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Brexit: European Union’s No-deal Continuity Arrangements

Volume 798: debated on Thursday 13 June 2019


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what announcements the European Union has made regarding continuity arrangements for (1) air travel, (2) haulage, (3) visas, and (4) safety certificates, should the United Kingdom leave the European Union without a deal; and what steps they have taken to give reciprocal assurances.

My Lords, the EU has adopted time-limited regulations covering the aviation market access and safety certificates, as well as road haulage and international rail. The EU has also announced visa-free travel for UK nationals travelling to the EU for short stays after exit. The Government have given reciprocal assurances in each of these four areas, which will provide certainty to businesses and citizens should the UK leave the EU without a deal.

I thank my noble friend for her reply. Since Britain may well leave the EU with no withdrawal agreement, is it not reassuring that these reciprocal mini-deals, and many others, mean that planes will fly, hauliers will operate, Airbus wings will be exported and visa-free travel will continue? Will she also confirm that HMRC plans no extra checks at Dover and will prioritise flow over compliance, while France is so determined not to lose trade to Belgian and Dutch ports that it has installed multiple extra lorry lanes at Calais, located inspection points away from the ports and installed equipment to scan moving trains, so that the likelihood of congestion and delays has vastly diminished, to the obvious disappointment of the Liberal Democrat Benches?

The noble Lord is right in that the mini-deals make any potential exit from the EU without a deal less difficult. But they are, as I have said, time-limited and there will need to be further negotiations when they expire. With regard to Dover, the Government are working to enable cross-channel traffic and goods to continue to move as freely as possible. Government departments have designed customs and additional control arrangements at the UK border in a way which ensures that goods will be able to flow into and out of the country, and will not be delayed by additional controls. It is true that on the other side of the channel, the French customs authorities have pulled their finger out and installed additional control points. These mean that delays on this side of the channel will be less; however, they will not disappear completely and we therefore cannot expect trade to continue precisely as it did before.

What will be the consequences for air and road haulage traffic between the UK and the EU under no deal if further arrangements beyond the time-limited period are not agreed with the EU, perhaps because we have, for example, declined to pay the £39 billion currently provided for on our departure from the EU?

The noble Lord is quite right that there are multiple mini-deals. They expire at different times and we will look to the EU to extend them. It is in the EU’s gift to decide whether to extend them, as it is in our gift to decide whether to reciprocate. Any elements of the arrangements surrounding our withdrawal will, I believe, impact on our ability to negotiate these agreements.

Will the Minister confirm that these are not mini-deals but basic contingency measures, as the Commission itself has defined them? Some will require continuing legislative reciprocity from the UK, which we have not put on the statute book at the moment. They will cover a period of only six months and, as the Commission said, provide for only “basic connectivity” and,

“mitigate to some extent the impact of withdrawal, without however guaranteeing the continuation of all existing air transport services under the same terms as they are supplied today”.

Is it not an outrage that some candidates to be our Prime Minister will receive votes today from Conservative MPs while proposing to enforce this by suspending Parliament, if Parliament does not agree that some of these measures are not in the best interests of our haulage or aviation sectors?

The noble Lord can call these deals what he likes—he mentioned mini-deals—but I would call them the EU air connectivity regulation and EU regulation 2019/501, the basic road freight connectivity regulation. He said that they would mean that transport cannot continue as it does now but the key point, looking at the detail of the deal, is that it is substantially as it is now. However, he is quite right that were these regulations to fall away, which they do on varying dates for various forms of transport, it will be necessary to look hard at what we do thereafter.

My Lords, does the Minister recall the Government’s Written Answer to me on 6 February this year, which said that if we end up trading on normal WTO most favoured nation terms, EU exporters will pay us £14 billion per annum, while ours will pay Brussels only £6 billion per annum? Might some of that £8 billion annual profit not be useful in subsidising any unforeseen costs arising from leaving the EU without a deal, with billions to spare for other national priorities?

Unfortunately, I do not recall the Government’s response to the noble Lord of 6 February. Discussions of tariffs are slightly beyond the original scope of the Question, but we expect the EU’s most favoured nation tariff regime to apply to the UK if the UK leaves the EU without a deal. Noble Lords are also aware that this will result in the introduction of tariffs on 60% of current UK exports to the EU.

My Lords, given that all the leading contenders for the leadership of the Conservative Party have made clear that it is important the European Union understands that we are prepared to leave without a deal if we cannot get a sensible agreement, would it not be sensible for the Government to publish, for each department, what plans are in place, how they need to operate and what future additions will be required?

As my noble friend mentioned, I am sure the EU fully understands that the UK is willing to leave without a deal. Indeed, it is the legal default and it may be that we have no option. The Government are also undergoing extensive contingency planning in the event that we leave with no deal. Further details of that will be available shortly.

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Lilley, said that the intention was to “prioritise flow over compliance”. I refer to my interests in the register on these matters. Does that mean the Government are prepared to tolerate unsafe goods, those that violate intellectual property laws and everything else coming into this country, simply to facilitate the mantra of no deal?

The Government will certainly not tolerate that. That is why we have designed customs and additional control arrangements to make sure that appropriate checks are made.