Private Notice Question
To ask Her Majesty’s Government what progress was made in securing a comprehensive trade and security partnership during the last round of negotiations with the European Union
My Lords, negotiators from the United Kingdom and the European Union held full and constructive discussions last week via video conference. The talks covered trade in goods and services, fisheries, law enforcement and criminal justice, and other issues which both sides engaged in constructively. There was, however, no movement on the most difficult areas where differences of principle are at their most acute, notably fisheries, governance arrangements and the so-called level playing field.
I regret that no Statement has been made here or in the Commons. Thus, we have to drag the Minister here, if you like, to report on even that much. This is not the parliamentary scrutiny promised. This was a vital round of talks, but there has been little sign of movement, as the Minister said, towards agreement. Could he explain why the Government expect only the EU to compromise in order to reach a deal without being willing to do so themselves?
My Lords, we are in a negotiation. The Government remain committed to a successful outcome. We believe it would still be straightforward to agree a suite of arrangements with an FTA at its core. Our position needs to be understood: we will not agree to any of the EU’s demands for us to give up our rights as an independent state.
Could the Minister say when reporting progress whether the attitude of European Union negotiators has created such difficulties during discussions that the possibilities or chances of finding common ground in many areas, such as the level playing field or fishing, have become virtually impossible? The inability of European Union negotiators to recognise that the United Kingdom is a sovereign and independent nation and to treat Great Britain as such is making compromises impossible, and will continue to do so until such time as European Union negotiators understand that Great Britain is not a colony of the European Union.
My Lords, I will not criticise the negotiators on either side; they have their mandates and both have said that they find the discussions professional and appropriate. However, my noble friend is quite right to say that on certain matters, as I think Mr Frost said, the EU must evolve an understanding that the United Kingdom is not prepared to accept the so-called level playing field or, indeed, to accept that we cannot be an independent coastal state regarding fisheries.
My Lords, the Conservative Party has long regarded itself, justifiably or not, as the party that looks after business, so can the Minister tell us why this Conservative Government are so apparently casual about the prospect of a no-deal crash-out on 31 December, despite alarmed warnings from business representatives such as the CBI, from hauliers about the lack of customs preparation at Dover, from the pharmaceutical industry about dangerously low stocks of drugs, from the business community in Northern Ireland about lack of detailed preparation for implementation of the Irish protocol, and from many others? Why is ideology trumping pragmatism?
There is no ideology. This is a pragmatic Government. We have close contact with business, which will intensify and continue. There is no crash-out no deal. We will leave the EU at the end of the year with either a Canada-style or an Australia- style arrangement.
Can the Minister explain the steps the UK Government are taking to involve the devolved Governments in formulating positions to be taken in the negotiations in the light of the many assurances given by the UK Government about involving the devolved Governments?
My Lords, there is regular contact between government Ministers and Ministers in the devolved Administrations. Those contacts will continue.
My Lords, Michel Barnier, in his statement of 5 June, following the fourth round of negotiations, referred to the need to have
“a full legal text by 31 October at the latest, i.e. in less than 5 months.”
Does the Minister agree with that timetable? If not, what does he think the latest date is for a full legal text?
My Lords, the Government still hope to have a successful outcome, as I said. Mr Frost indicated some measures that might be taken to intensify discussions. There will also be, as noble Lords know, a high-level meeting later this month.
My Lords, David Frost told the European Union Select Committee of your Lordships’ House, when asked specifically about access to EU databases, that
“we cannot accept the conditions that the EU imposes”.
How confident, therefore, is the Minister that a broad outline on data exchange and intelligence-led policing in the UK will be reached by the end of June when the Government appear to expect the European Union to compromise to meet a deal without being willing, as my noble friend Lady Hayter said, to do so themselves?
My Lords, we are in a negotiation. I will not second-guess what might or might not happen in the course of it. All the areas, including policing and security, which the noble Baroness mentioned, are, of course, important. Those will continue to be the subject of discussions between the Governments.
Given that the EU appears determined to bind the UK into the common fisheries policy and its own rules and standards, does the Minister not agree that there would actually be negotiating advantage in not reaching an agreement before the end of the transition period so that the EU would be forced to accept the reality of the UK as an independent and sovereign state?
I thank my noble friend for the question, but again, I am not going to second-guess the process of negotiations. I note that, on fish, the political declaration clearly set out that a separate agreement should be enforced in July ahead of the other agreements. The EU, on the other hand, continues to push for one single overarching agreement.
My Lords, the February document that the Government published on the future relationship included a chapter on digital services that sets out that we need to
“encourage regulatory cooperation and a strategic dialogue on emerging technologies”.
I could not find this in the items for discussion in the fourth round of negotiations, nor does any progress seem to have been made on it. Are the Government hoping that we will continue to have regulatory co-operation in this very important emerging industry? As a fallback position, are they discussing with the Americans whether we will converge on American data regulation rather than European regulations if these negotiations break down?
My Lords, the noble Lord is right: there is an international dimension to these questions. We expect foreign policy co-operation broadly to be substantial with the EU, as it is with many of our international partners, but we do not think that an institutional framework is necessary to deliver it.
Will the Minister join me in encouraging Mr Frost to stand firm and make it clear that we are willing to walk away if necessary? Can he also emphasise that after Brexit we must retain sovereignty over our defence and foreign policy? Given the EU’s ineffectiveness in relation to hostility from China and its overdependence on Russian gas regarding Nord Stream 2, can he ensure that we depart from EU defence structures and defence funds and reinforce our partnership with NATO and the Five Eyes intelligence group?
My Lords, the noble Baroness refers to some very important factors in our international relationships. Mr Frost is doing an excellent job for his country, in line with the decisions of Parliament and the people. As for wider foreign policy, I alluded to that in the previous answer.
My Lords, as the EU grasps that we will not extend the transition period, will it not recognise that it is very much in its own economic interests to set aside ideology and make a free trade deal? In any case, is it not absolutely in our interest not to be tied into contributing billions to the Commission’s new budget and subsidising a eurozone economy that was in dire trouble even before the pandemic?
My Lords, I try not to criticise any aspect of the European Union from this Dispatch Box but, that apart, I agree with that the noble Lord has just said.
Does my noble friend the Minister accept that we signed a political declaration? Do the Government still consider themselves bound by that declaration, which reflected the fact that. while we keep talking about being a sovereign nation, we have nevertheless been involved deeply with the EU over the last 40-plus years? That reflects many of the existing arrangements. Secondly, when will the Joint Committee next meet? Will it recognise that the circumstances are now totally different from those at the time of the referendum—or indeed the general election—and that an extension is badly needed to achieve what the parties want by way of future relations?
My Lords, the Withdrawal Agreement Joint Committee next meets on 12 June. I repeat that the Government do not consider an extension of the transition necessary or desirable. It will not happen from a UK Government point of view. The political declaration sets out the potential scope of our future relationship. We and the EU signed up to it, but any agreement based on it must be balanced and represent a balance of benefits to both sides.
Lord Kerr of Kinlochard? No? Lord West of Spithead.
My Lords, a lightning rod for EU seriousness on defence and security co-operation is Project Galileo. Is it still the intention to have scientific, technological and industrial UK involvement in this project, despite lack of access to the classified output of the system?
My Lords, the UK and the EU discussed Project Galileo during the withdrawal agreement negotiations. The EU’s offer on it then did not meet the United Kingdom’s defence and industrial requirements.