Motion to Consider
The Motion was considered in a Virtual Proceeding via video call.
My Lords, it is more than a year since this report was published, since when the world has changed beyond recognition. The pandemic has compelled us to reset financial and social policies and has driven reappraisal of our nation’s place among and beyond its immediate neighbours.
Even before it struck, we had in some sense resolved our national political crisis about Brexit. Just as our committee was reporting in March last year, Britain was forced to extend the departure date; this was followed by a change of Prime Minister, involved recasting the withdrawal agreement, and then saw the election of a Government with a clear majority and a mandate to get Brexit done. This report, which focuses on how the UK can maximise its influence with the EU post Brexit, is now being debated after we have formally left the EU but while the terms of our future relationship are still to be settled.
I retain in all this, I hope, some sense of proportion, yet there have been other domestic changes that set the context for this debate. It marks a coda personally, as I have retired from the chair of the EU Committee after more than seven years; and I am very grateful to the new chair, the noble Earl, Lord Kinnoull—if I may say, an admirable choice by this House—for his courtesy in inviting me to take the lead on this, my last bow. At the same time, I would like to thank members of the committee across the House for their dedication to, and expertise in, objective scrutiny, matched by the contribution of our excellent committee staff and, of course, our many diplomatic, official, academic and policy interlocutors. I would like in particular to thank the Senior Deputy Speaker, the noble Lord, Lord McFall, both for his careful work in reviewing our committee structures in the changed situation and for the contribution he made by convening the Interparliamentary Forum on Brexit, which has helped to develop mutual sympathy and understanding with the devolved legislatures. Finally, I welcome the presence of the Minister and of the many noble Lords who will contribute.
On re-reading the report, I have been struck by the sheer complexity of the process of disengagement set out in the withdrawal instruments and summarised in our Appendix 2. Not least among these are the most sensitive issues concerning Northern Ireland, where there were significant modifications in the revised protocol agreed after our report, but where there is still no agreement on how it will be implemented, partly because of the pandemic.
The report focuses on three main areas: first, the formal mechanisms for UK-EU engagement set out in the withdrawal agreement, notably the joint committee and the specialised committees that report to it; secondly, less formal mechanisms for engagement, including the UK’s potential participation in the work of EU agencies and programmes, the role of the UK Mission to the EU, now known as UKMis, and other UK offices and organisations in Brussels; and thirdly, the matter of interparliamentary engagement, which the noble Earl, Lord Kinnoull, will also touch on.
Whatever view one might take of any extension to the transition period, the pandemic coupled with the Government’s oft-stated distaste for any extension have compressed the timetable, and we now have fewer than 50 days before the June summit deadline. There is a need to clarify the arrangements applicable until the end of this calendar year, and their relationship with those that will follow, which the Government have indicated will depend on the structure of any future relationship. To date, the public have seen remarkably little effect from our formal withdrawal, and the pandemic has left little bandwidth in government to focus on the issues. These include governance and management of the remaining period of transition and, crucially the shape of any future relationship as it affects both trade and institutions. It would be very helpful if the Minister could today give us an appraisal of progress made in the talks, in spite of deadlines and the physical difficulties of communication, both in respect of trade and wider issues, with perhaps also an indication about how UKMis is working and ensuring that the collective UK voice and interests are represented in Brussels.
An important chapter in the report deals with the role of parliamentarians themselves. Over 50 years ago, long before I entered Parliament, I first visited the then EEC in Brussels. I was described at the time, rather generously, as “un expert anglais”, and I have been in and out of various European institutions and settings frequently ever since. Of course, parliamentarians are rarely inclined to take a unified position—it is through their divergence of view and diversity of experience that they make their distinctive contribution—but we all need to remain alert to all the opportunities for influence, networking and even simple personal friendships that will remain open to us.
This is no time to burn bridges or haul up the drawbridge. While for now we all understand that social distancing is important, conscious political self-isolation will never be a long-term goal. We must look to all aspects of our international relationships, both in Europe and wider afield. The pandemic reminds us that just as no man is an island, so our island nation, now rebranded as “Global Britain”, is built and thrives on constructive economic and political relationships.
As is typical in the immediate aftermath of a divorce, relations with the EU are frankly tense and difficult at the moment, and may stay that way for some time to come. But geography means that we will always be neighbours, with centuries of complex shared history. At some stage—the sooner the better—the current tensions and disagreements will dissipate and a new relationship will need to be forged. Both sides will need to work hard to rebuild it. The onus is on our Parliament to play its part, and I am confident that this House, not least through the skill and dedication of its continuing EU Committee, will continue to do so. In that spirit, and conscious that many other noble Lords wish to contribute, I beg to move.
My Lords, given the time limit, I will deal with just one issue in the report: the role of the devolved nations in the transition process.
It was about two decades ago, when I was Minister of State for Scotland, that I used to meet frequently with Scottish Ministers, on issues such as free personal care and the Barnett formula. We did not always agree, of course—as my noble friend Lord McConnell will no doubt confirm—but we had discussions, on a day-to-day, week-to-week basis. Where are the Secretary of State for Scotland, Alister Jack, and his deputy, Douglas Ross, now? Why are they not discussing this? Of course the UK relationship with the EU is central, but there needs to be an acknowledgement that the devolved nations are also impacted and should be involved in discussions regularly. As we have seen, their lack of involvement in the coronavirus pandemic has resulted in confusion over the messages, whether it is “Stay at Home” or “Stay Alert”, and, even more importantly, around the practical measures being implemented in all the four countries.
As the UK takes the lead on UK-EU relations, will the Minister today spell out exactly how, in practical terms, the Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland Governments will be involved? A continuation of the sporadic arm’s-length involvement will result in confusion, delay and bitterness. If the Minister agrees with me, as I think he does, that we favour the continuation of our United Kingdom, he and this Government are certainly going the wrong way about it.
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Boswell, for all he has done to lead the European Union Committee with such skill and dedication. However, I note that aiming to “win friends and influence people” does not seem to be the UK’s strategy in its current negotiations with the EU. We hear that the Government almost seem to want them to fail, with lasting damage on both sides.
Leaving the EU with no deal, or an inadequate deal, is the next major crisis we may face. We could not stop a pandemic hitting the United Kingdom; we can stop the damage that would result from crashing out of transition on 31 December. At the height of this pandemic, surely the Government must extend the transition period.
As this report indicated, so long ago now, we need to relearn how to work constructively with our neighbours, with whom we share the closest approach to global challenges. With Trump in the White House and China increasingly dominant, the EU must play a major global role. As Sir Ivan Rogers pointed out, we will need to do more than ever before to make our new relationship work. That will need engagement from the very top.
We have another global crisis threatening us: climate change. A vaccine will not take that away. The Government have said that they wish to work with the EU on issues such as this. We used to maximise our influence by leading in the EU; now, we need to ensure that we are at least involved. That will be a difficult, but essential, task.
This report laid out some of the ways in which we can stay informed and engaged. I hope that it does not fall on deaf ears.
My Lords, while there is not time for the usual courtesies, I must begin by thanking my predecessor as chair, the noble Lord, Lord Boswell of Aynho, for his long service to the committee and his excellent and hugely informative opening speech; it was a fitting swan-song.
I shall focus only on the institutional structure for the future EU relationship, and in particular its parliamentary dimension. Our relationship with the EU—its 27 member states and 450 million citizens—will be complex, and a relationship of such complexity will need structure. Within that structure, the parliamentary dimension will be vital: to support dialogue, to build relationships and to promote transparency.
There are many precedents on which we could draw in designing such a body: for instance, the British-Irish Parliamentary Assembly or the Council of Europe Parliamentary Assembly. There are also precedents on the EU side. Indeed, the EU’s March draft agreement included a clause setting up a parliamentary partnership assembly, made up of representatives of this Parliament and the European Parliament. While I do not agree with every word of the EU’s proposal, I welcome it as a starting point.
When questioned by my committee on 5 May, Michael Gove agreed that
“engagement, discussion and dialogue between parliamentarians is always a good thing”,
but insisted that it was not for the Government to
“prescribe exactly how Parliament chooses to operate.”
The Government have placed the onus on Parliament to respond to the EU’s initiative. I understand the constitutional propriety of that position, but how, given the large Commons majority, is Parliament to act unless the Government take the lead?
As chair of your Lordships’ committee charged with considering EU matters, I believe very strongly that we need to establish a structured interparliamentary dialogue as part of the future relationship. Indeed, the committee supports that. My question to the Minister is: how exactly do the Government expect Parliament to signal its support for an interparliamentary body? Will a report from my committee be sufficient? Or a joint enterprise with the Committee on the Future Relationship with the European Union in the House of Commons? I am happy to do whatever it takes to try to break this logjam and I ask the Minister for his help.
My Lords, we must consider this report in light of the global pandemic. Decisions about our future relationship with the EU must be informed by Covid-19, recognising our international interdependence rather than being driven by ideology. Our European neighbours remain our friends and allies. This must continue for the sake of all, and especially for vulnerable children.
Concluding talks by the deadline under present circumstances will be very challenging. I am particularly concerned about the impact on refugee children and our continued co-operation with European nations through the Dublin Regulation. Can the Minister outline the Government’s plans to ensure separated asylum-seeking children in Europe continue to be reunited with family members in the UK, whatever happens to negotiations?
I am anxious too about the impact on vulnerable children who are already here. The success of the EU settled status scheme may be compromised by the pandemic. Local authorities have a duty to apply for their looked-after children. However, the Children’s Society found that just one in 10 of local authorities’ looked-after children has been awarded status. Considering Covid-19, what assessment have Her Majesty’s Government made of the feasibility that all looked-after children will have applied to the EUSS by June 2021?
We must consider whether we can achieve a new, fruitful, negotiated relationship with the EU by December under current constraints. Will the Government set out criteria against which Parliament can evaluate the progress of negotiations? Do the Government accept that any trade deal must be negotiated by October at the latest if it is to be ratified before the deadline? At this time, when businesses are facing significant economic uncertainty, we must be mindful that these negotiations are an additional source of concern.
My Lords, I begin by paying tribute to my noble friend Lord Boswell of Aynho. He gave an exemplary, statesmanlike speech today. Two minutes does not give anyone a proper chance to develop an argument. I wish to make a plea and a point.
The plea is to my noble friend Lord True, who will respond to this debate. I beg him not to be as dogmatic and dismissive as he was in what I believe was the last debate on this general subject in the Chamber on 16 March. In that debate, I suggested that Covid was transforming the political and economic landscape and that to insist on ending the transition period on 31 December was neither necessary nor wise. I believe that everything that has happened in the weeks since that debate has underlined the good sense of that attitude.
The point I wish to make is this: I urge colleagues in all parts of the House to be alert to the dangers we face and the fact that our negotiations with the EU are not at the top of the agenda, either here in the UK or in the EU. We in the United Kingdom have troubles enough at the moment without risking, let alone choosing, the no-deal conclusion to the transition period.
My Lords, I agree with everything the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, said, and in particular I underline his tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Boswell. I was a member of the European Union Select Committee for much of the time the noble Lord, Lord Boswell, was chairman. His was a very wise chairmanship; I learned a lot from him, and I am very grateful to him.
I want to make one simple point in these brief remarks. If we are to have influence in the world, it is very important—this is a key point, which the report stresses—that we build strong co-operation with other nations through institutions. Institutions matter to outcomes in foreign affairs. They create frameworks for regular meetings, they bring officials together, they facilitate instinctive mutual understanding of where other countries stand, and they make common positions easier to forge. I find it very depressing that the Government, in their drastic hardening of Brexit policy, have turned their back on institutional co-operation. They have rejected the possibility of a mechanism for co-operation in foreign affairs, refusing to talk about it. They have rejected an overarching framework for our relationship with the EU through an association agreement.
Gone completely is Mrs May’s notion of a deep and special partnership with the EU. It has been consigned to the dustbin of history. I am sorry to be harsh, and I hope that the Minister will tell me that I am wrong, but I do not think so.
My Lords, I hope that the Minister can give us some evidence that the Government are concerned to win friends in Europe now that we have left the EU. February’s white paper on the future relationship with the EU left out the references to last October’s political declaration agreeing to an
“overarching institutional framework … for ambitious, close and lasting cooperation”
in foreign policy and defence, cybersecurity, civil protection and health security. I note the unwise omission, in February, of co-operation in health security. Now, the protection of national sovereignty overrides questions of national interests and how we might promote national interests through co-operation.
The declared intention is to turn away from Europe. The Prime Minister told Parliament on 3 February that:
“We are free to reinvigorate our ties with old allies”,—[Official Report, Commons, 3/2/20; col. 25.]
as if EU membership had cut us off from other partners. We are leaving behind our oldest ally in the EU, Portugal, and we are leaving France, with which we now share a significant military deployment in Saharan Africa which the Government have told Parliament little about so far. We are putting political and economic relations with the United States first and foremost, even though we differ from Washington on an increasing number of important global issues.
This Government have no foreign policy. Beneath the empty phrase “global Britain” are buried illusions about a buccaneering Britain in a free-trading world, released from the shackles of a declining Europe. The current Foreign Secretary has made no attempt to build friendly bilateral relations with our European neighbours, nor has the Prime Minister. But the long history of British foreign policy has been centred on conflict and co-operation with our European neighbours. Now, 120 years after the Marquess of Salisbury stepped down as Conservative Prime Minister, splendid isolation is back.
My Lords, in the last few weeks, Ministers in both Houses have repeatedly been asked a series of straightforward questions about the ongoing EU-UK negotiations. They most often include: transparency, specifically of draft legal texts; the establishment of proper inter-parliamentary channels between the UK and the European Parliament; the role of Covid-19 in hampering the progress of negotiations, and the wisdom of delaying the end date of 31 December in the interests of reaching a mutually satisfactory free trade agreement; and adherence to the European Convention on Human Rights and the rulings of the European Court. Apart from the last issue, the three other questions have been met with obfuscation, half-answers and non-answers. The Government’s aim, constantly reiterated, is to finalise departure by the end of this year by any means and at any cost.
The distance between the time available to reach a satisfactory FTA and the need to abide by the legal requirement to allow Parliament to scrutinise draft agreements is absurdly short, so much so that it appears that, despite the UK Government’s statement to the contrary, a no-deal agreement on World Trade Organization terms is anticipated. That would be a disaster. The Government’s own model and that of independent experts predict that leaving without a trade deal would cost between 6% and 9% of GDP—approximately £2,500 per UK citizen. The cost to the Treasury would be in the region of £60 billion, which is one and half times our spending on defence.
May I ask the Minister three simple and direct questions? Will Parliament be allowed full access to the details of current negotiations, including draft legal texts, and when? If there is no agreement in sight by the end of July 2020, will the Government be content to reach December without an FTA? Finally, have the Government, following Operation Yellowhammer, updated arrangements in the event of a no-deal final exit from the EU?
My Lords, I wish to make two brief points relating to Northern Ireland and Ireland.
Northern Ireland has, of course, been central to the Brexit negotiations since the referendum in 2016, and as an adviser at the Northern Ireland Office I was involved in many discussions on those matters. Yet during my time I became dismayed at how much the European Commission seemed to view Northern Ireland almost exclusively through the green-tinged lenses of the Irish Government and nationalist politicians. Indeed, at a meeting I attended with Monsieur Barnier in June 2018, I found myself calmly having to explain to him what was actually meant by the consent provisions in the Belfast agreement and why they did not turn Northern Ireland into a hybrid state. It was I, regret to say, a meeting that might have turned even the noble Lords, Lord Hannay and Lord Kerr, into rabid Brexiteers.
I do not wish to denigrate the excellent efforts of our officials in Brussels, but whenever there was a difference of nuance between us and the Irish on Northern Ireland or the agreement, the Commission invariably tended towards the Irish view. Outside the EU, attention therefore needs to be given to how the UK Government, as the sovereign Government in Northern Ireland, can communicate their position much more effectively with the European Commission.
Secondly, as we move beyond Brexit, our relationship with our nearest neighbour, Ireland, becomes more important than ever. Our bilateral relationship has improved massively in recent years, which I warmly welcome, and it needs to be strengthened further. Strand 3 of the Belfast agreement contains institutions—the British-Irish Intergovernmental Conference and the British-Irish Council—designed to promote closer co-operation, although the BIIGC tends to focus more on Northern Ireland. We need to look at how these institutions can be developed or at whether new and bespoke ones are needed. I have an open mind on that, but as we move beyond Brexit, it needs to happen.
My thanks to the noble Lord, Lord Boswell, for this debate. I will ask the Minister five quick questions about the yawning gap between the EU’s and the UK’s negotiating positions on the future relationship. First, the political declaration agreed sets out the basis for the future relationship, but while the European Commission’s position on the negotiations in February adopts the same structure as the political declaration, the UK’s negotiating objectives are markedly different. Can the Minister explain why the political declaration framework was so quickly surrendered?
Secondly, can the Minister confirm whether Gibraltar is included in the territorial scope of the agreement automatically, or will it require, as the Commission believes, the prior agreement of Spain to be included?
Thirdly, the EU sees the future EU/UK relationship being encapsulated in an association agreement, which the political declaration also mentions favourably. Is that the UK’s aim as well?
Fourthly, the political declaration agreed to forge an economic partnership that will be underpinned
“by provisions ensuring a level playing field for open and fair competition”.
Does that remain the UK Government’s explicit objective, as they signed up to in the political declaration?
Fifthly, on state aid, the UK wants its own regime of subsidy control, but everyone accepts that state aid rules will continue to apply to firms in Northern Ireland after transition, as well as to UK mainland firms with employment activities inside Northern Ireland. Will the Minister acknowledge that the UK’s so-called regime of subsidy control will be available and apply to only some UK companies, and far from all?
Finally, we are, as we all know, in the midst of a global crisis of proportions unimaginable just a few weeks ago. With such chasms between the parties on the future relationship discussions, so much attention rightly focused elsewhere and so much catastrophic disruption of our lives already baked into the next 12 months, how can it be anything other than reckless to proceed on the existing timescale for concluding a transition deal?
My Lords, when I saw the title of the report that we are debating, which has been so excellently introduced by my noble friend Lord Boswell, I wondered whether our esteemed EU Select Committee was pulling our collective leg. Then I saw the date of the report—March last year—and realised that it was addressed to a different Government in a different Parliament and, shamefully, not debated when it should have been ahead of our leaving the EU this January.
The negotiations on our new partnership—I use the word to which we committed ourselves in the political declaration, not the Government’s reductive terminology of a free trade agreement—have begun, but so far they seem to be more a dialogue of the deaf than a prelude to a partnership. The Government seem to be applying social distancing to that political declaration, which provided an agreed framework.
Of the bones of contention so far identified, that of the level playing field is, in a way, bizarre, because we agreed in the political declaration to the following wording:
“Given the Union and the United Kingdom’s geographic proximity and economic interdependence, the future relationship must ensure open and fair competition, encompassing robust commitments to ensure a level playing field.”
Do the Government recognise that statement as one to which we subscribed?
Then, there is the Government’s determination to avoid an overall agreement out of a desire, apparently, to guard against the withdrawal of concessions in a different sector from the one in dispute. I fear that is futile and doomed to failure. Why? Because under the Swiss deal the EU has done exactly that, when it found that the Swiss were moving away from free movement and the EU withdrew access to Erasmus and research co-operation.
Thirdly, there is the implementation of the Irish protocol to the withdrawal agreement. Does anyone believe that checks and controls can be avoided? Obviously, there will be light ones, but none at all?
I fear that the verdict has to be that we are winning few friends and influencing few people. Why do we not just exempt the rest of the EU from the possible quarantine arrangements if they come here by aeroplane?
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Boswell, for this excellent report. Reading it provides a clear reminder of how intertwined the UK is with the EU. After more than 40 years of membership, that is not surprising, but the report is also a reminder of how many issues have to be settled if our final split from the 27 is to be relatively smooth.
The political declaration refers to three overarching areas where agreement is necessary: the economic partnership, the security partnership and the institutional arrangements. Achieving agreement on all that by the end of this year was never going to be easy but Covid-19 has rendered it virtually impossible. Governments have had to give their full attention to a single priority—tackling the virus—but even if the current fragmentary negotiations could produce a consensus, business simply will not be able to cope with the radical changes that final departure must bring.
The UK is no longer a member of the EU—that is not up for debate—but we need to remain in lockstep for a little while longer. Business cannot cope with sorting out the effects of the virus while simultaneously preparing for a new, but as yet unknown, relationship with the EU. The transition period must be extended, as many noble Lords have said; the sooner that happens, the better for business. The Government have said that they will not ask for an extension, in part because business needs the certainty of the December deadline. That is simply nonsense. There is no certainty in a departure into the unknown. The EU 27 share the pressures that a December rupture would create. An extension is in their interests too. If we wish to remain friends with the EU, let alone retain influence in it, a request for an extension must happen immediately. In the light of the changes wrought by Covid, why do the Government refuse to contemplate an extension?
My Lords, as a former MEP, I should consider a two-minute speech a luxury.
I will focus on a single point that the report does not cover in detail: climate change. The UK has been an active—indeed, a leading—participant in the EU’s endeavours to address climate change. With the postponement of the COP 26 gathering in Glasgow for another year, we have an opportunity to reconcile and resolve our relationship with the EU. There are certain elements on which we can do good, and there are certain areas where, by sharing, we can help all countries in the EU. We are in the middle of a crisis in terms of the pandemic, but perhaps the greater challenge going forward is how to interweave our ambitions to address the wider challenges of climate change.
I am specifically concerned about our relationship with the Emissions Trading Scheme. I would welcome some detail on that, perhaps not at this moment but in the future. I believe that we have an opportunity at COP 26 in Glasgow to demonstrate leadership, but we should do so together with the EU. Together, we can achieve more, particularly on climate change.
My Lords, like other noble Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Boswell, for his chairmanship of your Lordships’ EU Select Committee. Through his personality and role, he was able to demonstrate how one can win friends and influence people. The role of individuals, as well as that of Parliaments, is important in co-operation and building relationships.
In its excellent report, the committee noted that the UK
“will need to adapt quickly, working harder and more strategically to make use of all available tools to maximise its voice in Brussels and beyond. This in turn requires a long-term commitment, of energy, time and financial and human resources.”
Does the Minister believe that Her Majesty’s Government are delivering on those requirements, particularly in the context of the Covid-19 crisis?
The Government’s report clearly says that
“changes have been made in Brussels.”
Can the Minister explain the nature of those changes? What advice have the Government sought on the best mission for a third country to have in Brussels? For example, have the Government taken advice from our friends in Iceland or Norway, who have extensive experience of being third countries?
Finally, do the Government accept that, to be influential, we need to go beyond the sterile debates that we have had so far—perhaps also beyond Pontignano and Königswinter? They do not contribute, on their own, to civil society. Will the Government commit to supporting exchange mechanisms and the continuation of schemes such as Erasmus?
My Lords, as others have suggested, a lot of water has flowed under the bridge since this report was published. Indeed, that large amount of water is—metaphorically speaking —now sitting behind a dam wall while we all wait to see whether the wall will hold or the dam will burst at the end of this year.
As a former MEP, I am conscious of the critical situation that exists between the UK and the EU. It is clear to most people that it is vital that we reach agreements covering many things, including the environment, trade, agriculture and fisheries and security. The last is of particular interest to me, as it is where I was involved for many years in my work in the European Union. It is vital to ensure a strong level of co-operation between member states to protect their citizens.
The Government seem confident that in these and other areas we can achieve good outcomes quickly. In security there can be no maybe. We cannot afford to leave any vacuum, especially if the virus crisis produces more opportunities for those who might do us harm.
No number of treaties, protocols, understandings and agreements can suffice alone. To ensure good and harmonious relationships with our European neighbours in future, we must really want that from our hearts as well as our heads. Many young people especially look to a future in which Europeans can continue to enjoy each other’s company and benefit from shared interests and aspirations.
In the next few weeks and months, we need to display not only negotiating skills but a high level of positivism, good nature, diplomacy and pragmatism. I really hope that our leaders will deliver on that.
My Lords, I join those who have paid tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Boswell, for this very helpful—indeed, excellent—report. I take this opportunity to say how much we should all appreciate his dedicated work on the European scene for so long.
The work of the European committees becomes more important than ever. It is vital. I am totally convinced that Governments will be judged in history by their effectiveness in playing a dynamic part in international co-operation. The first reality of life—of humanity itself—is that we are, demonstrably, totally interdependent. We must therefore face the fact that the major issues that affect us—Covid-19, climate change, security, Ireland, migration or economic stability—cannot be successfully handled but on an international, co-operative basis.
I am concerned: where is the evidence that the Government understand this and have made it central to their whole approach to governance? For example, what is the evidence of what the Government are doing with European allies to combat the ugly and sinister jingoistic nationalism that is now, unfortunately, raising its head again in Europe, the United States and elsewhere in the world?
It is on international co-operation and effectiveness—not least with our European allies, although we are no longer part of the European Union—that our future depends. Anything less is to betray our people.
My Lords, I compliment the European Union Committee and my noble friend Lord Boswell on this report. I agree with all that it says, but I suggest that it should have said more, especially about the continued participation of the UK in the new European education, science and innovation programmes. These programmes include Erasmus, which was mentioned by the noble Baroness, Lady Smith, and Horizon Europe and those of the European Research Council and the European Research Infrastructure Consortium. In this report the words “Erasmus” and “Horizon” appear only in footnotes and in a diagram, although reference is made to the European Union Committee’s comprehensive report published in February 2019 on Erasmus and Horizon. Overall, however, this report does not give them the prominence they deserve.
Our future competitiveness as a modern nation will depend to a huge extent on the skills of our citizens in all spheres of endeavour, and our economic survival will rely on the application of modern advances in engineering and science. It seems we have successfully negotiated our continuance in Horizon 2020 through to its conclusion in 2021, but the situation with Horizon Europe remains unclear. That programme has a budget of €100 billion and even more important than the money will be our involvement in the partnerships that it would provide. Modern advances in science, and especially in innovation, can be made only through collaboration. It is an inherently global activity and success is strongly influenced by proximity, so a large fraction of our collaborations have been with our European neighbours. Our engineers and scientists know each other. There is a lot of mutual admiration and successful collaboration. Let us make sure that that continues. Many pages of the report are devoted to the specialist committees and their importance, but I could not find any committee devoted specifically to our collaboration on education, science and engineering whose members are engineers and scientists. Will the Minister assure us that the Government are committed to doing all they can to preserve as many of our educational and scientific collaborations with Europe as possible?
My Lords, I too welcome the European Union Committee’s report, which makes a series of excellent recommendations. The one area of particular importance to me is the necessity for ongoing co-operation between the UK and the many European entities which impact sport and recreation throughout this country and the European Union. Sport contributes £37 billion to our economy and employs 581,000 people, of whom 31,000 are European nationals. We must now take advantage of new methods of exerting influence on the EU after the transition period. We will need to build close relationships with the EU committees which impact sport and recreation at all levels and, where relevant, use the UK’s diplomatic representation to the EU to exert influence where necessary—and it will be necessary, not least in dealing with the fallout from the Bosman, Cotonou and Kolpak rulings. We must finalise and then monitor and retain reciprocal arrangements which enable skilled workers, for example in seasonal sports such as skiing, to pursue employment.
Sport is also a major soft power tool for promoting our products and services and, indeed, our reputation within the European Union. We need ongoing relationships to make it easy for fans and visitors from the EU to travel to and from the UK. UK sports bodies currently benefit from European Union funding as well as UK funding. They build knowledge and share good practice with their European colleagues. I urge the Government to look at ways of retaining relationships with the relevant institutions and committees and to seek continued dialogue and involvement with European Union programmes which benefit sport and recreation to our mutual advantage. We are inextricably linked to the world of sport and recreation in Europe, not least with the tripartite agreement with Ireland and France on which the future of horseracing in this country will depend. We must win friends and influence people to ensure a win-win relationship in the future.
My Lords, the unwillingness of the Government—indeed, their refusal —to countenance any extension beyond 31 December is irresponsible, not least because it leaves open the possible catastrophic outcome of no deal whatever. I ask myself: what is the Prime Minister afraid of? He now has a majority of 80 in the House of Commons, and the remainers, many of whom have already spoken in this debate, are silenced.
After the virus crisis, we shall need friends and influence in Europe, but most of all we now need the best possible trade deal that can be achieved. It is no use looking to President Trump, as people frequently do. Current American unemployment and Joe Biden’s lead in the polls will mean that Mr Trump, once again, will be focusing on “America first”, and indeed, you might say, “second” and “third” as well.
The Prime Minister has a long and undistinguished record of changing his mind for his own interests. He should change his mind on this occasion for the public interest.
My Lords, it was great to again have the wisdom of the noble Lord, Lord Boswell, at the opening of this debate. I want to focus on the crucial area of justice and security co-operation with the EU. That has a direct impact on the safety and security of the British people, yet we have heard very little about what is happening in the negotiations on that.
No off-the-peg, oven-ready security arrangement with the EU is available. Different countries have different levels of access. Norway and Iceland come closest, but they are in the Schengen area. Even if Britain could get a deal as good as that of Norway and Iceland, it would provide only what a British government document in 2018 called
“a limited patchwork of cooperation”,
“a serious shortfall in capability”.
Therefore, logically we need an even closer security relationship than that of Norway and Iceland. It cannot be the government objective that we should leave the EU and become less safe, yet the February Command Paper devoted only four rather brief pages to this vital area.
What are the prospects of negotiating an unprecedented level of security co-operation with the EU in the coming weeks? The answer is that we simply do not know. Michael Gove told the EU Committee last week that he hoped for an agreement, largely, I think, on the basis that we have been a considerable provider of security information to the EU. However, that seems to depend on the EU being willing to abandon its own red lines.
This is not an area where EU leaders can simply cut us a political deal. These are legal instruments with specific obligations. Given the importance of this area for national security, can the Minister give us some indication of when the Government will break their radio silence about the negotiations on justice and security, and what contingency plans are they making in case there is no future relationship agreement and we fall off a security cliff edge seven months from now?
My Lords, the committee’s wish to remain friendly with the EU is laudable but it is difficult to see how this noble aim can be achieved when EU negotiators treat the UK as though it is a colony and not a sovereign nation, and the EU persists in making unreasonable demands.
Britain still being under the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice until 31 December might contribute to that attitude. This jurisdiction is overlooked by those suggesting extending trade negotiations. It is an important point. Ultimate legal authority is the essence of sovereignty, and the British people, who have consistently voted to leave the European Union, would resent any extension of ECJ jurisdiction.
What would also make any extension horribly catastrophic is the recent refusal by the German courts to accept the authority of the European Court of Justice. The knock-on effect of this will be that strict limits on quantitative easing will be imposed by the European Central Bank. Instead of printing money, billions of euros will have to be found. An extension beyond 31 December would keep Britain under the European Court of Justice, meaning that we would be obliged to contribute unlimited funds to EU bailout schemes, with no say on either the amount or the timing. Getting into such a situation would create friction and impede any sort of friendly relations.
My Lords, my first point is the issue of cost if the Government change their mind, inevitable as it seems, about leaving the EU in December for the transition period. We have been told that this is a matter not of ideology but of practicality. However, it is a political necessity as the Government’s credibility is at stake.
Mr Gove told the Commons Committee on 27 April that it would cost billions of pounds if we sought an extension. I have no doubt that if the past negotiating stance of the EU were repeated, it would demand its pound of flesh; it has a big black hole to fill in its future budgets. But what would “billions of pounds” mean if we sought an extension of up to one or two years? Have we asked the EU? All negotiations will be virtual. As I understand it, no physical presence is envisaged. Coronavirus has changed the whole atmosphere and political situation in Europe. It will not be easy to hold negotiations in the next year. I would like to know something more than what Mr Gove says. Merely trumpeting the phrase “billions of pounds” is not good enough.
My second point arises from what the noble Lord, Lord Foulkes, said about the devolved Governments. Paragraph 96 of the report speaks of an “enhanced role” for the devolved Governments. What does this mean? Are they anything more than warm words to keep the devolved Governments quiet? The committee argued firmly that they should be involved at summit, ministerial and technical level, as envisaged in the political declaration. The Government in Cardiff would be interested, as would all the other devolved Administrations, in an explanation of what is envisaged by the Government by “enhanced role”.
My Lords, the Government’s behaviour in the current talks is the antithesis of the approach recommended in the report. Just because the virus has eclipsed Brexit as an issue in the news does not mean that the problem has gone away. EU diplomats were very studied in their understatement when they summed up the negotiations as “disappointing”, but beneath that there is a realistic assessment that the UK Government are deliberately wasting time. Phil Hogan, the EU Trade Commissioner, stated that the UK Government believe that they can hide the Brexit economic fallout by blaming the virus for everything, and he is undoubtedly right.
A no-deal Brexit was always going to be an economic disaster, but as we face the deepest recession for 300 years, according to the Bank of England, it would be reckless in the extreme. As the Times put it yesterday, it would be “unhinged”. Already the Government have been forced to backtrack, for instance, on the attempt to go it alone on PPE. We need our international neighbours now more than ever. In the worst crisis for three-quarters of a century, the Prime Minister needs to realise that the best leaders are those who can adapt to circumstances. He needs the strength of character to acknowledge that it is wrong to cling to the idea of getting negotiations done by the end of this year. If the UK is to win friends and maintain our influence internationally, he must seek a two-year extension.
My Lords, I agree. The VE Day anniversary reminded us yet again how closely knit our history is with that of our European neighbours. We all lost family members in the last war; we must strain every sinew to ensure that we continue to build a peaceful Europe from now on. Europe is looking to us for some real leadership in the negotiations and today’s debate provides a new occasion for Europe to meet all its old friends in this virtual Chamber. The battles have ended; Euroscepticism in our Parliament is, I believe, becoming out of date.
As others have said, we must revive the political declaration during this transition year to retain the very best elements of our relationship. Look at what has happened during the pandemic and how we have compared our results daily with those of our European friends. We have not come out particularly well in the comparison, but we needed to situate ourselves within Europe, not in some land mass out in the Atlantic. I congratulate the Government on weathering the pandemic and on apparently entering the EU negotiations with good will.
There has not been a lot of progress but we are at least fielding a strong team and we must get on with it. Does the Minister remember the violence of the cod war? Does he think, for example, that we are making enough effort to find an agreement in fisheries? From now on, our EU committees will also have an enormous job in the scrutiny of treaties. The recent Parliament and Brexit report from UCL and many others states plainly that Parliament is not yet adequate to the task of scrutinising the increasing number of treaties. This is primarily a matter for this House—I declare an interest as a member of the new treaties sub-committee—but the Government must also show some restraint; indeed, their close co-operation with both Houses will be the best way to achieve this scrutiny. I hope we can live up to the legacy of the noble Lord, Lord Boswell.
My Lords, I begin by thanking the noble Lord, Lord Boswell, for his report. I am sorry that we did not debate it a good time ago but, at last, we are here. I also congratulate him on his distinguished chairing of the European Union Committee. The report is called How to Win Friends and Influence People. I want to concentrate on that, because the present governing party has made a complete mess of winning friends and influencing people. The only member of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe taking part in this debate is the noble Lord, Lord Foulkes. I assure him that I am not implicating the Labour Party.
We send 36 people to Strasbourg; about half are British Conservatives. I am afraid that the way they behave there is—shall we say?—not designed to increase the influence of Great Britain. In particular, I mention the chairman of the Conservative group, Ian Liddell-Grainger, who, at the beginning of this year, together with Sir Roger Gale, invited the Alternative for Germany —the AfD—to join the Conservative group. In Strasbourg today, at a time when we are looking to influence Governments all around Europe, we have the British Conservatives allied with the AfD, the Holocaust deniers and the racists. What will we say to the Conservative Friends of Israel and the Jewish community? We have rightly condemned the Labour Party in the past; I am pleased about what Keir Starmer is now doing. But really, if the Minister has any influence, he must realise that this does us absolutely no good. It is time for the Conservative whip and the Conservative leadership to intervene, stop pretending that this does not matter, and get us out of this alliance with near fascists.
My Lords, I too thank the noble Lord, Lord Boswell, for his introduction to this debate and for the way in which, while chairing the European Union Committee of your Lordships’ House, he consistently sought to include the interests of the devolved nations of the United Kingdom in its deliberations and in the recommendations of its reports. That is as true of this report as it has been of previous reports.
I would like in particular to address recommendations 17, 20, 21, 37, 41 and 42. All stress the importance of engaging properly with the devolved Governments and Parliaments of the United Kingdom. Since 1999 and the creation of devolution in the UK, there has been strong engagement—consistent with the previous engagement with the Welsh and Scottish Offices—in UK delegations, in prior discussions and in ongoing technical work around EU legislation. That should continue after Brexit, as it did in the early years of devolution, when we were fully engaged in delegations, fully engaged in UK decision-making and fully engaged at the technical level too.
Also in relation to the Parliaments, I notice the recommendation that specific consideration be given to Members of the devolved Parliaments participating in any parliamentary Assembly. I think that the Parliaments in Holyrood, Cardiff and Belfast should automatically be part of the delegation, alongside the House of Lords and the House of Commons. That would be a positive step towards repairing some of the damage done to inter-UK relations over the past decade.
My Lords, in our recent debate on economic forecasts, led by the Minister, we had three minutes in which to speak. At the time, the noble Baroness, Lady Noakes, said from the Conservative Benches:
“This is not accountability. This is a sham. The sooner we return to normal proceedings, without the excessive time-limiting that has been introduced, the better.”—[Official Report, 5/5/20; col. 382.]
I agree with her, and in the limited time available, I want to address trade.
It does not protect our interests, or persuade others to align with them, to set aside pragmatic co-operation of the kind described by the former chairman in his speech. The Government have set this aside, and instead our future EU and global trading relationship are highlighted by glib self-deception. In January, at the UK-Africa Investment Summit, the Prime Minister told the bemused African delegates that after Brexit, chicken from Northern Ireland would be enjoyed in Angola and Ugandan beef would be on UK lunch tables. Portugal, Belgium, Italy and Spain all already export meat to Angola and Ugandan beef cannot be imported into the UK because of health standards.
For the US discussions in March, the Prime Minister said that we would be trading salmon for Stetsons while ignoring the recent restrictions on processed fish imports announced by the American Administration. These are the glib elements and no doubt have some comic effect, but they are illustrative and speak to a greater truth. Moreover, they are noticed by the EU and by the rest of the world. The self-deception is that such new trading outside the European Union, reflecting growth of less than 0.1% of UK GDP over a 15-year period, is believed to offset, according to the OBR, a 4.7% reduction in productivity because of disruption to our main trading bloc.
After the economic forecasting debate, the Minister did not answer or write to me about to my four simple questions, so I will try again. What is the Government’s core assumption about the impact on UK trade from January 2020 of their current EU policy, taking into context all new agreements made? Without honesty and openness, we will never protect our interests or align others to them—nor by replacing pragmatism with a politics in which one is influenced only by other acolytes. That is not a future that will benefit our country.
My Lords, I also thank the noble Lord, Lord Boswell. The title of the report includes How to Win Friends and Influence People. Influencing people is made more probable by making better friends. That is because international co-operation is all about making friends between people and nations. Living on the border with the Republic of Ireland, we are aware of the importance of cross-border relations and friendships at every level. These links have been damaged by the Troubles, the lack of devolved government, and now Brexit at the government level. On VE Day 75 years ago, respect and friendship for this country were unsurpassed. Where has that skill in creating friendships gone? What of diplomacy?
We were slow to join the EU, and in joining it we lost many friends, especially in the Commonwealth, creating trade barriers and restricting immigration. The UK then became one of the most enthusiastic about EU expansion, allowing entry to countries such as Greece without it having fulfilled the financial criteria required. We were leaders in inviting the central European states to join. After all that, we are now the first to fight our way out of the EU. At present, we have angered our greatest friend, the US, through our dealings with Huawei.
During my 20 years of serving on various EU committees, I was always impressed by the friendship and welcome shown to us in Brussels and other European capitals. Our committees and their reports were always held in the highest esteem, mainly due to the leadership of chairmen such as the noble Lord, Lord Boswell, and the noble Earl, Lord Kinnoull. In contrast, it seemed it was not quite the same in the Commons. Perhaps the other place did not place as much importance on the work of the EU. One eminent former MP described appointment to those committees as rather like being put in the sin bin.
It is not always a matter of what we do, but of how we do it, and that means winning friends and keeping them. I ask the Minister: how are the Government going to improve our working relationships, both within the EU and, most importantly, worldwide?
My Lords, I too was a member of the committee under the chairmanship of the noble Lord, Lord Boswell. It is no understatement to say that his outstanding tenure was undoubtedly during the most eventful period in the committee’s history, and he led us through it most ably.
Given that this report has been overtaken by events, I want to concentrate on the Government’s negotiations and aims, as set out in their February 2020 Command Paper. It sets out five areas where the Joint Committee and dispute resolution systems will not apply. These are mainly areas where the EU is, as we know, particularly concerned about a “level playing field”. I can see the need for the United Kingdom to have regulatory autonomy, particularly as the Covid-related economic shock will lead to EU states adapting differentially to technological change and automation, which will impact directly on some of those areas where the EU wants a level playing field. The Government is therefore right in principle, but I urge them to retain a form of joint dialogue in a structured format, as we will need to have some common approaches to these problems, particularly our competition policy and our policy on those countries that have been blatantly shown to play by a different rule book.
Finally, I turn to financial services, where, the report tells us, the equivalence assessments are separate from the FTA and expected to be completed in June 2020. Will the Minister confirm that that timetable still holds, and, if not, when they are likely to be concluded? As he will appreciate, they are terribly important for our financial services sector as we approach the end of transition.
My Lords, I too congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Boswell, and indeed his successor, the noble Earl, Lord Kinnoull, on the work of the European Union Committee, and in particular this report. I agree with its recommendations. However, I think it would be a little more fruitful if we had actually been discussing a report on the withdrawal agreement and political declaration negotiated by the present Prime Minister.
My questions to my noble friend the Minister arise out of the changes which were made in that withdrawal agreement and what has happened subsequent to the election. What do the Government actually believe is the status of the withdrawal agreement and the political declaration negotiated, with much fanfare, by the present Prime Minister? What has happened to the close relationships that were envisaged in the opening paragraphs of that political declaration? What has happened to the matters referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Ricketts, of police and criminal justice co-operation and police and judicial co-operation? These are all now being replaced by our own new legislation. We are told that what we are aiming for by the end of December is a simple free trade agreement, but a simple free trade agreement will not, in my view, cover any of those issues. Indeed, the question is whether it will cover services.
I hope my noble friend the Minister will, on this occasion, answer my next question. Why, in the light of the current circumstances, and the likely economic fallout from coronavirus, do we not accept that circumstances have changed and seek the extension that, in my view, all reasonable people want? This is not trying to reverse Brexit; this is trying to make things better for the United Kingdom. I regret to say that, as we go forward, I have no confidence in the way that the Government are dealing with this issue.
My Lords, first, is it not becoming a likely consequence of the Government’s present policy that they will be responsible for breaking up the United Kingdom?
Secondly, is it not a fact that the noble Lord, Lord Howard of Rising, could not be more wrong in characterising the EU as not negotiating in good faith? Is it not the case that Monsieur Barnier put his finger on it when he pointed out that it is we and not they who have moved the goalposts with regard to the content of the political declaration, which we presumably signed in good faith?
Thirdly, has not 2020 demonstrated two or three major points? The first is that we cannot rely on the United States any more than we can rely on China, and it is palpable nonsense that we think it is an advantage to go in the direction of saying that Britain gives the lead rather than that Britain is helping by comparing ourselves with best practice in the European area? Ought we not to stay within the European Economic Area, compatible with leaving the EU?
My Lords, I also congratulate my noble friend Lord Boswell on securing this debate. We urgently need to complete the structures of our new relationship with the EU and a vital focus needs to be what kind of friendship and influence we are seeking. We have just celebrated VE Day. As a boy, I believed all the belligerent rhetoric of that war and revelled in the news of the destruction of our enemies. But VE Day is a reminder that, actually, at a time of great peril, Britain gave its all for Europe out of a friendship that wanted the best for others as well as for ourselves.
Later, it was a revelation for me to travel across France in 1946 with my family and see the devastation of the cities. In Paris, we caught the moment where, for the first night since the liberation, Notre Dame was fully floodlit. On that journey, I met people from other countries who had suffered intolerably, learning something of their hopes and intentions. I became aware of the gigantic leap of faith that was required as the likes of Adenauer, Schuman and De Gasperi began to draw together people who had regarded each other as enemies in a process that culminated in the Treaty of Rome.
For a number of years I was involved in a programme of reconciliation in Europe and elsewhere which gave me much more appreciation of the divide that had to be bridged. The coronavirus presents an equal challenge for us and our neighbours. I back the theme of other noble Lords, that Britain should try to ensure that Europe as a whole is working towards greater inclusion of the developing world. We still need to recognise that much of our original wealth came from these regions and they rightfully expect the creation of a just economic order.
My Lords, I welcome the report and the references to the need for the EU and the UK to establish effective channels of communication and co-operation, plus the need to respect the Good Friday agreement in order not to weaken the confidence of unionist and nationalist communities in the political process. Unfortunately, I am afraid to say that the UK Government are not engaging properly with the EU, and with the pragmatic intent that the noble Lord, Lord Kirkhope, talked about, to resolve issues and to ensure, in the particular area where I live, the full implementation of the Ireland-Northern Ireland protocol.
Let me give two examples to show how the Government have not negotiated properly, with true intent. First, there is the issue of the transition: to obtain that good, effective deal, the transition period needs to be extended by two years, during this period of the pandemic. Secondly, the UK has refused to allow the EU to have a technical office in Belfast for the implementation of the protocol, to allow proper procedures to be put in place to deal with those customs arrangements at the ports and to provide unfettered access for business. Because of the shortness of time, I ask the Minister to address both those issues and to work with colleagues to ensure that that respect, pragmatism and level of co-operation return to the negotiations, to achieve an effective deal.
My Lords, I do not believe that any rational person should want anything but a friendly, influential relationship with our neighbours. However, we have a Government who are ideologically committed to a hard Brexit, pushing for UK exceptionalism just as nationalists everywhere do.
We are now engulfed with Covid-19 matters. This can be neither a cover nor a scapegoat for a destructive version of Brexit. The EU has produced a negotiating proposal of 440 pages, but we have no idea what our Government’s response is. We now need practical steps for future engagement.
The agreed Northern Ireland protocol requires customs declarations for exports to Northern Ireland from the rest of the UK. Having denied this—the Prime Minister in particular—will the Government now acknowledge it and provide help and support to Northern Ireland businesses to help them handle the extra bureaucracy this will require?
The crunch of Brexit may be on the island of Ireland, but the rest of the UK is looking for positive answers on many other areas. For example, it has been mentioned that there is scope for continuing engagement in Horizon and Erasmus, involving contribution and access to funding. However, researchers and students want to know now what the Government propose. Will the Minister be able to tell us?
Our financial services have lost passporting rights, but they want optimal equivalence and a long-term understanding of how our financial services can still engage with EU customers. Can the Government give us any guidance on that? Professional and business services providers want to know if their qualifications will be recognised. A Joint Committee along the lines recommended by the committee has been established, but it is by no means clear how active or engaged it will be, or whether it will continue or transform after agreement is reached—assuming agreement is reached.
We need constructive relations between our Parliament, the European Parliament and the national Parliaments of the EU. Will the Government support the establishment of a parliamentary joint committee, as recommended by the EU Committee? The EU has said that it is prepared to include the UK in future meetings of COSAC. Do the Government support that? Please can we have some answers?
The poet said that it is good to see ourselves as others see us. We should perhaps consider why we are now so mistrusted across the Channel. In my two minutes, I will give two reasons.
First, the perception is increasingly that we are not implementing the Irish deal. It is seven months on, with only seven months to go, yet there has been no consultation, no draft legislation, no staff recruitment, no procurement of IT or construction of infrastructure and apparently, as the noble Baroness, Lady Ritchie, noted, no office for the 27 in Belfast—although the Chinese have one.
Our friends well remember Mr Johnson in denial that his deal entails a two-way EU trade frontier in the Irish Sea, even though it is spelt out in his treaty. They now suspect that he plans to persist in prevarication, forcing them back to the inner-Irish border and blaming Brussels for what that would do to the Good Friday agreement. Our good faith is being called into question.
Secondly, we have rejected the 27’s proposals for a new relationship based on the joint declaration. We will not let the Commission show the 27 our counterproposals—odd tactics if we are looking to win friends and get some influence. We have repudiated the level playing field concept that we had agreed in the joint declaration and encouraged the perception that we would be happy to have no deal.
As the noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, pointed out, the increasing perception across the channel is that, under the cover of the virus-led recession, we aim to conceal the self-harm done by our new and narrowly autarchic definition of sovereignty. Our old friends suspect that that is why we reject an extension of the transition period; the virus cover works only if the crash-out is quick. The 27 know that the virus means there cannot be a comprehensive free trade agreement by December, as the noble Baroness, Lady Wheatcroft, pointed out. They cannot believe that Mr Johnson does not know it, so they question our good faith.
We are increasingly seen as irresponsible and untrustworthy. We are not behaving as did all the Governments for whom I was proud to work. It is very sad and, worse than sad, shaming.
My Lords, the report talks about winning friends and influencing people. I believe one of the key requirements for that is a strong and growing diplomatic push by the United Kingdom throughout the world. From 2017-18, even after the EU referendum, the United Kingdom started to cut back the resources it was putting into our Diplomatic Service. In fact, the Foreign Office was one of the few departments getting hit really hard by the budgets. Can the Minister assure the House that adequate efforts will be made to build up our diplomatic capability, once the best in the world? We are now confronted with the fact that we need it even more, but I believe it has been starved of resources.
Many Members have already mentioned the position in Ireland. I never thought I would see a Conservative and Unionist Government agree to a border in the Irish Sea. To try to pretend that our position in the rest of the United Kingdom is not altered by the contents of the protocol is misleading—it makes a huge change—but by using and adapting the existing structures of the Good Friday agreement, as my noble friend Lord Caine said earlier in the debate, we have at our disposal a mechanism by which we can find a way of resolving these matters without damaging the union. Whatever the United Kingdom does, it must ensure that its international diplomatic capability is reinforced, not cut back.
My Lords, I was a member of the EU Committee when this report was published and pay tribute, as other noble Lords have, to the leadership of the noble Lord, Lord Boswell, when he chaired the committee. The report was published last year against the backdrop of the previous Prime Minister struggling and failing to get Parliament to approve her withdrawal agreement. Parliament was working against us leaving the EU.
Last December the British people gave the Government a very clear mandate to get Brexit done. We now have a strong Prime Minister and a Parliament, at least in the other place, committed to delivering the will of the people. Inevitably, some of the committee’s recommendations have not stood the test of time.
We have now left the EU. The Government are working at speed on the long-term relationship with the EU, including a free trade agreement. They are committed to bringing this to a conclusion by the end of the year, and I was glad to hear my noble friend Lord True confirm last week that the Government have no intention of extending the transition period. There is clearly no time to spare in these negotiations.
This is the new context for parliamentary scrutiny. Parliament must of course still undertake its constitutional role of holding the Government to account, but in this new timescale it cannot realistically expect to be involved in the detailed negotiations of our long-term relationship with the EU. To that extent I regard the EU Committee’s proposals—for example, on its desired involvement in the workings of the joint committee—as time-expired. Let us focus on holding the Government to account on what they achieve in practice, rather than on the detailed steps for getting there.
My Lords, I too congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Boswell, and his committee on this excellent report. It has taken a long time for it to see the light of debate. The report emphasises the important role of discussions and working together, both informally and formally, in what one can achieve when one is trying to ensure that our relationships with the rest of Europe remain as they should do. Years ago, I was on the European committee and, more recently, I have rejoined the goods committee, so this is of great interest to me as we go forward.
It was particularly interesting to see Michael Gove’s one-page statement, dated 28 April, about the progress of negotiations. It was good to see that trade and goods justified a couple of lines. Fisheries will be extremely difficult. Transport, aviation and road haulage were mentioned, along with passenger transport, but where was rail? Rail was not mentioned at all. Apparently, there is no interest in what the manufacturers might want in terms of services, safety and standards for passengers and freight. There has never been any mention of associate membership of the EU Agency for Railways, even though similar agencies for maritime and air have been accepted in part by the Government. Can the Minister explain this omission? Some time ago, I heard that the reason for omitting rail was because the European Union Agency for Railways mentioned Europe in the title.
We have to ask ourselves what the Government want, for what purpose and for whose benefit. Is it just dogma or is it wasting time? We have a long way to go before we can justify spending £60 billion on no deal while at the same time spending between £40 billion and £80 billion on the coronavirus this year. Is it all necessary?
My Lords, I regret the derisively short time available to address the important points in the report. This is a consequence of decisions made by the Lords Commission that have allowed technology to dictate function, arbitrarily curtailed the length of time for debates and created perverse speaking incentives, resulting in absurdly short speaking times on critical issues. Far from protecting the reputation of the House of Lords, these decisions make a mockery of our constitutional duty to hold the Executive to account and must be revisited. Our scrutiny role is needed now more than ever.
In the short time that I have, I want to focus on the position of Northern Ireland. In their response to the Select Committee’s report, the Government state that they will ensure that the views of business in Northern Ireland
“are represented in discussions and will inform the implementation of the protocol.”
However, when the Select Committee visited Northern Ireland recently, it found that, far from that being the case, businesses were deeply frustrated at the UK Government’s lack of engagement with their concerns. These concerns include a lack of knowledge of how the protocol will work, a lack of time to prepare for it to become operational, a default position that goods passing from GB to NI will be deemed at risk of passing to the single market, and the lack of clarity over unfettered access for NI goods to GB. People told the committee that the requirements for GB-NI movements were far beyond what seems plausible as a business model.
It is time for the Government to stop indulging in ideological obsessions and start listening to businesses and providing answers to their increasingly urgent questions—particularly at this time of great pressure on them from the Covid economic crisis.
This is an important report and requires comprehensive consideration. Fostering relationships and working for certainty is key to the UK’s future in this complex, uncertain world. As applicable to beyond the EU as within, engagement, trust-building, negotiation and agreement are key. I remain for ever hopeful that conditions can be met to reset a number of relationships.
The sum of four strands makes up relevant relationships: government, both central and local, parliamentary, the private sector, and civil society, including culture exchange and soft power. Central government’s role must be to uphold standards and exercise its mind on such matters as national security, but also, importantly, to co-ordinate the other components. After all, it does not have a monopoly on relations.
I will run with the theme from the noble Earl, Lord Kinnoull. The report underlines the essential need for parliamentary scrutiny and engagement. Enhanced inter-parliamentary dialogue could serve a real purpose. However, the UK’s APPG movement requires an urgent overhaul. Its role, and that of the IPU and CPA, should be properly funded and not be as a single focus group, so as to become effective in advising government. Chairs and officers should be selected for their approach to being even-handed, but will the Government take parliamentarians seriously or do they believe themselves to be a centralised cabal?
In my time as chairman of the APPGs for the five states in central Asia, I endeavoured to make the groups meaningful by signing co-operation agreements with opposite numbers to underline their importance to the broadest range of priorities, from security, the environment, climate, trade, human rights and others, including parliamentary exchanges. That process could become a model.
My Lords, notwithstanding time constraints, I must also thank the noble Lord, Lord Boswell, for his opening speech and for his outstanding chairmanship of the committee that authored this report. I should very much like to discuss many aspects of the report, especially the need to enhance diplomatic representation, as discussed in paragraph 79, and the importance of rebuilding bridges, but, in the light of the continuing calls for an extension to the transition period, I feel bound to give my reasons for asking the Government to resist such calls unambiguously.
An extension would not be in the best interests of this country. First, it would blight new trade negotiations and prevent deals already under negotiation coming into force. Secondly, negotiations for the EU’s new multiannual financial settlement start in 2021. It is expected to include a vast fiscal stimulus package and accompanying legislative programmes to shore up an already ailing eurozone. Having left the EU, we would be likely to find ourselves burdened with massive financial liabilities and bound by laws over which we have no say in shaping. Such laws are hardly likely to be framed to serve our interests.
Thirdly, and regardless of what the noble Lord, Lord Lea, thinks, the EU is seeking to impose conditions on us that are less favourable than those other countries enjoy. If this impasse leads to a breakdown in talks in the coming days, the failure will not be of our making. Offering an extension would be an act of irresponsible self-harm. When we put this tragic pestilence behind us, let us reject the protectionism that rewards the rich and harms the poor. History, even recent history, shows that free trade enriches and liberates all people and all countries. Let us embrace it now.
My Lords, beyond the time when we must follow EU rules, engagement and influence remain important. That is common sense wherever we have large trading relationships, but there is nowhere in the world more open and organised for receiving input than the EU. Beyond committees and agencies, Brussels is awash with consultations, conferences and evidence sessions. Good speakers are sought from around the world, and a well-presented case can be very influential. It is serious work. My record was speaking at six such sessions in one day, and making several speeches in a week was common. Getting the tone and content right is of paramount importance, and claiming that we are best in the world is not it. “World’s best” is often claimed in this House. We do not always believe it, even if we want to, but I have also head it in Brussels from Ministers and officials in multinational settings, listening in horror as it jeopardised relationships and carefully crafted compromises. I am glad UKRep is getting bigger, but I query whether it is enough and hope that those appointed are recognised, not passed over, when returning to London.
Co-ordination with industry is also welcome. We do not have the government and industry solidarity on policy that some countries display, and I doubt we ever will, but collective strategic activity is very effective. Others have long done it and at a larger scale.
Finally, one effectiveness factor that should not be underestimated is transparency to Parliament and the public. There is nothing as persuasive to any argument as their endorsements genuinely obtained.
Many noble Lords have referred to the fact that the subtitle of the report is How to Win Friends and Influence People. How the world looks at us and how it treats us is important to our prosperity and well-being as is the opinion of potential international students, business people looking to do business with our companies, and diplomats. The noble Lord, Lord Kerr of Kinlochard, said we are increasingly seen as untrustworthy and our good faith is being called into question. That has global impacts. Two relevant recent studies about how we are being regarded around the world are the Good Country Index and the Reputation Index. The Good Country Index is based on the objective criteria of environmental impact and impacts on the well-being of people around the world, and the Reputation Index is a large-scale panel of G8 citizens. Interestingly, we are about the same on both of them: 15th and 13th. If we think about what might have impacted on that, history over decades, even centuries, will have had an impact. The military adventurism in Iraq and Afghanistan and our hideous colonial history of abuse and exploitation will have echoed through the decades and centuries. Currently, it is reasonable to say that our international aid, the maintenance of our GDP level and stepping in to chair COP 26 will have had a positive impact. How we deal with the Covid-19 pandemic will also have an impact. Does the Minister agree that how we handle the Brexit transition will affect the world’s view of us for decades to come? There is already irritation that we are forcing our European neighbours to focus on the Brexit transition when they would rather put the resources, time and energy into dealing with the Covid-19 pandemic. There is real and growing fear of a crash out and its huge economic and social impact.
The noble Lord, Lord Kirkhope, used the metaphor of water pent up behind a dam, and that might also be used for the amount of work related to Brexit stacking up in your Lordships’ House, but if we think about that metaphor, Europe and the world are now in the middle of a giant earthquake with Covid-19. If we then are to inflict the flood of Brexit crisis and chaos on them, they will not thank us and it will affect their view of us for decades, even centuries, to come.
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Boswell, for introducing this debate, even if his committee’s interesting report was published 14 months ago. Much has changed since then. We have a new Prime Minister who has successfully negotiated a new withdrawal agreement, and the country has left the EU, at last delivering on the decision of the British people and fulfilling the promise made by the Government led by David Cameron.
Nevertheless, much of the report remains valid, and the committee has served your Lordships’ House well. The report deals extensively with the need to deploy whatever influence we can on our erstwhile EU partners during the implementation period. It recognises that our direct influence on the framing of EU laws and regulations has diminished because we are no longer in the room with the EU institutions. Does the Minister agree that the report should perhaps have recognised that this loss of influence at the EU level will be compensated for by the increase in influence at the global level where we will, just as soon as the implementation period is over, be in the room in our own right as a sovereign independent nation?
In many areas, rules and regulations are increasingly set at the global level, and we now have an opportunity to play our part in ensuring that the development of the global trading system continues to be based on rules-based competitive free trade and mutual recognition of equivalence of regulatory outcomes. We can be a strong advocate for the adoption of proportionate regulation which gives less weight to the precautionary principle and encourages innovation. In this endeavour, our natural allies will be the United States and Japan, as well as our Commonwealth partners, including Australia, New Zealand, Canada and Singapore and the other members of the CPTPP, and I trust the Minister will confirm that we will seek early accession to it.
My Lords, if a week is a long time in politics, then 14 months must be an aeon. From today’s vantage point, this report feels almost optimistic. Between then and now, others have, as the noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy of The Shaws, memorably phrased it in March, captured the castle. If it is ironic that the best way to win friends and influence people is to have stayed in the EU, there is a double irony that even early last year it felt that we had a desire to maintain real contact with Europe. Sadly, much of the whole point of Brexit for Brexiteers is to sever many of those ties of communication and co-operation.
We had another taste of what may come on Sunday evening, when the Prime Minister talked—inappropriately, I felt—of developing a world-beating system for Covid testing, when Covid is a prime example of how we need to co-operate as a continent and, indeed, as a world in discovering the best ways to beat the virus. The irony of that, of course, is that the UK’s ability to be a major part of Covid research will be threatened if we lose access to Horizon Europe, the successor to Horizon 2020.
This excellent report correctly identifies EU and other European agencies as means of exerting influence, although the benefit of co-operation—friendship, if you will—is the key in scientific research, in education and culturally. Those of us who believe in such continuing co-operation need to keep pressing the Government on these matters, so I ask the Government whether they are still actively seeking for the UK to remain a meaningful—that is, participating—member of the Horizon programme and Erasmus. It will be a tragedy if it is left only up to individuals and individual institutions to maintain such contacts as they can without the recourse to any of the facilitating structures that other European countries will continue to have.
My Lords, I am the first to acknowledge the excellent work of our EU committees and their reports, under both my noble friend Lord Boswell and the noble Earl, Lord Kinnoull. However, in the case of this report and as we come to the end of this debate—it is not really a debate at all, but a series of statements—I have to register my profound disappointment. The strong commitment in the report for scrutiny both during the transformation period and in the future is admirable, but my disappointment can be summed up in a single sentence. Neither the Committee on the Future Relationship with the European Union nor this report takes any account whatever of the fast-changing events and trends on the other side of the channel, within the EU and its institutions.
Everyone acknowledges that Brexit will profoundly reshape the EU, and many European leaders and thinkers accept that the EU needs fundamental reform, having been created in the pre-digital age. Many also see that these changes are going on fast anyway, regardless of whether officials in Brussels recognise them. Treating the EU as an unchanging monolith, as a hierarchy, will take our future relations straight into a brick wall. This is over and above the major effects on the EU of the current pandemic crisis, which themselves will have considerable long-term impact on the whole EU structure and the relations between member states and the central authorities.
These enormous forces of change in Europe long predate this crisis and will continue long after it has subsided. My question to the Minister is: when are we really going to address them?
My Lords, I, too, pay tribute to the long and distinguished leadership of the noble Lord, Lord Boswell. His committee made a very useful report a year ago, but the regrettable delay in us being able to debate its sensible proposals for governance, transparency, influence and scrutiny has meant that in the meantime the situation has been transformed—for the worse; it has become more complex, unpredictable and dangerous.
Just over 18 months ago, the then Prime Minister Theresa May agreed with the EU a political declaration on the future relationship that envisaged
“an ambitious, broad, deep and flexible partnership across trade and economic cooperation … law enforcement and criminal justice, foreign policy, security and defence and wider areas of cooperation.”
The October 2019 version agreed by Prime Minister Johnson stated the same aim, in fact, apart from adding
“with a comprehensive and balanced Free Trade Agreement at its core”.
However, the broad objective was in fact still there, including the explicit reference to it being a possible association agreement. Yet somehow, in the last seven months, the objective of the Johnson Government has shrunk to no more than a Canada-type free-trade agreement, apparently shorn even of that breadth of economic co-operation and with a series of individual agreements, as tweeted by Mr David Frost, instead of the umbrella of a broad and flexible partnership and its accompanying governance arrangements.
We look forward to these drafts being published, in the same way in which the EU published its 440-page draft text two months ago. However, whereas the EU referred in its draft to a new economic partnership, that very notion appears to have been eradicated from the thinking of the present Government. They have resiled from what they sensibly signed up to just last October, preferring a messy set of 10 or maybe more separate agreements. This is at a huge cost. A month ago, the Office for Budget Responsibility said that a typical FTA would cost a potential 5.2% of GDP over 15 years through trade friction, restrictions on migration and red tape. Higher trade barriers would cause imports and exports to be 15% lower after 10 years, and UK productivity, already not exactly stellar, would also be lower. As my noble friend Lord Purvis of Tweed pointed out, the Government refuse to publish their own economic assessment of the Canada-style deal that they want with the EU, but they have done one on the claimed advantages of the US trade deal that they want—a measly maximum 0.16% of GDP.
Mr Gove told the Commons Brexit committee that he saw economic opportunities for people wishing to work as customs agents by filling in forms to allow trade with the EU. The private sector estimates a need for 50,000 of them; that is one example of the Government’s idea of a silver lining, I suppose. What an extraordinary ambition it is for a Government to embrace—to have less than before, to erect trade barriers where none had existed and to create jobs only in the red-tape industry, all in the name of sovereignty.
Noble Lords such as the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, have spoken in this debate about level playing-field issues in the economic sphere, but, like the noble Lord, Lord Ricketts, I want to dwell on those concerning justice and security. In last October’s political declaration, it was agreed that
“the scale and scope of future security arrangements should achieve an appropriate balance between rights and obligations—the closer and deeper the partnership the stronger the accompanying obligations. It should reflect the commitments the United Kingdom is willing to make that respect the integrity of the Union’s legal order, such as with regard to alignment of rules and the mechanisms for disputes and enforcement … It should also be underpinned by long-standing commitments to the fundamental rights of individuals, including continued adherence and giving effect to the ECHR, and adequate protection of personal data”.
Elsewhere in the political declaration, it was said that:
“In view of the importance of data flows and exchanges across the future relationship, the Parties are committed to ensuring a high level of personal data protection to facilitate such flows between them.”
However, the Government now seem to want the flows and exchanges without the commitments. It has been reported that they are seeking full access to the Europol database and the Schengen Information System, but in his evidence last week to the European Union Committee, Mr Gove gave as one reason for resisting EU regulatory standards that the UK could lose “freedom of manoeuvre” for data sharing across government departments to deal with Covid. That does not sound very promising in respect of securing an EU data adequacy decision.
In the same session, Mr Gove said, rather peevishly perhaps:
“I think that everything could be agreed—it all depends on the EU. For example, it would be within the EU’s gift to give us access to the Schengen Information System, but it insists that we submit to the European Court of Justice’s jurisdiction.”
Mr Gove absolutely knows that the EU is an organisation based on comprehensive arrangements of law, rules and enforcement. Indeed, elsewhere in his evidence he expressed satisfaction that equivalence in financial regulation
“is a rules-based rather than a discretion-based process”,
which means that
“the EU would not promiscuously and whimsically withdraw equivalence”.
Yet he expects the EU to abandon its legal and data rules and promiscuously use discretion to gift us access to SIS. This is not serious; it seems to be preparation for a later complaint that the EU is being beastly to us in denying us the opportunity to have our cake and eat it—all this while the present Government and their supporters play fast and loose over whether the Human Rights Act, or even our membership of the European Convention on Human Rights, is safe in their hands. This is not the basis for a security and justice partnership.
On citizens’ rights, I was pleased to hear Mr Gove say that the Government would want to “show flexibility and humanity” to EU citizens who miss the June 2021 deadline for applying for settled status, whereas, if memory serves, the Home Secretary, Priti Patel, said recently that they would be illegal residents after that date and thus subject to the hostile environment. Can the Minister confirm that there will be flexibility and humanity, not least for the looked-after EU children to whom the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Durham referred? It was also notable that Mr Gove told the EU Committee last week that the “moral and social case” was “strong” for accepting the plea, most recently from Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz, for physical documentary proof of status. This is a plea our committee has repeatedly made. Will the Government accept it?
In this debate, several noble Lords, including my noble friends Lord Bruce and Lord Oates, have expressed great disquiet at the Government’s lack of action to implement the Irish protocol. I can only second that. Last week, Mr Gove said that opposing an extension to transition was not a matter of ideology but because it could mean that UK could be subject to EU laws and rules in a way that would not be in our interest in a range of areas. I have already referred to my fear that the Government want to diverge from EU privacy law. Can the Minister give any other examples of desired flexibility?
Surely, in any case, the pragmatic, non-ideological thing to do is to recognise that capacity and bandwidth for Brexit have been so diminished by Covid that an extension is just a no-brainer. We certainly need to try and keep a national Parliament office in Brussels on the premises of the European Parliament and to seek a joint parliamentary committee with the latter. However, I fear that our goals will fall foul of this Johnson Government’s lack of ambition for a real partnership with the EU. This Government need to show that winning friends and influencing people is indeed what they have in mind.
My Lords, this was a farsighted report. It was produced over a year ago, and although today the world feels quite different—we have left the EU and we see the impact of the virus on both our economy and the talks, which were delayed and have now become virtual—nevertheless, the thrust of its analysis remains pertinent, despite the Government having dropped their plans for
“an ambitious, broad, deep and flexible partnership”,
and a move away from the October political declaration, signed by the Prime Minister, of which we have heard today. Furthermore, many of the 2019 report’s actors have changed, so it was David Frost, not a Minister, who was at the Zoom conference today negotiating the UK’s diplomatic, security and trading future.
The pandemic reminds us how global our future is and how important international co-operation needs to be. The historian, the late Michael Howard, said that
“all difficult problems must be addressed with partners and allies”,
while, in one of the most moving moments on VE Day, the German President, Frank-Walter Steinmeier, looking back 75 years to when Germany was so alone, said,
“for us Germans … ‘never again’ means ‘never again alone’ ... We want more cooperation around the world, not less”.
As the noble Lord, Lord Boswell, said in introducing the debate, this is no time to pull up the drawbridge. Although social distancing is important, conscious political self-isolation will never be a long-term goal. The report that the noble Lord chaired urged the Government to engage with the remaining EU member states to seek to establish mechanisms for regular bilateral dialogue. Perhaps the Minister can tell us whether this has happened.
Britain stands on the brink of the worst recession since 1709, with huge implications for the type of deal that the Government should be negotiating, perhaps with a different trade deal from that envisaged a year ago, especially as the US—the potential market identified by the Prime Minister—becomes ever more protectionist, as noted by the noble Lord, Lord Campbell. We want to hear that our approach to the future deal is pragmatic and jobs- and economy-oriented, taking account of the likely reduction in air transport to the US and other distant markets. Can the Minister reassure us on that?
I do not need to repeat that one of the thorniest issues of Brexit—how to keep the Irish border free of checkpoints after Britain leaves the single market— has not been resolved. Throughout the UK, it is the implementation as well as the content of the final deal that is alarming business, farmers, lawyers, accountants and consumers.
With our EU exit having been moved from March 2019 to January this year since the report was written, the preparations for the agreed term is therefore shorter than the two years initially foreseen. The current deadline is not simply, in the Government’s words, June to start preparing for no deal but 31 December, when all the customs posts and tariffs must be in place, to say nothing of the paperwork. The Government, we hear, are training 50,000 form-fillers via Mr Gove’s customs agent academy.
The previous Secretary of State promised full and proper accountability to Parliament. He said that Parliament rightly expects that Ministers will be fully accountable to Parliament in the exercise of their duties on the future relationship joint committee. However, since the Prime Minister has taken political control of the talks, he has shown precious little inclination to report back and has failed to share the Government’s drafts either with Parliament as a whole or with a limited, confidential grouping of Parliament, or even, as the noble Lord, Lord Kerr, reminded us, with the 27 member states.
The Prime Minister also has failed to accord the devolved Administrations their proper role, as my noble friend Lord Foulkes and my noble and learned friend Lord Morris said. Despite a Written Answer I received from the Minister yesterday committing the Government to
“working closely with the devolved administrations throughout negotiations to secure a future relationship that works in the interests of the whole of the UK”,
I am told that engagement with the devolved Administrations has been superficial and tokenistic. They have not had sight of the legal texts and have had no opportunity to feed in meaningfully to the negotiating positions, even on issues which will fall to them to implement. Jeremy Miles, for the Welsh Government, called the engagement “deficient”, and while a meeting of the Joint Ministerial Committee on EU Negotiations will take place later this month, it will be the first such meeting since January, and this at a time of supposedly intense negotiations.
Gibraltar also raises big issues at this stage of the negotiations. It has already faced having to make seismic and costly adaptations with only a very short transition period, but this is now compounded by the huge impact of Covid-19. It will be critical for Gibraltar to have some sort of cushion or breathing space, given it has had to borrow vast sums to handle the crisis. Indeed, should the 14-day quarantine cover Gibraltar, unlike Ireland, there could be added tensions with Spain or about the future deal.
In addition to Parliament’s role vis-à-vis government is the call by the new chair of the EU Committee, the noble Earl, Lord Kinnoull, for a structured inter-parliamentary dialogue as part of the future relationship. We look forward to the Minister’s response as to how the Government and Parliament can work to establish such an inter-parliamentary body.
We hear that the talks are not making good progress, with substantial differences between the two sides on the level playing field, fishing and much else, and with EU officials wary of British efforts to make rapid headway on securing a trade agreement, retaining access to the aviation market and other core UK concerns, while leaving fishing and other issues in the slow lane. Yet again, the Government seem to be scaling back their ambition for a UK-EU trade deal. First, we were promised the “exact same benefits” as EU membership, then Canada-plus-plus-plus, and now Michael Gove has confirmed that the aim is any deal which gives them the power to reduce employment and environmental standards. This approach puts ideology before jobs and our economy, as well as straining our ability to secure a good deal by December. A deal with tariffs on some goods would be significantly more complex to negotiate than the status quo of zero tariffs and zero quotas, and raises serious issues for the Northern Ireland protocol.
Therefore, can the Minister assure the House that, whatever it takes, our exit from the transition will be on terms that benefit our whole economy, our security and—vitally—our future relationship with the EU and its member states?
My Lords, I express my gratitude and admiration to my noble friend Lord Boswell, not only for his report but for his long service to his country and his very distinguished chairmanship of the EU Committee. I look forward to working closely with his successor, the noble Earl, Lord Kinnoull, who is already proving to be a doughty and statesmanlike leader in that role.
The report is crucially important, as is its title, Beyond Brexit: how to win friends and influence people. The noble Duke, the Duke of Montrose, reminded us from a past perspective of the importance of international friendship and co-operation—friendships and co-operation which can lie across, within and outside all sorts of international institutions. I simply disagree with those who say that the Government are isolationist and dogmatic—I heard those terms used in this debate among others; I shall not list them, but it is simply not a fair representation of the attitude of this Government or of the British people, who, I must remind this House, voted for a new relationship between this country and the European Union and, ipso facto, a new relationship between this country and the wider world. There were times in the debate when I felt like whistling or humming
“Lead, kindly light amid th’ encircling gloom”
because many of the speeches shared a tone of impossibilism and doubt that this country could succeed in its common objectives, which are to reach a friendly future relationship with our friends in the European Union.
The view of the Government is that there is ample time to strike a deal based on fair trade and friendly co-operation. As your Lordships know, we are looking for an agreement largely like those that the EU has agreed with others. There are plenty of precedents and texts around. We are familiar with each other’s systems and, with sufficient energy, there is plenty of time. Moreover, the EU agreed to this timeline when it agreed the political declaration last autumn. I submit that no one should cast doubt on it; we should be getting on with it.
Of course Covid, as a number of noble Lords have referred to, exists; it is a great tragedy and a great crisis. However, the Government have the bandwidth and the capacity to conduct negotiations within Europe and to deal with the Covid crisis, as my right honourable friend Mr Gove assured the EU Committee last week. Notwithstanding the succession of noble Lords who asked for an extension in the transition, the Government’s view remains that that would simply prolong the negotiations and business uncertainty and delay the moment of control of our borders. As my noble friend Lord Cavendish of Furness said, extending the transition would mean that we would have to make further payments into the EU budget. It would also keep us bound by EU legislation at a point when we need legislative and economic flexibility to manage the UK response to the Covid pandemic. Some would characterise that as an ideological statement; I would characterise it as a statement from a Government intent on doing what they have been asked to do by the British people and to do so amicably to reach agreement with the people who will always remain our European friends.
Some have said that a long time has elapsed since this report was published. I was reminded when the noble Earl, Lord Clancarty, was speaking of the old saying that there are decades when nothing happens and there are many weeks when decades happen. Sometimes in this House last year, it seemed that there were hours when weeks happened. New circumstances have arisen and we are now finally beyond Brexit, having left the EU in January, with a third round of the negotiations on our future relationship having started yesterday and with, I repeat, the transition period ending at the end of the year.
While the passage of time has meant that many areas raised in this report have been superseded, I agree with many noble Lords that that does not make this debate any less important or our aspiration for good relations across Europe and beyond any less vital. I hope to respond a little later to some of the specific points on our representation. I also acknowledge the important remarks of my noble friend Lord Howell of Guildford.
While much of the work of this House and the other place has lately been focused on what we were looking to achieve, this report and debate are about not losing sight of how we should achieve our objectives. I will try to address most of that in the rest of my remarks.
I will answer one or two specific points raised in the debate. We still believe that it will be possible to reach an understanding on financial services equivalence by June. On the question of refugee children, raised by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Durham—technology has let me down; I hope to be able to reassure him on that later in my response.
Many noble Lords asked about the work of the Withdrawal Agreement Joint Committee and the specialised committees. The Joint Committee met for the first time on 30 March via remote means and was co-chaired, as noble Lords know, by my right honourable friend the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster and the European Commission vice-president, Maroš Šefčovič. The UK and the EU updated the Joint Committee on progress to implement the withdrawal agreement, with particular focus on citizens’ rights—I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Ludford, that they are important and I endorse what my right honourable friend said on that matter—and on the Ireland/Northern Ireland protocol, which I will come to in a moment.
The UK and the EU also agreed to start the work of the six specialised committees on citizens’ rights, other separation provisions, the protocol on Ireland/ Northern Ireland, the protocol relating to the sovereign base areas on Cyprus, the protocol on Gibraltar and financial provisions. The UK and EU co-chairs of the specialised committees have each now spoken informally. They are making plans for their respective specialised committees to meet as appropriate. Indeed, the Ireland/Northern Ireland Specialised Committee met on 30 April. UK and EU officials co-chaired the first meeting via video and the UK and EU co-chairs both welcomed the collaborative and constructive conversation.
The Government are determined to give Parliament appropriate opportunity for scrutiny of the Withdrawal Agreement Joint Committee, and we have committed to issuing Written Ministerial Statements before and after each meeting. The Government have always been clear—the noble Lord, Lord Wood, and the noble Baroness, Lady Hayter, referred to this—that Gibraltar is covered by our negotiations with the EU and we have committed to involve it fully. Decisions on representation at specialised committee meetings will be taken in accordance with the withdrawal agreement.
A number of noble Lords asked about work on the Northern Ireland protocol—if I listed the names on each occasion it would take time from this debate. However, the noble Lord, Lord Caine, introduced a parallel point, reminding us that our top priority in implementing the protocol should be to protect the Good Friday agreement and gains from the peace process, and to preserve Northern Ireland’s place in the United Kingdom. That is the central purpose of this Government in agreeing ways to carry this forward. The protocol puts legal obligations on both sides. We are committed to complying with ours, just as we expect the EU to comply with its.
I apologise to the noble Baroness, Lady Ritchie, for not replying on this in a previous debate, but I was asked about the presence of an EU Commission office in Belfast. There is no reason why the Commission should require a permanent presence in Belfast to monitor the implementation of the protocol, nor, with respect to the noble Lord, Lord Kerr of Kinlochard, any reason why that should cause distrust. This is not a requirement that was included in the protocol; it is an additional EU ask. Article 12 of the Northern Ireland protocol does not necessitate, or place any requirement on the UK to facilitate, such a presence. Our position remains that EU officials can exercise their rights under Article 12 of the protocol, without necessarily a permanent presence in Northern Ireland.
The protocol is a practical solution to prevent a hard border on the island of Ireland and makes clear—this is important—that Northern Ireland is, and will remain, part of the customs territory of the United Kingdom. The arrangements that we introduce will reflect this. As set out in the New Decade, New Approach deal, the Government are committed to legislate to guarantee unfettered access for Northern Ireland’s businesses to the whole of the UK internal market, and to ensure that this legislation is in force for January 2021. We want to work with Northern Ireland businesses, as many noble Lords have asked us to, to ensure that new administration procedures are streamlined and do not affect the flow of trade.
The protocol also ensures that the future arrangements for Northern Ireland will depend on the consent of those affected by them through a vote that can take place every four years. We will continue to take forward discussions on the implementation of the protocol in the joint committee and specialised committee, and to do so in good faith.
A number of noble Lords remarked on how we are engaging with the EU during the transition period. Since the UK has left the European Union, we are seeking to engage and co-operate with the EU through normal diplomatic channels. That is why the UK will not attend EU meetings, other than in exceptional circumstances. Our relationship with the EU and its member states will be conducted on the basis of normal diplomatic and international practice, as part of our wider agenda.
However, as was recognised by, I think, the noble Baroness, Lady Bowles, it is the fact that the United Kingdom Government are increasing the number of members of the UK Mission to the European Union, or UKMis—formerly known as UKRep, for those not up to date with the changes. That will continue to be our principal interface with EU institutions. As part of the strengthening of our diplomatic effort across Europe—I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Empey, on the importance of this—UKMis Brussels has grown from over 120 staff in 2016 to over 180 staff at the time of the UK’s exit from the EU. It has established a dedicated public diplomacy function to support the new ways of working, and has enhanced its communications team, which will play an important role in shaping the narrative around the UK’s activities and priorities within Europe. We set great store in the importance of maintaining good relations with our partners across Europe.
The noble Lords, Lord Foulkes and Lord McConnell, were among many who raised the question of the devolved Administrations. Of course, the UK Government are engaged with the devolved Administrations during the development of the approach to negotiations, through regular official meetings and bilateral discussions between the Paymaster General and her ministerial counterparts in the DAs. That has ensured that the UK Government have taken on board the views of the DAs, and that has been reflected in the published approach to negotiations. I reaffirm our commitment to working with them to deliver a future relationship with the EU that works for the whole UK. The UK Government are committed to this, and last week, on 6 May, the Paymaster General spoke to Ministers from the DAs to update them on negotiations and exchange views.
I follow my right honourable friend Michael Gove in responding to the important question raised by the noble Earl, Lord Kinnoull, and a number of other Peers about parliamentary engagement with the EU institutions post Brexit. It is clear that, understandably, many Members of your Lordships’ House are keen to maintain those links—important links between the Parliaments of member states. But I repeat the position, expressed by my right honourable friend when he spoke to your Lordships at the EU Committee, that it is not for the Government to tell Parliament how to maintain and develop these arrangements. I can assure the noble Earl that the Government are keenly supportive of such proposals and developments.
The noble Lords, Lord Bruce and Lord Broers, and others asked about participation in EU agencies. We will, of course, discuss with the EU how best to manage our friendly relations but any solution has to respect our red line of no commitments to follow EU law and no acceptance of the CJEU. That is fundamental and was put to the British people at the last election.
Unfortunately, there are relatively limited options for third-country membership of the EU bodies, but we have been clear that we will operate on the basis of existing precedents where they represent a real benefit to British people and industry and provide convincing value for money. I confirm that we are considering participation in Horizon and in a number of other bodies referred to in the debate. We are also, obviously, considering participation in Erasmus+.
My noble friend Lord Duncan of Springbank asked about climate change. We are already working closely with the EU on climate change and I see no reason why that should not continue. I also want to confirm that the UK will continue its participation in the emissions trading scheme during the transition period.
The technology now having worked, I can reply to the right reverend Prelate on refugee children. The UK continues to be fully committed to meeting our obligations under the Dublin regulation. We remain in close contact with member states, to keep abreast of updates and establish where transfers can take place as quickly and safely as possible in accordance with existing Covid-19 restrictions. I hope that is a reasonable response.
The noble Lord, Lord Moynihan, referred to the importance of sport. This is, of course, important in Europe, both within and outside the EU; one recognises that.
Time is unfortunately constrained. I agree with the feelings of a number of noble Lords who have spoken: it will be a good day when we can get back to challenge and response. But, despite my feeling sometimes that it was a little pessimistic, the debate has been good and instructive. It has demonstrated again the capacity of this House and its committees to look at our exit from the EU in the round and look towards our long-term relationship. We do not believe that our vision for the future is incompatible with having a close relationship with the EU. We continue to see the EU, and the EU nations, as our neighbours and our friends. We will continue to aspire to, and have, a relationship inspired by our shared history and values and, I hope, always informed by your Lordships’ House.
My Lords, briefly and in conclusion, I thank all noble Lords for their contributions and for their personal kindness towards me. I also thank the Minister for his efforts to respond to the debate within the constraints of time. All I would say to him and to other Members of the Government in the present circumstances is, “Don’t close your minds. Remember that there is no stigma in being flexible and pragmatic in order to meet the interests of the country.” Perhaps I will leave it at that.
It has been the case, as it has through the debate, that complex EU structures, including its legal structures, and the protracted nature of the Brexit debates that we have had over the past four years, have been centred on detailed issues. As has been mentioned, our report went into some of those detailed implementation issues. Yet beyond that, the current exceptional circumstances drive us to some reappraisal of our strategic priorities. I noted with approval a recent article in the Times by the former Prime Minister, Theresa May, commenting simply and powerfully:
“Strong international relations are vital to our security and success.”
I hope that we can all agree on that.
I am proud in this case of the EU Committee’s role in taking our strategic thinking beyond Brexit. The answer for this country lies not in some retreat into what I might call national lockdown, but in attention and commitment to continuing international engagement. As the debate has made clear, we have all the circumstances of the pandemic and issues of climate change, and we could perhaps have said more about their interaction in the position of developing countries and the ongoing impact on migration, for example. There is a huge international agenda out there on which we must not turn our backs.
As we reflect this week on the lessons of the Second World War, which led to the foundation of what became the European Union, we must leave ourselves space to rise to the occasion, and in doing so with other partners across the world perhaps play our proper part in making the world a better place. I beg to move.
Virtual Proceeding suspended.