for his question. It of course remains the case, because this House passed the withdrawal Act, that if Parliament refuses to agree the withdrawal agreement then we have no deal.

My Lords, Parliament needs to see the actual text; perhaps the Minister can tell us when that will happen—preferably not too far behind the journalists. We already know enough to understand that this is a miserable Brexit; indeed, it is impossible for any Brexit deal to be as good as EU membership. When will the Government be honest about this, stop the disinformation and put it to the people for them to decide?

The noble Baroness says that she wants to see the text, but she has already decided what it says before she has seen it, which is of course typical of the attitude of the Liberal Democrats—they have decided what they believe before they see the final deal. The Cabinet is meeting this afternoon to consider the draft agreement that the negotiating teams have reached in Brussels and will decide on the next steps in the national interest.

My Lords, I congratulate the Minister on trying to bring everyone together. Does he appreciate, and agree, that there are 2 million people who will be much more affected than he or I will be by whatever deal the Government are considering and whatever deal is accepted? They were not allowed to vote in the referendum, but they would be entitled to vote today. Do they not deserve a say?

The people who have a say are those who vote in the referendum or election that you have at the time. You cannot go back to elections and say, “What would the result have been if different numbers of people had taken part?” I reiterate the point my noble friend Lord Bates made: we have already had a people’s vote and people voted to leave. In my view, that is the settled will of the country, and we are implementing that outcome.

My Lords, despite the rumours, the Minister is a fair-minded man. Would he not therefore agree, in answer to the Question from the noble Lord, Lord Foulkes, that, bearing in mind that the Government psychologically lost the mandate to pursue the Brexit negotiations anyway in the 8 June 2017 election, now is the time to reflect the changes in public opinion and the younger voters coming on to the roll, and for the Government to allow Parliament to make that decision about a people’s vote?

I thank the noble Lord for his compliment but no, I do not agree with him. At the general election, both we and the Labour Party stood on manifestos saying that the result of the referendum should be respected. Indeed, the leader of the Opposition confirmed that last week. Over 80% of votes were cast in that general election for parties that said that they would respect the outcome of the referendum.

My Lords, does the Minister agree that, in addition to the 550 pages, the impact assessment should also be made available before this House debates the meaningful vote? Will he also ensure that our committees have time to predigest it so that we can benefit from their advice?

I have discussed this with the noble Baroness before, but following the conclusion of the negotiation and ahead of the meaningful vote we will make available to all Members of the House a full, reasoned position statement laying out both the political and legal position of the Government on the proposed withdrawal agreement, including any protocols that might be attached to it.

My Lords, while I endorse what the noble Baroness just said, is this not a time when we should remember that it is always a mistake to rush to judgment? We have not seen this document yet; I await it with great interest. It is important that we have proper time to consider it. But we also have to bear in mind that in negotiations there has to be compromise on both sides. If those who have been ramping up the rhetoric in another place would only be calm for a week or two, we might come to a considered judgment.

I agree with my noble friend; a little calmness on all sides would help a lot. But it is amazing to see the number of people rushing to judge something that they have not read yet.

My Lords, to have a meaningful vote, the House of Commons has insisted that it must have full information on the legal implications, impact assessments and future economic projections, otherwise it will not be meaningful. None of that was available at the time of the last referendum. In the event of a logjam in Parliament, which seems at least possible, why will the Government not allow the people, in the light of all that information, to have the final say on this issue?

I set out in my reply to the noble Baroness, Lady Hayter, what information we will make available. Of course, the House of Commons needs to come to its judgment in the light of all the available information and studies, and we will provide that. But I reiterate that we will not hold a second referendum; we have already had one, the people reached their view and we are implementing that view.